Unexpected kindness and grace - One day MBL retreat in Mumbai
Can you believe that 40 people met as unknowns one morning and felt like a family the same evening? Believe it or not, that’s what happened at a recent one-day retreat in Mumbai, on April 30, 2017. The venue was Narmada Niketan, a Senior Citizen Home to almost 180 elders, designed mindfully for the convenience of its residents, run in the spirit of trusteeship and funded by the generosity of noble souls for the past 3 decades.
Few of the volunteers and participants chose to come a day before to deepen the experience. Soon after we entered the premises, we engaged ourselves in putting together a ‘candle light dinner’ surprise for the elderly. As the elderly residents entered the dining hall to have their dinner, they were welcomed with chants with their tables decorated with colourful floral rangolis. As the retreat participants tagged each elderly with a heart pin, conversations flowed. So many of the elders were moved by this gesture. As they shared their wisdom over dinner table chats, it was pure grace to listen and learn from them.
Post dinner, we gathered to share our stories, a few of us broke into songs close to our hearts. The yin-yang design at the venue of this satsang, reminded us that our interdependencies and that complementarities co-exist despite of our apparent differences. It was heart-warming to listen bhajans, sufi and Gujarati songs. The musical evening ended with a round of ice cream - indeed it was a combination of 'sach-much' aam (an ice cream flavor) and 'sach-much' bliss :)
Later, one volunteer shared an elder’s reflection after the surprise dinner - ”What you people are doing is really 'Talk by love' and that's beautiful as you are building connections. Your generation does not know deep connections, your families are small with 1 or 2 siblings and so there is an acute need for a support system. When we were your age we had 7-8 siblings, we had a large support system and in many ways, it made our lives easy". I was still wondering on the above and he asked me another question that opened my mind a little more, "In a day, how many times in a day does your doorbell ring? " I said "3 or 4 times." He laughed and said "The day your doorbell rings at least 16 times in a day, you can be sure that you have built deep connections with people around." Then the volunteers surprised all of the participants by serving us over candlelight; more opportunities to bond and connect emerged over dinner (by the end of the retreat, the MBL doorbell had rung forty times over)
As we walked around the campus, we found lovely quotes put up on walls every few steps. Each quote was inspiring and added to the serene energy of the space. Later, we discovered that all the quotes were presented as gift by an artist who offered her art in the spirit of gift, without even knowing where it was going to be put up. I was touched to know that the quotes had been paid forward as an act of love and these quotes in many ways were an act "unexpected kindness and grace" which incidentally, was the theme of the retreat day.
But we were not yet done with surprises. The group broke its overnight fast with laughter yoga, graciously served by laughter herself - Khusmita! (There was the real breakfast too, of course:)) Our dear Khushi masi made us rediscover the child within us, as we cruised on the laughter waves. Creative ways of finding laughter in everyday moments (imagine you are late for a train, do it - laughingly) - role play laughter (imagine you are a child getting up unwillingly from her bed, do the morning routine - laughingly), argue aggressively, then apologize, play holi, meet long lost friends - weaving in laughter in most ordinary and extraordinary ways. Almost 30 elders joined us for this hour and from what we hear from the corridors of Narmada Niketan, they are still talking about the experience :)
In the opening circle, everyone shared stories close to their hearts about times when they had experienced grace and unexpected kindness in their lives. It was moving to hear when Rohit shared an incident where he reflected that what he saw as an 'act of kindness' came so naturally to his rickshaw driver or when another participant reflected on the grace flowing through her teachers, spiritual leaders and through all the invisible hands which brought her to where she is. It was touching to hear the youngest participant Arya reflecting on her father’s act of unexpected kindness in a hospital when he offered a stranger, who was from Jharkhand, shelter for one night. Ketan Vikamsey shared that he was so deeply touched by grace post one of the retreats, that when an unwarranted incident of theft happened in his office, he was able to flip his thinking from head to heart. Rajni Bakshi shared when she had met a Gandhian elder and questioned him "Why are prevailing times so bad?" the person responded beautifully, saying "Times are not good or bad, we are" and how that statement had stayed with her. Everyone was also touched by Somnath's story that Khushmita shared. A deep insight was shared by Smita ben as she expressed "I should be not so busy that I do not acknowledge the grace."
Post the opening circle, we were treated with delicious lunch made by the kitchen staff and a few volunteers then decided to step it up by serving food to the kitchen staff after finishing their own meal.
Collectively, after lunch we gathered back to experience self through movement which was facilitated by Natasha, who took us along a vivid ride. We rolled ourselves into imaginary water, to just “be” with the moments of self love - melting down like a lump of ice, switching back to life, feeling the flow of the collective energy through us.
After dwelling in the experience of ourselves, we all divided ourselves voluntarily into various labor of love activities like He-art circle, Failure club and Nature Connect walk.
“One makes use of colours, but one paints with emotions,” said Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin. The invitation for the Heart circle was to go within, respond to subtle movements and express it on the canvas. Participants shared that most of them were picking the brush after many years. It seemed as if what the participants painted was the representation of their lives which looked like jigsaw puzzles. It felt that the paints didn’t just touch the canvas, but it moved hearts.
“Are we seeing something as if we are seeing it for the first time?” pondered J Krishnamurti.
The Nature Connect group met at a semi-landscaped garden near the Home. The circle began with an invitation to observe nature in its bountiful glory - the variety of patterns on each leaf, the texture of the trunks, the chirping of the birds around, or to see the beauty of an occasional passer-by butterfly. A few participants walked around, a few gave a bear hug to the trees, a few sat in silence and one even caught a few winks in the lap of nature :) Indeed, as Aarti shared that the trees too can sing, if only we care to listen to their songs. Rajni shared a lyrical Hindi poem. The group broke into pairs of two and planted 13 saplings, setting intentions, singing silent prayers as they established the saplings to their ‘residence’. This group was clearly the favored one as it got a bonus Lord Shiva story from an elder resident. On top of that, this group made lemonade for the rest of the participants.
Failure Club Circle
Failure club was an experiment to honour the illogical, unthinkable and the impossible. The circle called upon the participants to see failure in the light of the wisdom it offers, and rethink the very definition of failure. In our haste to define what we articulate as failure, we miss out on what could be the stepping stone to an invention. Much like Richard Bach said, “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.”
The failure club circle also explored the idea around multiple forms of capital and ways to harness them. The participants circled back to share about their intentions around labor of love projects : Manjula offered her skills, her time and her space at Juhu to conduct small sessions and Gargi has offered 2-3 hours of her time every week for social impact projects
What is even more beautiful is to see the ripples after the retreat. Two of our participants shared that they wish to come back and do something at the old age home. Aarti gifted a wheelchair to the Home.
The elders too did not want to remain untouched with this whirlpool of love that engulfed them. So, as the retreat participants came out of the closing circle, they were welcomed by folk dance performance by 8 elders well into their 70s. A few of them were barely able to stand with straight backs but they made sure not to miss even a step. It seemed that the magic of the candle light dinner and the laughter yoga was still ringing in their minds and they could not, not give back. Seeing the elders swing to the notes of a Koli (fisherfolk) song, brought tears to the eyes of the participants.
Before we left, a Gratitude Table was set where lots of gifts were offered to the participants. Last but not least, everyone huddled together over chai and lemonade and hugged each other with promises of re-connecting. It just goes to reaffirm that every time we meet with love in our hearts, the universe responds to it with double gusto, things miraculously manifest into their innate perfections and events roll out much better than we could have ever planned. Each one of us was just grateful for the moments of infinite and uncalled kindness that were showered upon us, marveling at the minute unseen strands which connect us all.