Being Present to Ourselves - Youth Alliance Retreat in Ahmedabad
This December, Youth Alliance completed three years of existence, officially. For three years, this wonderful organisation has existed, which became the instrument of our journey and for whose journey we became the instruments. Youth Alliance is just a word, just a name, but the bhav is to really start that journey into ourselves through the journey of service in the world. On the outside, its been just three years, but the roots have existed for much longer. And the seeds were planted even before. Who planted the seeds, how were they nurtured, how we all got together, how things fell in place are all spiritual conspiracies. How could I be here, just one disaster or accident and my grand parent won't have lived and hence I wouldn't have opened myself to the world. There is an entire lineage that each one of us bring that has conspired to bring us where we are, here. With this, our retreat at Ahmedabad began on December, the sixteenth. And we were grateful.
We were hosted with so much love at a powerful place, ESI in Ahmedabad. It was our Annual Retreat and the idea was to connect to the idea :) Understand more deeply our vision and basically see how are we doing. Hence, we had planned retreat to be heavy on internal discussions about vision, celebrations, reflections, learning areas and so on, thereby deepening our understanding of Youth Alliance and its work. But as it happened Youth Alliance (YA) was in focus all the time in the retreat, but it was via the heart and not the head. Hence, most of our time went in feeling what YA is and will be, for us. Interestingly, in the opening circle where Kishan Bhaiya, Madhu Bhai, Mukesh Bhai and Meet held space for us, we encountered this idea that the sum of all our work is shunya. Isn't that crazy? What about changing the world? Transformed Universities? Which is when, Madhu Bhai shared we are doing the work, because its worth doing. The world will change and has been changing all the time.
By the afternoon of the first day at ESI, we were already sold. We already felt, moved by the love, by the magic, by the power that maitri (noble friendship) created. We watched this film, In Journey and slowly it is happening to us, the journey to understand 'Who am I?'. Later, Nimo Bhai tuned us to Empty Hands Pilgrimage with his amazing journey and songs full of spirit in them. In YA we keep writing and talking about harmony between head, heart and hand, we keep striving for it too; after a little while, we asked a question to Jayesh Bhai that what does 'harmony in head, heart, hand mean?' And guess what the answer was. Jayesh Bhai with all his magic said, don't ask such a question. Harmony in head, heart, hand is an effortless state that emerges when your entire being is in a sense of joy.
Although Jayesh Bhai asked us to demand food however we want it to be but the food at ESI is one fulfilling experience. Its made with so much love and care. Each one of us ate more that we usually do each time. Waah! Jai Jagat was the name of our home for the next 3 days. On the night of 16th, we asked a question to ourselves - Why am I here? What is that is driving me? What is the purpose for which I am creating this path beyond the context of YA?
Next morning, Kutir welcomed us with so much love to meditate for half an hour. Mukesh Bhai shared his own experience about the question we asked ourselves the night before. And we too shared with the bhav of maitri. The day was power-packed. The retreat also became a space of healing for us. All those differences and negativity were embraced only to create more love. We were able to communicate more openly. After all, we are here not to work to create a project, but to love to create a family. Like Jayesh Bhai says, paise se project banta hai aur pyaar se parivaar. There, it was one family loving each other and itself. The first half of the day, we embarked on a discussion about what our vision is. We divided into smaller groups to define what we think our vision is. It was a beautiful discussion, new ideas, pure intentions, newer perspectives flowing out. Later, we left for Craftroots. We witnessed the tree that has emerged after years of labour of love. It was beautiful. Toilet Cafe was out next stop. We commuted by the Innova of ESI, which was given to us with so much trust. Along with it, was Ahmedabad ka rickshawala, Uday Bhai. One amazing experience to travel in Uday Bhai's auto. He runs his auto on gift economy, the auto is built with love with magazines, water, snacks, music added to travel. Toilet Cafe too was an intention translated into a powerful idea and implementation with pure bhav. Listening to stories of Raghu Bhai, Ramesh Bhai and Uday Bhai was inspiring. Uday Bhai's energy was reckoning.
Awakin at Madhu Bhai's place was out next milestone in the journey. Buddha and Mira sat right in the middle of the circle to hold space for us to connect to ourselves and to the collective without pursuit of any agenda. About 45 people gathered in that room. We did an hour of silence followed by an hour of open sharing and then silent dinner. Kishan Bhaiya shared how 17 years ago, a couple opened their house in California for an open gathering and 17 years later, we are sitting in one such gathering in Ahmedabad. The question on some of ours mind was, how will 45 people, known unknown, new and old share openly in just an hour. And yes, all of them shared in less than an hour, as if each one took responsibility collectively to end the circle in exactly an hour. What an experience of a community!
It was long day. We were all tired physically but all pumped in all other 'ally' ;) - emotionally, mentally, naturally. So there began the continued discussion on vision and it lasted till 3 am. We did argue, we did digress. But each one of us was deeply moved to serve YA Family with purest of intentions. Every littlest of things was noticed, felt and written down. Experience was respected and freshness was admired. Slowly and steadily we picked up different aspects and moved towards closure of the vision discussion. In the end, we had deeply felt what is YA for us. We connected with much more intensity to the larger picture of YA. We will share more on the outcomes of the discussion later in January.
The next morning started a little later at 8 am. Satya Kunj was our host for the next few hours. And we were to spend them with Jayesh Bhai. Kishan Bhaiya shared this retreat is turning out to be so enriched and we were all blessed. Jayesh Bhai shared his own journey with so much openness and how he has transformed over the years. It amazed us, one. Two, it gave us a sense of possibility that we too can make that journey. He said, 'kuch bhi karo, par pehle pyaar karo'. In those two hours, there was so much to feel complete. It felt like some one just came and gave us a glass full of water just when we were thirsty on a hot summer afternoon. He talked about 'vyaktigat sunyata aur samuhik purnta' Some doable ideas like having confession circles every week came up. Find attached the voice recording. What followed was a gratitude walk and a flurry of hugs and group hugs to tree along the way. The evening was at Seva Cafe and it couldn't have been better. It was spirit in action. Food was the medium, love was the ingredient. It was a humbling experience to feel how it is behind the restaurant table. Bhaskar's stories of wildlife photography was inspiring. He took us to a different world of jungle and just when the dog barked. Those who have been with him, would know :) The night again was to have some discussions. We were celebrating the year this time. Ragini said each moment in the last 6 months has been a celebration, for Ajay Sharma celebrating his and Shruti's birthday were special moments in the year, he said ab dilli me dil lag gaya hai. For Pranshu, it was the moment he came to know about Rhodes result and the care's bonnet where he lied down in complete awe. For Eashwar it was effortlessly becoming part of the family. #5daysofdignity was a carnival for Ambika. Divas's spirit celebrated when he felt the organisation is really growing with reduced involvement of Prakhar and increased ownership in the team. Prakhar too felt joyous on witnessing shared responsibility. For Shashank, ONUS has become expression of his being. For Sudha, YA and ONUS came calling from the heart. Ajay E had his celebrations in the tough decisions like not doing LTC.
On the celebratory note, we ended our day. The next morning was to begin with meditation and service at Gandhi and Vinoba Ashram. Rather before that mal-darshan :) Later in the day we met Viren Bhai. He was different. He quoted statistics. His accent was rocking and his commitment for service was undeterred. It was 20 years of sadhna of people at Manav Sadhna. Interaction with him gave a practical feel, his ideas about marriage and approach towards life was a new perspective. Manav Sadhna community center was another space nurtured with so much care and love.
We concluded the retreat with a little discussion on learning areas of the organisation. And haring circle about the retreat. As we boarded the Ashram Express at 6.45 pm from Sabarmati station, the feeling was that of contentment, was that of emptiness and yet fullness. We were all moved by love. We were all family first, then anything else. We were all, together. And that's all, that matters.