The Ripple Effect
"The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit."
As 40 of us sat in a circle this February in the sacred premises of Maitri Space we could not help but feel the ripples of all the goodness and generosity passed on by the lineage before us.
We opened with the story of the biggest land transfer movement in human history, Bhoodan Yatra which on the surface looked like people transferring land to those who did not have any. But if you went deeper you would notice that an even more subtle work of connecting one heart, one village at a time was taking place. As Goli shared beautifully about Vinoba's movement he also wondered that what in his roots enabled him to share these fruits of generosity. He shared of Vinoba's mother encouraging the youngest child of each household to take a hand full of grain and place it in a box which would later be used as charity. can we ever trace back the origin of a ripple? can we ever trace back the roots in a fruit? Can we ever thank our lineage for all that we have received or as Thich naht hanh famously wrote-- Can we ever see the cloud in a piece of paper?
With these thoughts we opened a circle of sharing around the ripple effect of generosity.
Saaya shared of her own personal experience of travelling and being taken care of lovingly by strangers. Lokesh shared how he once saw a little kid share half his chocolate with a beggar woman. This incident made him realise that no matter how small or humble someone maybe, we can always share.
Meher shared how she and her friends gave coconut water to passers-by on a street on a hot summer day, while Ranjan shared how he was inspired by a faqir who stands at a traffic light on a busy Mumbai street and just keeps blessing everybody who passes by. Milan reflected on the kindness and the politeness of the way people treated each other in scotland while Meghna reflected on Gopal dada's humble act of picking up and tossing aside stones on the roads he walked all his life.
Diken was deeply moved by the generosity of a lady offering her garage to him to sleep while he was on a pilgrimage in Spain and after providing him food and shelter, she later came and offered him a pillow to sleep restfully. As Mohit looked around the maitri hall he noticed beautifully embroidered cushions with values written on each of them. He recalled his inspiration Nirmala Deshpande who he said embodied each of these values in her life. Upen recalled a night when he and few friends spontaneously took up the challenge of spending a winter night on the highway between Ahmedabad and rajkot just as a homeless person would to experience what it feels like. The inspiration for this came from Nipun bhai who was travelling with them to pick up blankets for distribution to the homeless.
Harish who came from the Vinoba seva ashram was deeply grateful for the generosity of his school prinicpal who ensured that he completed his education inspite of many challenges and hardships he suffered on account of his father's passing away in early childhood. he was also deeply inspired by the generosity of Ramesh bhai and Vimala didi who run the Ashram where he currently serves.
Steve recalled a humbling moment from his time at a community in Zimbabwe. One morning as he saw the rising sun, something shifted within him and he suddenly saw the whole of life as a gift. Spontaneously, he picked up a broom lying nearby and started sweeping the street as a token of his gratitude.
Soren and Sanae shared a deeply personal story of how heart connect are sometimes way deeper than our biological connections.
Yash shared how a drive with a stranger during a dark phase of his life suddenly opened up new possibilities and showed him the light at the end of the tunnel. Monia joyfully shared of a person in spain who has opened his home on a mountain for pilgrims to rest, eat and walk on. Carla was deeply moved by a restaurant owner who not only served her on a day when she was facing a difficult time but after pacifying her and listening to her story he did not even accept any payment from her and asked her to pay it forward.
Himanshi was inspired by a brother-sister who she looks upto who serve humanity selflessly putting their own lives on hold. Linda shared how she writes little notes of kindness and passes them to strangers at airports. Sheetal shared how the story of the faqir, and his donkey and dog illustrates the idea that we may never truly know about the hand that feeds us.
Jayesh bhai shared how an old kaka, a cobbler in his 80's came to meet him the previous day. He asked him," why did you come all the way to meet me?" The cobbler replied," Because you are so loving." Jayesh bhai reflected on this and felt that if someone has come all the way to meet him, can he tune in with his hearts eye. Deep listening turns into deep learning. He felt that everyone was listening so respectfully to each other in the circle and that too was generosity. When our hearts are full, we become mindful. Generosity blossoms when our hearts are filled with love.
Food + love = Prasad
That evening, we were warmly welcomed into Seva cafe , a labor of love restaurant, where there are no prices on the menu and where the check reads Rs.0 with only this footnote: "Your meal was a gift from someone who came before you. To keep the chain of gifts alive, we invite you to pay it forward for those dine after you."
The meal we ate was prasad cooked with a lot of love and served with humility by volunteers from different fields of life. The only thing that brought them there was the spirit of selfless service. An opportunity to serve peers and to look at everyone from the lens of Oneness. Post dinner as many of us jostled to wash the dishes and clean the space as we would do in our homes, there were beautiful moments of connection with each other as family.
Sheetal welcomed a few from the circle to share their journeys and stories with us. Steve spoke vulnerably of his own journey of quitting a successful job, leaving behind a community he had lived in for 40 years and embarking on a new journey embracing gratitude on the way. Sanae spoke of how she shared her birthday with the tragedy of the Hiroshima bombing and how she grew up revisiting those memories. Somewhere down the road, she decided to serve others and started doing small things like reading for patients at the hospital and then later quitting her job and serving society full time. Devesh expressed his voice through a beautiful bhajan 'Lagan bina lage na Nirmohi' on attachments and detachments.
The entire seva cafe team joined us as Sidharth, a young volunteer shared a beautiful poem he wrote after he started volunteering at seva cafe. Meena ben shared how the space was like a temple for them while Raju shared how they felt like they were the temple caretakers, the 'Pujaris'. Bhaskar shared how a friend of his shares 'Love' with everyone and he would like to share this love with all gathered there that evening.
Devendra bhai shared some beautiful stories of his time spent with Ishwar dada specially emphasizing on amplifying and appreciating the work already done by people instead of criticising them for the work not done. He also spoke of the value of connecting with one's hands creatively to maintain a head, hands and heart balance.
As we divided into four teams to get our hands involved in various creative work, there was a buzz of activity as everyone enthusiastically dived into hands on work. Some at Lilapur village, some at Kabir ashram, some learning the art of making brooms while others bringing out the artist in themselves.
Anupreet reflected from the art circles:
Inspired by Nimo's example of using music as an instrument to serve, a few of us gathered in a circle to experiment with art (painting) as our creative expression and a medium to serve. Because it was a randomly selected group, a few of us in the circle shared in our little opening circle, that we hadn't painted since school days. Thanks to our anchor, Devesh, who is also an artist himself, and in simple beautiful words, asked us to keep our nervousness aside by simply playing with colors.
Over the next hour and a half, nine of us painted in silence, with the expression of serving in our hearts. Sometimes we would think of the person who this would go to, and feel gratitude for our unknown friends.
During the closing circle, some of us felt very light, some felt alive, and all of us felt we had forgotten to paint and wanted to start painting again. Someone in the group mentioned that she had a strict school teacher and ever since she had stopped painting. Carla shared that this was such a meditative experience for her. Linda shared that she will begin painting from now on, and continue to serve this way. Another friend felt like taking her painting back home, and shared this is about practicing detachment with an art -work created by her.
Meghna reflected on the Broom making circle:
The day proceeded with the broom making through humbling conversations with Kanchan Mama and his journey with Ishwar Dada about the work of sweeping inside and outside. What stood out most was that the effortless efforts to work towards raising the dignity of labour and importance of sanitation was not merely a surface inspiration. It was a deeply understood reality of what they wanted to dedicate their lives to. While on the surface it would appear large or even overwhelming, but on the inside it was a commitment and a practice to constantly cultivate the 'Drishti' towards the connection between each living life! This inspired so many of the participants to look at 'brooms' with the perspective of a tool that empowered us and nudged us to start the process of cleaning from within!
The kabir ashram group beautifully cleaned the ashram, decorated it and cooked a loving meal for all of us! we were welcomed with love while the Lilapur village crew had a great visit and interactions with the villagers in their homes.
Anar Ben convened the evening of Hands Day by sharing beautifully about her own journey through the gift we all have 'Hands'. What stood out most was that the hands are such visible examples of our collective efforts. When the 'Drishti' (perspective with wise awareness) is cultivated constantly, our Heads and Hands start to come in alignment together. The hands are a direct expression of what our Head is thinking and what our Heart is feeling. When such a gift is used to serve, it naturally brings us back to our own natural alignment and connects us to our own higher space of being.
Gratitude and suffering cannot co-exist
Jayesh bhai opened on day three with his reflections and learnings from life." We think of poverty as having less of some material, physical, social resource whereas in my opinion, lack of contentment is poverty. When we cultivate contentment, gratitude blossoms.
Sheetal spoke of how we could share gratitude with the world as we shared our merits with others.The three steps and bow pilgrimage that Rev. Heng sure and Heng Chau took in 1977 has been a huge source of inspiration for many of us.They bowed in peace, for peace.Touching their foreheads to the ground, with only one wish - Peace for everyone, everyday, everywhere.
Carla sang a beautiful song for everyone when she was Moved by Love. While others wrote little notes of love and gave them around.
Here is a link the photos slideshow a few volunteers created :)
As we closed the retreat with hugs and tears, we knew that this was just the beginning of many beautiful relations based on love and trust to blossom and spread their ripples far and wide.
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” ~ Mother Teresa