Grateful for it all - MBL Retreat October 2015
I wonder how legends are made. What inspires people to say stories of great warriors and unconditional love. What was it that inspired the story of Robin Hood? Why do stories of Santa Claus, guardian angels, fairies and elves exist?
Last weekend, 40 of us gathered at the ESI campus in Sughad with different questions of our own.
The opening circle was filled with stories of gratitude and love. Aabha Didi shared about the day she accidentally found her keys down a manhole and how grateful she was that strangers all around her jumped in to solve her problem. Sheetal Bhai followed with his warming story about a couple who took him in and what inspired him to start Urban Ashram. Dnyan shared about his yatra across India and how a family in Kashmir took him in, treated him like family and throughout Kashmir, he didn’t have to worry about food and rest. He was completely taken care of. Pavani shared how a blind man came to the Gandhi ashram everyday and picked up shoes and smelled them. Not understanding what was happening, she asked the blind man if he needed help finding his shoes. The man smiled and replied, that he was putting the shoes to the side so that no one would trip over them. Deven bhai shared how he was thankful to children and how children are the perfect example of paying it forward.
That afternoon, after a short presentation, Sheetal Bhai went on to explain the ‘Tree of Life’ exercise and what we were to think about while doing it. Told to think about something we hadn’t in the past, we sat around and in reminiscent of our pasts, took a blank sheet of paper and started drawing our souls in the shape of trees. As time passed, I noticed how the smiles bloomed on each of our faces as more and more of our spirits became clear to us.
All pooled in the bus and went for a tour of Gandhi Ashram and toilet cafe. A beautiful evening started with a wonderful rangoli and continued with spirited talks from Nimisha Ben, Mrigna, Cheena and Darpan mixed with beautiful songs by Catherine, Nimish uncle and Dnyan. Mrigna-ji shared how the concept of ‘Second Innings’ started and stories that moved her since then. Cheena shared about how his belief in himself started after he started working in ‘Teach for India’ and his understanding of the quote ‘Be the change’ emerged. Bhaskar Bhai and his team blew us away with food made with love and laughter.
Day 2 started with laughter and joy as Devendra Bhai shared stories of his life and sanitation and introduced the purpose of the second day to us. When he first came on the job, he was assigned to inspect the toilets and then write a report on it. He wrote that the work was about 30% done but there was still 70% remaining. Ishwar Dada taught him to appreciate the work that was done and taught him how positivity would help. In the words of Devendra Bhai, “Uske baad maine kabhi bhi negativity ko apne life aur apne kaam mai andar aane nahi diya hai.” He enforced the belief that we need to do good, irrespective of whether someone else does it or not. It’s important to trust ourselves and the community. From there we wielded our brooms and mops and set off to use our hands with Devendra Bhai’s words still echoing in our hearts. Some of us gathered around Kanchan Dada to learn how to make brooms and hear his story. Some cleaned the toilets while others cleaned the campus. Afterwards with the joy of Shramdaan, we trooped to the Kabir Ashram for lunch where we were greeted with amazing decor and a true demonstration of ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’.
Later that evening, the participants wrote a letter of gratitude to themselves before offering gratitude to the world. Aabha Didi shared, “The ‘Tree of Life’ activity was very profound for a lot as it nudged them into thinking about many aspects of life one never really considered. The ‘Letter of Gratitude to self’ took this a step further by allowing each one to focus on their strengths and be grateful to their own self for who they are before offering gratitude to the world. This activity reminded me of the Dalai Lama quote: ‘Be Selfish, Be Generous.’” A short circle of sharing followed. Nimish Bhai shared that this was a once in a lifetime experience that he would never forget. Nimisha Ben shared that this was the first time she thought about herself and how much she had to offer.
Anar Didi graced us with her presence and shared stories from her life with us. She talked of compassion, acceptance and belief in oneself. Understanding and accepting yourself is very important. The Awakin circle before the silent dinner was an experience that almost every participant cherished and found answer to the question: ‘What is an Awakin gathering?’ Many expressed interest in joining the Awakin gatherings in their respective cities. After the silent dinner, the eagerness of the participants to serve the volunteers was a reflection of how much the experience had touched each one!
Deven Bhai shared his own journey with so much love on day 3 at Hriday Kunj. He spoke of his inspiration's like Vinoba Bhave and Dwarkojee. How one of the elders in our community, Arun Dada had shared about the Bhoodan movement and the constant songs they would sing while walking from village to village," Nahi yeh tera, nahi yeh mera, Ishwar ka hi Raaj Hain." Dwarkojee, when he met Vinoba jee told him that the time has come for Samuhik Sadhana ( Raising the collective consciousness through collective practices ). Deven bhai learnt a lot from Dwarko jee at his Ashram in Bihar, where he has set up schools for children and is also doing a lot of work to uplift the Musahar community there. He shared his personal journey from working in a corporate firm to deepening insights through vipassana and getting involved in more heartful work through Service space and Moved by love. This was followed by Pratik’s heartfelt prayer “Jeevan Anjali Thajo” that caused many a tear to drop in Hriday Kunj.
Khushmita Di’s presentation set the tone for the 3 steps and a bow pilgrimage. As stillness descended upon the campus, the power that went through each one of us was not one that could be ignored. Many were moved to tears and left speechless. Aabha Didi says, “For me personally, it was interesting to witness the equanimity with which I was able to do the 3 steps and a bow and compassion that flowed for each participant holding space for them.”
The closing with ‘Hari Narayan’ was the perfect ending to the magical 3 days. Catherine shares, “As I sit and reflect on this past MBL retreat, I come to realize the truth of the words: "It is gratitude that makes us joyful." Everything that transpired was an invitation for gratitude, including the hard parts: the difficulty of getting down on the knees and back up again on the gratitude walk, the moments of seeing myself at my worse, and the moments of saying goodbye and letting go.”
Jay says, “After volunteering in MBL retreat I feel that I am a volunteer of this whole world ! I found no gap between Volunteer and participants as everyone was involved in all activities of cleaning, helping everything. In a single word I would like to address this retreat as an "Act of Love"”
And for me? Well for me, I walked away with the dazed knowledge that no matter what the question was, the answer was always love. And time had shown me, that this was the stuff that legends were made of.
“ It is not joy that makes us Grateful, it is Gratitude that makes us Joyful.” ~ Brother David