Upasthiti - MBL 'Head, Hands and Heart' retreat, February 2016
‘I stopped trying to be perfect
When I realized
It’s enough to be present’
---- Curtis Tyrone Jones
Folks starting trickling in at ESI, Sughad from February 15 for the retreat that was to commence from February 19. Despite the many retreats that have taken place, each one seems like a first one and so is the excitement and the anxiety around it. Discussions around the retreat began amongst the few volunteers who had enthusiastically arrived at Sughad well ahead of time to help out with the preparations. What was alive for many of the volunteers at the time was ‘presence’ or ‘upasthiti’. The volunteers concurred that there could not be a better theme for the retreat than ‘presence’.
Participants started coming in from as early as Thursday morning. By Thursday, Sughad was alive with so many deep conversations and excitement about the retreat, it seemed like the retreat had already begun.
Friday morning, about 33 of us gathered at the Peace pole for the Peace walk to commence the retreat. Our dear friend Nimo welcomed everyone and briefed about the Peace pole. Madhu then invited participants and volunteers to offer prayers for the nature, the lineage, the volunteers and God and to invite them to the circle and bless our three days journey of exploration and contemplation. Nimo led the peace walk and guided the participants to Maitri Hall where we were to spend a lot of time for the next three days in deep listening and authentic sharing.
The opening circle started with sharing of stories. I shared my story of how I was picked by Uday bhai from the train station as I arrived in Ahmedabad for the retreat. On our early morning ride from the train station to Sughad, I was thinking to myself, it would be great to have half a cup of tea on the way. Just as I was thinking this Uday bhai enthusiastically asked me if I would like to have tea. He then stopped at a tea stall and shared that this was one of the best tea places on the route. I was looking for my wallet to pay for the tea and before I knew it Uday bhai had already paid for the tea. We spoke very little for the remainder of the way. I was wondering about the whole ride from the train station and that it does not happen too often that we get off from the train in a city that fairly unfamiliar and you are welcomed by the broad smile of an autowala who offers you tea along the way.
Madhu planted the seed question in the circle and invited participants to share a story or an incident in their life that has touched them deeply and brought into the present moment. Our very own Nimoji opened the circle by sharing a story of the family who had the presence to offer him tea/coffee/drinks despite their home being demolished the previous night and as they were sitting out in the open trying to figure out what to do next.
The circle brought out so many stories of how many were touched by family, friends and strangers alike by random acts of kindness. Hiren shared how his family was skeptical about him leaving his hometown for the first time and going to a big city alone but how he felt completely at home after arriving at ESI and especially after seeing Madhu bhai. Mayur’s enthusiasm was contagious. Alishiya and Geeta had a wonderful ride from Ahmedabad station with Uday bhai. Alishiya shared how she was a little disturbed as she got off at Ahmedabad station and how the soulful music in Uday bhai’s auto completely relaxed her and she forgot about what was bothering her. Enthusiastic Col. Ramesh who is 78 years old and our senior most volunteer shared how his terrible lower back ache which had been troubling him for a few days just disappeared after he got in to Uday bhai’s auto. Nishaat and Suhasisni shared stories of their deep conversations with Uday bhai and their visit to Safai Vidyalaya and Manav Sadhana on the previous day.
Post lunch the participants engaged deeper with the thought/question: ‘Assuming each one had everything that they needed and had to worry about nothing and were free to do what they wanted what is the one thing that they would do?’ The group broke out into smaller groups of 4-5 and had intense sharing/discussions around this. Just as they thought they were getting clarity the next question posed was to explore how that one thing they wanted to do could benefit others. The groups once again got engrossed in intense conversations and in the process bonded deeply with each other. There was popcorn sharing of the experiences of the day and the small group discussions in particular. People shared how for the first time they looked what it was that they really wanted and it was liberating. Anarben was kind to come over to speak with the group. Her honest and from the heart sharing touched the participants deeply.
We then shared silence for a few minutes before proceeding for silent dinner. The volunteers had worked very hard to create a beautiful ambience for the silent dinner with Budhhaji at the centre of the circle. Post dinner everyone gathered around a little camp fire for a ‘Bhajan Sandhya’ where people shared songs, devotional and other.
The following day was the Hands day. Two nature artists, Gunjan and Somu from Delhi who were visiting ESI were kind enough to do a session on nature art for us all. After the session, we all headed to Kabir Ashram. We split into three teams who dived into cooking, cleaning and painting the toilets at the Ashram. Some got involved in painting the trees. Lawrence, a tree lover guided us on how best to use the paint so that it does not harm the trees. Geetaji tried her hands at painting for the first time and did not let go of the brush till she painted to her hearts content. Rahul and Vinay painted the walls outside of the toilets and the surrounding area. There was a group that scrubbed the vessels while the cooking team made a delicious lunch for all. A few took the task of cleaning the toilets so seriously that they ensured that the toilets were spotless at the end of it. Everyone enjoyed the scrumptious lunch and headed back to Sugadh. After resting for some time, we gathered over tea to share our experience at Kabir Ashram. Before we started sharing, Rahul gracefully offered to do a circle dance with everyone. We all danced to ‘Sughad ki chat pe ek kava rehta hai…’ It was a wonderful way to get everyone to wake up and moving. As we began sharing, Suhasisni shared how she was reminded of the public toilet cleaners as she was cleaning the toilet at the Kabir Ashram and her heart went out to them. Mayur shared how he had never washed a bathroom ever before and would always get someone else to do it. After his toilet cleaning experience at the Kabir Ashram, he had resolved to wash the toilet in his house everyday.
We soon left for Safai Vidyalaya where Kishan gave us a tour of the Vidyalaya. Then we went on the Gandhi Ashram and spent some time in the serenity of the Ashram before heading for Seva Café. At Seva Café, there was a grand welcome for us all by the Seva Café team and Nimo who was gracious to anchor the evening for us. Three of our friends shared their journeys with us. Bhaskar introduced everyone to the Seva Café and shared his own journey. We could not let him go without his mimicry of course. Another participant also shared his talent of mimicry with us and everyone had a hearty laughter. This was followed by Rahul’s sharing of his journey. Rahul shared how we treat the limited resources from nature as unlimited and use the unlimited resources we have such as time as a finite resource. Rahul concluded with an entertaining circle dance on Bajra. This got the participants moving and shaking including the ones who had never danced. This was followed by Uday bhai’s sharing of his journey and experiences as ‘Ahmedabadno Rickshawalo’.
The Seva café volunteers had made delicious dinner, prem nu prasad, for all of us. Dinner was followed by singing where Swami and a few others sang some beautiful songs. By the end of the evening, the entire group had become one family. People who were strangers to each other were now best of friends! We returned all happy and connected deeply back to Sughad.
The next morning we began at 9:30 with Jayesh bhai sharing from his heart. The participants were so engrossed in Jayesh bhai’s sharing that no one realized how the hour and a half passed or the tears rolling down their cheeks as he was speaking. Jayesh bhai shared about Ishwardada’s last days and the beautiful relationship they shared and of the values Ishwardada held close to his heart.
After that we moved to have a memorable group picture where after a click one person who was missing came running and then another click and then another one. We finally managed to have everyone in the picture after about three trials. From there we moved to Maitri Hall for a briefing on three steps and a bow by Madhu. Mansi led the three steps and a bow for us. It was a deep and a profound experience for many. The closing circle was more of a feeling and sensing than listening. The love and the connections could be felt in the Maitri Hall as participants shared in a word, a sentence or in silence about their deepest feelings after the walk. The volunteers had worked long hours the previous night to put together all the pictures taken over the three days and put it up in a lovely slide show for us all. The three days came to an end with heavy hearted good byes, promises to keep in touch and meet again.
For the time at Sughad, the participants and volunteers engaged in campus cleaning, prabhat pheri, meditation and kitchen help in the morning. Here’s what Ashish, one of the volunteers had to share about his retreat experience: “I would say retreat is the event which purifies your heart with love and compassion. The one who wish to discover self, to understand the connection between the people, so called from different origins, and to understand the connection with universe should attend the retreat. With no complicated schedule, no lecture it's a simple way to create bonding with each other. It is great experience which connects you with yourself, with lovely friends and entire universe. You can really feel refreshed and more energetic after such a beautiful heart touching event.”
Chintan, one of the volunteers expressed how he felt accepted by the group and that is exactly what he needed at that time.