Head Hands Heart Online Immersion, August 2020
From the 10th to 16th of August 2020, fifteen participants, eight volunteers, four guests, and innumerable souls not present on the Zoom calls, stepped into an experiment of love. Each person’s journey has started long before that. We did not know how the experiment would unfold, but we came in with our deepest values and highest intentions.
COVID-19, the Internet, and Vinobaji’s journey of “achieving a union of hearts” were the conditions that allowed us to convene from across the globe - Israel, Sweden, France, the United States, Vietnam, and all parts of India (Delhi, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Nagpur, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Bangalore, Indore, …). Chiming in our hearts were the questions that seeked a path of true service to life:
- What is my unique mission? What is the purpose of my life? How can I best use my privilege, experiences and wisdom to serve the greater community?
- How can I investigate those subconscious patterns of my being? How do I reduce my baggage more, so that I can serve more? Are we compassionate enough to make people around us welcomed and safe? What am I moving towards?
- Where is humanity headed? How do we live in harmony with nature?
Our journey unfurled through calls that were so lovingly held by the collective, and also through the Karuna Virus platform, which were maintained by true tech angels. People poured their hearts in for the space to take the form it did. Someone woke up at 4:30am to join the calls. Someone pulled an all-nighter to be present for friends across the globe. Someone dreamt of a glitch in the platform, which actually was the case, and woke up in the middle of the night to make sure the retreat could go smoothly. Someone was nursing a high fever, and yet beamed infectious joy whenever she appeared online. Someone’s family had a picnic on the same day as the retreat. She then decided to serve both her family and her intentions to join the online immersion, by waking up early to prepare picnic food before the call. Someone missed saying hello to his son in his rush to open the computer, which led to heartfelt reflections on taking the support of our loved ones for granted. The depths behind the screen became the canvas on which beautiful stories emerged.
like a picture drawn without once
lifting pencil from paper;
now tell me the story of your life
(whoever you are) go on
i Double Dare you!
tell me the story of your life
without once touching
I Double Dare You, Pavi Mehta (full poem here)
Roots of our ancestors
Through the calls and written reflections, we each found ourselves reflected in myriad ways in the stories of our friends. One common thread was the treasures that our families, elders and teachers have given us. The soil we’re springing from has been prepared for decades and centuries before we were born, by the roots of our ancestors. We carry that nourishment in the form of stories.
- “Between her Love and my Fear, it was her Love and Determination that Triumphed!” - A daughter overcame her fear of slides, after seeing her mother slide down a slide in great cheer. Only later did she know that her mother had hid the injury resulting from that demonstration, to give her the courage to try a smaller, safer slide.
- “What gave them the strength to choose love [over fear] is something I can’t say for sure, but I think it was their sense of sacrifice and letting go, clarity of thought and a strong cultivation of equanimity.” - A son reflected on the countless sacrifices his parents made.
- “Can you see fear? Can you show me where it is around us? Can you show me where it is in your body? Let’s hold my hand, and we will take this fear and throw it away.” - Arun Dada very gently told his daughter when she was afraid to step onto a boat.
The retreat offered a space for us to reflect on our past, and to spend time with our family. Someone who begrudged her mother for not sharing her difficulties, upon reflection, saw how the mother’s choice was a profound selfless act of love. Upon reading comments from others about her mom’s kindness to a neighbor, a daughter could appreciate more of the goodness already present in her mom, instead of the faults she usually sees.
Sangha and Serendipity
A dear guest, Nimesh Patel (from the movie Finding Nemo :D ), joined our gang to share the insights he has learnt on his journey. He started out with the karmic path we all have been on, driven by our dreams and expectations - for ourselves, for the chunks of time ahead of us, for the people around. Soon enough, challenges appeared to help us redefine who we are. With support from friends and circumstances, we can experiment in aligning our head, hands, and heart towards wisdom. And our sangha - community of noble friends - will help us to continue to evolve.
The gift of challenges and the gift of others’ kindness were two strands of the same grace. As each of us shared our journeys, we all were left in absolute awe and gratitude. When someone was unable to go to the UK for her graduate studies because she was in a very vulnerable stage, her husband and father-in-law were instrumental in pulling her out of the dungeons and helped shape her confidence. When someone was asked to pay a bribe he couldn’t afford, a stranger took all the trouble to help him cross the border and trek up the village, without expecting anything in return. One of us shared that, even when she pushed her friends and teacher away because she was too occupied with problems in her family, they never stopped reaching out to her. “I feel life never gives you lemon; it always gives you raw tiny mangoes. One should nurture them until they not only start looking like [real] mangoes but also start tasting sweet,” someone beautifully mused.
“We arrive on this planet empty handed.
We will all soon leave empty handed.
So then, how do we want to spend the time in between?”
“To trust that there is nothing out of sync, just trusting and asking the heart to move...with love...to trust...one's instinct.” And oh, we did. :) Someone wrote to a lady whose video he found on Youtube. Long story short, they were supposed to get married this year. Another emailed an artist whose songs touched her deeply. Without reply, she emailed again. And what happened next brought her across the globe to India and changed her life. On a shopping trip, our friend unexpectedly walked into Quantum Life University, where her Purpose of Life was awaiting. Time and time again, we found that “If we link our intention to a higher vision, the facility will manifest itself.”
“When there is no way to look back to find who to thank,
the only way is to thank everyone who comes in front of you.”
With all the gifts we’ve received, we were already taking active calls to be the change we wish to see in the world, each in our own beautiful way. And yet, we all longed to deepen our wish to serve, to change the way we live, to share goodness with our community and Mother Earth at large. It was truly humbling to be in the presence of souls who continuously pass on the love they’ve received.
- “Vision is not enough, it must be combined with Venture. It is not enough to stare at the steps, we must step up the stairs." One of our volunteers shared this quote from Vaclav Havel. He also shared how, being deeply moved by the kindness offered to him on his birthday, he has decided to do an act of kindness every single day, even if it means delaying sleep sometimes. :)
- “We must fulfill our mission wherever we are,” shared someone who was miraculously rescued from the brink of death. She was dangling off the steep slippery banks of the Mandakini River. Since then, against many odds, she has helped underprivileged children to study, kept a girl out of child marriage, and went extra miles to support the construction workers in her neighborhood. That gift of life truly overflowed.
- “I need to prepare and educate my heart to be more open,” one participant wrote. The seeds that her family and friends planted - from her parents who welcomed children from the neighborhood to come into their home, to her interviewers who saw and supported her passion - have helped her to quit her job and dedicate her life to supporting youth and children through arts.
On the last day of the retreat, our guest Nipun Mehta shared about the Middle Way. Perhaps, instead of seeing the Middle Way as walking a tightrope, falling neither too far to the left or right, we could see this path of service as an artist sees his violin strings. That sweet spot, when the strings are not too slack, not too taut, that is where S.E.R.V.I.C.E. is alive in us.
For Nipunbhai, S.E.R.V.I.C.E. stands for the spectrums of
- Selflessness - from self-sacrifice to self-care: How can we take care of others and not burn out? How can we take care of ourselves and also loosen our grip on our desires?
- Experiential - from ancient wisdom to modern application: How can we tune in to the wisdom of our traditions, and also skillfully apply that into our current context?
- Ripple-effect - from intention to action: How can we take action, while being aware that the ripples might only be visible to us maybe 9 years or 90 years down the road?
- Versatility - from conviction to flexibility: How can we stay centered, while also learning to take the shape of the container we are in?
- Interdependence - from independent to relational: “Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper.” When we hold a paper, can we also see the clouds?
- Contentment - from present to drive: How can we remember the divine in every moment, and also move forward?
- Effortlessness - from grit to surrender: How can we move from the ‘Me’ complex, to constantly see the gifts of life flowing from hand to hand?
Touched the ground
As the retreat drew to a close, we together explored the seasons of our lives with crayons, water colors and even a pencil box that has been kept unopened for 8 years. Trupti opened our HeArt Circle with this beautiful image:
The arts and reflection that bloomed forth expressed more than we could ever say. There were ever expanding hearts, rivers of colors, trees and freedom, and many smiles. :)
For our last hour together on Zoom, Jasky took us along his bowing journey. He discovered bowing as a way to focus our light internally, to relate to others, and to broadcast goodness to all beings. Every time our forehead touched the ground, we were reminded of the prayers of two monks on their 800-mile pilgrimage, of our two dear friends - one just received a call saying her uncle passed away, one was nursing a high fever, and finally, of the intention to share whatever goodness we’ve created together with the world.
In parting, here’s a little poem pieced together from what we each shared during our 7-day immersion:
in ways beyond our logical understanding
each of our very own universe connects (Sonal)
My inner manager is very tough (Jagdeep)
My heart is filled with a lot of pain (Hardeep)
This fork at the road (Galia)
I paused and introspected (Vibhuti)
Took that leap of faith (Shashi)
I never looked back (Rachna)
To be in nature ...
- Bliss (Digant Priya)
We came back together ...
- Love Joy Peace (Harika Karan)
The ripples of life ...
- Icing on the cake (Meghna Divya)
Just do it (Hetal)
Co-existence and happiness (Poulomi)
Bowing down in deepest gratitude (Shyam)
Opening our concept of ‘family’ (Parag)
- Head Hands Heart Retreat, August 2020
Posted by Khang Nguyen on Aug 23, 2020 | permalink
Meghna Banker wrote ...
Indeed what a graceful summary of the week we spent together. I felt goosebumps reading it. And the poetry at the end!!!!!!! That is insane!!! You've captured the essence of every single person in the retreat!! _/\_
Nisha Srinivasan wrote ...
Wow..so many pearls! Loved the reference that connects to our challenges to gifts of kindness. +1 to Meghna, the poem at the end is so out of the box! Thank you Khang.
Shyam Gupta wrote ...
Such a beautiful write up Khang. So beautifully described and capturing the essence of the retreat