Interconnection - Head Hand Heart Online Immersion
"When life throws a lemon at you, make lemonade and serve!!" - That's what we usually tell one another in the Service Space ecosystem. With that in mind, we hosted the third online Head Hands Heart Immersion from 12th to 18th October 2020, with 7 volunteers, 19 participants, and 4 guest speakers.
In general, the attempt is to build a field of noble kinship. To respond to life's suffering with compassion, we need to be rested in the web of noble kinship. That will afford us the resilience to hold our tensions long enough to glimpse into the heart of service. Without the strength of deep ties, the solution to life’s suffering stays hidden in plain sight. In such a field of emergence, the arc of the whole harmonizes towards a profound inner transformation of its parts. Everyone is served, and yet, because such change is non-linear and unpredictable, our jaws continually drop in awe, and our smiles widen in joy.
From Tuesday to Friday, everyone did their assignment and posted their reflection online. So many intimate stories and inspiration started floating on the online feed as everyone connected with everyone's goodness. The process was deeply nourishing as everyone felt held, and the context of holding each other, and being vulnerable to each other manifested very effortlessly.
On Saturday morning, we initiated the opening circle after a minute of silence and multi-religion prayer. A volunteer welcomed everyone with a heart-warming smile and shared her gratitude to everyone for saying yes to the experiment of love and showing up full-heartedly with their presence. The sun was shining in Vietnam after days of heavy rain and storm, and that was very visible on her face. :)
Another volunteer set the context for the theme of the retreat - Interconnection. In recent times of the pandemic, he shared stories of mistrust, hoarding, insecurity, countries blaming each other, and how isolation and disconnection were very deeply felt. In general, to feel and be lonely is so present in the current societal structure. At the same time, so many stories of connection were sprouting up everywhere, strangers cheering the front line workers, the medical fraternity working round the clock, people supporting and serving migrant laborers, were coming up all across the world. The interconnection with the animal world is vividly seen in the veganism movement, which is at an all-time high. He kickstarted the opening circle with a very pertinent question,
There are so many stories of isolation around us. Can you share a story where you felt a deep connection or a sense of interconnectedness?
One volunteer shared a very personal story. She was living abroad for a very long time, so that she could distance herself from her father. The story in her mind was that of an irresponsible father. “I expected him to change,” she said. :) Something shifted in her heart, and she came back to Vietnam as he was in a bad health situation. She slowly and silently created a space within her to connect deeply by sharing letters she has written to her father for years but never posted them.:) During the last years of his life, she connected very deeply and spent a lot of time with him. Though he is no more, she feels for every breath she takes, she is also taking it for him and feels deeply connected with him irrespective of his presence. She feels deeply fulfilled with the connection she nurtured in the latter part of his life.
Another shared how she connected with a stranger as she was getting off from the flight, and the person was in bad shape physically and needed help in getting on the bus to the terminal. On the very same day, while driving with her father, the father got stuck in the driving seat as the door got jammed with footpath, and she was unable to do anything with a young daughter on her lap. In a lightning moment, a stranger who was walking by, turned and in a moment release the door, and before she could even thank him, he very silently walked out of the situation. She felt a mystical sense of connection with both events that unfolded in a day.
An avid meditator from Bengaluru talked about the Awakin Circle community and how that deeply connects everyone in the small community in Bangalore. He is part of the circle for the last 6 years and he connects deeply with everyone. During the pandemic times, the circle supported each other in so many different ways. The feeling of sangha has seeped over the years and serves everyone who is part of it.
A social worker from Bengaluru felt thankful for being part of the circle. With so much happening around her, saying yes to the Immersion was a great decision. She shared a eureka moment when she took the first step without thinking of the end result. She reflected on being part of the relay race and letting life manifest in the way it wants. She felt the interconnection of all beings in the process.
Due to COVID-19, a hardcore volunteer from Mumbai shared how her volunteering group had been isolated at the Tata Memorial Hospital, where she volunteered. It comes naturally to her to help people. She felt a deep connection with her friends and coworkers when her driver got COVID and isolated in her home. She also felt a deep connection with the doctor who leads her department and is extremely busy but still takes time out to tag her with a computer mouse she needs.
Her friend from Mumbai, who also volunteers at Tata memorial cancer hospital, shared that connecting with the patient during lockdown was one way to feel a deep connection in times of isolation.
An elder and a venture capitalist from Bengaluru shared a story narrated by her friend, who is a doctor. The story is about a child who needed a lung transfer to survive. In the last moment, when everyone had given up, and he was going to be taken off from the ventilator, but in that very moment, an accidental death happened, and lung transfer did take place very miraculously. The child is doing well and now living an almost normal life. The incident left her to ponder on a much deeper connection between us, even when it was not manifested.
A mother from Surat who has been working in college as a professor for the last 20 years and always felt guilty about not sharing enough time with her daughter. The pandemic gave that opportunity to spend a lot of time with her daughter while doing small household chores or just being together with no option to go out of the house. They did a lot of stuff together and felt deep interconnection with her daughter.
A friend from the Surat Awakin circle shared a very vivid story of being on a train with her sister and was feeling a little down. A stranger who was sitting across them just made a passing comment as he was getting down. He said, “Your eyes are sad, and instead of being in sorrow, you should smile all the time, and that is life.” :) This one passing comment is still remembered by her even now and she feels deeply connected to that stranger.
A down-to-earth business man, also from Surat, shared a very interesting story that ended up being very transformative for him. He felt a little odd on their holiday trip to California when his daughter connected well on a road trip with a Uber driver from Russia. He felt little fear and irritation when his daughter shared the itinerary and the addresses to stay in California. It so happened that on the last day, as they were going to board the return flight to India, he realized that he had forgotten all their passports at the previous destination, and there was not enough time to go pick it up. The driver drove directly to the airport with their passport and refused to charge any money for the long trip.
A serendipitous friend from Germany shared a very touching story that happened with her the day before. While dropping the old tyres of her car, she greeted the person on the counter with “How are you?”. The person on the counter felt deeply touched as there was someone after so many years greeted him. Otherwise, it was all mechanical interaction at the counter.
An editor from Uttarakhand felt that the biggest story is right here and right now as we connect with each other on-screen in times of pandemic. She was going through a difficult spot in her marriage and was trying to mend ways and suddenly got a divorce letter from her husband and felt very lonely. Having a non-existential relationship with her father, she was feeling very lonely but in such times, calls on her father, who is all there to support her in all possible ways to heal her and support her marriage. She feels her father supported her in the most challenging phase of her life and feels deeply connected to him.
A nature enthusiast from Rajkot slipped off on a very steep climb while trekking on a very difficult climb in Saputara. The guy who was trekking with him risked his own life to hold him up. This participant feels he kissed the worst danger of his life, feels deeply grateful to the fellow trekker, and feels deep interconnection with this stranger who saved his life.
For another meditator from Vikarabad, a quote by George Bernard Shaw- "Our stomachs are not burial grounds. " changed his life for good. He turned vegetarian and created a movement for vegetarianism in his local community. He feels the pain of the animals and feels connected to them. He feels that if we operate from the heart, we will connect with everyone.
A businessman from Ranchi who started a volunteer group to support people with mental health issues also shared about a bus journey from 12 years ago. Back then, there was a deep pain in his leg and was not able to stand, and the conductor felt his pain and gave him a seat. In turn, as a pregnant lady boarded the bus and with no seat for her, irrespective of his pain he stands up and gives her the seat. Miraculously the pain disappeared and he felt connected with strangers in the process of serving them on a bus journey before 12 years.
A counsellor from Bengaluru felt the pain of migrant laborers traveling back to their native place and with no food to support them in the journey as the train was not going to stop at any station. At first, she started individually to make rotis for them and in the process, found a lot of support from 800 apartment complexes as many joined her in making and distributing rotis. Felt deep connection with neighbors in serving the migrant laborers and migrant laborers in the opportunity to serve them.
We also had a special education teacher calling in from the UK. Her father recently became wheelchair-bound. Somebody has to be always present for his nursing care, and an attendant stepped in and worked for 12 hours for 6 days continuously so that she can have some break and rest. She felt deeply touched. In service, she finds a deep connection with the attendant.
A teacher from Bengaluru experimenting in the gift economy shared how lost his father at the age of 10 and had a very vague memory of his father. The lockdown has helped him closely see all his family members and observe the depth of connection, and made him aware of all the goodness the family brought to him during this time.
We ended the circle with gratitude smiles and waved off to each other, thinking of how individual stories are not so individual.:) so many individual stories are also collective stories when looked at deeply.
The lunch-break Hands assignment was to post a picture of having food with family and reflection on what family means to me. The feed was getting crowded with smiles and wisdom of the interconnection within families.
Post lunch, we again came together for a circle with Rohit Rajgharia as our guest speaker. Rohit shared his journey from being a corporate wiz kid to a full-time volunteer focusing on his inner transformation while doing a small act of kindness. He walks off from the corporate mantra of "This is not enough" to “I have everything I need” while joyously participating in so many labor-of-love projects for the Service Space ecosystem as well as other ecosystems. After his talk, the circle was divided into a small group of 4 people for an intimate dialogue on a very interesting question,
What is one pressing question/ inquiry that is alive for you at this moment?We again assembled in a circle after the intimate dialogue that allowed us to know each other better and find ways to support each other in the inquiry.
(While the retreat is flowing along, we were also having fun putting together this Kindness Boomerang as a treat. :) )
The evening session was of stories from the heart. Khang welcomed everyone to the circle after a minute of silence and invited Shilpa for the prayer. She sang the prayer from the Plum Village monastery and anchored everyone with silence in the circle. She then Invited Usha to share her story and the pivotal turning point of her life.
Usha greeted everyone and thanked them for the reflection and felt this was a good way to connect within herself. After graduating as a CA, married to a Gujarati, life pushed her into managing the kitchen while her heart longed for a corporate world career. She was able to convince her in-laws and took up a job offer in a telecom company, which was 20 kms away from where she lived. She used to get up at 4 in the morning to manage her day and divided her time very skillfully between family and work.
Her children grew up very easily in a joint family, but she decided to drop the job and spend time with them when they were in their teens. In the same period, something went wrong with her husband's business, and she thought of joining his business; organically, she rebuilt that business giving all her energy. Overnight she decided to leave everything. Her father needed some medical care and decided to spend time playing board games, listening to war stories, and reading books together. She used to drive him to the hospital and consult the doctor and manage everything to take care of her father during his illness, which he succumbed to eventually. Usha felt the 2 years where she took care of her father in his illness were very pivotal, one where she understood life as she closely watched the death of her father. Understanding life through understanding death.
Siva was born and brought up in a middle-class family, and everyone around him except his parents were teachers. Lost his father at the tender age of 10 and was brought up by grandparents, he started teaching part-time during his graduation and probably when a teacher's seeds were shown in him. After graduation, he got an outstanding job in the Indian airforce as a technical person and earned an excellent salary. He used to think that problems in life were due to lack of money, but after getting money, the problem persisted. He started asking difficult and different questions about life and started visiting different spiritual communities. Eventually, the conflict within him made him realize that the job is not for me, and did not know what to do.
The best teachers are the ones who walk the talk, and found one teacher that changed my life. The teacher asked a few questions and the image he used to carry about him came crashing down, and he decided to be a teacher and teach teachers. At the same time, To fulfill his mother's wishes, he got married. The surface difference in his marriage reflected who he was within, and started a journey of knowing himself. To value Relationship over Being right was his realization.
He started a small organization for the well being of teachers in his state and valuing relationships over everything and being together in the journey is creating so much wonder for the community. He feels he is less miserable than what he was yesterday and a little more joyous than what he was yesterday.:)
The third and last speaker was Aditi who had a topsy turvy and very different childhood and upbringing. She was not keeping well in the early years simultaneously, very versatile and intelligent, and doing so well at so many sports, music, and singing. She lived a very active student life and learned so many different skills while reading Swami Vivekanand and deeply resonating with his teaching at a very young age. From a very early age, she was very bold and courageous and made many solo trips even in her teen years. The pivotal point to walk on the inner journey was when very spontaneously walked out of home and crossed the street to be with Jain nuns for the whole day, forgetting her life and family for a few hours. She felt very happy to be with the nuns, asked profound questions, and even decided to be a nun. Of course, that did not happen, but the day with nuns showed the quest for spirituality.:)
We ended the session with Sasha playing percussion and everyone saying heartwarming goodbye to the day and its proceedings.
Good morning Sunday
This was the last day of Immersion, and as usual, we started with silence followed by prayer. Karan started the day with a warm welcome and summed up yesterday with some highlights and mirror the whole to itself. He fondly remembered Shilpa's reflection the previous evening before the prayer-"Even though you are not present, I feel your presence." The day was filled with so much inspiration, and it did touch all of us in varied ways. Usha reflected that she has been to so many spaces but has not felt this kind of presence and attention anywhere. After the initial pop-corn and a few interesting reflections, Parag introduces the circle to Nipun Mehta, the guest speaker, and formally introduces him to the whole circle.
Nipunbhai shares a small presentation on Creating Sacred Space. The presentation's crux is how do we create spaces where the whole is much more than the sum of its parts. How do we tap into the intelligence of the heart, which is beyond our ego?
The presentation was followed by very deep interaction, in particular around relationships; how do we navigate that in its sacredness.:)
Post lunch, we came together for a heart circle titled sacred geometry anchored by Rupali Bhuva. She is an art teacher for over two decades in Mumbai and a very gentle and kindred soul. Her journey with servicespace started before 5 years when she attended a start-up retreat, which became a pivotal turning point in her life in walking the journey of stillness. For years she has been hosting HeArt Circles, and the medium of art and silence is used to cultivate stillness within. Everyone participated in the sacred geometry circle on the theme of interconnection, and the below picture tells the true story of the circle.
Post tea-break, we again assembled for the last circle of the week and the immersion. Parag started with sharing gratitude to the whole and how everyone has come together for co-creating a space that has nourished all. Together the circle wished that whatever, if at all, any value is created, then that not let be in the circle but fly far off in ways it wants to serve humanity.
With the words of gratitude Meghna invited Trupti Pandya, who was our guest for the last session. Trupti is a very committed volunteer of servicespace and host Awakin circle at her home in Baroda for last 10 years. She has some profound practices in life as she walks her inner journey, and one of the practices was to walk Narmada parikrama last year with her sister Swara. She is a pilgrim soul, and one of the practices she does every day is Bowing.
She shares, Bowing is a pilgrimage and it is about peeling layers of the onion of self. “‘I have enough’ is the feeling as I bow. A lot of maitri and metta flow out of me.”
The second reason to bow is forgiveness, and bowing is an opportunity to beg forgiveness and be free from the residue, which is holding me back. Bowing gives me the courage to face the person and beg for forgiveness.
Thirdly, Bowing is an opportunity to Surrender to be comfortable in the space of uncertainty. It helps me to dissolve the conflict of what is and what it should. It dissolves what should be and gives me the strength to accept what life offers to me.
The last reason to bow is that It helps me empty myself and let it go, and be part of the flow of life. It is a practice to cultivate stillness for me.
With these words of self lived wisdom, she walked us into bowing in silence, and after that, we all again came back to circle where Karan did a nice surprise presentation before we parted with a goodbye smile.
As we all parted indeed, we all felt that we co-created a sacred space where the whole is larger than the sum of its parts.