Sometimes I love making erratic decisions, I feel like running away from this heartless city and so when I don’t get opportunity I make them, one such decision was to participate in ‘Moved by Love’ retreat that happens in Ahmedabad. I took an early morning flight to Ahmedabad, I don’t know I was having jitters from day before no wonder I couldn’t sleep on either days.
When I reached the venue of the retreat, I was sleep deprived, food deprived and anxiety ridden with actually no expectations from the retreat. I was standing lost at the entrance of Environmental and Sanitation Institute, Sughad village when I was guided to the dormitory assigned for the stay of the participants. I was happily surprised to see a welcome card with my name written on it and placed over a cozy bed (the bed looked more tempting because of the sleep). After an amazing gujrati breakfast, all the participants were invited to gather at the peace pole. I still remember the way all of us were welcomed, ‘welcome to the home’ and I now can vouch on these words because for next 2 and half days I actually felt like I was in my own home.
The concept of peace pole dates back to the second world war when Japan was devasted after the attack by American army, few monks decided to pray for their country, later they thought why just Japan why not for the people of the entire world, so wherever they used to go, they used to pray and place this peace pole. The words peace, love, empathy seems literally alien to me, I had always heard about them in various spaces, for me they were certain words used frequently in the social sector to get mileage or social acceptance, which left me with lot of emptiness. Hence for me, MBL retreat started with lot of judgments; little did I know what was in store for me?
After praying to the peace pole, we are invited to do silent nature walk. I was amazed by the beauty of the venue, the walking path seemed to be engraved in the lap of the nature, surrounded by numerous trees, bushes, plants – interestingly wherever the sight goes, there is something that is hidden or waiting to be discovered for example- there is Buddha in an encircled park like setting, bells hanging over the trees, noticeable natural decorations, huts situated over the small streams probably meant for meditation, branches/leaves bow down to greet you or interact with you :-)
We slowly walked into the Maitri Hall one by one, the sitting arrangement was also very different, because they all had names- compassion, love, peace, diversity, faith and many more. I chose to sit on the “compassion” because that’s what I really wanted to learn! The room was vibrating with the positive energy, prayers of all religions were being played- I still can’t decipher how I felt as I was juggling between judgments and new learning!
After the welcome note, we were invited to share our names and one story of personal connection in the circle. For the first time, I had nothing to share, for long I lacked personal connection with my own self- I was lost, I didn’t know what I was doing in my life!! I was surprised when Khushmita, one of the facilitators shared her connection with a fruit, one of the participants sharing connection with a tree and its branches from her childhood, another participant shared how she used to ignore calls from her friend primarily because of her work and also because that friend used to crib a lot. Once while she was on work, she received calls from her same friend- she thought to call him back on reaching home, however she forgot to call back. Next day, she got to know that her friend is no more from Facebook. She regretted this moment! After few years, she was participating in one of the workshops where she saw an old women crying, without wasting a moment she spoke to her. She came to know that lady misses her daughter and had not spoken to her for last 25 years. Later what happened was no less magic, she arranged for a phone call between the mother and the daughter :-)
Another interesting story was of a girl who knew that her sister was going through a rough patch and she really wanted to help her, but she knew that her sister won’t be comfortable with her- so she became her pen friend and made a beautiful bond with her own sister where she realized that detaching from relationships can also be helpful. She also shared a story with a beautiful outcome which says “Mitti pao” – when you throw all your fears, sorrows, pain inside the earth, you become free of them, she literally did that, and it worked brilliantly not only for her friend whom she advised this but also for her later in her life.
Another story was of a participant who has been living a nomadic life for past few years, she has been travelling and currently she is working in Seva Café as a volunteer who shared how she got connected to an Auto rickshaw driver through the story of Seva Café. He actually visited Seva Café to meet her and experience what she shared. It’s rightly
“Theories divide us and stories connect us, because we are part of them”
Khushmita also shared a story of Dr. Turya. In a hospital, a patient is mostly known by his number and the relationship between a doctor and patient is largely professional. But in the Loma Linda hospital, where she was interning, the relationship went beyond strictly medical through a special practice called Love Rounds. In one such round, Dr. Turya was talking to a patient who was particularly sad on this day. When asked ‘what is the one thing he would really like in this very moment?’ he just said “ice-cream”. Knowing that the patient is diabetic and that they would be going against hospital protocols; a group of doctors sneaked in with some ice-cream in his room. A gift that cheered him up and also helped the doctors experience that service does not always need to be perfect, but it must always be in the spirit of love.
I was actually sitting at a place half way in the circle, from not knowing ‘what to share’ to listening to all these stories, I remember my own story where for the first time I met a person who actually heard me, I don’t know for how long I was talking but he was just listening! I was stunned and when I shared this story in my way- people burst into laughter, that moment I realized that I can be an amazing story teller, I can engage people in my words :-)
Post lunch, Sheetal and Bhumika shared about the beginning of ServiceSpace from a simple project of designing websites for non-profits to its present form. Sharing stories of simple acts from the ecosystem, they talked about how operating from these principles, there is an individual and collective shift from consumption to contribution, transaction to trust, scarcity to abundance, and isolation to community. We were then divided into 4 groups where we were invited to reflect upon “if we are experiencing any of these shifts, or are in process of shift or have shifted?”
For me, this turned out to be differently interesting as one of the participant shared a story which was similar to what I experienced few months back, I could see myself empathizing with her and motivating her. And now I understand the quote that was written on the entrance of Maitri Hall
“Sometimes our light goes out
but is blown again into an instant flame
by an encounter with another HUMAN BEING”
Sheetal shared about his journey of slowing down when he came to know about his ailing mother who had just 6 months of life, he left everything and spend that quality time with his mother. He also shared his struggles of balancing the joy of passion and not being able to make it sustainable.
This retreat was turning out to be big packet of surprises, in no other workshop, participants were allowed to go outside the venue premises, and here all of us were going in the city in a bus! We were welcomed in Safai Vidalaya by Sanchi, it’s an institute where people, researchers and even NGOs come to study about toilets, cleanliness and various aspects related to the same. We had limited time, however we also saw toilet restaurant, following which we went to Gandhi Ashram. I was overjoyed to be in Gandhi Ashram, it was unbelievable for me to be standing at a place where Gandhiji would have walked, worked, slept, did his daily chores, talked about independence. I was enchanted by the beauty, silence and energy of this beautiful place where Gandhi ji once lived.
We have been hearing stories about Seva Café from the morning, I had already made up by mind that I would like to see this place once this retreat gets over, but another surprise awaited us- We were going to Seva Café!! We were welcomed with Dhol, nagadas, songs and dance- it was the most beautiful welcome I ever got. The entire café was booked for us, no guests were allowed that day. This café runs on gift economy- It is a restaurant where staff and volunteers cook and serve loving meals, have conversations with the guests and in the end present them with a cheque that just reads Rs 0 and a little note “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.” Interestingly they even have a volunteer who is just 10 years old :-)
We had amazing dinner comprising of Sandwiches, masala puri, uttapam, chutney and mouthwatering kheer.
Later the evening became colorful and soulful with the stories, poems and bhajans by Facilitators, volunteers and participants. Nandini who shared the story of “Mitti pao” inspired people from the workshop who actually did this ritual post the sessions. Lovingly called ‘Disney Boy’ shared poem on Seva Café, then there was Meera’s bhajan, but what touched me most was the poem recited by Kunal (its’s poem by famous poet late Sri Harivansh Rai Bachchan)
“Jeevan Main Ek Sitara Tha
Maana Vah Behad Pyara Tha
Vah Doob Gaya To Doob Gaya
Ambar Kay Aanan Ko Dekho
Kitne Iskay Taare Toote
Kitne Iskay Pyare Choote
Jo Choot Gaye Fir Kahan Mile
Par Bolo Toote Taaron Par
Kab Ambar Shok Manata Hai
Jo Beet Gayi So Baat Gayi”
This was followed by birthday celebrations and cake cutting.
We were extremely tired and exhausted. I was heading towards the dormitory when one of the participants was asking if any of us could come and sleep with her as she was alone in her room. Everyone including me were suggesting her to come to dorm to sleep along with us. I could clearly see that she was uncomfortable with the suggestions, not very keen to abrupt changes I decided to go with her. While walking towards the room, I was little doubtful, also in such workshops, dorms are full of excitement but it was the impact of the day that made me move out of my comfort zone. And what happened next was another beautiful surprise- the room was big with only 2 beds, huge bathroom, an air conditioner, a table with 2 almirah and yes an amazing corner- it was an exact replica of the room I ever desired to have :-) Yes small steps of kindness are paid back with huge bonuses. So much in one day- it seemed I have been living here for many days.
Next morning Devendra bhai welcomed us to the hands activities by sharing stories from his time of working with Ishwar kaka. One of the most important lessons he learnt and shared with us was how Ishwar kaka always focused on amplifying and appreciating the good. He never preached or advised but just did what he thought was right. We were then divided into 4 different groups- one of the team was sent to the Kabir ashram for cleaning and cooking lunch, another team was asked to engage in gardening, third in preparing brooms and I was part of the fourth team that was making dustbins and painting them. Initially I was apprehensive of what to do but once we all started we just kept doing the assigned work with happiness. We also decided that we would gift 2 of these dustbins to any of the shops that would fall in our journey towards Kabir ashram.
We are all set to leave, I saw an old man (I don’t remember his name but he works in ESI for long) making brooms with so much love and sincerity that it appeared like a mother holding her new borne baby for the first time in her hand. I was taken aback, I had never seen so much love for one’s work.
We were welcomed by music, dance in the most traditional way in the Kabir Ashram. My happiness quotient was increasing with every moment in the retreat. As we sat down, Jayesh Bhai shared stories of Kabir Ashram and the lovely relationship he and Sant ji who lives here shares! He climbs the mango trees on his own even at this stage to pluck ripe mangoes for Jayesh Bhai and while doing this last year he fell down and had fractures his arm. But that didn’t stop him, he is still very active in all his work. Jayesh bhai also spoke about the importance of waiting till everyone is served and praying at the beginning of the meal. We gorged upon delicious khichdi and kadhi prepared at the ashram. While we rested for some time I was part of some very engaging and interesting conversations about what is love, attachments and spirituality. I couldn’t believe I could also talk about these topics.
In the evening Steve introduced the concept of triads and all of us divided into groups of three with each of us taking on the roles of a story-teller, listener and observer in rotation. It was beautiful listening to someone’s story without any judgments and with a pure heart.
As the evening drew to a close, all of us sat for an Awakin gathering followed by a reading and a round of reflections. We had little time, so many of us sacrificed our turns to give chance to those who really wanted to share, so when I heard that “I want to share how I felt and I want to take this chance because so many of you have sacrificed their chance” something in me changed forever. I was feeling lot more peaceful and loved.
As we walked out of Maitri Hall in silence, the entire venue was lit with candles. There were volunteers standing with water in their hands, they washed our feet, helped us to wash our hands and then dry it too. One after another we sat in circle under the moonlight with Buddha in the centre, there was silence all around and we were served with food- this is called as silent dinner. I couldn’t hold myself anymore, I burst into tears, tears of love, gratitude and affection- never ever in my entire life I experienced such magic- it seemed somebody has taken away all my grudges, pain, sadness and hugged me so tight that I could only experience love :-) I kept crying throughout the dinner and then someone somewhere fed the person sitting close to her and then a chain reaction happened, everyone was feeding people sitting beside them- if there was something called magic on this earth I was witnessing it live in front of my eyes! This is one experience which will remain in my heart forever <3
The night was still not over, because another surprise awaited us. There was garbha night arranged for us, where we danced along with the anganwadi didi's who had come here for another workshop. I could see that the love this dance created formed another beautiful community.
The day of the heart opened with Jayesh bhai speaking about his own journey with sanitation, service and love. He shared how his father introduced him to sanitation by making him clean the public toilets for entire one month. He also talked about how his father believed in service as one of the volunteer who also attended MBL retreat here wanted to marry here, at the same time his father was seriously ill. They were scared what if his father leaves his body on the day of marriage, then it would have to be called off, the bride also agreed however his father said that whatever happens even if he dies on the same day, the marriage should happen with the same pomp and show. And this is what exactly happened Ishwar Kaka died, and Jayesh Bhai made sure the wedding happens in the same way as it was designed to.
It was beautiful listening to his stories, when someone asked that we keep doing good things, but people don’t understand, they harm us and hurt us? To which he replied, “Gandhi ji did service to mankind but he was shot dead, so what we are here to spread love and do service. That’s it”
Sheetal then introduced the sacred practice of 3 steps and a bow, a pilgrimage that Rev. Heng Sure and Heng Chow went on for 2 years and 9 months. With a simple message from Rev. Heng Sure;
“Forget the harvest,
“Forget the harvest,
As much as you seek,
thats how much you will be obstructed.
Don't seek enlightenment,
Steve led the way as we all bowed to the universe. I didn’t know whether I would be able to do it or not- I just thought to go with the flow. As I kept moving, my heart got emptier and emptier- I could just feel gratitude flowing through me, I had never been so thankful to the universe!
As the retreat came to an end with one more surprise- there was a beautiful presentation made for all of us having beautiful moments captured – it was like reliving those 2 and half days once again J All I was thinking why, why so much love ? To the person who came from Delhi just for the sake of it, full of judgments, hatred towards love, peace, empathy and gratitude was completely changed- I now believe love exists, and I am grateful. And this won’t be possible without this beautiful retreat ‘Moved by Love’. And yes I now know that I have a home to come back to when I am tired, exhausted, devoid of love :-)
All I can say is I am grateful for each and every one present in the MBL retreat for this lifetime experience :-)