Accepting Kindness

Posted on April 27, 2009

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It’s been about a month since I got back from India.  India was truly a blessing with the amazing kindness and generosity I received.  The more people I talk to, the more I realize, my experiences there are not so unique. India may be a land of material impoverishment yet the people are some of the most generous I’ve met in the world… And while I was there, I was in a state of WOW with the daily encounters of people being so generous. My favorite was this young boy that pushed a coconut cart in Pune, near where I was staying at the Urban Ashram.  Daily I would purchase one or two coconuts from him.  My last day there, I went to get one and he says oh no, they’re not good today.  I said what do you mean? You have a cart full. And he insists that they are not good.  So I walked a short block to the next coconut cart and just as I got there, I saw the boy run to the other cart owner. He said in Marathi (which I understand but can’t speak well), “Make sure they’re nice big ones that are sweet.”  How would one know, I wonder, if it will be sweet?  I don’t say anything though, just listen.   Then, it comes to paying time and I was to be charged Rs.36 which is really a drop in the bucket when you convert to dollars. But, almost double the price of what I would have paid the other boy.   I look down to get out the money and hear the two boys talking loudly with each other.  The young boy who I had a shared bond with but had never actually conversed with, was saying he was only allowed to charge Rs.18– which is what he normally charged me. The other cart owner said the coconuts were bigger and hence the higher price.  The boy says, absolutely not.  They go back and forth for a minute and then the boy turns to me and says pay him only 18.  Then he asks if I am going to the ashram, I say yes so he carries the coconuts and starts walking to the ashram.  I pay the other man and start walking as well.  I want to say wow, that was really sweet of you {For those who have never been to India, the reason that this was so sweet is vendors almost always try to charge more when they see foreigners; so to see the honesty this boy brought forth and was convincing the other one regarding was quite touching} and I’m so grateful for you carrying these huge coconuts for me.  It takes me a while to convert the words in my mind to Marathi and before that we are already at the house.  So spontaneously, when we get to the ashram, I’m thinking wow I want to give him the boy some money. I had a 50 on me so I’m offering it to him and he says no! WOW.  Not only did he do all this, he won’t accept anything for it. Just an act of kindness… no strings attached.

Another moving experience was the day I spent at Seva Cafe.  There was a crew of about 15 volunteers that served 50 guests on a Sunday evening. We all cooked together which was of course fun, and then served a meal, guests sitting on the floor, cross-legged, eating with their hands- it was “Traditional” night.  Since Seva Cafe has been an inspiration for Karma Clinic, it seemed natural for me to end up there at some point.  Regardless, it had been 4 years in the waiting, so I’m just glad I had the opportunity, being that there’s quite a wait list for volunteers! We spent 4 hours feeding people, which is just so moving all on its own, that when it comes with this additional aspect of no price, it just adds all the more to the charm.  To boot, I spent time connecting with awesome folks from Mumbai that run a gift-economy project of Media for Social Change! What an inspiration.  We served one large group that was so moved by generosity, they took down all of our emails.  A few weeks ago, I got a personal thank you note from the family.

At the end of the night, all the volunteers sat down to eat.  And one of the brothers who had also volunteered the whole time, decided he wanted to feed everybody, instead of eating! So, we decided that it was so generous of an offer from him that we had to do something… so everyone spontaneously feeds him a bite every time he comes over to feed them!

matrimandirWhile in India, I also got to visit a myriad of ashrams and temples.  And even there, there was an incredible flow of generosity and total randomness that was the order of the beloved.  For example, I really wanted to see Auroville– a sustainable eco-village in Pondicherri.  A friend warned, “you won’t get to see much unless you know someone- they don’t like visitors. Matter of fact, highly unlikely that you will even get to go to the Matri Mandir.”   Turns out, we got tickets for Matri Mandir which is this incredibly constructed structure that serves as the meditation center for the community.  We were given 15 minutes to meditate and then we had to leave. My friend was right… they really didn’t want people hanging around. And even if you were to hang around, where would you go? No maps. No signs of people- except for the continuous to and fro of motorbikes on this one main dirt road. So we left.  The next day, my friend calls and says hey did you know one of your friends is staying in Auroville? I’m like what? Who? Turns out to be this beautiful couple who I thought was in Israel! So we get in touch and they show us around Auroville…  that to me is ‘randomness’ in line with a higher order.

When I got to Ahmedabad, I really longed to connect with friends at Manav Sadhna.  I had spent some time with them on my last trip and really, it had just been too long.  So I get to Ahmedabad at 6AM.  I’m at MS by 10AM, hoping to suprise folks.  I walk in and see Jagatbhai– an amazing, humble, and funny friend.  He says Binal, Welcome. And gives a hug.  Its almost as though he expected me because although his face shines happiness, it has no trace of surprise.  Then he says, Jayeshbhai and all are out of town today and will be back.   Jayeshbhai is the incredible force at the center yet in the background of the amazing Manav Sadhna effort.  So I say, well, I’ll definitely be coming back soon.  I leave.  A day later, Jayeshbhai calls and says, “beta (my child), where are you?” I hadn’t made it back because I was attending the awesome wedding of my cousin.  So he says ok, well come Sunday if you have time.  I’m like well, can I come Saturday?… Jayeshbhai says he has meetings all day. So I say alright… and decide to go anyway to just visit, maybe I’ll see Jayeshbhai, maybe I won’t.

I show up Saturday morning and decide to walk through Gandhi Ashram, an adjacent to MS- and for all the time I’ve spent at MS, I never saw the exhibit at Gandhi Ashram! I walk out of the exhibit and follow intuition towards this group of people standing together. Not sure what compelled me… I just started walking.  And as I got closer I said in my mind, “Jayeshbhai! For real?” So I go and stand at the back of the group… didn’t at all expect him to recognize me in all white. But he calls me out- “Binal! How are you beta?”  Oops, I definitely didn’t want to disturb his meeting but oh well… no choice now. So we share a few words and I get to join the group on the tour.  Incredibly, I had joined this group of awesome people from Mumbai, working with MAM (link above) and Pune (Urban Ashram). Wow, totally unexpected but apparently I was meant to meet these folks!! I had heard so much about Madhu and Meghna from other friends that I was happy to finally meet them.  And then totally understood WHY everyone talks so much about them… they together for an incredible couple- of humility, humor, and service- willingness to be the change in every step.  From Pune was the group representing Urban Ashram, and their core Sheetal who is this deep, introspective, and engaging person with a vision for ashrams to be in the middle of cities!

As I mentioned earlier, I later ended up in Pune- relatively unplanned- and stayed at the Urban Ashram.  One day, a group of us went to create art with children at a juvenile detention center.  To me, art was a way to connect with these children and allow their creativity to emerge.   These children had committed some kind of ‘crime’, some had stolen bread, others were part of gangs, some had murdered– I didn’t ask.  It was just about being present with who they were, not their actions from a past.  I was working with a group of 5– the art project of the day was to create paper shopping bags from handmade paper.  The hope is eventually they will perfect this art and makeom1 enough to sell their own so that they have a skill that can sustain them once they leave the JD center.  My group created 2 bags.  One member of the group was not the artist but business man.  He said, miss, how much were these supplies? I said, I’m not sure.  He said well let’s say Rs. 50 and I sell the bags for Rs.100- then I could make money right? He was quite a smart 14 yr old indeed! Another member of the group was the artist– he created a perfectly made bag but was afraid to decorate it because he didn’t think he could.  After some encouragement, he made a beautiful OM on the bag!  It was one bag that all the volunteers would remember!

In Pune, I also visited the Siddhanath Forest Ashram— home of the mercury shivling. That’s right, this huge mercury shivling stands erect all by itself! For those of you that know, mercury can’t be solidified… so its a rare wonder indeed.  Of course, not much of a surprise because this is the ashram of a Master Yogi of the Kriya tradition.  He’s quite an incredible power– and the few minutes I spent with him were phenomenal.  When I went to do my meditation at the Earth Peace Temple where the shivling is, I didn’t move for 3 hours– until my friend finally said “hey let’s go, Gurunath’s waiting for us.” And all I wanted to say was no no, just 1 more hour!  I went back the next morning to the temple and again had the same experience– a still body, and more amazingly, a still mind! No thought for several hours… and a crystal clear meditation.  Overall, a pretty powerful experience!

The only thing I unwillingly report is that I have no pictures from my trip… my camera broke when I got there and hence, the only pictures are in my mind. Actually, others around me took pictures but I haven’t received them yet– so I’ll share as I receive them! Nonetheless, the memories will stay with me…

Posted in: inspiration, Service