“Make Me a Channel of Your Peace…”

This Wednesday was absolutely magical. I was so happy I could not stop smiling. Even as I was trying to fall asleep, I had to try to signal my cheeks to relax, but they wouldn’t! The atmosphere of the Mehta (metta) family room was truly emanating with tremendous joy, vitality and love. Everyone could feel and connect with it. Quite a few people even commented on it.

Somikbhai set the tone of the evening beautifully by remembering a research advisor of his who had said he needed to do his ‘angel duty’ of the day. The idea of ‘angel duty’ or service rendered at just the right time, in just the right way, really resonated throughout the circle of sharing. Angel duty, as its definition naturally infers, is different for each person. For Somikbhai, his professor did angel duty for him by telling someone else that consulting was not in alignment with Somikbhai’s deepest values (even though Somikbhai had actually been looking for post-doctorate consulting opportunities).

It was a real treat to have Somikbhai’s parents join the circle from India. I really liked how his father shared my favorite passage from the Bhagavad Gita, about how feeling the joys and sorrows of another person as one’s own is to have attained the highest state of Yoga and spiritual union.

That Gita passage also reminds me of Niroga Yoga Institute founder and master teacher BK Bose’s description of a yogi’s life goals as being the twin pursuits of Self-realization and selfless service, and how he himself is a great model of that by teaching yoga in underprivileged schools, hospitals, juvenile halls and rehabilitation centers throughout the Bay Area.

I was really touched when Somikbhai’s father shared with me after the circle how Swami Vivekananda asked his teacher to guide him in attaining asamprajnata samadhi (the highest state of Yoga, in which one leaves beyond all concerns for the material world). His teacher said he would not teach him this. He told Swami Vivekananda that being in that state of samadhi (and thereby being, in a real sense, removed from the world) was not for him. Instead, he told Swami that his real purpose was to liberate others through his very presence.

Somikbhai’s father then went on to share with me how one hour of meditation was enough for me and to not ever wish to go meditate in a Himalayan cave, but to continue to serve people by my presence.

“You see, you are always smiling, which shows that you are a very happy person. Someone can be in the depths of despair, but just by being around you, they will feel uplifted. You have that strength to share your happiness and peace with others through your presence.”

Though I am certainly no saint and not sure if I deserved such high compliments, these very kind sentiments reminded me of what I have heard about St. Francis of Assisi, and how his mere presence used to serve people. Just him being there, even silently, had brought great peace and joy to those blessed to be around him. I loved singing St. Francis’ song “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” during my Catholic high school days at Notre Dame Academy in Toledo, Ohio:

“Make me a channel of your peace
Where there is hatred let me bring your love
Where there is injury, your pardon Lord
And where there is doubt true faith in You
Make me a channel of your peace
Where there is despair in life let me bring hope
Where there is darkness only light
And where there’s sadness ever joy
Oh, Master grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love with all my soul
Make me a channel of your peace
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
It is in giving to all men that we receive
And in dying that we are born to eternal life”

St. Francis of Assisi’s channeling of divine peace and love made him a dear friend of humans and animals alike (photo courtesy of Dearborn-Animals.com)

May we all seek to become channels of peace. I always resonated a lot with this notion of how it is in giving to all men that we receive. On the topic of giving and receiving, I am reminded of how Kiran Bedi’s (first woman police officer and warden of Tihar Jail) compassion (the source of her strength and power) was able to transform the formidable hell of Tihar into an ashram (a secluded place for spiritual development). She was determined to provide a healthier environment for her prisoners and to actually treat them as human beings. Even when a severe rainstorm threatened to dismantle the groundbreaking 10-day Vipassana meditation course she conducted for 1,000 prisoners (the documentary “Doing Time, Doing Vipassana” tells this story wonderfully), her compassion enabled all the tents to get re-sown and the course to resume as before.

The stories of the transformations of the prisoners are so remarkable and inspiring. They could go inside themselves (for many, for the very first time) and access self-love as a direct result of their having experienced her great love for them. Many prisoners referred to her as their mother and were devastated when she changed posts as they felt they were losing the only person who ever truly cared about them.

One prisoner in particular, who had shot and murdered three of his enemies in five minutes during a gang shootout in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, actually decided during his first 10-day meditation course to seek forgiveness from the family of one of the men he had killed. This, to me, is so amazing, as it takes so much strength and compassion to forgive someone else, to let go of the pain and suffering they have caused, but I think it requires tremendous humility to be able to ask for forgiveness, as well as the ability to forgive yourself first: another formidable task for most. The documentary shows how the relatives of this man’s enemy came to tie a rakhee (symbol of familial bonding) around his wrist and how the man accordingly looks after these women as though they really are members of his own family.

The power of circles and positive acknowledgment in healing and transformation was another theme throughout the evening. I really enjoyed how Pavidid shared about her experience guiding her younger family members at a retreat given through an amazing organization her family runs (called Aravind Eye Hospitals). She shared how, as one of the oldest members of the younger generation, she felt a responsibility to give advice to help transform the younger people’s weaknesses into strengths. This time, however, she and her husband Viralbhai decided to form circles as part of the retreat, like how we do every Wednesday.

They started the retreat by acknowledging and appreciating each person’s strengths instead of giving advice regarding their weaknesses. After doing this, everyone naturally opened up and shared about their own weaknesses. Pavididi said they knew exactly what their own weaknesses were without needing anyone to point them out and how she could see herself in each one of them and the weaknesses they shared. She reflected on how acknowledgement instead of advice was able to create a powerful and transformational experience for all the participants involved.

I really appreciated how Renudidi shared about how her and her husband did not get along well after entering into their arranged marriage. They went to live in a room owned by an older woman in Berkeley, who was able to show them both what was good in each of them, which thereby helped them see the goodness in one another, which transformed their marriage into a much more loving and harmonious union.

Arati talked about her experience starting a Wednesday-style meditation circle on Sundays at Harvard and how it was so difficult for her to get people to open up and share their reflections. She reached out to Viralbhai for advice and he replied by saying that silence is very powerful. So the next Sunday she decided to leave the circle in silence to warm up the food she had prepared for the meditators and found that they naturally opened up that way.

My co-facilitator and I have a similar experience with our long-term unit in juvenile hall, who can be reluctant to share due to the trauma they are going through of being incarcerated for long periods of time. We hold our circle in silence and often find that this creates space for some of the most profound stories and insights.

I loved how Dinesh Uncle (one of the Wednesday meditation hosts) shared about the power of circles and the inherent trust they provide to share and be whoever we really are. He also talked about how we must be at peace and whole within ourselves (which meditation returns us to), but that to experience joy, we need others. He shared about how Wednesday circles in particular are all about sharing our joy with others and how the joy of service in particular is the greatest we can know while alive. The joy of service is the meaning of life.

I had lunch with a couple amazing counselors for underprivileged, at-risk youth in Richmond, California yesterday. One of them, named Mitch (who frequently posts very thoughtful comments throughout this blog) put it really nicely when he shared how often in life, our greatest pains stem from our relationships, but so, too, do our greatest joys. He reflected on how just one person who loves and accepts someone unconditionally, is attuned to their emotional state and is a stable presence in another’s life can make a world of a difference in the life of another person.

That reminded me of my experience taking a replication training with the world-renowned Delancey Street Foundation, and how a little woman named Mimi’s great compassion for ‘the bottom 1% of society’ (criminals, homeless people, prostitutes and addicts) has transformed and continues to change the lives of so many. I remember meeting a couple of large, well-built African-American men who had previously been on death row and how they shared what an amazing second chance they had been given at life.

“We like to have fun and be crazy here, but when Mimi walks into the room, you won’t even hear a pin drop. We all regard and love her as our mother,” one of them shared.

All this and more makes me so grateful and excited to be able to serve others and hold space for them and their healing, in juvenile halls, schools, hospitals and one day, through an organization I am planning to create in India called Purnam Bhavan. I am especially looking forward to teaching children methods of peaceful conflict resolution through the practice and application of the teachings of Yoga in their lives.

I think Gandhiji put it best when he shared:

“If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to cary on a real ‘war against war,’ we shall have to begin with children. If they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won’t have to struggle; we don’t have to pass fruitless, idle resolutions; but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which, consciously or unconsciously, the whole world is hungering.”

3 thoughts on ““Make Me a Channel of Your Peace…”

  1. me says:

    very inspiring blog.is there a way to be able to help your Purnam Bhavan financially or any other means.thank you.

  2. Manoj says:

    Here are some of my random thoughts(some of them are opinions…:-))when I read this blog a while back….
    I agree with your uncle’s insight that the greatest joy to be known(for many like myself) in this world is for sure giving back to as many with all the energy/emotionally attuning as possible sacrificing(this may not be as true to refer as sacrifice:-)) one’s own needs including the need to give. I could go ahead and say as much as one’s total happiness in life is as much as one gives back to someone…or as many.
    However, I think for someone to be in a state to be really giving something back to the someone he/she needs to be in real spiritual alignment with his/her spiritual needs; This is so because real giving cannot happen unless one is inundated with joy/peace himself that he wants to share with someone; This need would the next thing to happen from that state. A lot of us seek joy in others which is one’s need based where real giving cannot happen. Real joy is not there unless one understands as much one’s spiritual needs himself, is contained by getting conscious where he transcends his base existential aspects of survival fear and his ego…then there could be real giving and genuine compassion and ability to attune oneself to someone’s emotional state/need…and then giving would be the natural state to be as one is brimming with joy to share…But when someone tries hard to give from his ego(which could make oneself feel bigger in life)…there could be least things one can affect positively the people around….
    This is why the biggest funded NGOs who are filled with and probably run by the brightest minds and operating with massive funds are least effective in really affecting anything positive our most suffering part of the society compared to someone(like Mother Theresa/……Amma/ Gandhi/ Eckart Tolle/ Dalai Lama) who have served an oasis of deepest compassion … can really influence the world positively as they give from their deepest compassion in a state of love….compared to these NGOs/celebrities operating from their state of ego existence….not satisfied ….wanting to feel bigger than all that material world made them feel….I am not trying to generalize all NGOs here.
    Even a terrorist wants desperately to give back something back to the part of the society he is from in an angered/frustrated state of his ego…..or operating on his pain body…There is not love as part of his giving.
    That said, most of us don’t understand this highest need.. and go ahead trying to achieve what the society ascribes as the BIGGEST things in life….forgetting our deepest inclinations….
    Also, I agree that the minimal way one can positively influence someone is holding and sharing them the spaciousness(/silence) one has that could alleviate their “pain body” as Eckhart Tolle(one of my biggest spiritual influences) abstracts the ego negativity which most of average humans operate most their lives in….People have quoted experiencing deepest silences/peace felt just being with someone who are in their depths of this spaciousness…like Bhagavan Ramana Maharishi(this saint from southern India who I consider my most influential first spiritual teacher..) …People from around the world used to visit him just to experience this deep meditative silence they felt just being in the proximity of him who never moved from this mountain town where he lived most of his adult life.
    In that sense, there is surely influential energy coming from people who carry this spiritual spaciousness who could be an oasis for people in their circles to share with each other before they return their own world where there is a lot of influence from pain bodies….:-) I have to find my circle…..and my “angel duty” for sure 🙂
    I can surely feel this deep joy and happiness in the spirit to give in you Ripa which probably your deep spiritual alignment grounds you in and I think you are in tune with your “agent duty”….from the blogs you have written and the little I have known you…Giving children that ability to experience this spaciousness that yoga could give would really build a society filled with people who grow knowing a better way to live. And they could be more channels of peace…! I deeply wish that one day you will serve for a better world through your ideal organization.
    And hey, Thanks for reminding that song of St.Francis!..I remember singing it in my school days too..:-)forgot most of the lines though…

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