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”
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.”