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Nipun Mehta: Where Do We Find Gandhi Today?
Where Do We Find Gandhi Today?
It is not unimaginable that revolutionary change makers such as Mahatma Gandhi, Vinoba Bhave and our modern heroes like Nipun Mehta, or any other whom has walked a path of love and devotion for mankind, could awaken something within us. What awakens, is the call for us to recognize our own innate goodness. The inspiration we feel by these great ones, acts as an open invitation for us to move in a spirit of love, faith and compassion. In our Global Awakin Call with Nipun, founder of ServiceSpace, we learn that he has not only transformed his own inner landscape with acts of compassion, love, generosity and kindness, but also shows us today's pave makers are found in the hearts of everyday people who embody these values as well. The very people stepping forth saying: 'Yes, I am the Change I wish to see in the World.' with every action powered by love. We learn that not only is it possible to 'Be the Change', but that people all over the world are learning what is means to discover the Gandhi residing within. Nipun guides us to understand, that to truly find Gandhi's spirit and to transform ourselves, we must first start small and with acts of generosity and kindness.
"Where are the values that Gandhi stood for, and how can I be that change?” When you do that, when you ask that question and if you have faith in that process, what you're actually saying YES to, is that when I am being the change, my being The Change is inextricably tied into the web of life, and that is going to shift that web of life. I wont know how, I will not know how many ripples it takes for that next big thing to happen but I'm saying yes to that vibration of love.”
“Instead of having that one Gandhi, maybe we have many distributed, disinter-mediated Gandhi's. What would that look like? What is that movement of compassion? And perhaps this movement is not going to be funded, because maybe the big revolutionary thing is that it'll only be powered by love.”
When we practice these values, even if initially in small ways, it allows for us to feel an expansion in ourselves and an understanding of how interconnected we all are. Through acts of generosity and expressions of love, we can transform ourselves internally, and perhaps find harmony with our true selves and with the world around us. One inspired caller professed to Nipun: “I started doing your smile card with my life! I AM the smile card!” This, after Nipun introduced him to Smile Cards, where you experiment with doing an anonymous act of kindness, and leave the card behind encouraging the recipient to pay-it-forward. The man continued to explain: "I started paying it forward on LinkedIn, honoring culturally diverse people, welcoming them in and honoring the skills that they have... Empowering them and making them feel more full and embodied with their lives. By this simple act of believing in their divinity."
For Nipun, it is acts of generosity that open the gateway to inner transformation. Even in moments of despair we can find peace within when practicing giving. Upon meeting a woman, a cook, during his travels to Japan he was amazed by the shift that take took place within her. For years the woman felt like her world was crumbling down on her, everything in her life was going wrong and was suffering greatly because of it. Then one day she thought to herself: "What if I start practicing generosity?" Subsequently, everyday, for the last four years she has gifted a little rice bowl and said a prayer before handing them to anyone she met. The people she encountered were touched greatly by this. The woman then soon found herself connecting with people even if for a short moment. Not to mention, she wasn't worried about the security of her external life as much anymore, for she began to be held in the hearts of other people as she connected with them through giving.
"To say “Yes” to generosity is to say it's not just 'me and mine.' It's that You and I are related and when I gift to you, I am actually expressing gratitude for that relation. That becomes very powerful. For me, that inner transformation has been triggered through practices of generosity.”
Indeed, we live in a time when there are many forces at play that are causing us to fail to see the intricate web that weaves us together in connection. Nipun shares that when we lack empathy, we feel disconnected, and start to feel ourselves as separate from that web of life. By attempting to relate, and to be in a space of love, we come to realize our genuine self, and that self is connected in a greater interrelationship. This relationship, that goes beyond our life time, that has existed since the beginning of time and one that will continue for all generations to come. Nipun continues to share that by seeing this relationship with each other, and the natural world around us, we can begin to nurture a different kind of seed in the world."
The question I ask myself is: 'Can I stop being a problem for the world?' That is a humbling place to be, because you begin to ask, 'How am I being a problem?' Then you start going deeper and deeper and you say: 'Yeah, I do have anger, and many other kinds of negativity within myself. Can I turn that around? And if I turn that around, how is the world a better place?' Well, for one, I’m no longer a problem for the world to solve, I'm not adding to that ripple of negativity, injustice or violence. And if such negativity comes my way, I cultivate the capacity to rebound it back with compassion and love."
"I think if we can all do that ... its connections and hyper-connections will allow transformation to ripple out into the world. That's a process that let's us see everything as connected."
Even in the corners of the world where violence rages rampant and people are doing unfathomable things to each other, Nipun explains that by being the change, we have potential to change others too. However, a question that many struggle with is how to do that? Nipun shares an amazing story of a Gandhian in India he feels very honored to know. Subba Rao, decided to go in to region in India called Chambal Valley, where the people lived there were known for doing heinous acts of violence, such as stealing from others at gun point, hurting and even killing people whom they wanted from. His friend felt compelled to do something and decided to go to live with the people in that region. Dangerous of him to do, still, he was driven to show them another way. This gentleman, who lives a very simple life as it is, took only one bag with him when left and headed for Chambal Valley. Upon meeting him, the inhabitants surrounded him at gunpoint and asked what was in the bag. He proceeds to explain that in the bag is a box of sweets and that he came to offer them these sweets. This man then stayed with the people for a while and developed a relationship with them. The result of that relationship, is a remarkable outcome, in which about hundreds of "dacoits" traded in their guns for a scripture of their choice, accepted their crimes and turned themselves to prison authorities. When people asked this gentleman how he achieved such a feat, and how miraculous it was he responded: "It's no miracle, I wanted nothing from them, I just went to give them love." Nipun reminds us that it is important to set apart a negative action from the person themselves. We can oppose that injustice action, while still holding compassion for the people. Then we have to let nature take its course. If we attach to the outcome of changing someone else, we lose the capacity to find the skillful means into the person's heart.
"Everyone responds to love, we just need to find that door. And finding that door is something we have to practice. In any situation, I try to turn inwards and say: 'Well here I am. These are the colors life has given me and what's the best piece of art I can create in this moment?”
"I don't think I met anyone who didn't respond to love. Anytime you go and give a hug to someone, they smile and anytime you genuinely share a kindness story people are like 'Oh yeah! I relate to that.' To me, that gives me hope, that everyone unfailingly responds to love.”
So very often, we find that people are so ready to give, but feel that they are not doing enough. A caller shared: 'I'm confused by the role of money, in some ways whenever I’ve been volunteering, whether it is with orphans or with people in senior homes, I'm overcome by empathy and compassion for them, but also I have this feeling I want to somehow help them in someway, only if I had X- amount of money could I maybe solve some of their problems other than just being by their side. What path would be the right path to go?”
To that, Nipun begins to explain a quote from Rachel Naomi Remen: "Helping, fixing and serving represent three different ways of seeing life. When you help, you see life as weak. When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole." Nipun then leads us to ask the question: what is the difference between these three? In helping, he says there is clearly as sense of compassion and sympathy and you are indeed helping that person, but the person you are helping feels like they are on the receiving end and nothing more, which doesn't make them feel good. There is clearly, even if unintended, a hierarchy. When you fix, you're coming at it again from a top down approach and the person feels like they are not good enough, that they are broken somehow. Which does not feel right either. In serving, you recognize a co-creative process, and acknowledge that the other person's pain is wound up with yours, and you connect with each other. He goes to present a fourth level as well, which is Offering, where one feels gratitude and indebted to the other person for the chance to serve. You feel indebted because this person is giving you the opportunity to purify your mind through the act of service. He shares that money indeed the has possibility to offer and solve solutions to many material level problems in the world, but how much money will it cost you to solve the deeper rooted problems of disconnection, lack of empathy, violence and negativity? Can it solve these problems?
“You are not your wallet, and you are not your money. That is not what people want the most. What they really want, is a harder currency -- and it is much harder because we have to go through a lot of inner transformation to cultivate this currency. This currency is love, 'Maitri', the flow of compassion.”
Later, we begin to uncover how the modern day Gandhi is spreading across the globe in ways we never imagined possible. In our current day version of Gandhi. The 'Gandhi 3.0' version, there is a many-to-many framework at play, for example, if the person next to you is 'being the change' and you are 'being the change' and the person next to him/her is also creating his/her own ripples with transformation driven action. This then, has the potential to create infinite possibilities in shifting our consciousness, especially with our modern day tools and technologies. No longer is it a one-to-many framework like in Gandhi's times, or one-to-one, when Vinoba Bhave lived. Nipun shares a sweet example of this, that was shared by one of the participants at the end of the Gandhi 3.0 retreat in India. This participant says he came to the entrance at the gate and someone said “Welcome Home!” And he thought to himself, that it was a nice welcoming, but it was not his home, it is a retreat center. He goes on to share that he came all the way from the US and didn't bring a towel because when he travels he is usually provided one, at a hotel or other retreat centers he's been to. Being now in a grass roots level retreat center that is used mainly as an education center, he didn't have a towel. A few hours later however, someone had placed a towel on his bed with a smile card. The participant continues with his story and shares that he noticed people wear flip flops a lot in India, because footwear is taken off when entering a room or an indoor space. He hadn't brought any and noticed how cumbersome it was taking his shoes and socks off each time. He later again finds himself tagged with now this time with a pair of flip flops and another smile card. Furthermore, he explains that he is allergic to garlic and as he sat down for a meal, all the volunteers took note of it, and provided him with his special batch of food without such. However, on a day when the participants were doing off site and were eating at a volunteer run kitchen called Seva Cafe, we was sure that there was going to be garlic in his meal. Before any one else was served however, he was served a meal without garlic. While sharing this story he spoke with tears in his eyes and said that the experience there exceeded feelings of “home', because even at home, or anyone else's home, he's not sure he'd receive this magnitude of care.
"He was just incredibly moved by all the love that people were expressing and it was in a many-to-many kind of way. He couldn't pin point that this amazing person or that one, because everyone was doing that.”
"Collectively, some remarkable things unfolded ... but ultimately one does not even know what manifest impact will come out of it. And that is fine, because you're keeping something sacred, which is your inner transformation, and allowing that to flow out as the time ripens."
Nipun himself was recently presented with the “Unsung Heroes of Compassion" award by the Dalai Lama, paying tribute to people doing courageously beautiful acts of kindness around the globe for their fellow humans. Even so, Nipun shares that he himself is inspired by the goodness in humanity:
“At the end, when everyone stands up and applauds, it is like you're saying Yes to that goodness in humanity. You're saying, 'Yes, we can be good. Yes we can elevate ourselves to a higher potential, we Can say Yes to compassion.' And there are so many people doing it and you just feel so hopeful. I was on the receiving end of that applause but Guri, my wife being in the audience, was saying it was so inspiring just to see everyone in that capacity, and all together. It felt like a movement, like an invisible collective. So, for me, that was probably the most inspiring part of the event.”
We notice as well that a person is never too young to start practicing these values of kindness. Gandhi, had a lot of faith in children, shared Nipun. He feels that it is important to engage the youth in generosity driven activities. Furthermore, it is essential to emphasize the internal feeling that comes up when they do engage in these activities. That is to say, for them to not only highlight the positive reaction the other person has when they do an act of kindness, but to also notice the feelings that arise within themselves. "I learned that when you give, other people get happy, but You also get happy!” said Guri's five year old niece, after they passed out lollipops with "Please accept this random act of kindness” note, to various people in a cafe.
"So here is a 5 year old laying it down. If we all got that understanding, even just half of it, the world's problems would be solved. With kids, just holding that invitation and asking them not to just look at the outside impact but to really look on the inside and see how they are different because of this -- that is a great step.”
So what does the man behind the modern day Kindness Movement have to say when a caller asks him what he gets out of all of this?
"I feel joy. I feel happy and connected. I feel happy that I have these opportunities to plant these seeds, to say less 'Yes' to 'me' and more 'Yes' to 'we', to change the patterns of habit in my mind. And when it is time for me to leave, I want to say that I tried sincerely -- which is that I could let go of everything. We can only leave things behind if we have fully given ourselves to it, and we can only fully give ourselves to something if we're detached . For me, all of this is a practice in that kind of detachment, cultivating a sort of inner simplicity. And having the resiliency to fail, because I fail plenty. I get caught up, but through those failures I take firmer resolve. I feel so blessed to have so many good people around me, that provide me the inspiration to get up. I may fall 99 times, but I want to get up a 100 times and that's my commitment. I'm not sure if I can even do it out of my own will. But I feel pretty confident that I can do it with the company of noble friends around me. So that's been my journey and I get a lot out of it. I'm a happy guy when I’m doing these things -- these days, or more like these last 14 years where I can say that majority of my waking life is surrounded by thoughts of service. And that feels like the greatest privilege of my life -- to be able to receive all these opportunities to serve."
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