Awakin Calls » Ashima Goyal » Transcript
Ashima Goyal: Bloom Where You Are Planted
Awakin Call with Ashima Goyal
Guest: Ashima Goyal
Host: LuAnn Cooley
Moderator: Chris Johnnidis
Welcome to Awakin Calls. Every Saturday, we host a conversation with an individual whose inner journey inspires us and whose work is transforming our world in large and small ways. Awakin Calls are an all-volunteer-run offering of Service Space, a global platform founded on the simple principle that by changing ourselves, we change the world, to create a more compassionate and service-oriented society. Thank you for joining us!
LuAnn: Good morning, good afternoon and good evening. My name is LuAnn and I'm excited to be your host for our weekly Global Awakin Call. Welcome and thank you for joining us. The purpose of these calls is to share stories that help plant seeds for more compassionate society while fostering our own inner transformation. We do this by holding collective conversations with guest speakers from all walks of life, who inspire us to live in a more service-oriented way. Behind each of these calls is an entire team of Service Space volunteers whose invisible work allows us to hold this space.
Today, our special guest speaker is Ashima Goyal. Thanks again for joining today's call. Let us start with a minute of silence to anchor ourselves into the space.
Thank you. Welcome again to our weekly Awakin Call, today in conversation with Ashima Goyal. As an all-volunteer offering, each Awakin Call is a conversational space that is co-created by many invisible hands. In a few minutes our moderator Chris Johnnidis will begin by engaging in an initial dialogue with our speaker, Ashima Goyal, and by the top of the hour, we will roll into Q&A and a circle of sharing, where we invite all of your reflections and questions. I've gone ahead and opened up the queue right now. So at any point you can hit *6 on your phone and you'll be prompted when it's your turn to speak. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit a comment or question via the webcast form, if you're listening online via the webcast.
Our moderator today is Chris Johnnidis. Chris is a veteran ServiceSpace volunteer, a spiritual seeker, a social worker and a deep thinker. Chris is one of the invisible angels that populate our world. You might find him officiating a friend's wedding, facilitating middle-schoolers in a restorative justice circle, helping a school create a culture of kindness, going on a Vision Quest, or chalking the walk for his birthday. Regardless of the activity, Chris approaches his life through selfless service. He comes alive through sharing deep truths and being able to hold space for those conversations. His background is in counseling psychology, social change and transformative education. He's currently living in a new co-op and considering the pros and cons of raising chickens. Chris says that a good day is when he's used head, heart and hands in authentic service of truth, beauty and/or goodness. Chris will now introduce Ashima Goyal and start this conversation.
Chris: Hi LuAnn, thank you so much for that elaborate introduction! Yeah, it's a joy to be here with all of you and especially, to be holding some space, for us to dig into Ashima's journey. I had the the pleasure of connecting with Ashima over the last week. And we first connected when she was in an airport with her husband in Romania, about to fly to Houston, Texas, to move once again, to bloom in a new place.
And just to highlight a little bit of the bio from the website. The theme is very appropriate today -- 'Bloom where you're planted', because Ashima is from Rajasthan, India, and went to college in Bombay. But then over the last decade plus, has lived in a number of places including India, Bangalore, Texas, California, England, India again, Angola, and Romania recently, and now back to Texas. So over the course of those trips, she has planted many seeds and cultivated many in herself.
And I just want to highlight two things that in my early journey of getting to know Ashima, have stood out for me, as sort of the essence, or for speaking to the essence. And one is a poem that she shared with me, which I'm trying to pull up here. And it's called Heartprints and I'll just read an excerpt of it. It goes
"Whatever our hands touch we leave fingerprints;
on walls, on furniture, on doorknobs, dishes, books.
As we touch, we leave our identity.
Oh, please wherever I go today help me leave heart prints.
Heart prints of compassion, of understanding and love.
Heartprints of kindness and genuine concern."
So that's part of the poem and Ashima shared that with me, as we were getting to know each other. And I thought that spoke beautifully to her spirit. And the other thing I'll share. I hope it's okay to share this, Ashima? (Yes). Thank you. If you've all seen Ashima's bio page on the Awakin Calls page, her bucket list has all of one item on it, which reads, "to learn how to swim." And Ashima shared with me that she had a fear of water, I believe. And that bucket list item has now been crossed off, which really tells you a lot about how Ashima operates. So, you know compassion and living in the moment are really part of the essence of this beautiful being we have the pleasure of being with. So, thank you for joining us today, Ashima, and agreeing to push your edges in sharing in this way. It's really an honor to have you here.
Ashima: Thank you. Thank you Chris. Thank you, LuAnn. And thank you for that wonderful introduction. And I mean both what you just shared and what is there on the Awakin page, I couldn't believe it was me.
Ashima:Yeah. I've always been on the other side of the Awakin Calls, listening and soaking in all the wisdom, being the selfish person. And I never thought I'd be a speaker. So it's such an honor to be here and to share this call with you, and LuAnn.Thank you! Thank you to everybody who is behind these calls, it is such a labor of love. Thank you very much.
Chris: Yeah, well, we all have stories to share, of course, and I'd love to be able to get to a bunch of your stories. I know you have way more than we can touch on in one call, but I wonder if we can start a little before these recent stories and if you could take us back a little bit and on the theme of 'Bloom where you're planted' -- there are these qualities in you that allow you to find flourishing, you know, sort of find the golden opportunities or the subtle opportunities to connect with people, to build community, to be of service, to cultivate your own growth. So what do you see from your background, family inheritance, cultural inheritance, whatever, that allowed you to thrive in this kind of lifestyle? What comes to mind when you think back to what nurtured these qualities in you early on? Can you tell us a bit about that?
Ashima: Yeah, so I think, I've never thought of it that way, but the one thing that helps connect is to be able to connect. I mean it's to be able to I guess just approach and talk, and I grew up in a joint family. We were 16 of us, living in the same house, 14 humans, 2 dogs. And that itself, I mean when you're living with a large number of people in one home, that itself teaches you a lot about trusting each other. And your inner circle itself is a much bigger circle, like compassion and sharing. You never have personal resources, everything is a shared resource. As a family as well, I have my grandparents, my parents, my uncles and aunts be very open to strangers. Our house was on a highway and back in those days, even today, at least our town, doesn't have too many rest areas for travelers. We never locked the gate of our house, our house was always open for anybody to come in, to fill up their water, to use the restroom and I guess just seeing that everyone was so open to strangers helped me build a trust to approach anybody that I wanted to. I never felt that I can't approach this person. I think that's what helped. Just seeing everybody was so open to strangers growing up helped me open myself to strangers and that connects. If you are approaching somebody with love, they just connect back with you.
Also, I've been moving around now but for the first 16 years of my life, I've been at one place so that did give me a stable anchor. Even if I'm going back there so often, in my heart I'm good as there.
Chris: Tell us a little bit more about that early part of your journey then. So 16 years in one place and then you went off to college in Bombay. What was guiding you journey at that point? What were you motivated by?
Ashima: You talking about my education?
Chris: Ya, just choosing your life path early on and then it sounds like there was a turn somewhere along the way.
Ashima: Yeah..so I don't think I put in too much thought in choosing my graduation. It's just like, "If you can do engineering or doctor (medicine) ; you do engineering or medicine." So my dada said, "you should become an engineer" and I said, "ok, I should become an engineer." and I applied, I got selected and I did engineering. But all through our growing up years, even when I was in school, when I was in college, during vacations... my dad and my mom both were always encouraging us to be involved in some sort of volunteering. But it was always on the side.
My parents had a pharmaceutical company and they were part of lot of medical camps and during our vacations we would just be packing medicines for those camps. In school I was part of a program called 'Each one Teach one'. I would go every evening and take classes for blue collar workers who came in [the evening school] for studying. And then in college, I was again volunteering at a municipality school, teaching kids Maths and English. My life path is very normal, I don't see a coming of age story over there.
I was at one place; I went to do engineering in college, then I went to Bangalore for work. When I working, I also found an organisation which was working with kids in the slums. It just so happened that every opportunity that I found or every opportunity that I got drawn to was to work with kids. It wasn't planned. I didn't plan it in my mind.
I was in Bangalore for 5 years. I was working with Texas Instruments and I was also in Dallas in between for a year. After that I got married and my husband was in California at that time. I took a 6-months leave of absence from my job and during those 6 months, I started volunteering full time with another organisation.
Chris: It sounds like the spirit of volunteering has really been threaded from the beginning and along with that the openness to strangers that you mentioned in your family and then something called you step away from your engineering job and just go into volunteering full time shortly after you were married. Is that right?
Ashima: Ya. I remember, I used to work Monday to Friday and I used to volunteer Saturday & Sunday and my boss used to tell me that, "you seem more excited about going to the kindergarten than your work."
I think the spirit of service is part of the Indian culture. It's just there. You may not be using those terms. I mean, my grandma wasn't using any term when she put out water for the travelers. It's just there.
Chris: So what did you begin to discover as you turned towards this joy of connecting with kids and volunteering and you went deeper into that. How did that influence where you went?
Ashima: I think you put it right. It was the joy. When my 6 months leave of absence was over and it was time to either join back or resign. I remember having this conversation with my husband and he told me, "do what your heart feels like doing." And I have to say that I was blessed in the sense that a lot of people have the edge of livelihood. I didn't have that. I didn't have to think about my livelihood. So I choose to work with organizations. It was still about "working". I never had the idea of not working full time. It was like, "okay let me go and find work with non-profit organisations and work with kids."
We were in UK at that time and I was applying to organisations and every one said to me that you are not qualified. So I did my Masters. I did my Masters in Social Policy and I had all these dreams of working in India towards uplifting children. I had these big dreams of impacting. We went back to India from there because I told him that if I am working with non-profits, I want to do it in India. We went back to India for 3 years at that time.
I am so blessed that within just a year of that I came in contact with so many people from the Service Space or the Moved by Love ecosystem who were living a life of service. I had never seen anything like that. For me it was always that you do volunteering on the weekend or after your "work". But you are doing something [besides volunteering.]. And I saw them and I couldn't pin-point to what it was that was attracting me. I really just wanted to go back to it and understand it.
Chris: That sounds like a rich moment, can you paint a picture for us of the early encounter you had. What was happening for you.
Ashima: So.. I was in this space called Sughad [Environment & Sanitation Institute] and the moment I entered it, it was almost as if I was being hugged very warmly. And, I was actually physically being hugged very warmly! I remember Neerad bhai was hugging me and he wouldn't let go of me for 10 mins and this was the first time I met him and I still have that bear hug from him. I still feel the warmth whenever I want to feel it. And everybody was just so serene. There was a calm on their face. I was sure that everyone has their challenges and struggles but they knew how to handle it, they knew how to wade through it. And I wanted to understand this.
I was lucky that I was staying just 2 hours away from that place and I would keep coming back to it. It was a magical moment and I was like, "how do I experience it? How do I experience this peace, this calmness. How do I experience being able to smile at every moment, to everybody."
Thank you for taking me back to it. I am picturing myself entering those gates and it's beautiful.
Chris: That's near Bombay too, yeah?
Ashima: It's near Bombay. It's in Ahmedabad.
Chris: Wow. Yeah, I was also struck how you said, you know, it's not like folks don't have struggles still, if you read this sort of inner peace from someone, but I was struck how you said -- but they know how to handle it. There's sort of a faith or a confidence that things are okay and things will be okay.
Ashima: Yes, initially, in my first interaction, I felt nobody had any problems [laughs]. How is it possible that nobody had any questions of life or nobody had any problem? But they had more questions of life. And I never questioned anything in my life before that. I remember Nimo says in his graduation song where he says -- "don't worry about the impact you're making in the world, but make sure that you are impacted every day." And that's what I learned from everybody. That I can only change myself and I can only make make sure that I am impacted every day that to do something to reach out to somebody.
Chris: Hmm and that's kind of that moment you were in, having recently graduated from your social policy program in England.
Ashima: Yeah. That's what I was, very motivated about the impact I will make.
Chris: So, it sounds like you really took that very sincerely to heart. In terms of, sort of, flipping the tortilla, as some might say, or like turning the lens inward as DuBois once said. So from there you started to get involved in Awakin Circles, I remember, and Seva Cafe. So can you sort of weave for us a story of how these inner questions in you unfolding alongside you getting more engaged in these projects?
Ashima: From Bombay we moved to Baroda and that's where I got involved a lot in Awakin Circles and that's when I first started practicing silence. I remember the first Awakin Circle that I couldn't even sit for 10 minutes and I would open my eyes in between and I would see the host like sitting there and I would be like, "She's sitting like the Buddha". I just kept going back and back and back and just the practice of sitting in silence brought in a lot of stillness in me, even when I was not in that circle. Even during the day. And the questions of what is more important? Like, what is enough?
Like, for me to work was always like, "okay, I am working. I'm creating an impact, but I'm getting something in return." There is a check that comes at the end of the month. To let go of that was a big thing, even if I didn't necessarily need it but that itself was a huge step for me like to just commit myself that I am going to try this way of life. To my family even today to a lot of them, it doesn't make sense because we don't come from a family of resources. Everybody made themselves through education and through their work. So for them to think that you're not working when you can, that you're not earning when you can... is difficult to understand.
But for me it led to opening up of so many more things. Just the joy and the peace that I actually felt when I was working with kids and helping them make something. In Baroda, I was volunteering with an organization which had disabled kids and blind kids. And I didn't even know how to do art with blind kids and I searched online and there was information about tactile art and we started doing it. And to see that first piece of art that a visually challenged child made, I was amazed and I felt like this is what I want to do. He was amazed and everybody around, like there were kids who were not visually challenged and when they saw it, they were amazed.
It's a different thing. I can't pinpoint even today what is it that makes me stick to it, it's just an inner feeling. It's just a joy. It's just a calmness and peace that I feel inside. And I'm driven. Like I think I did take it to my heart when I said okay, I need to do this. I need to experiment with this and I went ahead with a lot of personal experiments to really understand the values that everyone was talking about.
Trust everybody. But how do I build that trust again? As a child the society seemed very safe and everybody was talking to everybody. But especially as a girl when you go outside your home, when you leave your home and you leave that joint family security, people warn you a lot. So then I became wary of strangers. I became wary of talking to people. I become wary of approaching. And it was a lot of, like, to remove those layers of wariness. Or the security that we feel comes from isolation. It took a lot of practice to do it.
Chris: Yeah. I know there are some stories I'd love to get into there, too. I want to first circle back to what you were saying about sort of how you can't quite pinpoint what is keeping you in it. Or what, you know, this joy of working with kids and you mentioned creating art, just the act of creating, I know, brings you alive. Yeah, is there is there more in that? Can you say more about like what really brings you alive in that?
Ashima: So I think what all this did was brought meaning to everything that I was doing. Initially, I was doing everything in a very outwardly manner; like I would be concerned about how the art looks like, how everybody's receiving it. But coming in contact with the values of inner change and the joy that it brings to me was enough. Every art is beautiful, every piece of creation is beautiful.
Chris: Wow. So let's jump into some stories from you. You started to mention trust and what strikes me is these sort of stages of your journey where you discover and this wonder and inspiration and then you sort of take it in and process it and digest it and come up with questions and then you're sort of like a scientist to then turn outward to be like, "okay, how do I meet the world with these questions in practice." And you've come up with some pretty cool (I think) practices. So would you like to tell us about the trust experiment or any other practice that feels alive for you now?
Ashima: So the trust experiment that I did was (one of them that I did) was to always ask for a lift. I did it for six months.
Chris: So the context is being in a big city in India, where most people get around by by rickshaw?
Ashima: Yes, you can take an auto rickshaw, most people have cars and most people have their own means of transport or use taxis. But I said okay, if I want to really experiment trusting the stranger, I need to put myself out. So I started walking. I was like, okay, I will not take the car if I'm alone. I will walk. I will not take an auto. I will either hike, like I will either ask for a lift or I will walk. If nobody stops, I will walk. And never did it happen that nobody stopped. Somebody or the other always stopped. And I had so many stories, like there was once that this guy on a motorbike. He stopped, he asked me where I was going. I told him and he's like I am going in that direction and I will drop you. And he dropped me and then he was about to take a turn and I said, but you said this is the direction you're going. He said, "no, you are the first person to ever ask me for a lift. So I had to give you a lift."
While I was trying to put my trust out there, what he said was nobody asked people for trust. We have forgotten the art of going to the neighbor and asking them for something. We don't know our neighbors today. In Bombay, we used to live in an apartment complex and even the people living in the same building didn't know each other, and I am sure they wouldn't mind knowing each other. I felt like once you reach out you realize how much everybody wants this connection, but we've been so conditioned to not trust the stranger that we stay away from it.
Even things like to give and to rejoice in anonymity. I mean, how much joy does that bring? Because everybody would talk about doing anonymous acts and I would wonder how does it feel? So I started making these bookmarks and I would leave them somewhere. The first time that I did it. I was leaving it at the at a railway station on a waiting chair and I stood behind a pillar to wait and see who would pick it up.
Chris: And what happened?
Ashima: There was one lady who picked it up and she's was reading it. She couldn't understand it, so she gave it to her daughter. Her daughter picked it up. I was doing it for the first time I didn't even know if people would understand it. So behind it, I'd written everything. On the back it says, "this is a gift for you. It's meant for you if you are the one who is picking it up."
They were just talking about it afterwards. I couldn't hear them. I was so far away, but they were smiling and they were talking about it. So that felt happy and I kept on doing it. Once we wrote letters to strangers after an Awakin Circle. A few of us stayed back and we wrote letters to strangers and we dropped them in different places, in libraries and in bus stands and railway stations. It's just amazing. Sometimes the story might come back to you. It's beautiful.
Chris: I was struck by what you said about reaching out and the offering that can be embedded in asking others for something. Was that an edge for you? Was there any discomfort at the point tyou actually put out the initial ask? Tell us about that.
Ashima: It was I mean, I was a little hesitant because I was fearful of being rejected like, okay what if they don't like it? Even when I was taking lifts, I was careful. I would not take a lift from a four-wheeler. I would only ask with the two wheeler, but even then I would actually look at the person and maybe my mind was doing some judging. Maybe I was thinking, okay, he looks like more he'll be more receptive or she looks like she'll be more receptive. There was that edge. Then there was also the edge of actually being rejected. Like when you're going in a park and you are trying to do some random acts of kindness and not everybody accepts it. Initially I would actually feel like, " why?"
Then I would want to try and explain to them how there is no ulterior motive to it, but you don't have that space of explaining. You just have to go ahead with it. I was like, okay because you realize that the person actually receiving it is also doing an act of kindness to you. They are actually doing a bigger act to you by accepting.
Initially it did take time. While I grew up in a very trusting home, in society like there was a conditioning of being wary of strangers when you're a girl alone outside. It took a little bit of unconditioning of that, an unlearning of that. Then I had to learn how to just take rejection and go ahead to the next person. In Romania it so happened we were once in a park and we had this big board with different kinds of Acts of Kindness like smile cards. We were asking people to pick one, whichever they would want. We were giving people free hugs and people were skeptical. There are a lot of religious organizations who go around and do different things over there. So they always thought that there was something behind it. So they would ask, do I need to share it somewhere? and we would say no. They would ask, what do I need to do about it afterwards. We would tell them nothing. You can pass it on if you want to. So yes, there's an edge. Some people won't want to, and it's okay. You learn.
Chris: Yeah, yeah, there's, there's a grace in, in sort of engaging in that raw uncertainty, you know, you never know how, what their response is going to be. But there's also like a context you are tuning to and that's something I'd like to hear a little bit more from you about. You've been in so many different cultural contexts now and engaging in, in these practices, based on, you know, trusting or offering something, without expecting rich reciprocity necessarily. So tell us about what you've ,learned from being in all these different contexts. I guess the biggest ones would be Angola, Romania, India and US yeah.
Ashima: Yeah, actually, I think we are all same. I think it's just my conditioning that I was more scared of approaching people first, in Angola than in India because I feel very comfortable in India. It was my conditioning, but I approached everybody with the same thing in the end, like I would just smile and I was would just hug. Somewhere, I didn't know the language, some places I knew the language.
Before we went to Angola, we had been told a lot about being very careful about physical security on the streets, like to not be on the streets at all. You can't walk on the street, that's what we were told. If you are going somewhere, go in a vehicle, go with somebody. And for one year, I actually kind of nourished that fear in me. I was a captive of my own fear. And then one day I decided okay, let's just go, let's just go a small distance. I'll just go like, half a kilometre and I will come back, and I went and initially I just walked, I would have my headphones and I will just walk out like okay, I'm just walking and then slowly I started smiling to the people, I would see and then I stopped using my head phones so that it would at least invite something beyond the smile, if it can, because if somebody's with headphones, you will not disturb them. And then I started smiling and one day there was a guy who was sweeping part of the pavement and I smiled and he said, "Bon Dia madame." Bon Dia is Good Morning in Portugese and we just started talking after that and he gave me a smile that was the brightest smile I've seen! The whitest and the brightest smile I've seen and then I started increasing my distance and I would walk and everybody knew me on that street then and it felt like I wasn't an outsider, I was part of them. So I guess in the end, it's only what you project, is what you, like , you're projecting fear, and you will feel feared from the other person. I was a still careful. I'm not saying that I let go of all my caution. I was still careful of the areas that I went into but I guess it's what we project. And I've realized it so many times that the moment I let go of my fear, the moment I let go of my uncertainty, my lack of confidence.. like "let's just ask, what most can happen? They will say no. Okay."
So often we don't even speak to the co-passengers on a flight and I have had so many beautiful conversations with passengers on flight, whenever we have had the opportunity to do that. Sometimes people don't invite that opportunity, I mean we are in long distance flight just watching movies and reading books. Actually I met so many people in Romania through my first flight in Romania to Bucharest. So I guess there's no culture difference in the way you approach I guess it's just what you project out and your conditioning.
Chris: Yeah its fascinating.
Ashima: Yes. Its easier in some places. It's easier, if it was easier in India. I'm sure it will be easier and it is easier in US and UK because you know the language. In Romania, in Angola, it took some time just because I, I didn't know the language initially and I needed to learn that.
Chris: Yeah, it strikes me, there's something significant to, about you choosing to walk and I gather a similar route perhaps, and sort of become part of that scene, that place in a way where people begin to recognize, this familiarity builds over time.
Ashima: Yes, yes, that's how it happened. I mean for a month, I was just walking and probably smiling and [just like that, one day] I was a part of them. We lived near the coast. In the morning, the coast is very active, with the fishermen and I was just part of all that hustle and bustle. There's this one girl who walks or runs and she's part of that landscape and it's a beautiful feeling to become that.
Chris: Yeah, yeah that reminds me of the floods in Uttarakhand. Did I say that right?
Chris: So that was what 2013 ?
Ashima: 2013, Yes.
Chris: Yeah and you felt called to just go up there and walk and be of service in whatever small way for three months. So what was that like to be a part of the area and in this particular situation?
Ashima: Yeah, yeah, that was very life-changing for me. I still don't know, what was it that moved me to go there. I saw the news, I saw the scenes and it looked so dangerous but I was like, I need to be there. I had to go there and everybody in my family was opposed to the idea, because it wasn't safe. The media stories were very scary and of violence. I was like, "okay I won't go alone, but I'm putting this intention out that I want to go there." And then Pratyush, who is now like a brother to me, reached out saying that he also wants to go there and he heard that I wanted to go there, so we both went and we had no clue how we are going to serve or in what capacity can two individuals serve in such a high disaster area. You have big organizations over there, you have big ashrams over there that were taking care of things.
Chris: And you were not going connected to any organization,
Ashima : No we were not going connected to any organization. We were just going as individuals and there we met Joseph ji. He's been walking the Himalayas for 14 years or more probably, we met him and he took us along. He would say, "let's go" and we would walk the mountains. There were no roads at that time, all the roads were damaged. To go from one village to another, it will be like you go down three mountains and you go up three mountains and the whole day you are traveling or you're walking on your foot. And we would go by any village and we would serve in any way. Sometimes there’s a family who just wants to be heard and you will just sit and you will just listen to them, that's all you do, some places, they said okay, they need help with the distributing material, so we will go and help distribute the material, in some places, they said that okay there are so many kids around here, who don't have anything to do because the schools are not there anymore. So we would just take classes for them in the evening and we would stay wherever we will be offered a place, we would eat whatever was offered. I remember at one place a Swami ji had made a hostel for all the boys or the orphan boys and we went to live there for five days or a week and they had no person to cook. They got one guy from the village to help but he didn't know how to make the Indian bread, the Chapati, and I remember making almost a hundred and fifty to two hundred chapatis in one day.
Chris: By Hand,
Ashima: Yeah. So you just do whatever you're called to do. I mean you're not going there ,as oh I am this graduate from this University or we are engineers or we are going to move the mountain. And it was beautiful, you know, so many people in our ecosystem have taken these walks where they don't take money and they're going with the intention of trusting the strangers. I haven't been able to do that yet. For even those three months, we did have money with us, but we never had to use it. All those three months, I think, barely for one or two places where we paid for our lunch, we were hosted by strangers, we were taken care of by them. I fell sick in between, I was given all the natural medicines. It's amazing like how people opened up to us and we didn't even come with any credentials, right? We were just there, we were just there and that was a beautiful moment for me.
For three months, I lived on two pairs of clothes and that was enough. My whole definition of what is enough changed from there, like, for almost, like a month and a half, there was no mirror, wherever we went and that was okay. Initially it felt odd, but then after coming back, I realised that, living in the city makes us think of so many things, which are completely unnecessary, as essential. So I think in that sense it completely changed me and my appreciation of good sanitation! When I was staying in that boy’s hostel for seven days, there was one toilet between 40 people and I was the only girl.
Those three months have helped me become much more acceptable and have helped me change my definitions of enough, a lot.
Chris: Yeah, that sort of simplicity of it. I can see being so formative and also the other aspect you mentioned of just being, being met with, with such graceful connections, you know, you there's nothing ostensibly to just say, you know, it's not like you're wearing, you know, a UN Vest and it's like, oh you're here to help. Two human being walking.
Ashima: Yeah. Everybody over there was part of some organization or some ashram and here there are these two people who have just come.
Chris: Yeah, I can I can see how life-changing is not an understatement for that experience and I'm curious how did you know, because it sounds like it's so emergent and un step by step, how did you know when it was time to complete that, that trip?
Ashima: So my parents were getting very anxious and it had been three or two and a half months or so. By that time some of the roads were built and it was okay to come over there, most of the relief part of the work was done and so my dad said, "okay, I'm coming. Wherever you are, I'm coming. You tell me where you are and you stay there for 3-4 days and I'm coming" and he came. It took him like, three days of driving and then one day in a taxi because you couldn't drive a normal car over there, you needed a four-wheel drive and he came to visit me and he stayed with us for three days, and then I went back with him. I somehow felt that I needed to go back with him, like the night before he asked me, "I'm leaving tomorrow, and do you want to come." and just like that, I said yes. I went back home with him and he is still connected to that one school, that I was staying in the last four days and he is one of their biggest supporters and he goes there every year, so probably my entire role in those three months was to connect him to that school.
Chris : Yeah, that's so sweet. So yeah, that's very interesting how the family thread is coming back into, you mentioned earlier, on how at various points you've gotten some resistance from your family, about, you know, various choices you've made and , you know, not to say that, that all just dissipates but there are these, perhaps, unpredictable moments like these yeah or like it, affects.
Ashima: And most of the resistance came from love, I mean, from their fear of my security. I can understand where it's coming from.
Chris: Right, right. Yeah. I'm also struck by, just the balancing of a sort of prudence and faith and sort of the humility but also like a confidence, in these stories too. So that's something that, I appreciate just on a personal level, now here is inspiring to me that that you, how you're, able to balance some sort of the sacred in the mundane.
Ashima: Thank you,
Chris: I wonder.. we have a few more minutes..would you be willing to tell us and hopefully we will be able to get into some of the other projects too, like kids and food.. I know you are passionate about. I wonder if you could give us a quick interlude and tell us about this swimming story. I am wondering some of the folks might be curious after I mention that - I just find that so cool.
Ashima: Really? I still can't believe it. So the moment, like I got those questions almost like months ago, ( Chris: for the Awakin call bio? ), for the Awakin call bio, and there was this question "What's your bucket list?". And that's the first thing that came to my mind, and first I was thinking.. should I even write it - it is out in the world that I want to learn swimming! And I was like - ok this is the first thing that came to me - this is my truth at this moment. And I am going to write it. And since it was out, you know I have been trying to - like I have had this experience when I was a very small child, that I almost drowned. And since then I have been scared of water. But I am married into a family of swimmers. Everybody in the family loves to swim. All our vacations are around water. And I am the only one who is outside. And I am in the water, till the point I can stand. And so yes - when I wrote it in the Awakin calls bio, I was like - ok I am going to do something about it. And ten days before I leave Romania - I find this instructor - and I ask him - ok how many lessons will it take? He said ten lessons. And I had exactly ten days. So I told him that I can't miss any lesson and that you can't miss any lesson. And he said "yeah yeah". And I started going. And I was so scared of the water. And I remember like, he was telling me to "just relax. The pool is not - it was four feet at the deepest end." And he was there. And I had a float. And there was no way that I would drown. But I just couldn't let go. And then on the fifth day - and I think it was one of the reading in a Laddership circle, I was part of- and it said, "don't focus on a goal. But focus on your everyday steps towards it. What are you going to do everyday."
Until then everyday, I was telling myself that I'm not going to learn in 10 days. On the 4th or 5th day I said if I don't learn in 10 days - I will know that 10 lessons are not enough. At least I will learn that much. So let's just try it. And on the ninth day I was swimming. That was it. Ninth day I swam for like ten minutes. And on the tenth day for one hour. I was like "Wow". Really - It is just that - I learnt it as an adult. When I was asking my husband "What was the moment when you could first swim? " And he doesn't remember it because he learned it as a kid. And I would tell him my questions and he was like "Your problems are unique. " ( laughter). I was like " I can't do my hands like this. I can't do my legs like that." I guess learning as an adult had that benefit. Like the moment I could float, I remember that moment. So that was it. I mean I think everything - I learnt biking even last year. I didn't even know how to ride a bike. That also I learned last year. And that was the ripple of an Awakin Circle. I still remember the day I was able to bike. It was so amazing. I feel we can learn everything. We just need to let go of our fears. Fears such - it just holds us back so much.
Chris: Yeah. So poignant how that came through in the swimming story. Because you had this really pretty deep rooted fear of water and connected to an experience where you almost drowned. And you must have really, felt it in your body as you were, contacting the water. That is a very concrete way to engage the fear.
Lu Ann: I am going to interrupt for just a minute. This is to let everyone know that in a moment we will be taking questions and comments. So remember to press *6 on your phone and you will be prompted to when it's your turn to speak. You can also email us at email@example.com or submit a comment or question via the webcast form, if you are listening online via live webcast. I'm going to let you guys finish up and we will start seeing what our listeners have as questions.
Chris: Great. Thank you Lu. Ashima, I did want to touch upon your work with kids. That is so central to your path and a thread that's been in and out over many years for you. So what's alive for you when you consider how you want to engage and work with kids.
Ashima: Like I said, I never planned but all my volunteer work ended up being with kids. Without my actually charting it out. But last few years - like last five years , in Angola and in Romania, I did plan it out that I am going to work with children. Now that I have worked with them so much. And slowly and steadily, I have developed different skills of working with kids. I do more of mindfulness with children. And that's what I want to learn more and work more towards it. There is so much to learn. And of course, you cannot understand a child completely anytime. If you want surprises, just be with the kids. Every second moment is a surprise. You never know how they are going to respond. And I actually want to learn more myself. And also be more with kids myself. I don't know how it will happen. I am sure it will happen. I am in a new country now. I am in a new city. But - yeah - it is going to be in the space of mindfulness.
I realise that I came to mindfulness pretty late in my life. Had I known about it before - if I knew how to just take a moment with my emotions, with my reactions, it would have been so much more better. And I see it. I see it [in kids] who have had some experience with mindfulness classes. Their whole way of responding to situations is so much more different. I remember these two kids in school. One of the girls had said something very harsh to another one. And instead of just retorting back or responding back, this girl actually said that "You know, I didn't like what you said to me. I want to know why you said this." I was stunned by it. And there was this one more kid - we used to do this check-in. The moment you enter the class, you tell what you are feeling today. And everyday it changes. Right. So the kids realize that every day, I feel a different emotion. So they were like like "ok - whatever I feel now, I may not feel it after sometime." That is so difficult to learn as an adult as well. And that is why I enjoy working with kids. They don't question so much. They are just willing to experiment. They are willing to try out and practice. "Ok, let us just see what happens if we put our hands on our tummy and take a deep breathe." With adults there are just so many questions that come, there is so much skepticism that comes, so much conditioning. With kids - it is just games. That is what brings me alive. That is what keep me a child as well I guess.
Chris: And as you say - in these unexpected moments you see them put these lessons from games into practise - and it is kind of like "wow". Thank for sharing Ashima.
Ashima: That you for giving this opportunity.
LuAnn: Oh! That last bit was perfect transitioning and you know I'll have more questions about mindfulness. There is a question from a caller. I know this comes us a lot when people hear about giftivism and they hear about the Service Space ecosystem. I am going to read it. This is from Adonia:
"Thank you very much for this great call. You mention that at one point you were able to make a life decision because your livelihood was not dependent on it. I am going through a life decisions that affect my livelihood and an important decision is working to get an income. We live in a world where takers are rewarded and one doesn't do a service for another unless they are rewarded money in return. I like to be a giver and work in a framework of a Pay-It-Forward system. How do you reconcile working for money in a taker system while wanting to be a giver? Thank you."
Ashima: Hi Adonia. Thank you so much for that wonderful question. I really feel blessed that it was easy for me to make that transition and make that decision because within our family it was okay if I didn't work. It was okay if I didn't bring in any money. But of course, even today, there is always the thing that "you're not doing anything worthwhile because you're not getting money in the end". And we sometimes bring in that bias in our own work. That is when this question comes. How do you balance them? We bring that prejudice to our work and we disvalue our work. We undervalue our own work. And I have done it a lot of times. I have had this question with me a lot of times, that okay, I am not bringing in any money. But when I go back to my work and when I see that change, it just takes care of all those skepticisms for me. It affects me at times. It does. It's not like it doesn't. But I guess having a close family which completely supports you in what you're doing and having a community around to go back to with any questions is important. That has helped me. I don't know if I answered the question well.
LuAnn: No, I think the point that you made was significant, that it really does, and correct me if I'm wrong, it does make a difference if you have a support system.
Ashima: Yes. Plus like I think not to undervalue your own work. Yes, not the majority of the world may value it, but don't bring in that prejudice to your own work.
LuAnn: The only thing that I would suggest is, I have recently through looking at different blogs and writings and articles and KarmaTube on Servicespace, and these things just sort of emerge. It seems like, did you ask the universe "how am I going to do this?" Then the universe responds and sometimes we don't want to hear it, but sometimes, it comes through Servicespace, I have found a few talks by Nipun and then Pavi all talking about giftivism and the transitions that they went through and found them very, very helpful.
Ashima: Servicespace has so many resources on understanding giftivism and living it.
LuAnn: You've made the point that the fear, is no different from the fear of learning how to ride a bike or the fear of learning how to swim when you've almost drowned if you're conditioned in a certain way to believe something then then it's very difficult to move past that, not to give up your day job immediately.
Ashima: Yeah. There's nothing wrong in doing a day job. There's nothing wrong in serving through your day job. That's important, too.
LuAnn: Right, I think so. Okay. We have another question and this is from Rohit and I know I'm mangling that horribly, but he or she says
"Thank you Ashima for sharing your life with us. As you have moved many places, some of these may have been your choices, while some may have been collective choices of your family. This doesn't seem an easy inner task to let go the projects you may have cultivated and then start all fresh in a new place. Can you talk a little bit on how your thoughts evolved on this aspect through your multiple relocation?"
I know you and I talked just the other day about an emergency medical situation that arose in which this would have been exactly what happened where you just had to go. So, how do you do that?
Ashima: Thank you, Rohit, for that call. So that's Rohit, LuAnn, and that's a he. To address that, yes, a lot of times we have chosen the location and sometimes we haven't had much of a choice. I remember when we were going to Angola. I wasn't too sure about it. I wasn't too comfortable about it and I remember having this conversation with Jayesh Bhai and telling him that you know, people are scaring me so much about the place and the people and that I won't be able to do anything over there, that I'll be stuck in a compound that could be very closed. And he was the one who actually told me for the first time that bloom where you're planted and if life is calling you to Angola then go to Angola and see where it is. And yes, moving every few years, it doesn't allow me to continue the project that I start for a longer time period. It takes around a year to develop a relationship with kids, to help, to get that trust to that level and it takes another year to see any effect of what you're doing.
And that's the time you leave. That's the time we leave. But I have accepted that as our life path right now, as our life choice right now. Starting fresh at a new place again, it's like it resets you by six months again. Initially I would say whenever I go to a new place, some people have asked me "how do you do it?" I just say yes to everything. Somebody calls me for tea, I say yes. Somebody calls me for a dance lesson, I say yes. Recently somebody sent me an invitation for an open gardening project in Houston, I was like, okay I'm coming and I just go to everywhere and something or the other will click. That's how I start in a new place.
I'm sure a stability of more than a few years would allow the project to go to a more bigger impact but the maximum I can do or what I do is to ensure that I hand over whatever I've done to the organization that I worked with and then just trust that if it has to live, it has to live. If it doesn't, it doesn't.
LuAnn: You've said that word again, the trust thing. Oddly enough, I have just recently started a yoga practice and so it's been it's been interesting for me. But today the practice was on hope and the foundation of it was opening to trust, so this is all very resonant with me this morning. The essence of hope is built on trust and so what you have brought forward is that you trust that if you smile at someone and you approach them with positivity and love, then that will be reciprocated, provided of course that you're using good judgment in that. And you trust that if you are called to go to a flood-ravaged place then whatever the outcome is, which you now think is possibly that your father is connected to this school and that it had as much to do with you learning how to trust that the universe would provide for you as it did in connecting him to the place. You trusted your swim teacher to teach you in ten days, you trusted that you wouldn't have to miss one of those ten lessons and it came about, and now you're trusting that you're going through and whatever your work is, then when you leave it will either continue on and grow, or the time that you spent there was the time that you spent there.
Ashima: Yeah, that's very beautifully put actually. Thank you.
LuAnn: I am just repeating what you said. I've been taking notes.
Ashima: I'm going to write that down.
LuAnn: I have another one from Shyam.
"Thank you for the wonderful and insightful sharing. Your journey has been so inspiring. Your serving for a long time at the time of floods in the Himalayas, your journey with the education of kids and so many acts of kindness which you have been doing. It's really inspiring. On a lighter note, now that you have learned how to swim, what is the next item on your bucket list?"
Ashima: Well, actually, so the next item on my bucket list is, I do have an item, is to walk the Camino de Santiago and I'm planning to do it in October and am sending that out on a public call, if anybody wants, I would love to do it together. That's my, that's my next bucket list item.
LuAnn: That's, that's a wonderful one. I have a friend who just came back from that.
Ashima : Wow I had three friends who went in last year and they shared their walks and if so many people within the community have done it and shared experiences. I want to go there.
LuAnn: Well we will all support you in that intention. That would be wonderful. I have questions though. The first one is, I also have moved a lot and this is something that people have, have either suggested or you know, I've read, whatever, but when you move a great deal, the suggestion is, that you have some sort of ritual or tradition that you go through, in order to ground yourself in that place or even if you're just moving from an apartment to a house, or a house to a house, or apartment to apartment, whatever it is, when you just, when you physically move, that you have something, that you do, that, that sort of signifies, okay, I've done this, and so I was curious, if you have any kind of ritual like that.
Ashima: Hmmm.... I would love to know your ritual, but I can't think of any, I think, a few things that we do is that we try and find a place as soon as possible and then start the kitchen, I think, that's my, that's my thing that like I really need to. Food is something that connects me a lot to my days and food is an important factor in my life. So I guess that. No ritual per se, from moving from one home to another.
LuAnn: Well that that has been one of mine also, where it's the last box packed, stays with me because it would it will usually be the, the familiar coffee cup.
LuAnn: The coffee cups, the coffee press and the coffee and then the tea, all that goes into the box and then the pan that I use every single day.
Ashima: So, you know, like the utensils that we got with us, like, I like that our stuff is coming in a shipment, but the ones which we got with us -- our teapot , our cups that we use everyday , our strainer and our grater for the ginger.
LuAnn: There you go.
Ashima: That was like I have to make tea, as soon as we get there.
LuAnn: See that's your ritual, but that's yeah, that's what happens. Some people have a pillow or a blanket or, or you know, any number of things and over the years, you know, you have the coffee cup that fits your hand or that has a place that you've been, something or somebody gave it to you, and that would help you sort of ground into the space.
You and I talked recently about another thing that we share, which is immediately going online and looking at who needs help, you know, where can I volunteer, where can I start? So, explain your process for doing that.
Ashima: So that's not much of a process, except like Google.
LuAnn: I know I Google, I Google everything.
Ashima: Yeah, so Google and then I just let everybody I know that I am going there and if you know anybody there, just connect me with. You tell to one person and the other person and the third and you never know how the word spreads and so that's what I do. Like when I went to Angola, I went online, I looked for organizations. I also told anybody and everybody, so we moved with my husband's company, so we do know some people out there, so I just let everybody know who had been there for a few years that I want to work with kids, if you know of any organization where I can volunteer and they would suggest something and then I just sent an email like in Angola, it's just so happened that I got hold of one email which was something like info@fundação.com and you would wonder that you'll never get a response from an email address like that. I didn't even know Portuguese at that time, so I sent an email in English and I use Google Translator to translate it, and sent it, and I get a response back in English within like fifteen minutes or so, and then this lady was like, we would love to have you just come over and I went and it was this beautiful space to work with kids.
In Romania, it just so happened that I was talking to the co-passenger with me and she said that she knew somebody ,who runs a kindergarten and she'll connect me to her and she did and I met this lady, who no longer ran a kindergarten ,but was working in a full fledged school, which had mindfulness at the core of it. They had social emotional learning lessons for kids, they had moments of mindfulness, they would start their school with like a mindfulness bell every day. I was amazed at how this connection happened. If I had not spoken with her [my co-passenger], which is very likely that I would not have.
And over here, like I reached out to a few people, they connected me to somebody whom I'm going to meet next week. I will see where it goes, but I will also go online. It's Google most times and people, like the human Google.
LuAnn: The human Google! Well good, this is good, this I've waited, because this is the icing on my cake, in talking to anybody about kids and mindfulness. It's something that I'm learning to do now and you brought up working with kids in a flood ravaged area. You and I have talked around this a little bit and we could probably spend hours if not days. I started because I work with an immigrant non-profit, looking at trauma and knew that from my own meditative practice, that mindfulness is just integral to helping with trauma and so looked at that through learning how to integrate that into the classroom. And so I would very much like for you to share, the things that you do, to integrate mindfulness into your classroom, and then I have two more questions.
Ashima: So mindfulness, a lot of times people think of mindfulness as meditation and kids sitting in silence, which is absolutely impossible, for kids to sit in silence. But what I do is definitely have them do like five deep breaths, whenever we start or maybe even four or three, but I always do it with a tool like, I have this ball which will open up and close or I'll take a flower and I'll tell them to breathe in the fragrance of it and breathe out so that the petals will move. Those are just a few practices. I feel mindfulness is about creating awareness of whatever you're doing at this moment and not thinking of something else. So doing something with hands, where they really have to focus on what they're making, really helps cultivate that practice of becoming aware, of what I'm doing right now. So most of my work is for kids to do something with their hands and we will do crafts or we would work with clay or we would work with, like we will do science projects. But everything will be to make something so that you leave whatever you brought in behind and a lot of times these kids come with a lot of trauma or a lot of baggage from their previous days or the mornings and taking that time to do those five breaths, calms them down, brings them, like I tell them that your body's here, but I need to bring your mind also here. So let's just take five moments. And we do five or we do sometimes ten and then sometimes I'll tell a child to lead us and she will be counting, so then that makes it interesting for them, like whose turn it's going to be today. Very, very small practices just to notice your breath like sometimes we do slow motion walks. I'll say, "okay, now we are going to put something on our heads and they're going to walk very, very, very slowly." and then "how does your leg feel, how does you're shoulder feel." We don't think of our body separately but when you do a very slow act and you tell them to focus on it, they are actually able to experience that "the toe of my foot is feeling like this..." and I'm amazed that they can feel their toes! Their responses are amazing. There are lots of mindfulness games. I have a lot of resources to refer to. Thankfully. A lot of people before me have done all the hard work and made mindfulness not a difficult concept in classrooms now.
When I was a student, I don't think even the word mindfulness existed. I don't think anyone was talking about mindfulness in school. But now it's not an alien word. The acceptance from other teachers is also important. You can't have mindfulness for just 15 mins and then not going back to it for the rest of the day. So ya little games.
LuAnn: I can't wait to hear your experience in Houston. I am from Texas and I cannot wait to hear the comparisons. Now that you've done these in all these different countries. Of all the difference and similarities of all these children. I have one more question and then I have a comment.
This is from Jignasha:
"Since you've been on this service journey, what are the shifts you've experienced in your family specifically within the context of your inter-religious marriage."
Ashima: So, within my family everybody is more open to noticing goodness around them. And I think inter-religion now doesn't stand out, we've been 11 years past it. The shift that has happened is that everyone notices goodness around more often, they talk about it more often, they share about it more often. My nephews and nieces when they heard about the bookmarks that I used to leave... One of the times when I was visiting them, I bought a bag full of Sharpies and a packet of gift tags and we made small notes and the kids went around and distributed them to strangers. One of the times when we were in Udaipur, I gave them some money and I told them to do some acts of kindness with that money. And they bought some balloons and ice-creams and gave them to other kids. It is interesting to see how we are integrating these behaviors more in our family. That's the shift and the kids are very receptive. My niece has to listen to a story every night and when I am there, I am the one to tell her stories and it is beautiful how she is connecting to those stories.
LuAnn: I have one last caller and it's going to be Audrey.
Audrey: Thank you LuAnn for letting me make the cut. I just wanted to say, thank you for being you and always inspiring so many of us in so many different places. You down to earth way of being and your super hard work ethic. I've had the privilege of volunteering with you and seeing how late you stay up or early you wake up to make something happen. And the love that you bring and all the thoughts and also your amazing creativity. I feel like you are always finding ways to bloom. Bloom not just yourself...well, I think blooming ourselves is to bloom so much around us too but I just feel like you leave a garden in your wake, wherever you go.
Ashima: aww... Thank you! That is so sweet Audrey. It is you guys who have been inspiring me, you are the light that is helping me do the work that I do... thank you!
Chris: There is one from comment. It's from Venu in Houston and he says, "I actually want to share my email with Ashima. I am in Houston. I want to connect Ashima with kids that my sister Meena works with as a Pediatric Dermatologist."
Ashima: Wow! That would be lovely! Thank you Venu. See! That's how it happens :-)
Chris: Yes, connections happening in the moment!
LuAnn: Well we will close in and I think that has actually answered our last question that is how can we as the larger Service Space community support your work and I think it was answered before we asked.
I want to thank you both. Thank you Ashima for being our guest today. I've enjoyed our conversation and I'm looking forward to reading more of your writing and talking to you more. Thank you Chris for moderating so beautifully and all of the invisible hands and hearts working behind the scenes to make these calls possible. If we could take just one moment of silence in gratitude for what we've shared here and to take out into our day.
Again. Thank you very much. Thank you to all the callers for all the questions and this concludes our call. Thank you Ashima & Chris for this wonderful conversation and your service.
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