Saturday, October 14, 2006

Anarben's story- part 4 of 4

Many people feel that if you do seva, you’ll have satisfaction. I’ve been doing seva for over 13 years now. Even after doing seva for 8-9 years, I did not feel satisfied. I can’t change the world. I began to sink into depression. Even after all these years of doing seva, I hadn’t seen any results. I began to wonder what the point was for doing all this. I was ready to stop doing seva. I began to cut down heavily on the activities I was involved in. I was doing the bare minimum. I began to go to the field less because I was doing administrative work. I was ready to leave the world of seva. Then I went to Vipassana and I got a new life. After the first three days, for the first time in my life, I got to spend time with myself and my thoughts. My perspective on my life began to change dramatically. I began to learn how to work with people and realize who I am. I began to see the relationship between myself and my environment. I often get angry with people because of things they do. Through Vipassana, I began to understand my role in my environment and how much the things around me are related to the way I think and act. More importantly, I made the connection between service (seva) and spirituality. I was missing out on the spirituality side, which is why I was not satisfied by doing seva. Both are needed.

I’ll tell you one more story, this happened after we left Vipassana. Jayesh had to go to the bathroom on the way home, so we stopped a place that had toilets. Now Jayesh always notices the cleanliness of bathrooms. When he went to the toilet, a woman was inside cleaning. Instead of disrupting her, he simply observed her because there was something about the way she was working that caught his eye. The woman was doing her work with immense love and devotion. When the woman noticed Jayesh, she came out so he could use the facilities. Inside, Jayesh notice how impeccably clean the toilet was. Every corner was spotless. Immediately, Jayesh had the desire to do something to appreciate this woman’s work, so he took some money from his pocket and went up to the woman.

“Sister, you are doing this work with such love and devotion. The toilets are so clean.”
“It’s my duty, of course I will do it well.”
“But the love and dedication you do it with is truly incredible. I really appreciate the work you are doing and want to give you this money to show that appreciation.”

But the woman would not accept the money. Jayesh came back to me and told me the story. So I took the money and went to talk to the woman myself.

“Sister, please take this money. You are doing a great job and it’s simply a token of our appreciation.”
“I cannot take this money.”
“What does your husband do?”
“He cleans a school nearby.” (which meant he didn’t earn much either).
“How many children do you have?”
“I’m sure you have a need for money.”
“Everyone has a need for money, but the money we get, we earn from our own hard work.”
“This money is in appreciation for the work you do and it’s coming from your brother, so you can take it.”
“No sister, my boss pays me for the work I do and that is enough.”

And she wouldn’t take the money. The values this woman embodied left me in awe.

As we left, I turned back to ask the woman her name.
“Lakshmi,” she replied.
Lakshmi. I smiled.

Lakshmi is the name of the Goddess of Wealth. God himself had manifested himself to teach us a lesson. From Vipassana and our encounter with Lakshmi, I learned that in every moment God is teaching us something, but our perspective prevents us from seeing these lessons.

And with that her talk concluded. Over the span of an hour and half, Anarmami had given us all immense insight into her life and what it meant to do seva. It’s not a glamourous life, its not an easy life, but it is one that connects you with humanity and with God. Her story was exactly what I and the other NRI volunteers listening needed to here. The humility and love with which she shared her life and parts of herself left us speechless.

As I embark on this path of seva, she brought home the realities of this work. I’ve been blessed to be able to live with this person, to learn from her and her experiences. As I listened to her speak, I bowed down to the spirit within her and energy and space that connects us together. I originally had planned to stay in Ahmedabad only for a few weeks, but I can’t leave this space now. There is so much to learn and experience and where else would I find such people, under whose guidance and example, I can truly learn what it means to serve.

Anarben's story- part 3

I’ll share another story with you. A short while back, I had gone to the tekra for a mothers’ meeting. At the meeting, I spoke to the woman about women’s issues, the support that is available, etc. At the end of my talk, the women began to share their stories. One woman’s story reduced us all to tears. She was a victim of immense sexual abuse by her husband. Her situation was horrific. Her husband harassed her at work and at home. Her husband derived pleasure from her suffering, screams and agony. As I listened to her speak, I was thinking of ways to help this woman. I spent a good half hour to hour talking to her, trying to make her see that her situation was unacceptable and that alternatives were available. After calmly listening to me give possible solutions, the woman told me she could not leave and would endure what was written in her fate. I didn’t know how to respond. She continued by saying that she felt much better just talking to me. Now she felt like there was someone to listen to her and give her moral support and that was all she needed. She asked if she could come back and talk to me and of course the answer was yes. The woman didn’t come back, her family actually ended up moving out of the tekra soon after, but our encounter taught me a lot. There are so many times where we feel like people need material things- food, clothing, money, etc- but so many times all people want is a hand to hold and a ear to listen. My presence and support gave the woman strength. It’s not always about the material things- the greatest gift we can give is ourselves and our time.
Seva work is a rosy and perfect lifestyle. There are many challenges. Many people believe that Jayesh and I are the perfect couple with no martial problems, but no relationship is perfect. We too have gone through our ups and downs. There have been times when things have been very difficult and we needed to live with one another. It’s taken a lot of work on both of our parts. Jayesh and I are very different. Jayesh doesn’t like to wear fancy clothes or go to movies, etc while I do. We began to look at what we liked and didn’t like in one another and then began to change. We began to adjust ourselves to suit the other person. For example, this means that Jayesh will wear clothes that I buy him that aren’t jabho-leghnos. Our awareness of each other’s likes and dislikes grew and we adjusted ourselves accordingly to make each other happy. It’s takes a lot of effort, but when you love someone, you’ll go that extra mile. We love each other deeply and thus were willing to change for other. You all met Jayesh, you know he talks a lot. I’ve often told him that. I personally am more introverted. Now when Jayesh goes to give a talk, he might talk for an hour, an hour and half. When we leave, he’ll turn to me and say, “I spoke a little too much, didn’t I?” Today, we have passed through some of the more challenging times, but the process is ongoing. We are continually adjusting ourselves to the other.

Anarben's story- part 2

I have learned that if I want to do something for the community, I need to change my habits.

I have learned and grown not necessarily from seva work itself, but from the people. And its not just the communities and people that I am working to serve, but volunteers also. One big thing to learn from NRI volunteers is openness. For example, a few years back, two Indicorps fellows were working at Manav Sadhna. Anjali and Bindi had prepared a survey form for the tekra and were discussing it with each other. They didn’t notice me behind, when one of them said, “If we show this to Anarben, she’s only going to find faults in it.”

For a second, I was hurt, but then I began to think. Instead of taking it as an insult, this was an opportunity to look at myself. If this was the perception they have of me, I need to change. So in that instance, I resolved not to say anything negative about that form and ultimately, I even helped them do some of the surveying using the exact form they created. From them, I became aware of the fact that I did not show my appreciation or gratitude and have made more of an effort to do so.

The community has also taught me many lessons. I’ll give you an example from a walk that Jayesh and I participated in along the Narmada. One evening, we were told to find our own food. If we couldn’t find food, we’d have to go hungry. Jayesh and I decided that we were going to eat with the poorest family we could find. So we set out on our search. Along the way, we found a family sitting under a tree. They were cutting wood. The family was from out of town, had no home and was very poor. We began to play with the kids, made them a tire swing off the tree and became friends with them. Through the kids, we were able to connect to the family. We told the family that we would eat with them that evening and they were absolutely thrilled. We set a time to come back and went on exploring.

In the evening, we set out to meet the family. We bought some vegetables, etc thinking that we would all cook and then eat together. Since the family was poor, we expected that they would be a shak made of potatoes and onions, so we bought greens. When we came back to the tree, we couldn’t believe our eyes. The family had beautifully cleaned an area, lined the edge with branches and logs and prepared it for our dinner. The food was already cooked and the shak was made of green vegetables! Jayesh and I could barely eat because we had tears in our eyes.

As we ate with them, I couldn’t help but think about how middle class society, myself included, feed people. The entire evening was so full of love and the family had put their heart into the food. When people come over to eat, do we feed them with love? If someone well-to-do is coming over, we prepare a lavish meal with a variety of dishes, but what if the person coming to eat is poor? Had I ever fed anyone with so much love??

From that day, I resolved to feed every person who came into my house with love. Rich or poor, I was not going to see a difference. Since then, we have fed countless people. They are always people coming and going in our home now, even when we are not there, people come and eat in our home.

"Every moment God is teaching us a lesson, but we have to keep our eyes and heart open to see them"

Anarben's story- Part 1

"Mami, it's time for my nap," I said jokingly as we headed to the talk she was going to give on her life story.

I had no idea what to expect. I've been living with Jayeshbhai and Anarben for 5 weeks now. I have a sense of who they are in the present moment, but next to no idea what they have passed through to become who they are. I've heard hints that its been a turmultuous ride, but no details. I didn't know what to expect.

We all sat on the ground in a circle and began the session with two minutes of silence. Then she began. As soon as she started talking, even though she spoke in Hindi and many did not understand her, a calm magic prevaded the atmosphere. Her clear voice was full of a strength that one could only have after going through challenges.

I've been asked to share my life story. I'll tell you about how I got involved in seva work and some powerful experiences on this journey. Growing up, every vacation, we would go to my mama's house in the village. Where we would pass the days laughing and playing, we would have so much fun. Then 8th standard came to a close and instead of going to our mama's house, my mother had other plans for us. My mother used to be a teacher. A strict teacher and a strict mother. That summer, we were each to tutor 2 kids. We had to pick who the kids would be. If we didn't do this, she wouldn't pay our school fees for the following year.

What kind of mother was she? I couldn't believe my mother was like this, but I had to oblige. Where would I find students? There was a slum near my home and my ayai lived there. So I decided to teach my ayai's kids. But the slum was filthy. How could I teach in such an environment? People also doubted the effectiveness of my teaching since I was only in the 8th standard, so the environment was not conducive to my objectives. So I went to a temple nearby and created a space to work in using cow dung and I began my tuition classes.

Every summer after that, even in college, I continued to tutor during vacations.

My mother was well-known in our area because she was a teacher and my father was in politics, so everyone knew who he was. Everywhere I went, I was known as their daughter and not Anar Patel. But in the slums that wasn't the case. In the slums, everyone knew me as Didi. I was no one's daughter, but rather an entity of my own and I enjoyed that recognition. So be it out of selfish desires and ego, my interest in seva grew.

I was the youngest child in my family and fit the stereotype of the youngest child. I was spoiled and somewhat of a brat. I had a short-temper- my anger came and went in a matter of seconds- and always got what I wanted. I didn't have the discpline or dedication to follow through on anything. I was always starting things, but nothing was ever completed. I took a lot of things for granted- it was my parents' duty to give me things- I didn't appreciate all that they gave me. If my parents gave me a watch, it was because they were my parents and are supposed to give me a watch. I was spoiled and no one said a whole lot to me. One example is the way I ate. No matter what I was eating, I ALWAYS left the last bite. I could never bring myself to eat the last bite of food in my plate, so every meal, some food was wasted.

I was blessed to be married into a family is doing social work. God brought me and Jayesh together. The first seva activity I did after marriage was to help paint the ashramshala in the Gandhi Ashram. Here we would work all day with the kids and eat with them in the evening. To all the kids, I was Didi. When we sat down to eat, of course out of love, they gave me more food than needed and keeping with my habit, I ate until one bite remained. As that one bite sat on my plate, I looked around to the kids eating with us. The ashramshala has a rule that your plate must be completely cleaned, no morsel of food should be left and indeed all their plates were cleared of food. I was a role model to these children and here I was unable to eat the last bite. I drew inspiration from the children and put the last morsel into my mouth. For the first time in my life, no food was wasted from my plate. After that meal, everytime I sit to each and feel the urge to leave the last bite, I remember their plates and my plate too is cleared.

[10-13] Today Ekta Called

Today Ekta called. When I hung up the phone I was crying. It was the first non-family phone call that I received since I arrived in India.
The tears were not of sadness, but as the tears fell, I remembered North America. I remembered my friends and everyone I left to come to India. I’ve been trying to talk to my sister for a few days now and thinking of little cousins. Even though I missed them in that moment, I knew I didn’t want to leave India. I love it here, so then why did I miss home.

I want my friends to be here, to experience what I am experience. But, if they share this experience with me, would I be getting the same experience. So much of what is happening, the changes I am undergoing are because I am by myself. So what is it that I want.

Why do I want to share this journey?
The answer was pretty clear-
because it is so hard,
because I want someone to walk with me.

But the path that is mine is not that of someone else.

I need to do this alone.

The path is hard. There is so much to consider, so many small changes that I would like to and am making. The effect of all this effort is taking a toll. But the sweat, the frustration and everything else that is arising is apart of the progress. Purification by fire.

I want friends and family around…. Do I really?
That’s the easy way out.

This path is my own and I alone can forge a path of peace, focus and silence in the clamor of thoughts and ideas through my mind.

My mind, my thoughts, my behaviour, my actions
These are all my own.
When the path involves altering this, focusing these, purifying these
Who else can walk the path, but me.

This is to be done alone.

Ultimately, it is me. I have the support of so many across the globe. The comfort zone has been released, so why desire a new safety net when the leap of faith has been taken?

This path is a struggle, but it’s one that I have chosen for my own.

Thank you for sending your love, your support and positive energy as I move from the head to the heart and dedicate myself to the path of self discovery and selfless service.

Monday, October 09, 2006

[10-07] Food from God

I came down with a cold. I had a high temperature on and off throughout the day and had spent most of the day sleeping at my aunt’s house, instead of spending time with my mom like I had intended. After dropping my mom off at the airport, I headed home. I was hungry and tired and not looking forward to the fact that I would have to cook my own food. I can’t cook Indian that well and kadhi and khichadi was what I was wanted and of course I don’t know how to make kadhi.

When I got home, my housemate’s mother offered to make kadhi, in her own style. So I got the supplies. On the way back I saw some boys from the community/card project and called them in to give them fruit snacks my mom had just brought. They came in and were hanging out with me and my housemate’s mom for a while, when we finally got up to cook. When they found out I couldn’t cook very well and aunty didn’t know how to make kadhi and khichadi Gujarati style, the 12 year old immediately says, “I know how to make it, let me.”

Pretty soon, all three boys, Vijay (11), Ajay (12) and Utsav (11) were in the kitchen – cutting potatoes, making the appropriate spice mixes and washing the rice. When I tried to help, they’d respond, “Didi, you aren’t feeling well. Sit.”

And so the chef and his assistants went to work. When three whistles blew on the pressure cooker and I turned the gas off, I got scolded for doing this prematurely. “Didi, there is still water in the rice, let it cook. I’ll turn it off when it’s ready.”

So Anchal’s mother and I resigned to watching and learning.

“Didi, you don’t know how to cook,” they asked in surprise. I can cook, just not Indian food, especially since I haven’t made much Indian food in the last four years, especially not kadhi.

As the food was prepared, a wonderful aroma begin to fill the air. As Ajay happily made the kadhi, I began to throw away the vegetable peels and other waste.

“Didi, leave it, we’ll clean up.”

In the time we waited for the khichadi to be cooked and cool, the three boys had thrown away all the waste, wiped all the surfaces clean, including all the stuff that spilled, and washed all the dishes.

Finally the food was ready.

Ajay looks at Anchal’s mother and I as we take the first bite.

“How is it?”

Absolutely delicious. They each try a little and have great fun taking pictures of entire experience.
As they get ready to leave, they turn around to remind me.

“Didi, make sure Anchaldidi tries some when she gets home. We’re going to ask her tomorrow what she thinks.”

After the boys leave, Anchal’s mother and I sit in the living room. “Look at God’s blessing. You weren’t feeling well and wanted kadhi. I thought that you should have garlic and you got garlic. We got the food, and God sent the chefs too.”

The next morning I woke up feeling 100 times better than the previous day. How could I not? After all, God had sent his own angels to prepare nourishment with such love and care.

[10-07] Navrati Recap

Chachi re tari sacha re bhuvani ma
Amba bhuvani ma
Hu to tari seva karis maya lal
Nav Nav raat na naudta karis ma
Puja hu karis ma
Dussera dare havan karis maya lal

Navrati in India.

Didn’t do that much garba, but the garba I did do was a lot of fun.

Night 1: Vibrant Gujarat’s inaugural stage show – great fun, no doing garba, but watched garba and much more
Night 2: There was a reason I didn’t do garba this night…
Night 3: So tired from the last couple of days that I slept
Night 4: So apparently no one goes out for garba during the first couple of nights…
Night 5: Went to Ashramshala for garba with the kids, they are so cute. Some boys were playing the dholki and girls were singing different garbos. Certain beauty in the lack of coordination between the two =)
Night 6: headed to Gandhinagar with the cousins for garba. I spent a lot of time just looking at people’s outfits and the different styles of dance. It was a little surreal. I think my cousins thought I was a little odd because I kept watching everything around me. It’s all new to me. Very cool to see. “Fob” garba really is a lot of fun to watch and do. By fob style I mean, very flamboyant, lots of curviness to the hands, turning, etc. Stuff that guys in N. America would NEVER do and even the girls would struggle with getting the nuances of, but extremely typical here.
Night 7: Ramdev, garba with the MSers – SOOOOOO much fun. These boys really know how to do garba, its was ridiculously fun dancing with them (totally fob style of course). People were coming up with their own moves, etc. I had a blast. It was awesome that Sansui got up and starting doing garba with all of us. We had a fabulous time. I fell 3 times during the night. Good ol’ ankle. Once I roll it once, its bound to happen again.
Night 8: Vinay Mandir Garba in the morning. The girls are so great. I went with Sonia’s Mexican visitors and taught Sara and Carmen how to do garba. It was a lot of fun to see them interact with the girls. Garba with the Chokshi. Gautamkaka’s annual garba. Good times also. Very different from the night before at Ramdev in terms of styles, etc, but still fun times.
Night 9: Garba at NID with Nirali, Asha, Archana and Karisma. Pretty good time. They do this beautiful thing where each student is given two diyas and then they turn off the lights and everyone does the same 12 step garba around mataji with a diya in each hand. Absolutely stunning to see. It’s pretty difficult to do with two diyas, I tried with one. Its amazing that so over 200 people do this at one time and multiple co centric circles and no one gets burned. Then we headed to Maheshwari to join the MSers, but by the time raas got kicking, it was time for us to eat before sunrise since a couple of us were doing roja for Gandhi Jayanti. We still had a great time hanging out, powerful conversations and the ankle needed the rest.
Dussera: Celebrated Gandhi Jayanti with Sonia’s Mexico-India simultaneous peace event, which was very powerful. After it was over, her Mexican guests came to MS to eat. But before eating we danced with them for a half an hour or so, which was great fun. They really got into it and let loose and just felt the music so it was a lot of fun to dance with them =) I love it when people dance like no one is watching.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Who Am I

What’s real?
Who am I?
Is the face that people see the real me?
Who am I deceiving?
The people around me or myself.

Lost amidst who I should be, who I am and who I want to be.
The gaps grow smaller, yet the confusion increases
Where did the real me go?

Wait, who or what is the real me?
Isn’t the person in the mirror reality?
Or is it the person that I am in those moments of silence
How does clarity arise amidst the dust and chaos.

Dreams haunt my sleep.
They seem so real.
Yet the moment I wake up, its gone.
It makes no sense.
Yet the confusion and lack of direction that I felt in that dream persists.

The day continues, the confusion fades.
Yet when I sleep, it comes back.
Underneath the calm, it bubbles,
Slowly under the surface
It is will rise and with it bring the moment of clarity.

The undercurrents pull, but be present, be still
Stand still amidst the storm.
Deepen your roots.
The more grounded one is, the chaos will pass.
Calm will naturally ensue.

It’s apart of the process.
The storm, the confusion, the lack of direction.

Who am I?
I’m working on figuring that one out.

[10-04] Space of being

A couple of weeks ago, I had this powerful conversation (as usual) with Nirali. The theme of our last conversation was “nothing matters”. It’s hard to think that nothing matters, but on some level I recognize the truth in this statement, but I can’t say I’m at a level of understanding where I recognize it to be the Truth.

How does one get to a space where nothing matters was the question. There are so many projects, so many ideas and so many things that I could be apart of here. Everyday there seems to be 5 new things I could be apart. How does one decide what to do and not to do? How does one chose the activities that one decides to participate. I didn’t come to India to do something for the sake of doing something. By physically and mentally leaving behind many constraints, I have the freedom to do what feels right and I want to make sure that I commit myself to something I feel charged up about. If I don’t dig something , the right energy is not going into the activity. No matter how noble and valuable the final outcome is, not having my heart in it is going to make most of the time I spend working on it difficult.

So do you figure out what you want to do? If nothing matters, then why not do what makes you happy, what makes you in a space of giving pure and unconditional love? If you are in this space or state, you are giving as much positive energy as possible. So taking inspiration from Nirali, I too decided I was going to try to work from such a space as much as possible.

All I can say is that it’s an incredible space to be in. My days since that conversation 3 weeks ago just seem to be going so much better. I’m trying not to stress about what I need to do because of others and doing what feels right at the moment, with the faith that in this space all that needs to happen will happen. If I’m not in that space, then its about trying to get myself in that space while doing whatever I am doing. For example, a couple of days ago, a couple of us were sitting in my house. A friend and I had to discuss a couple of things, then I had to work on another project with another friend and a third friend wanted to meet to talk about something she was working on. One thing led to another and the four of us ended up talking for a few hours about everything from the friend’s project to perspectives on life, etc. At a point, the thought crossed my mind that we should work on the sanitation project, but at the moment, the conversation we were all having was something that everyone was so present in and was gaining so much of out of that it didn’t make sense. We didn’t end up doing a whole lot on the sanitation project that day, but the work that needed to get done got done.

The days are so much more positive overall. Seeing myself from the observer’s perspective, I can see the growth that is slowly happening. Really really powerful space to be in. Space of giving pure love or atleast present.