You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2005.

redcross_2From the beginning, intuition told me that the two things that would prevent us from really going all out on this trip were the risks of getting sick and the fears of losing things we valued. Over the course of the time we’ve been here, those two factors have indeed proven to be the main hindrances to engaging fully in any moment.

Our initial plan was to do an extended cleaning and all-things-service stint on the streets for a continuous 43 days. As we were both hit hard with illness, it became apparent that we wouldn’t be able to pull this off during the blazing summer months, and so we delayed it. If it weren’t for the fear of sickness, it’s likely we would be sleeping in the slums all the time, but because of this real concern, we are forced to keep a little more distance, dining at some of the safer, more expensive eateries, and even when taking extreme caution, not a day has gone by where sickness hasn’t been looming within reach.

dell700mThe other fear is of losing our stuff, and most particular, this laptop I’m typing on. Since I’ve been here, I’ve done quite a bit of work on it creating reports, building websites, modifying children’s books, designing logos, communicating through email, etc. The blog was another big reason for having it, and if it disappears, it’s likely that the blog will too, along with so many other possibilities. Though this work is valuable in its way, it does prevent me from giving it all I’ve got in other ways because I have to always keep it guarded, and because it divides my attention.

The third devil is just now beginning to reveal itself, and that is the concern over selling out. We came to Delhi to work with the Times Foundation from the Times of India. They have promised to promote our Indo-Pak campaign nationwide and their circulation is the largest of any newspaper on the planet. They have also promised to promote it in all their school papers throughout the country, as well as deliver Presidents and celebrities and you name it.

onenesscenterThe Times Foundation was started by the daughter of Indu Jain, the woman who runs the show. Her daughter died several years back and they have created a “Oneness Center” in the beautiful house where she used to live (where we are currently staying). The Oneness Center is a place where spiritual events of all types take place as well as various meetings, and is possibly the future home of the Times Foundation itself.

The Times Foundation has excellent vision, currently working on a wide scale peace campaign, also with interests in building web platforms to engage volunteers. They have been open to suggestions and we seem to be working in parallel. The issue of selling out came up when they asked us to sign a contract today basically giving ownership of our campaign to them and forever branding it with their logo.

timeslogoNeither Mark nor I care about ownership. I think it would make both of us happy to see this scale up as big as it can, because it will create more and more internal bridges of friendship in kids all across India, and their pure messages will touch more and more kids and people in Pakistan, and perhaps even the world over. The concern is not a matter of us becoming anonymous. In reality, I would probably prefer it that way, but it is a matter of the Times putting their name on it. Despite all the good qualities they possess, they are very much a corporate culture and there is a good chance the sweetness and grass-rootsiness of the vibration it currently has will be replaced with one of convention and corporate propaganda.

I don’t think this is an easy choice for either one of us. Though we can both envision it scaling up without this partnership, because of our health (I just found out I’ve been suffering from acute jaundice, resulting from viral hepatitis), and because of other factors and interests which may arise, it’s very possible that we will not hit this mark without partnering. So the question is: how bad is the sell-out?

There are so many things to do, that in many ways, it makes sense to cash in on this and continue on. Still, it’s ultimately a matter of genuineness. Any suggestions?

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moleculeLive an ordinary life, extraordinarily.

Please allow me to introduce Bob and Susie, who had a major impact on my development. You could probably call them my first gurus as they deliberately helped shape my mind.

I think they met in high school, maybe earlier. Like two atoms meant for a molecule, they quickly united and have been as one ever since.

They went to UC Berkeley together in the late 60s, and fit the hippy stereotype. At the time, Bob had long hair with beard and their bodies were temples of purity, as they carefully ingested only the freshest and healthiest of natural vegetarian foods. Their purity was so extreme that spiritual experiences were inevitable.

Though I think their college majors focused on Far Eastern temples, they ended up getting two newspaper routes for income. Bob and Susie were fiercely independent spirits never meant to conform to any 9-5 scene and a paper route gave them a lifestyle of freedom and independence that fit.

vwbookProbably what is most important to grasp about them is that they loved their lives. A lot. They derived so much enjoyment out of the simple things – waking up every day and cleaning their windshields so that the view was crystal clear, brushing teeth to perfection, living in an honest, wholesome way. Bob had an extraordinary intellect and a keen interest in understanding how everything worked. He lovingly performed maintenance on their cars, with Susie as assistant. When problems would arise, they were taken as opportunities to develop further in their understanding and mastery over their Volkswagens. They enjoyed the smile their cars would give after being properly cared for.

They soon realized that since they were driving the same routes every day, delivering one newspaper, that if they were able to carry another newspaper, they could deliver two routes simultaneously driving the same course. Together, they were now delivering four routes, and then I think this multiplied to probably six or even eight. What seemed impossible, they were able to manage, and living as humble newspaper deliverers, doing their own car maintenance, they managed to start saving real money.

Eventually, they also realized that most carriers dreaded the other part of their job which was dealing with the billing of their customers. Bob and Susie eventually extracted this part out of whole districts and offered more simplified and easily managed routes for carriers to take on. They now had employees and were making even more money.

Always sweet and always kind, Susie was also a highly efficient work horse who could take on a million things, get them done, and still make an amazing dinner and take the dogs for a long walk.

The newspaper job was not necessarily an enviable one because, for one, their sleep was interrupted every night, as they had to deliver all night long. Secondly, the news comes out 365 days a year. Having taken on so much, they were no longer in a position to find substitutes, and made peace with the idea that in their lives, there would be no vacations, sick days, or breaks of any sort. This was to go on for decades.

dylanblondeWhile this may sound stressful, through it all, they continued to love their lives. Bob was fond of music and Susie loved to cook. They both loved to go for walks with their dogs, read, learn, garden, grow.

As they cherished the meticulous, so grew their appreciation for quality – everything done with great care – and as their wealth began to grow, they became more able to support the very best, obscure artisans, and things made with the highest attention to detail.

When I came to Berkeley and got to know them for the first time, they introduced me to worlds of great consciousness and care. Bob, the audiophile, would show me his extraordinary sound system and play vinyl Dylan albums, where each scratch of a guitar string could be heard with crystal clarity like it was happening right beside you.

Though I wasn’t as intrigued by these material things as they, the utter love and care they showed me was something I would very much take to heart. I understand that in this world there are very many perfectionists and quality junkies out there, but you have to understand, that they took it to a level so high that very few on earth could match it.

The love of quality was their form of spiritual discipline, and in this realm, they were very much spiritual masters.

I feel bad that I haven’t even begun to truly convey the depth, the love, and the consciousness that they have demonstrated in their lives. Bob would tell me that “as you continue to perform every action with great care, the world is incrementally transformed into an extraordinary place.” In his worldview, there must be no areas of neglect, nothing to be left unattended. Two words he left me with once really seemed to capture this life philosophy…

Everything matters.

seva_cafe_finalconvertedYes! The Seva Café is quickly on its way to becoming a living, breathing reality. This is no lightweight project. Sharing the top floor of an upscale space on prime CG Road, Seva Café and the Gramshree showroom will soon be in full action mode, working to promote the beauty of “sharing and caring” in a fully capitalistic landscape.

So much is being undertaken – including all-new, ground-up construction – and expenses are rising quickly. Yet despite the staggering risks, the trust from everyone has been nothing short of extraordinary.

I am forced to make a very difficult decision of whether to stay and help out in the effort from now through its launch and beyond vs. re-engaging in the India-Pakistan letter campaign. It’s a very tough decision because my heart is in both places and a great deal of attention is needed in both places. Because Seva Café has a wider base of support now and has such a phenomenal pool of talent around it, and because the letter effort would collapse completely without our attention, it seems that this is the course I have to take.

We are again now back in Delhi, playing with some possibilities. Mark and I have both been really sick for a while now. Almost all food here sounds nauseating and we are both becoming really gaunt. More than likely, the problem comes from the combination of being vegan and having to eat out, without being able to find the food alternatives our bodies require.

In his autobiography, Gandhi talks about being a vegan for many years. I don’t think the love and respect for animals that was at the core of this decision ever changed for him, but at a certain point, the trials on his body were so taxing that he eventually concluded that until an alternative is found that can replace the nutrients of milk, that it is necessary for the human body, and so he began drinking goat milk. Since that time, the soybean and many other alternatives have arrived, making a vegan diet completely viable. These alternatives, unfortunately, are still a rarity here in India, where the demand is close to none.

sevacafeconstructOne of the hidden agendas behind the Seva Café is the hope of creating a place where wholesome, nutritional food can be found, as well as a space for information, inspiration, internet access, etc. In trying to make it a place we would want to go to, the likelihood is that others will find value in it as well. It’s when we identify our own real needs and work to answer them in a collective way that we begin to create the genuine solutions to the human (and beyond human) condition.

Seva Café and Gramshree are just weeks away from opening. Pay attention, everyone, because the world is about to get just a little bit cooler.

berkeleygateThis story continues from:Lina“.

I was 17 years old when I dropped out of high school and headed west without a plan. My extended family was mostly from California, and my sister was going to school at UC Berkeley. As an idealistic kid, I was intrigued by the 60s and the sound of Berkeley resonated within. It’s where I would have wanted to go to college. Without a plan, Berkeley pulled me its way. I drove across the country, stopping at the Grand Canyon, and to my sister’s apartment.

The timing couldn’t have been much better as she was leaving that day to spend the next few months in LA and had just acquired a new apartment, which she wanted to sublet. Without pause, after four days of long driving, I drove her to LA, dropped her off, and drove back where I now had a place to stay for several months.

My aunt and uncle, Bob and Susie, also lived in Berkeley and, as timing would have it, they were looking to fill a job delivering newspapers. As a kid, I had a walk-around-the-block paper route for four years, but this was something altogether different. Here, the route covered 50 miles or so of driving up and down and around large areas, folding papers with rubber bands while knee steering, and lofting papers out the car window at high speeds with precision, or so one hopes. They trained me and I quickly got it down. I also took on an inserting job, assembling the various sections of the Sunday paper for the whole district.

I now had a quiet place to live and a job that required almost no personal interaction. I was able to live in virtual isolation, where I was free to suffer.

painjesusThe suffering came easy. I spent most my time lying in bed, thinking of Lina, writing poetry and thinking deeply about everything. The apartment was filled with roaches, and as a pacifist, we made a deal that after 8 pm every night, I would turn the lights out and let them have their run.

I was raised somewhat frugally, and had a good head for math. I tried to live on as little money as I possibly could which, aside from the apartment and car expenses, amounted to very little. My food bill averaged about $1.80/day, which included rare trips eating out. I lived mostly on oatmeal and potatoes with low-cost melted cheese. I was able to save almost all the money I earned.

I had begun fasting every Sunday in high school and continued it here. I was working all day on Saturday both delivering newspapers and inserting, and would then basically pull an all-nighter each Saturday night delivering Sunday’s papers. Because of Saturday’s long day and all-nighter, Sundays became consistently grueling, where I would spend them in sickness, vomiting pure, acid-green bile.

My self-discipline was very strong, and I endured the hardships.  Occasionally, I would do three-day fasts, and one time, to test my self-discipline, I decided on a whim to fast for 8 days. I told no one about this and was sick nearly the whole time. After day 5, I gave up, going to the grocery store at 1 am to get ice cream. That’s when I first became aware of the limitations of my will power.

During this time, I also read about the possibility of becoming breatharian. I had become a vegetarian at the time of leaving high school and thought that it would be amazing to be free from food entirely. The step to getting there, I read, was in first becoming a fruitarian. For several months, I tried living on only fruit. I became skinnier and weaker and probably anemic.

teatoast_1The suffering, loneliness, and physical endurance were all very difficult. At one point, I imagined sourdough toast with butter and tea with milk and sugar. This is a treat I would eat at home in Connecticut. My mind was so rigid in self-deprivation, that it didn’t even occur to me how easily I could satisfy that craving on my own right in California. The craving made me yearn for home – to find a little relief.

My car was also consistently breaking down. Bob and Susie would do all the repairs with me, and at a certain point I felt like I was becoming too much of a burden. I guess I was just too frugal to spend money on hiring someone. I had come here to die and not to learn to live, and as the troubles kept coming, I felt more and more helpless.

Eventually, I decided to leave the route and drive back to Connecticut. My parents were very happy.

Continue to: Know Thyself – Part II – Beginning to Blossom

laetitiacasta

This is a picture of French supermodel Laetitia Casta.  Man, is she hot or what?

lucideyeMark and I were fully engaged in our Pakistani letter campaign, but set it all aside for a period because of commitments we had previously made – one was in helping to get Seva Café off the ground and the other was to run a few sessions during the training period for the new Indicorps fellows.

Indicorps is an organization like the Peace Corps that offers one-year fellowships to non-resident Indians (NRIs) to come to India, reconnect, and work for a year on a project in tandem with existing, pre-selected NGOs (non-governmental organizations or nonprofits). Its aim is as much to help the fellows develop internally as it is external, development work.

For some reason, Mark and I have a reputation for having a slightly unorthodox approach to “service”, and Roopal from Indicorps was hoping we could help transfer some of this spirit into the newbies.

Mark decided he would lead morning meditations, and I decided to run two programs to make them aware of their possibilities, and to help them out of traps they may end up in later in the year.

My first program was called “Entering the Dream.” I haven’t really spent much time in a teaching role and am not much for preparation. I showed up with a vague notion of a plan, leaving the whole Indicorps staff totally in the dark about what I would be doing and how they should prepare for it. Somehow, they let me get away with this, and so I looked around the ESI campus where they were staying for some place a little weird.

I spotted a corner of a water collection ravine lined with rocks and thought this looked a little dreamlike. I announce that the session would be held down there and everyone gathered suspiciously.

I began by telling them that if this didn’t change their lives that it wasn’t being taught right because it’s that powerful of a concept.

I started talking about dreams and eventually asked if people had heard of a lucid dream. We discussed lucid dreams and how when lucid in a dream, there is no reason not to have fun and follow one’s fantasies to the fullest – one can take flight or become a pro-wrestler. Why not? We can do anything. Our limitations are self-imposed.

lucid_fishinafishI then explained that to me, there is very little difference between a dream and life. In waking life, when we become lucid, we are aware that here too, so many of our limitations are self-imposed.

I think I forgot to mention that at some point, I jumped in the water and was talking to the group on my back. I told them that any one of them could jump in the water with me. We are free, but are concerned about consequences – will I catch a cold? Will I get the car wet? How will I get dry clothes? Etc. All of these are legitimate concerns. The trouble is that we can easily go a whole lifetime without really living life because we are too concerned about these details.

I told them that the day’s assignment would be to break into groups of three, go into town, and enter the dream. I challenged them to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do, to embrace the absurd, and to dare each other to do stuff. This went completely against everything they had been told for three straight weeks – how to be culturally sensitive to the extreme. The real message Indicorps was telling them was not to be ignorant, and what I was telling them was to be lucid. In lucidity, there is no ignorance.

Eventually, the mutiny settled down, and we hit the jeeps. Their mission was to stop the jeep at any point en route as a group, get out, and get lucid, and then meet back at a restaurant in town a few hours later. At various points, they all jumped out and had extraordinary adventures.

lucid1I wish I could convey all their stories here, because they were fantastic! Mark and I arrived at the meeting pedaling a guy’s bike cart, and dancing with him on the platform, and then again on top of a truck full of bricks. We figured that within 10 minutes, we probably outdid all of them, but it so wasn’t true. They cut each other’s hair, threw rose pedals off of buildings, tried to take a bath in a showroom.

Most of all, they got it. They understood that this wasn’t about being culturally insensitive. One could always smile and let off a little gleam through the eyes to let others know that no harm is intended. It is just about ridding oneself of fear and awaking to the full potential of every moment.

My hope is that when they feel trapped and like giving up at some point during the year – which most of them probably will – that they can remember that their feeling trapped is just being stuck in a bad dream and that it can often be altered with just a little shift toward lucidity.

The dream pulls
The motions ever onward.
The story never
Seems to rest.
What lies in that hidden, quiet space of non-dreaming?

intermission31

Read the rest of this entry »

ego_3Monique asked if I could elaborate a little more on ego.

Basically, this whole blog is pure ego. It’s a little shrine to myself.

The nature of ego is that it’s a distorted view of the universe with your manufactured identity at its center. When that identify feels good about itself, then the world is good, and when it feels bad about itself then the world is bad.

I fully recognize my ego and my intention in writing this is largely to tell my story so that I can let go of my story and be free from it. Whether or not it’s a helpful road will remain to be seen, but it is my attempt at finishing something by completing it instead of just dropping it.

The risk I’m taking in going about it this way is that it actually tends to draw me more into the ego. In many ways, this period, which has great potential, is being somewhat squandered as my ego is possibly at its highest over the last many years, which is not cool. It’s not good because where there is ego, there is a lack of true, simple, and genuine connection with the world around you and within. Fortunately, I very much feel that real connection, and live by it, but as the ego grows, we lose our ability to keep it real.

Lately, I’ve been feeling like actually stopping this blog altogether. My feeling from the start was that within this story, there is some real value to be shared. From feedback, I think that some people have gotten something out of it so far, but whether it’s doing more harm or good is hard to say.

As far as the blog goes, there is so much more to write about. I’m just getting a little tired of the subject.
Be true.

butterfly3Today, I got an awesome email.

A year ago, my good friend, Sandra from North Carolina, was down with advanced breast cancer – her estimated chances of survival were almost none.

With the help of some friends, we created a care package for her from across the country. At UC Berkeley campus, where she attended, we created a large mandala out of chalk, and printed out hundreds of butterflies, which we had random people color and write messages of hope for her.

I had planned to mail these to her, but as word of this story started leaking out, an anonymous gift came to me in the form of plane tickets to North Carolina. This was quickly followed by another anonymous gift of a rental car, and a few offers of places to stay while in North Carolina. It was a truly miraculous event where so many people came together in the truest spirit of kindness and giving – all pouring their hearts, prayers, and good wishes to this one young woman, who they had never even met.

I then had the good fortune of visiting her and attaching these hundreds of beautifully colored butterflies on her ceiling to help lift her spirit.  [Check out the full story].  I think it helped a little as in her email today, she is now 13 months cancer-free!

butterfly_1Not only is Sandra recovering, but she is now using her reclaimed life to help lift spirits all around.  In Sandra’s words, “the butterflies of hope, of love, of kindness, of fun are taking off from all corners of the Americas.” From North Carolina, Costa Rica, and Los Angeles, school kids and others are making butterflies to give to cancer patients and others in their communities in need of a little dose of kindness.

Sandra’s sights are now focused on New Orleans. If you’d like to work together with Sandra, let me know.

If you’d like to send butterflies to anyone to pick up their spirits, you can download the following template (PDF).  Print it, photocopy it, cut out the butterflies, and have people color them and write messages on the backs.  It’s such a priceless activity to do… and gift to receive.

You’re awesome, Sandra!

miraheaven2There was a blog entry a while back about Mira, a dog we picked up with her intestines hanging out, and how it felt like she had acquired some grace. It was a very emotional experience taking her away, off to an unknown fate. I was able to visit her in the animal hospital, 30 km away, before we left for Delhi. She turned out to be diagnosed with vaginal cancer – and would supposedly be OK after four weeks of treatments. When I saw her, she looked terrible. I was told that she was going to be fine, but she didn’t look so fine. Her fur had been shaved; she was at least as skinny as when she had been picked up, perhaps even skinnier, and she looked like she wasn’t far from death. I knew she was going through a rough period and only hoped she would recover and get strong. They had planned to let her back out on the streets after the treatments, where she could again at least find corn from the corn vendor who loves her so much. After coming back, I checked on her and she had died a week earlier. I feel so sad, particularly because her final weeks were spent alone and lonely, locked up in a cage, probably feeling unloved. Again, if I could have done things differently, I would have tried to see if it was possible for someone to administer the treatments and let her live around people who cared about her. Or at least I could have encouraged the corn vendors to go visit her. I am so sorry Mira. You truly were loved. I really hope that you know that.

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.” –Robert Louis Stevenson

seedsOn Wednesday, we woke up in Chandigarh. As our guides from the NGO, Yuvsatta, arrived to take us on a speaking tour of the schools there, Mark announced that he wasn’t coming along as he was feeling ill. We had entered a new phase of our program and the pressure was entirely on me to deliver. Pramod, Rahul, and I all hopped on our bikes – and pedaled to the first school where 2000 students were standing outside waiting for my arrival. Enter the dream.

I don’t have much public speaking experience and am generally pretty shy, but have been put into this spot on enough occasions now that I’m starting to adapt. I surprised myself, by delivering a great little speech. Soon after, we were pedaling to a blind school, and then later to an all girl’s college, where I laid it all down.

That first day, I spoke to several thousand students.  Combine that with the following two days, and we reached nearly 20,000 students. All in all, it was a tremendous success, and based on the feedback, it’s obvious to me that we actually made a real, lasting impact in many lives – students, teachers, principals, and even the general public as the media coverage over these three days was extensive.

By this time, you’re probably wondering what exactly we are talking about to all these students. Since we don’t know any better, it’s been taking the form of life insights combined with simple messages about the power of this exercise – that is, of reaching within and gifting messages of friendship, peace, and love for others across the border as a way to help change the world.

Everywhere we went, we were met with awesome hospitality. It started upon our arrival at the train station, where we were greeted with bouquets of flowers, and continued throughout our whole visit, as we were warmly met with banners, lines of enthusiastic greeters, snacks, and more flowers. All along the way, we’ve been harvesting extraordinary goodwill – and are so totally lucky to be playing the roles that we are playing.

gurunanakAll of this coordinated effort and participation was orchestrated by one Pramod Sharma of the NGO Yuvsatta. Pramod is a selfless man of tireless action, working to promote peace in Chandigarh, in addition to running its only composting center, promoting bicycle riding a la Greentire (from which our bikes came), and running many other extraordinary efforts. The team around him is equally colorful and authentic, composed of Rahul – a terribly honest and emotional lover of grunge rock – one of the few in India, and Vikram – a robust, sparkly-eyed Sikh man resembling Guru Nanak who is an extreme lover of Nature and mostly vegan – also one of the few in India. I was most fortunate to be directed to Yuvsatta through their relationship with Gandhi Smriti, an organization in Delhi promoting the living legacy of Gandhiji.

In general, our efforts seem to be going national, as our base of support is growing, though as of now, we’re still lacking the needed support to make this as effective as it could be before our intended departure for Pakistan in late October. Day by day, student by student, we are planting seeds and touching lives. It’s odd for me to be in this role, but again, we’re just playing in the dream. This whole thing has been an accidental turn of events, which is just way too fun for now to put aside.

logo_fwbWe were requested to build a website for our current efforts.

Introducing…  FriendsWithoutBorders.org