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Before Leaving Los Angeles, we stopped at “The Garage” – the infamous home of Sukh from Be The Cause. We all spent a little time making Love Butterflies for Iris, a co-worker of Loveleen’s who has just been diagnosed with cancer. Iris, we wish you well!

We then went out to lunch at a mostly vegan Vietnamese restaurant called Au Lac. The food was very good and they were super nice. Though we were running a little low on time, everyone agreed to stop at South Central Farm.

southcentralfarmbeforeI’ve been following the story of South Central Farm since I got back and it meant a lot to go there in person.

As we drove up and saw the signs, the utter wreckage of this land immediately left us all broken-hearted.

South Central Farm was given to the community following the ’92 LA riots and since then it has become a vibrant spot, beaming with life. The South Central Farm is the largest urban farm in America – all organic – and has been a source of food for 350 families. Within this plot of land grew fruit trees and all kinds of plants and veggies, including many rare, heirloom varieties. It has been an oasis – a space where children could play freely, safely watched by a whole community, all gardening together.

What’s particularly extraordinary about this space is that it is located in the industrialized area of South Central Los Angeles. The vibrancy and wholesomeness of this spot of Earth comes into clear focus next to the vast, deadened, concrete world surrounding it.

This is yet another story of how oftentimes something so clearly right in the world does not always come out the winner. Last week, South Central Farm was mostly bulldozed to the ground despite the heroic efforts of many to stop it.

southcentralfarmafterWe slipped through the fence and spotted many plants and trees and fruits and vegetables that had survived the brutal assault. We sat down for a moment of silence after being told by a security guard to leave.

The emotional crush that we all felt in being here was intense but can’t possibly compare to the crush that everyone who has put so much love and care and energy into this spot must be feeling right now. The poetry of this space is powerful – the beautiful potential of Earth, so evident here – of all places – yet so violated and tenuous.  I really think this is an important one to win for the planet.

Despite the devastation, this story is not over. Most all the money – 15 million dollars – has astonishingly been raised to buy it back, but due to a misunderstanding, the owner now refuses to sell it. There are court battles going on and hope is still very much alive. I encourage everyone to check out the South Central Farmers’ website and sign up for the e-newsletter to stay up to date on its progress.

photos courtesy of circleoflife.org

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sevacafelogoahmedabad_1Something beautiful this way comes. Five of us drove from the Bay Area to Long Beach to be part of the opening of the first Seva Café here in the States and the second in existence.

After a life-altering service vacation to India, the folks from Be The Cause were so moved by the overwhelming generosity they received that they wanted to plant some of that giving spirit in the ground right where they lived – in Los Angeles.

They spent time at the Seva Café in Ahmedabad and fell in love with the overwhelmingly positive energy and culture of giving that they experienced there.

When Sri, who wasn’t even present on the India trip, insisted that this must come to LA, the others all rallied behind him to take this extraordinary step.

The Seva Café is no ordinary restaurant. Business operates anything but “as usual” here as your meal has already been paid for by a previous guest and the bill that comes to your table says “Total: $0.” Seva Café is a shift to a “gift economy” where those who are serving you are doing so because they recognize that it is in serving others that we grow in spirit and in happiness. The place is full of love and you can feel it. It is a celebration of giving and care for others.

sevacafelove_3The beauty of this experiment is that it can only continue if the circle of giving is completed – which requires that guests also join into the spirit of giving and “pay from their heart” – to allow future guests the opportunity to experience this as well. If it doesn’t happen – if people choose not to support it – then it will cease to exist. But for as long as people keep the chain of giving in motion, we all get to experience a taste of a better world that is possible.

Another beautiful byproduct that comes out of such a venture is that it tends to create a community around it. People love coming to the Seva Café because it is such a positive environment. Within this space seeds of service are planted and watered and begin to grow, and before long, an organic service movement is taking root. The trust and responsibilities of taking on a project like this are enormous, but the fruits are exquisite.

Be The Cause took a brilliant, low-risk approach in opening the café. For each Saturday, for the next three months, they are simply taking over an existing restaurant, slightly modifying the menu and atmosphere. By renting it weekly, rather than investing in a new establishment – they can try it out and see how it goes. By setting a time frame of three months, they can test it thoroughly and evaluate whether it is something that is to be continued or simply a worthwhile experiment and adventure that they were able to experience.

When we arrived, we were amazed by the level of organization and preparation that had taken place and more importantly by the amount of love and care that had been put into all the details.

For instance, just like in Ahmedabad, they had created a box for community money. Anyone can put money into this box or take money out of it. Simple as that. I took a peak into this community box and spotted a $20 bill and more money that people had invested into this new community of giving.

Many of the details from the Seva Café in Ahmedabad were revived in Long Beach, like the characteristic flowers and vines that adorn all the signage.

We worked with them to help set up and then everyone went out into the community to clean up the neighborhood – simply to put out some good energy before getting started – by picking up trash, cleaning store windows, washing public mailboxes and trashcans, etc.

wowsignlanguage_1From opening hour to closing, the place was packed. There were so many stories of people moved by the experience that I could go on and on. Everyone served in harmony as part of a deeper, collective understanding and treated the guests with such care. All I can say is that this small group of people masterfully pulled it off and I am just still in awe that they have done it.

Wow. Even the word “wow” has a new meaning now, given by one of the guests, a young Ethiopian woman who was deaf. She came in and sat down, reluctant to participate, but after being gently pulled into the spirit, her happiness was palpable as her grin became one of the biggest I’ve ever seen – stretching from ear to ear – for the entire evening, as she taught sign language (such as “Wow”) to everyone interested.

Wow.

You may remember the blog story from a year ago called “The Butterfly Affect” about my friend Sandra, who triumphed over cancer. There is a great story of how – as a way to lift her spirits – we printed out Love Butterflies and had friends and random people color them and write encouraging messages on the backs. Through an anonymous act of kindness, I was given a plane ticket to deliver these Love Butterflies to Sandra in person. She loved them and they were attached all over her ceiling as a constant source of good energy.

Sandra miraculously beat the odds and continued this tradition, going to schools and getting kids to make Love Butterflies for other cancer patients.

Yesterday morning, I just got the news that after two beautiful, cancer-free years, it has returned again for the third time. In honor of Sandra’s extraordinary spirit, this idea now has a simple website wrapped around it that can hopefully spread this life-affirming practice far and wide, allowing many more spirits to be lifted high at times when it is most needed.

lovebutterflies

Please visit: www.LoveButterflies.org – help spread the word… and try it sometime. It really is a beautiful thing to do.

animeI’m a barbie girl, in the barbie world
Life in plastic, it’s fantastic!

–“Barbie Girl” by Aqua
(sung karaoke-style)

Nora is an adorable, super bright, curly haired ten year old who happens to be my niece. Today is her birthday party. Right now, she is in love with Japanese anime, and is thus having an anime-themed birthday party. Loveleen has been assigned to paint all the party-goer faces Kabuki style and I was asked to sketch everyone as anime figures. We’ll see how that goes…

The coolest thing of all is that Nora, realizing she already has a lot, is asking all her friends, instead of bringing birthday gifts, to contribute to the World Wildlife Fund to help save the bamboo forest habitat for giant pandas in Asia. This was her own wish. Last year she asked all her friends to donate to The Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association. Upon receiving the donation and hearing Nora’s story, the people at this nonprofit were so moved, they said that it
restored their hope in the world.

giant_panda_1How many 9/10 year olds would give up all their birthday gifts to do something so caring?

When my friend, Nirali, heard this, she decided she wanted to donate something also, and sent along a special email to Nora. It’s my hunch that if enough people were to follow Nirali’s lead and contribute just a little to the WWF and also send an email of appreciation to Nora, it may help to boost her esteem in all the right ways.

Did I mention they’re also having a kamikaze bouncy house at this party?

You can reach Nora at: nora -@- chordwheel.com

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