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At Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, we had a candlelight ceremony, with the intention of decompressing after such an uphill climb and with the intention of bringing love to a place historically hit with such pain. Again, we were given full access to the space.

BicyclerickshawsThe following day, we headed out on foot toward the border. Our team – Yoo-Mi, Mark, Jocelyn, Loveleen, Vandana, Avani, Marielle, Roberta, Raj, and I – walked for two days along with “The World’s Largest Love Letter,” and thousands of letters from Indian kids, all carried on six bicycle rickshaws.

When we got to the border, our visas had not been granted yet and so we had to wait. The timing of the delay, however, seemed synchronistic as it happened to coincide with the official launching of the IndoPak Peace Bus. Prime Minister Singh himself was coming up to Amritsar to see it off.

In our characteristic style, we managed to finesse a press release from the Prime Minister, thanking the children of India for participating in this letter-writing program, and also thanking Friends Without Borders for making it happen.

Although the timing seemed perfect, we later found out that our visas which had finally been granted could not be picked up because it was a Pakistani holiday and the embassy was closed. Our time to set up for our huge event in Lahore was becoming seriously jeopardized. In our characteristic style, however…back in Delhi… Maria did the only thing she could – she found out where the employees of the embassy were living and went to their quarters. With a few tears, the doors were opened, the visas delivered, and Maria hopped on a plane for Amritsar and joined us, as we crossed the border just on the tail of the Peace Bus.

PorterAt Wagah Border, we pulled out a border piece from “The Love Letter” and laid it out for the waiting media to enjoy.

It took 45 Indian and Pakistani porters to carry The Love Letter across the border and they all did it voluntarily, in spirit of the mission behind it.

When we finally crossed, due to the delays and due to some rain, much of the crowds that had been planning to greet our arrival had dissipated. Still, Aamir Rafique, of the Goethe Zentrum German Cultural Center, who was spearheading the Friends Without Borders effort in Pakistan, was there with reporters, TV crews, a live band and some friends, including a team of pretty, young Pakistani women. Our entry was a joyous and jubilant celebration.

Though we planned to walk to Lahore, our time had now become shortened significantly and so we were whisked to our new headquarters, ready to begin our humble little Tour d’Pakistan.

Photos by Maria Durana.

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The end of my time in India is quickly closing in. People keep asking me how I’m going to be able to deal with the transition. It’s a question a lot of people here are also asking themselves. In many ways, I feel pretty fortunate in that I have an answer and am prepared for the change.

In many ways, I clearly have found a niche here in India. I can bring a lot of positive change. I’m sure the same is true everywhere, but here in particular, it seems to be within grasp.

transitions_1India is alive in ways that America is not. It’s a place that awakens something within. I am startled by the broad changes that have taken place here since my first trip back in 1988, I think. The deep base of spirituality which used to be so pervasive is being replaced with the same materialism that has robbed America of its life. Probably the largest motive behind my coming to India was to do what I could to help protect this blessed spirituality that I sensed was in peril.

For better or worse, I have let go and am accepting the changes as they come. If India is to lose her spirituality, then perhaps it will emerge in another place. All we can ever really do is try to keep our own internal flames lit as brightly as possible and work to bring positive change wherever we are.

I think India is positioned to become the next world leader. It is only a matter of time. As it matures into this position, one can only hope that the undercurrents of spirit will come along, and I am pretty certain that these currents run deep enough that the world is in good hands.

The way I have come to terms with my own transition back to the States is in my understanding that it really all does come back to being true to yourself. This is the constant that is always present wherever you find yourself. We can’t always control our circumstances, but we can always keep ourselves in check within our ever-changing surroundings, reaching in to that which is most genuine and offering that sincerity as a gift.

I was explaining this thought to someone here in Ahmedabad and she said that it’s hard because so many people have expectations of us and to be true means to go against the many expectations of others. I told her that the challenging feelings and sensations we face in these situations is actually the experience of the world itself changing. In boldly staying real in these situations, we are taking on the karma of the world and bringing about change for the better. Besides, our fears are often misguided and in challenging them, often it yields unexpected positive results – in time eliciting respect and appreciation and allowing others to follow along the same lines with less difficulty.

This is all much easier spoken than lived. I, for one, feel these terrors all the time and very often fail to rise above them. It’s an ongoing process and we can only hope to do our best. I am ready to come back to America. Whatever happens, for better or worse, simply is what it is. These changing moments are good practice for how to remain true under all circumstances. See you soon! :)

edgeIn high school, my friend Charlie and I drove around town as fast as we could and swore we would always live life on the edge. I haven’t been in touch with Charlie much in the last few years, but from what I know, I think he has mostly kept his promise… as have I.

Right now, we are on the edge of many things. When Mark Peters and I first learned we had to leave the country, we chose Pakistan because it was the most challenging place for us to go. On the whole, Americans were not looked upon very fondly, and there was a very real threat of danger in going there. We chose Pakistan because this was the path with an edge. Change doesn’t come about by avoiding our fears, but only in entering them and working to improve and strengthen the situations therein.

After having spent so much time collecting so many good wishes, I have developed a greater sense of the inherent goodness of all. I no longer have any fears of entering into Pakistan.

india_todayWhen Mark and I first talked about going there, we talked about going in and getting out, as quickly and as covertly as possible, dropping our love bomb and leaving before we became targets. Now, a group of us are all walking in as huge national news stories. Our story is literally everywhere. From newspapers all over the country to large magazines like India Today, bits and pieces of our work are recognized now by most people we encounter. Both the President and Prime Minister of India are intimately aware of our work and just today, The Dawn, the largest newspaper in Lahore, Pakistan, ran our story as its main, front page feature, with full color photo and all.

By no means are we going in covertly; we are walking in – literally – pushing the letters from Amritsar to Lahore – with every spotlight on us.  And we are unafraid.

bikecartsThrough the hard work of Mark Jacobs, amazingly, visas were issued for our whole team – Indians and all – to enter into Pakistan. There were small delays and we are now entering on the 24th. From Lahore, we will head to Karachi for the World Social Forum and then back up to Lahore for a huge event where we will officially present “The World’s Largest Love Letter.”

Plans are already in the works for the continued buildup of this project after Pakistan. This effort has an energy of its own, and to me it feels as if we are simply being pulled along to take care of its details to the best of our abilities.

Following Pakistan, most of us will be returning to the US, but will continue to nurture this forward.

kapadiaFrom Mumbai, we headed up to Ahmedabad for an unsual event celebrating the unity within diversity. From different places of worship (Hindu Temple, Jain Temple, Muslim Masjid, Christian Church, Sikh Gurudwara, Jewish Synagogue, and Parsi Agyari), kids gathered from various backgrounds. Five massive strips of Hindi text from “The World’s Largest Love Letter” were marched down the congested streets of Ahmedabad in a bold visual display – each strip requiring 60 kids to carry it. The strips all ended up at the Gandhi Ashram, where an event took place, with approximately 1500 kids there to sign the border pieces, read aloud their letters, and join in a dance celebration.

The historic ashram buildings were all wrapped entirely by the massive colorful banners – newly painted by HB Kapadia school as well as the Ashramshala kids of Manav Sadhna.

As always, the ever-giving folks at Manav Sadhna, demonstrated nothing but the humblest of heroism, playing a pivotal role in orchestrating this amazing production in just a matter of days. They even fed the kids!

mahindrajourneyAfter the Ahmedabad event, we all hopped in our bus fully adorned with children’s artwork. This bus was loaned to us by the trucking company Mahindra and Mahindra, along with two trucks, also fully decorated in children’s art.

From Ahmedabad, we drove to Kutch, in Western Gujarat, where we stopped in remote villages along the border route, to collect letters from kids in rural areas. The purpose was both to have a fun road trip and also to demonstrate that this is about all of India – rich, poor, urban, rural – no matter the place or background of a child, they are all included in our project.

kutchIn truth, this whole effort is only superficially about India and Pakistan. It is about recognizing the potential connections inherent between all beings, and taking the necessary steps to develop those connections.

Along the journey, in a remote Muslim village, I was surprised to find the village all lit up with dozens of diyas – a sight very rare in a Muslim village –a surprise for my birthday. It was truly beautiful and something I’ll always remember.

villagediyasWe drove through Rajasthan to Delhi, where we took care of a few more things necessary to make this campaign grow, and then we headed to Haryana and Punjab, where we stopped at more rural schools, including the one next to Loveleen’s family village, where we had the treat of stopping along the way.

With so much activity, there has never been much downtime. It’s amazing we’ve been able to go like this for so long and stay so positive. What we are working on is just so simple and special that it seems to somehow keep us sane and upbeat – despite the challenging conditions. What an amazing trip it’s been.

kidsletters01Earlier in the year, I posted opportunities for people to contribute to my blog so that I could do acts of kindness for them here in India. A long while back I started spending more and more money. It started in transportation to and around different cities, visiting schools, etc., then in buying markers and paper for school kids to write friendship letters to kids in Pakistan, and then went on to fund thousands of dollars worth of “The World’s Largest Love Letter” and public service announcements. I operated with faith that by not holding back and moving forward into the beauty that the money would eventually follow.

Because of this faith that the money would come, I held onto the idea that I would keep the money that had come in through the blog for small acts of kindness instead of using it on this project. Some friends have come forward and helped out in very generous ways, but overall it’s not looking like we will find a big sponsor for this project. If you donated anything to me through this blog, it’s probably a good time to say that it has been invested into “a brand new approach to world peace,” and I feel very content knowing that your money was very well placed.

kidsletters02I heard recently that the American war in Iraq is costing $100,000 every minute. Do you have any idea how much money this is? And all it is buying is a whole lot of chaos and aching resentments that will take generations to heal. On their scale, the cost of our project may equate to about 15 seconds total, and I feel pretty confident that with just a handful of people and a network of support, we have accomplished much more. There were times on this project where it would have been very easy to stop everything as the costs became hard to bear individually – especially from someone who spends his life doing unpaid service work – whose wife earns money doing social work. But when looking at the comparative cost and seeing how much it would buy, it is a bargain of bargains, and to stop out of fear would be tragic.

This project has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and adults – probably now millions – throughout India and abroad and it is still very much growing. Its success cannot be measured by just the letters we receive, but in each and every child we have met, and the overall spirit of love and friendship that has gone out into the world. This truly is a recipe for a better world and where its ripples will reach, no one can know.

Thanks to each of you for trusting in me with your money and you need to know that in a very real way, it is your contributions that have helped make this dream a reality.

The expenses are still ongoing and if you would like for your money to be the money that made this happen, feel free to Join the Dream. :)


Photos by Maria Durana

mumbai03Mumbai was an interesting experience. When I first arrived, I headed to
Gopi’s. It took me about 2 hours to get there through traffic. From there, I quickly had to get to the other side of town to change my airline tickets back home. This took me a couple more hours. I quickly got a taste of what was going to be a dominant element – with all its congestion, getting about in Mumbai is like moving through molasses.

We had so much to accomplish in Bombay and I quickly got to work. Almost immediately we got two big thumbs up for the use of both Wankhede and Brabourne Cricket Stadiums. When we later decided to change the date, however, both stadium bookings fell through and from that point, so much of our time was spent either campaigning to get the stadiums again or looking for alternative venues.

Our overall goal was to get celebrity support for our project, particularly during the big event. Through a contact of our friend Meghna’s, I got the mobile number of just about every superstar in Bollywood. Without a venue, however, it was hard to sound credible and much of what we could have been moving forward with had to be delayed.

mumbai101The public service announcement was set in motion almost immediately. Working with Buddy and Black Magic was a treat. They did a phenomenal job.

I met up on day one with Jocelyn, a new volunteer who had come to Bombay specifically to work with us. She was great. A little later, Mark and Yoo-mi, Maria, and Smita all came to town. Eventually, we were given a place to stay in a part of town far, far away. From there, a typical day would consist of fighting to squeeze onto a local train ridiculously overstuffed with a dense mass of sweaty men, and then working to prioritize and take on an endless ‘to-do’ list where every item on it was absolutely priority number one.

Everything involved personal meetings all over town and only about four or five meetings at most could take place in any day – if lucky. We spent our time trying to get venues, funding, celebrities, artists, etc, etc., and so much more. Food and sleep were placed on hold for months, but what an amazing experience.

My corporate hairstyle had grown in and I held onto it as long as I could.

With more time, it’s likely we could have turned this into the biggest thing in decades, but we raced forward, all knowing our personal lives would fall apart if we delayed. In the end, one of the most popular Indian bands, Aasma, agreed to play for free, and several big stars said they would try to show up. For various reasons, many of these things fell apart, but the event was a huge success anyway. The emcee, a TV celebrity named Nasir Kazi, from the hit show Kyunki held the event together beautifully.

mumbai16In Bombay, we had the amazing privilege of working together with so many inspiring, kindred spirits. There are just too many to mention here, but overall it was just such a truly rich, beautiful, and memorable experience.

There really are probably hundreds of fascinating stories buried within this one blog entry. In the end, we did walk away with one big celebrity agreeing to work with us on a second public service announcement, and we are pretty certain if this happens, many others will follow. I am working hard to nurture this and make it happen while on the road now in other parts.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Soon to hit airwaves all across India and Pakistan…

Also check out the 30-second version of our Public Service Announcement.

These were enthusiastically created by Black Magic Motion Pictures at cost, led by the ever-kind and ever-talented Baudhayan, a.k.a. “Buddy.”

lunamoon_1Sweet Luna has moved on.  We will miss her much.  She brought so much to our lives and the loss is a huge one.  The day Love told me was hard.  I came back that night to where I was staying and from the roof, we saw a full moon with a striking ring of haze around it.  Mark P. immediately called out “Luna!”

She was one loved kitty.

chinnaswamy011I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve updated this blog.  It’s certainly not from any lack of material. :)  We have spent every day now for a long while in constant sprint-to-the-finishline mode.

On January 16th, we pulled off something miraculous.  With time very much not on our side, we hosted the creation of the “World’s Largest Love Letter” in M. Chinnaswamy Cricket Stadium in Bangalore, written from the kids of India to the children of Pakistan.  It was a fantastic event, with 500 kids in attendance and kids literally painting the letter on site. It brought a huge amount of attention to our efforts and to the overwhelming goodness that is pouring out of these kids.  It was even televised live to over 200 million viewers.  Definitely read more about this letter.

Though some things have come pretty easy, many things have not and we are blessed to have a team of truly heroic people that keep making the nearly impossible just barely happen.

From Bangalore the letter is now travelling up to Mumbai, where it will soon be featured at another grand event at Wankhede Cricket Stadium, after undergoing some more artistic embellishment.

Please stay tuned.  I’m holding back.  This story is getting wilder and wilder all the time.

I’m sitting here with a rare 5 minute break while waiting for someone to edit and print out a document.

The last few weeks have been astounding.

Because Maria, Mark, Yoo-Mi, Anupa and many others have all joined in, pouring out their all, our campaign, “From India to Pakistan with Love” is gaining incredible traction. On January 16th, we have an event scheduled to unveil the “World’s Largest Letter” at the M. Chinnaswami Cricket Stadium in Bangalore, and take this letter-writing exercise national.

There is so much to say, so many great stories to tell, but too much to be done to say it right now.

Stay tuned. This is good stuff.

holdinghands

My favorite holiday is Diwali, where people prepare for weeks, cleaning every corner of their homes, buy new clothes and sweets to give, and then fill the world with light on the darkest night of the year. My second favorite holiday is probably Christmas, a day of connection and abundance, and a celebration of our togetherness.

As a child, Christmas was magical. As an older child, it lost that enchantment for me as so much of the pure spirit at the core of Christmas became overshadowed by the schizophrenic madness of commercialism. With every Christmas, I started desperately wanting to make an escape so as to avoid the insanity of a meat-filled, tree-killing, day of expectations.

cuddapah01A few years ago, I decided to see if I could revive the Christmas magic by steering my family in a direction that included what was meaningful to me. Christmas is a celebration of selfless giving and the world is in no shortage of need. Instead of giving Uncle Harry another useless item that adds to our overstuffed garages and landfills, why not take that $10 along with all the other money spent on unwanted gifts, pool it together and use it where it actually makes a difference?

A couple years ago, we started the experiment and pooled money together to buy economical water pumps for farmers in Africa. The following year, we helped jumpstart a new wing at Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai, that would begin treating children with cancerous eye tumors. Going about Christmas in this way is not easy as the old habits are deeply engrained. It takes preparation to coordinate something different and it can also lack the immediate gratification of gifts galore – but it just has so much more soul.

cuddapah02Before we left for India, Mark said that he only had one request for this trip – to visit his friend, Swarna, who had started an orphanage/elderly home in Cuddapah, Andhra Pradesh. Her idea was a novel one. By pairing the two groups together, orphaned children could receive extra love and attention from the elderly, and this neglected group could in turn be surrounded by more happy and youthful energy. Add to this combination a group of workers who are mostly widowed or abandoned wives, and you get a complete family where once there was much loneliness.

We have such an impossible schedule that it wasn’t looking like visiting Swarna was going to happen, but we made it happen, heading to her orphanage for Christmas Eve and Christmas. The orphanage/elderly home, Nav Jeevan (soon to be moving to Tamil Nadu), is very Christian, but you get the sense that this place is not about propagating a belief system as it is about working in harmony with the genuine spirit of Jesus, a la Mother Theresa.

Spearheaded by Mark, we went out shopping and bought cricket bats and colorful balls, badminton sets, color markers, little purses, flowery handkerchiefs, candies, and toothbrushes, and put them all together in colorful tootsie roll-like gift packs for all the 50 children. For the kids, it was totally unexpected. After playing Santa at 4am, we awoke to sounds of a happy riot in the morning by the tree as they reveled in the joy.

cuddapah03We decided that for the older folks, we would have the kids all draw their names from hats and make them cards with their new markers. The older crowd enjoyed it immensely!

Later in the day, we took them all to the park for a rare field trip.

Our visit was a huge success and so much fun. You wouldn’t believe how precious these kids are – particularly when they pinch your cheeks and then kiss their hands – in an overflowing gesture of affection.

disabledA week earlier, we had a similar experience when we went on a shopping spree for a group of physically and mentally disabled kids in Chennai, spearheaded by Maria, whose brother had spent months working there.

This kind of giving is awesome – when you know you are giving unexpected joy and not just satiating a developing greed.

My guess is that many families must also be tired of the over-abundant Christmas and might want to consider what our family has tried. Giving to a nonprofit is fine, but it’s even more optimal if ever you have the opportunity to connect directly with where your gift is going.

johnloveThe best advice I ever got about relationships came from my friend Luke. He said that in order for a relationship to be a healthy one, there needs to be an alignment or harmony between our most treasured or core life dreams or worldviews. If one person really wants to work toward a big house in the suburbs and the other lacks that ambition, or instead dreams of development work among the poor, there could be problems – no matter how much the two people love one another. When our dreams are stifled, inevitably it will result in an unhappiness that will likely express itself in a variety of counter-productive ways.

When Loveleen and I first started dating, we were very happy together. Taking Luke’s advice to heart, one day I decided to put it all on the line and find out whether or not our deeper purposes were really in harmony – and I was prepared to act on that truth. I told Loveleen that I had no intentions of living my life for me but that I was here to give it away, working to serve the world in whatever ways I could. Deep inside, I always felt that this was going to involve much traveling. When I probed into Loveleen’s core interests, she also seemed to have selfless dreams of working with children. It seemed like our fundamental desires were compatible enough to move forward. Ending the relationship at that point – when we were so happy – would have been the most difficult thing in the world. It’s not an easy question to ask honestly, because there is so much on the line, but in the long run, things will always come back to this truth. As hard as it may be, one might as well get to the bottom of this question right away.

Loveleen and I went on to spend many years together as very best friends.

johnloveleenwedding1The other day, someone asked me how long we had been married. Whenever someone asks me that, I have to think about it for a while. Technically, we’re not legally married, as I’m not so interested in having the government involved in my love life. We were, however, married under the Heavens, in a Divine Marriage, Cosmically arranged (great story – some day.) We also had a traditional Sikh wedding ceremony.

I decided the Divine Marriage was the real deal and that occurred at around midnight on December 3rd, or morning of December 4th, 1995. I calculated the year and realized that it had been almost 10 years, and then I realized that it was now December 2nd and that our 10 year marriage anniversary was like… tomorrow!

Phenomenal timing.

“Bummer!”, I thought, being here in India, with Loveleen so far away. And then quickly I got to thinking. I sent an email to a bunch of friends and tried to arrange the most romantic anniversary I could, being so far away. I asked one friend to leave flowers and a lit candle outside the door and knock late at night – at the real time of our anniversary. Included would be a note saying “Happy 10th Anniversary. John loves you!” I asked some friends to take her to her favorite restaurant and include a card that would say “Happy 10th
Anniversary. John loves you!” I asked another friend to give her incense with the same card and another to bring a vegan chocolate cake, again with the same card. And then finally I asked another friend if she could give her one of her famous facials, yet again with a card saying, “Happy 10th Anniversary. John loves you!” With so little advance notice, my friends back home rose to the challenge and went to work.

anniversarycakeLoveleen was very happy. :) A fun twist came about as well. I had only told a couple people about it, but somehow, that was enough. On my end, I received a cake in Ajmer from Gopi and crew saying “Happy Anniversary, John. Luvleen loves you!” And back at Manav Sadhna, word got back to Jayeshbhai and he asked everyone to personally make food for a cow and feed it to them in our honor. I also got another Happy Anniversary email telling me that Loveleen loves me.

It was nice.

When it comes down to it, how many people would be so understanding as to let their partner go off for a year to follow their calling without even questioning it. Loveleen has taken on the hardship of being alone and managing a household while I’m off here playing in a dreamland. She is an extraordinary person, truly exemplifying selflessness without any perks or recognition of any sort. Loveleen is truly a beautiful being in every way and I am so lucky to have been her companion for the last 10 years.

I have a feeling when we had that little talk 12 years ago that she didn’t think I really meant what I was saying quite so literally. Sorry Love. :) I adore you.

starSince we’ve been in India, we’re no strangers to the media. I am told on a regular basis that we were spotted on TV or a newspaper or magazine. Just last week, Mark made national news in Pakistan… dancing, of all things.

Man, it’s going to be tough going back to America, being a nobody again. :)

After reading an article that appeared in an international Gujarati weekly, we were contacted by the well-known and highly respected filmmaker and actress, Gopi Desai, who was interested in making a documentary on our letter-writing campaign.

Mark has been nowhere in sight. After a certain point, with jaundice, I took
a step backwards to recover and to give attention to projects I had begun like Seva Café and the Manav Sadhna Annual Report (Large PDF).  Mark felt an aversion to going back to Ahmedabad and stayed on in Delhi, later going to Pakistan.

After talking to Gopi, I contacted Jayesh Parekh, founder of Sony TV in India, to see if Sony may have any interest in the project, and he personally volunteered to fund it. I was seriously touched.

Since then, I met with Gopi and her film crew in the city of Ajmer, where she was filming a TV documentary on the Holy Dargah, or tomb of a famous Muslim Sufi saint, Moinuddin Chrishti. After they finished, we immediately started on our project, and I can tell you, as of this moment, this film has extraordinary potential.

Supposedly, Mark will be joining us soon and we have also recruited superhero, Maria “Dengue” Durana to come along.

Being the quiet, shy person that I am, this project comes as a big challenge. There are so many good messages that can come out though and it’s such a gift to be able to play a part in something like this.

We only have six weeks left here in India, but it’s looking like that time is going to be very busy, extensively shaking it up throughout India and Pakistan.

hunger1_2When I was lying around with jaundice and essentially starving, I started to develop cravings and a lot of the cravings were for fat and protein, particularly in the form of cheese. One thing I’ve learned over the years with a restricted diet is that craving always takes a form, but it’s never necessary to fulfill that form. Underlying any particular craving is a deeper need. When we satisfy that deeper need, the form simply disappears. For instance, if you crave meat, your body is likely crying out for protein. If you eat something with beans or nuts, that craving, unless you become super-attached to it, will go away. In some cases, the craving may be more emotional, in which case, perhaps you are craving the feeling of comfort or “home” that is associated with the food. This can also be fulfilled in other ways.

At the time, I had a particularly strong craving for Blondie’s pizza in Berkeley. It lasted so long and was both an expression of what my body was crying out for (fat and protein) and a yearning for relief and comfort. Eventually, I decided I would probably make an exception when I returned to the US and have a slice to fulfill the emotional part.

pizzasliceThe thing I learned about being vegan from when I first started is that exceptions can easily lead to a complete meltdown and that is why, if you choose to uphold a decision like this, it’s sometimes necessary to remain very strict.

Knowing that I was going to make an exception, when the feeling of starvation persisted for many more weeks, and the yearning for protein and fat remained, my guards had been relaxed and I opted on a few rare occasions to take cheese. Since I had made these exceptions, why not add a little more fat to my diet? On several occasions, I stopped and bought ice cream. With jaundice, you are supposed to keep fat intake to a minimum, but my body was telling me otherwise.

I was very ashamed and did not want anyone else to know I was making these exceptions. I think for one, I had trained everyone to know that I was vegan. It’s easier to remain disciplined when the rules are clear and concise and they are upheld. Exceptions can make things fuzzy, and more difficult to live by. Plus, in taking dairy, I was clearly choosing to ignore and violate certain compassionate truths I had come to understand, and felt tremendously ashamed about this.

icecreamIn taking dairy for the first time in years, it quickly became apparent how nourishing it is. It was amazing to me that people eat it on a regular basis. It felt like such instant and complete nutrition. Just taking a little, I could feel my body absorbing it and using it. It was as if my body had a memory of where it was supposed to be and it instantly started to work its way back to that state. Without effort, my muscles were returning. My appetite was growing huge.

As I began to make exceptions, it no longer made sense to say no to some dairy and yes to other. This is the slippery slope that I was talking about, when meltdown is just around the corner. I decided to give myself a conscious window of a couple weeks. That way, I could take in the nutrition my body wanted and not feel like I had thrown out my values.

In taking dairy, life becomes a hundred times easier. I could eat what was offered. I could get full nutrition super easily. Life just became damn easy and so much more pleasant. And I realize that is how most people are living. But with this relaxation, there was also a loss. There is something deeply valuable about maintaining a discipline. It keeps you sharp. It keeps you focused. It heightens life and provides a meaning that can be lost when things are too comfortable.

cowmothercalfI could also feel a shift in consciousness. Years before, I had been a very strong and physical person – engaged in working within the material world. Since then, I had become more meek and fragile. Again, I felt a shift back into this consciousness, where I was becoming stronger, more of a force, more physical. I was re-entering the more human plane and it felt empowering.

When I became vegan, it was never a health choice. It was a tremendous sacrifice as a refusal to participate in a murderous system. In the process of evolution, you see that species adapt to their environments. One can argue that humans are natural meat eaters or are supposed to drink milk, etc. But from my point of view, I saw my decision as a conscious evolutionary choice. Sure, this decision to go vegan is perhaps new to the human species, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Though the transition may be a difficult one, eventually with time the human species would evolve into another form as we walk down the vegan path.

One thing I know for certain is that when I take milk, the cow literally becomes my mother. That may sound ridiculous, but when you really think about it, how can it not be this way? You are drinking her milk like an infant. Would you kill your mother when her milk production decreased? Would you treat her as a commodity? Would you kill her children when they are born male? Of course you wouldn’t, but we do. It’s the standard.

holycowWhile here in India, I began an investigation into the milk industry and I have learned a lot. I came in looking for the dark, hidden secrets, and what I have found instead is that for the most part Gujarat serves as the model for the world. Since this entry is too long to go into it now, I’ll have to talk about it elsewhere, but what I have found is extraordinary and provides such hope.

For now, I have stopped taking dairy again completely outside of Gujarat, or unless I’m assured the cows, both male and female, have it good. In Gujarat, I’m still not entirely sure where I stand, but for now at least have decided to continue making exceptions.

People don’t always understand why the Hindus regard the cow as Holy, but it’s when we do, that we come upon a natural harmony.

jayeshanarHow can they give so much to so many? My own feeling of intense gratitude for Jayeshbai and Anarben is not unique. How could I ever repay them? Nearly everyone they encounter soon feels the same way. How are they able to give so much to so many?

In 1977, two Western monks, under the guidance of the Chan Buddhist, Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, began on an 800 mile bowing pilgrimage from South Pasadena, Southern California to Ukiah, Northern California. With hands folded in prayer, they would take three steps, then drop to their knees and do a full bow, placing their foreheads on the road, only to get up, take another three steps and bow again. This journey took them over 2 ½ years and served to strengthen the spiritual foundation of The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, which they were working in their own ways to establish.

3steps02In tribute to this practice, a group of about 20 set out in the middle of the night to walk 13 km, from the new campus of the Environmental Sanitation Institute (ESI), that Jayeshbhai’s father founded. We started by taking three steps and a bow for 2 ½ hours straight and then mixed it up with walking in order to arrive at their home at 7 am.

This exercise is amazingly powerful. While you step consciously with hands in prayer, you are finding your own center, your own heart, your own truth. As you get down and bow, you are at first letting go, offering yourself to the universe, and then taking in the expansiveness in return. As this process is continued, one can’t help but purify. To do this for so many years, continuously in complete silence, must have been extraordinary.

When we arrived, they were deeply moved, overwhelmed by the humble gift of gratitude they had received from so many.

rangolipeacocksFor all those who went so far out of your way to be there for me when I was down, thank you.

From Jayeshbhai and Anarbhen and the amazing supportive staff of Parvati and Ragu, to the great distances traveled and generosity of Mark and Yoo-Mi. From the strongly worded advice of so many like Guri and Pavi to the counsel and gifts from Yaniv. From the many doctors who recognized the path of service and honored it by refusing to take money, to the many letters of support from family and friends – what an amazing experience to know there is such care out there.

On Diwali, I created this rangoli design on the floor of Jayeshbhai and Anarbhen’s living room as an offering of thanks. I started it when I thought everyone was sleeping. I was surprised when Anjali, who lives there, came home at 2 am. I invited her to join in and she did. Going twice as fast, the one peacock gained a friend.

I wish that the spirit of gratitude that went into these can reach to everyone out there who is working to bring care to others. What a priceless treasure. Thank you.

goldentempleI’m sorry!! I have fallen way behind on this blog. For the next two days, we are doing a service ashram experiment at my friend Nirali’s home and it will finally give me a little chance to catch up.

While I was enjoying the final stages of jaundice, I had to do something totally ridiculous – hop on a train for seven consecutive, fun-filled days and nights.

Though there is so much to say, between all the travel, technical problems, and constant flow of activities, I just haven’t been able to carve out the breathing space to write.

The train took me from Ahmedabad to Delhi, where I had a quick visit with Mark P., then to Amritsar, where I chilled for a bit at the Sikh Golden Temple. Then I hopped over the border into Pakistan, where I was able to renew my Indian visa for another 6 months. I only visited Pakistan for a day, but made a few friends and caught a glimpse of a slightly different culture. Back to Amritsar, I caught an evening train to Delhi and visited Mark again, and then headed back to Ahmedabad, where I helped at Seva Café and pulled an all-nighter, working on Manav Sadhna’s annual report. From there, I caught an early morning train heading down south to Chennai, where I met Mark and Yoo-Mi and hopped on a final train to Madurai to spend time with friends at Viral and Pavi’s wedding. Hopping from train to train, there were many photo finishes.

paviviralwedFor those of you who don’t know Viral and Pavi, they are two of the greatest human beings. Period. Both treasured friends – to me and to many others – they decided to get married. Viral is just a rock solid, humble and vital person without baggage – a stone’s throw from Enlightenment. Pavi has her eyes wide open, in touch with the very essence of life, and is overflowing with effortless talent. When my friend Aaron heard about the marriage, he accurately described it as “a match made in Heaven.” And that’s pretty much where, in fact, it was made as the epiphany to marry Pavi hit Viral during a 20-day Vipassana meditation retreat.

Both Viral and Pavi come from families unusually steeped in service. Add to that a guest list comprised of some seriously giving folks, and you get a concoction for a not-so-typical wedding. As a wedding gift, a group of us hit the streets – a small but kind army – sweeping around the famous Meenakshi Temple, combing hair, clipping nails, offering cheerful gifts and helping hands to those who looked like they could use a little something. Afterwards, we took about 80 of these new friends out for a South Indian feast at a nearby restaurant.

After the wedding, I commuted back up to Ahmedabad and have been immersed in Seva Café, the annual report, as well as more wedding reception activities – the wedding party also having migrated to Ahmedabad.

We found out that our tickets back to the US expire about a month before we were planning to leave. With so much left to do, the pressure is now on high to use time super effectively. Fortunately, my health has returned, and I’m ready to shake some serious service booty.

viralpaviserviceday_1

shamePerhaps we define our journeys or perhaps our journeys define us, or more likely it’s somewhere in the middle where they converge. I hadn’t anticipated such a dive into illness but it has lasted so long that it’s now become impossible to see it as something outside of my journey.

When I started this blog, I realized that just as there were parts of my story that I hoped to share, there were also parts of myself that I didn’t want to share. In the spirit of being true, however, somewhere along the line I intended on exposing these things as well.

Ever since I was a kid, I have been ashamed of being human. Some people are very comfortable with reality as it is, or even enjoy the humor of it, but those little ‘secrets’ that we tend to keep socially concealed have always been a great source of shame for me.

Just to name a few of those shameful things: urinating, defecating, masturbation, body image, farting…

As if hepatitis A and jaundice weren’t bad enough, I discovered a small lump, which in one day doubled in size, and by the next day, it was the size of golf ball. Unfortunately, this little lump was located in the perineum region, which is an area where, no matter which common words you choose to describe it, is just damned difficult to do with any kind of grace – between the scrotum and the anus. Ouch.

golfballAnd ouch it was. The pain of this golf ball lump was extraordinary. Because there is a strong history of prostate cancer in my family, I quickly consulted a physician, got a PSA test, and a sonogram. Fortunately, it proved to be an infection which probably raged out of control due to my severely compromised immunity.

Being a white guy here in India, I tend to get more attention than most. When lying on an examination table with my pants off and privates exposed, this attention turns to fascination, and as many people who were able to come and check out the scene did so. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the dreamlike, over-the-top pathetic-ness of the situation and got through it, with humor intact.

I was happy I didn’t have cancer and came back with my examination report – filled with graphic descriptions. Although I was willing to share this with others around me, I didn’t feel it was necessary as I was now on antibiotics and it seemed like it was likely under control.

When no one was in my room, I pulled out the report and began to read it. Without notice, a doctor who was in the house (a friend of the family) magically slipped in the room and immediately grabbed it out of my hands with doctorly curiosity. With as little warning as he had slipped into the room, he slipped out of the room, report in hand.

And then a silence ensued.

I sat in that profound, uncomfortable silence knowing that Mark and Yoo-Mi, Nipun, and others were outside, and all my spidey-senses told me that this private report was soon to become a fully public document. I could have run out of the room in protest, but what would be the use?  To protect my ego?  With the same humor and dreamlike pathetic-ness, I sat there vulnerably awaiting what would come next.

My senses proved sharply accurate as everyone soon entered my room as if some kind of intervention were taking place. Less secrets, less shame. Somehow the universe wanted this one revealed and so it was.

After waiting a few more days to see how the antibiotics responded, the swelling had increased to the size of an egg, and then even larger. And this bulge was built of pure pain. Lying in bed, it was a 7 on a pain scale of 1-10, and standing up, it shot to a high 9. Between the constant, intense itching of the jaundice and the agony of the infection, I had almost no sleep for about six days. I was becoming concerned about the possible loss of my fertility if the infection were to spread more and decided it was essential to see the most capable doctor I could find.

I got checked out and was told that the puss had to be surgically drained. Though typically a minor surgery, with jaundice, my blood was thin and there was a risk it wouldn’t properly clot. After taking some more tests, I was deemed good to go and surgery was set up for the following day.

As I lied there on the examination table, there were about 17 people in the room, including 3 women. The same doctor who spontaneously grabbed the report out of my hands felt the time was right to spontaneously pull my pants off for mass inspection, and half the people quickly darted for the door. The other half stayed to view the show. “Oh, man,” I thought to myself. “In terms of burning ego, this is definitely the good stuff.”

catheterWith less of a crowd around, and without anesthesia, a catheter was inserted into my penis seemingly without end – I never knew that’s how it was done. I had my pubic hair shaved off, and feeling fully violated and beaten, I walked into the surgery room, expecting things to get even worse.  Fortunately, I was quickly put under.

I woke up very soon after, in the center of a mandala, in the company of God, and slowly returned to the room. I’m not sure what they gave me, but it was pretty awesome.  Jayeshbhai sat alone with me in the room and I told him I had been with God. He started singing bhajans and the room became a temple.

I spent that night in the hospital and then came back to Jayeshbhai and Anarbhen’s house and lived with more pain and the awkwardness of carrying a catheter around with me wherever I went for nearly a week. One thing you may not know about jaundice is that it makes your pee turn fluorescent yellow and for some inexplicable reason, this radioactive color turns an ugly-ass amber brown when concentrated. As if the urine bag wasn’t bad enough, its unusual color could escape no one’s attention.

I suppose that what this story teaches is that it’s just plain stupid to be ashamed of being human. Yes, I’m humiliated that I have an anus, but then again, so do you. We all share these things that are somewhat awkward and to pretend that we are above them is to deny reality as it is. Though perhaps this lesson has somewhat helped deepen my humility, I know that I still have a very long road to walk until I really accept my humanity for what it is – a miracle of nature. It is only my Almighty mind that is in denial,
and wishes it wasn’t so.

sevacafe02When I arrived in Ahmedabad, there was craziness all around. People were all busy making and packaging diyas and candles to sell at Gramshree. A team of writers were all working on content. Everyone was doing something. Except me, of course. I just sat there in the center of the storm, watching the mad commotion.

The first thing I had wanted to do when arriving back was to see the progress on the café. I had participated in its design, had a vision, and was hoping it would go in a particular direction, but there were so many people involved, that no one was really in full control. I somehow just had faith that it was all going to work out.

Everyone kept me locked up in the house, but I managed to make it there finally on the night before it was to open. It was important for me to witness the miracle in progress. Over 60 volunteers were all working on various tasks. The café and store were nowhere near being finished, but the Grand Opening had been set and ready or not, it was going to open on October 13th.

When I got there, it was just so beautiful. Clearly, it was in shambles and there was no way on Earth it could ever become ready in the final hours that were left, but people were working day and night, doing their very best. Dozens of people hadn’t slept for days. It was truly an extraordinary effort by so many.

sevacafe04_2The following day, I returned again to be there for its opening and somehow a miracle had occurred that left everyone in disbelief. Though there were touches still left, the impossible had been accomplished and everything was in order and both the store and café looked beautiful and brilliant.

It was my dream that Nipun and Guri, Mark and Yoo-Mi, Viral, and Harshida and Dinesh Mehta (Nipun and Viral’s parents) could be there for its opening. For 9 years, the Mehta’s have opened their home every Wednesday evening to anyone for meditation, sharing of thoughts, and dinner in silence. For these nine years, Harshida Mehta had selflessly cooked without fail for guests numbering from a dozen to a hundred and there, every Wednesday, the spirit of service was always in full demonstration.

The spirit they have exemplified is exactly the spirit this café aspired to embody and to have them all there for its opening helped to grace the space and set it in proper motion.

A lot of credit was thrown my way for this café, but my part was very minor. I had a few ‘Aha!’ moments and contributed in various ways, but my involvement was little compared to the tireless work, and selfless and fearless commitment of so many. The extraordinary efforts of Anarben, Jayeshbhai, Vandana, Abigna, Maria, Anjali, Smita, Nipun, Guri, Mark, Yoo-Mi, Raju, Jagatbhai, and so so so many others were beyond comprehension. It is only because of everyone’s collective merits that this café has come to pass. And it is exactly because of this collectivity that the magic has come through in such a rare and pure form.

You walk into the café at night and the lights are dimly lit. The energy is exciting, fresh, and exuberant. The kitchen is full of committed volunteers and waiters are on the floor serving and sharing the philosophy of the café with its guests. It’s a place that is charged and everyone just wants to be there.

sevacafe01For the first few weeks, most of my experience of this café has been vicarious, but everyday, the stories come in, full of miracles – from a 10 year old who signed up to cook pasta with Mark P. one evening, to a man who offered to donate a room full of computers – from the guards coming in to partake of food in the after hours to millionaires coming in to clean the toilets. In just such a short time, the idea has already touched so many lives and it is still just beginning.

A lot of kinks are being ironed out, and there are risks of burning out a volunteer staff over time with the long hours. Overall, though, the space has exceeded all expectations. The food is the most wholesome available in all of Ahmedabad, with its menu changing daily, offering a wide range of cuisines from all around the world. It is truly a blessing, and to be a part of it, even if mostly vicariously, has been such a treasure.

Now only to learn what it has to teach – “living is giving.”

sickindia02Life is cruel. It just is. Living beings eat each other in a never-ending quest for survival. We are on are own, yaar – but fortunately not always.

When my friend, Mark Jacobs, worriedly urged me over an email to get to a hospital and get intravenous fluids, having lost a close friend to hepatitis A, I questioned it for a while and thought it was probably a good idea as I was hardly eating anything. I also needed to get some follow-up blood tests.

In the morning, I caught a rickshaw to Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi where a doctor had told me to go and it was like a massive train station, with dozens of queues and huge display boards trying to provide direction.

I tried to find out where to go, but was lost in endless lines and confusion. So many people were sick or busy that no one seemed to notice me. I was very tired and weak and wasn’t supposed to be walking around, but I found myself hopelessly ignored and realized that if I were closer to death, the world would have let me die there.

sickindia01After some time, I gave up on that hospital and took a rickshaw to a smaller hospital, where again, I was ignored and lost, jumping through hoops trying to find my way to care. I was growing weaker and again, it was evident that had I been closer to death, the world would have simply let me die.

Eventually I gave up on that hospital as well and took another rickshaw to a lab for a test, giving up on the idea of the I.V.. On the way, I passed so many poor and sick people and even a fresh corpse lying on the street. I’m not sure what kind of accident had caused such a massive exposure of some poor person’s innards, but I knew that the universe was giving me a lesson on this day – exposing me to the misery of the world.

It took several more hours of work to finally get the tests taken and I was drained.

sickindia03Days later, Mark P. befriended a neighborhood couple and told them about my condition. The husband was a seriously high ranking police official and had me driven and escorted to AIIMS Hospital – supposedly the best hospital in India to meet with one of the best doctors. Outside, the sick were lined up, hoping for care, but this hospital generally only takes the more serious cases or referrals. I could have protested the inequity, but when you are sick it is hard not to accept care when it is offered.

In direct opposition to the neglect I had experienced earlier, I was now being treated like a VIP.

This illness has exposed me to so many extremes. Some of the people closest to me have been unimaginably uncompassionate and even cruel, while other strangers have gone far out of their way to ensure my well-being. When I was near my worst, I told Jayeshbhai about my condition and he immediately wanted to fly to Delhi. I told him that was sweet but silly and he arranged for Nirmala Deshpande’s staff to bring me food. They went out of their way to nurse me back, and perhaps they saved my life.

Later, I left Delhi for Ahmedabad and have been staying at Jayeshbhai and Anarben’s house. My friends Mark and Yoomi took a train all the way from Pondicherry to see me and brought with them lots of healthy products from the US. Here, I am being served a never-ending stream of drinks and food, with friends and compassion abounding. And even under these ideal circumstances, when sick enough, life can often seem pretty hopeless.

bouquetliliesKnowing how pampered I have been, all I can think of are the millions of ill people in the world, lying in poverty, in their baking huts, with access only to bad water, lacking the money or support to get proper medical attention.

Basically, without a network of support, most of us are pretty vulnerable in this world. Perhaps my first instinct is to want to reject my fortunate network because of the gross inequity existing in the world, but I quickly realized that this network of support is the thing that is most right with the world – what we need is to expand this net until there is not a being left without optimal love and care.

jaundice

Wow. Hello Mr. Jaundice.

Once a strapping 6’0’’, 180-pound construction worker, I have been reduced to a 125-pound, yellow, stick of a man.

Although our food choices in India as vegans have been indeed lacking, the intense nausea and inability to eat that began a month back were not so much the result of my diet, but of hepatitis A that led to an acute case of jaundice.

I would have been tested back then, but Mark was feeling the same symptoms, got a complete blood test, and came up normal, so I assumed it must be our diets. Apparently, I just found out yesterday, his complete tests didn’t cover things like hepatitis which I thought they had.

Jaundice is just not a whole lot of fun. It struck at a very peculiar time – the time in which we would have otherwise been cranking everything to the fullest. Instead, I have had to just take it easy, and it hasn’t been much of a fight, as nearly all motivation for everything simply went away with my energy.

Today, for the first time in a month, I have eaten two small meals. That alone, is such an enormous sign of progress and I think everything is on the verge of returning back to normal.

The month before I got hit, for no obvious reason, Mark pretty much stopped functioning and it seemed pretty apparent that he would soon have to drop out completely. I was really surprised to find out that he was still coming with me, and now, thanks largely to a great new restaurant discovery, his health is the best it’s been since the beginning of the trip. He’s ready to get things going, and it’s just unfortunate I have to lay low and recover during prime time.

Sometimes I feel like I am just faking it, but then it hits me that my liver is actually not working. When one of your primary organs stops functioning, it’s a pretty good indication that it’s healing time.

There is a lot to report, but more than anything, questions. Tomorrow, back to Ahmedabad for the Seva Café opening and to see my friends, Mark and Yoo Mi.

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?

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.

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 »

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.

us_passportLast I reported, we had just a few days to leave India. After arriving in Delhi, we found out pretty quickly that it was going to take Mark 8-10 days just to get a new US passport, so it was clear we weren’t going to hit the deadline.

I don’t think either of us was really surprised or really cared. More time just meant more schools. We figured we’d somehow work our way around any consequences. In some ways, having to leave the country in such a hurry was the perfect excuse to jump-without-looking into something so beautiful. If we had really put to the test all of our connections and options, chances are we could have somehow managed an extension from Ahmedabad, but the fun would have been lost. It would have killed the immediacy and innocence of it all. This letter gathering campaign was not a “big idea,” it was a sweet idea, and as it has grown bigger, it remains a sweet idea.

bollingen_11The adventures in Delhi have been extraordinary. I realized a while back that my favorite type of traveling is the kind where I am tracking down inspiring or meaningful places, like the time in Switzerland I managed to find Carl Jung’s magical getaway spot in Bollingen, and had it all to myself. Or the time I accidentally ended up in the cave in which Gautama Buddha had spent six years before Enlightenment. I think the thrill of the hunt or investigation, combined with a deeper search for meaningful connection is what makes this type of travel so special.  For me, it far outweighs hitting the tourist spots or swinging on a hammock. Here in Delhi, this seems to be exactly what I have been doing daily – following meaningful leads – not meaningful because they are historic, but meaningful because of the potential that they offer.

vinoba_1For instance, we started at Nirmala Deshpande’s house, who was the former secretary of Vinoba Bhave (spiritual successor of Gandhi) and is a highly well-known and well-respected member of Parliament. That night, she just happened to be having a dinner party with 80 peace activists from Pakistan. We were also told by Jayeshbhai to meet up with George Fernandez, ex-Minister of Defense and social activist. I think Jayeshbhai had met him once, and they had made friends, but Delhi is less of a small town than Ahmedabad, and it’s more difficult to just walk in cold and meet people. Still, I spent some time in a rickshaw, stopping by random people on the street asking if they knew where he lived. Eventually, we were given his phone number from Nirmala Didi.

And it’s been a lot like that – encounters with lots of interesting people with interesting lives. The weird thing is that I feel like I can see through it all – like these are all old souls and that I can almost see in them their previous incarnations that brought them to where they are today.

The funniest part of it all, is that Mark and I have yet to learn to dress the part. Wherever we go, we end up showing up in dirty, ratty clothes – particularly Mark, who will show up in shorts with holes, ripped, stained t-shirts, and a bandana. My dress is just barely a step up. I guess we realize that this obviously must work against us, where the first impression we give is that we are a bunch of hippies, or as Mark calls us “Swedes” from off the street. Still, it hasn’t seemed to stop us, and I’m starting to conclude that we just don’t have it in us to dress up.

Even this, though, is a habit, and it would probably be a valuable exercise to experiment with clothing as part of the waking dream.

axl2_1We have managed to go to a bunch of schools from the best of the best, to a blind school, an Army school, and a couple slum schools. Delhi is a lot less open and innocent than much of India, but that innocence is there, and with a little patience, just about all doors seem to open and invite us in… and once in, it’s more often than not a pretty magical experience. At least for me.

After going through much hassle, we now have a visa to Pakistan and two and half months before we need to again leave India. Gathering letters of peace, love, and friendship has been so valuable all around, that I think we’re going to keep it going for just a little longer.

dare011From day one, Mark and I were in full agreement that this is all just a dream and that we are completely free to play with it. We have now reached the six month point, and very little has changed.

Our attention is constantly drawn to very serious things like pollution, poverty, education, etc., but we still manage to have fun with just about everything we do.

One way to stay in tune with the flow of life’s multitude of options is through daring. The very act of daring contains within it an action that is difficult and challenging – a path we would normally never take. It is in taking these unusual paths, that we break out of our routines and experience the vitality of a life on the cutting edge. Daring is something that only really works when you play with someone who is willing to take on your dares. I have always felt inclined to meet a dare so long as it falls within acceptable range; of course, it’s the willingness to keep questioning and testing this range that is the key.  In my experience, it’s rare to find others who are of the same mindset. In the realm of the dare, Mark and I are a perfect duo.

There are hundreds of examples of little things we’ve done. Our dares are all over the board. For instance, one time, when we were walking through stopped traffic, Mark dared me to sit on the back of a random guy’s motorcycle, without asking, and get a ride through the intersection. I did and it taught me the huge lesson that this opportunity is always there and has always been there; we just rarely surf life in this way. Since then I’ve tested it again on my own and it seems to be a valid option for getting around. :)

dare03Mark will sometimes brave dares that seem totally over-the-top – such as kissing a wooden totem pole carving on the lips in a restaurant full of waiters and customers, or spontaneously massaging the feet of a masculine Rajasthani man in traditional attire.

One episode that seriously amused Mark happened when I was sitting in the passenger seat next to the bus driver in a bus full of ornately dressed villagers from Kutch. He dared me to simulate driving the bus all the way home from Gandhi Nagar. I took it up – the whole way – with gear-shifting and all, much to the confusion and dismay of the driver and passengers. Mark simply explained to them that I was crazy, as he rolled with laughter for much of the ride home.

There was a time when I stepped under a waterfall of rain coming off a roof during monsoon, and then walked a great distance home without a shirt on (since he refused to give it back). Or the times we both rode facing backwards on the backs of motorcycles to the enjoyment of the fellow commuters.

Even in Delhi, we have kept it going. The first school we came across when going out to gather peace letters was the Army school. It seemed pretty natural that this would be a tough sell for acquiring letters of love and friendship, as these were the kids of officers who are trained to see Pakistan as the enemy. But we embraced it as a challenge, and successfully pulled it off, getting some of the best and most artistic letters yet.

When it felt like we were falling into a rut, I decided it was a good time for us to walk into the dream. I saw a holy looking Sikh man with a two-foot long white beard in the back of van. I challenged Mark to get us a ride home in that van. When we went up, we found out that it was actually a taxi… and they were asking a little too much for the ride. In the spirit of following the idea through to see what happens, I agreed to the price, however only on the terms that Mark drive the van. The man surprisingly agreed and Mark took the wheel for a seriously precarious drive through Delhi traffic.

Mark wasted no time following this up, calling me on a statement I had made many months before on a brutally hot, summer day, when I said I could drink 7 glasses of sugar cane juice. Mark had been blown away by this statement, and so I increased it to 8. I knew I could do it easily. Now months later, we were passing by a sugar cane stand, and Mark dared me to drink the 8 glasses. This time, the situation was totally different – the day wasn’t very hot, I had just eaten a meal, and wasn’t at all thirsty. My original claim meant nothing under these different circumstances, but he wanted me to prove I could do what I said. dare02With much difficulty, and having to flirt dangerously close to vomiting, I put away the 8, plus one extra, making it 9.

At times, these actions may be perceived as childlike and irresponsible, and they may eventually cause us to lose some of our credibility. All in all, though, it is an important lesson in not taking anything too seriously. If we get a few looks of disapproval, or if things occasionally backfire, well at least we enjoyed the ride and were guided not by fear, nor by the measured rules of social acceptability, but by the ever-flowing, infinitely creative play that is life.

meandog02_1Living in Mithakali, we came to gain many dog friends. Amongst them was a strong, muscular male dog, who Mark named Scooter. Scooter looked intimidating – the kind of dog you would not want to have against you. Fortunately, Scooter took a particular liking to us and came running to greet us whenever he caught site. He would jump up on us and would love to be pet. Mark said that if anyone ever tried to harm us, Scooter would always have our back.

One day, Loveleen and I went to say hi to him and he let off some quiet growls. This didn’t fit at all with his affection for us, so I thought he must be growling at a nearby dog, protecting his unique bond with us.

Several weeks later, Scooter came by with his lady friend and again said hi. He was again happy to see us, but again let out some quiet growls. This time, Scooter had an enormous wound on his head. It’s likely that someone threw a brick at him, which seems to be very common. We had seen this far too often and felt disgusted and sad.

hulkScooter was licking our hands like crazy, but still letting out occasional growls. All of a sudden, he started nipping at our hands a little, aggressively. Mark and I both sensed some danger. Mark left and I stayed, hoping to overcome any hostile behavior with affection. It was clear that something started switching on and off in his mind. Like the Incredible Hulk, he would suddenly shift into an attack mindset and his little nips started to become more menacing.

It was clearly as if human cruelty had splintered his spirit and he began to start losing it indiscriminately. Likely, memories of abuse would flash on and he would project them onto my form as a human.

Soon again, he would revert back into all loving licks, and then again start growing more fierce. This time, the violent switch turned on completely and in an altered state of mind, he bit me on the leg. It was just a small bite with a minor puncture that left both a bruise on my flesh, and also on my feelings. It was immediately after this that I wrote the poem “Something More.”

I am very sad for Scooter. He won’t survive long here as a violent dog. I’m actually not looking forward to the next time I see him, for fear of being attacked. I’ve always felt that love and benevolence can overcome any negativity, but this was a clear example of an altered state where all sight of my kind meandog011intentions disappeared. I suppose this is a good lesson going into Pakistan. Overall, I’m certain the people are at least as kind and good as you’ll find anywhere in the world, but as “Americans”, there are definitely exceptions there who would love nothing more than to harm us. I tend to feel that my love and gentleness are enough to shield me from all harm. But perhaps this lesson reveals that this just isn’t so.

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