Monday, December 14, 2015

Winter Solstice Musings

Hello friends, this is a re-post from a posting I wrote in December of 2009. I hope it lifts your spirits!
Mandala - "Light is Returning" by Llyn Peabody

Winter Solstice was only meaningful to me on a rather "intellectual" basis when I lived in the city. Each year, as Autumn days drew shorter and evening commutes occurred more and more in the dark, I vowed to "pay attention to the seasons" and aspired to live a life in tune with natural rhythms. I was only ever marginally successful. These last two years, since living in rural Alpine, Oregon and growing a garden, the seasonal changes have become very real to me. The sun is setting these days at about 4:30 here, and doesn't rise again till about 7:30. I am acutely aware of just how few daylight hours there are and eagerly await the turning point of Winter Solstice. Even though winter will still have its grip on things  - weather-wise, I know the days will start getting longer and for this I am truly grateful.

I know many of you who receive these posts from Chris' and my garden blog are probably faced with your own winter blues these days. Even if you live in a city with its artificially extended day-light hours, you can't help but be affected by the turning seasons, the dour headlines, economic stress and other challenges of being human.

I send along this slide-show I put together with a song whose lyrics are meant to inspire you to keep looking for simple ways your bliss and gifts can intersect with the world's need. (link below)


"Light is returning,
Even though this is the darkest hour,
No one can hold
Back the dawn." Charlie Murphy

The Forest of a Million Trees

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Butterfly Metaphor - Imaginal Cells and the Transformation of Society

Ever wonder how we'll ever get out of this crazy mess we're in: rampant consumerism devouring the planet, with no end in sight; ever-widening the gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots"?

Enjoy this 4-minute video by Bruce Lipton that describes the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into a butterfly and how it provides a hopeful metaphor for the current stage of our society.




And for several other inspiring videos about butterflies, CLICK HERE

Butterfly Miracles

Here are a few more butterfly videos that we found to also be uplifting:

Imaginal Cells, Butterflies, Animal Guides and Humanity Being Upgraded


The Elephant, the Emperor and the Butterfly Tree:


The Queen of Trees:

The Power of Letting Go

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Can We Create Social Change Without Money?





... what we will do for love will always be greater than what we do for money.  Nipun Mehta



Here is a video and transcript of a Ted-Talk by Nipun Mehta, a pioneer in 'sharing' and the true gift-economy (giving without thought of receiving). Nipun beautifully articulates the community-building, healing power of generosity. For those of you new to this site, here is a link to our Sharing Gardens site; our demonstration project based on the principles outlined in this video. Enjoy!

Can We Create Social Change Without Money?

--by Nipun Mehta, Oct 28, 2015

Can we create social change without money? I don't have a conclusive answer but just holding that question can raise some very interesting insights.

Since we're talking about money, I thought I'd start with a story on Wall Street. One of my friends was running a venture fund on Wall Street. They had a great year, and his boss calls him in to congratulate him and offers the proverbial blank check, "What would you like?" He looks his boss in the eye and says, "What I'd love is a minute of silence before all our group meetings."

Wow. The boss is thinking, "In a context where people are billing every three minutes, a minute of silence to do nothing? That's like wasting time." He refuses. "No. Anything else?" he asks. No. After sleeping on it, though, the boss comes back to say, "Look, if you really want that minute of silence, fine, I'll give it to you." They start meetings with a minute of silence. That minute turned into two to three to five minutes. Today, they do thirty minutes once a week, and even have their own meditation bell.

What was my friend thinking? On one side he could've asked for a monetary raise, but on the other side was very different kind of capital — mental quiet, connection, trust. He is thinking, "I don't want to meet people in a space of rush. I'd rather meet them with a bit more peace." It changed his relationship to himself, it changed his relationship to other people and certainly with his boss. And it didn't just stop there. It changed how everyone related to each other. It changed the whole culture of their office space. And that was something he valued more than the financial capital.

How do we broaden our lens to include alternative forms of capital? This is a question, this is a possibility, that we all have access to but in our current world today, we're very biased towards financial capital.

In theory, our society is supposed to balance all these biases. We have three big sectors. The private sector is rooted in extrinsic motivations like money, power, fame. On the other end, we have the voluntary sector that is rooted in very intrinsic sort of motivations. Compassion, knowledge, purpose. And then there's the public sector that is supposed to regulate between the two and work on both sides of the aisle.

This is how it's supposed to work in theory. In practice, though, the private sector starts to take over. In fact, it starts to dominate. We do have a public sector, but the public sector is increasingly being controlled by the private sector. There is a small voluntary sector, but these days, in the name of the sharing economy, even that is being commoditized. Courtesy of the "sharing economy", your lawn mower can get you six bucks a day, and you can rent out your Hermès purse for a hundred dollars a party and your dog for five dollars a walk.

When we have a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. If money is the only metric we have, we start to put a price tag on everything.

The problem with price tags is that we start to lose connection with the priceless. We start to lose connection with our intrinsic motivation.

What does science say about all this? Edward Deci at the University of Rochester has been studying incentives for over forty years. After thousands of experiments, he categorically asserts that the carrot and stick model doesn't work. This idea of a contingent reward — if you do this, you will get this — doesn't actually work.

For example, he studied people who loved to solve puzzles. Initially, they would solve puzzles just for the love of it, just for its intrinsic enjoyment. Then he started to pay them to do the same thing. So far so good. Then, at a later point, he stopped paying them. As soon as he stopped paying them, you would think they would return to that original state, right? It turns out, though, that they were no longer interested in solving puzzles at all!

What his research shows is that money desensitizes us. What science is actually telling us is this: Don't show me the money. When you're working with intrinsic motivations, financial rewards can backfire.

At the Max Planck Institute, researchers have been studying 18-month olds. These toddlers are just playing and all of a sudden they see a bunch of strangers who are putting clothes out for drying. In the process, they drop a clothespin and need help getting to it. The toddlers see that a person is in need, and immediately go out to help. They pick up the clothespin and hand it to the strangers. Now, at that age, they haven't yet been taught kindness or compassion but they're still moved to help. They're still moved to cooperate.

What science is telling us is that it's natural to give, that we're wired to care. In fact, not only is it guiding us to "don't show me the money", but it's saying to not offer any rewards at all. It's just not necessary.

The question we are left with is this — what designs emerge when we don't lead with money? What designs emerge when we lead with something subtler or something internal? We have many examples that offer insight into this inquiry.

Mother Teresa, of course, is an example that all of us know about. Someone purely motivated by intrinsic motivations. One of my friends, Lynne Twist, is a world-renowned fundraiser and author of a book titled, Soul of Money. She knows money. Many years ago, she had a very interesting conversation with Mother Teresa, whom she knew personally. "Mother Teresa, what's your fund raising strategy?" she asked. And Mother Teresa, with her big-hearted compassion, simply replied, "Oh, I just pray. Whatever I get is what I need."

It was simple. Here was a woman who had 400 centers in 102 countries and she's kind of like the CEO of this whole operation and she is saying, "I have no fundraising strategy." Or rather she is saying, "My fundraising strategy is to be rooted so deeply in intrinsic motivation that external security is not even a concern."

We have many modern examples as well. Linux rivaled Microsoft Windows purely with a distributed army of volunteers. Wikipedia did that with Encyclopedia Britannica. On Wikipedia alone, through those micro-edits that volunteers made, hundred million volunteer hours have been donated. CouchSurfing, similarly, allowed strangers to stay on each other's couches and disrupted the hotel industry.

As we look closely, we see an entire spectrum of motivations. It starts with extrinsic motivations on one side and goes all the way to intrinsic motivations. On the extrinsic side, there's money, power, fame; somewhere in between you have things like fun, learning, growth and purpose. Then on the intrinsic end of the spectrum, you have these very profound motivations like healing, forgiveness, inner-transformation and ultimately compassion.

On that extrinsic end, we have thousands and thousands of examples, but on the other side, on the side of intrinsic motivations, we don't have too many. Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, is a completely decentralized, distributed, and a never-monetized effort. It points towards the other end of the spectrum, but we have an opportunity to create a lot more examples here.

Back in 1999, we started ServiceSpace that rested squarely on the intrinsic end of this spectrum. It started with four of us, building websites for non-profits. Underneath the work, though, what we wanted to do was to anchor ourselves purely in the spirit of service. Over the last sixteen years, we've organized around three core principles that have kept us rooted in that intrinsic motivation.

The first one is that we are volunteer run. Many people look at that as scarcity of paid staff and ask, "How will you scale?" What we noticed was that we actually had an abundance of social capital. Imagine that you're trying to raise a million bucks. You could get it from one or two people, or a dollar from a million people. Which is stronger? A million people saying, "Yes, I believe in what you're doing. Yes, I care." The cumulative energy of that is profound. It's powerful. That's what we were experiencing with small contributions of time from many volunteers.

Similarly, our second principle is to not fundraise. When you don't ask for resources, you naturally feel a lot of gratitude for all that ends up in your lap. You learn to creatively work with what you've got, and you start to cooperate. Incredible synergies emerge, particularly when working with non-financial capital.

Lastly, our third principle is to focus on small. It wasn't about big things outside, but rather it was about the subtle on the inside. Being in the change you wish to see in the world starts to attune us to the subtle. The resulting awareness, in a very profound way, ignites our deepening understanding of interconnection.

With these three principles, ServiceSpace manages to create lot of impact in the world. We started by building websites for non-profits and we ended up helping thousands of efforts come online. Then we started building portals like DailyGood and KarmaTube. Every year we send seventy million emails, and not a single one of them has an ad -- or even a reference to buying something. It is purely non-financial.

Still, how far can we push ourselves while still operating solely on the strength of these intrinsic motivations?

We started this game of kindness called Smile Cards and it spread to over a hundred countries. In local communities we started these gift-economy experiments like Karma Kitchen where people are redefining what it means to engage in transaction. In living rooms around the world, Awakin Circles started. In all, more than half a million members were co-creating something that was engaging the attention of millions -- all without ever raising a single penny, and moved by love, service and our innate connection to each other.

It's not just that you can do a lot with this. We often take metrics from the extrinsic side of the spectrum to measure the impact on the intrinsic end. That puts a very low ceiling on its potential.

Operating with the power of intrinsic motivation alone fundamentally changes the way in which we relate to each other. It gives birth to a whole new realm of possibilities.

Karma Kitchen is like a regular restaurant, except that at the end of the meal, your check reads zero. It's zero because someone before you has paid for you and you get to pay forward for somebody after you. You are trusted to pay forward whenever you want. When people are just giving for the love of it, it changes the way they interact in that collective space. It's a profound idea that has worked wonders in seventeen places around the world.

What works, though, isn't the intellectual idea -- it's actually the experience. It's actually realizing that when you walk in, the greeter is a volunteer. The person who is waiting on your table, the person who plates your food, the person who's bussing your tables, they're all volunteers. That guy doing dishes in the back, who signed up to be on his feet for six hours, to just do dishes so you can have an experience of generosity, is also a volunteer. When you realize this, it begets a very different kind of generosity in you. A flow of deep compassion emerges. It's very natural.

Minah Jung was a student at UC Berkeley when she first volunteered at Karma Kitchen. She was so moved by the concept that she decided to study it. In fact, her research on Karma Kitchen and other gift economies became her PhD thesis. With eight different experiments, she poured through data with academic rigor, and came out with a seminal paper titled, "Paying More When Paying For Others." If you create a strong context, people respond to generosity with even greater generosity.

Richard Whitaker runs his art magazine in the same way. He was running it for fifteen years with the traditional subscriber model, and then he ran across ServiceSpace and said, "Wow, this is great. This is how I want show up in the world." He offered refunds to all his current subscribers and said, "From now on, the magazine will operate only offerings of gratitude."

Similarly, Thuy Nguyen is experimenting with this pay-forward model at her acupuncture clinic.

I want to end with this story of one of my friends, Uday-bhai. He's a rickshaw driver. By all traditional metrics, he would probably be a UN statistic on one of those poverty charts. He's a humble rickshaw driver but he has another kind of resource. He believes in love, he believes in people. Uday-bhai decided to run his rickshaw on a pay-it-forward basis. You sit in his rickshaw and there is no money meter. Someone before you has paid for you and you get to pay forward for people after you, whatever you moved to offer. He trusted that goodness in people, in the sixth largest city in India. Naturally, many asked him, "Is it working?" He says, "Here's my ledger. Point A to point B, point B to point C. Yes, some paid more, some paid less. On the whole, it evens out."

Then he adds, "Let me also show you this other notebook. This is where I ask people to write down how they felt sitting in my rickshaw." Imagine sitting in Uday-bhai's rickshaw and being completely caught off guard by the generosity of his process. This is not a billionaire doing philanthropy, but an everyday hero putting his entire livelihood on the line -- for love. It moves people to tears, people take vows for life. It's just deeply transformative and you can see that in all the notes.

Uday-bhai didn't have money, but he had a deeper kind of resource. Through that resource, through his belief in our innate generosity, he created a massive ripple that is certainly changing the world. He is redefining what it means to have capital. He's diversifying that portfolio of wealth. When you do that, when you really start saying yes to that idea, you are essentially saying, "It's no longer about the CEO, it's about the everyday Joe. It's no longer about fundraising, it's about friend-raising. It's no longer about price tags, it's about the priceless."

All of this sits on a single idea — what we will do for love will always be greater than what we do for money. May we all lead with love and change the world. Thank you.   


Nipun Mehta is the founder ofServiceSpace.org, a nonprofit that works at the intersection of gift-economy, technology and volunteerism. You can read more of his talks online.    
This video and article were copied from the Daily Good site, a free service that sends out emails featuring inspiring, uplifting news from the world free of charge and with no advertising. LINK



Saturday, September 5, 2015

Zoo-Free and Talking Animals Reach Out

Great news!
Here are two related posts: news of Costa Rica's commitment to close down all of its zoos, and a video clip of Anna Breytenbach, Animal Communicator. Uplifting and awe-inspiring! What more could you ask for!?

 

 

 

Costa Rica: First Nation to Close Down All Zoos and Ban Hunting for "Sport"

Costa Rica has announced that it will be the first country in the world to shut down its zoos and free the captive animals they hold. Costa Rica is an especially bio-diverse country, holding about 4% of the world’s known species. Sadly, the country is contractually obligated to keep two of its zoos open for another decade. Still, after that, they plan to shut them down in favor of a cage-free habitat for the animals to live in.

Treehugger reports that the nation, which also recently banned hunting for sport, will close the last two zoos in the next 10 years and give the animals a more natural habitat in which to exist. They want to convey to the world that they respect and care for wild animals.

Happy sloths. "We're leaving the zoo!"


Environmental Minister René Castro says, “We are getting rid of the cages and reinforcing the idea of interacting with biodiversity in botanical parks in a natural way.”

"We don’t want animals in captivity or enclosed in any way unless it is to rescue or save them.”

Any animals currently in captivity that would not survive in the wild will be cared for in rescue centers and wildlife sanctuaries. No new zoos will be opened. (I found this article HERE.)

Anna Breytenbach - Animal Communicator

Anna Breytenbach with Elephant-friend. http://animalcommunicatorforum.com
In this video clip, a seriously unhappy and dangerous Jaguar at a Big Cat Sanctuary is able to communicate why he's so upset and agitated with the help of animal communicator, Anna Breytenbach. The founders of the sanctuary are extremely skeptical that the big cat can share anything specific, and useful with Anna but they're at their wit's end and so give it a try. This video touched me deeply and confirmed what I've always known since I was a child; that it is possible to have deep and intimate communications with our animal kin.



If you liked that clip, you can see the full 53-minute video that it was excerpted from, HERE.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Radical Power of Humility

If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. --Mother Teresa
​Hello friends - Nipun Mehta is one of my heroes. He went from being an up-and-coming Silicone Valley​ entrepreneur to founding a dynamic, and  financially successful, non-profit agency -- Service Space. Among other things, this volunteer-based group finds and forwards inspirational news from around the world. Mehta was also instrumental in opening a restaurant in Berkeley California --Karma Kitchen-- that is based entirely on the concept of 'paying it forward'. No one pays anything for their own meal. If they choose to make a donation it is applied to the costs of feeding future customers. A true 'gift economy'.
 
Below is a transcript of a talk by Nipun Mehta, delivered to four thousand people gathered at the National Jain Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. 
Read it and feel inspired to let go of the burden of being 'special'. Surrender to the joys of being used by a purpose greater than satisfying your own personal desires and preferences.

Love, Llyn

The Radical Power of Humility

--by Nipun Mehta, Jul 07, 2015
[Below is transcript of a talk, delivered to four thousand people gathered at the National Jain Convention in Atlanta, Georgia.  Prior to Nipun's talk, civil rights legends John Lewis and Andrew Young shared insights from their journey with Martin Luther King, Jr.]

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to all of you.  What an honor to be here with all you today, and a special honor to get to follow John Lewis and Andrew Young.

Today I’d like to surface an unpopular virtue. One that’s fallen out of favor in a time of selfies and relentless status updates. The virtue of humility. We live in an era that believes it can no longer afford to be humble.

Years ago, I sat down for lunch, next to a young villager in India. As usual, I closed my eyes for a moment of gratitude before eating. As I opened them, I saw the most unusual thing -- this boy was preparing a bite from my plate. My plate! Seeing my confusion, he kindly explained, “I wanted a piece of your prayer, and so I figured the best thing was to be of service to it right now.” Saying this, he offered me that bite. Imagine hearing these words, and receiving that gesture from someone you’ve only just met. I was touched.

Curious to know more about him, I asked him about his work. He smiled and said, “Well, it’s hard to describe. It's a bit like the sparrow in that fable. As the story goes, the sky is falling down and all the creatures are fleeing. The sparrow thinks to itself, 'I want to help. But what can I do? I'm just a sparrow.' Then, the sparrow has a flash of brilliance -- it lies on its back and points it two feets towards the sky. 'What are you doing, Little Sparrow?' others ask. 'Well, I've heard the sky is falling, and so I'm doing my little bit to hold it up.'" After a pause, my new friend adds, “That’s what I try to do too.”

Small, subtle, silent. And humble.

The world we live in is almost the polar opposite -- grandiose, mundane, loud.

A few years ago, Google released a searchable database of 5.2 million books published since 1500. Researchers soon discovered that, between 1960 and 2008, individualistic words increasingly overshadowed communal ones. The usage of “kindness” and “helpfulness” dropped by 56%, even as “modesty” and “humbleness” dropped by 52%. Our language reflects our lives. Phrases like "community" and "common good" lost in popularity to "I can do it myself" and “I come first.” We moved from We to Me.

The archetype of today’s hero is a go-getter, with a nice-guys-finish-last mindset. Our systems are designed to privilege power, where respect is calibrated by our titles and bank balances. As business cards lead our handshakes and hugs, our daily lives have morphed into a relay of commercial intentions. In a rat-race to pad our resumes, we’ve condensed our nuanced experiences into elevator pitches. We're primed to “speak up”, and to favor ambition over surrender.

The question is no longer if we can afford our humility, but rather can we really afford our own arrogance?

Without humility, our overblown sense of entitlement disconnects us. It increases narcissism and reduces empathy. That may be good for the economy but certainly not for societal well-being. A couple of months ago I was in Bhutan with the folks who implemented Gross National Happiness, and from them I learned about some remarkable research at the University of Michigan. It turns out that ever since 1980, our empathy levels have been gradually dropping, but in 2000, they suddenly plummeted 40 percent. Forty! Not surprisingly, a Gallup report just released last week reported that the US has dropped from 12th position to number 23 on the global well-being index. It’s a strange paradox, we are at the same time, more self-centered than ever, and less happy and healthy for it.

With humility, though, we can give birth to a whole new story.

In the late 70s, two Buddhist monks -- Rev. Heng Sure and Heng Chau -- began a mind-blowing bowing pilgrimage along the California coastline. For 900 miles, they would walk three steps and take one full bow to the ground. Their practice was to meet everything as a reflection of their mind and rebound it with a heart of love. One day, crossing through a rough neighborhood in LA, they found themselves surrounded by a bunch of gang members. One of them threw down a trash can, removed the rod connecting the can with its lid, threateningly started screeching that rod around the side of the trash can. Sluzzzz, slussssh, as if sharpening his blade and signaling the impending fate of the monk’s head. Other friends egged him on with a menacing chant. As Rev. Heng Sure would later write in his journals, “All the hair of my body stood up in fear.” Yet his commitment was to unconditional compassion: no matter what you bring to this moment, I bow to the goodness in you. May you be blessed. And so he humbly went for that final bow at the teenager’s feet. His would-be attacker’s fist was raised in the air poised to strike, but he froze. Completely froze. Others around him fell silent. Imagine if you’re about to pummel someone and he bows to you with great compassion. The monks continued bowing right past the dumbstruck gang.

Humility is seen as a sign of weakness, in today’s culture, when, in reality, it is the gateway for an unparalleled and profound strength.

We see examples of this across all wisdom traditions. In Sikhism, Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth of their ten gurus, offered this credo to all the warriors: “Humility is my mace; becoming the dust of everybody’s feet is my sword. No evil can withstand that.” Jesus Christ washed the feet of his disciples, the 12 apostles, and then adds, "Know ye what I have? I have given you an example." At another point, he explicitly states, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." In Jainism, as you all know, there is the powerful practice of Micchami Dukkadam on the last day of the holy Paryushan period, where Jains actively seek and offer forgiveness: "If I have caused you offense in any way, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought, word or deed, then I seek your forgiveness." Every year, on this day, I receive many such emails from Jain friends. Simply being on the receiving end is such a humbling feeling, that I can only imagine what it means to be on the other end.
 
We have so many contemporary examples as well. Mother Teresa called humility the "mother of all virtues" and reminded us, "We can do no great things. Only small things with great love." And, of course, we have Gandhi. When he died, with less than 9 possessions to his name, journalist Edwin Murrow read this across the radio waves: "Man without wealth, without property, without official title or office. Mahatma Gandhi was not a commander of great armies nor ruler of vast lands. He could boast no scientific achievements or artistic gift. Yet men, governments and dignitaries from all over the world have joined hands today to pay homage to this little brown man in the loincloth who led his country to freedom."

Today, then, I want to share three progressive doorways of power that humility opens up.

The first doorway is the power of many.

In the absence of humility, we forget the shoulders that we stand on, and foolishly begin to take singular credit for what we’re doing. I remember my mom telling me a parable from the Mahabharata. A dog is traveling on Krishna's chariot, and lo and behold, when the dog wagged its tail to the right, the chariot turned to the right. And when he wagged it left, the chariot turned to the left. It was an example of correlation, not causation, and it would have been nothing short of ludicrous for the dog to actually believe it was controlling the chariot with its tail. Yet, that is precisely how our arrogance deceives us. We forget that behind each one of us lies an invisible stream of conditions that supports our every move.

Growing up, I had certainly forgotten that wisdom. I started out doing all the “right things”: did well in high school, got into UC Berkeley, landed a prestigious job in Silicon Valley. Then, in my early twenties I left the corporate world, and started ServiceSpace. My television debut was a half an hour interview on CNN. People celebrated my accomplishments, and initially I believed I deserved the credit. But over time, I realized that I was just a dog on the chariot. The ego is ever-ready to build a story around our exclusive special-ness. Whether it’s about worldly achievement or even service, pride comes in one flavor. And our world, unfortunately, encourages this. Slowly, though, I started seeing the long series of cascading conditions that had to conspire even just for me to stand here today. How could I possibly think that this is all my doing?

New science is now pointing to the power of many. We have a greater impact on each other than we think. Studies have shown that the strongest influence on someone's behavior is -- their friend's behavior. According to groundbreaking research by Harvard's Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, happiness loves company -- it spreads virally, in a network. So does obesity, cancer, and even divorce. If you have a divorced friend, you are 147% more likely to divorce yourself. So if you want to stay married, we have to work on strengthening your friend's marriages. I try to tell my wife that if she wants me to get into shape, she needs to get my brother and mother on the treadmill. :) And it works the same way for philanthropy, kindness, and good news too. Everything we do ripples out and affects each strand in the web of our connections.

With this understanding, a significant insight emerges: everyone matters, and everyone has something to give. And if we organize around leveraging people’s gifts we begin to create breakthrough possibilities.

I recently met a guy named V. R. Ferose. He had turned around a Fortune 500 company’s R&D department, and by age 36, had 5000 employees working for him. He married his college sweetheart, became a father and one devastating day, he and his wife learned that their son, Vivaan was on the autism spectrum. They were shattered by the news, but in the crucible of their despair, Ferose and his wife forged their lifes’ calling. As Ferose succinctly put it, “I want to change the world for Vivaan, and my wife wants to change Vivaan for the world.”

Soon after, they launched many successful projects. Ferose looked deeply into the unique gifts of the autistic population. Well, if you're autistic, you are never bored, and you never lie. Ferose looked at those traits, and then took a revolutionary leap -- he hired 5 autistic staff at his Fortune 500 Company, and then matched them with roles that allowed their gifts to shine. It was a huge success. The new staffers excelled at their jobs. News of their contributions reached the CEO of the company and he was so moved that he announced that, by 2020, 1% of their 65 thousand world-wide staff would be people on the autism spectrum. “That day a friend came into my office and said, Vivaan has just created 650 jobs. I had tears in my eyes,” Ferose remembers. Now, the UN is exploring a mandate to inspire other Fortune 500 countries to do the same.

All this transpired because Ferose understood that the best way to support his special child, was to help create a world that supports the specialness of others, and to build a community that thrives on the belief that everybody is good at something.

Tapping into people’s gifts can’t be done by brute force or authority. It takes a heart of humility. It takes deeply trusting the synergy of our inter-connections, and understanding the power of many.

The second doorway that humility opens is the power of one.

Last year, I had the pleasure of spending some time with Francois Pienaar, a rugby legend who was very close to Nelson Mandela -- and famously played by Matt Damon in the movie Invictus. As he shared many personal encounters with Mandela, the thing that struck me was how practically every story spoke to Mandela's humility.

One of the most pivotal moments in Francois’s life came when he visited Mandela’s jail cell on Robben Island. Holding his arms out, he said, “This is what how much space he lived in, for 27 straight years. I grew up thinking he was a terrorist. All Afrikaners did. And yet he come out of jail with an open heart that can hold everyone.” Indeed, Mandela’s first words, after being released from jail: “I stand here before you not as a prophet, but a humble servant.” Humble. Servant.

A telling example of Mandela’s servant leadership came in 1995. Amidst rampant civil tensions that were taking hundreds of lives, he had come to power as the first democratically elected President of South Africa. That also happened to be the year that the country’s rugby team was winning a lot. With millions cheering on, many South Africans saw this as a symbolic opportunity to signal the end of Apartheid; they were eager to change the team name, colors and jersey in a sport that was widely considered a “white man’s game”. Mandela, on the other hand, saw a different opportunity. An opportunity for forgiveness. He went from sport clubs to town halls to rally his countrymen to take the higher road: “We have to surprise them with compassion, with restraint and generosity; I know, all of the things they denied us, but this is no time to celebrate petty revenge.”

That was the thing about Mandela. He had the audacity to believe in each person's capacity to transform their suffering into love. He had done it himself. Where the power of many teaches us that everyone is good at something, the power of one points to our unbounded capacity for inner transformation. Everyone can find greatness in love.
 
They kept the same name, same jersey, same colors. Springboks in green. That year South Africa makes it to the finals, where they faced New Zealand. At the end of regulation, it’s tied 12-12. Overtime. An epic game. And South Africa wins the World Cup, for the first time in the country’s history! Mandela humbly comes out onto the field, not in a Presidential suit, but wearing a green Springboks jersey -- what many considered the “uniform of the enemy.” The 65 thousand person crowd spontaneously erupts into a chant: Nelson, Nelson, Nelson! It was electric. “Never seen so many grown men cry,” players later said. The crowd later goes on to sing “Shoooo--shaaaa-llooooo--aaaaa” -- a Zulu song that Mandela had often sung to himself while in jail. In that moment, an entire nation stood united under Mandela's leadership -- and his love.

In the concluding trophy presentation, as Mandela handed the trophy to Francois, he whispered to him: "Thank you for what you have done for the country." Francois paused, deeply moved. And then spontaneously came his response, to the man he had once thought of as a terrorist, "Thank you, Madiba, for what you have done for the world."

Mandela shook the world, not through the might of his ego, or his considerable skills, but through his breathtaking capacity for inner transformation and humility. He believed in the power of one, he embodied that power of one, and showed us how it is a force beyond measure.

The third, and subtlest, doorway of humility is the power of zero.

I recently met a 96 year old Sufi saint named Dada Vaswani. He has a great many followers around the world, is highly respected by monks and nuns from various traditions, and radiates a profound sense of peace. I was deeply grateful to meet him. But his first words to me were, "I'm so grateful to have met you." It wasn’t just a pleasantry, he really meant it. And it wasn't because he thought I was special -- he just knew that everyone is special. Because everyone is connected to everything, and the whole show is sacred.

Everything about him, and around him, was humble. When we met, in his private study room, we sat on simple, white plastic chairs. Another plastic table stood flimsily between us. You could tell these surface trappings didn't matter to him. The way he carried himself, the words he shared, the kindness he emanated, it empowered me and everyone around him -- empowered us, not to be bigger, grander, somebodies... but rather to be small, simple, nobodies.

Dada shared that his own teacher was once asked who he was. “Are you a poet? Are you an educationist? Author? Saint?” He responded with, ‘I am a zero.' Then he paused for a while and added, 'I'm not the English zero -- the English zero occupies space. I am the Sindhi 'Nukta'. In Sindhi, zero is written like a dot. So that was the ideal placed before me," Dada shared.

When we succeed in radically downsizing the ‘I’, we find true expansion. It is when we shrink our preoccupation with self, that far greater energies course through us. We no longer attempt to drive change in the world, but rather to “be” that change we wish to see. St Francis’s prayer was not, “Make me CEO of your peace”. It was make me a channel of your peace. And to be a channel, is to understand the true power of being zero.

At one point in our conversation, I asked Dada about his plans for the future. He’s 96 and the spiritual leader of millions, so the succession plan is a natural concern for many. Yet, his response was unequivocal: "Oh, that's not my concern. I'm not the one making this happen now, and it won't be me in the future. I just try to be zero." He had given a lifetime to this work, and yet was not trying to control its future. He knew his job was to simply - be an instrument.

To probe into this idea of being an instrument, of being zero, I asked him about Bodhisattvas. Similar to Jinas in Jainism, Buddhists define Bodhisattvas as beings who forsake their own liberation for the sake of others. He paused for moment, locked eyes with mine and recited a poem by Shantideva. One deliberate word after another.

May I be a guard for those who need protection,
A guide for those on the path,
A boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood.
May I be a lamp in the darkness,
A resting place for the weary,
A healing medicine for all who are sick,
A vase of plenty, a tree of miracles;
And for the boundless multitudes of living beings,
May I bring sustenance and awakening,
Enduring like the earth and sky
Until all beings are freed from sorrow,
And all are awakened.


His voice died into silence, and no words could describe the electric feeling in the room. My heart was overflowing with gratitude. With whatever limited humility I was capable of, I asked, "Dada, how may I be of service to you?" Then, he did something that blew me away. He cupped his two hands in front of me, as if holding out a begging bowl, and gently said, "I request your tears of compassion."

Long pause. This time, on my account. No questions were arising, no answers were arising. We just gazed into each other's eyes. Finally I managed to get a few words out, "I'll do my best, Dada,” I said.

When Dada asked for my tears of compassion, what he was pointing to is the power of zero – that capacity to be an empty vessel, so that compassion’s flood can effortlessly surge through you. And it all begins with the wisdom of humility.

In conclusion, I want to end with a story of a friend and a wonderful person, Shakkuben.

Shakkuben spent most of her life working as a school janitor in India. One day, however, she had this beautiful wish arise in her heart: I want to serve. Immediately after, she had another thought: what can I possibly give? A friend told her a story of how Gandhi had once lost a very small pencil, and he was looking everywhere for it. When someone told him, "Bapu, you're the father of the nation; you don't have time to look for a small pencil, here's a dozen more," Gandhi simply replied, "But a child had given me that pencil with a lot of love," and carried on the search for the pencil. For Gandhi, size of love mattered a lot more than the size of the pencil. And Shakkuben took this to heart, and started her own experiment in service. Everyday, she would sift through the trash at her school, look for those small pencils that others had thrown away, and give them to people who couldn't even afford that much. And for her, it wasn't about the pencils but the love that they’d be wrapped in.

One day, after breakfast at home, Shakkuben offers me a parting gift. A slightly-ripped pink plastic bag, I still vividly remember it. Her first collection of those small pencils. I was so touched, I couldn't even open it in front of her. I had another event that morning, and I couldn’t resist sharing her story there. As a show-and-tell, I opened that pink bag, put my hand in, and held out a fist full of small pencils, broken erasers, blunt sharpeners. Oh, man. It wasn’t just the pencils … it was what they were wrapped in. The love of this humble janitor. I couldn't hold back my tears.

When our gifts to the world are draped in such humility and reverence, an unspeakable thunder roars behind those rain drops. And this is precisely what Jainism invites us to do. Bow to all life, Ahimsa; bow to others points of view, Anekantvad; bow to our inter-connection, Aparigraha.

When we bow to all that is, we reframe our understanding of success and accomplishment. We discover that everyone is good at something. That anyone can find greatness in giving, and that each is connected to all. We know then that our job is simply to be like the sparrow, and do our little bit to hold up the sky. Like my young friend who broke a piece of bread and offered up that bite, may we always strive to serve one another in small ways. And to hold a piece of each others' prayers.  


This article was forwarded to me from Daily Good - News that Inspires. This is a transcript of an address at the 2015 National Jaina Convention in Atlanta, delivered by Nipun Mehta. Nipun is the founder of ServiceSpace.org, a nonprofit that works at the intersection of gift-economy, technology and volunteerism. You can also view his other talks online.         

Sunday, June 7, 2015

John Taylor Gatto: Beyond Money

Audio only but well worth the 45 min. to listen. Listening to Gatto is like finally stepping outside and breathing fresh air after you've been sitting for hours  in a closed room with smokers. Enjoy!

Nature Needs a New Pronoun

Robin Wall Kimmerer says calling the natural world “it” absolves us of moral responsibility and opens the door to exploitation. Here's what we can say instead:

“Ki” to signify a being of the living Earth. Not “he” or “she,” but “ki.” So that when we speak of Sugar Maple, we say, “Oh that beautiful tree, ki is giving us sap again this spring.” And we’ll need a plural pronoun, too, for those Earth beings. Let’s make that new pronoun “kin.” So we can now refer to birds and trees not as things, but as our earthly relatives. On a crisp October morning we can look up at the geese and say, “Look, kin are flying south for the winter. Come back soon.”

Language can be a tool for cultural transformation. Make no mistake: “Ki” and “kin” are revolutionary pronouns. Words have power to shape our thoughts and our actions. On behalf of the living world, let us learn the grammar of animacy. We can keep “it” to speak of bulldozers and paperclips, but every time we say “ki,” let our words reaffirm our respect and kinship with the more-than-human world. Let us speak of the beings of Earth as the “kin” they are.

We humans look rather different from a tree. Without a doubt we perceive the world differently than a tree does. But down deep, at the molecular heart of life, the trees and we are essentially identical. --Carl Sagan

--by Robin Wall Kimmerer, syndicated from Yes Magazine, Jun 06, 2015

For the full article, CLICK HERE.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Matthieu Ricard: How to let altruism be your guide

Here is an entertaining, uplifting and inspiring video by a Tibetan Monk. Matthieu Ricard will give you hope that we crazy, selfish humans actually have what it takes to transition to a healthier, saner world based on caring for each other and all the animals and plants we share the world with. Watch, smile and feel good.