In basketball, a lesser known metric is the “hockey assist”. It’s easy to spot the player who scores the basket, and even the player who assists that score. But a hockey assist goes back to one more person – a player whose pass enables another player to assist the scorer. When the legendary Steph Curry sets foot on the floor, he makes everyone else better. He doesn’t just score, he doesn’t just assist, but he 1-2-3 hockey assists.
If we extend this notion of second-degree assist to the nth-degree, we get to the heart of service. And “Gandhi 3.0” retreat.
On the outskirts of Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, 45 global luminaries from more than a dozen countries came together to explore a simple idea – we are not merely what we do but who we become by what we do. Collectively, these leaders directly influence hundreds of millions of people; yet, the invitation was to experiment with emptying. That perhaps in being less, we can hold more, come together in deeper ways and unlock a collective intelligence that can guide our unique gifts to serve the world.
Majority of the participants would cite our week together as a peak experience – and also a baffling one. Baffling because it was impossible to draw linear lines of causation. Sure, the tipping points are easy to cite -- a story, an insight, a statement, silent dinner under the starry skies, the hugs, an unexpected conversation, a dream, a mystical experience, a song, or a glimpse of nature. But the hockey assists required reconciling the mind and heart, which is never a trivial task. :)
“I sat on the swing in the back, wide awake, just being in the moment. Suddenly, 3 hours had gone by. And I don’t meditate. So I’m not sure what that was,” Larry said. The same Larry, who otherwise works on Wall Street, cried twice the next day, saying, “That’s never happened to me before.”
Our time together started with an optional pre-retreat immersion of a few days. We celebrated the nuances of Indian culture, dived into Gandhi’s life, and walked the streets with inspiring locals like Jayesh-bhai. This video offers a few glimpses into those precious days:
Retreat formally started on Jan 11th, with prayers from four different corners of the world. An indigenous elder from Australia invited us to bow to the ground, and organically, we understood that our hearts would be higher than our heads and our hands during our time together. Our getting-to-know-you circles dived straight onto the deep end with questions like – what if this was your last day alive? What moment taught you about humility? What seeming accident shaped the arc of your life? The joy, the love, the unifying cadence was already alive among us.
With wide-ranging business pioneers, scientists, authors, artists, teachers, social entrepreneurs, musicians, politicians, celebrities, actors, spiritual leaders, farmers, doctors, and everyday heroes, the peer-learning possibilities were immense.
What held us together was not the fullness of our knowing, but the emptiness of our not-knowing. Everyone understood that the toolkit we’re using to address today’s global suffering doesn’t suffice. That we need to embrace Einstein’s challenge: a problem cannot be solved at the same level of consciousness that created it. We need to evolve, our kinship needs to deepen, and toolkits need to expand.
Day 2-4 of the retreat journeyed from “me” to “we” to “us”. From the inner voice of “me” to a shift from transaction to relationship in the realm of “we”, to the collective emergence of “us”, we dived into nuanced inquiries that would help guide our designs in the world. Gandhi spoke about listening to your inner voice, but how do we safeguard against the ego’s voice? Prior to Dandi March, 78 people practiced for 15 years; what are your personal practices? In the realm of “we”, how do we move from transactions to relationships to noble friendships? How do boundaries and compassion intersect, and when do we risk personal safety for greater discovery? While a strong “we” feels stable, it can also be exclusive. With an eye towards “us”, what is synergy -- relationships between pieces where the whole has new properties that the individual parts didn't have? If the forces of attraction that bring together such relationships determine the strength of its bonds and the quality of its subsequent emergence, who do we have to be to “ladder” such a field?
These questions are just tricky enough, that they can't be answered by ChatGPT. :) The inquiry only has meaning when it seeps into one's consciousness and triangulates wide-ranging contexts at the intersection of external conditions, internal intuition and eternal values.
A Silicon Valley entrepreneur who had taken his first company public in his mid-twenties, and then invested in a dozen “unicorns”, wondered what it would be like to create technology that didn’t have narrow feedback loops. Founder of a prominent political party in Austria made a heartful plea for centering the pre-rational and post-rational pendulum. Amid “How will Google solve death?” headlines, a pioneering medical doctor left us with a question, “Can we design for impermanence?”
When enough seasoned leaders presence unresolved questions in their sector, a throughline sometimes makes itself visible. That throughline doesn’t manifest as a one-size-fits-all answer, but rather as a field of new stories.
Each of our days ended with an evening of stories. On the second day, we had a profound silent dinner followed by a “stories from the heart”; on the third and fourth days, we opened up the inspiration to a couple hundred friends from around the country for community nights rooted in stories of “heartivism” and “soul force”.
Shay’s life turned around when dozens of whales surrounded her on a boat in Alaska. Matthias told us about communicating with a tree in Europe. Reinaldo’s drumming evoked the wisdom of shamans in the Brazilian rainforest. Isira shared how Dalai Lama invited her to meditate with Tibetan elders for 3 years, citing her as an important incarnation. While Radhika sang devotional songs of Bulle Shah, Michael led a call-and-response song that his ancestors used to evoke for resilience. Osama told us about his time with the Agari tribe in the deserts of Kutch (India). Santosh left his wife and two kids to serve in Ukraine for 4 months. Gary spoke about not wanting to “squander the pain” of his wife’s sudden passing three months ago. Ai demonstrated how calligraphy can be an instrument of transformation.
We each hold our unique identities, alongside our universal divinity. If our identities lead our divinity, though, it polarizes our connections, even in the name of the sacred. But Gandhi 3.0 invited a flip. When we are universal first and unique second, the potential for collective emergence skyrockets.
Hockey assists start to unfold everywhere.
A few days after the retreat, Eric delivered a sermon in Nebraska about his experiences in India:
As guests, we experienced such radical hospitality from every corner of the retreat that I couldn’t help wondering, 'Where in heaven or on earth is all this love coming from?' Just one of many small examples: Each day after returning to my room, I would find a small gift placed on my bed. Not just any gift, mind you, but one that had been chosen specifically with me in mind. None of these gifts had a high dollar value, but each had an extremely high degree of personalization behind it. One day, for instance, I was given a cartoon drawing of me made by an 11-yr-old volunteer. Another day, I received a card that clearly had been written by someone who had studied my writings and reflected on their significance. Another day I received a gift along with a small card attached to it that encouraged me to “pay it forward” by giving an anonymous gift to someone else and leaving the card with it to encourage them to keep the joy moving.
A founder of one of India’s largest NGO remarked, “I’ve been crying since the time I got here. In passing, I mentioned that I liked ‘paan’ (a kind of post-meal mint), and next thing I know a paan arrives at my doorstep.” In the kitchen, one person spoke about his mother peeling the skin of almonds (since it's easier to digest) and the next thing you know someone decides to pay-forward that mother's love -- and peel the almonds every day for all the participants. Such kind of love is contagious. #GoosebumpsPerHour
When continued kindness arrives as a hockey assist, we don’t know who to thank. Being confused with gratitude has only one impulse – pay it forward. As everyone starts doing that, there is an exponential escalation of love.
Stephanie put it this way: "It’s like a huge chemistry experiment conducted with such love and service, that we allow ourselves to naturally mix our ingredient into the whole for an emergence of hearts and minds to manifest beyond what we would think to attain on our own. The container was beyond extraordinary."
After a break on Day 2, Larry spontaneously invites the circle to hum organically and then offers a song from the core of his being. "I know this place called Gratitude. It's a good place to be; people are friendly in Gratitude. Life is happy and free. Will you come join me in gratitude? It's not so far from here, it can be found at any latitude; just close your eyes and you'll be there. Gratitude, Oh Gratitude, I love you. I want to go to Gratitude, 'cause that's where I belong. So won't you join me in Gratitude, because that's where we all belong." It moved many to tears.
“Gandhi 3.0 was peerless, mesmerizing and a truly cathartic experience. Unforgettable,” the former head of McKinsey in India wrote while referencing a Helen Krommer poem: “One man awake can waken another; The second can waken his next door brother. The three awake can rouse a town, By turning the whole place upside down.”
What turns the whole place upside down, within and without, are consistent contributors who initiate the hockey assists. Otherwise known as volunteers. They respond to a rather curious job description: "WANTED: people willing to put in a lot of labor, receive no salary, work invisibly, give away the credit to others, and operate with a momentary team that will soon dissolve itself." Why? Because they realize that the deepest reward for service is ... more service! And *that* becomes the seat of regenerative Joy.
The collective potential of a space is directly proportional to the awareness of its volunteers. And at Gandhi 3.0, that went quite deep. Volunteers initiated hockey assists with their cumulative 10 thousand hours of contribution, and it quickly went to the Nth degree. A murmuration awakens. Then, no one knows what is causing what.
One of the youngest volunteers was a 19-year-old, who was confounded when someone asked her, “When you are giving a gift, why do you spend so much time wrapping it?” How much value of the gift lies in the wrapping? In a content-heavy world, we are continually stripping out the context -- but the gifts of what we do or say have always wrapped by who we are. Same words, same actions, same prayers by two different people have two different effects. The medium affects the message. And maybe the medium itself is the message? That perhaps our greatest offering isn't merely what we accomplish, but who we become by what we do. Upon reflection, this teenager concluded, “We are taught to be the gift, but I am called to be the wrapping.”
Be the wrapping. Leave the gift to grace.
What a privilege to witness that at Gandhi 3.0.
If you'd like to join a similar circle, please explore upcoming pods.