[A post I shared on LinkedIn last week, and it feels right to share with all of you here, too.]
I bore witness to a miracle last month, from a tribe of unbelievably committed, conscientious, compassionate, and clairvoyant soul-sifters, magicians without tall black hats, suits, or silk scarves, who, in 100 hours, changed my being and of forty others! They don’t seek visibility or adulation. They do it out of love. Yet, as an expression of my gratitude, I feel morally compelled to thank and acknowledge them publicly. This is but a tiny glimpse into the world of ServiceSpace- the Wizards of Inner Transformation.
Magic, however amazing, is still an illusion. Miracles can be surreal.
Great magic often comes in three acts- as we saw in Hollywood hits, “The Prestige” and “Now you see me”. Act 1 is The Pledge or the setting- where you will be shown something ordinary, e.g., a flower, a rabbit, a dove, or a handkerchief. Act 2 is The Turn, where the magician will demonstrate something extraordinary- e.g., the subject disappears. Finally, the Act 3 is The Prestige, where the magician tops the disappearance and makes the subject reappear. As audience, you are taken on a journey of disbelief- from ordinary, to extraordinary, to the astounding.
Miracles work the same way -- but it is not a trick or sleight of hand. In my case, as a participant and learner at ServiceSpace’s Gandhi 3.0 retreat in Ahmedabad (India), I saw that the subject will be my soul, and all 40 participants, like myself, joyously and voluntarily engaged, in anticipation of the marvels that might surface. It took ~100 hours. I had 70+ observers as retreat co-travelers, half as cohort-mates and half as volunteers. The latter gently and lovingly ushered us into an out-of-life experience, in full public gaze, at the Gandhi Ashram, in streets and villages of Ahmedabad, and on the campus of ESI (Environment Sanitation Institute). I also witnessed others experience the same disappearance, emergence, and elevation!
Too good to be true? So, let me spill the beans.
The architects of Gandhi 3.0 were neither curating a moving corporate leadership training nor a sports peak-performance program. It appears that they were designing an experiential answer to the more existential riddles of life -- the pursuit of purpose and happiness or the congruence of internal and external impact or the alignment of hands, head, and heart at all levels of human consciousness. To them, in Gandhi 3.0, “Gandhi stands for leading with inner transformation and 3.0 stands for many-to-many networks” or “bridging the internet and the inner-net”. They truly believe that we are moved by love and compassion and therefore an inner transformation is a necessary condition for enduring outer impact. Over the four days, I understood this transformation to hold multiple dimensions -- but each of us must unpack it for ourselves. For example, to me, the transformation meant:
- For Self: From Full to Empty; From Close to Open; From Big to Small; From Brainstorming to Heart-storming; From extrinsic to intrinsic; From Presence to Nothingness
- For We: From uniqueness to oneness; From Transaction to Relationships; From broadcast to deepcast; From leadership to laddership; From financial capital to multiple forms of capital; From Reciprocity to Noble Friendships
- For Us: Impact of awakening the Soul-force; From external to internal; From finite games to infinite games; From expectation to emergence
Where lies the magic?
Act 1: The Pledge
First, you experience magic only if you pledge to show up as yourself, without any agenda. Over the retreat, ServiceSpace will overwhelm you with love till you surrender- totally and completely. You will witness unending random acts of kindness. You will hear Gandhi whispering in your ear: “Whether humanity will consciously follow the law of love, I do not know. But that need not disturb me. The law will work just as the law of gravitation works, whether we accept it or not.”
The ambience is sacred. Lights. Smell. Sounds. Silence. Prayers. People. Campus. Holding hands. Singing songs. Hymns. Everything around you seeks your unequivocal commitment to become the Subject of the Act. And you do. I did too. You let yourself dangle like a pendulum, knowing not the new equilibrium. And nobody can express this idea of a “no-agenda convening” better than my Cohort Fellow, an environment-regeneration venture capitalist and investor, who changed his US-India ticket half a dozen times, confessing not knowing what to expect or when to show up, but ultimately ended up moving all of us with his heartfelt rendering of “A place called gratitude” and creation of a sound murmuration, which unlocked surreal bonding. The Founder of a leading, award-winning NGO spoke about how his tryst with love showed him the way of out of dilemmas of youth and elusive success. Countless stories of compassion from a crusader of service with refugees, a Sister honored by Dalai Lama as an “Unsung hero of Compassion”, set the stage for discovering a better version of yourself.
Act 2: The Turn
Second, you only experience magic if you let your external aura, the mask, your pride dissolve, and your ego break down. Your let your beliefs evaporate about what the world expects of you or what is success? You empty yourself. You find yourself delicately supported as your vulnerabilities show. Our ace investment banker, turned venture capitalist, turned social entrepreneur bears testimony to how we are reassured to let it all hang out as he described his emotional free-fall in his journey from business to the social sector. You may hear our Psychologist, Professor & Elder, break into an impromptu song, “Lean on Me.” You find courage to speak up or be your true self. The tsunami of trust-based love and respect create a safe space for a leading mystic & therapeutic healer as well as another indigenous elder & spiritual leader speak of experiencing abuse and sexual violence or a world-renowned author talk of not squandering pain from his wife’s demise while reflecting on his addictions, before he found her. The Turn is in your own revelation- for us and others- what we know exists, but we are all but too careful, not to show or accept.
At Gandhi 3.0, you can see yourself aglow even in the absolute darkness of the sky, as you dine in studied silence, seated on the ground, under the stars, with your cohort, reflecting. We decide to go against the worldly wisdom that often teaches us that we must be much stronger than our emotions to succeed, i.e., must Teflon-coat our real feelings, only show our strengths- hide our weaknesses.
In this Act, you unlearn, you self-realize and self-disrupt, you overcome your vanities with a cloak of honesty and compassion- for yourself. You discover and embrace the famous Japanese practice of “Kintsugi” or celebrating the broken and flawed. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold lacquer to enhance than hide the breaks. You hear Ernest Hemmingway, say eloquently, “We’re stronger in the places we are broken” and Rumi’s presence, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” You let the cracks show.
Act 3: The Prestige
Finally, in the ultimate Act, you emerge. A better version. With no cooked-up stories and narratives about yourself and your life. You wash away any final remnants of contrived self-esteem, residual pretensions, and haughty hubris, with one hundred solemn monk-style prostrations, to spiritual chants, as only then, your heart is physically and metaphorically elevated above the head. You cleanse with a final catharsis. You emerge to selflessly serve, to pine for Servant Leadership, as evoked by Mahatma Gandhi and his spiritual successor, Vinobha Bhave, who said: “When we will all see our role in society as servants, we will all light up the sky together like countless stars on a dark night. Don’t think of society as the sky on a full moon night. The moon's harsh light blinds us to the true and humble work of the stars. But on a moonless night, the true servants shine forth, as though they are connected invisibly in this vast and infinite cosmos.”
With your ego dissolved, you find yourself capable of true love. Your view of the world and your role in it too is transformed. You see the world as a whole. As Rachel Naomi Remen puts it: “When we help, we see life as weak; when we fix, we see life as broken; it is only when we serve, we see life as whole.” The Prestige lies in this moral, philosophical, spiritual, and humanistic ascendence- what Nipun calls “Emergence”!
Such miracles cannot be replicated easily. A Harry Houdini or David Copperfield magic spectacle cannot even begin to describe the heart and soul rollercoaster called Gandhi 3.0- inimitable and priceless. It takes selfless, pure souls, with years and decades of soul purification, to pull this off. ServiceSpace is the modern-day physical and virtual Gandhi’s ashram. Their volunteers are akin to the 78 “satyagrahis” or truth-force, like Vinobha Bhave, who practiced “Ahimsa” or non-violence for 15 long years, before embarking on the long Salt March with Gandhi as the chosen ones. Each of them exudes the same satyagrahi aura -- change thyself, change the world. ServiceSpace is igniting a global movement of unconditional love. Therefore, it was sheer providence and good fortune that I got four days with this august group and in this pristine setting. I felt truly honored and am committed to my new journey.
I wish you all the same miracle and urge you to begin a toe-dip into this rich, all-volunteer generosity-driven global ecosystem, through gifted online peer learning offerings and local Awakin circles (you can subscribe here). This is true Impact -- a new but “old as the hills” model for enduring personal, social, and collective transformation. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it's the only thing that ever has."
If you'd like to join a similar circle, please explore upcoming pods.