Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Beginning of the Journey

THE EKATVA JOURNEY BEGINS
The EKATVA journey began exactly a year ago (October 2009) as Manav Sadhna family members, who were in the same space and spirit, decided that it was the right time to have our children present and live the message of ONENESS. From there, MS put together a show incorporating 250 slum children, called “Prem No Parivar”. The show which took 2 months to prepare, was presented at Tagore Hall, Ahmedabad in March of 2010. It was an emotionally compelling portrayal of 5 children’s stories from the streets of Ahmedabad. The audience was moved, deeply.

The journey continued. After the show in March 2010, we ended up selecting 80 of the 250 children who took part in “Prem No Parivar” to further audition for what we were planning to be the EKATVA program. Slowly but surely, through many hours of training, prayers, activities, observations, meetings with their parents, etc. we have selected a final 18 children. These children have proven themselves amongst the others to strive, help, be focused, dance, act, sing, meditate and more. They are not professionals or above and beyond any high marks, but they just happened to have a little more than the others. And this ‘little more’ is what we hope to water and nurture through time.
3 Weeks ago (beginning of October) we began training for the kids in dancing and acting. Our creative partner with the EKATVA project is Mallika Sarabhai’s Darpana Performing Arts Academy. They have been a blessing and have really integrated beautifully with our children. Taking them through dance drills, acting sessions and activities, allowing them to sit in and watch professionals practice and perform, providing a beautiful environment for the children to learn and grow.  The journey continues.



The Journey continues, but for some reason, just a few days ago, as we began our practice with the kids at the Gandhi Ashram, the EKATVA journey felt like it just began.
All 20 of us, gathered at 4pm at Prarthna Bhoomi (Gandhiji’s prayer ground) for prayer, before our practice was to begin. Before entering Gandhi-bapu’s prayer ground, all the children meticulously aligned their chumples into a perfect straight line outside the prayer ground. Even after that was complete, one of the kids, goes back and realigns the chumples even further so that all the heels of each chumple makes  a perfect straight line. Everyone gathers inside and Prayer takes place in a nice circle. All of us equi-distantly spaced apart, we all close our eyes and in unison pray “We play together, we eat together, we do good work and service together, Please God, may you always be with all of the World, all beings,  for you are omnipresent…Peace, peace, peace”. After prayer, we all keep our eyes closed and continue our growing journey in meditation.  The children are only between 8-13 years old, but have, through the past few months, found growing comfort and ease in being still and quiet with their eyes closed, for extended periods of time. Sometimes we focus on our breath. When our mind wanders we try to regain focus on our breath. Sometimes we just focus on the surrounding sounds – and then when meditation is done, we share the various sounds we all heard. Most importantly, we all are forced to and are becoming more capable of focusing inwards and observing within. The strength of this experience can not be explained at this point. But if the children continue this practice, maybe they’ll be able to share this experience and its impact on them when they grow older.
After meditation is complete, we chant out loud “Jai Jagat!” (“Hail to the entire world”).  This is our hope. To bring the love for ALL into our way of living. But not to neglect our neighbors. Think Globally, Act Locally.
As soon as prayer is complete, we sit quietly for some moments transitioning from our stillness and inward observations to our group and interconnected presence. Everyone opens their eyes and we are back together again, as we always had been. Before we start practice we open the circle up for any of the kids to share anything, ask anything, say anything regarding their life, the world, our project, etc.
Maybe because we were sitting in Gandhiji’s actual prayer ground where he and his Ashramites used to pray twice a day for 13 years straight, the kids were inspired to talk more specifically on Gandhji. They started asking all types of questions on Gandhibapu, on his journey, on life in the Ashram. We eventually summed up his journey through four main points of discussion: egoless service to others, swadesh, truth and ahimsa. A big topic to distill but for now these main points, through simple explanations, sufficed to summarize some of Gandhi-bapu’s life.
In the spirit of Bapu we decided to take a turn from our routine excercises, practice and activities that we were learning at Darpana. Today we were going to experiment. We told the children that today was going to be a little different. Today was going to be an experiment and a journey that we all are going to have to go through individually and then we will share this journey with each other.
In short, we assigned all 20 of us a task in kindness from the heart. We were to walk around the Gandhi Ashram by ourselves, and do one act of kindness from our heart for any stranger (not to prove to anyone else, not to show off). We had fifteen minutes to do whatever it is we wanted to do from our hearts. Big or small. Noticed or unnoticed. Loud or quiet. Visible or invisible. If it was from the heart without any selfish motives it is 100% beautiful. Before we let the kids go out of the prayer ground to begin their experiments in kindness, we asked them, what is an act of kindness? What are different ideas of acts of kindness that we could do inside the Gandhi Ashram for any stranger? To get the ideas flowing we threw out a few ideas and from their the children took over: “Talk to someone and make them happy”; “Bow down to an elder and say Namaste”; “Serve someone water”; “Clean the ashram”; “Play with a little kid”…The children seemed ready.
With a 15 minute time frame we all set out to serve someone or something. 15 minutes passed. 30 minutes passed. 45 minutes passed. No children had yet returned to the prayer ground. A little upsetting that there was a disregard for the time frame set, but there was an overflowing sense of joy knowing that in the time that was passing the children were growing through their own experiments in kindness.
Finally almost an hour later, we were all gathered in a circle sharing each other’s stories. There was a similar theme through many of the kids stories, which lasted on average 5 minutes each. Most of them, left the prayer ground scared and unsure how they were going to do something kind. But all the stories ended up with literally making someone happy.
Various stories included: Going up to a stranger and just having a 5 minute friendly conversation and then leaving; Aligning messily placed chumples; playing with children; serving cold water to various tourists visiting the Ashram; cleaning the Ashram; feeding Ashram ants biscuit crums; sitting with an old grandfather and just spending time with him.
The responses were priceless: Many people that the children interacted with said “You have truly made my day and made me very happy. Thank you”. One Dada, responded by forcing 3 of our children, Bharti, Nikita and Krishna to take 10 rupees. They were against it, but he Dada forced them to take it. The following day at Prarthna, Bharti shared how they bought roasted peanuts with those 10 rupees and served it to a little dirty boy in their slum area that they felt would enjoy it. In return, he gifted them back with some of his newly gifted peanuts.
The EKATVA journey began exactly a year ago (October 2009) as Manav Sadhna family members, who were in the same space and spirit, decided that it was the right time to have our children perform and live the message of ONENESS….But in reality, in thought, in action, in true spirit, it really felt that the EKATVA journey began yesterday.
Today the children wanted to experiment with Acts of Kindness all over again. However, today we focused on exercise and dance. EKATVA, Oneness, is something that exists  in every moment if we truly care for it and nurture it. So the journey will continue everyday. Big or small, Visible or invisible, big EKATVA tour across the world or no EKATVA tour across the world, if we go through this journey with the light of selflessness and the children as our God, everything will be 100% beautiful.
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