Sunday, February 27, 2011

Our Second Parents Meeting

We held our 2nd parent meeting at Manav Sadhna today. It was, once again, a family and trust building  experience, that we will continue to do.
Asha’s dad made chai for everyone.

The parents signed documents to help confirm their willingness and support for their children to get passports.
And lastly we had an emotional and powerful sitting, prayer and discussion on our EKATVA journey and the support needed by all of us in order to help uplift our children beyond the boundaries and walls that have been set for them by their poor socio-economic situations.
We shall overcome.

Let the Passport Process Begin...

There are many challenges that we have and will continue to face along our journey. One of the larger challenges administratively speaking is obtaining passports and visas for the kids. As much time, energy, love, effort, money and resources we put behind this project, if we don’t get passports and visas, then we will not be able to tour the show and spread the love and spirit of ‘oneness’ abroad. But that won’t stop us from sharing the EKATVA show with the rest of India. And that wouldn’t hurt the journey with the kids that we are walking on, because our main focus has always been and will continue to be the small day-to-day experiences in building the children’s spirit.
So let’s see what God wishes. We have full-heartedly started the process of collecting all the kids’ legal documents and proof of birth and residence materials . Here are some photos of the administrative process in collecting information, getting things notarized, and discussing with parents further about the process.  
Will we get passports for our kids? Will we get visas for our kids? Will we be able to bring the EKATVA tour and spirit to the rest of the world?
Insha’Allah. (God Willing)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Connecting with Animals

The other day, baby Gaffar Khan interrupted our practice. His sister Satya was not around, but we all truly enjoy having Mallika Didi’s dogs in the Darpana grounds. Nature and animals are the same as God. And we are lucky when we get the chance to connect with them. 

Conversation: EKATVA Into Our Daily Lives

Today, Rakeshbhai, from Travel Center, a local travel agency came by to visit us after dance practice. He manages the acquisition of clients’ passports and we were kindly connected to him through Darpana. I called him over because the actual passport process is very intricate and becomes much more complex when the people we are seeking passports for are children that don’t have typical addresses, proofs of residence, birth certificates, etc.
Here is a typical home address of one of our kids:
“Hanuman Na Mandhir Same, Nadi Kinare, Ram-Rehim Nagar Tekra, Beherampura, Jamalpur, Ahmedabad”
“In front of the Hanuman Temple, by the River, in the Ram-Rehim slum area, Jamalpur town, Ahmedabad”.
With the amount of challenges we may go through along this journey, we gathered the kids around so that the kids can understand the challenges of this entire experiment just a tad bit more. The amount of energy, sacrifice and love that so many people are putting into this experiment of ‘love and potential’ is enormous. The conversation led to a variety of topics, but most importantly the meaning of EKATVA moving forward.
So far this EKATVA journey has been one of us experimenting with truth and love as a group within the context of when we get together. What we pushed further on in this conversation with the kids, was that if this experiment was going to continue moving forward, we all need to grasp the meaning of EKATVA not only in this project, but push it strongly into all aspects of our personal lives. Then and only then will this project’s meaning start taking shape. If not, its not worth the trouble.
This conversation was important because I really want the kids to start examining and experimenting with the values and ideas that they are learning through Ekatva, into their personal lives: at home, at school, with their friends and family, etc.
Keeping the world clean, doesn’t only mean doing so when we are in a group and we are doing daily cleaning activities. No. It means, understanding the good behind why we want to keep the world clean and doing so at home, in our neighborhood, wherever  we may be walking, whenever people may not be looking.
Being kind or doing acts of kindness, doesn’t only mean doing so when we are in a group and we are doing kindness activities. No. It means understanding the feeling and the reason why we should be kind and serving others outside of our project, because our heart says it’s the right thing to do.
This conversation to me is a big step with the kids. Because I want this to be a primary focus moving forward: bringing EKATVA into our personal lives, outside of our project.
It’s tough to expect this out of children of this age. But I wouldn’t doubt their abilities either. The kids are brilliant and resilient and have ripe seeds inside of them. We just need to keep walking on the path and let nature take its course. The conversation we had today was extremely important, but was just a tiny dot on the journey.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Finding Nature in the City

EKATVA means the spirit of oneness within. The spirit of oneness with each other. The spirit of oneness with nature. The latter, is sometimes hard to find in the middle of the city. Luckily we were blessed with the opportunity to meet with loving friends of Jayeshbhai and Anardidi. They are true nature devotees. Winner of the best Garden in Gujarat award many years over, when asked, they were more than ready to share their garden with our children.
Their gardeners, all 6 of them, take approximately 3 hours each day (18 man hours daily) to water the entire garden everyday. So we asked if we could bring the eighteen of us over to give the gardeners a break and allow us an opportunity to serve the earth, the trees, the grass and the flowers. Tina Didi and Beharam Bhai were more than willing and so warm about their invitation.
We had the children close their eyes and walk into the garden without taking a peak.

Then only after prayer and meditation, we had the kids open their eyes. They were in true joy as their eyes opened.

We continued to ‘treat the flowers, trees and grass as if they were our own kids’, with love and compassion.

It was a beautiful experience and served as a genuine reminder for the necessity to constantly stay connected to nature.

After we were done watering the plants, we had a chance to go to Tina Didi’s nearby farm and enjoy the vegetables, water buffalo and scarecrow.

Nature is truly man’s medicine for all the mental suffering we create in our minds. The true definition of peace. Nature brings an effortless spirit of oneness into our beings.
Love and Deep Gratitude.

Oneness with Animals

Getting to a space of oneness is a challenging, lifelong process. One small step towards that spirit is connecting with and valuing animals and nature in the same intensity that we do mankind. One small step towards that space is valuing the life and death of animals. One small practice that we have taken habit to with our kids is the practice of prayer and a loving burial ceremony for dead animals that we may find along our path. Yesterday, after dance practice, while we were cleaning a nearby park, one of the kids found a dead pigeon. We dug a hole in the garden and gave its body a peaceful resting space. We shared some time in silence and in individual prayer. This type of practice is healing to our spirit, because it helps us realize the equal importance of everything.
Life. Death. Love.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Love through Cards

The other day, we received news that Anandi-ba had been taken to the hospital for treatment after a car accident. She remained there for a few days. With Jagatbhai's help and love, we decided to create a card for her to share our spirit of love, prayers, and hope for her early recovery. We also wanted to convey to her our gratitude, that through her blessings and seeds, we are all here on the path that we are. Thank you and glad you are feeling better Anandi Ba.
-Your children

During this same time, there was one other person very close to our hearts that we also wanted to send a card to. Someone that none of us know, but we know she is a very loving human being going through difficult times, and we wanted to share our love and the spirit of the kids with her and her son.
Here is a snippet of an email from her:
“When I gave birth to my son in September, he was born with congenital heart defects. He has already had one heart surgery and will need several more…
 As you could understand, my priorities need to shift at this time, so I will be unable to keep shipping the [smile] cards, as there will be times when we are having long stays in hospital, and I wont be close by to my computer or the supplies.”
With deep love, hope, prayers and faith to you and your son Traci.
-The world's loving children

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

EKATVA in Egypt

When other parts of the world are going through turmoil, strife, and difficulty; we must try to be in the spirit of hope, prayer and faith.

Dedicated to our Peaceful Truth Seekers in Egypt. We can only wish, pray and hope the truth of love and peace prevail.

Love, children from the slums of Ahmedabad. A group of kids dedicated to nurturing a movement of oneness. Love.

Arising and Passing...

Today we did prayer at practice and then flowed into meditation. We’re at a good space now where if I don’t say anything then the kids know to just focus on breath in and out of the naustrils. For some reason today felt right to take the next step. As we were meditating I told the kids to now not only focus on their breath, but also be conscious of not moving any part of their body for the next few minutes – meaning no moving their legs up and down, no moving their hands, fingers, head, etc. I did let them know if they felt a dying urge to move something then they can go ahead and do so.
After meditation was done they shared their thoughts. Vicky shared his experience, saying that he was doing good, but then some type of itch came on his face. After trying to not move for over a minute, he finally had to give in because the itch felt too strong and he moved his hand up and scratched his face.
This led me to an example that Goenka Ji always gives during Vipassanna. That if there is an itch or sensation on our body, it will not remain with us for the rest of our lives or even for the rest of the day, if we don’t attend to it. So I was telling Vicky and the kids that next time an itch comes, to really try hard to fight it and don’t pay attention to it. Let it arise and pass. Just watch it. This is the journey of life and all that exists. Arising and passing. Impermanence. If we are able to watch it come and go, we can really take away most of the suffering we are all going through.
We then continued on a conversation of Buddha and his primary teachings of impermanence and equanimity and how important it is to understand this concept. I do hope to dig further into this topic through time with the kids, but for today we had a great introduction.
After this discussion, Bharat raised his hand and shared a story where he was once being bit by an ant. Instead of flicking it off and itching the bite, he just observed it and right at that instant, for some reason or another, the ant stopped biting. Also, he didn’t rub it or itch it, so the bite didn’t actually become worst. It was nice to see his connection with our discussion.  
I’m excited to see how and when we can extend this conversation on impermanence and balance in the future for the kids to digest.
Continue walking.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A 'Sour' Party

With the weekdays busy, we decided to meet this Sunday to cook lunch together and then practice some songs and bhajans.
Paneer Butter Masala and Rotlis was the menu, for 24 people. 18 of us and other close friends including Sandeep Sood, my previous business partner and close friend from California, who decided to make a quick 20 hour pit stop in Ahmedabad to visit the kids.
All of us got busy. Cutting onions, peeling and chopping garlic, cutting tomatoes and paneer, chili and ginger, making dough and rotlis.
20 of us working hard for over an hour straight to make a great lunch dish. When all the tomato puree was ready and the onion-garlic-ginger-chilli paste was ready on the stove, I added some spices and finally some salt. After some cooking, I went in for a quick taste test…Tasted good, now just add a little sugar for a sweet tinge. Cook again for a little while and taste…This time just a tad bit sour. So added a little bit cream and a little more sugar. Cook again for a while and taste…Hmm…a little more sour this time. Okay, a little more cream and a little more sugar. Cook again for a while and taste….Oh my gosh! Super sour!!! What the heck just happened! A great lunch for all of us, has turned into a super sour tomato dish. I shared the dish with others and everyone had this crazy, super sour reaction on their faces. Worst was, nobody understood how it got so sour. We had all types of hypotheses: Maybe we added too much tomato from the beginning; The cream was old and spoiled, etc…Finally Roshni comes by saying to me…”This isn’t sugar! This is Limbu nu phool (lemon crystals). These lemon crystals look very similar to the sugar crystals and I had mistakenly placed lemon crystals, on and on, in the place of sugar.

Now with everyone’s hard work and hunger on the line we all tried to think of ways to save the spoiled lunch. We finally tried to add as much ‘real’ sugar as possible to offset the taste as well as cream. It didn’t really help much at this point. Sandeep went to go get paneer butter masala from a local restaurant to mix in to ours. We drained as much of the sauce as possible and were left with paneer coated with the sour sauce that I created.
A disaster ending in beauty:
I told the kids, that it was my mistake and they could give me any punishment they’d like to. It was a mistake I could have avoided if I had tasted everything before throwing it into the dish. But the kids responded with just love and understanding. “Nimesh sir, its perfect the way it is. We’ll eat and enjoy whatever we have. Don’t worry!”.

Truly amazing to see their spirit. As a group, we continue to have our ups and downs. But these type of experiences shine strong in my heart as reason and inspiration for our collective journey.

The Power of Love.
The Power of Kids.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Little Discipline with Love

Pappan sir, is our new teacher at Darpana. He is great. Super talented, dedicated, thorough and a strict disciplinarian. Sure our kids are only 12 years old or so, but when he says do this exercise with your eyes looking forward, he means exactly that. Don’t even take a peek to the side!
Today, I had to step out of practice to have a discussion with Nisargbhai about the script. When I came back for prayer and meditation with the group, in the circle of sharing Bharat shared that the kids are still not being completely disciplined. They are once in a while, looking to the side, doing actions when they are told to just watch, giggling when they make a mistake.  We then had a discussion about the difference from just trying to do a show and doing a professional show. All the kids agreed that its our intention to do a professional show. But for that to happen, we all need to first be extremely disciplined and have complete faith in our teachers. In order to make a point out of this conversation I told the kids that they have to accept a punishment for today. They agreed and we decided not to have our nasto (snacks – milk and bananas) after prayer.
The next day after English class we did an exercise to help further nurture this discipline in the kids. They had to get in their lines and for 15 minutes straight, they have to do whatever Bharat and I tell them, WHILE only looking straight ahead. If there is even the slightest movement of pupils to the side, up or down, we start the fifteen minute clock again (they are free to blink J ).
The exercise started, but every 3 or 4 minutes, somebody slipped. So we started over. It was getting really tiring and difficult. Many kids’ eyes started tearing. After about 15 minutes of the exercise we had a longer talk: That there’s no way out, unless everyone as a team and as individuals stay focused and dedicated to the action of looking forward. Every second talking to themselves in their mind that they have to keep looking forward. We even started distracting them to make it more difficult. But they finally stayed strong. 1 minute passed. 5 minutes passed. 12 minutes passed and finally 15 passed.
We stopped with a round of applause. All the kids were exhausted…BUT…said they could do it for even longer…30 minutes?
But we left it at that. They did a wonderful job, and hopefully today at practice they’ll remember that experience and stay more focused.
With Love and discipline.

Life is Like a Box of Chocolates...

Two days ago, I came home to find two beautiful gifts in my laptop bag. No letter, no name, just two beautiful, anonymous gifts:  A stack of ornamentally decorated Buddha cards and an amazing hand-crafted, artsy journal book. The next morning, my friend walks in my room and compliments the two items on the side of my desk. “Their yours”! I hand the gifts to him, and before he has a chance to fight back, I shove him out of my apartment and lock the door. So much for Ahimsa. Later that night, he shares a story at Silent Wednesday meditation during our circle of sharing, that he received these gifts this morning, so he was inspired to give to others. He ended up giving away his watch to a elevator lift man, who mans the lift at Seva CafĂ©. That same night I come back home into my room and have a beautifully decorated gift basket of chocolates on my desk with a smile illustrated on a piece of paper and a note that says: Here are chocolates for your kids. Awesome!
I‘m just smiling with great joy for all the ripples that continue to spread.
Well the next morning, I pack the chocolates in a box and put them in my bag. By late afternoon, Bharat and I pick up all the kids and head to Darpana for practice. Before we get out of the car, I pass out all the chocolates to the kids. Its their turn to share it forward. And they do with great joy and excitement. The kids take their chocolates and give it to all the workers, janitors, cleaners, security guards, teachers, and administrative staff at Darpana Academy. Everyone at Darpana had the same response, ‘You guys are kids, chocolates are for you. Please keep it for yourself.’  But the kids for reasons within, held steadfast and continued to reply, “no someone else gave this to us and so we want to give it to you!”…Love it!!!
One response was so beautiful. One of the staff members did not want to take the chocolate from Chandini. Chandini is the most tiniest girl in our group. So he said, “I can’t take it from you. You are too small and too cute”. Chandini replied, “no sir, I will not accept it back. Please take it”. So then he finally gave in and said “okay, I will give it to a similar very tiny cute girl like you that lives near my home”.
You can just feel, at that moment, a great aura at Darpana and a great spirit of family and joy amongst all.
The power of Children.
The power of Love.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

EKATVA Script Taking Life...

The experiment continues.
What’s the experiment?
What happens to a group of children if you use art, dance and music as a medium of connecting, and through time plants seeds of love and compassion. How do the children transform? How does their environment transform? How do their ripples spread locally, then globally? How do we, ourselves, change in the process?
We have spent a lot of the past year and months dedicated to planting seeds of values and compassion in our kids and in ourselves. All the while developing their raw skills, movement, rhythm, openness, and acting.
Finally the time has come to start working on the actual  EKATVA show. The script for the EKATVA show is starting to take shape.
Its been a long time in development. Trying to brainstorm and feel out what Oneness means to all of us.
There are a few themes that continue to stick with us that we are working on including:
Faith | Nature | Diversity | Unity | Greed and Fear |Interconnectivity between Man, Machine and Nature | Self Sustainability | Equality | Untouchability, Racism, Classism.
Here is a scene that Pappan Sir is working with the kids on taking the theme of Unity, Diversity, peace and conflict depicted through a famous Gujarati kite festival called “Uttaryan”.