From the founders’ desk

We are on the verge of saying goodbye to 2015 as we complete one year of our sharing of journeys and viewing points and soul connecting bridges with you. We are committed to enable people to discover and manifest their deeper calling in life . Often, the difference between someone who does and someone who does not is simply the propensity to act decisively. We are fascinated that some demonstrate the courage to shift their orbits whilst most are unable to do so. We wondered what makes some people dare to dream and some to chase these dreams.

This quest has led us to some interesting conversations and an insightful set of narratives of real life stories that we are delighted to present to you as ‘Stories of courage, conviction and creativity that help us understand what moves us to action’, our theme for this quarter.

Viewing Point: What moves you

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Thimakka’s unassuming appearance belies the numerous accolades that she has received. An illiterate woman from a remote village in Karnataka, she is credited with planting almost 8,000 saplings in the state. Today, a 5km stretch from Kudur to Hulikal is lined with majestic Banyan trees, thanks to her efforts. Unable to bear children, Thimakka found fulfillment in planting and nurturing trees.

Mansukhbhai Prajapati, a Kutch potter who specialized in making water pots, suffered massive losses during the Bhuj earthquake in 2001. With media headlines highlighting that the poor man’s water cooler was destroyed because of the earthquake, Mansukhbhai was spurred to make a more robust version of his humble water pot. His efforts resulted in ‘Mitticool’, an ingenuous low-cost clay refrigerator that has been a boon for the rural masses.

Arunima Sinha, a volleyball player, was pushed off a moving train by thieves. Despite her amputated leg, she resolved to climb Mount Everest. Her remarkable efforts earned her a place in history – she was the first female amputee from India to climb Mount Everest.

These are just a few of the countless inspirational stories we hear – stories of indefatigable resolve and dogged effort that have enabled individuals to fulfil their dreams.

It makes you wonder:

What prompts people to answer the call in their hearts?
• How do they find the courage to galvanize that call into action?

A deep sense of angst and misery propelled Thimakka, Mansukhbhai and Arunima to change the course of their lives. Does pain always have to be the key trigger for manifesting your calling? The answer is not a resounding yes. Sources of inspiration can be positive too, and can be sought from the world around you. The magnificence of nature, the innocence of children, thought-provoking art and design, soulful relationships and much more, can ignite your mind and heart. What you need is a proactive mindset in finding your attunement, or what feels right to you.

Oprah Winfrey describes her search quite passionately, “The Universe believes in alignment and has a plan for you. When you feel the energy getting sucked out of you, it means you need to keep looking. It may take time but you will find it. Sometimes being in the wrong job or relationship is a step towards finding the right one.” She says her daily prayer to the Universe is: “What would you have me do, please make it happen through me.” Finding fulfillment can have a compounding effect, as it touches the lives of other people around you too. Needless to say, this ripple effect magnifies your sense of gratification manifold. What you do and the choices you make are clearly associated with activity in different parts of the brain. After extensive research, neuroscientist Richard Davidson propounds that the left hemisphere of the brain lights up even at the mere thought of achieving a meaningful goal. Left prefrontal activity is associated with a grand goal, the kind that gives life meaning. By contrast, Davidson says, right prefrontal activation acts as a “behavioral inhibitor”, which means people give up more easily when things get tough.

So the path to a purposeful life has to do with increasing the activity in the left hemisphere enough to minimize the dampening effect of the right hemisphere. According to Canadian scientist Donald Hebb, “Neurons that fire together, wire together”, i.e. with sustained practice and effort, the brain can be tricked into cultivating positive states of mind and creative thought.

This research suggests that human beings can proactively design the path to their calling rather than leave it to happen by default. In other words, you don’t have to be stuck in a web of victimization and misery; there is a way out if you have the vision, courage and resilience. Meditative practices, gratitude, humility and positive thinking have all been linked to the development of the prefrontal cortex.

If Newton’s third law of physics were to be applied, then the deeper you go into the crevices of your mind, the greater is the ability to act on what you feel so strongly about. In fact, if you consciously peel away your layers of fear, hesitation and misplaced notions, you will find courage and conviction.

When you embark on the journey of finding what inspires you, forces of nature magically begin to work in tandem. Arunima Sinha found the legendary mountaineer, Bachendri Pal, to mentor her. Mansukhbhai’s innovation received a civil engineer’s patronage. He saw the application of this clay refrigerator and immediately placed an order of 100 pieces with an advance of Rs. 2 lakh. Thimakka’s work inspired residents to collect funds to support her campaign. An environmental agency in the United States named their centre after Thimakka while, in India, she has been honored with the National Citizens’ award. Synchronicity or coincidences in your environment only facilitate the fructification of your calling. Your task is to be alive to these subtle moments of grace. When incidents start to dance in unison, you know that you are on the right track.

The Japanese believe in ikigai, which means a reason for being, or finding a reason to wake up every morning. So what are you waiting for? Wake up to your ikigai.

For those of you who have found your purpose or reason for living already, our compliments. We hope you can ignite the spark in others too!

By Aparna Mathur

Soul Connect

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Of Fear and Courage, Healing and Being Healed

Vijay Bhat helps people and organizations who find themselves in transition and are challenged by the turbulence that inevitably accompanies it. Previously, he served in various leadership positions, including Regional Strategy Director for Ogilvy & Mather Asia Pacific.
On 21st Dec 2001, shortly after Vijay’s 40th birthday, he underwent a surgery to remove two cancerous tumours from his colon. Instead of treating the cancer episode as a taboo or withdrawing into a shell, he chose to reach out to family and friends around the world (almost 500 of them) through email. This correspondence became a regular feature, where he wrote in detail about his journey of recovery and asked for love and support. Vijay and his wife Nilima benefited enormously through the prayers and good wishes they received. The pain and suffering of cancer also became an opportunity to count their blessings, to be authentic about their emotions and, in time, to frame a new positive vocabulary around cancer.
Here, Vijay shares turning points in his life and how he moved from advertising to strategic consulting and leadership development to being a Cancer Coach. He talks about reframing a very difficult situation and using it as a springboard for further growth. He also dwells on courage and how it is paradoxically entwined with fear and vulnerability.

1. Could you share a bit about your vision and the work that you do?

My 1st career (of 23 years) was in Advertising; my 2nd career (of 11 years) was as a Leadership/Transitions Coach; my 3rd career (about to begin) will be as a Cancer Coach. Cancer is a huge global challenge. It is already the world’s biggest killer and the data is scary. 1 in 3 Americans will get cancer (~100 million people) and so will 1 in 12 Indians (~100 million). In the rest of the world, we can easily assume another 500 million. Most of these people will get decent medical treatment, with a focus on “cure”, but very few will get good care, with a focus on “healing”. The central question is this: “While the doctors are treating the disease, who is healing the person?” The answer, sadly, is no one. Hence post-treatment support, both for the patient and the family, tends to be neglected and the trauma and accompanying suffering can last for months and years. Paradoxically though, healing happens to the person … the ‘whole’ person. In this context, I want to see people awaken, heal and grow through a traumatic cancer experience, instead of dying on schedule. That’s why I articulate my Vision as “Not only must many millions survive; one million must thrive”. I am putting together an approach to do this and aiming for global impact and scale. I also sense that my background and experience have uniquely prepared me to pursue this worthy cause. Act 3 is just beginning … let’s see how it ends!

2. I am aware that being diagnosed with and surviving cancer has been a major turning point in your life. Could you tell me about this? What was life about before and after?

Much has already been written about my journey – in our book ‘My Cancer Is Me’, in our blog ‘Cancer Awakens’ and in the media. The simplest summary is that “cancer healed me” (not the other way round) i.e. the experience made me a far better person than I was. Previously, I went through life quite mechanically, as if Life was an entitlement rather than a privilege. Today, I find Life is much sharper, sweeter and subtler and this new perspective creates a totally different kind of “aliveness” in me… and in the world around me. I won’t go so far as to call it “full-spectrum” yet, but the potential is definitely there and I do get the occasional glimpse of something much bigger than myself.

3. I read somewhere that your wife, Nilima, said that the cancer has been a Prasad. It takes remarkable courage to think like that. Could you speak a little about this?

When a major adversity strikes, it is only human to ask, “Why me?” and to feel like a victim. But if you read the stories of people who are not only ‘survivors’ but also ‘thrivers’, a common theme is their ability to reframe a very difficult experience and use it as a springboard for further growth. They are actually asking “Why not me?” I think that’s what Nilima is getting at: instead of seeing cancer as a curse (as many do), what if we can see it as a blessing? Once you make this internal flip, everything changes. You reclaim the power you had given away. You take the fork in the road. You focus on quality, rather than the quantity of life. You learn to access your deeper, inner resources. And you channel your compassion to serve others. When you do all these things, you are on the healing path to becoming a ‘thriver’. Of course, it is very hard when you’re in the midst of all the chaos and despair; it is much easier by hindsight. I was fortunate to be shown the growth possibilities beneath and beyond my suffering by Nilima as my primary care-giver and by many other amazing supporters. I deeply and truly want to coach many others in the same way.

4. What you are doing now- how did you arrive at that clarity. Was it a process, reaction to a trigger, a conscious change or did it just emerge by itself?

With regard to my future work, the fog is just beginning to clear but there’s a long way to go yet. To be specific, I will answer all your questions with a “YES”. Yes, it was a process; yes, it was a reaction to a trigger; yes, there were some conscious actions taken and yes, something did emerge on its own. Isn’t it always like this? In my humble opinion, Life involves co-creation: vast universal potentiality and determined human effort working together. Nothing worthwhile happens without both. You open yourself to the former and hunker down to the latter. As Ken Wilber says, “Grace and Grit”

5. What insights do you have that might help people looking to create more meaning/make a difference to their community, country or the world.

The most important thing I feel is to be totally honest and fully accepting of your own Values, that embody the principles and ideals you stand for, or at least aspire to. When you stand in your Values and look at the realities of life around you, one of two things will happen. Either you will find an alignment with your Values (which uplifts you) or more likely, you will find a mismatch (which pisses you off). In both cases, a surge of emotional energy is released and you feel impelled to harness this energy to do something meaningful and different. If you’re a doer, you take the first small step and the next and then the next.

The second thing is to persist. It is almost certain that you will encounter obstacles and tremendous resistance when you rock the boat and challenge old assumptions about why the status quo is no longer adequate. Your determination to change something for the better will be repeatedly tested and sometimes thwarted. The question is: do you have the guts, the gumption and the energy to stay the course, even after you’ve been knocked over a few times? And equally important, can you inspire and motivate and mobilize others to join your cause, with the same kind of passion and commitment that you have?

The third is to adapt while you’re learning new things along the way. Uncharted territory is, by definition, unpredictable and you want to strike the fine balance between congruence i.e. being on purpose, and flexibility i.e. being open to change.

Learning to do these 3 things brings you right back to where you started, viz. your Values … and to your internal state of what we call ‘Presence’. I have seen this pattern play out again and again in the stories of people who have moved the needle forward in significant ways … there is something universally archetypal about this “heroic journey” – across cultures and across time.

6. What insights do you have about where courage comes from? What fuels it, enables it, and gives one the escape velocity to shift orbits? And what are the anchors when that courage deserts us or does not come easily?
As I said before, that drive and determination arises when your Values either match or mismatch with reality around you. Once your buttons are pushed, you (may) find it in yourself to push your own boundaries in response. This may appear “courageous” to someone else, but if you get the “brave” souls to open up, they will tell you that their so-called courage often arises from fear itself: either the fear of not surviving a painful ordeal or the fear of living with a deeply dissatisfying status quo. So fear can produce courage … isn’t that a paradox?

On another note, courage is often equated with strength and power. While this is true to some extent, I have also come across many people who are so aware of and so attuned to their vulnerabilities, that it gives them a certain authenticity, clarity and a ring-of-truth that cuts through any ambiguity or obfuscation. Sometimes it is the innate humility of an, “I don’t know” or “I need help”, that marks some people as “leaders worth following” through thick and thin – Another paradox?

In my opinion, fear and vulnerability are intimately intertwined with courage. In our work, we encourage individuals and families experiencing cancer to work with fear and vulnerability, rather than against them. It may take longer, but we find the work is deeper and ultimately produces true courage instead of mere bluster or false hope. Being “real” is the most courageous thing you can do and cancer gives you the opportunity to unmask yourself … don’t miss it!
7. Wouldn’t you rather have put it all behind you… to ‘go back to normal’, rather than reliving pain, as you help others?
There is no normal after cancer- one only creates and reconciles to a new normal. And while there is an element of re-living pain, it serves as a positive function, as a reminder that keeps me and my life on track. Knowing that cancer is me and will always be an aspect of me is a key part of my own healing. When I help others, I am helping myself too!
As told to Pranavi Jha

Tresonance Journeys

Anupam Jalote

The story of a dream to heal the earth and the accompanying journey of Anupam Jalote

In May 2004, working in Mumbai, for Tata Communication (then VSNL) I prepared a presentation for Mr. Ratan Tata titled “Future Energy Supplies”; spelling out my vision of how wasteland and organic waste could be harnessed to produce clean energy for rural India. I was then GM Operations for VSNL’s international optic fibre cables and Enterprise Data Connectivity segment and had absolutely nothing to do with Clean Energy, Renewable Energy and rural India.

However, the picture I saw emerging before me, the vision I had, was so strong, that it motivated me to take the risk of pitching an idea to my bosses’ boss (the presentation finally did not happen but the die was cast for my life to take on a deeper purpose whose manifestation was eventually initiated in 2008). This was a vision of making a difference at a planetary level; of providing alternate energy solutions that would create a far more joyful eco system than what existed with our greedy exploitation of the earth and would also help rural communities to thrive rather than just survive.Two things were starkly clear to me in that moment. One was my own sense of life purpose and its utter insignificance in the larger scheme of things. I wondered, “Is the sum total of my existence just to increase the efficiency of VSNL operations by 3.82%?” a figure I could quantifiably attribute to my existence. The other was my painful realization of that part of India which suffers due to lack of high quality minds applying themselves to solving its problems whilst the glamorous segments, including businesses, get more than their share of it from all stakeholders of society.

Two things in my nature and upbringing perhaps pushed me into action – my own belief system which says that you either do whatever you can to change the situation, or stop complaining and secondly, always seeing my dad (an engineering geologist) do things with his hands. This meant that I was instinctively happy being hands-on in exploring and piloting ideas. It is this practical perspective that starts to gives a real shape to ideas and, after some time, they appear more possible and you can almost visualize yourself living them out in real life. This is a very important step in instilling self belief.

My wife and I got a sense of reality and do-ability when I made a detailed business and financial plan by gathering information that I never had earlier. This is another key element to taking the next step.Looking back I feel you may not always get a clear cut event or experience that gives you the escape velocity to ‘shift orbits’. The celestial background music and the beautifully choreographed slow motion moments when it all supposedly falls into place did not happen in my case. As is with most things in real life, I feel it is a gradual building up that feeds off your hunger to do what you dream about. It was like a constantly changing ratio that, at some point, gradually tipped the scales in favour of pursuing my dream over security and wealth. As more and more facts emerged, and the picture in front of us took on a firmer shape, I began to get the feeling, “Ya – I think I can do this”. However, that still left the larger question of sustenance and the “what if this does not work out?” What helped during this phase of decision making was that my children were young and the fact that I was debt free. The biggest factor however was my supportive wife who did not like the idea of uncertainty but wanted me to do what my heart called out for me to do, and was intuitively confident that I would somehow make things work. Despite all this, it took us almost 4 years before we took the plunge. At the time of quitting, I did not have too much saving. The plan was to do some freelance work and consulting assignments to keep the family provided for. So I tied up with a Singapore based consultant friend and lined up a concrete proposal for another company that virtually assured me work for the next six months and covered a third of my current salary. I also had discussions with several VC firms and Investment Bankers who assured me that they would fund a project of ‘this’ type if a person of my standing were to quit and start it up. It also helped that I was disenchanted with the work I was doing at that point in time.

So, in May 2008, almost 4 years from the date I made the first presentation, I quit.

However, things did not work out as expected – the consulting project for which I had received approvals did not get signed off, and my Singapore friend and I were not able to generate business. The globally reputed investors unfortunately backed out and I did not receive formal VC funding.There I was – six months after quitting, with all my safety nets blown away. At that point I had the option to get back into a job but honestly, that thought never occurred to me. No bravery or extra courage at play here; just the feeling that “so what if things did not work out as planned – I can always try something else”.I modified my investment strategy and raised money from friends and family who were kind enough to trust me completely, and generous enough to think of this money as “given for a good cause” rather than as an investment bearing returns. With that corpus, I set out to work, created a small team, created a pilot for demonstration, raised some venture funding, used that to buy land, establish a campus and a larger team, and started to work towards creating a commercially sustainable operation.

In the preceding three lines are hidden many self-doubts and challenges. We started off as a plantation based company, reforesting wasteland. However, investor sentiment turned away from plantation based businesses, so we reinvented ourselves as a grid connected power plant using organic waste to make electricity. However when that did not work out, we changed into a bio-CNG company using organic waste to make gas, refining it and compressing it into cylinders to make CNG.
Never once did we waiver from our core philosophy of “helping heal the earth” and using waste to make energy. The virtuous cycle of using waste, making new products and generating no waste was preserved during these transitions.

Here I am; over 7 years since I began this (ad)venture, running a skeletal operation; negotiating short term possibilities of attaining a break even and keeping my dream alive to take this to the next orbit; knowing fully well that what I have created has an unmet global need.

So why do I keep soldiering on, despite innumerable setbacks? Would I advise others to do the same?

What keeps you going? Well faith that you can do it, and that it needs to be done, takes you some distance. After that, I guess it is a mixture of pig headedness, ego and desperation in equal parts that is important to get you started and also keep you there.

Another thing that keeps you there is the unflinching faith of some who are willing to literally put their money where their mouth is, who believe in your dream, sometimes more than what you do, and who help you realize that you are rarely alone in the journey of manifesting your dreams, if ever. I have had a few such people in my life who have kept this hope and the venture alive with their time, money and blessings. I do sometimes wonder if this was a boon or a bane but I know that their presence enhances my faith in humanity and the goodness and abundance it has to offer.I am still at that cusp, wondering if I will pull it off. I have a strange mix of hope, ground level action, quietude and contemplation; all at once.

So what is my message to other fellow dreamers?

Do not attach too much importance to the experiences of others – good or bad. Their circumstances are different, your will and drive is unique, as is your luck. Do your home work well, do not expect a cake walk, be prepared to work harder than you imagined was humanly possible. Provide extra time and resources, limit your financial requirements. And then do not waver. Very few people are blessed with dreams. If you have a dream, try your best to make it come alive. The world is a funny place – it throws obstacles in your path just for fun, but it also lends many helping hands along the way.

Go ahead – live your dream; more importantly dare to dream. It makes your life richer, more complete and certainly more fulfilling.

Anupam Jalote
Anupam Jalote is the Founder Director of GreenOil Energy Sciences (www.greenoil.in), an organization established with a mission to heal the earth by providing carbon positive waste-to-energy solutions.

Tips, Tools & Tackles

Tips tools and tackles

5 Ways to Overcome Inertia   

Is inertia preventing you from taking action to fulfil your heart’s desire and achieve your dreams? You can use the following tips to shake off your inertia and galvanise yourself into action:

  • Set clear, specific, time-bound goals: Clear, specific and time-bound goals help to focus your attention and effort, and give you a timeframe that you can work within. They provide a sense of purpose and inspire action.
  • Be accountable to someone for your goals: Being accountable to someone for your goals, serves to keep you on track. When you are accountable to another individual, you will likely have to provide them an explanation if you don’t take action, or lose face. The average individual is likely to prefer to take action instead.
  • Make a detailed action plan A detailed plan provides a roadmap, a step-by-step approach, which helps to achieve your goal.
  • Take small daily steps towards your goalA goal can seem overwhelming and insurmountable, but breaking it down into small actionable steps keeps it manageable and within reach. It’s important to take small steps every day towards achieving your goal so that you keep the momentum going.
  • Reward yourself for your successes, even minor onesIf you manage to take action towards your goal – it could be as simple as getting up early, going for a meeting on time or exercising in the gym – reward yourself. Small rewards are a great way of acknowledging your effort, and help to keep you motivated and on track to your goal.

           By Anjana Motihar Chandra

 

From the Founders’ Desk

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Dear co-travelers of life,

Welcome to the third issue of Tresonance Calling, our quarterly newsletter. Our theme this time finds itself embedded in an interesting thought process of the Mother.

Mother Mirra, Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual co-traveler, gives the example of the difference between the ways a baby monkey and a baby kitten are carried by their respective mothers. The baby monkey grabs onto his mother and holds on with his tight grip as she carries him. The baby kitten goes limp and lets the mother grab it by the scruff of the neck and carry it around. In the first case, the baby has to make all the effort of holding on whilst, in the second case, the baby has not a care in the world and it is the mother who has to ‘make sure’.

This is the Sunlit Path of yoga where you give yourself over to The Mother’s Grace and let her do the heavy lifting. This path of surrender is, however, extremely difficult to follow because we are highly control oriented beings; driven by our mind that seeks certainty. If we can practice this path even some of the times, it is beautiful to observe the many ways in which the universe orchestrates itself and showers its grace all around when you least expect it.

So how do we practice treading and staying on this path such that our heart opens, our soul sings and we feel the oneness and abundance around us effortlessly? Gratitude is one such practice which was the theme of our previous newsletter. The other way is to practice selfless acts of generosity that deeply touch people who receive them and inspire those who see them to ‘spread this goodness’. This impacts the world in ways we cannot imagine. Giftivism is the name for such acts and is our offering and invitation to our readers.

The centerpiece of our thoughts, emotions and blessings is Nipun Mehta, the man behind the word Giftivism and whose acts have inspired and touched the universe in wonderful ways. It is difficult to imagine how anyone can sell all his belongings, leave his country and go on a pilgrimage with his wife of six months; living on $1 per day (in 2005) and the generosity and hospitality of complete strangers. When we walk, one foot rests while the other moves forward.  Being and doing are both necessary, like the in-breath and the out-breath….When both being and doing occur in unison, I’ve noticed that they elegantly modulate each other and life feels like a joyous dance. :)”

With a mission simply to bring smiles to the world and stillness to his heart, Nipun truly makes me bow down in utter respect for what he has achieved for the world, whilst earning no salary through virtually his entire life, and being full of love and abundance. We have covered his journey and contributions in our Viewing Point section; an up-close Q&A with Nipun in Soul Connect and themes from his creative ‘SMILE cards’ in our Tips, Tools and Tackles section.

We round off this issue with our Tresonance Journeys section, covering the narrative of Ajay Jain’s calling, yet another story and deep perspective on how someone demonstrated his courage and conviction to follow his heart and, in the process, created something inspiring for the world. Don’t miss his Kunzum Café where you can choose what you pay for a cup of coffee, another act of generosity. I specifically loved, “We were not born to follow a set path of education, job, marriage, children, and retirement. This is what society decided along the way… there are worldly constraints and responsibilities, but these are only a part of life, not the sum total”.

We hope you will enjoy and be inspired by Tresonance Calling. As always, we look forward to your words of encouragement and your feedback on how we can touch your life in even more meaningful ways. Do write to us on newsletter@tresonance.org and connect with us.

Enjoy a wonderful August. A happy independence day to our Indian fraternity 🙂

Vinit Taneja

Co-Founder Tresonance Foundation

Vinit can be personally reached on vinit.taneja@tresonance.com and his profile viewed on https://in.linkedin.com/in/vinittaneja

Viewing Point: Generosity for a better world- the Nipun Mehta way….

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Nipun Mehta is the founder of ServiceSpace.org, a non-profit that works at the intersection of gift-economy, technology and volunteerism. A graduate in Computer Science and Philosophy, from UC Berkeley, he is a man who hasn’t worked for pay in nearly a decade, and whose mission is simply to bring smiles to the world and stillness to his heart.

Nipun was chosen by the students of Harker to deliver their graduation address on May 27th 2013. He delivered them some good news and bad news;

“You might be surprised to hear this, but you are about to step out into a world that’s in good shape -in fact the best shape that it’s ever been in. The average person has never been better fed than today. Infant mortality has never been lower; on an average we’re leading longer, healthier lives. Child labor, illiteracy and unsafe water have ceased to be global norms. Democracy is in, as slavery is disappearing. People don’t have to work as hard to just survive. ….So, things are progressing. But I’m afraid that’s not the full story….This week, Time Magazine’s cover story labelled you guys as the “Me, Me, Me” generation. The week before, NY Times reported that the suicide rate for Gen X went up by 30% in the last decade, and 50% for the boomer generation. We’ve just learned that atmospheric carbon levels surpassed 400 PPM for the first time in human history. Our honeybee colonies are collapsing, thereby threatening the future of our food supply. And all this is just the tip of the iceberg. What we’re handing over to you is a world full of inspiring realities coupled with incredibly daunting ones…. It’s the paradox that you are inheriting from us. So, what do you do with that? I’m going to be honest — I don’t really know. I do know this, though: At the core of all of today’s most pressing challenges is one fundamental issue- we have become profoundly disconnected.

Rather ironic, considering that we live in an era where Facebook has spawned 150 billion “connections”, as we collectively shell out 4.5 billion likes on status updates, every single day. Yet, a growing body of science is showing what we already feel deep in our gut: we’re more isolated than ever before….Somehow we’ve allowed our relationship to gadgets and things to overtake our real-world ties. We’ve forgotten how to rescue each other. Yet, deep inside we all still have that capacity….We know that we can tap into our inner goodness when crisis strikes. But can we do it on a run-of-the-mill Monday?….Our crisis of disconnection needs a renaissance of authentic friendship…..to upgrade us from Me-Me-Me to We-We-We”.

Nipun’s own journey has helped him return to a place of connection. In 2005, at the peak of their efforts at ServiceSpace, and 6 months into their marriage, Nipun and his wife set off on a 1000km pilgrimage beginning at Gandhiji’s Ashram in Ahmedabad, India. They largely relied on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter. Their goal was to ‘be in a space larger than their egos’. Over a period of three months, extremely poor villagers, who couldn’t even afford their own meals, would often borrow food from their neighbors to feed them.  When they tried to refuse, the hosts would simply explain: “To us, the guest is God.  This is our offering to the divine in you that connects us to each other.”  Street vendors often gifted them vegetables; a woman generously gave them water when they were extremely thirsty — they later discovered that she had to walk 10 kilometres at 4 a.m. to get that one bucket of water. Nipun says, “they knew how to give, not because they had a lot, but because they knew how to love life.  They didn’t need any credit or assurance that you would ever return to pay them back.  Rather, they just trusted in the pay-it-forward circle of giving.”

In a speech at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris at a congregation of 193 youth leaders, Nipun talked of a word that’s not in the dictionary: Giftivism.  Giftivism is the practice of radically generous acts that change the world. Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez and Nelson Mandela, all have one remarkable trait in common: generosity. Nipun explained that in our era of the Internet, everything has been dis-intermediated, and our heroes are no exception.  ‘The era of celebrity is over as we usher in the era of everyday Gandhis.’

In his mind, Giftivism embodies four key shifts.

  1. Consumption to contribution, where you open each door and ask “how can I serve?” instead of “what can I get?”
  2. Transaction to trust, where you count on people to act selflessly
  3. Isolation to community, where you honor your inter-connectedness with others, and
  4. Scarcity to abundance, where you sensitize yourself to non-material resources like social capital.  Together, these shifts open an entirely new realm of solutions to address problems.

In 1999, Nipun asked himself, “What happens if you run projects around the idea of generosity?” His experiments in giving birthed ServiceSpace. He and his friends built thousands of websites for non-profits at no charge. Naysayers said they wouldn’t survive. Years later and going strong, ServiceSpace still operates under 3 creative constraints:

  • They are volunteer run
  • They don’t fund raise, with focus being on adding value rather than showing value
  • They honour small acts of kindness and generosity

ServiceSpace projects broadly fall into three buckets:

Inspiration

The team noticed the lack of good news in media, purely because good news can’t be monetized. So they share inspirational content through initiatives such as Karma Tube, DailyGood, Conversations and Awakin. These are video subscriptions, newsletters, magazines and meditation circles that, in a noisy world, aim to give people a regular touch point to forces of good existing all around.

Gift Economy

KindSpring does projects that encourage anonymous acts of kindness. For example Smile Cards that begin a fun game of tag — do a selfless act for someone, and leave a card behind telling them to pay it forward.

Karma Kitchen started as an experiment run by a team of volunteers each week and has now served over 34,000 guests. Customers’ bills always read ‘0’ as the meal has been paid forward by someone else.

Volunteer & Non-Profit Support

PledgePage, is an easy way to publish and share photos, diaries and manage a donor list online for volunteers who run marathons as fundraisers for noble causes

CharityFocus began in 1999 serving non-profit organizations with web solutions when the cost of a website was too enormous for them to afford.

ProPoor.org is an internet portal that provides information, resources, and news about development work in South Asia. It links non-profits across South Asia to facilitate exchange of experiences, systems, administrative best-practices, resources and other valuable information.

Nipun Mehta says the three keys to move from Me-Me-Me to We-We-We, and feel connected once again, are: To Give – with any act of unconditional service, no matter how small, our biochemistry changes, the mind quietens, and we feel a sense of gratefulness. This inner transformation fundamentally shifts the direction of our lives. To Receive – as the Dalai Lama once put it, “Be Selfish, Be Generous.” It is in giving that we receive. And To Dance – our biggest problem with giving and receiving is that we try and track it. And when we do that, we lose the beat. It’s a futile exercise to track who is getting what. We just have to dance.

………………………………………………

As I read about Nipun and the work he does, the sceptic in me surfaced. In a discussion with a friend, the question arose, ‘a restaurant where all meals are paid forward? Is all that indiscriminate generosity not a waste? Should it not be reserved for the real needy?’ But the more I read about Nipun Mehta’s work, I realized that it is not just financial generosity that we are generating, but generosity of spirit and soul; trust in the circle of life, and belief that good begets good. The ripple of goodness did touch me. As I emptied out my cupboards to give away toys, I did it with more love than usual. As my daughter and I searched for a news piece she has to read in school, we made sure it was positive news. Strangely, around the same time, an anonymous gift arrived at our doorstep, puzzling us for a while :). Were we giving, receiving and dancing? It’s hard not to be inspired by someone who courageously lives his truth and takes us back to a place we already know….

By Pranavi Jha

Know more about Nipun at http://nipun.servicespace.org/about/

The full speech at Harker can be heard here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/04/nipun-mehta-commencement-2013_n_3380968.html?ir=India&adsSiteOverride=in

Learn about ServiceSpace at http://www.servicespace.org/about/

Nipun Mehta’s popular TED talk Designing for Generosity provides an overview of their work and guiding principles.

 

Soul Connect: In conversation with Nipun Mehta….

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It takes deep courage and conviction, in our times, to arrange one’s entire life around generosity, kindness and conviction. In candid conversation with Nipun Mehta, to understand more….

 

Borrowing from your address to the class of 2013 at Harker “in the seductive dot com era, it would have been very easy to believe that *Greed is Good*, as Gordon Gekko of the movie, ‘Wall Street’ did.” Yet you and a group of friends had a different hypothesis *Maybe* greed is good, but generosity is better. This led to the birth of ServiceSpace, with the purpose of giving with no strings attached. How did this hypothesis emerge? Has this hypothesis changed or evolved over the years?

ServiceSpace started as an experiment, and we have retained that ethos.  As a result, we are constantly on a learning journey, arriving while simultaneously departing.   Yet, our core organizing principle has always stayed the same – service for the purpose of inner transformation.  Is serving others more satisfying that serving oneself?  Absolutely.  That has been our experience, and what has evolved is the deepening of our trust in those values.

Most of us understand that kindness, compassion and generosity are good virtues. We go about our daily work and try to be as ‘good’ as possible. But you and your wife have organized your entire life around this. What was the genesis of such a deep conviction for you?

For me, it didn’t happen overnight.  Surely, there were moments of profound insight, but it was more like how my brother became six feet tall; my convictions deepened partly because of nature, partly because of nurture, partly spontaneously and partly through deliberate effort.   As I got my first job out of college, I started by donating small amounts of money from my monthly salary.  Then, as I wanted to give more and I ran out of money, I started to contribute my time.  And ultimately, I just offered my whole self.  The first talk I ever gave, at the age of 23 to a small group of people at a Buddhist monastery in Berkeley, candidly shares my early days: Spirit of Service. http://www.dailygood.org/story/662/spirit-of-service-nipun-mehta/

For more on the context of those times, this SF Weekly cover story shares more: Charity Begins at Home. http://www.sfweekly.com/sanfrancisco/charity-begins-home/Content?oid=2137749

After all these years you still operate on the concept of Giftivism and are still volunteer-run. Given these ‘creative constraints’, what have been some of the key factors that have helped build up so much scale? 

We’ve actually never designed for scale.  All our projects start with the idea that the base case itself has value.  If we just sent out one DailyGood email, or built one website, or encouraged just one Smile Card act, or hosted only one Karma Kitchen or a single Awakin circle, that would be just fine.  Yet a lot of work has ended up scaling.  Some of it is because of our creative use of technology but I would attribute a large part of it to serendipity.  We just happen to be planted in times where this fusion of technology, community and gift ecology strikes a chord.  If we started ServiceSpace fifty years ago, it may never have scaled.  Yet, we’d still do it with the same gusto.  We have always been anchored in the spirit of inner transformation that is triggered by a small act of service, not by its scale or impact in the world.

What are some things you’ve actively or proactively done that have helped sustain your projects?

One thing we really focus on is to give purely, with no strings attached.  Even when no one is looking, behind closed doors, there’s no hidden agenda or secret ambition.  That changes everything.  For one, you build a lot of trust.  For example, we send out 70 million emails per year – and not a single one of them contains an ad, or even an invitation to buy anything.  That means that when we send something out, people trust it, click on it, engage with the content and come back to us with lots of ideas.  Then, recipients of our services are no longer consumers but co-creators.  Imagine how much can emerge in such an ecology of 500 thousand members! And what if the whole world was cradled in such an ecology of values?  Boundless possibilities.

Have you (n) ever had any low moments? Moments of demotivation? If yes, what helps get you back on track?

Six months into our marriage, in 2005, my wife and I dropped all our plans, went to the Gandhi Ashram in India and decided to embark on a pilgrimage.  We had no plans and no end date.  Humanity’s poorest billion live on dollar a day, so we decided that’s what we’d have between us.  We would serve wherever an opportunity showed up — from pushing stalled cars on the highways to helping old farmers carry loads to cleaning community places to sharing stories of everyday heroes.  We ate whatever food was offered, and slept wherever placed was provided.  Sometimes things didn’t work, and that gave us an opportunity to grow in renunciation; sometimes things worked out miraculously, and that gave us a chance to cultivate gratitude.

Throughout that process, we had lots of highs – and lots of lows.  In moments of feeling down, the impulse of the ego is to find the source of discomfort with external factors – and while they may contribute to it, the internal factors are always far, far stronger.  So I always try to remember that.  And then I’d ask myself, “Can you take out this thorn right now?”  Sure, there may be some discomfort but it’s so much better to deal with it now instead of ignoring it.  Inevitably, I would come to the conclusion that this is a great moment for that bit of inner transformation.  And soon enough, the mental state would pass and I would wake up the next morning feeling lighter.

You believe in the ripple effect of goodness and believe that Giftivism can sustain an individual. Do you ever worry about your own next generation (children); whether the ripple effect can take care of their needs in the kind of world we live in?

We don’t have kids personally, but we have ample loved ones – and I think the universe supports all life unconditionally.  If we give, nature gives back to us; if we haven’t given enough, nature gives us suffering.  Both are perfect.  So many people think that being taken care of is to be in a predefined comfort zone – with some physical security, some emotional security and some spiritual security.  But that’s actually just a projection of our insecurities.  Sometimes the ripple effect takes care of us by taking us out of our comfort zone, and that seems painful but is just as good for the longer term.  So yes, that principle of nature’s reciprocity works universally – whether it is for me, my family, or anyone else.

Anything else you wish to add that would help us and our readers to get a deeper peek at Nipun Mehta, his passion, his proficiency – what really makes him tick 🙂

When we walk, one foot rests while the other moves forward.  Being and doing are both necessary, like the in-breath and the out-breath.  For me, I can say that without a daily meditation practice, I’d be rudderless and all my doing would be reduced to busy work.  On the flip side, ‘being’ alone can also be an indulgent escape.  When both being and doing occur in unison, I’ve noticed that they elegantly modulate each other and life feels like a joyous dance. 🙂

As told to Pranavi Jha & Vinit Taneja

Tresonance Journeys: Kunzum Travel Cafe…high altitude inspiration!

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Ajay Jain is a full time writer, journalist and photographer based in New Delhi in India. He has written books and columns on travel, management, technology, the environment and personal development. His work has been extensively reported and published in media outlets such as The Guardian (UK), Daily Mail (UK), Mirror (UK), CNN, Economic Times, Bloomberg TV, NDTV, India Today, Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, Indian Express, Huffington Post and many others. Ajay addresses audiences at various conferences and corporate events in India and overseas. He conducts workshops on Mindful Travel, Social Media Marketing and PR, and Personal Branding. Before he took up writing, Ajay worked in the Information Technology and Sports Management sectors. He is a graduate in Mechanical Engineering from Delhi College of Engineering, Post-Graduate in Management from Fore School of Management, and in Journalism from Cardiff University, UK. He has set up Kunzum, his travel blog and Kunzum Travel Café, a den tucked away in Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi. Here you can read, write, share, discuss, plan travel and buy photographic print art…..all over coffee and cookies, for which you decide how much to pay!

Take us through your journey so far – what led to setting up of Kunzum? At what point did you take the ‘leap of faith?’

Kunzum was borne out of a desire to be a travel writer. I had been writing on business, technology and matters related to youth for a few years but was yearning to be a travel writer. I woke up one day in June 2007 and decided to be a travel writer; the rough plan was to write books like Bill Bryson. My first journey as a ‘travel writer’ was to Lahaul Spiti in Himachal Pradesh, within a few days of my decision. The sheer beauty of the landscape and the overall experience just strengthened my resolve to pursue this profession. The trip included crossing the Kunzum La (pass) located at an altitude of 4551 metres (14,931 feet) – a spectacular junction in my journey (literal, and of life). I had never stood on such high ground – it seemed I was with the Gods (there were Buddhist stupas and flags too like at every high pass in the region). I came back and branded my travel blog Kunzum. Talking of leap of faith, it goes back to late 2000 when I dropped everything I was doing, and went back to school (Cardiff University, UK) to study journalism at the age of 31. I wanted to do something more creative, and contribute to society as a journalist. I embarked on a new journey (pun intended), leading to the creation of brand (and philosophy) Kunzum in 2007.

 Did you always know your life was going to be about travelling and photography?

Not really. I was always fond of photography, but more as an amateur. I did enjoy travelling, but more as a tourist really. I undertook some road trips around India starting around 2004 and that’s when the realization dawned on me that driving on (and off) the highways gave me the greatest joy. So why not marry this passion with my profession?

Who supported you on this journey?

Fortunately there was no real resistance from parents, although my father would have liked me to pursue conventional businesses/careers and treat writing and photography as a serious hobby or additional occupation. My wife- Anubhuti, and I work together, and that took care of a lot of issues I might have faced. She quit what she was doing so we could be in this together. In fact, she is the one who introduced me to the idea of road tripping.

When you decided to set up Kunzum, did you face any road blocks or challenges? How did you overcome them?

Kunzum started as a blog – which took a few minutes to create, technically. I used the same brand as the imprint of my books (printed and electronic) – I publish these myself. In 2009, I took a space in Hauz Khas Village for a gallery for my photographic print art and called it Kunzum Gallery. In 2010, I converted this into the Kunzum Travel Café. The walls continue to be my gallery, but the floor space is like a face-to-facebook for travellers, photographers, filmmakers, writers, musicians and other creative folk. Fortunately, there were no serious challenges along the way. Yes, we could have done better financially but we get by. And we are happy with what we have achieved.

Tell us more about Kunzum Travel Café. Has it panned out the way you envisioned it? It’s ‘pay what you like for your coffee’ offering is very interesting. What led to this?

We set up the Café without much of a plan. It was like embarking on a journey, allowing it to unfold at each milestone. And that is exactly what happened. We created the space with few entry and exit barriers. We wanted our guests to take ownership of the space by deciding what they want to pay. And it has paid off very well in more ways than one. It is the community that has made the Café what it is – they brought in the events, the interactions and more.

Has financial security ever been of concern?

I am a bit conservative in money matters and never stretch myself to a situation that I have to be indebted to anyone. I started with some savings, and ensured that my finances never went into the red. Fortunately, I have stayed afloat financially. Some more money would have been handy to pursue other ideas, but I am sure their time will come. 🙂

Luck, hard work, talent, courage- how would you rank order these qualities in taking a road less travelled?

You cannot go wrong if you treat life as a journey. You may have flat tyres (metaphorically speaking) but these only create pauses, not stops. It all starts in the mind – you have to shed stereotypes and overcome the conditioning that you have been brought up with. We all have constraints and may need to hold day jobs, and discharge our family responsibilities. But we cannot treat life as one to be led in the pursuit of material wealth – work and income has to be a means to an end. One may need to work on weekdays, but what’s stopping one to pursue passions and hobbies in evenings, on weekends and during vacations? So this is the thing: we need to excel in everything we do. It includes education, work and even hobbies. This requires hard work and talent. And only then can we steer things in our favour. If you are not good at your day job, you will not be able to pay for what you really want to do. If you want to be a full time travel writer and photographer, you have to be good at it. You can’t be a floater and expect things to happen.

So in order: Courage to allow yourself to look at life differently than what others expect of you; hard work to achieve your goals; talent – partly in your DNA, mostly acquired. Luck is incidental after that.

Remember: We were not born to follow a set path of education, job, marriage, children, and retirement. This is what society decided along the way. I repeat, there are worldly constraints and responsibilities, but these are only a part of life, not the sum total.

Who inspires you? Are role models important when you take such a leap of faith?

No one individual can be called a role model, but I would get influenced in bits by photographers, writers, travellers and other creative people around me. I wanted to, and still want to, be like them. And then I envy (still do despite my high level of freedom of choice by Indian standards) many westerners who allow themselves to be happy and calm in pursuit of a life they want.

As told to Aparna Mathur

 

Connect with Ajay

Web: http://kunzum.com

Email: ajay@ajayjain.com

Facebook: http://facebook.com/ajayjain9

Twitter: http://twitter.com/ajayjain

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/ajayjain9

Tips, Tools & Tackles…On Generosity

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Here are some tips to practice generosity and bring a smile to someone’s face today! Each act of kindness, no matter how small, changes the world.

Be generous……

…to yourself

  1. Smile and greet 5 people you do not know
  2. Craft something with your own hands and give it away
  3. Be the first to say sorry. It’s time to mend broken relationships

…to someone you know

  1. Write a letter to a parent or grandparent about their impact on your life
  2. Give a gift to the sweeper in your society
  3. Go to lunch with your office peon and learn his life story

…to strangers

  1. Clean out your cupboard and donate your extra clothes
  2. Talk to a homeless person; gift a meal or a pair of slippers
  3. Make a pot of chai and serve it to the night watchmen

…to our world

  1. Make paper bags using old newspaper and give them away
  2. Avoid plastic for 7 days, carry a cloth bag instead
  3. Have a bucket bath; save water

Courtesy The Smile Deck, a project by ServiceSpace. “Each smile deck is a gift from someone who received a deck before you. Since it is an anonymous gift, you cannot pay anyone back; but you can ‘pay-it-forward’ to allow future recipients to experience the same generosity”. You too can support this kindness project at www.helpothers.org