Reflections After Three Months of ServiceSpace

[I first shared this as a ServiceSpace blog]

It’s 10:15am on a clear Sunday morning. I sit cross-legged, trying to meditate. My eyes are half-opened and I see Nipun in front of me. I’ve just been welcomed into a beautiful home and I’m not even sure who the owner is! There’s a loving atmosphere about the place and something in my mind tells me I’m meant to be here. I continue meditating in earnest.

I feel a tinge of excitement. After a very serendipitous exchange of emails, I am now sitting in front of Nipun, who I have described to people as a personal hero of mine. The first email I sent to him in October last year reads:

Hey Nipun,
When asked what I want to do career wise I reply with, “I want to be Nipun and Pancho”

After learning about the gift economy a few years back I’d been looking for role models who actually live in it, not just talk about it. That search brought me to Nipun. I’ve listened to his talks and read many of his articles, but It wasn’t until I saw that he was going to be at an event in Guernsey that I thought maybe he’ll stop by in London too. I emailed him on a Wednesday and by Sunday, after a few email exchanges (and pleading with Trishna to squeeze me in) I’m sitting here meditating with him at the one-day Awakin’ Retreat.

That was only three months ago, and I’d like to share some stories of what’s happened since.

Two days after the retreat, I get an email from Trishna saying there’s an impromptu gathering this evening at her place. I decide to go again and invite Izzy along to get a bit more Nipun-wisdom. At the end of the evening, Trishna showers us with gifts, including some flowers and she suggests I pay it forward. As we start to leave, Nipun walks us to the door, in his shoe he finds someone had left him £100 in cash and a Smile card. Without hesitation he gifts it immediately to me and Izzy. I’m blown away. I had read about moments like these but I hadn’t yet experienced it myself.

The next morning I’m in Camden with a bunch of flowers and I’m walking around figuring out what to do with them. Smile card in one hand, flowers in the other. I read the card, “Experiments in Anonymous Kindness”. I figure the easiest thing is to put the flowers outside someone’s door, leave the Smile card there and run away. After ten minutes of searching, (how do you decide which house to give to?) I finally settle on one. I go up to the door, leave the flowers there with the card, ring the bell and run away. As I run away I notice I’m beaming. Actually, I’ve been beaming the whole time I was looking for a house. But as I’m running away, now I’m really beaming. When I share this story to Trishna and Ani, they asked me if I saw the reaction of the person that opened the door. I said no. I was so overwhelmed with this new emotion of gifting to someone that I just ran away and didn’t even look back to check if anyone had opened the door!

With the money Nipun gave me, I gave £20 to my fifteen year old brother and tried my best to explain the concept. I gave him a few Smile cards too. A few days later he tells me he is scheming about all the cookies he’s gonna buy for his friends at school. A day later I ask him how it’s going and he tells me he gave the whole £20 to a homeless guy outside the station instead. He felt overwhelmed that if he gave cookies to only a few of his friends, others might get jealous, so he scrapped that idea and gave it to the homeless man instead. I guess being overwhelmed by kindness is a family trait!

At the retreat, we were also blessed with the presence of Satish Kumar, who really inspired me with his peace walk across the world with no money. After the retreat I wrote down some lessons and reminders that I’d taken away, which I’d like to share:

Lessons from the Awakin’ One Day Retreat

The sharing of wisdom that day was so nourishing. It’s been having a ripple effect in my life ever since.

Two weeks after the retreat and hearing of Satish Kumar’s walk, I was in Camden with a friend and we noticed a pair of walking boots on the pavement. It looked like someone had left them there and forgotten about them. I inspected them and it turns out the boots were in my size! I talked to my friend about what to do with them, and decided to take them as inspiration that I had to use them to go on an adventure.

The Hitchhiking Adventure

A week later I meet Talisa, who had been hitchhiking around Europe and the UK. She’d stopped in London for a few days when I met her and we got on really well. A day before she was planning to leave London she asks me, “Would you like to go on a hitchhiking adventure?” My first thought was, “Uhhh”. My experience hitchhiking was very limited and all sorts of doubts and anxieties were coming to mind. In the end, I remembered Satish Kumar and the walking boots I found. It felt like the universe was egging me on. So I said yes.

We ended up in the Peak District in the middle of England, then popped to Derby to see my brother and then back down to London again. A mini adventure that lasted three days and over a dozen different kind souls picked us up along the way.

While nothing compared to a three year walking adventure across the world, our three days of hitchhiking led us to meet people like Mubarak, a Somali man, distraught with the violence he grew up in during his childhood, he now works as a facilitator helping resolve conflicts between groups in the local area. He initially drove right past us and then later turned around to pick us up. When I asked why he turned around he said his heart wanted to but his head was saying something else. In the end he listened to his heart :-).

Then we met Imran, who also hesitated at first, but then decided to stop. Halfway through the journey with him he asked if he could confess something to us. We were talking about what other adventures we’d like to go on and Imran said he’d love to join us, but couldn’t. He told us that he had an electronic tag around his ankle that meant he could not leave his hometown, Chesterfield, for at least six months after being released from prison only a few weeks ago. I was touched by his willingness to express this to us. After a few jokes about axe-murderers picking up hitchhikers, Imran dropped us off as far as his tag would let him.

At one point during the trip, a car stopped and the man inside said he couldn’t give us a lift because he was going the opposite direction. Instead he gestured for my hand and gave me a £20 note. He told us to go buy ourselves a cup of hot chocolate and then drove away.

I’m touched by how in just three days there could be so much kindness from strangers. The day we arrived back in London was the day of the ISIS attacks in Paris. It really hurt my heart to read news like that, after being gifted so much by strangers. I shared some reflections in a Facebook post.

Spontaneous Acts of Kindness

The first acts of kindness event I went to was organised by Trishna, it was the day before Nimo’s concert in London, whose music and presence I found beautiful. It was great to meet someone who went against the tide like he did. As we met on the Jubilee bridge in London, I felt very awkward and nervous about doing this. I’d made some vegan truffles the night before with Alex and had been excited about it for a while. But when it was time to buckle down and spread some love I felt scared.

After a few minutes, some awkward hugs and whispers of compliments I started feeling more courage. I noticed everyone else was also beginning to relax into it and we started a glow of positivity. Anyone who would stop we would ambush with flowers, chocolates and HUG TRAINS.

At Trishna’s gathering last week, the reading was Martin Luther King’s, ‘I Have Decided to Stick with Love’. And on the following Monday we had organised another Spontaneous Acts of Kindness event, this time teaming up with the Museum of Happiness. It was a perfect opportunity to practice sticking with love. During the circle I shared the Dalai Lama’s definition of love as the absence of judgement. I noticed when I offered a hug or a compliment and the person ignored or scoffed at me, there was a very quick reaction of judgement in my mind. That evening I tried to notice these judgements, let them go and see if I could remain free of judgement – sticking with love as best as I could.

In the circle at the end of the evening giving hugs and smiles, Trishna shared that the evening felt like metta to her. With every passerby, simply smiling at them and wishing them well. It struck me how valuable cities can be for spiritual practice. There’s the notion that to live a spiritual life we have to leave and retreat  away from the city. But if we’re surrounded by noble friendships that help us hold space, cities can be fertile ground for profound spiritual practice.

Reflecting to Ani and Trishna over email, I told them I can’t believe it’s only been three months since first getting involed with ServiceSpace. Ani replies saying, “It seems longer because your heart was connected with ours a long long time ago :).” I like that, and I believe it’s true too. So what’s next on my ServiceSpace journey? I’m not sure, but I feel very warm on the inside right now.

With hugs, smiles and love,


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