Monday, June 25, 2007

Wednesdays with the Kindness Crew

I am in love with San Francisco. I just came back from a week there with Nipun, Guri, Viral, Pavi, and the rest of the Kindness Crew. These people may just be the most impressive human beings I have ever come in contact with.

An interplay of consciousness

The evening I arrive the family stages a musical performance at their house (Indian classical) with the purpose of sharing gratitude. They ask me to share a few words on gratitude, specifically as it relates to my parents. It was fun to share my thoughts and hear great stories from others in the circle. There were definitely some tears being shed by the end of the deal!

As the week goes on I meet all sorts of people in the community whose sole purpose is seemingly to be of service to others. The mindset is completely contrary to what I’ve been taught: live in the spirit of abundance rather than scarcity and always think of others before oneself. These are thoughts I have heard before. They’ve always been discussed theoretically, or in talking about great saints. Then I met Nipun. This is a guy that talks about such things believing they are possible NOW, by everyone, and he walks the talk. I actually wrote a paper on his (massive) organization, CharityFocus, where can be accessed here.

On this trip, I first saw him as he came back from a 10 day Vipassana meditation (an intensive course of at least 10 hours of meditation a day, no books/cells/laptops/etc, and complete silence the entire time). The first thing we did was go to see his good friend Prasad Kaipa. This is a guy that coaches executives, using spirituality, for a living and has a going rate of greater than $1000/hr. We spent a couple hours with him. Amazing bits of advice that he shared along his spiritual journey, pieces that I am now more aware of. Prasad has a seemingly unique way of living. He calls it “earning, learning, and giving.” He splits his year into those 3 equal parts (100 days each), and devotes himself completely in each area. Rather than constantly chasing money (which he can get anytime), he chooses to focus on other areas where he can be of service and provide some value in a community setting.

We discussed the idea of why we must cling to an identity. We are frozen, then something happens to make us melt, and then we re-freeze to something else. For instance, I think of myself as a religious person, then I critically analyze how religion polarizes, and then I change to a person against religion. This goes on and on. We think these changes are taking us somewhere…that we’re ‘learning’ along the way, but is that really the case? The question is ‘why must we “re-freeze”?’ why not stay melted? In a constant state of curiosity and wonder, but not NEEDING to cling to a certain idea to feel comforted in the nature and order of things.

We also discussed the idea of motivation, and how in current society with the need to fight for resources amongst each other, our primary motivation tool is the thoughts of our peers (which, of course, only exist in our heads). He calls this our personal GPS (guilt, pride, and shame). I love this. So much of what I do is driven by one of the 3 (or in some cases all of the 3!). Can we move beyond such a state so that our actions are driven by no-mind/love? I think that is the potential of humanity, but something needs to happen to snap us out of GPS mode.

He left us with his personal belief as an advisor, which I GREATLY appreciated and am already incorporating. He said, “When I discuss anything with you, if you leave with more of me than before, we have failed. If you leave with a greater understanding of YOU than before, then we have something.” I realize how right he is. The greatest discussions I’ve ever had, and the people I hold in highest esteem, are the one’s that have shown me levels of myself previously unknown.

Sri, Nipun, myself, Prasad, Mrs. Kaipa

That evening I attended my first Wednesday. To bring it in the mundane, I guess you could call it something of a spiritual support group. What makes it amazing is its selfless nature. For 10 years, they’ve been doing it. No strings, no desire for monetary gain, nothing. Just service. This is a common theme from spending time with Nipun’s family. HAVING is just not important…GIVING is. Nipun’s latest project is something of an off-shoot of my previous blog entry about generosity entrepreneurs. Will definitely go into it when the idea is publicly released, until then, rest assured that it is paradigm-shifting in the truest sense of the word.

So much more happened, I can’t even begin to discuss: meeting Shankar and his beautiful gift-economy idea, Hitesh and his service trip to South America, Dr. Sri and his radical idea for medicine gift-economy style, not to mention good friend Kristy’s stepmom and my awesome cousin Neshani. I’ll just end with the quote of the week, from Nipun: “This product is too valuable to be sold…let’s give it away!”

The First One – Generosity Entrepreneurs

(Originally posted at on 5/15/07)

The beginning of my time at blogspot marks the end of my time at business school. Last week at bschool was all about hanging out one last time as a big group. I ended up doing as many activities as I could. We’re talking about paintball, a day at sheep’s meadow at central park, 3-on-3 basketball, a Mets game, private shows at the tribeca film festival, and a big party at some hot club every night. My favorite school-associated time of the week was at Pink Elephant, which may be the hottest club in NYC. Great music, fun people, nice ambiance, open bar (though I still didn’t drink), & did I mention GREAT music?

However, none of that touched by far the highlight of my week. My good friend Nipun was giving a talk at a retreat by the Catskills in Upstate New York. I went over to visit, and as is always the case when I meet him, my life changed.

I’m going to have a hard time explaining this because the premise is SO radical but bare with me. Nipun, and I also to some extent, is a proponent of the gift economy, the root of which is basically to give freely and generously with no strings attached. Our meeting started with a passing of the mic to most folks in the group to talk about an event where someone’s spontaneous generosity impacted them in their life. If you’ve never done this, let me tell you, there’s not much better feeling than to be surrounded by this.

We heard the story from the chaplain about the Zen priest who taught 6 new apprentices about chaplainship out of pure generosity, an actor talked about generosity impacting his ability to spontaneously play soccer downtown, the TV producer talked about the holocaust survivor that treated her as a daughter, and Nipun himself talked about his last visit to NYC and Hector.

After this came the premise of the meeting: generosity, even in the smallest doses, impacts lives STRONGLY. Nipun told us that last month a woman approached him with a check, no strings attached. He was trusted to do with it as he will. That was the point of this meeting. The money led to the idea of generosity entrepreneurs. The idea was to use the money to begin a pay-it-forward campaign from the spirit of abundance. A $500 check was handed to 5 people in the group. I was one of them. The goal is to use it to help, no strings attached, and we came up with some guidelines on how this should be done:

  1. Be volunteer run; no one is paid for anything
  2. don’t ask; serve with what is given
  3. Focus on small acts; be the change you wish to see
  4. serve strangers; consider everyone your family
  5. don’t involve institutions; deepen person-to-person relationships
  6. expect nothing in return; be selfless

This happened a couple days ago. I’m still flabbergasted. How often does someone give you $500 and asks you to use it to help people in whatever way you see fit? I want to come up with a creative way to use it.

So far, I’ve actually used $4. Not much, but what’s most amazing to me is how I have changed already because of this. My spirit has completely changed to one of abundance. Every place I go, everywhere I look, I a wondering how I can help some random person (who all of a sudden is not so random anymore).

Yesterday night after leaving a party, I was with some friends by NYU at Mahmoon’s, which is this totally awesome falafel place. We notice a homeless man rummaging through a trash can for some scraps. My best friend Arvind looks at me and says ‘$498!’ Agreed. I quickly purchase another falafel, set it down on the table outside and let my new friend know that I had no further plans to touch it. We quickly take off.

Today, on the way to pick up my parents from the airport, I paid for bus fare for the old woman behind me. She was so surprised that she started giggling like a schoolgirl! I figure, while I wait for that big creative idea to strike, this type of stuff should continue happening. Hey, so anyone have any ideas to share for how I could give this money away??? =)