Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Introducing Smile Decks!

Originally written by Nipun on the CharityFocus blog:



Early last year, four of us huddled around the kitchen counter of CF's Intergalactic Headquarters.  Whether it was Adam's hour on the NYC streets of New York or it was Birju and Shephali's lemonade in Central Park, the spirit of the radical kindness was very much in the air.  Somehow, the conversation veered towards an idea that Andrew and I had talked about at a stop-over in Seattle -- "Wouldn't it be cool if we had a deck of cards, each with its own unique idea?"  "Yeah, then small groups could come together and everyone could just pick a card and step up the kindness."  "Or people could pick up a new card everyday and keep their generosity muscles in shape."

Hearing that idea, Adam, Shephali and Birju stepped it up a couple notches.  Now, each suit would be its own theme -- kindness towards yourself, for people you know, for strangers, and for our world.  Not only that, the ideas would get harder as you progressed towards the Ace.  And of course, we had to have the two wild-card jokers too!

After a whole lot of brainstorming, the original designer of the Smile Card (Michael-superstar-Chang), whipped up a seriously cool deck.  In October, we had the first printed deck in our hands!

Since the deck is $5 each, it is unclear exactly how we will sustain this experiment ... but that's never stopped us before either. :)  After distributing more than a 100 decks in grassroot ways, we've already received lots of word-of-mouth requests and had to setup an underground page to receive orders!  Let's see what happens next. :)

If you're curious about what ideas made the initial cut (some changes might be coming), here they are:

For People You Know
For Strangers
For Our World
For Yourself

Do the dishes...unasked!
Pay for the person behind you in line
Get lifelong bulbs for your house and another's house
Practice absolute silence for 15 minutes and just "be"

Vacuum the house
Give 3 people a hug for no reason
Give away reusable shopping bags
Smile! And say hello to 10 strangers

Help a family member with a chore unexpectedly
Lend an ear to a stranger for one hour
Clean up litter on your block
Give away one of your possessions RIGHT NOW

Take 10 minutes to write a song, poem, or note for a loved one
Tell a public service employee how valuable they are
Hug a tree in public, inspire another to do the same
Leave flowers on a stranger's doorstep and run

Express your gratitude - do a special dance for someone
Give a stranger a candy bar
Shut down unnecessary electricity use
Give away something important to you

Make a bagged lunch for a family member and slip a joke in it
Leave cookies in a public place, ask people to pay-it-forward!
Send a thank you card to a green business
Offer an inspiring reading to someone in the room

Give a favorite inspirational book of yours to a friend
Drop quarters in a laundry machine for the next person
Make and post signs for green ideas
Post a list of random kind acts in a public place

Leave chocolate on a co-workers desk
Play the role of doorman for 30 minutes
Tell someone you love them and why
Pay for a stranger's meal anonymously

Write positive notes about your whole family and leave them around the house
Create a "Take a penny, leave a penny" tray for a local store
Plant something in the ground that can grow :)
Learn a statement of gratitude in another language and share it

Share a couple inspirational stories from today's news
Call out 3 acts of kindness by others and thank them
Give a houseplant as a gift
High five 5 people

Use crayons to draw a picture for someone's refrigerator
Sing a cheerful song to a stranger walking on the street
Go to the nearest park and clean up as much as you can
Wear a red clown nose and "be" for 15 minutes

Write a thank you note to one of your teachers
Have an inspiring quote as your voicemail message for a week
Call an animal shelter and donate one item they need
Play sports with strangers in the park

Help a friend get over a fear
Pick a stranger, make him/her smile at any cost
Make a birdbath and place it on your windowsill
Make up a new word about kindness and spread it

If you have other ideas to add in the mix, please do leave a comment here and we'd love to brainstorm it before our next printing.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Work stories

As my life is mostly work with intermittent splices of life :) thought i'd share some tidbits.


-I have so far had an 'anti-consulting' experience in that the majority of my work not only doesn't have me traveling, but i'm even closer to home than if i had just gone to the office!  the benefits of living in midtown :)


-Contrary to what some may say, McKinsey is filled with people that want to do service in the world.  There's an active social sector practice (for which i've been working in some capacity for a while) and plenty of extra-curricular ops (for example, we just had a day to bring awareness to climate change issues and had dozens and dozens of consultants take part).


-We're usually at our client location most of the week, but on Friday's we're in the office.  On these days I like to go to random floors, find a desk that is temporarily unoccupied, and drop a candy bar and smile card. :)


Monday, July 28, 2008

...then you win

There's an old saying by Mahatma Gandhi:

'First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.'


I had an experience these last several weeks reminded me of this quote.  Since the start of my consulting work experience, I've had several folks tell me that I should wait a bit before 'being myself', which I took to mean laying off the hugs/meditation/smile cards/irreverence.  however, i've been exceedingly poor at executing that request.

This last engagement I was on lasted 3 weeks.  It was really intense, which basically means 8am-midnight (at least) happens often.  Consequently, I got to know my team-members pretty well since we were pretty much locked in 1 room the entire time. 

Well, I have this habit of taking a moment of silence before meals, and since every single meal was with my team, they happened to be there during this time.  Initially, what I was doing was ignored completely.  It was as if I wasn't there, and they simply began eating.

After 4 or 5 days of this, the snickers started.  I would open my eyes and see someone putting bunny ears over my head and another laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes.  I just kept silent, flashed a smile and moved on.

These types of jokes lasted a couple more days before one afternoon after silence for lunch I opened my eyes and was met with a pointed question: do you think what you're doing does any good?  The rest of the guys started trying to breakdown the reasoning for why I sat in silence prior to meals.  Are you doing it for religion?  You know nobody is happier for you sitting there quietly, right?  Don't you think you're wasting time just sitting there?  what exactly are you doing?  I responded to everything, one by one.

The next day, the questions continued, as did the day after that, but the following week, on the monday of the last week of the engagement, I opened my eyes after dinner to find the table silent and everyone with their eyes closed.  During the course of this last week, we all engaged in conversation about the nature of the mind, we meditated during the course of the workday, and the last day I read a chapter from the 'Tao Te Ching' prior to our dinner.  As I left the workplace on the last day of the engagement, there were hugs all around as we all expressed gratefulness for the opportunity to connect through this experience.  The job got done, and got done well, but the experience was not limited to just that.

Live your values and folks respond, who knew?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Service in the Streets

This past weekend a small group of friends in manhattan decided to try sharing smiles by providing food to the homeless. It all starting with one member of our group noticing that there are so many restaurants in the city that have excess food left over after doing business and simply end up throwing it away. The thought was to get a few restaurants to agree to giving us the excess food and allowing us to give it to those that could use it.

The process turned out to be not that easy. Apparently there are laws in place preventing this type of work from happening. Because it is hard to manage the quality of food when it leaves restaurant premises, the city does not allow this type of service because they worry about someone getting sick from the food and suing the city or the restaurants.

Not to be deterred, one of our group-members somehow convinced a couple local restaurants to go against the grain in the name of service, and Saturday afternoon we were near the homeless shelter in midtown doing our best to hand out the gifts we received.

By the numbers, we gave out something in the neighborhood of 100 meals, but the process and the feeling associated with it was much different than our previous exploits with lemonade or cookies. It got us all thinking afterward.

The reactions ran the gamut. Some folks came out of shops and repeatedly said 'this is amazing, god bless you.' The first gentleman that we connected with actually just started crying, as we tried to connect with him as a person instead of creating a transaction. We were trying to not just come to bring food, but to help satiate the part of a person that is beyond food. We wanted to connect. We quickly found out that it just isn't that easy. One guy was trying to grab up as much as he could. When we asked him to share for the good of the whole, his exasperated response was 'I'm hungry… I see what you're doing, but I'M HUNGRY.' And so it was.

There was a desperation in the air, and it quickly went from an attempt to connect with new friends to an operation to efficiently dole out food as quickly as possible. When it was over, we were all left wondering why it felt so different compared to our experiences in central park, if all the smile cards that were handed out actually hit home at all, and if the process was simply a 'drop in the ocean.' Open-ended questions of course.

As for myself, while I certainly felt like the help we gave was relatively miniscule, I also think that there were a few folks that were less hungry because of it and that is good. Also, I think the internal process is really important here. The more I keep trying my best to give, the more I find opportunities to give. This was small in the big scheme of things. So what. Who knows where the ripples will go…

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Smile Cards at work

I've been working at my job with the consulting firm for a couple months now and have been experimenting with tagging at the workplace.  I'm still being a bit cautious about it, but with all the traveling I'm doing it makes for fun opportunities to do it all over the place.


A couple of examples stick in my head and perhaps might make good opportunities for others.  One, several times I'm standing in the lunchline and after paying for my meal I just give an extra bill, drop the smile card in the cashiers hand, and ask if she can give the card to someone after me in line who looks like they could use a pick-me-up.  I usually get quizzical looks, but inevitably they get excited about it, and nobody really knows who's doing it.  Good stuff.  Second, I try and keep my ears open for things that people could really use.  Little things, like some water or a snack or some medicine because folks don't have time to get it themselves, and I use my breaks to get it (assuming its in the building, if not, then i get it over the evening).  Then, the trick is getting it to them with the smile card without them knowing it was me.  more fun :)


Aside from that, have been back to the summer of smiles.  Last year, we had a summer of lemonade, this year I think we'll be branching out to a multitude of ideas.  We already have done a run of lemonade and another of cookies, but next week we're going to try taking excess food from restaurants and distributing to local homeless.  decentralized, distributed, small, that's the mantra.  If people look at it and say 'that's amazing!', it tells me that we're not small enough :)


Otherwise, the work itself is going well.  I'm learning how to problem solve and use techniques to systematically approach situations I'm presented with and break them down.  It's been enlightening, albeit very tiring and humbling. 


It's also very hot now.  i don't like the stickies.  but it rained today and reminded me of the old monsoons i used to witness in arizona for so many years.  nothing to flash flood to nothing in 30 minutes.  hope we get more this summer, and the dirt keeps that fresh rain smell :)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Man Who Would Cheat Death

Ray Kurzweil is one of the more interesting people i've ever become familiar with. He's got a portfolio of careers and is pretty hard to classify, but definitely a "futurist," someone seen as an authority on technology's impact on the future. And he's been right in the past, to the tune of getting very rich from his predictions.

His next prediction is that human intelligence will be surpassed by machines, and that this will happen in our lifetime (20-30 years). I actually agree with him.

Here's an article on him in this months' Wired, absolutely FASCINATING.

Also, here's a talk that he gave at the famous TED conference on accelerating technology.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Missing Peace Project

Last night we went down to Palo Alto for a meeting with Darlene Markovich and Tenzin Tethong, among others. These folks are Chairman and Exec. Director of the Committee of 100. Their job is to call attention to the struggle in Tibet in a peaceful way (their members include Pierce Brosnan, Arun Gandhi, Coretta Scott King, Richard Gere, Desmond Tutu and Robert Thurman).

While there, we learned about the Missing Peace Project and were treated to a presentation by the only art therapist in the Federal Prison system. The Missing Peace Project was created to call attention to the core values espoused by the Dalai Lama using art. It resulted in an award-winning art exhibition that is currently touring the country (and drawing tens of thousands). Here's a couple of the art pieces:




If that wasn't awesome enough, the presentation was spectacular. We heard about the only prison that involves art therapy inside its walls. I can't share specifics, but the presentation showed slides of art created by the inmates and how they changed and embraced peace through the process. It was truly amazing, especially considering that every art piece came from the part of the prison for the mentally ill/criminally insane. Makes you think why this isn't incorporated in more places, jails as well as corporate America! Art builds community.

We're going to do an article on her on DailyGood pretty soon, so if you're not on there, get on there (it goes out to hundreds of thousands of folks)!!! One of the things she needs is pieces of fabric (as her budget doesn't allow for much latitude), and we'll call attention to how you can help with that if you wish. Also, if you're interested in related stories of prison reform, check out this film about mindfulness meditation being incorporated in jails, with stunning success. That's all for now...

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Gift of Gratitude and Concentrated Experience

I'm writing this on a saturday night and trying to figure out how to coherently write about what happened just from wednesday until now.  every day here contains about a month worth of experience.  perhaps it could be called a spiritual mba, i don't know, but i feel like i have to get it down so i don't forget it.  apologies for the long post.


there are people here doing amazing things in the space that i'm interested in: the confluence of business, technology, and spirituality. 


alright, wish i could write a beautiful and touching narrative but will have to stick with brute force hard nosed chronology:



weekly wednesday meditation night.  I meet a gentleman at the end of the night that's amazing.  He is a serial entrepreneur currently the CEO of a tech company.  Pretty young guy (maybe 5 years older than me), and he's just quit his job.  he turned down millions of dollars.  instead, he bought a ticket to thailand and will be meditating in some off the grid monastery for the forseeable future.  hearing this guys story was inspiring, especially considering he didn't even quit because he hated what he did or he only did it for the money.  he loves what he does, but he'd rather devote his precious time to introspection and service.  amazing.



this was a long day!  into the early afternoon I had a charityfocus meeting with a friend in London.  we're planning to build something really cool here in the near future and started working on plans for it.


after this a few friends headed to visit Professor Shariq at Stanford.  This meeting was unbelievable.  Professor Shariq is amazing, the guy has basically accomplished every form of material goal you could have, and now he's a program director for Stanford in a social entrepreneurship program that can only be described as spiritual (in my minds eye).  He has discovered that the best way to create an effective leader (especially one that is socially conscious) is to make sure that the persons actions, words, and thoughts are aligned.  of course, this is hard, each one of us lives a life of contradiction in many respects.  so he patented an intense technique to allow the person in the hotseat to recognize that which they stand for deep in themselves.  He calls it Real Time Venture Design Laboratory (ReVel).  it is intensive.  10 hours of sitting in a room with experts who are there with nothing on their mind but service.  however, i'm doing a horrible job of explaining it, so i may just leave it at that.  however, i will say that what is happening here is the incubation of a practice that is going to change leadership, and i want to be more involved in it.


from there we head to another building at Stanford to see a talk given by Reverend Heng Sure.  Gotta say, of all the 'monk and nun homies' that Nipun has introduced me to, i feel most connected to Heng Sure.  He sang some songs about Buddha with his guitar and answered some very deep questions, including why celibacy is included as part of the buddhist path (as one continues along in the path, not at the start!)  The question was asked by the director of religious studies at Stanford, and we had an interesting conversation after about the nature of desire.  cool stuff.


Next we head to another room at Stanford where a class is hosting Nipun to come speak to them, as it is the anniversary of Gandhi's assassination.  Nipun proceeds to deliver a one hour lecture with no preparation, and it is the most moving talk i have ever heard.  he talks about the value of selfless service and how it can be implemented in our daily lives from the smallest level.  He is bar none the best speaker I have ever seen.  people were leaving with tears in their eyes and talking about how they needed to rethink their lives.  Every day with this guy is a blessing...


From there we take a trip back to Berkeley with friend Hitesh.  He shared with us his social entrepreneurship plan to help the downtrodden in developing worlds be able to compete (can't share much more than that), and we discuss ways to be of service.


that was one day.  lol



After lounging around in the morning, I spend the afternoon moving into my new apt in Berkeley.


The evening is spent in a dinner meeting with a veritable who's who of service all-stars, pretty much every one of them sub 30 years old.  we talked about synergies between what we were doing and perhaps how we could serve together.  the roster of accomplishments for these people was awesome:

-prof. srikumar rao, who runs a personal mastery course in various top schools all over the world and has been featured in Time magazine, NY Times, and Wall Street Journal.

-a stanford phd student who is using technology to help farmers in developing countries

-a berkeley phd student that is using wireless videoconferencing technology to bring medical attention to villages in developing nations

-a columbia mba that is running an online video website owned by a major media company

-a former dot-com entrepreneur

-a stanford mba student who had national acclaim starting a non-profit to help Argentina and also lived as a homeless person to get a feel of what it was like

-another berkely phd student using persuasive technology to get developing nations to adopt basic medical standards

and then there was Nipun, Guri, and I.  what a trip this night was...



Had a long afternoon meeting about Karma Kitchen.  We're hoping to get it up and running again shortly, and I plan to play a role in it while i'm here.  It should be awesome!

Ended the evening by heading downtown with my friend Mita for a birthday party.  SF is very hilly =)


I've been asked a few times 'why do this?'  i mean, i just go around meeting people and learning about what they do and see if i can be of service in any way.  you'd think that it'd be hard to get a real deep experience going this route.  traditionally you'd be correct.  however, when the connection you bring to the table is a spiritual one, something that is based on a shared experience of introspection, the amount you get out of every meeting is .... just more.  This is why i'm so thankful to Nipun, who has been arranging a lot of this as part of CharityFocus.  I just get to ride the high of this job.  its nice being an intern/executive committee member of CharityFocus :P


to add to that, the broadening of perspective i've been lucky to experience as a result of this is worth its weight in gold.  i mean, a lot of this stuff i didn't even know that people did at all prior to coming here.  turns out not only do people do it, but they need help, and will take yours, especially if you offer it freely.  i'm trying to think more and more about how to incorporate this element of life into my future consulting life.  it would be nice to connect McKinsey to some of these people doing such great things and use the business sense to discover ways to get more people access to the solutions.  still a ways off to do that though ;)


One thing I didn't mention is that through everything i've been doing here, we've been meditating 1 hour every day.  its not much, but maintaining that has really been useful.


alright, time to sleep so i can get ready for another week of 'retirement' life! =)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Mindfulness Meditation in Oakland Public Schools

Quick blog about yesterday.  I spent the morning/afternoon with my friend Megan.  We went to a local high school in the Oakland area where I watched her teach sessions of mindfulness to students.  My job was to provide an extra set of eyes and see if there was anything that I could suggest.  We had lunch afterwards with the program director.  Lots of amazing things happened, students seem to really be impacted by this practice.  Can't really elaborate further in a public context though.


In the afternoon, met up with a gentleman I'll call Hugh (for anonymity reasons).  Amazing dude.  Has been the CEO of multiple organizations, now in his 60's or 70's.  He chooses to have no car and no cell phone and remains a fan of simplicity.  He and his wife take daily walks, and about a decade ago he realized that there was a lot of change lying around on the ground.  He started picking it up and giving whatever he found to the local food bank.  When he met us he said he had found and donated THOUSANDS of dollars in this way.  But that was just the start of it.  Then he started telling us his stories.  How even though he and his wife tried their best to remain anonymous, somehow people found out what they were up to, and on many occasions even homeless people were moved to give spare change in the hopes of helping others.  generosity at its purest.  he wanted to see if it was possible to get the word out about doing this to others and have more folks donate in this way to good causes.


The evening ended with the weekly Wednesday meditation in Santa Clara.  The thought of the week was on blessings.  Seems like all I've done in 2008 so far is receive blessings.  I can't tell you how much gratitude I have.  Sometimes i just spontaneously tear up for no particular reason other than gratitude.  Tomorrow I have a karmatube meeting and more chances to connect with folks that are being the change they wish to see in the world.  Life is good.  Onward.