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. :)


'Another kind of bailout plan'

Shephali writes amazingly:



Thursday, October 2, 2008

My first 10K run!

After coming home from work i got on the treadmill and knocked out my first 10K run ever!  Treadmill definitely not the same as concrete/asphalt (although I ran at 1% incline to compensate), but I'm just glad i could do it.  Time was 52:39, which I guess is about average.  Now to try and build on this :)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

New Apartment!

I've been spending the last couple weeks moving into my new place on 33rd and 8th.  I'm caddy corner from Madison Square Garden.  Again, not the best neighborhood and it's basically tourist central, but it's the best apartment i've ever been in as far as amenities, and the view from my room and the roof is amazing!

Downtown on the left and the statue of liberty on the right


Madison Square Garden on the bottom-left

Tried a new experiment with Smile days in Central Park last week.  We've normally done these days as a way to connect with people anonymously and provide ourselves in the open spirit of offering.  This time, in addition to that, we added what we called the 'generosi-tree' (which was really more like a monster-looking thing because the artsies aren't so much happening).  In addition to offering ourselves and some food with smile cards, there were sights and sounds in the form of an acoustic guitar player and massages in sidewalk chalk.  But the centerpiece was Shephali's great idea, the generosi-tree.  It's basically a large bulletin board filled with post-it notes on 2 things:
-kindness/service ideas that anyone can do (in 4 categories: for your family/friends, for yourself, for people you don't know, for the world)
-inspiring quotes about kindness
DSC02992 (Large)

DSC02996 (Large)
The number of people that stopped by was amazing.  Even when it started raining, people would stop and spend time reading the ENTIRE board!  Then they take one or two along with the smile card and move on.  Among the wonderful ideas taken:
-A gentleman came by and plucked "Clean up litter on your block"
-A woman who wanted to cheer up her friend chose "Write a poem for a friend"
-A four year old girl picked one that read "Hug three people for no reason"
-A teenager with broken english who was visiting from France took a quote: "Be the change that you wish to see in the world - Gandhi"

It was as though everyone left with a method to use the Smile card they just received.  Looking forward to hopefully doing this a few more times before it gets too cold.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

...and sometimes you lose

Another fun day at the office.

This afternoon a couple of my teammembers mentioned that they were hungry. Well before they know it they return from a break and there are a couple Clif Bars on their desks with SmileCards. They are amused and obviously know who did it. One group member took a bite of the bar, took a look at the card, looks at me, and says 'Oh, because you think you did something nice.' *chuckle followed by patronizing look*


but as long as the intentions are good from my end i'm cool with it :)

Monday, August 18, 2008

The art of making a powerpoint slide

and it is an art.  i had no idea, but there's so many components to it, and if it's the only output you have in your profession, you're pretty much going to go to extreme lengths to make sure it's as beautiful as possible.


There has been books written on the subject, so no boring details on the matter, just a short story ;)


So in addition to charts and diagrams and tables and all that other fun stuff, we actually put content on our slides (occasionally).  well, we actually start with something that could be termed more of a skeleton and then over time 'flesh it out.'  This process (as i now know) is referred to as giving something 'more color.' 


When I was first learning about these terms and nuances, one of my guides called me over and told me my slide had good content, flowed pretty well, and was aesthetically pleasing, but needed 'more color.'  So i headed back to my seat and spent the next hour banging out verbiage so that I could provide more detail.  After looking over the new version, i'm told that i sound too 'consultanty' and need to pull back on the flowery language.  Next time i'm asked for 'more color', i think i'll just print the slide out and go to town with my crayolas ;)


On an unrelated note, wanted to point you a recent Karmatube video highlighting a friend of a friend, Robert Eggers, who lives the work we got to try out for a bit when we blogged about serving on the streets...

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?

Pictures of beaches

I spent this last weekend in the Caymans, awesome beaches they have there!  thought i'd post a couple pictures :)


Lessons from NYC cookie monsters

Shephali wrote an awesome entry on the CharityFocus blog about some of the summer exploits in central park, thought I'd link to it as I thought there were really valuable points there:



Friday, July 18, 2008

The chocolate cake

Today at work we had a chocolate tasting in the evening hours.  They even had a person there that apparently taught a lesson in chocolate-tasting (apparently chocolate-tasting is a fine art much like wine-tasting).


Anyways, since i couldn't really stay, and it was partly in my honor as my birthday is coming up, they let me take a bunch of cake/chocolate/truffles back to my desk.  cool stuff, most definitely, but by the time i was done working i figured there might be other folks more interested in the cake than i ;)


When I got to the bottom floor of my building I saw about a dozen psuedo-homeless folks playing chess together.  I found an adjacent unattended table, dropped the stash (with a smile card of course), and took off!


Tomorrow a bunch of us are heading back to central park to hand out cookies and smiles in central park again.  i wish tasty tags to all!

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…

What's it like to work in management consulting?

I was looking through some blogs of folks that have worked at McKinsey and wanted to share this link as a great synopsis of the life of a management consultant:


Angie goes over pretty much everything, my specific experiences have been fun to far but to speak on it more would probably only be something to be done after walking away from it and having time to digest what happened.

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 :)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Started Work

I started working at the consulting firm almost a month ago now.  It's fun so far.  REALLY smart people, but even more is that there's lots of people that want to use their skills to help in whatever way they know how.  As usual, I'm humbled.  I always feel like it's some sort of mistake that I am where I am, and this feels the same.  I think I'm still that 15 yr old kid whose voice broke every other sentence...and not just because my voice still breaks ;)  ... I dropped 4 smile cards this week!  it's the little things :)


otherwise, Nipun came last weekend.  we setup a 40 person meditation last sunday pretty much on the fly.  it was awesome, right in the middle of midtown, and totally decentralized.  we weekend was totally fun too since i got to tag along with Nipun on some of the meetings that were going on.  Also went to the midtown showing of Pangea Day which was super fun.


Otherwise, have been spending time trying to be here now.  mostly failing.  it's all good though...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Hosting a Nobel Peace Prize nominee

Last Thursday the meditation group that Jenny, Shephali and I started about a year ago hosted a guest visitor who is truly inspiring.  He is called the Gandhi of Sri Lanka and leads one of the largest non-violent movements in the world.


Jenny wrote a beautiful blog entry on the CharityFocus blog here, and if you would like to see a short video on him from Karmatube check it out here.



Thursday, April 17, 2008

Back in the City

Hi!  Got back in to nyc a couple weeks back for a school reunion, been here since.  last night went to a movie premiere for good friend Silas and his film "Release."  Powerful stuff.  Check out his production company at www.smoothfeather.com.


Here's a couple quick shots of the view from the current apartment and gym:




pretty wild


will probably blog a lot less with this new job coming up.  partially because i expect to be working a whole bunch, partially because when i will have free time, i won't know much about anything except work (which i am of course not allowed to talk about).  laters

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.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Lessons Learned from a Whirlwind Experience

After several months working on-site =) at CharityFocus, i'm back in phoenix visiting my family.  The last couple weeks have been filled with service activities for all sorts of cool folks and ended with the yearly CharityFocus tiger team meeting.  That's basically code for the yearly state-of-the-organization gathering.  It ends up being a platform for all things gift-economy.  50 folks gathered in a monastery to share insights from the past year and thought of new paths to express service, including a potential gift-economy wellness center in LA called 'community sweat!' 


I'm so very thankful to have had this time.  lots of thoughts on what I learned/can take back with me:

-being the change changes the being.  need to stop looking outside myself for change.

-every moment is an opportunity to learn about oneself.

-beauty is in small things.  think globally, act locally.

-meetings are better with 2 minutes of silence to start.  folks can wait, and end up more efficient anyways with the sound start.

-wisdom/change doesn't come from things (books, money, food, etc) as much as people changing their perspective.

-introspection/mindfulness is absolutely necessary for any sort of selfless action.

-there's TONS of good people in this world.


i'll be in phx for the rest of the month, then nyc for next job, at which point i'll probably write less since my life will be consumed by work and the work is probably not sharable :P

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Smile! You've just been tagged with kindness =)

My friend Pavi calls me yesterday while I'm in the grocery store.

"Hey Birju, are you in Berkeley?"


"Close to Taste of the Himalayas?"

"about 2 miles.  why?"

"I need you to tag someone right now!"

Her surrogate grandparents were visiting from Michigan and wanted to eat at the restaurant Karma Kitchen was running out of, even if they weren't staying long enough to actually experience Karma Kitchen.  Well, when Pavi heard this, she wanted them to experience the generosity of Karma Kitchen.  As soon as they left, she started calling people she knew around Berkeley.  I was called last and by accident, but through some stroke of luck I happened to be somewhat close.


As soon as I heard about the opportunity to serve, I wasn't going to let it go.  I immediately dropped the carrots and asparagus I was carrying, ran out, and started on the 2 mile trip to the restaurant.


I get there and spot the diners.  Turns out it is 5 people, all at this upscale Indian restaurant, and they're pretty engaged in conversation so I'm pretty sure they don't see me (not that they would recognize me anyway since we'd never met).  I see the restaurant manager, Rajen.  He's a great guy (obviously, since he lets us run a gift-economy experiment from the premises every week!) and i thought I could let him know what was happening.  He agrees to let me pay for their meal.  I write a quick note to them wishing them a wonderful remainder of the day from an anonymous stranger, drop in a smile card, and take off.


They had no idea what had happened!  Turns out, neither did I, as I left right away.  Later I found out through Pavi that they were blown away =)  awesome on so many levels. 


It's like nobody can take credit for it, but a wonderful series of conditions presented themselves as an opportunity to make someone's day, and we decided to take the opportunity.  just gotta keep looking for the opportunities!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

True Life: I Work for CharityFocus

It's hard to classify what exactly I'm doing here in the Bay Area. Nipun once called me a volunteer executive committee intern, so i've been going with that, but really the job is pretty catch all.

I was thinking about how i'd capture what I've been doing as a job description. So far, I'd say it was

-doing small acts of kindness

-looking to be of service to whoever it is that i meet in whatever way i can

-use my skillset (business, technology) to do 1 & 2, and build on new skillsets

-meditate and practice present moment awareness

Weird job description and yet it has resulted in the most fruitful experience of my life to date. I'd like to share what i've done this week, but the caveat is that it is not necessarily indicative of the work. When this week started, i didn't have much of an idea of what would come up, and yet without any planning plenty of good stuff has happened.

Monday started with a long meeting about our new project. This is part of a new rollout of what CharityFocus is doing to try and make it easier to help others in the world by connecting people who need help to people that are looking to provide help (no money exchanged of course). It's currently in development though, so going to take a bit to go forward. In the evening I head to Nipun's house to have a debrief of his trip to New York City (where he spoke to Columbia on generosity, sparked a movement, etc lol). And there was meditation.

Tuesday was about Karma Kitchen. We were trying to figure out how to proceed with the project, where to proceed, and specific logistics about it. In the evening I went down to Santa Clara to meet 2 wonderful folks and see how we could serve. Joe is from India and he had been selflessly serving for 40 years building sanitation systems in the poorest of villages in rural India as a leader of GramVikas. He has saved tens of thousands of lives and bettered the quality of life for countless people, and recently was deemed a Skoll Fellow (with a $1M offering). Dipti is from the US, but was so moved by GramVikas' work that she has been in India for the past several years building renewable energy systems for rural villages there. The vision is to leap entirely by the system of energy that we're in now. And there was meditation as well =)

Wednesday is meditation day. The evening is marked by 40ish people coming to meditate and share their thoughts. The day is spent shipping smile card orders and preparing food as service for the meditators. There's hundreds and hundreds of orders to be shipped every week, and as this operation runs lean (to say the least), we do it all ourselves. In addition to this, we met up with Andrew Hoppin on this day. Andrew is something akin to VP of Utopia for NASA. He is trying to create open communities for sharing information in that space and get people to learn from each other in ways that aerospace has never seen (and he's trying to add a bit of spirituality to it too).

So far today on Thursday I've been with Pavi and Viral, and we've been writing, trying to get some research for the next thought-of-the-week and doing more work for Karma Kitchen, which will hopefully be re-opening up soon (and perhaps have a HBS case study on it soon as well). and of course there will be meditation ;)

So on this Valentine's day, I want to share this poem (not written by me) and just be open to the good things in life.

one more thing. an old hindi song on this valentines day:

here's a translation i found on the internets:

Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai,
ke jaise tujko banaya gaya hai mere liye


Tu ab se pehle sitaron mein bas rahi thi kahin,
tuje jamin pe bulya gaya he mere liye.


Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai,
ke ye badan ye nighanon meri amanat hai,


Yeh geshuon ki ghani chhaon hai meri khatir,
ye hothon aur yeh bahen meri amanat hai.


Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai,
ke jaise bajti hai shenhaiyan si rahon mein,


Suhag raat hai ghoonghat utha raha hoon mein,
Simat rahi he tu sharma ke meri bahon mein.


Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai,
jaise tu muje chehagi umrabhar younhi.


Utthegi meri taraf pyaar ki nazar younhi,
main janta hun ke tu gair magar younhi.
Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai,



Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My first go on the catwalk

Early last week my friend Mita asked me if I was interested in auditioning for this fashion show she was in.  It sounded interesting, and i had no idea what it really entailed, so i was like 'sure!'  Well, this set off a series of events that led to me doing a runway show of high-end fusion formal attire created by some designers i've never heard of but that apparently manufacture some really nice (read: expensive) clothes. 

I showed up for the initial rehearsals and i sucked.  i sucked at walking.  i can't tell you enough how humiliating that is, to be told that you suck at walking.  lol.  after many hours of trying to get it right (and the choreographer yelling at me), i finally got to the point that i didn't embarrass myself.  it was fun too, as far as new experiences are concerned.

 Pic from Mita's mom, professional pics later...

Earlier in the week I had the opportunity to meet some really cool folks.  The first was the CEO of Inferential Focus, a think-tank that basically sees things before they happen and helps their clients because of it (they saw the avian flu, housing boom, etc before it happened).  He had this really cool idea about helping people and Nipun and I (mostly Nipun) took part in seeing how we could serve the process.  He was a really cool guy and I was glad to have met him.


Also we had a meeting with Mark Finser, the chairman of the board at RSF Social Finance and general partner of TBL Capital.  The guy is just awesome in all ways.  He's given over $100M to folks running businesses geared to help the world and now switched over from offering debt to equity. 


Its cool but weird.  I've had the benefit of going to so many meetings since i've been here, but the meetings have no agendas.  the idea is to be in each others presence and see what manifests when nobody comes at it from the point of 'i want.'  its so refreshing to start a karmatube meeting with a 'check-in' where everyone talks about what's going on in their personal lives before we even say a word about WORK, and how we start and end karma kitchen meetings with a few minutes of introspective silence.  it changes the dynamic of the entire interaction.  all of a sudden, everyone is talking and thinking about 'how can i help you?' instead of the other way around, and it also doesn't really feel like 'work' anymore.  its a joy to be a part of. 


i have no idea what the next week will be like but i'm looking forward to catching Shaq's debut in purple and orange.  would be nice for my team to win a title once every millenium.  now that the red sox have won a couple titles, the phoenix suns are the most cursed franchise in american sport.  maybe that ends this year?

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.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Living in Berkeley

Since I got back from my time in heavy meditation, I've been in Berkeley hanging out with Adam and Shephali from new york (who have since gone back to the city - and i miss them a lot) and the entity that is CharityFocus.  I'll be here working most heavily with them throughout this period and so I've found an apartment here in Berkeley where the founder and my good friend Nipun Mehta lives with his wonderful wife Guri.

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Last Wednesday I was again a part of the long-running CharityFocus Wednesday.  There was a gathering of 40+ people who had come to meditate together, share wisdom, and eat in silence.  The 'Thought-of-the-Week' from which we shared posed the question 'Why do you meditate?'  What a great opportunity for me to hear so many varying reasons from people who had started meditating a week ago all the way to actual monks.  And I haven't even yet mentioned the food!  Totally amazing tasting and given from the heart.  All of this is provided by the hosts in a 'gift-economy' fashion.  No money/business cards/etc has ever exchanged hands in over the decade that this has been run, and it has been attended by monks, nuns, world leaders and some of the most financially wealthy people in the world.  The hosts provide with no expectations of receiving (even though they are not independently wealthy by any means).  I am blessed every time I get to attend one of these gatherings.


The next day, we met with the co-founders of Zicasso, an online travel planning website.  Brian and Yuchun (alumni of MIT Sloan and Wharton, respectively) started the company wanting to make it easier to plan international trips while going through local trip providers, thus making is simultaneously cheaper and boosting the local economy.  Their network of relationships takes the guesswork and fear out of the process.  The worldwide release will occur shortly, but take a look now for a sneak peek!


That same evening, we met with Jean Yao, a wonderful woman, graphic designer of many things in CharityFocus, and who has spent 30 minutes in private audience with the Dalai Lama!  I peppered her with questions as to what that experience was like and what was learned from it.  It was awesome.


The next day we (Adam, Shephali, and I) had lunch with a college professor of education and consciousness (Mali) and my friend Megan, who is a former Buddhist nun and currently is one of the leaders in bringing meditation to schools (here's an article about the effort from the NY Times).


After this we headed to meet Emmanuel Lee, the founder of GlobalOnenessProject.  There was a bunch of brainstorming and wild performances by Adam, but can't go in to much more depth here.  Keep an eye out for these guys though, their video content is some of the best and most uplifting in the world.


For the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, we first went to the Buddhist Monestary and met with the Abbott monk Rev. Heng Sure.  This is a man that did not lie down for 25 years and maintained a vow of silence for 6 years.  His bowing pilgrimage is the stuff of legend.  Just happy to be in the same room ;)


The rest of the evening was spent at a dinner with guests who were involved in various yogic activities, including one gentleman, Jonathan, who had spent 35 days in zen meditation and had done a 4 day 'vision quest' (no food, constant meditation, enclosed in small circle in open space) in the middle of death valley.  crazy!


Saturday we go straight to visit and learn from Prasad Kaipa.  He is an IIT ph.d. physicist turned Apple Computer fellow turned college professor turned CEO coach.  We spent the afternoon together and he told us about how to 'ignite the genius within' ;)

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Since then I've hung out with great friends Pavi (the link is to the best poem i've ever read), Viral, and Ragu before coming back here to Berkeley, and have also been working on some top secret CharityFocus stuff.  Will keep that under wraps until the time is right ;)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

My Life As A Monk (with Fiona Apple lol)

Annicha! Annicha! Annicha!

The powerful words of my sensei still ring in my ears. It is the Pali word for impermanent/changing. I'm still reverberating from the sound.

I just got back from one of the most intense experiences of my life. I rung in the new year of 2008 by trekking to the woods in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains in central California for an intensive meditation experience. I went with my friends Nipun, Paul, Shephali, and Adam. From then until now I subjected myself to living as a meditation monk. I would not be exaggerating by saying this has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life.

The concept of the experience is to cut down sensory stimulus to a relatively extreme point and then to intensely focus on present moment experience. The idea is to sharpen the mind through the process to be able to be more acutely aware of present moment and experientially recognize the impermanence of all phenomenon.

The rules and regulations were very constricting:

-noble precepts: no killing (vegetarian/vegan food only), stealing, sexual activity, lying, or intoxicants (drugs, alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, etc)

-noble silence: Noble Silence means silence of body, speech, and mind. Any form of communication with anyone, whether by gestures, sign language, written notes, etc., is prohibited

-contact: complete segregation of men and women, no physical contact of anyone (male or female) during your time there)

-food: 2 meals, 6:30am breakfast, 11am lunch. that's it.

-outside contact: no contact of any sort, including laptops, cell phones, letters, visitors.

-entertainment: no music or instruments, no reading/books, no writing, no laptops.

when you cut out this much stuff, basically all you are left with is sleep and meditation, and this is what happened. You turn in all of your personal items: cellphone, wallet, keys, books, writing materials, medication, electronical items. I had nothing for the entire time except for myself and my own crazy head. my daily schedule was as follows:

4:15 am
Morning wake-up gong

4:30-6:30 am
Meditate in the hall or in your room

6:30-8:00 am
Breakfast and Introspection

8:00-9:00 am
Determination meditation (no moving allowing)

9:00-11:00 am
Meditate in the hall or in my room

11:00-12:00 noon

12-1:00 pm
Introspection, walk outside

1:00-2:30 pm
Meditate in the hall or in your room

2:30-3:30 pm
Determination meditation (no moving allowing)

3:30-5:00 pm
Meditate in the hall or in my room

5:00-6:00 pm
Tea and introspection

6:00-7:00 pm
Determination meditation (no moving allowing)

7:00-8:15 pm
Meditate/Listen to discourse

8:15-9:00 pm
Determination meditation (no moving allowing)

9:00-9:30 pm
Mundane activities (shower/shave/etc)

9:30 pm

As you can see, this adds up to about 12 hrs of meditation every day with no real respite for days and days, not to mention no knowledge of ANYTHING outside yourself due to absolute silence in all ways.

Sometimes you're just sitting around waiting for time to pass, and the faster your mind goes (and it goes FAST), the slower the subjective experience of time becomes. Not only that, but meditation is no slacker activity. There's not even a moment to slack off. The SECOND you're not observing your mind, your mind starts flying around from one random thought to the next. You have literally zero moments rest for those 12 hours.

The actual activity of meditation was very focused. The first several days I was asked to observe my breath. Literally just focus on air entering and leaving the nose. For 12 hrs a day. For days on end. What this did was focus and sharpen my mind to experience sensations that otherwise went unnoticed. The remainder of the time was used to utilize that sharpened focus to be attentive to sensations on the body and recognize what exactly was going on in my system.

When my time there ended, I was taught a 'metta' meditation, which is where one's heightened attention/awareness is used to spread feelings of love outward. I'm not a really emotional person, but for the first time in over a decade, this experience had me sobbing. I mean absolutely uncontrollable.

As I was leaving, I noticed that on the woman's side of the monastery was Fiona Apple, who apparently was having a nun experience of her own. Apparently we had meditated 10 feet from each other for the entire time in the main hall and I had not known. She seemed like a nice girl. I was surprised initially, then I remembered what Nipun told me last time he was here. His roommate had been Rivers Cuomo, the frontman for Weezer.

So, obviously, this is not a standard way to spend a couple weeks, and I've gotten a lot of questions as to why I'd do something like this. There's a couple reasons:

-my friend Nipun said it's a good experience. i had no idea what I was getting into, but it seemed like it would test my limits and I trusted him, so i went with it.

-I wanted to learn more about the depth of myself. I don't know about anyone else, but I see in myself that A LOT of the time, i respond with blind reactions to things. I judge them. good, bad, bad, good. everything is given a label. I also realized that because of those labels i wanted what was good and didn't want what was bad. I wanted to know more about that. why do i do that? It obviously is the reason that i have ups and downs in my life, but there was no real rationale for it occurring. That desire to understand played a large role as well.

Now that I'm out of there, I'm thinking to what i'm going to take with me from this experience. I think 3 major elements stand out:

-1: my ego is HUGE. its an amazing intricate carving i have made of what i believe 'birju' is. and as the carving includes labels such as 'humble' and 'modest' and 'other-oriented', it is incredibly difficult for it to leave.

-2: present moment awareness is an evolving state. I sat and meditated for a hour on many days for the past 10 years. It brought me a sense of understanding what was happening in my life and awareness in general. sitting in the manner i've been sitting through this time period, i've realized that i became aware of A LOT more that was happening. some of the cravings and aversions that are there and lead to unconscious decision making don't make themselves known until you sharpen your mind to an obscene level.

On an experiential level, this meant that I started feeling sensations on my body that I had never experienced before, and also recognized that whatever it was that I was experiencing was constantly changing, not lasting. Seeing this kind of shifts my focus to understand even more and more about how things I want in this world are really just cravings and aversions to sensations felt on my body... cravings and aversions that result from sensations that are really quite temporary. makes me wonder why I react to the sensations at all sometimes.

-3: I'm not as materially simple as I thought. I was previously of the mindset that I was a very simple person who could live with only the bare necessities and I've be just fine. When actually put in a position where all i had was the BARE NECESSITIES, i was really thrown for a loop. I really how much I crave connection with others, how much i crave laughter, how important it is for me to feel I have a full stomach.

Overall, this was a very humbling experience. I feel like I got through something that pushed me to a level I've never been pushed before. I don't know if I'd ever do it again, and to be honest, I'm kind of afraid to think about it. But who knows what will come of it. Right now, I know that awareness is really important in life and this is an excellent way to sharpen awareness.

I'm going to be in SF for the next little while continuing to meditate and working with CharityFocus...