6th Lead for Change Program at Asia Plateau.

27th April to 1st May 2018.

A report by Ruchi Bhimani.

Day 1

Inaugural

The 6th Lead for Change Program began at Asia Plateau on 27th April 2018 with 38 participants from diverse backgrounds. We started with a tour of the main building for the participants to get to know the place as well as a little bit of history and the spirit with which it came about. Formal inaugural session was held at Australia room. Megija, Nawang, Riathung and Ratana presented the ‘Knee Skit’ to start with. Neas and Maruee welcomed us all. Maruee enacted a butterfly that was once a caterpillar before her first time at Lead for Change as a participant. After the traditional ‘lamping of the light’, interns and the outreach team presented the candle song. Uncle Kiran Gandhi then welcomed the participants on behalf of the AP Family and the Trust. Making a reference to the butterfly and metamorphosis, he expressed his thoughts and his delight to see the vibrant group of young people. He expressed his hope for each one to be the change they want to see in the world. After this, Parag and Mayur Shah shared their thoughts about Lead for Change and an overview of the program. This was followed by everybody in the room introducing themselves and sharing their passions. It was interesting to hear what each one said about why they chose to come for this program. The reasons ranged from wanting to overcome depression, finding myself, search of greater purpose, strong recommendation of boss, parents, sibling or friend to the magnetic pull that had brought some of them back to Asia Plateau. Everybody spoke except for one boy.

Asia Plateau documentary was screened which gave a further insight into the ideology of MRA-IofC.

Silent walk to the Plateau

We all then went on a silent walk to tableland thru the forest. It was all about overcoming challenges, helping others climb the cliff by pulling them up, a feeling of ‘Yes, I did it’. On this warm afternoon, the pond on the plateau was quite an oasis for us. As we gathered by the water side, some of us sang ‘Be the Change’ song. With the cool breeze that it provided, we were led by Anjali into a fun game which went from Zut to Zat to Zap J

Evening Time of Silence

Every day from 6:30pm to 7pm, participants were encouraged to observe time of silent in the auditorium.

Gupshup – Getting to know each other

After dinner was time for further bonding and getting to know each other better.

Day 2

Soul nurture

This session started with a brief input by Tutu, about nature and how nature helps us connect within and nurture our soul. Leslie offered a lovely song – ‘Morning star and eagle song can bring us to perfect rest’ followed by 40 minutes of silent introspective walk in the nature. Here is some of what was shared after the wanderings amidst the nature nooks on the Asia Plateau campus.

  • “A buzzing bee kept flitting around me, as I tried to wave it away.  Then I realised that this bee was similar to the bee within that is constantly distracting me – phones, screens, etc. everything that distracts me from being still.”
  • “7am is typically the time we leave for work on a normal work day, and today I am here amidst nature.  I am grateful for Nature…”
  • “I didn’t plan on being here today, and have made a pretty impulsive trip.  It occurs to me that Nature doesn’t plan either… wish we could be more like that…”
  • “I’ve got an idea for an illustration.  I’d like to share it with you guys when I’ve done it.”

Inner Listening was an immersive session led by Mayur, sharing the core IofC ideas of ‘Quiet Time’, ‘Listening to Inner voice’ and measuring life with `PHUL’ (Purity, Honesty, Unselfishness Love), and how we can start to actively apply it in our lives. While AP offers comfortable living, the space also brings up some uncomfortable questions for us, and these come up in the silences – who are we, and where are we going?  And this was reflected on many of the application forms submitted – so many of us seem to be in a searching, at somewhat of a crossroads, looking for greater meaning in our life.

As we learn to actively listen to the still small voice within, we are acting on the  voice of the Divine within.

Personal stories of transformation inspired the room – Tutu from the North-East of India, Aga from Indonesia, Sadhu from Jharkhand.  Each one stirred the room to reflect on their own life, in light of the powerful principles of Purity, Honesty, Unselfishness & Love. Quiet time was followed by open space to share thoughts.

PHUL for Life

Can we really change the world by making a change in our lives?  If we stop indulging in corrupt practices, will the corruption in the world really end? Mayur shared his experience of stopping to pay bribes to government officers and how and where it led him further in his life. One of the thoughts he shared was – ‘Who am I to change the world? All I can change is myself. And I can choose every time to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem.’

This session offered an extended silent self-introspection for a little over 40 minutes, followed by sharing insights and epiphanies.

  • A young girl from Cambodia reflected on her friendship with Koreans across the border, and she determined to bring her friends together after a prolonged period of discord between them.
  • Another young girl reflected on her lackadaisical attitude during her recent internship, and decided to apologise to her previous boss, and also determined not to repeat those mistakes in the future
  • A young boy connected with his resentment towards his parents, who seemed to have little time for him in his growing years.  He felt ready to have a conversation with them, and make good.
  • Several others shared connections that they made to lapses in their practice of the four values of Purity, Honesty, Unselfishness and Love, amongst these, a young mother, who candidly shared about her selflessness towards her child was soon turning to somewhat of a selfishness.

Leadership Essentials

This post-lunch session was led by Diyanat Ali. It allowed for everyone to relax a little into some fun game play.  And yet, each game made for insightful and pertinent lessons, which everyone shared at the end of the session. Significantly, the Blindfold Treasure Hunt made for several important learnings, which was very easily relatable with situations at work.  One of the lessons that came through was the significance of planning before any execution.  Each team needed to set in place a language of communication, considering that speaking was not allowed.  This involved a fair amount of planning, and ensuring that all team members were on the same page, often also accounting for any reservations or concerns a particular team member might have about the kind of gestures being decided upon for the sign language.

There were also significant learning around being a leader, and requiring to direct your team, while also accepting their failings and strengths.  On the other hand, the blindfolded frontman was required to exercise complete trust on his colleagues to guide him on what he had to do – often feeling frustrated; and the rest of the team members played the diligent role of being cogs in wheel – all scenarios that most participants could relate to from experiences at work.

The de-brief and sharing after the activity helped integrate the learning, so that everyone can return home (and to work) with possibly wiser ways to be.

In Conversation with Kiran Gandhi

This was an intimate conversation with Kiran Gandhi, a father of 3 daughters and 3 grandchildren and loving and caring son of his 99 year old father, he candidly took the participants through his journey from a somewhat petulant engineering student, to a respected man who has manifested powerful transformation within and beyond in the world around, even talking openly of a troubled period in his marriage to his soul mate and life partner as well as about his daughter. He shared balancing the three tracks in life – Professional (Job or Business), Passion (IofC work in his case) and Family. Talking about various initiatives he has taken, he shared how his small home in Jamshedpur was opened to the people around for coming together to have collective quiet time, make amendments, reconcile and find direction in life. This resulted in inspiring many people to change their ways of life for better. For instance, touching the heart of toughest Union Leaders and changing lives of a many others, including rural political rivals who became friends. He also shared about how listening to inner voice can lead one to create something which is out of their domain. Being a metallurgical engineer, he pioneered the ETST (Education Today, Society Tomorrow) program of IofC.

Participants were inspired by his simplicity and open heart. They asked him numerous questions about his work and life. His responses were life lessons for many.

Family Groups

Post dinner, it was time for smaller family groups to meet, open up and share their life stories. This helped us all connect with each other on a personal level with deeper understanding and love.

Day 3

Gratitude

This early morning in the rose view garden was made meaningful by Navnessh and Maruee. After initial ‘grounding’, the session was prefaced by some thoughts around gratitude, and for next 20 minutes, the participants were asked to reflect on people who have helped them and those whom they have helped.

As participants shared stories about being helped by strangers and friends, deep feelings of gratitude to parents or siblings, it came to a majority of the group that maybe there is a need to give more as in giving we receive and also to express gratitude to our near and dear ones whom we often take for granted. There was some hesitation to acknowledge how we have helped others.

Participants were then introduced to the ‘lotus of gratitude’ – a simple daily practice of counting on our blessings and people we are grateful for. They were then invited to express their gratitude to loved ones and friends over a text or a call.

Beyond Inner Listening

The Outreach team of IofC took us thru an inspiring session on going beyond, after correcting one’s own life, to help others change. What does it take to make an ideal world?  What is it that we would like to put right in the world?

Poverty. Lack of Education. Violence against Women.  Supression.  Everyone piped up with their perspective.

Riathung from Nagaland shared a personal story of transformation, wherein he spoke of his disillusionment with corruption in his homestate of Nagaland, and through his practice of quiet time, realised all the “corruptions” of his own life. 

`The Boulder song’ beautifully and humorously performed by Leena Khatri, Tutu, Anup and Riathung, threw light on the idea of working together to overcome adversity, to push away the metaphorical boulder of hate from our lives.

Once again, the participants were asked to reflect on whether we are playing a part on the things that we want to see changed in the world, with an invitation to reflect at a deeper level, keep the chattering mind silent, and experience what comes up within

  • What I don’t want people to learn from me, and how am I going to change those in me?
  • What change am I going to bring in the society I live in?

What ensued after this time of reflection, was very vulnerable and candid sharing by the participants, talking about their dark side and shortcomings, with the hope and determination to transform.

The session was summed up with the re-imagining of a familiar acronym.

C – for Connection (with your inner self)

C – for Correction (making a change, and taking action)

D – Direction (what do we do with our life)

Power of One

The session started with a short film around iconic stories from around the world depicting the power of one person standing up and making a change. 

And then, a real-life sharing of a Power of One story, by Lead for Change alumni, Pravin Nikam from Pune.  Pravin charted his turn-around story of change from his days as an engineering student to a youth leader who hobnobbed with the Queen of England.  He came across a young girl called Roshni, while on a study tour to Assam (that he almost didn’t go for!).  She didn’t go to school, she told him, and her father explained that girls in their culture stopped going to school at the onset of menstruation. Shocked that such a attitude was prevalent even in the 21st century in India, Nikam took it upon himself to create awareness around menstrual hygiene; and, this journey took him all across the country and beyond, having the opportunity to speak about this important issue with government officials in India, and the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon and the Queen of England at a global level.

Today, Pravin is on somewhat of a sabbatical.  Having rejected offers for TED talks and an offer to accompany the PM on a visit to the UK, he is spending precious time with family, and taking the time to assess where he goes from here.

What touched and inspired the participants the most was Pravin’s humility and passion. Many shared in person afterwards that ‘if he could do so much with so less and at such an early age, what am I doing with so much that I have? I too can do much more.’

Inner Child Healing

Thru out the tea and meal breaks on Day 2, Navneesh was busy doing ‘muscle testing’ for the participants which in itself was new and quite a revealing experience for many. It was a means to identify the beliefs we carry. The body doesn’t lie, and through indications from the body, we are able to identify what beliefs we carry that hold us back from our own potential. Eager to know what will come next after the readings of cellular memory collected from body, participants were led into the Inner Child Healing.

This session was conducted by Pune-based Dr. Rahul Malushte, who is a practicing Homeopath for last 23 years and has expertise in the areas of alternative healing modalities like Past Life Regression as part of his treatment.

The session started with a short animation film about a father and child caught up in city living.  The essence of the film that connected to the participants – the uniqueness that we carry inside us as children gets lost when we start running the rat race.

Dr. Malushte went on to talk in greater detail.  The inner child is that part of us which is closest to the Creator, the Divine Source, somewhat of a multidimensional being within us.  As we grow up, whatever is demanded of us, we try to comply, and through that we start losing our originality, our inner child. 

What followed was an intensive, immersive (and, for some, cathartic) session, wherein all participants were led by Dr. Malushte to imagine a time and place wherein a connection with each one’s inner child could be developed, and a process of healing and care can begin.  Several participants went into deep sleep during the session (the Doctor indicated that sometimes one processes at a subconscious level), and several participants had intense experiences of connection (or disconnection), often reaching out to loved ones in apology or to re-connect.  For some, the session also brought a certain lightness about troubling memories from the past. This exercise helped some participants have very important personal breakthroughs.

Freedom Square

As the inner child came alive, next was an open session for everyone to let their hair down. Sing a song, dance, share poetry, play the fool, be silly and connect to the child within in action! Riathung anchored and held this space. Many participants were able to step up, trust the space, and speak and share with fellow participants. For some, it was the first time to take the stage in front of so many.

Film Screening: The Greatest Game Ever Played

This evening was about popcorn at tea time, pizza at dinner followed by movie night. Everyone cozied up to watch a powerful and inspiring film. The Greatest Game Ever Played is based on the true story of a 20-year old caddy, Francis Ouimet, who turned his fate around, played and went on to win the US Open Golf Championship in 1913, against his idol and longtime champion, Harry Vardon. The film gave a strong message about perseverance, breaking thru barriers, family, parent–child relationship, following ones dreams and passions, team work, friendship, sportsmanship, gentleman spirit, mutual respect and so on.

The film left the participants highly inspired and motivated.

Day 4

Forgiveness

This morning we met at the beautiful and quaint Japanese garden.  As an extension of yesterday’s session on Gratitude, Navneesh and Maruee led participants to continue writing in their diaries about :

  1. people who may have hurt them, inflicted pain on them, and/or caused them to suffer.
  2. people who they may have hurt, caused to suffer or inflicted pain upon.

After reflecting in silence, there was an intimate and powerful sharing session. 

  • Touched by the immersive session on the inner child yesterday, a young lady had a powerful exchange with her brother, who she hadn’t spoken to in a while. 
  • A young man realised how he had been party to bullying and mistreating a classmate who was obese, even while considering him a friend

One thing that came through in the session was that a lot of times, the ones we hurt or are hurt by, are loved ones and close friends.  There was also a realization that when I hurt others, I get hurt as well; several participants resolved to give more selflessly and be more sensitive to others.

A quote by the Buddha that significantly encapsulates the essence of the session:  “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

Forgiving and asking for forgiveness are the attributes of the bravest. Participants were urged to take courage to apologize and to forgive those they felt they needed to.

Relationships

This session was a deep dive into relationships, with story sharing by facilitators, that inspired the participants to reflect on relationships in their own lives.  Through the session, participants were invited to become more aware of what role we play in our relationships with our father, mother, child, sibling, grandparent/s, professor, pet/s, domestic help, neighbours, soul mate, friends, and even ourselves.

Using the metaphor of a gardener tending to a garden of relationships, the facilitators spoke of how all our relationships need different kinds of care – some more water than others, some frequent manure, and often very particular care in certain seasons.  And yet, despite our care, leaves will dry up and fall off, and some plants will grow thorns.

Anjali Gandhi shared her story of connecting to her sister, younger by several years, who, unbeknownst to her siblings suffered deeply from suicidal tendency.  And, Parag Shah, himself from a staunch Jain family, shared his story of finding love in a Kashmiri Muslim woman, overcoming adversities with incredible integrity and honesty, a true turnaround of attitude for both families.

Stirred by these stories, participants reflected on their own lives, keeping the following questions in mind:

  1. What is my role in my difficult relationships?  What am I going to do about it?
  1. Am I taking anyone for granted? How can I express my gratitude towards them?

The sharing spoke to relationships across the spectrum – an elder brother who built a bond with his younger brother; a newly-wed woman wanting to nurture her relationship with her new in-laws; a recently-divorced young girl shared her troubled relationship with her parents and so on.

IofC Families

This was a profound session of life story sharing by the incredible pioneers of IofC India and Asia Plateau, several of whom have been here when the foundation stone was laid. The two couples – Ravindra and Jayashree Rao, and Suresh and Leena Khatri – shared their life journeys of encountering and committing to the IofC philosophy, and building the organization bit by bit over the last 50 years. 

Ravindra Rao was part of the post-Independence generation, and they were longing to do something great.  He joined IofC because he recognized that the country needed a profound moral and spiritual revolution. He spoke about how his decision to go to the Naxal affected area and having dialogue with them had changed the hearts of Naxalites who dropped weapons and chose the moral revolution instead.

Suresh Khatri knew that he would be committed to IofC for the rest of his life, within 30 minutes of encountering the philosophy.  The Law of Reciprocity of Nature - that if you serve nature, nature looks after you, if you serve humanity, humanity after you – has stood him in good stead over his 50+ years of commitment to the philosophy. He shared about his early life before meeting MRA-IofC and how after listening to the inner voice, he took courage to confess to his parents all that he had done behind their eyes and burnt dirty books and pictures he was obsessed with. He shared how he could obtain teak wood for Asia Plateau from an auction by making an appeal to other bidders – not to bid against him as he needed this wood for a place that was built to transform the nation.

Jayshree Rao spoke of how the idea of quiet time has steered her life, since she encountered the philosophy as a 14 year-old school girl.  The guidance she received in her quiet time led her to manage a super successful business in Bangalore, and eventually also led her to question herself when she bargained over 5 rupees with a vegetable vendor, after pocketing payment of Rs. 1 lakh.  She realised in that moment that she had to do something for rural India, and made the move from her comfortable life in Bangalore to building Grampari here in Panchgani.  In her quiet time, she has found the courage to follow her heart.

In 1974, when Leena Khatri graduated with her Masters in French, she was considering three life choices, including working in the foreign service; and, eventually, she chose the least glamorous, and least lucrative path, and gave her life to working for IofC.  What attracted her to MRA was the idea of building a new world, one person at a time. 

Finally, the session was opened up the participants, asking them what, to them, was their “Manual of Life”, and here are some of the insightful responses:

  • Live with the Give, not the Get
  • Live with universal respect for all
  • Be responsible for your decisions
  • Be an instrument of the Divine
  • Live with an Open Mind
  • Live with Integrity
  • Make money for a greater good
  • Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses (Confucius)
  • Be yourself, but be selfless
  • Start accepting people as they are, not as we expect them to be
  • Creating loving spaces for human connection
  • Be the angel, not the demon
  • Empowering others in our interactions with them
  • Importance of friendships
  • Don’t just hear – listen
  • Start each day with `something for someone’

Enough time was given for participants to ask questions and share their views as well on transforming their lives and the world at large.

Suresh Khatri shared the metaphor of Solar Eclipse. He said our soul is like the sun but it is eclipsed by the temptations, greed, lies, hatred and so on. How can we clear this ‘Soular Eclipse’?

World Café

Tracie Mooneyham led this interactive workshop along with Anjali and Anup.

A Michael Jackson video, Earth Song, set the tone for the session, as it brought to the fore important and urgent issues in the world and the emotion to care for the world we live in.

This session was about articulating what issues the participants feel deeply about, and how they are going to work towards bringing change.  As everyone piped in with their perspective, the facilitators helped zero in on the five major issues that resonated with the group.

  • Environment
  • Greed
  • Lack of Humanity
  • Health
  • Lack of Awareness

Once split into groups, six major questions were posited to provide a framework, as they set out to discuss the issue within their groups.

  1. What is the issue/problem?
  2. Why do you feel strongly about it?
  3. Who is affected, and who can help?
  4. When are you going to start doing something about it?
  5. Where are you going to start?
  6. How are you going to act on it – individually and as a group?

Each group presented their ideas around the issue, with plans for individual and group action - even if a little ambiguous sometimes, given that some of the issues selected were more a cause for the issue, than a concrete issue, towards which one can strategize a plan for change.

Family Group

With the intensity of the sharing yesterday and earlier today, the participants returned to their family groups to re-connect and debrief. It was precious time together for many as they opened up for the first time about things they had never shared with anyone before. This also resulted in much deeper bonding and friendships and it established trust amongst the family members. Almost everyone found a friendship that would be life-long.

Expressions

Everything from a lavni dance to Bachata for all, chicken dance, heartbreak poetry, Bollywood numbers, standup comedy, a soulful French song and guitar number – the participants really let their hair down for this one. It was a celebration of life and moments shared together on this journey. Riathung who anchored the evening presented a self-composed song.

Day 5

Peace Prayer

On this last morning of the program, everybody woke up pretty early to go on a small hike up to the plateau to meet the sunrise. It was a new beginning. The day was special as the full moon was still bright up in the western sky as the east was coming bright with orange hues of the sunrise.

As we all reached the top, Aga guided us into the Peace prayer. Facing the east, friends offered prayers from different faiths as the sun came up. It was a soulful and sacred space where everyone was accepting of the other. After the prayers, Hrishikesh Phadtare, one of the

participants demonstrated ‘Suryanamaskar’ (Sun Salutation exercise) which was repeated by most of us.

Road Less Travelled

Mayur took us thru this was a powerful inspiring session about making choices based on the heart’s calling and walking the path of conviction as against that of convenience.

`Do not go gentle into that good night

Rage, rage against the dying of the light’ – Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas’ quote encapsulates the spirit of this session.  If this life is transient after all, then how do we choose to live it – by clinging to its effervescence, or by practicing a restrained detachment?  What do we choose to do with this short life that we have? Listening to inner voice leads us to unexpected turns and uncharted territories in life. The path may not be easy but the experiences and rewards are immeasurable.

`The mission of life is to find your gift, and the purpose of life is to give it away.’  This African proverb serves as a good basis to chart the onward journey of life.

A tool to help figure out one’s purpose was introduced with the help of a Venn diagram focusing on skills, passions and the needs of the world.

  • Write what are you good at – skills / talents on one page.

Some of the skills shared were - observing, abstract thinking, teaching, expression, communication, team building, business skills.

  • What are you passionate about on the next page.

Some of the passions shared were - dancing, business, not having a routine, nature, travel, languages, swimming, helping others, adventure, people.

  • What are some of the needs of the world (Don’t ask what the world needs, do what makes you come alive, because what the world really needs is people who are alive) – Some of the needs of the world which were shared - love, vulnerability, positivity, food for all, trees, hope, mentors, educators,

How can these three align – what am I good at, what am I passionate about, and what does the world need.

How can I use my skills and passions to address a need of the world?

Some participants could draw a connection between all 3 :

  • Skill is to cook; passion is animals; can feed stray dogs in his area.
  • Make illustrations to show people the good in them.
  • Using team building skills along with passion to organize events that will inspire and impart hope.

A purpose is not something I have, but the purpose also has me.

Relating to an analogy from Avatar, a thought was put forth about choosing purpose.

`Choose your purpose when you’re ready, and this you will feel inside. And the purpose must also choose you. How will you know if the purpose has chosen you? It will keep you restless, it will keep you always on your toes.

Mayur shared his personal story of stopping corruption in business, later quitting business and taking a leap of faith to lead a life of his dreams and passion. If one takes courage to follow the voice inside, they can eventually overcome all adversities and achieve the unimaginable.

His sharing reiterated the importance of breaking free from limiting mindsets, importance of trying, not giving up, lateral thinking and taking courageous first steps.

Participants were inspired and motivated to follow their dreams and passion.

What next?

Neas and Maruee got us to the last session of the program.

Maruee took participants on a virtual flashback trip into the last 5 days – a mesmerizing narrative of sessions, events, experiences and moments right from the beginning of the program.

After this participants were invited to reflect in silence on two questions –

What are the 2 major insights I have from the program?

What are the 2 things I will be doing differently from now on?

Each one of the participants shared their insights and decisions of change. Many also expressed their heartfelt gratitude for Asia Plateau, IofC and the facilitators / interns / Outreach team.

There was a big surprise and astonishment for all. The only boy who did not speak in the introductions session on Day 1, because he was shy and could not understand or speak good English, shared his insights and decisions – reading out loud from his diary – in English!! Everybody applauded him with much appreciation.

Some of the insights were :

  • importance of activity of quiet time
  • importance of nurturing relationships
  • realised she is a morning person, and everyone can be
  • PHUL
  • Inner child healing
  • Gratitude and forgivenesss
  • Silence doesn’t have to be passive
  • Vulnerability is not a weakness

And some of the decisions were :

  • listen with compassion
  • start change with myself with purity
  • deal with relationships differently
  • start to change words into action
  • wants to have more plants around the house
  • learnt to respect old peoples’ opinions more
  • giving time to myself to heal
  • won’t be judgmental and be more sensitive to other people
  • make quiet time a regular practice
  • contribute to the world, even if at a small scale
  • respecting people of other communities at the workplace
  • won’t take parents for granted any more
  • will change lazy life style

-Ruchi Bhimani.

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