Sabras: Be a Ladder

During the weekend of New Year’s Eve, a group of people with diverse backgrounds, ages ranging from 8 months to 87 years, shared a magical weekend together.  Before piling into four cars, they sat together in prayer, encircling a rose pink package filled with tiny sachets of salt, or ‘Sabras’. The meaning of this package emerged like a budding flower over the course of the retreat.
 
One of the members of the retreat held with him a few thoughts by Vinobha Bhave that provided an invisible direction over the next few days. “These words would have come to Vinobha at the appropriate time for his journey.”, he said, “Just like a flashlight, these thoughts have come to us. It is not important whose thoughts they are, but for now it is our duty to use them to find our way ahead as Ladders, not Leaders.” Here are some of those words.

It has always been said that extraordinary thoughts in the heart of any one person is the plan of the divine. Tradition states that just thoughts are not enough, the capacity to lead is also important. Today we challenge this tradition. We aspire to create a network of friends. Our faith in the divine tells us that we will be successful in seeking a process that will end this era of leadership.
 
There are some words that give inspiration to all of humanity, enabling them to achieve tremendous feats. Each era receives one word at a time. Just like ‘Quit India’ enabled all of India to achieve its independence. ‘Collective Service’ is one such phrase that has vast and profound meanings. Earlier, we had phenomenal leaders, but the days of leadership are over. That does not mean that we won’t be blessed with gifted people; in fact I think there will be people with even more potential than before and this is essential for the progress of humanity. But they will be so great that they will not assume the role of leaders. They will live as one with the people. Their beauty will lie in the fact that they will blend with society and work.
 
The universe has constantly sent men who will show humanity the way, but it has now decided that it will send us thoughts. Everyone will evaluate them, take decisions and together proceed ahead. The concept of humanity following one single person is out-dated. Social workers are too busy doing work and don’t do any in-depth thinking. That is why they do not adapt thoughts to their own context. They say that they are ‘Gandhian thinkers’ and work in line with ‘Gandhian principles’. The concept should not remain Gandhiji’s but should become their own. Only then will our internal faith build. If we make concepts our own, only then will enthusiasm build and we will have unanimous elation.
 
The beauty of the Bhoodan movement was that there was no pan-India leadership, because the Bhoodan Movement moved on its own feet. Even Buddha was not an all India leader. He travelled from Allahabad to Bodh Gaya speaking only Pali. But his thought was worthy of propagation and his life was led in accordance with this thought. Therefore, it spread across the world. The work for a ‘People’s revolution’ also takes place in one location, but travels across the world with the wind. Since I am also on a walking pilgrimage, the leadership is also local.  In fact, it is not local leadership, but local service. And because we approach people as their servants, they donate land. Our strength lies in the fact that we are servants of our own selves, our own Gurus. The sparkling divinity in each person’s heart can be unearthed only when we approach them with this pure devotion.
 
I’m not interested in the grandeur of a full moon; I prefer being enraptured by the darkness of a moonless night. For in it we notice the countless stars in the sky. The stars that seem small are sometimes larger than the brightest star. They are all decorating the sky yet maintain their independence without the harsh light of the moon.

Vinobha Bhave, In Maitri Magazine, 12 Nov 2011.

 
‘Sabras’ was more than a collection of twenty individuals. It was about an aggregation of diverse thought processes that have now dispersed like grains of salt adding flavour to the world wherever they go. It is important that we facilitate its dispersion as effectively as we facilitated its aggregation, and that is why we share our thoughts.
 
Bela shares: On the first morning, like many others in the group, I couldn’t stop asking questions.  Why was I a part of this amazing group of friends and invited on this retreat?  How could the people around me love so effortlessly and selflessly?  What did I have to give back in return?  Today in our society so many interactions with other people and with nature are transient and we are rarely given the opportunity to build meaningful relationships that connect with each other’s hearts.  Yet many of us spend our lives living at the surface of our beings, constantly seeking depth and love from others instead of searching deep within ourselves to feel the power of our own love.
 
I feel that I have short-changed myself by living this way, by living mostly through my mind instead of my heart.  On the last morning of the retreat, as I tightly held a sachet of salt in my hands, my enormous gratitude for the community of noble friends that encircled me also awakened the love inside of me. They allowed me to see a tiny glimpse of my own light. And I realized that I have something to give back to this world.
 
Salt is needed to bring out the flavour in the diversity of foods.  Like salt, the love within each of us brings different flavours into our interconnected world. Like salt, love is essential to our being, dissolving effortlessly into our water.  What if in our world, our relationships and interactions with nature and with every living being, could be as fluid and effortless as the love that lives deep within ourselves?  What would happen if we allowed our love to dissolve into every interaction?  In Sanskrit, samarpan, means that whatever dissolves has to surrender.  Imagine a world where each of us surrendered to our natural state of being.
 
But as soon as we begin to follow our hearts, our minds suddenly come to life.  Our thoughts are provoked and our ego begins working in full force. As Jayeshbhai put it, “the characters in our mind come over for chai and then they invite the whole gang of insecurities.”   As we sat around the warmth of the camp fire, he said, “Don’t let them come over uninvited and even if they do, stop pouring them more chai.  Keep living through your heart.  Understand mamattva, to love selflessly like a mother.  After living mamattva, samarpa will naturally follow.
 
In so many ways, the weekend retreat in the national forest of Gir seemed surreal.  But somewhere inside, I knew that this is how it’s really supposed to be.  And the reality we have made ourselves believe is actually surreal.  We spent three days in deep connection with nature.  On the way to Gir, a few of us got lost.  Taking a roundabout way, or perhaps the less traveled path, we made stops along the way to hug the trees and feel our interconnected energies.  We admired the cotton fields and wondered how something so white and fluffy can come out of our earth.  Mukeshbhai so eloquently noted, “Like life, the Earth’s soil gives back whatever we put into it.  If we plant red pepper seeds, we receive spice. If we plant mangoes, we receive their sweet and tangy juice. And if we plant vegetables, we receive their nourishment.”
 
We planted many seeds of reflection during our circles of sharing.  As Siddhartha realized, what was beautiful about these circles was their fluidity.  Circles allow us to embrace each other’s presence and they capture the spirit and energy that is created in their encapsulating space.  At the same time, their ease and flexibility is what allows their form to widen in order to embrace anyone that is ready to take that leap of faith.  All that is needed is one leap of faith, even a small one, and the circle of love will never let you fall.
 
When I asked Sheetalbhai, “But how do we take that leap of faith?”  He answered, “Just take your heart, throw it in the direction you know it is aching to take, and then your mind will inevitably have to follow. This is what taking a leap of faith means.”
 
One of our circles took place under the shade of a banyan tree.  After Jayeshbhai drew a heart in the earth, Mukeshbhai added one fresh green leaf and Gopal Kaka added one dried leaf.  Madhu looked into the circle and saw love at the center of it all.  He saw that one leaf marked the New Year to come, one leaf marked the year that had passed, and a heart in the center of our circle brought us all into the present moment.  If love is at the center of all of our actions, then we will always be living in the present.
 
I really felt that over the weekend, and perhaps even in their regular lives, the wonderful people I was privileged to share space with each took great leaps of faith in their own way.  Gopal Kaka’s soulful voice sang songs of love, beauty, and togetherness as we walked under an ever expansive sky lit by millions of sparkling stars.  Mukeshbhai’s powerful silence created vibrations of equanimity and peace as we quietly gazed at the golden sunset.  Jayeshbhai’s infinite spirit of gratitude inspired our spiritual dedication to Nipun on his birthday as our reflections in the creek sent ripples of love into the universe.  Madhu has an amazing way of encouraging everyone’s unique talents and Anarben’s and Meghna’s motherly love naturally watered our blossoming seeds.   Nine month old Reva’s carefree giggle and Kushmita’s effortless laughter flowed joyfully throughout the invisible and visible ecosystems, uniting everything and creating oneness.
 
On the eve of 2012, after sharing a delicious candlelit dinner that was cooked as a surprise by half the group, Sheetalbhai asked each of us to share our favorite prayer. When I close my eyes, I can still feel the beauty of these prayers.  Let us all continue to bring our own unique flavours into this universe.
 
Lahar shares: Words couldn't do enough justice, so here are a few of my sketches from the 3 days :)
 
Neerad shares: I am not a sharing person but this time when I was asked to share I almost broke down as I learnt so much from this trip. My heart was overwhelmed with emotions varying from knowing your own self to understanding ‘Sabras’ – merging your own self in everything around. I have always been a very analytical person so my observations and understanding of what I have learnt from this is also shared point wise.
 
Our journey began with naming the cars as Namrata (Humility), Prem (Love), Karuna (Compassion) and Sundari (Beauty). These are the qualities required by an individual who is traversing this journey in life from individuality to oneness and self to selflessness. Some of the most important things we learnt were ‘Aatmagyan’ which is an ‘Alpaviram’ journey and we have to learn from every experience. Life is all about interconnectedness with everyone, everything and every soul. The journey begins now. The learning was the most profound and so deep that it will be difficult to write an abstract. However, below is a humble try.
 
Qualities of Sabras and what we can learn from it
 
1.       Saradta – Easy to be with, available everywhere, not pricey and simple in use.
 
2.       Sahajta – Mixes with everyone with ease, no bias.
 
3.       Sahchit – Gets into every single cell. Merges with everyone at the deepest level.
 
4.       Sahyog – Adds flavour to anything that’s it mixed with. Makes everything palatable.
 
5.       Sampoorna – Filling in the missing element. Completes the recipe of food or life.
 
6.       Invisible once dissolved – Sabras maintains its individuality (vyaktitva) but let’s go of its Astitva (state of being) and moulds itself to every situation. Thus merging our level of consciousness with the greater consciousness.
   
Siddharth shares: Be like grass, is what I thought as we meandered through the straw coloured hills. Every blade of grass is constantly serving with humility. Allowing passers-by to tread, animals to graze and holds the soil together against the harsh eroding wind. It serves through a state of being, consistently and invisibly. No one ever notices the tiny blades of grass against the fruit yielding mango trees, yet its service is unquantifiable. Its strength is derived not from what is seen, but a strong underground network of collective roots. The lack of one central root makes it impossible to control. Each blade of grass can represent a single act of kindness and the lush green hillside our potential.
 
Grass often turns to straw when times are tough, but returns to green the moment it rains. We too must have faith in our roots and inter-connectedness and trust that we can flourish when the time is right. A single blade of grass in a meadow is proof that greenery shall return some day, just as Gandhiji once said – “the fact that the world is not destroyed is proof that love exists”. We just need to trust our roots.
 
I come back with a commitment to these roots that transcend most distances and thought-barriers. I understand that the stillness in my life is my service to my brothers and sisters.
 
Riddhi shares: A little something I made that symbolized my Sabras!
           
Khusmita shares: 3 days spent in bliss with no 'doing' rather just 'being'. We connected with each other on a soul level, and just loved, loved, and loved all those in our periphery. The trees, the wind, the beautiful landscapes, the hills, the abundant fields, the flowing river, the wildlife, the wonderful village folk, the warm bonfire and the starlit sky!
 
There was love flowing all around us, within us and no words were needed to communicate our feelings of overwhelming joy and surrender to the highest in each one of us. Sabras was not a retreat of discovering ourselves, Sabras was a space of love created by the unique flavour each being brought into this beautiful space and as the flavours bonded and united, the flame of love grew stronger and stronger, spreading its very essence into the universe. “Pehle prem karo - uske baad kuchh karo ya na karo”
 
My favourite picture from the retreat is this one showing the beautifully wrapped salt in pink paper. Such a wonderful message in this simple lump of salt. Just as salt dissolves into our food giving it the most essential and extraordinary flavour, can we allow love to dissolve in each one of us so well that in the end only love remains. There is no you and there is no me.
 
 
 
Sheetalben shares: A journey of coalition between outer and inner worlds. All of us with diverse and unique God’s given abilities met for this transition into 2012. Jayeshbhai showed us “God” in every small molecule that we witnessed. My personal favourite was when he decorated cow dung with flowers and that bright red heart. Everyone shared the best of himself/herself with each other thus giving so much. Gopal dada shared that we should live in complete happiness always and for me the key to this is being you always. At Sabras, all were ready to do everything from lifting garbage on the road to cleaning dishes after food with smiles, happiness and laughter. This is when I found the path to eternal happiness: being “Sahaj” in our “Swabhav”, displaying your true self at all times.  Sabras also gave an insight into everyone’s strengths. When we mix like “sabras” with heart and put all our strengths to work we can definitely spread this “love virus” everywhere we go.  The space we enjoyed was a combination of “Prakriti-Parichay-prerna-path-prem and Prabhu”
 
Prem na parivar ne “Thank you” is not appropriate. Everyone is invited to everyone’s space and place whenever “Dil kare”, “Dil se”. We will keep sharing and growing in our spiritual journeys through these divine gatherings.
 
Rahul shares: The ''love virus'' has taken its toll. And the essential surrender to it has happened within. :) The journey began with surrender, ''pata nahi kya hoga, lekin kuch toh hoga''. There were no questions to be asked of, no questions to be thought of, just surrendering in deep trust, in deep love and there wasn't any feeling of any doership.
 
The joy of togetherness that we experienced, the beautiful moments of life, of love, of laughter has been overwhelming.  One of the most beautiful moment that haunts me, is Gopal dada singing 'har desh mein tu, har vesh mein tu' at the bonfire. His voice, that silence of night, the warmth of the burning woods, presence of the most beautiful and amazing people around was exhilarating.
 
The other most beautiful moment was experiencing Jayeshbhai-isms first hand while walking with him in the woods. It feels like nature is an unlimited broadcasting station, and Jayeshbhai was so tuned in, he somehow knew it when the trees on the highway wanted a hug, he knew the stars wanted to share a divine prayer with us, he knew the flowers were happy even though they aren't going to become prime ministers or presidents, he knew the purpose of existence of the cacti, the lemon trees, the thorns, the cow dung, the patterns on feathers, the banyan roots, the shape of the rocks. To be able to enjoy the simplicity of the nature, feel this level of connectedness, has been an amazing unlearning process for me. It has been a blessing, to be a part of this 'Prem nu parivaar'.
 
Meghna shares: We all know that when a powerful intention is in place, magical moments unfold. We all became so close after 3 days of deep understanding. So much work is happening within. It’s just like the way it has been echoed in this system, "pata nahin kya hoga, lekin kuch toh hoga". I'm still not sure what exactly happened, but something happened. What a way to welcome a new year, with new understandings, with new spaces, with new people (i'm sure something in all of us has shifted, making us new beings altogether).
 
What i feel, is difficult to put in words. But, i have made an image of what manifested within. This is my Sabras!
 
Sheetalbhai shares: I decided to let the universe show me the way forward. I have been deeply searching my heart so that i may understand what i need to do with this life of mine, and with the experience of being, with infinite space and stillness around, something happened. I feel I have already received my answers, though my slow mind has still to comprehend what the heart already now knows. Sabras has opened up a whole new world of love, surrender and imagination for me.
 
Just 3 days have inspired me to commit my life to nurturing a "Prem nu Parivaar" wherever the universe places me in all its infinite wisdom.   Just 3 days of being in the love filled presence of Jayeshbhai Patel, never quite knowing what happens next, yet completely trusting that "jo hoga, accha hi hoga" have opened up the doors of samarpan for me. Just 3 days of sabras have opened up a world of imagination for me - earlier i would have a set of resolutions or intentions for the New Year - this year i have a list of imaginations
 
1. Imagine walking into every situation, every relation, and every moment with a state of love, wonder and innocence
 
2. Imagine a life of complete surrender to the divine will, where i trust that come what may, I will be taken care of.
 
3. Imagine trusting the universe so completely that i am willing to dissolve my little drop of "Self” which is full of its insecurities into the vast, infinite ocean of "Self" where there is only unconditional love.
 
"Everyone sees the drop disappearing into the ocean; Few are able to witness the ocean disappearing into the drop"
 
Siddhi shares: It felt like I am celebrating life, my existence, while dancing with kids and my noble friends during our village visit.Each one of us engrossed in dancing, singing and loving and just being. I must have done something right to deserve love like this"
 
Sharing lines from my favorite poem: "Do Good Any way"
 
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow, Do good anyway.

~ Be a Ladder, Not a Leader ~

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Megha Bhaduri
Megha is currently volunteering with MAM Movies for the Summer. She is a second year design student , specializing in Digital Video Production at Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore. She enjoys creating videos, exploring google maps, reading on history, geography and diaspora issues. Her interest is in understanding how something is done and her work centers around random themes about which she feels strongly.
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