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Folks seemed to flock to Karma Kitchen in Berkeley this past 9/11 weekend, where collective wisdom settled on a theme of 'healing.'  About 120 people shared space, food, various gifts (like this inspired booklet about the other September 11 -- in 1906, when Gandhi first started his experiments with nonviolence) and other expressions of the heart. Here are some guest reflections on Healing:

  • Tincture of Time
  • "The body is more like a flickering flame than a lump of meat." --Candace Pert
  • Healing can be brought on by something as simple as a kind act of a stranger -- be it a smile or a warm meal. Kindness inspires healing.
  • "There is something beautiful about all scars of whatever nature. A scar means the hurt is over, the wound is closed and healed, done with." --Harry Crews
  • The ability to bounce back.
  • I acknowledge that healing may take a long time, but any progress made at all tells me that I'll get there.
  • Healing is to return to source. Not evolving ever higher nor expanding into the myriad of complexity. The 10,000 becomes the 10 becomes the 2 becomes the one. Inherent connectedness -- awakening to it -- bestows a perfect balance.
  • Healing is not a solitary process.
  • Healing is the intercourse between grief and enlightenment. To acknowledge pain is to become vulnerable and reconnect with ones humanity. Thank you for this meal; everything can rejuvenate.  Sometimes this is the only hope we can rely on.
  • the natural ability of life to heal itself is boundless

And while unrelated to healing, this last note will serve as a fitting closing :)

"Our experience here today has been fantastic. The atmosphere and the service are top notch. The work that volunteers here perform is amazing and we would be delighted to come here again! Thanks for having us today and we sincerely hope that this effort continues to thrive in the future."

--server :) on Sep 16, 2010

Karma Kitchen DC Grand Re-opening. Serendipity Everywhere.

Serendipity is all around Karma and KK DC's grand re-opening last sunday was no different.

One of our guests went to the ATM to get cash to pay their meal forward. When they arrived at the ATM, they found $40 laying there!

A gentleman who was walking by, received a free hug from one of volunteers outside. He then walked into Karma Kitchen out of curiosity. He said he thought it was a gimmick. He was reluctant to eat. Still, we served him a glass of water, and tagged him with a pack of handmade note cards. Turns out, the note cards were made by someone from the same town as him!

We were honored to have Anup Poudel join us as a guest. Anup’s video “democracy is black” won the “Democracy. Your voice. Your video” challenge, and traveled to DC from Nepal to receive his award from the State department.

The beautifully renovated restaurant didn’t go unnoticed! Photos from last sunday are here; thank you Krishna, and Aya for the photos!

--Alyssa & Sala on Sep 16, 2010

Touching Note at KK

Touching KK Note

--Sam B on Sep 10, 2010

I am Nourished By...

On Sunday morning, August 22nd, 2010, a dozen people came together to lovingly serve.  One of us had volunteered at Karma Kitchen during the past year.  A few were returned old-timers.  Most of us had never volunteered here.  A few more had never experienced the 'Kitchen.

I was one of the had-eaten-hadn't-volunteered crowd.  We were "in this together."  And it was beautiful.  Here are many of the highlights from the prompt, "I am nourished by..." with which I created a found poem:

colors of waking light. the first feast of the day. soft whistles from a child. generosity. kindness. food. inspiration. love. Hello Kitty.

glisten in your hair. plentiful, awe-inspiring world. the walk to karma kitchen / arose my appetite / sun nourished my vitamin D / good conversation / friendly hellos / vibrant colors / deep breaths / blessed food / fulfilling day / I am nourished / mind / body / and / spirit.

travel. karma kitchen. awareness. a community of abstinent fellows. a self-realization temple. pop music. 

I am nourished by spontaneous order and serendipity. nourishing others. family. community and love. children's laughter. breath (spirit).

walks in nature. happiness and the sun. the outdoors. balance. harmony. kickass boyfriend.

kissing babies. clear-eyed smiles. friends. massage. sangha.

Nourishment: not feeling alone. The greatest nourishment is realizing oneness with Brahman.

As for me, those five and a half hours of positive, joyful work were tremendously nourishing.  

Yes.  Thank you.

--c on Aug 30, 2010

What Brings Me Joy?

Being the maitre-D, I was able to witness the incredible diversity of people that walked in through the Karma Kitchen doors and simply lit up in the ambiance.   It was especially obvious when I came home at read each of the incredible offerings of "joy" that SO many of our guests shared ... here's a sampling:

What brings me joy?  Spending time with my family.  Vegan food.  Dharma.  Food made with love.  Music.  My sister.  Sunshine.   Karma Kitchen.  Good books, good conversations, good friends.  Power Rangers.  Naps.  Sushi.  Gerber daisies.  Making others smile.  Small children.  Smile Cards!  Babies (and their pure innocent cute smiles). Singing.  Being with people blessed enough to be on a spiritual journey.  That someone is teaching meditation to prisoners.  Making friends with strangers.  World peace. Ballet.  Curling up with a book, with a pet.  Nepali hospitality.  Freeing oneself from worry.  Color of mango lassi.  Harry Potter.  Comedy.  Joy of being connected.  Shining sun.  Creating art.  Genuine empathy.  Ballads, stickers, and people's stories.  Picnics.  Exclamation points! :) Lying on the earth.  Good conversation.  Living life fully.  Thoughtful actions, yummy desserts, playful doggies, sentimental songs.   Coffee.  Stuffed animals.  My favorite song in the whole wide world.  Old couples.  Places like Karma Kitchen.  Henna booths on telegraph.  Serendipities.  My garden and my bees.  Being underwater in Hawaii.  Marshmellows.  Vanilla streamers.  How I feel in love with my girlfriend over a technical paper!  Laughing. Rainbows.  Ammachi.  Hummingbirds.  A cool, brisk, San Francisco breeze.  Kind strangers.  Doing good for others.  Hugs.  Karma Kitchen. :)

What a privilege to play a small part in helping people experience that space of joy within themselves!  Thank you, all.

--Maitre-D :) on Aug 15, 2010

Full House at Chicago's 2nd KK!

It has been almost an entire month since Karma Kitchen Chicago had its successful launch.  The past month has been filled with anticipation, excitement, and ideas about how to push Karma Kitchen Chicago to the extreme!  After numerous discussions, implementation, and action, it was finally time for Chicagoans to experience the second Karma Kitchen! 

Going into the day, we were not sure what to expect out of our second event.  Would the second Karma Kitchen be met with as much hype and eagerness as the launch was?  Would we have as many guests attend?  Would the process be smoother?  Would we receive return guests?  As our volunteers arrived at Klay Oven that morning, whispers of predictions and hopes began filling the restaurant.  Only time would tell...

Learning from last time about how important it is to make sure the volunteers were fueled up with food and ready to go, we decided to serve the volunteers their lunches prior to the doors opening at the end of the volunteer orientation.  Although many volunteers had the opportunity to take advantage of their early lunches, others had to leave their hot plates of delicious food to jump into action and tend to guests arriving right as the clock struck noon. 

Within 30 minutes of the Karma Kitchen doors opening, the entire restaurant was filled and it stayed filled throughout the entire 3 hours!  A bird's eye view would show guests chatting with one another, volunteers in their blue t-shirts hustling around the restaurant and communicating with other volunteers, and everyone in the vicinity having a great time!  One goal of the volunteers this time around was to utilize the tag box items a little more in order to push their boundaries of generosity.  We even had one volunteer who acted as the Karma Kitchen "mascot" as she stood outside the restaurant handing out fliers and informing people about the core concepts of Karma Kitchen.  This clearly paid off as more and more guests began coming in, including random people who had never heard of Karma Kitchen, who were not planning on going out for lunch that day, and who had never even tried Indian food before! 

Once again, as the day came to a close and the final guests exited from the restaurant, the enthusiasm and signs of a successful day resonated amongst all volunteers.  The numbers spoke for themselves as the Chicago team had stepped it up from the 108 guests at their first Karma Kitchen to 138 at this second event! 

As the volunteers began the clean up process, everyone knew that their lives had been positively impacted from the past few hours.  From connecting with guests to explaining and embodying the underlying concepts of Karma Kitchen, each and every volunteer had truly pushed their generosity that day.  Seeing how the clean up process was filled with laughs, jokes, and a comfort level which may have given the impression that we had all been friends since birth, it is safe to say that the relationships built that day went beyond the guests! 

Each and every volunteer performed their role to the fullest extent possible and constantly looked for ways to add more value and to help out beyond their roles.  We even had our first injury in the form of broken glass cutting a volunteer (good thing he signed that volunteer waiver...j/k!).  The response to this injury: a smiling face, downplaying the injury, and getting right back to work! 

What had started as a team of 16 volunteers that day ended in a team of approximately 20 volunteers as guests offered their services right on the spot by helping with clean up, dishes, and resetting tables! 

One of the goals of Karma Kitchen is to inspire; however, we sometimes overlook the element of actually being inspired by participating in the process.  Inspiration is found in every corner and every soul participating in the Karma Kitchen experience.  Judging by the feedback from both the guests and the volunteers, it is clear that all participants in this experiment found inspiration in one way or another! 

See you on September 12, 2010!

--Anish on Aug 11, 2010

Sometimes It Takes Time, But It Works!

During this past month or so, I’ve been lucky enough to serve at the Karma Kitchen in Berkeley every Sunday.  It seems to have been my ‘karma’ to interact with one particular family on pretty much every occasion I have served.

This family was in stark contrast to the other Karma Kitchen guests I had encountered so far.  They were unfriendly, had an attitude of entitlement and were impolite and impatient.  In short, a very difficult table to connect with, not a single smile or thank you.  Not exactly the kind of inspiration I had imagined when I signed up for Karma Kitchen volunteering. 

Everytime I saw them again in the first few weeks I had pretty much the same experience of being completely unable to connect with them.  It was clear to me that they were regulars at Karma Kitchen and yet they seemed to be completely unconnected with the concept. I mentioned this to the Maitre – D and last week, when they arrived, the Maitre-D greeted them with a warm hug.  The father responded: "I don't do hugs".  Not missing a step, the Maitre-D shot back with a beaming smile  "But you must do smiles?".  The father had no choice but to crack half a smile.  After some TLC, they warmed up a bit. 

Due to the long line, they didn’t eat in the restaurant that day, but we did get them some food to go. When I took it outside to give to them, the mother said to me: “you’re missing an earring?”  After my initial confusion, I realised that was the first little connection I had had with them!  

Then, this week, when they arrived, the same Maitre-D greeted the same man with the same bold hug: "Today, you're already smilin'. I think you're ready for a hug."  He couldn't help but smile big -- and this time gave him a hug too :)

As I approached their table, the woman greeted me with a smile.  I have to admit I was completely shocked.  She followed this up with, “Did you find your earring?”  More shock!  She remembered that?!  And they were actually talking -- they were polite, friendly and this time patient, even though there were delays with getting the food out.   Unbelievable!  At the end, I even got a “Thank you”!  I was dumbfounded.

How incredible to see this change come over them over time - compassion really does work.  Sometimes it takes time, but in the end, it’s such a powerful force.

--Aditi on Aug 9, 2010

A Twenty From a 12-Year-Old

Before Victor could figure out what to do with his Karma Kitchen tab, his 12-year-old son whisks out a $20 bill from his pocket.  As tourist from Mexico, that's a heck-of-a lot of allowance money for that 12-year-old.  Immediately Victor says, "Son, no no, that's okay.  You keep your money."   "No, I want to pay-forward for someone else," his son replies in Spanish.  Victor, clearly moved by the episode, shares with rest of us: "Most people think and calculate and speculate on how to do good.  And some others just be good by listening to their heart.  Today, I've learned that lesson from my son." 

With a proud smile of a father, Victor insisted on adding more money to the envelope -- and this time, without thinking. :)

--JZ on Aug 8, 2010

What's The Catch?

     As a volunteer on the day of our "no strings attached" experiment, I found the experience eye-opening.  In the few moments after we began to pass out the goodie bags, it didn't take long before I noticed people reluctantly accepting or flat-out rejecting the items we wanted to hand out.  In peoples' minds, it was inconceivable that their was no agenda, no motive and no gain from our random acts of kindness.   Ironically, even several of the folks we encountered (who were obviously down on their luck at this time in their life) were giving us mistrusting gazes seeking to understand our end goal instead of just taking free items.   

     It dawned on me during those moments how jaded people have become.  People have no problem believing or understanding negative events and outcomes.  In fact, I believe that is what people genuinely expect.  But, throw in a free bag of goodies coupled with some free hugs and a constant stream of genuine smiles and you may as well be speaking a different language.  Very unexpected and therefore there must be a catch!  To me this just means there is much work to do in this world in order to regain peoples' trust in humanity.      

--Mohit Jain on Aug 8, 2010

Spreading Kindness in Dupont Circle (DC)

Karma Kitchen in DC is closed until September 12th as the restaurant undergoes renovation. This past weekend, we took the ideas of kindness and generosity to the streets of DC!

Our Sunday experiment involved a "public picnic" in Dupont Circle - an area in downtown Washington DC. Volunteers handed out goodie bags decorated with inspirational messages and filled with homemade baked good, food, CDs, smile cards, blank thank you cards, stuffed animals, and even $5 bills! We also had popsicles, water bottles, and of course FREE HUGS to give out to anyone walking by. Who knew that it could be so difficult to give things away with no strings attached!

Loveena, a KK volunteer, noted "The initial skepticism that we got from a lot of people and after 5 mins of explaining and convincing someone that there really was no catch, we got bear hugs!!

My own personal goal was to brighten at least one person's day and I definitely feel like I accomplished that. My "shining moment" (there were many) was when a girl who was walking by gave me a warm hug and then said that she had always wanted to try the "free hug thing." So she picked up our extra sign (the horror movie one) and started giving out her own free hugs! It was so touching to see the idea of "paying it forward" be implemented immediately...

Roshin, another volunteer, was walking around with water bottles and granola bars and one person he handed it to was curious as to why he was doing this. His answer was so simple. The reason you are asking that question is why I am doing it (not verbatim). There is no why and there is no underlying reason....

Our Sunday activity made me realize that there are ways I can incorporate these ideas into my everyday life. It doesn't have to be confined to a Karma Kitchen Sunday or a random act. There are so many ways we can express kindness, empathy, and understanding in our everyday lives.

Thank you to all the volunteers who came by on Sunday as well as all of the people who stopped by our "public picnic" to get a goodie bag, hug, smile, water bottle, etc.

--Aparna Kothary on Aug 5, 2010

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