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A Late Autumn Experiment In Giftivism

Karma Kitchen was in full swing again this Sunday.
Of course, the story begins far before any of us get there, with the inspirations and messages that inspire us to go. Also, the night before, my sister made rakhis and pipe cleaner animals and Mr. Stoll's daughter Emma made friendship bracelets.

Also, Mr. Stoll gave me, Pallavi, Sonali, and Neha a carpool from Fremont to Berkeley. It was so that the circle of sharing began bright and early at 8:30 :)

Here are some of the stories through my eyes:

1. Mango Bob (or Rainbow Light, if you please)

Our first customer arrived at 10:30, not 11, and was the first in the door. His name was Mango Bob (one of his several names.). He said I could also call him Rainbow Light if I wanted as that was his internal state of mind. He was a former Berkeley Spanish professor who had also traveled the world many times. When I asked him to reflect on that journey in conjunction with the day's theme of Gratitude, he immediately gave me two huge pieces of advice - the first was that "You are pure awareness. Only the ego mind can make you forget that. When you feel that thought come up, just say 'Thank you, ego. Next!' and let that thought go, because it's not helping you." What a beautiful message to start the day with!

Then he started talking about how he didn't believe in things like age and health, and he hadn't been to the doctor in 20 years. When I asked him how he maintained himself, he just said "Tell your cells Peace Peace Peace Love Love Love Joy Joy Joy and then tell them what a great job they're doing and then tell them DANCE! That's all I've done for 20 years and I've never gotten sick and ever had to go to the doctor. Just love yourself". He probably spent 15-20 minutes talking about me earnestly on this issue and really felt this message was important to share!

2. Brother Tim and Joyci

After that, our next guest was Joyci, a local Berkeleyian (is that a thing) who had invited her friend Brother Tim from Castro Valley. They both came in and didn't know what to expect, but started opening up when I asked them about gratitude. Brother Tim reflected that he had a home, a full belly, people who loved him, and those people were safe, and that was all he needed. How beautiful. When they came in, both of them seemed straight-faced, but all of our energy connected and as soon as they opened up they had these content smiles on their faces. Then someone gave them heart pins and they were so touched by the story of how they had gotten to KK that day through brother Joserra, and someone gave them rakhis saying they were our brothers and sisters in kindness :)

They were so happy with the experience that they said they wanted to come volunteer next time!

brother tim on the left, sister joyci on the right. 

3. A Writer, an Educator, and a Friend

Mina, who is a longtime practitioner of mindfulness in everything, had just published a book on mindfulness and teaching. She gifted a copy to us (that day!) saying that it should go to an educator. Little did we know how this would play out!

Later, Diana brought her friend Julia, who was a high school teacher, to Karma Kitchen and while they were both having lunch I asked Julia what had made her come. She said that she wanted to share the ideas of kindness and generosity with all of her students. Mr. Stoll, who is teaching kindness along with calculus, talked to her about his 21 day challenge at Harker and his personal journey of holding silence in his class and doing his own RAOKs and how that had positively affected him. Then he gifted her the book from Mina. As they were about to leave, they had these huge smiles on their faces - Diana because she accomplished her goal of showing her friend a good time, and Julia because she was excited to discuss these ideas with a circle she runs at her school.

4. A Spiritual Advisor, a Naan Lover, and an Artist walk into a Pay-it-Forward Kitchen

The next story involves David Lapedis, who brought his two friends Victoria and an artist (I don't remember her name, sorry) and as they were eating their meal, I asked them to share a bit about themselves. David talked about how he found his inner calling and was driven to help others find theirs. I joked that I could use a spiritual advisor, and he offered up his card in an act of kindness to me!

Victoria was just craving naan, and as we kept bringing it out to her, she was amazed saying "I can have more? Really?" It was so much fun to receive her gratitude and what a great fit for our theme of the day.

Finally the artist was talking about being, well, an artist, and also how she loved working with people and bringing art to them to make their day. We told her about our recent Awakin call with Lily Yeh and her work with Barefoot Artists, and that maybe she'd be on our call in a few years, who knows!? She found this very inspiring and wanted to know more about her work :)

5. Rebecca and Family

A family of a Berkeley junior walked in and sat down at the table farthest into the restaurant. They'd never been to KK before, and really didn't know what they were in for. We all opened them up to kindness and gratitude slowly - the dad started talking about his experiences going to Berkeley and how grateful he was for the scholarship he received that enabled him to go there. And now his daughter was following in his footsteps! That got the mom going on the importance of family and how blessed she was for her daughter and her husband.

Throughout their meal, we gave them heart pins and rakhis. I even overheard the dad say at one point "What are we doing do deserve all this extra trouble?" :)

Nothing, it's just that no one leaves Karma Kitchen without a smile on their face!

6. Kaz from Japan

Professor Kaz was eating on the community table along with brother Joserra and Mordecai (apologies on the spelling) and some new guests! When I asked him about his meal and gratitude, he immediately talked about his research at Stanford's economics department on the "economics of Gandhi," and how blessed he was to be able to research someone who himself was in the spirit of fearless love and gratitude.

I would totally take that class!

Brother Jose himself was making some great inspiring conversation about his open plans and how he wanted to bring this to Spain!

7. South Asian Activism

In the corner were two Indian Berkeley students who had just come from a convention on South Asian 'Radicalism' (radical in love!). They were talking about how there's actually a history of South Asian activism and social consciousness that gets supressed by the common notions of the stereotypes of Indian culture, and they were working to spread the word about people working for the good of everyone :)

They remarked on how wonderful the idea of Karma Kitchen was and how more restaurants should be like it! They were also surprised to hear about the entire Mehta family and their contributions and work :)

How great to have brothers spreading radical love with us!

8. Dev and Vishnu and Chireeng

While all this was going on in the front, there was lots of action happening in the back. Not least of this was being done by our friends Dev, Vishnu, and Chireeng, who were sporting Karma Kitchen tshirts themselves! All of them were in high spirits making naan and sabji for us and had huge smiles on their faces! Dev even started experimenting with new ways to present the naan to the guests (to great success), and as always his tandoori goodness was loved by all.

Dev and Avinash + Dev's new naan style

9. Aiden and Heaven and Dancing

At the community table, Zach started telling me about his transition to a pay-it-forward dance studio. Before, people would view the dance class as a transaction between themselves and the teacher. As such, Zach had a lot of trouble getting the dancers to improvise with each other, since there was no consciousness about the space and the other people around them. He also said that it was considered very taboo for someone to "steal" another person's move. However, when he switched to the pay-it-forward system, everyone suddenly opened up and became conscious of community. Everything Zach had wanted from the space as a teacher became attainable because of the focus on the people and the trust and community rather than the transaction of learning dance.

Two of that day's dancers who had also joined us for lunch were Aiden, a 5 year old, and Hannah, his mother. Both of them were very happy with the meal, and Aiden kept asking for more mango lassi. At some point I gave him a heart pin and he turned to his mom and asked her to pay for it. She looked at me very flustered saying she had no money with her and couldn't do so. When I insisted it was a gift, Aiden beamed to his mom and said "Mom Mom we don't have to pay for it!" Amazing to see a 5 year old so acutely aware of the world around him and also so joyous and grateful with us. Honestly he gave us more than we could ever give him :)

Later after their experience Hannah stopped by again saying that Aiden didn't want to leave without saying bye to us! What kindness!

10. 3 moms and 3 kids

While this was going on, 3 moms and their 3 young kids were at the center table. I went over to the table and started asking them about gratitude, and surprisingly the kids were the first to respond! They started talking about how happy they were their parents took care of them and that they were with their friends on the table. After the meal, one of the kids handed me a card

Another one handed me a drawing

there's something there, I just haven't figured out what :P

The parents reflected as well!

11. Group of 7 w/Berkeley student

A group of 2 families with 7 people were our last customers of the day. They wanted to know more about "how it works" but Praveen and the other volunteers worked their magic and by the end they were in awe of the beauty of gratitude and kindness they were receiving :)

I know this for a fact, because I gave two uncles and two aunties rakhis, then didn't know whether to give the college-age kids what were effectively friendship bracelets (most guys my age are awkward about wearing them and I didn't want to force anything on them). But one of them spoke up and said "Can I be a brother in kindness too?"

hard to see; they're in the back of the photo

12. Happy Birthday to the picture taker

As all things, the day came to an end and we were outside taking our group picture. We started connecting with the person taking our picture and she shared that it was her birthday! So we sang her happy birthday and she was completely blown away. Then she asked to take a picture with us too!


Of course, this is only a fraction of the experience :) All in all, it was a great day of service to 61 people.

take us out, pharrell! 

More pictures:

Some more reflections:

And the obligatory group photo:

--Vishesh on Sep 19, 2014

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