Fearlessness is a strange virtue to me, strange to place in the upper echelons of all the sentiments plastered on the walls and hearts leaning in on me. In the context of Niswarth, maybe it means to keep your heart open, to trust and be present instead of planning, strategizing, and having stringent expectations or goals. But following such hypotheses, a classic (or cliché?) quote comes to my mind about courage: courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to overcome it. When I read Gandhi’s Yeravda Mandir, this man seems to beg not for courage but for the complete surrender to Love and Truth, true fearlessness being incidental. I have seen many pure examples of this, here in India, here in Gujarat, here as I sit in the most pristine room I have ever kept, in ESI.* Of course, sometimes I wonder about myself, coming all the way to India to seek out kindgenerousloving people who LoveAllServeAll. There is no doubt in my mind that such people and organizations must exist less than sixteen hours of flights away. My thought is, conceding that there are so many parts of India which I would not know or comprehend (language, food, cultural values, education, clothing, body language, colors, air, hair, marriage, sex, crimes, aspirations), meant that I was willing to open my mind and a smidgen of my heart. This, in turn, allowed me to perceive and absorb humane acts of goodness which I might ordinarily close myself off from. I can feel emotions, gratitude and love and humility for instance, common to every being across all the countries, but which I had already shut out opportunity to see in my familiar spaces at home. I think I will begin to forgive myself for this, as I have also fallen irrevocably in love with this country’s beauty.**
I see Seva Café as a pure example of fearlessness. Bhaskar bhai, who spoke so humbly upon our entrance, asked us to dance and sing on the stage without any self-consciousness, to understand the rich history and intense compassion upon which this community disguised as a restaurant was built. He made a request that I think requires ultimate fearlessness: “We do not charge anything for meals here. Instead, people give whatever they feel like, and they are not paying for their own meal. They are paying forward for the next person who will eat here. Whatever we have based on this money, we use to make the meal the next day. But let me challenge you: take some of the money from our box, which we leave unlocked! Take it, and please take that money knowing with confidence that you will be able to do more good with it than otherwise could have been done with it by us.” When I heard this, I was silent and awkward and stiff and did the puerile thing were I tried to find a peer to stare at and shakily laugh because I didn’t know how else to react.
In retrospect, I understand that he was not trying to humble, as he inadvertently must have done to many of us. Instead, he had belief in sattvika, tending to truth. I am slow to grasp this. After a third time reading and highlighting, I was able to track a line that rings true with Bhaskarbhai’s challenge. Gandhi wrote, “Perfect fearlessness… implies freedom from delusions. One can always progress towards this goal by determined and constant endeavor, and by cultivating self-confidence” (20). To have confidence in my own goodness can be very difficult, just as practicing heartfulness for yourself can be very difficult. In Seva Café, I participated in a pre-dinner 30-minute meditation that was going fine and dandy up until I was asked to visualize myself in front of me, and ask myself questions.
I still have to edit out “I think” and “maybe” from many of my writings. And even more than that, I struggle to do anything but list my own fears and wallow in self-doubt. As Daniel pointed out, it is so easy to generate and generate and so hard to choose and tackle. There are many: of disappointing family, of being alone, of vulnerability, of ignorance, of other people’s intentions, of wasting time. As anger, fear, and desire move into the house and unpack, Ms. Tous pointed out this morning how everybody knows but we are not aware about how to “come out” of our bad habits, big or small (take, for instance, sleep deprivation). I looked at the turtle statues as she said this, and they stared at me with irony. Jayesh bhai responded, yes, to know and be told is easy, but to be aware is very difficult. And that being alone is scary yes, but you are never alone if you feel gratitude for mother nature. And that yes he strives to be selfless but he is “not a staunch guy”, he has priorities, and he just wants to love: he will indulge in dessert for his daughter, he will use A/C in the car even if Gandhiji might not have. And with incense in the air, and the ridiculously (but not ridiculous since I’m in a maitri space) thoughtful heart shaped flower arrangements on the floor among candles, the turtles looked a little more compassionate and a little less mirthful.
Short and fun anecdote to end on a lighter note but still keep to the animal kingdom theme: In the Italian restaurant we visited for our first night in Vadodara last week, Fiorella’s, Jess played a game with us. We were to pick the first two animals that came to mind, remembering their order, and then articulate what they represent or mean to us. After we chose, she revealed to us this: the first animal’s quality was what we looked for in our significant other, and the second was what we saw in ourselves. I don’t want to read too much into this mind game, but my first animal was an armadillo, representing protection. Doesn’t scream fearlessness, I know. But plot twist: my second animal was a serval, which represents surprising strength. There’s hope yet! With some persistence, I believe I will leave this limbo of contradictory animal spirit mind games, and enter a land of more peacefulness and certainty in myself. Gold star if you read this far J
* A small surprise is that fearless leaders on these grounds have never been careless, that small practices of keeping a clean heart and mind prove that to strive for fearlessness does not equate to recklessness.
** Let me elaborate. The outlook I have observed here is this: let everything be colorful and beautiful and full of vitality, whether it be the lunch platter with tastes of seven different dishes, or an extravagant historic well (built in the courtship of a pragmatic queen), the beautiful saris worn by women of all classes (worn every day, not just for special occasions), or flowers and leaves left (arranged beautifully) by strangers around a bust of Gandhi.