The Heart Already Knows. Waiting for my turn to share, I turn over countless such moments from my own life in my mind: situations, encounters, coincidences—I often wondered why this or that happened to me the way it did. Sometimes, I would only recognize truly decisive moments in my life as such many years later. Maybe the heart already knows what the mind will learn tomorrow. Intuition, after all, has a track record of showing us the right way.
After a time, the stories end, and all talking stops for moments of silence and meditation. At the end of the first day, we all feel deeply, miraculously connected. The energy we feel between us during the moments of shared meditation inform all of our interactions and carry us through the days, lovingly and mindfully.
Only Humans. At dinner, I take a seat next to Evan. The very empathic young man is an attentive listener. When he speaks, he talks of things that really move him. Only once we’re well into the conversation do I find out that he is a cofounder of Pinterest. An internet billionaire at under 40, he is humble, pleasant and friendly. When I ask him if he’s one of the attendees who arrived by private jet, he waves it off with a laugh and tells me he took a commercial flight. A well-known Hollywood actress washes the dishes. Next to her stands a man who has given up his career in television to work for an NGO. An investor who established a billion-dollar fund is seen in deep conversation with two Vietnamese farmers, who live on two dollars a day and do not appear to want the third.
Evan is an empathetic young man who listens attentively. Later I learn that he is one of the founders of Pinterest.
Then there is Parag, one of India’s most successful diamond merchants. He feels he was exceedingly lucky in his life, and is looking for ways to give back. As philanthropist, he founded an excellent international school. We introduce some of these remarkable personalities, these “Humble Heroes” in more detail in this issue of OOOM. After dinner, I stroll to the Banyan tree next to my room and look at the starry sky before succumbing to the jet lag and falling into a deep sleep.
Power Deactivates Empathy. Whenever any of us enters the main communal room, we are greeted individually with a short ceremony and a hug. It feels like coming home.
We start the new day with a talk by Mark, the former CEO of a major American bank. He aims to link the efforts of philanthropists and socially conscious investors to change the way we work with money. The more we learn about each other, the deeper our connection becomes, and the less we feel the need to receive any kind of reward for our interest in the other. Next is an electrifying talk by Dacher, a professor at the University of Berkeley and best-selling author, who tells us about the neuroscience of power. As a psychologist and world-renowned researcher, he widened the area of research in his field by exploring emotions such as compassion, gratitude and humbleness. His work conclusively proves that power changes us. Figuratively speaking, it deactivates the circuits of compassion and empathy in our brains. One of his studies included a little experiment, in which the research team monitored what types of cars tended to stop at pedestrian crossings. The outcome? Large, expensive SUVs were least likely to let pedestrians cross.
In between the talks, we drink tea in the garden, laugh together or dance. We look forward to the vegetarian meals that are lovingly prepared for us. Whatever work there is to do is shared among us all. Each of us has a role. Everyone washes his or her own dishes, unless another participant has already done so. This afternoon, following meditation, we split into several thematic focus groups and start probing into “blind spots” in the fields of education, technology, community management, economy, environment, politics and charity. Each issue is discussed in passionate, lively exchanges.
Silent Dinner in the Tropical Garden. The breakout sessions are followed by a silent walk to the dining area, as the sun slowly sets behind the tropical trees. Our path is lit by candles, and the sounds of a choir singing a sacred Indian tune reach our ears, yet another reminder that we are all connected in our experience of the world. A pleasant silence descends upon us as dinner is served in the middle of the garden. We are once again swept up by a wave of gratitude and love: We feel universally bound to each other, yet each of us unique. This order of perception makes the difference. Without words, filled with an indescribable energy, we end the day.