Tales of Turning Points. In a world in which love is often regarded as a mere sentimentality, Gandhi started to question the established dynamics of the moment. Gandhi’s successor, Vinoba Bhave, phrased it succinctly: “The only aim of my work is to connect hearts.” This sentiment leads to a number of questions in the group: How can we establish love and empathy as fixtures in our lives? A former CIA analyst recalls a crucial moment in her life. As she was interrogating a prisoner of war, her mind told her to see this person as an enemy, yet her heart could not help but recognize him as brother. Soon thereafter, she quit her job and started to focus on a different kind of CIA: a “Compassionate Intelligence Agency.”
Haruo, one of Japan’s leading social entrepreneurs and board member of the Olympic Committee, has a question for the group. What could the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games in Tokyo look like if it were to be centered on love and compassion? In that moment, no one could have imagined that the Games would be cancelled.
However, not only large subjects and projects are discussed. A recurring thread in the gathering is the notion of doing something for others without expecting anything in return: the idea of genuine “acts of kindness,” to initiate a perpetual cycle of joy.
It is about the notion of doing something for others without expecting anything in return: to initiate a perpetual cycle of joy.
Gandhi’s Grandson Joins. On two nights, about 200 friends are invited for communal evenings, including representatives of NGOs and volunteers from all across the country. We enjoy dance and music performances together, but also, again, moments of shared silence. Understanding flourishes in this atmosphere, and often this understanding is shared with others. Gandhi’s grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi, takes to the stage and starts telling us a story from his childhood and the simple life his grandfather led. When asked what kind of person Gandhi would be today, his grandson answers, “He would be a citizen of the world.” One of the most striking and beautiful aspects of this gathering is the variety of backgrounds we encounter. I have a long conversation with Ejna, the first tribal peace ambassador of the Crow Creek Sioux from South Dakota. Her life is devoted to the healing of multigenerational and multilinear wounds inflicted on humanity by massacres, holocausts and war. Her commitment to making the world a better place is deeply inspiring. How egoistical and insignificant my everyday problems feel next to a person like her.
“A few days in, and I feel like all windows and doors have opened, and even the roof has lifted,” comments a young woman in the group. “It is remarkable how the barriers break away.”
Silent Walk. As the end of the Gandhi 3.0 retreat draws near, each participant embarks on a personal “Silent Walk,” to round out the experience individually. Time seems to stand still. I might never have been so at peace with myself and the world before. I try, but find it almost impossible to put my emotions into words in the final round. Some of us cry as we sit together one last time, overtaken by love and gratitude. Others revel in the magic of the moment, the tangible spiritual energy that fills the room. One attendee, hailing from Silicon Valley, puts it like this: “In order to survive in this world, I have erected many walls inside my heart. I am leaving here with the knowledge that I have a lot of work to do.” Evan, the cofounder of Pinterest, bids farewell to a French youth with the following words: “We never spoke to each other, but your silence taught me a profound lesson. I don’t fully understand it yet, but one day I will.”
We Were All One. For a few days, it seemed like all our hearts became one. Packing my bags, I am in a pensive mood. How long will this state of understanding last once we leave the ashram? I wonder. How safe will it be for me to confront the outside world with a heart this open? My question is answered on the plane home. Coincidentally, Gabriela and I meet Rohan, an Indian entrepreneur, who also attended the Gandhi 3.0 retreat. When we invite him to sit with us, he declines politely, telling us he has urgent work to do. Upon our arrival in Mumbai, he finds us again and hands us a poem he’s written for us. Nothing could have illustrated the joy that simple gestures can bring better than this gift from Rohan. All of us who attended Gandhi 3.0 came home profoundly changed. And I am deeply grateful for this.