Posts Tagged ‘smile cards’

photo courtesy of Steve Goldsmith (fm lt to rt: Valerio, me, Kalyan, Jyotsana, Rahul, Mira)

On Monday, I gave a talk at Cal State Long Beach’s South Asia day called The Law of Love which traced the journey of Friends Without Borders’ friendship efforts in South Asia between 2005-7. The true message was about practicing the process of placing empathy and love at the center of what you do in the world. Many of the students who attended were doing so for extra credit, and so the energy level in the room wasn’t so high when I started. Of course, one of the methods of practice I shared were smile cards, and some of the ripples that have radiated from this. While it felt great to rouse some enthusiasm around this and see all my smile cards disappear with at least a dozen personal requests on how to get more :-), it was more gratifying to learn that the Indian Student Union of CSULB sent links to Ekatva tickets to their member lists. The best part were these 9 & 10 year old kids of faculty who came up afterwards to ask for my autograph 🙂 I made them give me theirs first, and the sweet notes they wrote are pinned up at my office. Priceless little joys!


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There was a time in my life when I thought I would never get married.  When most people make that choice, its usually because they are too afraid of commitment.  In my case, it was the opposite.  I wanted a partner in the cultivation of unconditional love, and after a few experiments in college and after, I concluded that most are not really interested in living that concept. And so I didn’t think it would be possible to find someone whose commitment ran as deeply as mine, and that marriage would be a costly distraction in the spiritual mission of making myself a more loving, happy, and serviceful person.

On May 2nd, 2009, I officially proved myself wrong and finally married my dearest, deepest friend, Asha Patel.

The planning of our marriage seemed like a protracted negotiation between the requirements of traditional culture stemming from our parents wishes, and our desire for something small, simple, and deeply meaningful. Turns out we took the middle path!  🙂

I found myself repeatedly overwhelmed with the love and beauty that was coming at us leading up to our wedding, and even more moved by everyone whose love was pouring out on the day of the wedding itself. Yogesh uncle converted his home into my surrogate home for the precursor ceremonies and starting location for the groom’s procession. I was resistant to riding a horse, so Hemin gave me 300 horses through his sportscar!  John flew in as a surprise, and was such an incredible nose-defender (don’t ask) that the priest told me to let Asha’s mom pull my nose as a freebie to make her feel better  🙂  Dinesh & Paresh uncle took charge of so many small pieces, including a major one through muscling the heavy stage around in our massive backyard tent!  Another uncle forgot a suit on the west coast, and through the heroics of the anonymous usual suspects, Raj had it on a plane to the east coast within 90 minutes!

As gifts to our guests in attendance, our friend Emmanuel from the Global Oneness Project sent a big box of DVDs of inspiring films and our dear friend Ankur offered box of his book on his personal re-tracing of Gandhi’s Dandi Yatra.  We gave every guest a DVD of stories of people who have shaped our lives, and Nipun & the HelpOthers.org crew kicked in a ton of Smile Cards (and small gifts with big love) to facilitate all the forward ripples.  Many friends not in physical attendance offered spiritual attendance by meditating during our ceremony. At least a hundred even did random acts of kindness, and through Sukh & Raju’s coordination, the stories were captured to a website so the ripples could continue!

Seema and Seth went a step further in conspiracy with Christine Bulaoro and beautifully printed out all of these acts of kindness, and spent the morning hand-folding them into tent cards to share with everyone at the reception!

Out of their own goodness, and perhaps to offset some of the paper we used (!), Uma & Sriram had a 1000 trees planted in a village near Bangalore! Anjali and some Manav Sadhna heroes cleaned an entire street in the holy town of Rishikesh. Vandana from Pune sent her daughter Keya on her behalf as the smiling emissary, though we felt like so many of our friends from India were smiling through her.  Nature also seemed to conspire: there was solid rain every day before and after our wedding, but the morning of the actual ceremony only saw very light sprinkles which quickly subsided.  The sun even came out super brightly just as Asha got carried in!


The list goes on & on… Carpools to the events were spontaneously coordinated, extra guests effortlessly accommodated, crowd-sourced marriage advice books lovingly compiled, and so many seeds (literally & figuratively) were offered and planted to bring in the day. And it was all so fitting, because when you decide to make your marriage about the cultivation of unconditional love, you implicitly understand that its a lifelong (perhaps longer!) project in changing yourself to increasingly bring more goodness in the world.  What better gift could there be than the offering of so many people’s goodness on that day?

Even before the marriage, but most definitely after, we are so deeply aware of the necessity of a harmonious community of friends and well-wishers to aid us on our lifelong partnership together. As a reminder to these co-creators of our journey as well as ourselves, each table had the vows that spontaneously coalesced late one night after reading and reflecting on sets of similar vows by people we deeply respect and trust. Our vows read as follows:

We live in a materially finite world, and have potentially unlimited material wants.  Every physical thing we consume is something that is denied another fellow human.  Do you vow to grow in simplicity, reducing your wants so that others may satisfy their needs?

Pleasure can be an intoxicating labyrinth, numbing our awareness and derailing our sense of sacred purpose in this world with its flickering satisfactions.  Pleasure can also be beautiful, and can sweeten life in big and small ways.  Do you vow to enjoy the pleasures life offers you without chasing them, while growing into more subtle, expansive and enduring joy?

Money, power and fame can become their own ends, robbing us of our sense of interconnectedness, indebtedness and obligation to serve a higher purpose.  Do you vow recognize your stewardship of whatever money/power/fame comes into your life, and to only accumulate it as a trustee for the greater good or a higher calling?

Love is a force that binds us together and makes our worlds go round.  But the attraction of love can also pull us increasingly closer into each others’ orbits, denying us its expression in other forms in every other department of life.  Do you vow to grow your love, and increasingly free it from all its conditions so that you may eventually express love unconditionally for all?

Our words have the power to inspire and to propel each other forward.  With our speech, we can build trust, elevate dialogue and create a foundation of harmony in our home.  Do you vow to grow in noble speech that uplifts & inspires, builds trust, and aligns your words with your thoughts and actions?

There is a knowing beyond the mind that is not rooted in facts or histories.  Do you vow to grow in cohesion and integrity so that your intuitions are the stuff of inspiration rather than the product of whim and fancy?  Do you vow to support one another’s intuitions, even when your own facts and perception may not agree?

There is an order and a nature to the inscrutable complexity of cause and effect converging and rippling at every moment.  Do you vow to surrender to the mysterious ways of the universe, trusting the inevitability of change, even in difficult times?  Do you vow to cultivate gratefulness for the precious moments you will share together, even at the end of your lives when it may come time to part?

As we grow into deeper fulfillment of our sacred vows, we ride on the shoulders of so many incredible friends, teachers, mentors, and guides who have made it possible for us to come this far. In turn, we offer ourselves to back to them, as well as all our yet-unknown friends that we’ll meet together on the journey. The spirit was perhaps best encapsulated by Yaniv’s gift to us in the form of a daily prayer for the continued deepening of our individual and collective unfoldment.

Oh, and those interested can check out our pictures here.

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Gifts that are given from a space of gratitude have the power to unleash tremendous goodness into the world.  This is the story of one small gift that demonstrates the awesome capacity for that goodness to ripple onwards.

When I got asked to make a short-film for Blazin’ Hope 2, I agreed only after others had committed to do a lot of the preliminary work so that I could finish the piece in 8 hours or less.  Somewhere on day 2 when I realized that the original vision / story wasn’t working, I was frustrated because it was going to take a lot longer to finish that I had planned.

After the frustration, or perhaps because of it, I started digging more deeply into a blog that had more information about this organization.  Every story I read touched me– I was so moved that I melted into the project, losing track of time and myself.  It took many hours over two more days to finish the video on Itipini, but those last two days were filled with such gratitude to be in a position to do something small to aid the noble spirit of the work.

On the night of the concert, I started getting text messages from other Be The Cause volunteers.  The audience was “frozen, mesmerized” and “deeply still” during the video while being “visibly moved”.  I forbid friends to send me SMSes because they cost me 2o cents in and out, so I knew that these notes were sincere or people would not have wasted my dimes on them.  Though I was already deeply rewarded during those last two days, the audience reaction and the SMSes were the first wave of many more rewards to head in my direction.

Turns out that the curator of a film festival was in the audience, and she was deeply moved by the video.  She asked me if she could enter it into the My Hero Film Festival.  I agreed and sent her several more films, all of which were received with the same excitement.  I forgot about the whole affair until a few months later when I was invited to attend the festival, and then sent home with all the top prizes and cash!

Again I realized that I had already been amply rewarded, so I immediately donated the cash to another beautiful effort called the Art Miles Mural project.  My interaction with them forged a deep friendship with their effort, and opened the door to an audience with the Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Ambassador Chowdhury (to whom I also gave a gift & smile card!).  It also lead to super-fun talk and interactive session with a group of kids from an afternoon program, and a film screening and short talk at a children’s talent show put on by Arts4Unity 🙂

The feedback from that first festival was to enter more festivals, and when I decided to do that, I was flooded by generosity from many friends who pitched in to fund entry fees into many other festivals.  These films have been seen, and won more awards at the International Family Film Festival, San Luis Obispo Film Festival, Garden State Film Festival, and Nashville Film Festival so far.  I only attended the San Luis Obispo festival, and was again flooded with gifts and generosity throughout that experience.  I have to write a proper blog post about the experience, but once again, I knew I had already been amply rewarded, and so I paid forward gifts during that festival– many of which have opened up other doors.

As beautiful as those film festivals were, I saw their limitations, which lead me to dream up the InSIDe Film Festival.  After only a short presentation at USC’s Cinematic Arts,  they loved the concept and gifted something like $20,000 in venues to make the event happen.  Incredible!  Of course, the InSIDe itself will be a gift-economy film festival, so that others can experience this magic 😉

Before all those festivals, Swap of Karmacy saw the video and wanted to hire me to make a video for one of their songs.  It was pre-election and they wanted to make it for Obama.  Of course, I had already been deeply rewarded for whatever little I had done, so it would not have been proper to be ‘hired’.  I naturally offered to make the video in the gift-economy, and was deeply gratified to be able to do something to help Obama get elected.  The piece made quite a little splash in the South Asian community, and I started getting emails from a few friends around the world who I had lost touch with over the years.  Amazing that despite years and separation our subtle connection never disappeared and was re-ignited through a gift given somewhere else!

Perhaps because of the film festival wins and the Karmacy video, MTV Iggy got interested in my work.  I’ll be introducing the world to my homie MC Yogi through a short piece that may get up to 110M views worldwide across several markets and platforms!  The relationship means it may be possible to introduce more inspiring stories to a broader worldwide audience.  What a way to spread the good!

Couple of weeks ago, I get an email from some folks on the east coast who are arranging a speaking tour for Jenny McConnachie.  They ask if they can use my short video on Itipini during her tour.  Of course they can!  In fact, I am humbled and honored that they would even want to use the video.  They’re a tad surprised by my enthusiasm, and lack of legalese-ish hurdles in getting permission, perhaps not understanding the spirit in which I operate.  I explain the story and purpose of Blazin’ Hope, and add:

As a filmmaker, I only work for inspiring people, organizations, and causes as a way of amplifying the good in the world.  The goal is to bring that goodness to as many people as possible  🙂   though I leave the marketing and outreach to the universe.

Turns out that it is the first time Jenny is speaking since her husband Chris McConnachie passed away in 2007.  Though this film helped raise money for her work, she had never seen it until her first presentation a few days ago.  Here’s the note I just got from the east coast:

Rahul –  Jenny and I have been in NY, NJ and MA with presentations and sharing what is happening at Itipini.  She saw your presentation for the first time and was in awe…she really, really liked it and is talking about taking and sharing it more….I wish you could have seen her watching the first time….awesome!   thank you again….Carla

It gives me goosebumps to put the woman who inspired me in awe!

The gifts keep on growing in every direction, revealing an abundance that I never quite experienced until I started living in the gift-economy.  Blazin’ Hope III is just around the corner– a chance to overflow again with gratitude and hope!

And to think, none of this would have been possible if I charged my “market rate” to make the video…

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Over the holidays, a little surprise popped into my Paypal account.  Check it out:

smilecarddonationblurredIts one thing to get tagged; its entirely different to get tagged by Smile Cards!


Stay tuned for more short films posted here, courtesy of Anonymous Kindness!

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“Why you in such a hurry?  You were going 40 in a 25 zone. Gimme your license, registration, & proof of insurance.”

It was so late on Wednesday night that it was already Thursday. Riding with me was my fiancee, a gift-economy naturopath, a Mexican Gandhian & peaceful warrior, and an Amma devotee & brilliant graphic artist.  The cop seemed a little hardened, but there was a special energy in the air after two hours of listening to Krishnammal Jagannathan in Santa Clara, and I couldn’t think of four other people I would rather be getting a ticket with for going too fast 🙂

As the cop was making his way back to the car, we started thinking. If he was going to give me his best, how could I give him mine? We had some food in the car, but figured that we might get arrested for offering it to him. Pancho pulls out his smile deck just as I’m thinking of the smile cards in my glove box.

“Ok, sign here.”

“Wait a second. Do you know what these are? You gotta check them out!”

“First you gotta sign here,” says the cop.

“First you have to check these out,” I insist, as I explain the concept and the four suits. “Go ahead and take a card!”

“Awright, but sign here first.”

“No, you have to take a card first,” I say, noticing that he’s already smiling! I catch myself wishing for a brief instant that he pulls a card that something like “Don’t give Rahul a ticket!” but was pretty clear that this wasn’t what it was all about. He was just doing his job, enforcing the law. I had to make sure I was doing my job, reminding myself of a deeper law. If we both walked away without any negativity, the world would be a better place. And if the cop followed the suggestion on the card, or paid it forward, the world would be WAY better off. Who’s ever gotten tagged by a cop?!

“What does it say?” I demand.

“Get lifelong bulbs for you house and another’s house,” he says, as he tucks it into his cap with a smile.

“And, you gotta check this one out!” I say as I hand him a regular smile card and tell him more about it.

“Cool. Sign here,” he says, still smiling!

I click the pen but it doesn’t pop out. For another quick second, I catch myself thinking, “Yessss! No ticket for me!” but then he takes it from me and clicks it open as I put myself back in mental check.

“Thanks officer. Have a great night!”  We roll away almost missing the turn that is less than a half block away, pulling a crazy maneuver that might have earned me another ticket less than thirty seconds later. I bet the cop was probably too busy re-reading the cards to notice 🙂

As the weeks ran by without a ticket arriving in the mail, I figured that there might be some chance that the ticket got magically lost in the system, but it just arrived yesterday.


Cops get paid extra, time & a half I believe, for showing up in court if someone they issued a ticket to contests the charges. The state is facing budget cuts and in the midst of its worst financial crisis, encouraging employees to take 2 unpaid days off a month. At the same time, I’m >400 miles away from the courthouse, and $188 is a lot of money to pay for driving a little fast on an empty road after midnight (and traffic school will add another $30-50 on top of it all).

So that raises the question of what the best response is– and I want your opinion!

a.) drive 400+ miles to contest the ticket, then say in open court that I’m guilty but just wanted to give the cop a gift of extra cash over the holidays to make him smile more; pay the fine; go to traffic school

b.) Berkeley is a nice place in grand scheme of places; pay the fine to support the city but save your time & the pollution of the trip; go to traffic school and spend your gas money on donuts & smile cards for your fellow speeders

c.) pay the fine, go to traffic school, and save you money for a rainy day

d.) pay the lower fine, and skip traffic school altogether– the point on my record costs less than the higher ticket + traffic school; do something nice with the spare change

Incidentally, three days later, my fiancee is speeding down the 5 freeway going >80 mph while I’m asleep in the front seat. A cop pulls her over and tell her she was going 20 mph over the speed limit. She admits guilt, pleads ignorance, and gets off with a warning! So that leads to the last option:

e.) cute girls make cops smile more than cards. Outsource future speeding to them!

Submit your answer by comment, but make sure you get it in before my ticket due date: January 8th, 2009!


UPDATE – February 11th, 2009:

After considering everyone’s input, I decided to write to the court and explain 1.) that I was doing social service when I got the ticket 2.) that it was past midnight on an empty road 3.) I’ve spent most of the last 4 years giving my time in service 4.) there were people in the car with up to 1 additional hour of driving to do.

I offered to pay a more affordable $50 for the ticket, and spend $20 on doughnuts for my fellow speeders at traffic school as a way to introduce the story of how I made my officer smile, hoping that the court would see this as an investment in creating a better and safer world for officers, and very much in-line with my ideal of social service.

Today, the response came back.  The court decided to DROP MY TICKET entirely!

The privelege of being in a position to devote your time to serving society makes for a rewarding and charmed life.  I don’ t think anyone could have guessed that an added perk would be amnesty from a speeding ticket, but I suspect that there are many unexpected fruits from using your time to sew the right seeds.

Now comes the question of what to do with the $70 I saved on fines & doughnuts!  A nicer problem, for sure 🙂

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