Intimacy beyond Identity

When I was a child, I went to Girl Scout Camp for two weeks every summer.  I remember wondering, “Will the other kids like me?  Will I fit in?”  For the most part, I got along fine.

Now, pushing sixty, I still wonder “Will the other kids like me?” But I had no qualms about making friends in India.  Even thought I didn’t know why I was going – I only had a vague notion about meditation, Gandhi, and kindness – I knew I’d be with the nicest people in the world.

And I was correct.  We were thrown into an unparalleled matrix of friendship.

Yet I was unprepared for the level of connection I found with strangers.  I didn’t know much about anyone, but I trusted them completely.  It was intimacy beyond identity.

This was most visible in my relationships with the volunteers, the people that dedicated many weeks out of their lives to plan, prepare, and serve.

I struggled to identify them, to remember their names.  I wanted to be a good guest, respectful of local traditions, a noble ambassador for the U.S.  But their names were hard for my American ears.  Plus, they had non-sequitur nicknames.  I’d meet someone.  He’d say, “My name is Neerad, but you can call me Po.”

“Why????” I’d think.  “How do you get Po from Neerad???”

One night, I was invited to sing on stage in the Seva café.  There were probably about sixty people there.   In the true spirit of ServiceSpace, I decided to include a local volunteer, a beautiful woman I met a few days prior.  We had talked at length.  I found out she could sing.   Granted, I couldn’t remember her name, but I knew we could harmonize.

It was time to call her onstage.  Embarrassed that I didn’t know her name, I stepped up to the mic and decided to improvise.

I said, “For this next song, I’d like to call up… um… Boom….Boom-chicka….Boom…Boomerang… whatever your name is, c’mon up.”   And then to everyone, “I’m sorry, I still don’t know your names…..”

People laughed.

Boom-chicka smiled and said, “You can call me Ginny.”

“Okay, now you’re just messing with me.” I said.  “Don’t we already have a Jiggy???”

She replied, “We do.  Jignasha.”


“Why don’t you call me Boomie?”

“That’ll work,” I replied.

Then we sang together like old friends.

We reached beyond naming identity into the music of intimacy.

I’ve heard that as soon as you give God a name, you put him/her in a box framed by your own limitations.  The same is true for all reality – all people, conditions, and circumstances.  Of course, we have to name “the other” to be able to navigate life.  But names evoke perception and projection.  When we look beyond the identities we project, we find a closer approximation of Absolute Reality -joyful intimacy and unabashed friendship waiting for us to wake up and embrace.

That night in the Seva café, I found a local woman who was both stranger and sister.  I found someone who could laugh with me; someone who harmonize literally and figuratively; someone who could love my clumsiness.

This was intimacy beyond identity.  Instant friendship.  Instant family.

Boomie (Bhumika) and I got to be good friends.  We would often sing to each other to the tune of My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean…  “Bring back, bring back, oh bring back my Boomie to me, to me…”

Today I smile as I remember.   My memories bring back my Boomie to me.  I savor our kinship and trust intimacy beyond identity.

How do you name “the other?”  How can naming people, or circumstances interfere with Absolute perception?  Where can you let go of labels?  

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“’Prasada’ literally means a gracious gift.  It is typically food that is first offered to a deity, saint, Perfect Master, or an avatar, and then distributed in His or Her name to their followers or others as a good sign.”


Those who ingest Prasad are said to embody the blessings of the Divine.

In India, I learned to extend the definition of Prasad.

“Food prepared with love is Prasad,” they taught us.

Maybe that’s why the food tasted so good.  A lot of it was foreign to me.  I didn’t always recognize what we were eating.  But the mindfulness and kindness that went into the preparation had a subtle effect.

I cultivated reverence for “food prepared with love.”

In this reverence, I remembered the mystical presence that prepares all food.

Love, God, Absolute Reality prepares food with love.  Fruit bursts out of barren branches; broccoli pushes it’s way out of the ground….Love surrenders the raw elements of food to chefs everywhere.  They prepare the food with love; they circulate it to us.  We eat it.  Love continues it’s holy work in digestion, circulation, assimilation, elimination….This holy process gives us the energy required to prepare and offer love to the world.

Everything is a never-ending cycle of love preparing love to prepare more love.

Our work, our relationships, our joys, and our sorrows – everything is Prasad, everything is holy.

Love preparing love reminds me of a blessing my husband taught me.  He learned it from his teacher, John Bennett.

All life is one, everything that lives is holy.

Plants, animals and humankind – all must eat to live and nourish one another.

We bless the lives that have died to give us our food.

Let us eat together gratefully, resolving by our work to pay the debt of our existence.

With all this love, this smorgasbord of love – the only thing we can do is try and love more.   We can’t out-love love.  But we can move into humble awe, say thank you, and resolve by our inner work to pay the unpayable debt of our holy Whole existence.


What are some ways you can pay for the insurmountable gift of your existence?  Gratitude, praising others, seeing the holiness in everything, loving wastefully…all of these things — but what specifically calls to you?  How do you thank life for your life?     


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Agenda-less Agenda

No one really knew what we were doing in Ahmedabad, at a gathering called Gandhi 3.0

Some of the people attending knew little about ServiceSpace.

Mandy, from Vancouver was there because Nipun liked her Ted Talk.

Ana from the Philippines was there because she knew Nimo Patel.

Greg from Fargo, North Dakota, left his pregnant wife behind to do God-knows-what in India.

I didn’t know why I was there and I am very familiar with the mission of ServiceSpace.

My family, friends, and congregation asked, “So why are you going?  What will you do there?”

It felt strange and vaguely irresponsible to say…. “Um, I’m not sure…. I guess we’ll meditate at Gandhi’s ashram?… And maybe talk about kindness?  Oh, and I’m going to be there with a bunch of compassionate leaders…but I don’t know any of them….”

Peoples’ eyes would glaze over as if to say, “She has to go to India to meditate and talk to strangers about kindness?”

Once I got there, I saw how much planning went into this event.  Food, logistics, activities, and housing were all artfully designed to ensure our comfort.   I have great respect for “planners.”  We all reaped the benefits of their kind attention to detail.

At the same time, there was an agenda-less agenda.

Before I left the U.S. I asked my congregation to pray that I would find what I needed to help me continue to inspire our Spiritual Center.   While I was there, I experienced great teaching on Gandhian principles.  I’ll write about some of this later.

But much of what inspired us at Gandhi 3.0 was beyond any imaginable curriculum.  The agenda-less agenda left room for the mystery to provide what was individually needed.  The freedom from agenda allowed us to benefit from the experience in custom-made ways. 

The moment by moment emergent curriculum for me was finding holy experiences in the spaces between planned classes and meetings.  Tiny holy experiences.  These small moments were my greatest teachers.  They revealed the Infinite in the every-day.  The ordinary became a mirror for the extraordinary.

The agenda-less agenda kept me present to what I needed to learn.  Simple encounters with people, cows, rickshaw drivers, and street dogs were my curriculum.  I loved it all and it loved me right back.  


Knowing that planning is important, is there a place in your life where you can let go of planning or agendas?   What keeps you from doing this?  How might you allow perfection to work within the context of an agenda-less agenda?


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