Josephji in White

Josephji was one of my colleagues at Gandhi 3.0.  His name is Joseph.  In India, people add “ji” to a name to convey respect.

If anyone deserved the respectful “ji,” it was Josephji.

From his bio:  For over 16 years, Josephji has lived as a renunciate.  Engaging his life as a pilgrim, he has traveled across India, from the Himalayas to Kerala, cultivating from moment-to-moment, with an intent to offer himself in service and stillness to the people and environment around him. 

In service and stillness.  I aspire to such grace. 

One day I asked Josephji, “So what’s it like being a renunciate?”

We were eating breakfast at an outdoor table, in monastery serenity.  In the distance, dishes clattered, friendly sounds and laughter, as the volunteers prepared “Prasad.”  Closer, green parrots squawked to each other.  The sun was quiet and the air sweet.  Flowers and green foliage spilled into our dining space.

Josephji stopped eating, thought for a moment, and said, “Right now, I am completely enjoying my breakfast.”

I nodded, “Me too.”

He continued, “If I turn my back and the dog eats it, it won’t matter to me.”

“That’s the story of my life,” I laughed.

I was referring to pieces of pizza and noodle salads, devoured by my dogs in my absent-minded moments.  I knew that Josephji was talking about something else.

How we cling to external conditions in the name of enjoyment.  How we struggle to maintain the status quo so we can feel safe and happy.  How we can’t forgive the past or how we fret about the future.  How all these self-created thoughts about the way things should be seem so real and so necessary.

And yet, these invented inner perceptions impair our peace of mind.  They interfere with our ability to be in service and stillness, to ourselves, to others, and to life. 

I am grateful for Jospehji’s teaching offered in the warm sun of India, for in conscious moments, I embody it.  I catch myself in a mental frenzy and simply say renounce.  Let it go.  Be still.  Serve something greater than your fear.

Then I relax and remember.  I think of the day in India when we attended a huge Arts Festival Concert.  Our group sat in designated seats as guests of honor.  The performers sang their hearts out and waved tiny versions of India’s flag in time with the music.   The loud music consumed us.  Jerry, an American activist, businessman and co-recipient of a Nobel Peace Price, sat on my left.  Josephji was to my right.  During the height of singing and flag-waving I leaned over and bellowed to Josephji,“Can we take a selfie?”

He said yes.

It doesn’t get any better.  Singing, Surrender, Service, Stillness, Selfies there for the taking, there for our delight, there for our renunciation, always.


What would you like to renounce?  What inner worry, clinging, dire predictions, regrets, or other stand in the way of your service and stillness? 



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When Ripples Have Ripples

Trust the ripples.”  That’s a teaching I’ve embodied from years of involvement with ServiceSpace.

The gist of ripple-trusting (or is it the gift of ripple-trusting?) is this:  Do small acts of kindness.  Recognize each tiny act matters.  Know that kind acts inspire other kind acts.  Trust that every kindness, no matter how small, can ripple around the world to magnify and expand.

When I returned from India, I needed to Ripple Big.  I was homesick for the grace-infusion I experienced there.  The antidote for my homesickness was kindness.  So I served where I could. I rippled where possible.  I talked about rippling in church

With this additional focus on ripples, I was privileged to see that ripples have ripples.

Here’s an example:

Last week, Sue sent me an email.  Sue attends our Spiritual Center, where she is active as a writer, speaker, speech coach, ministry leader, and more.  She has a big heart and a knack for calling forth blessings.  Sue wrote:

How I Ended Up Buying Ice Cream for 4 Wet Guys in Saffron Robes

Today I had the day off and the world was my oyster. I had been reading some of your blog posts and thinking about Nipun and you and India, and how it had all affected us in so many ways. I thought “I should do an act of kindness.”

I went down to the harbor to get my planner in order for the next few months. I got a latte and sat outside, watching the water and the people and the birds.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something unusual – guys wearing saffron robes heading into the ice cream store. I had no idea how many of them there were, but I knew what my act of kindness was going to be. I was going to buy monks ice cream! 

I raced down to the ice cream store and found them deep in the decision-making process. Their friend, Arjay, talked to me. He said they were not monks but Hindu priests, fresh back in the US from training in India. They had been kayaking and their robes were all wet.

Arjay was delighted that I was buying ice cream and asked about my spiritual path and I told him about VCSL and your travels to India.

He ran out to his car and got me chocolates – he said a tradition in India is to give sweets when you meet someone, to leave a sweet impression. He also gave me a brochure about their temple and invited me to visit.

The ripples of Service Space continue out and back. 

Sue Davis

Sue’s ripples brought me joy.  Because what really happened?  Something rippled to Sue to inspire ice-cream action.  Something inevitably will ripple through the “four wet guys.”  They will pay it forward.  Through all of us, a quiet grace will infiltrate the world.

What an honor it is to participate in a life changing, hope inspiring path, especially now….




We may face big problems – in our lives, in our country, in our world.

But we can remember, underneath all adversity exists the undertow of the kind.  Beside conflict and division, people do the work of oneness.  When tragic greed or selfishness grabs our attention, some good soul buys ice cream for strangers….

And this is what counts, this is “the real.”  Not the adversity, not the conflict, not the news stories that compete for ratings – but the quiet work of ordinary people enacting the narrative of Oneness.

How will you participate?  Will you give Sue’s ripples ripples?  Will you do an act of kindness inspired by her action?  Will you write about it in the comments section so that others may ripple by means of your ripples? 

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Rev. Bonnie scaling the wall – photo by Mandy Len Catron

There are man hands on my bottom.

This phrase floated through my mind.  I watched the words like a subtitle in a foreign movie….and I laughed.

It was the kite festival in Ahmedabad.   A group of beautiful sari-clad women poised on a roof summoned me and others to climb up a wall to join their dance-party.

I said yes.

Scaling the wall was more challenging than it looked.  So I got an enthusiastic boost from several men behind mevirtual strangers…. They put their man hands on my bottom and pushed me up.

This was peculiar, because the culture of Ahmedabad feels proper to me.  The women dress modestly.   Men and women both tend to be well covered.  The men seem respectful and mindful of boundaries.  Of course, I’m generalizing; but I remember standing with Nipun one time when he and Jayeshbhai presented some young Wisdom Crafts women with beautifully woven shawls.  I started to leave and Nipun whispered, “Can you please stay with us and anchor the feminine presence?”

“Of course.” I said.  It was the kind thing to do.  It conveyed a level of respect and safety.

Now, climbing over a wall, with man hands on my bottom, I marveled at my predicament and laughed with delight.

If only my church could see me now, I thought.  “….There goes our Reverend Bonnie, up over a crumbling white wall, shoved from behind and hauled from above….Look at the man hands on her bottom.  Look at the man hands pulling her up and over.  Seriously, she must really want to dance.” 

I did want to dance, badly.  Enough to suffer the indignity of being shoved and hauled over a rough wall.  Enough to see that the shoving and hauling was a delightful dance in itself. 

Photo by Cherie Montoya

And I laughed because it was so bizarre; I laughed because the man hands conveyed only care and respect.  I felt the man hands’ sub-text, the message I knew they wanted us all to understand: “Get her over the wall, boys….We don’t want to drop the old girl, not on our watch….”  

I love looking back on that moment where purity befriended impropriety.

Shakespeare wrote, “there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”  I think he meant that our lives are defined by our thinking, our perceptions.  And our actions are most certainly defined by our intentions.

I think about my proper intentions.  The ones I’ve held forever.  All the stories I’ve saved up over the years, like a bank account:  don’t talk to strangers, always meet the needs of others, be serious, get ahead; don’t touch bottoms….  I wonder how these intentions have shaped my actions.  I wonder if these are absolute truths that dictate how I should live my life from now on.

None of these are absolutely bad.  None are absolutely good.  It’s up to me to re-evaluate — and wherever possible to radicalize — radicalize my intentions into new love that propels me beyond my current conditioning and understanding.    

Purity seems to be the key.   When intention shifts from getting to giving, from fear to love – we can part from what we learned about propriety.  Man hands on a bottom move from improper to pure.  We can talk to strangers.  We can say no or yes from an authentic place.  We become safe in our holy intent and we dance, more joyfully than ever before.


Is there any place in your life where you feel called to re-evaluate and radicalize your intentions?  Where do you “intend” from a place of fear?  What might a purification of intention look like to you? 


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