Written by Ani Devlia
The following words of Hafiz reverberated again and again during the few days of joining the Empty Hands Pilgrimage in Europe.
"My Heart and Your Heart are very old friends" Hafiz
It was a journey that connected hearts with noble friends to build community and nourishing great togetherness.
Nicki Vellick has been creatively weaving positive messages and music into her yoga classes at the beautiful Yogalife Studio she owns in the centre of Graz, the second largest city in Austria. From the moment you walk into the studio, you can feel the presence of Nicki's compassionate and values-centred spirit, which exudes through attentive detail from majestic paintings of Ganesha and Buddha to miniature handpicked words of inspiration on postcards that adorn the walls. Her warm heart-centred spirit flows into the choices she makes in her life, such as in choosing to send her 4 year old son to a nursery which is a tippee tent in the centre of a forest where the only learning tools available to the toddlers are those offered by the gifts of nature. Or choosing quality organic ingredients to lovingly prepare meals for their two dogs, Mocca and Lunar. Nicki has been cultivating a growing community in Graz, teaching yoga infused with undertones of valuable wisdom. One regular student remarked, " I receive much more than a yoga class. When I attend Nicki's class, I feel like I've been to Church".
Nicki has been using the song Grateful in a few of her Flow classes, and earlier this year, in September, gathered her yoga students in a Flow workshop in movement and rhythm with the song Being Kind in an intention to send all proceeds to the children in Syrian refugee camps in Austria. Collectively they raised more than 1100 Euros.
The Empty Hands gathering that evening, was preceded by a 45 minute Flow Yoga class where about 22 students flowed gracefully in movement as Nimo sang the words to Grateful. It seemed that each asana (movement) was bowing in surrender to each lyric. It seemed that each lyric was honouring the life flowing through each movement. Movement externally, stillness within. Rhythm, movement, stillness, in union, in a oneness that was beyond beautiful to behold. In the last few minutes of Shavasana (resting) pose, eyes closed and palms clasped together and the words of Prayer flowed into our hearts.
30 minutes later, together with many helping hands, candles were lit, heart pins were pinned and warm hugs were offered to transform the space into an intimate circle with about 35 noble friends joining together to share inspiring stories and songs. Nicki opened the circle with a beautiful recital of the Sanskrit mantra Serva Bhavantu, a Peace prayer. With each song, each story shared, of an act of kindness, of love, of gratitude, hearts opened and overflowed. As one woman shared what she was grateful for, even before her voice started to tremble, Mocca strolled across the room to where the woman was, nestled close by her lap, a silent gesture of unconditional love and empathy ... A connection of hearts.
On the bus ride to Vienna the next morning, I was filled with awe at the spectacular brush strokes the morning sun rays were painting across the canopy of sky above the Austrian countryside.
Thoughts of exchanging hugs in a few hours with dear brother-in-service Jose, in Burgos, Spain, brought a smile to my heart. The car pulls into the drive just before midnight... (and just before Jose's birthday) Indeed with big smiles and even bigger hugs, Jose welcomes us so warmly into the family home, and within minutes the sounds of joyful "feliz cumpleaños" fill the night air.
The village of Villasur and city of Burgos lie on the Camino Santiago, and there is a strong sense of community amongst the locals. Jose's own pilgrimage of service over the years in Argentina, Ghana and India, has deeply inspired him over the past couple of years, to weave a stronger and deeper community spirit. By way of aligning his heart centred values with stillness and service, through hosting open house meditation circles at home, one day retreats and experiments in acts of kindness, the ripples have manifested into pay-it-forward yoga classes, smile cards in Spanish and much more. On the day of the gathering, the house is filled with a buzz of anticipation and alive-ness with folks from the community that Jose and his family have been nourishing togetherness with, come by to offer help in setting up for the evenings gathering of about 80 people. One friend, Laticia, came by with her art box to paint a pillar on the front verandah with beautiful leaves, where people were invited to write words from their heart.
Alongside the verandah, a few women creatively adorned the lawn with a breathtaking mandala using twigs, golden autumnal leaves and petals. As people arrived, their arms laden with offerings for the meal that would be shared, they were welcomed with flower necklaces and heart pins. It was wonderful to see entire families join the evening, a diversity of ages, from 3 to 98 years.
Tia Dominica, a 98 year old great aunt of Jose is a special soul. Her profound energy bursts forth from every pore in her elegant being. With every step she dances, with every word spoken, she sings. When I asked her (with the help of a translator) what it was that inspired her to stay so spirited with life, she replied " Love every person".
So much love flowed that evening. There was nothing lost in translation as Jose articulated each story into Spanish. Every chorus had, word by word been translated onto the screen in Spanish, children, parents, grandparents and great grand aunt sung their hearts out. Many who came were friends or family, a few knew nobody, had happened to somehow hear of the event and felt a tug to come. At the close, they shared how it felt like they had known everybody and had arrived home.
From Burgos to Blackpool -
Something within had called out to Linda Vernon, to host an Empty Hands Music gathering in the coastal town of Blackpool, in the Lancashire region of North West England, where she has been living for about 12 years. Boasting a 7 mile pier front and big roller coasters, Blackpool used to be a holiday hotspot many decades ago These days, Blackpool is one of the most challenged and deprived areas in the region with high statistics of unemployment, depression and suicide rates. Linda in being the change, is aligning her head, hands and heart in intention to connect individuals with initiatives and community. It was a joy to experience her lively and deeply caring spirit, which shone brightly during the time spent with her and her two adorable daughters, Cianna and Maia. Especially heartwarming, was her insight on non-expectations of any situation, in that whatever unfolded, in the end, would be perfect. Having had only four weeks to plan for a gathering , this insight with a core of holding trust with deep intent, is paramount in staying positive. In the end, it was just perfect.
It was a powerful and beautiful gathering set within the walls of St Pauls Church in the centre of the city. About 40 people gathered that afternoon, first in the lobby to listen to the NHS choir sing, moving on to the crypt to where the Empty Hands gathering took place. Especially endearing, was to see many children sitting on the floor, transfixed, as Nimo shared stories and songs and as Cianna confidently held the mic to sing Planting Seeds.
One girl Grace, was prompted by her father to share a poem she had been inspired to write after repeatedly listening to Grateful in the car. It was wonderful to finally meet Kane, whom Linda had shared much about, and hear his insight on "listening" and his experiences of living life as a homeless person to living a life of deep purpose.
As people mentioned, many seeds were planted that day, at the gathering and beyond. Linda has been moved and inspired to invite attendees at the gathering to partake in a 21 day Kindness Challenge that began on World Kindness Day. Furthermore, seeds of hosting monthly meditation gatherings at her home to hold space for others have been planted in her heart. All in an intention to connect hearts and build community.
The three gatherings in London were the last of the Empty Hashes Tour in England, as well as the final three days for this year's 5 month tour.
On one of these days, a few people set out in an intention to connect hearts with strangers in a Spontaneous Acts of Kindness Flashmob on one of the many bridges over the flowing river Thanes.
As commuters and people passed across the bridge, to the railway station, to a restaurant or wherever they were heading, they were "mobbed" by what can be described as a cloud of kindness. The "mobbers", amongst them Trishna's 4 year old daughter Sareena, held up posters that depicted positive messages, such as "Give me a Smile :)" and "Smile, you are Perfect". Offerings of FREE HUGS, chocolates and flowers were overflowing to those who chose to accept these gifts of love and kindness, with no other agenda other than to spread unconditional love. It was fun, yet at the same time deeply reflective. Each of us observed the inner dialogue taking place when somebody refused a hug or looked through you, or when somebody stated how grateful they were to receive the hugs after a terrible day at work. Trishna shared what Sareena described how she felt after the event:
"The first half was a medium thumbs-up because I was a little scared and nobody wanted the chocolate I was giving them, and the second half was a big thumbs up (imagine little girl with huge beaming smile and screaming this with enthusiasm!) :) because I wasn't scared anymore and started to smile and share hugs with people and they shared their smiles with me when they saw me smile at them. Mommy, the more you give the more you get right?"
St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace ...
This year, once again, we were blessed with an opportunity to hold a gathering on behalf of all friends of Empty Hands Music in the beautiful Nave of St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace. It was sacred to conclude the 5 month pilgrimage in a space devoted to bring ape ace and reconciliation in the world. It's an unknown space, in the middle of the capital's financial district, an oasis of peace, beauty and serenity. The beauty of a gathering which is hosted by no single individual or organisation, is in its ability to draw like-minded individuals from diverse communities and backgrounds, crystallising all into one togetherness of community.
Volunteers wholeheartedly put their names forward, guests generously brought offerings of food and refreshments to share. Like all of Empty Hands offerings, this event was offered also as a gift. One young gentleman, clearly taken back by the beautiful space and warm welcoming with flower necklaces and hugs, asked if he was at the right event. Kiya, Eash and Rudra joined in singing Planting seeds.
Chandra shared how she had found comfort listening to the words of Nimo’s songs through a severe period of illness and had been inspired to writethe song she was about to share.
With each song, and each story that was shared, of kindness, of unconditional love, of non judgement, of oneness and community... people joined hands, held each other, sharing tears of joy and suffering.
Opening and connecting hearts, in the knowing that ultimately we are interconnected and are the same.
Together,we are planting seeds, nothing more.
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