Interview withThe Parvati Foundation (Cooperation Circle from the Multiregion) on the insight into Selfless Service with Karen Ho and Rina Barouch-Bentov, and URI Senior Consultant Sally Mahé.
With the conviction to learn from nature and give selfless service, Parvati, the founder of Parvati Foundation, teaches that the world does not need more leaders but people willing to give of themselves in selfless service.
It seems many people today want to be leaders. But what we are really missing are more street sweepers, people who are ready to serve in whatever way is needed to move towards a healthy world. Amma, a South Indian humanitarian leader I greatly respect, says, “To be a hero, you have to be a zero.” I take that to heart and every day I seek to operate from that place of zero, so that my own ego and limited will are out of the way and something greater can move through me for the benefit of all. It is a practice of setting aside preconceptions, surrendering all wanting, releasing attachments to the outcome of my actions, and doing what is in the divine right order at the moment to serve the greater good. What becomes clear is that people everywhere care deeply for our world. People are looking for the chance to be part of something that acknowledges their care and provides a vehicle for them to make a difference.
Sally Mahé: From just a brief look at your website, I’m moved by the profound values embraced by Parvati Foundation. I would love to learn about your dedication to this work and how Parvati Foundation and MAPS got started.
Karen Ho: Well, there is a very interesting and moving origin story to how Parvati Foundation got started. During an unusually hot summer in Toronto, Parvati was planning a musical tour, when she experienced a recurring dream that she was lying on ice and a blue whale swimming beneath her was calling out to her. And she couldn’t ignore this call, so she ultimately decided to cancel her tour and just three weeks later she was in the High Arctic. She met with two Inuit elders who told her that they had known she was coming because the whale had told them. As she says, when we choose to listen to Nature's call it will bring us in harmony with the whole of Nature's intelligence and plan. After she came back from this trip, she mobilized a group of her friends to set up Parvati Foundation. I later joined because I was very moved by her mission. I started on the Foundation simply wanting to be of service. My time with the Foundation has taught me profoundly that Nature is our ally. If we protect it, it protects us. That's something that Parvati has exemplified in her work, her music, her words. I also understood from volunteering as part of the Foundation that we are all interconnected—not just amongst humans, but human beings within Nature as a whole.
It’s about stepping into the greater intelligence that nature offers.
How do you relate to Parvati’s story and the profound principle of listening to Nature? How does it energize and direct your work day to day?
Rina Barouch-Bentov: My work with MAPS matches 100% with my core values! I’m Israeli, I’m Jewish. I’m very spiritual. The idea of interconnection is important to me. My parents, rabbis, and beloved spiritual teacher Mātā Amritānandamayī, known as Amma, always reinforced the idea that we are all connected. As a scientist, the heart of what I do is to witness the interconnectivity among the systems within the human body. For example, I studied both psychology and immunology and how stress affects the immune system. Cells and other entities like viruses can exist in different systems but they “speak” the same language demonstrating that the systems are interconnected. This realization brings me a lot of peace. When we have this peace within, we can shine it outside.
Because we are all one - we know much more what’s inside our heart, and so we can unlock this knowledge.
Rina: I believe that the practice of caring and doing good deeds for everyone helps to unlock and expand our heart and stretch our minds to make us more loving, knowledgeable and creative.
Rina, you speak from your heart and you open my heart. Thank you. What keeps you both doing this work, day to day?
Karen: There has not been one defining experience that keeps my commitment strong. I am a physician by day and work one on one with patients. It made sense to me that as a physician I can make a difference at an individual level, but a little voice in my heart said I want to do more for a greater cause.
I think my time volunteering with the foundation has enlarged my overall vision for my work and my responsibility towards my patients, so that I am serving the health of humanity. When my understanding of our interconnection developed and flourished, I understood that the decisions I make, as well as how I choose to approach my work and guide my patients, have an impact on the health of our society. So it's no longer just that my work is one on one with a patient. My work with that patient translates into impacts that I may not even understand immediately, because none of these decisions are made in isolation. And so it gives me a greater sense of reward because I know that every aspect of my work will influence others in a way that that can have benefits at multiple levels.
Every day as volunteers, we are invited to remember why we are doing this and to remember the core principles Parvati has set out as the foundation of our work and, really, our lives: Humility, Gratitude and Willingness to put aside our own ego and agenda and be willing to step into service for the greater good. I strive to take these principles into my work as a physician.
The most important inspiration for me comes from within. I need to be very clear about the reason that I do what I do. Motivation does not come from conversations outside myself. I feel a clear alignment between what MAPS is offering and how I want to serve.
I want to emphasize two values: openness and flexibility. When things aren’t going the way I want them to, I need to listen and be open and flexible to what Nature’s call is for me.
Parvati says that our rising global temperatures, due to carbon emissions driven by consumption, are an expression of the heat of our minds. In order to cool the planetary heat, we need to cool our minds. We protect the ice in the Arctic by collective action in the world and also by melting the ice in our own hearts that keeps us from compassion. To me, that is much needed medicine for our planet at this time.
Rina: Healing actions happen together -- the healing of individuals and the planet -- as an expression of love and helping to bring about peace in the world.
What response are you receiving? How does it feel to be in the frontline of this new way of creating impact and change?
Karen: At a personal level it's brought me a greater sense of reward in the work that I do day-to-day. That in itself is something that I'm tremendously grateful for as a by-product of my volunteerism. And I would say that also has translated into greater satisfaction amongst my patients, because there is a greater sense of holism in the care that I'm delivering. A healthy society starts with healthier individuals, so I believe that there are benefits inherently woven into the work that I'm doing.
That said, working as closely as I do with the rest of the Foundation under Parvati’s guidance, I've come to believe that our way of working is not the new way. It resonates deeply within my heart that this is the way that we are meant to not only work, but live in the world—to collaborate, cooperate and grow. It is productive, it fosters learning for everyone, and it contributes to the greater good.
Rina: As a scientist, I feel that I have been trained for this work. Even though the work can be intense, believing in the aim of MAPS can make it feel effortless, like a feather. But our task is not an easy one because we are working on very difficult problems.
Equanimity is another key value and tool. Often, we face negativity or rejection in our disagreements and confrontations, through which we can learn and improve how to make progress by bringing equanimity into what we do in the best way we can.
Parvati, herself, is a wonderful role model of these values and we are happy to serve under her wing.
How do you nurture hope in yourselves and in your work?
Karen: That's a really good question, because we can each feel the agitation and divisiveness in our world today, and it can be very easy to give our power away to it. I derive a lot of hope and fortitude from the close relationships I have built with my colleagues within the Foundation and again from the example that Parvati has set for the way we work. We believe in being honest and humble with each other, in taking responsibility for our mistakes and for our own learning, as well as supporting others where there is the opportunity to lean in. So this really helps give me the support I need to continue in this work. And it continually brings me back to the principle of interconnection, that we as a foundation work in a way that is interconnected and we reflect that out into the world.
I have heard Parvati say that Nature does not despair. I think that is such an edifying and truthful statement. It means that the work that I'm doing to protect Nature is ultimately supporting the inherent possibilities within it. There is so much generative potential and capacity in Nature’s intelligence to find balance. If I hold on to that, it gives me tremendous fortitude and strength to carry on with this work.Rina: I nurture hope through my devotion to God and living my faith, and through my dedication to trying to understand the nature of Creation which I do as a scientist and in how I approach the world. Guided by my core values and reverence for people and the planet, I witness the unbelievably beautiful and magnificent Creation and its unlimited and ever-expanding potential and that fills my heart with hope. Through my work at the Parvati Foundation, I meet so many talented and giving people who do so much to heal the planet. Seeing the goodness in people and what they do for others also fills my heart with hope and amazement.
Take a step back and see that the whole of nature is so much bigger.
Operate from that place knowing that as we protect Nature, Nature protects us.
Is there a place in nature that draws you - that makes it easy to listen?
Rina: I feel at home and at peace at the ocean – there is an expensive beauty there I really love. I often bring my feeling of the ocean into my quiet place - diving deep within myself where it is quiet. I sometimes use the theme of water when doing meditation in which I hold a vision of the deepest water of the ocean with a peacefulness -- that feeling of being at home. I feel this practice makes it easier for me to listen.
Karen: I think really anywhere that has an abundance of plants and wildlife. Of course, in the city where I live, it's not necessarily easy to find a lot of wildlife, but I find great comfort in being close to a body of water such as a lake. If it's an option for me to be close to the ocean I gravitate towards that. There's something so deeply grounding and pacifying about being in a natural setting, being reminded that this is the family that I belong to—not just the human family but the natural world of vitality and abundance that is Nature. For me to derive the benefit that I do from just this small piece of Nature that that I have access to, only affirms my belief that the Arctic Ocean must be protected for all our sake. What I have learned through my time within the foundation is that the heart of humanity is ultimately found within Nature, so you cannot divorce humanity in its essence from Nature. Nature is part of our very being. Going outside is important but I also go inside to find that place within myself where I can feel at home.
I’m struck that the transformation you speak about starts from the inside out.
Karen: Yes, I believe that wholeheartedly. The transformation starts from within for each of us. This is again something that I have seen exemplified within our foundation and by Parvati herself. It began with Parvati answering the call inwardly to follow what Nature was asking of her, going to the North Pole. From there we have seen the birth of the foundation and all the work for MAPS that has come as a result. Within my own life I have seen that to be true as well. When I'm willing to be really honest, to turn inwards and listen to that voice within my heart, which I believe again is connected to the heart of Nature, I have only found that it brought me to a place of greater authenticity, a feeling of being more human, a feeling of being at home within myself.
That is why Parvati emphasizes selfless service as a core part of what Parvati Foundation and MAPS work is all about. As she says, this work cannot be about prestige or accumulation of wealth because then you are driven from an outside source and that is not what Nature is about. Nature is a force within itself that rests within the entire natural world.
Parvati Foundation is very much about transforming oneself from within then bringing that inner transformation out into the world to create a better world.
MAPS is not about putting a circle around the Arctic Ocean. It is about the change we collectively need to make for a healthy future. We are called to go within, where we can hear Nature’s intelligence and act from that place of selflessly serving it. When we do that as a global community, then we can absolutely transform the whole world.
MAPS aims to heal the Arctic, but it goes way beyond that. We know that it is transformation at an individual level and a collective level that transforms all systems: ecological, social, health, education, etc. This transformation happens on multiple levels because it starts with the fundamentals.
Rina: I identify with what Karen is saying. When we find inner peace we shine with this peace. We create peace wherever we are, even without doing anything. I believe that finding my quiet place helps with sending this love and peace out into the world, which helps elevate this teaching everywhere.
How does it happen that experiencing deep peace inside oneself and committing to selfless service travels outward and makes a difference?
Karen: When we are serving from a place of peace and without regard for reward for ourselves, it creates a state of harmony that I believe is not just physiological but also psychological and spiritual. When we come from that place of selflessness and peace, I truly believe that it can create such transformation because it comes from the heart. Again, it goes back to the way Parvati listened to a call that came from Nature, which then began a transformation, and I would even say a revolution in peace and in creating the kind of world she believes in. I was so inspired by that. So I've come to believe that the only real way to create transformation and change in a positive way is through peace and selfless action.
Selfless service challenges our economic systems and it is the antidote to our money-controlled systems. Selfless service means that we are giving something of ourselves that is beyond an expectation of anything in return. We set aside expectations and outcomes. As Parvati has said, we are in service to how the larger patterns are evolving and unfolding. In service to the whole, I take myself (my own expectation) out of the equation.
Nature has its own balancing system. We’re just starting to understand this in science. We see interconnections between cells, between ecosystems. Nature is inherently cooperative.
On the other hand, some of our current societal systems are self-serving. If businesses make decisions that only serve a bottom line but don’t serve the common good, ultimately one part will suffer. When one system fails it has repercussions because of the principle of interconnectivity. When one part suffers the whole suffers.
Rina: Our commitment to selfless service and applying it to what we do at the Parvati Foundation helps us in some way to address the selfishness and greed that is out there in the world and presents such enormous challenges in what is happening in the Arctic Ocean and around the world. We think of selfless service as the practice of working completely from a place of love and peace, caring and gratitude, and from compassion and understanding. All of these help us to understand and transform tendencies, such as selfishness, greed, ignorance, and lack of concern. We witness the negative consequences of these tendencies in the environmental crisis. By focusing on selfless service and the positive constructive vibes that go with that, we are better able to bring about solutions that are so urgently needed.
We can accept the principle of selfless service in our minds, but we won’t get it in our lives until we do selfless service as a daily practice.
Karen: At Parvati Foundation we speak to people from all walks of life. We’re doing this on a platform called Gift the World. Our aim is to reach people’s hearts and minds. Not just to change thinking but to help people come from inner inspiration. We encourage starting with inner peace, radiating it outward, and creating a peace sanctuary on Earth. We want the world to really take in this message!
Please share Gift the World and a recent effort, Open Letter to Scientists with the URI global network.
Thank you so much. Let’s take a moment in silence together to open our hearts and give gratitude for Nature’s intelligence and love.
Read the full "Inner Voice of Leadership" series.