September 5

Self in Service



In this episode, I am talking with Manish Srivastava, whom I met in IDG Summit and who inspired me with his presence.

Manish is a social artist, a poet, and defines his work as " to make visible the deeper longing of humanity, and in that sense, contribute to our evolution".

I was so inspired throughout the conversation, we talked about art, ego, service, and using self in service. Manish shared his work story, his claiming the artist identity and his discipline beautifully. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.

I recorded this episode on LinkedIn Live. If you'd like to tune in to the podcast real time, follow me on LinkedIn.


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About Manish Srivastava

Manish Srivastava wrote his first poem at the age of nine. But after he discovered his divine gift, his life got divided into two roads.

The upper road took the course of his professional life. He learned his ropes in defense, business, and international development sectors and found his way to the renowned institutions of Harvard, MIT, Unilever etc.

However, his soul found refuge in the down road—a less celebrated path of poetry, art, and nature. It was here he made sense of the crazy demanding world and engaged in authentic self-inquiry through dream analysis and contemplative art.

Somewhere down the line, two roads crossed. Manish now works with leaders across Business, Government, UN and Civil Society sectors to co-design social art-based innovation labs. He integrates poetry, contemplative art, and systems thinking to help leaders collectively sense, own, and transform societal divides. His work on “Systems Transformation through Social Art” has been featured at the Inner Development Goal (IDG) Summit in 2022, PI Global Forum 2021 and Conflict Transformation Summit in 2020.

Resources Mentioned

During our conversation, Manish read beautiful poetry from his book "Midnight Journey of a Seed".

He also mentioned his first book "Trading Armour for a Flower".

We mentioned the Presencing Institute, and 4D Mapping.

We also talked about my book "The Gift of Being Unfulfilled at Work."

Get in Touch

Learn more about the work of Manish on

You can follow Manish on Linkedin.

Learn more about the work of Manish on

You can follow Manish on Linkedin.


[00:00:00] Isil: Hello everyone. This is Işıl and I am very happy to be conversing with Manish Srivastava today. I invited Manish for this talk because I was very inspired by his presence. I'm really interested in exploring what does work mean and how we can create work that fulfills us, but at the same time serves more than individually to us, serves to the bigger whole. And I know that you are doing, for me, it feels you are doing the work that serves the whole.

[00:00:39] And I would like to start with this question. How do you define your work?

[00:00:45] Manish: I remember Rumi's quote, where he says work is, oh, no, not sure if it is Rumi or Khalil Gibran, I think, I guess it's Khalil Gibran. Yes. Yeah. Work is love made visible. I think of work is also coming from a deep need within us of becoming. There are these fundamental needs of belonging to a community, being who we are and becoming something.

[00:01:09] And the work is in a way a forum, an opportunity for us to really explore who we truly are and how we can truly serve others, truly serve the community and be a part of the ecosystem. This is what I think on feet, right now.

[00:01:25] Isil: Oh, that's fantastic. You gave a definition of what work is, and I wonder... I'm inviting you to describe your work based on how you found you are becoming through what you are doing and how you are. Your way of serving. What you find that is fulfilling you and your contribution. I'm asking maybe to go out of being humble, like, how do you put your colors and your service into this ecosystem?

[00:01:55] Manish: Yeah, that's beautiful. I think as I said, it has been an ongoing journey. It has been an ongoing journey, to constantly reflect on Who am I, who is myself and what is my work and how can I serve my ecosystem from my highest potential.

[00:02:11] And right now I am seeing my work as a social artist, and my journey is to help organizations, leaders, communities become aware of their higher potential. To also attend to their brokenness, their challenges with the use of social arts. And I think, that is what I bring, whether I'm working with an institution like United Nations or a government or a corporation, or I'm working with individuals or communities. I think my intention is what is the collective longing for? How do we make visible that longing? And how do we develop capacity to attend to what is broken or what is wounded in this moment. And when we develop that capacity, I feel then there is a transformation. So I enjoy being a witness of that. I enjoy being a enabler of that. And that's what gives me joy. So whether it is through writing a poem, or facilitating a social presencing theater workshop or, uh, doing a theater performance or this, conversation for that matter. I think deep down, I'm an artist, I'm a poet. And my job as an artist or a poet is to make visible the deeper longing of humanity, and in that sense, contribute to our evolution. 

[00:03:27] Isil: That's so beautiful. I love it. I feel... not the word inspired, but it's like, bodily sensation, hearing you speak about this bringing longing visible, and it makes me wonder what happens when longing becomes... well, this sounds so much out of the context of a definition of a business, in the... you know, common sense.

[00:03:55] So what do we do? Nobody says that I make the longing visible. How did you find the courage or the awareness of what it is that you do and how do you trust that it makes this impact. I asked two questions here, choose however you want to respond.

[00:04:17] Manish: So your first question is how did I find the courage to find this, right?

[00:04:22] Isil: Yes. How did you find the courage to define your own work? Because that's so out of the given path. So that's a curiosity that I have and many people I think need to develop this courage, but of course there is a prior work of understanding, I think, while I'm asking you question, I'm also developing an idea myself. So thank you for staying patient with me. And then the other thing is knowing this inside of your self, how do you trust it's impacting actually creating the impact that you feel or you sense that it would make.

[00:04:59] Manish: No, I think that's a great question. And, what I love about our previous conversation also, and this one is that, I think it serves me by reflecting and wondering that what was the journey and then that empowers me to continue that in future. So that's a great question. And I'm, reflecting on that, I think the first answer is that, it's an impulse. It's an evolutionary impulse within me to do something and slowly I'm little more, little more courageous to honor that impulse. When we are very young, when we are like... my son is 10 right now, at that stage, we start getting an evolutionary impulse like I want to do this. I want to learn this. I love birds. I want to protect environment. I love drawing. I love running. So these kind of becoming impulses are there and we are bold, but as we start growing up, I think the societal pressures, which I metaphorically called armor, which is the title of my first book Trading Armour for a Flower.

[00:05:55] So the impulses of flower: flower wants to flourish. Flower is very bold. I love flowers. They have a little stem. They look at the sky and they'll say, I love you. That's what a flower is. Flower just loves the world and that's why the butterfly comes. The bee comes, the rain comes, the dew drops come, so we are flowers.

[00:06:14] But then these armors come on us. These armors of "You are a man.", "You are a woman.", "You are Indian.", You are not.", "You are rich.", "You are poor.". And all these frames and structure start stiffing it. And I felt that happening to me too, but somewhere I think with the help of poetry or theater, or just the space I got. I went to a military school. Big armors there. But then I got space. The school was located in a forest, so I could run into the forest and talk to nature.

[00:06:43] So through these, engagement or practices, we keep the flower alive and at some stage it claims its space. So that has been my journey too. That just slowly feeding. It's like drip agriculture. Slowly feeding the flower in my own. Like many of you having dreams. You may be writing, unfinished novel at the back of your notebook, or a poem behind a napkin, or those moments in the bathroom after your bath, when you admire your beauty, right? Or the dances you have done when nobody was around, like I do sometimes dances with my morning cup of tea. I'm making the tea, it takes time to boil and I'm dancing with the refrigerator. So there are these little pieces that I think are impulses of becoming.

[00:07:28] And the idea... I felt somewhere. I don't know if I found courage or it became so strong that I then jumped off the cliff. In my career path, there have been moments when I jumped off the cliff and it's not courageous. It's full of fear. It's like "what the hell am I doing?

[00:07:45] Will this land me somewhere?" Not knowing, but soon we find friends. We find friends who are as crazy as us. And I think it's how we attend to our own self during that transition. How do we find our Sangha or community who says basically," I don't get what you're doing, but I'm going to hang around with you".

[00:08:05] That's enough. If you have one friend like that, you have gold. So stay with that. And I have couple of them. So I think these are the little pieces which allowed me to find my courage. And then the universe starts responding. And to attend to that response, little things like Işıl reaching out "your journey makes sense. Let's do it on a LinkedIn Live!". And I say, "oh yeah", that's good, that's a validation." Let's do it". So also appreciating the little gifts that come. And when you appreciate then the major gifts come and then soon enough, what we were afraid of transitioning into becomes the new normal, and it requires another cliff.

[00:08:43] Isil: Oh, wow. Wow. I have the need to give back what I heard from you. I think I'm making sense by speaking things out. What touched me was this first example you gave: the flower, looking up and your journey or any journey for us to do what we are here to contribute to the ecosystem is to notice these moments of opening or these little impulses that you called, and then feeding them or creating space for that noticing, appreciating that and kind of responding to that.

[00:09:20] And by time, that grows into something the more we pay attention to it, and at some point it feels like it's something we can't ignore anymore because that becomes so visible and so powerful, which seems to me that leads into this jumps from the cliff, because that's so powerful and big, you can't ignore this anymore, needs to flow.

[00:09:45] And when it flows, then it touches into something like people you meet maybe, or some other connections that validates that there's a path for this. And maybe with the power, the water collects the other particles on the path and grows into something bigger that you cannot expect that's happening.

[00:10:05] And I love connecting with other people. Even if you have one person that's enough support to move forward. So it feels like the trust in yourself is supported or comes from another person that is holding the space with you.

[00:10:21] I was wondering, you described that there were moments where I jumped off the cliff. Could you share with us these "symbol" moments for you that made a difference and clarified your path forward that you couldn't know without having done this jump?

[00:10:40] Manish: Two moments come to me. One was a moment when I was working with Unilever.

[00:10:44] And I moved from that wonderful organization, wonderful corporate role into becoming a facilitator in international development sector. It seems great. Many people do a great planning and I love, admire them. They plan, they decide they move. Mine was not like that. Generally my rebirths are painful. And beautiful at the same time. And the second one is when I moved from this international development and I moved in, not moved from moved in deeper. Sometimes transitions are moving out and sometimes it is moving in. So the second one is a moving into the field of social art.

[00:11:20] I think I was working with Unilever and my heart always was towards what difference we make to the communities, which was very much there in me. And I was getting disillusioned when somehow a project opportunity came, where Unilever, also some of my leaders sensed that I have that longing and they seconded me for a three months project, to work across, communities, government, UNICEF, and corporates. And I was representing Unilever in a project on child malnutrition. And that was one of the first long term cross sectoral partnership project based in India. Now, for the project we lived in villages and as I was going through that journey, I was making sense of that through art, poetry...

[00:12:03] And then I was asked to come back. My job is done. You are now head of learning and development, big office, in sea facing office, company car. And I was happy. Wow. I think I did something which added some feathers, but I felt I have left the project alone and I started having dreams of children crying, the malnourished children dying.

[00:12:26] And one night I had a powerful dream that was just before the next governing council meeting. We were deciding the fate of the project, whether to invest more or not. And I had this unborn child from the womb of a tribal mother speaking to me. I got up at 2:00 AM. I was in tears. I.. Still shivering.

[00:12:45] It's 15 years. It's still alive, right?

[00:12:49] And so I just wrote a letter from the child, a letter from an unborn child. It came like a raw poetry. And next morning, I don't know what force I had, I reached office early, typed the letter, printed it. I had the keys because I was heading the learning center. I inserted the letter in the folders of the governing council meeting.

[00:13:09] Of course I was not governing council. I was a young business executive then, and then I walked out. And I felt, oh no, what have I done? I came to the sea face. I started running in my corporate clothes. I was like, what have I done? This is terrible. I will be fired. And I didn't have courage to go into the office back.

[00:13:28] And then in the evening, our leader, he was heading food business, he called, who was very passionate about the project. And he said, " We are ready to extend the project. One more million dollar coming in". And he said, "You know, there was a poem."

[00:13:43] I said, "yes". "You put that?" I said, "yes". And he said, " we were about to start the meeting, but it started differently because of that". So I cannot say the poem contributed. Or led to the extra funding, but poem changed the mood. Poem brought the voice of the child in the room. And it gave power to the doctors and nurses and civil society members of the governing council than just the funders and corporates.

[00:14:09] And it shifted the dynamic in some way. Then the voice started speaking to me more, more and more. And then I was able to actually ask the CEO " Please second me to this project again. I want to be there. I don't have courage to leave, but I want to be there." Cut the long story short, there were fights, there were people telling me why don't you take a clear call? All of that. I've lived in that mess of not knowing till they seconded me again. And then another two years I was living in villages, on Unilever. And that's the great thing about Unilever that they seconded me. Great thing of the leaders who were there, who helped me, Doug Baillie, my CEO, Tex Gunning, who was head of food division, Leena Nair, who was head HR. You know, sometimes I felt, they were saying "this young man is too troubled. Let's just let him go". Sometimes they saw that I have potential, but more than that, it was not me who was doing that, it was the child. It was that child, which spoke to me almost every night. And I wrote many poems and that's how my journey started. And that was first indicated that art has something to do with it, but that there came a second transition. When this project got over, I took a secondment. I went to US because it was too, too intense. It was breaking me inside. I wanted time off. I think secondments or sabbaticals are very powerful process for people working in organizations, because if you are in a pattern, then it's difficult to know. So once you step out of the pattern and really honor your voice or do something different, it'll do something to you.

[00:15:37] So I was out in US with my wife, as a action research fellow at MIT, where I met Peter Senge, Otto Sharma, and I met Arwana Hayashi and, she appreciated my poetry, everyone appreciated, but I was not sure if I can call myself an artist, I was still a business guy who's trying to do good in partnership with development sector.

[00:15:58] And that was a good role. I was doing all systems thinking work, but then somewhere the artist in me started knocking the door. The poet that I found at the age of nine was again coming. In fact, those dreams were coming. I saw a dream of a well, which I call sacred well, which is the sacred well studio I'm building now, where I see artists coming, I see myself as a curator of that.

[00:16:22] I started seeing a therapist because the experience of working across sector was so intense. And she, a Jungian analyst, helped me see the meaning of these symbols. So all that journey was happening. But then the transition point for me was... there was again a big forum, Presensing Institute forum at MIT, Massachusetts Institute of technology, in which I was playing a role. I was supporting. And there were seven rooms, seven counters on business, agriculture, government. So we are looking at what will be the future of that. So my obvious choice: business, that was number two.

[00:16:54] So I put the number two sticker on my name tag. I said, I'm going to business because I'm a business guy and I'm going to work on that. As I was crossing, I saw a new counter was added, the counter number eight, which was art. And I said, damn it. Now, what do I do? Now, this is what would happen. This is more dramatic for me, but it would happen to all of us.

[00:17:14] Sometimes life will give you a choice and you were lost. I'm like... art? And now I saw art. Okay. Fine, art. But now it is calling me, what do I do? So I'm now sitting in the conference. 250 people, Peter Senge, some minister, some experts talking. And I'm listening there. And there was one woman, I remember, I think Sonia, she was talking about illegal immigrants in US and she was talking about the undocumented people in the country.

[00:17:41] And I'm sitting there. I cannot hear anything, Işıl. Because I'm only hearing art, art, art. I'm like, what to do? I'm in business, I'm going to business... Art art. And then, suddenly this woman, only sentence I heard, she said, what is the undocumented part of you? And incidentally, she was looking at me while speaking, you know, you scan. And she was like, what is the undocumented part of you? And I'm like, artist. This artist is undocumented in me. This is the artist which has made me survive and never understood. My business, fact sheet in Unilever, but I knew people and I used to write poems and this was the poem that got the million dollar.

[00:18:22] So I'm now sitting there and I immediately jumped, jumped over the chairs, went to the counter: do you have another sticker? They said, yes, but people have gone only one left. So I took the sticker, put it on. On my eight, but it became 28. . So the two and eight, then I ran, where is art? Because art did not get the room in the main building.

[00:18:42] So they were in a building across the street on other side of MIT. So now I'm running in full speed because I'm late across the street, crossing the street. There was one room, I went upstairs and I said, where is art? And they said, oh, somewhere behind that curtain. So they were doing a social art practice, 4d mapping.

[00:18:59] They were looking at future of art in systems change and they were having different roles and Arwana was distributing the roles that some people take the role and then they start enacting. And the role in her hand at that moment was marginalized artist. And she was just looking around who will pick that. I was late.

[00:19:18] I opened the curtain and I come in. And Arwana, I don't know, she hands this word to me. So I put it without knowing what is going on. I am now in the center. And that's it. This was my entry into the world of Social Presencing Theater, I think 2000 10 or 12. And, ever since, that has been my journey.

[00:19:38] That was my part to recognize that there's an undocumented artist in me and I need to reclaim the artist in me, which really was how I made sense of the world when I was in military school, through poetry, through theater. And this is my time to reclaim that. So my invitation thank you for listening for this long, to all the listeners and to you, is that what is the undocumented part of us that is knocking the door?

[00:20:03] And what is the sticker that you got to put on you now? What will you claim?

[00:20:07] Isil: Ah, it's so inspiring. When you told this story, I remembered also the Presenting Institute Summit, is it called that way? it's forum the global forum . Yes. The global forum. There, there was the question: what is your role or what is your work? And that made me stop for quite some time. Because I chose, I think, activist , artist, and that was a third one. But I was so surprised that... I was thinking... There was also an entrepreneur or business owner. I do have a business, but that's not how I define myself. That woke me up into this inner reality, this undocumented, how you called it undocument...

[00:20:56] Manish: What is the undocumented part of you? What you need to reclaim?

[00:21:01] Isil: Yes. What I need to reclaim. So yeah, Presencing Institute also enabled me to wake up to what is undocumented part inside of me. That was so powerful. And while I was listening to you, I was sensing your ability to be a channel. When you are using the word honoring, it doesn't feel like I am, but it's something inside of me that I am a channel of. I sense this purity. How do you keep yourself.. Either what is your practice? What are your practices? What supports you to stay in that place of maybe non-attachment to ego.

[00:21:49] I might be making you uncomfortable saying that you are this ideal person that doesn't have an ego, but it feels to me, the usage of the words makes me sense that you have this work of really noticing what's going through you and serving to that rather than " I want to do this".

[00:22:07] How do you balance this? Being a human being with you know needs and life, but at the same time, this channeling of this force that is guiding or living through you, that doesn't necessarily... maybe it's not you, but it's something that you are channeling.

[00:22:26] Manish: Oh, what a question, Işıl! My first confession, I suck at that. What I mean is that it's a struggle. And my only accomplishment is, acknowledgement that I struggle, that's my only accomplishment. I was recently reading about that, somewhere. And reflecting with a friend of mine that vanity, that's what I call vanity.

[00:22:48] I think vanity is a shadow. There's a beautiful work of Richard Rudd, who talks about vanity as a shadow of all art and all exploration of purity. He says that vanity gets subtle as we move in our journey to ecosystem.

[00:23:03] I struggle with that too, nowhere won over it. But I think I'm just becoming more aware and, chuckling, laughing when I find that or see. It's like, I'm going to a conference to speak. And then I say, oh, I don't have visiting cards and I'm fretting over. I need to get visiting cards. So yes, the visiting cards have two things. It's my identity. It's the ego that people should know I was there. It can also be engaged in another way in service, that, you know, people want to know more and here is the way to reach out. I am in service and I'm learning that.

[00:23:35] My practice is of course, mindfulness. I practiced Vipassana and I was recently on one of the 10 days silent retreat. And this thing came again that the source of all the attachment, it's a source of anxiety and restlessness is attachment, that I get attached. And one of the biggest attachment is attached to my own sense of identity, who I am, how I show up in the world.

[00:23:56] And I could see that this is so true for me. And the more I'm moving into this, the more I am in public, the more I have to work with it. And so I asked someone and I reflected on that. What is the way when that's so much present. The more you are a leader, the more you are a coach trainer and you are showing up with people so more people know you, the more it feeds your ego, right? Yeah, I did well. So there is joy and how? And I thought, one way is service: dana. In Vipashyana tradition, dana is a practice of dissolving the ego. It's not of just helping and getting a bigger name that I helped, but dana or giving is a practice of dissolving the ego, because it's but natural in this life and work life the ego builds up. Ego is not bad either. Ego is necessary, a good ego. And then I kind of feel, yeah, we need to be selfish, but how big is the self? And I'm slowly learning to do that in not so good way, there are role models. My wife is a role model for me in that. And my son is a role model. Children are role models. It's like, "yeah, let's get two of these". Why? One for my friend. I'm like, wow!

[00:25:09] So a bit like that. So I'm learning Işıl. I think my practice is to show up in service, but then what you say that is also true, to recognize that I'm a medium. As an artist, I'm a medium to what wants to serve, but who is the creator? Who is the bigger poet here? Who is writing through me and this "who" is not one God or one particular thing. I think it's the energy of the universe. So if I have a poem. Yes. I recognize that I wrote that, right. I wrote that poem, which means it was came through my hand, but I have picked the inspiration. The inspiration is in the field and then I am making it visible towards the field. So it's emerging from the field and it's dissolving in the field and I have a role there of a medium.

[00:25:56] Sometimes I get stuck. Earlier I used to get more stuck, now less, but I get stuck with that. "Oh, look what I've created", which is good. I'm not saying it's bad that just recognizing that joy of creation. it's there. It's natural. Then also seeing that how can I now let it breathe, let it be in service, and still being in ownership. What I mean is the struggle is of the ownership, that who owns this. As a creator, as a craftsman, as a business leader, as an entrepreneur, you have some ownership of the process but the raw material and the content belongs to the community, belongs to earth.

[00:26:37] That acknowledgement that I got, I am so fortunate, knowing of a privilege as artist and entrepreneur and activist that I'm so fortunate. I have wherewithal to play, to shape this time and space, and make it available in a particular way. But then letting go is not easy, it's what I'm learning.

[00:26:59] Isil: Thank you so much for sharing with vulnerability. I recognize the strength of vulnerability that... it's also a courage I think that you are aware of the struggle and you are also generous to share that struggle. While I was listening to you I was reflecting on my response to this attachment or the ego.

[00:27:21] And I noticed this and then I think I add shame to it that. I get disappointed with myself that I shouldn't be that way, that I want to be the artist, I want to be seen and I want to be known and I'm not producing, creating enough and so on. So this is, I think my way of getting attached these days, and I don't want this of myself.

[00:27:45] What I picked from you is this, you said chuckle, like seeing my ways of maybe getting attached and then laughing at myself, there's a compassionate and warm approach to your own ways of being or the ego's ways of being that I really liked. And I think that's something that I can personally practice more.

[00:28:05] Thank you for sharing that.

[00:28:08] Manish: It's so fascinating because you know, our work is often about journeys from ego to ecosystem awareness. Then we ourselves get stuck in that. So it makes you humble that it's natural. It's a process. I've also stopped struggling slowly, too. Earlier I would look at what is the way, what is the way? And I think that this is the way. This is the way. Noticing and letting go. And I think service.

[00:28:33] I admire those people who can hold bigger. It's also about how much of the ego you can hold. I don't know. I don't have the right language for it. That's a wrong, wrong language that how much of ego.... Işıl, if you're invited to present something, create something for a larger community, then you are showing up. Yes, I am creating. But then using the I to be in a bigger service, that is one part. And other part is walking out of the green room without your costume. That's the other part.

[00:29:04] There is an amazing Rajinikanth, the amazing actor. But when you see him outside, he's like the superhero, his movies are blockbuster, people are getting inspired. He walks out, he's bald, he doesn't care. He walks out simple. He is eating simple food, talking simple things, talking about his children. He says, oh, that's the role.

[00:29:22] So I think somewhere we can step into what requires... I am wanting to learn more. Step into what this role requires, step into serve and walk out of that with simplicity, not carry that with you, because that's when the vanity becomes messy. Because when I become the role... Artist is a role in some way because of our skill and talent and life journey, we have got a role, right? And now we are serving as a leader, as an artist. And we do that. It's a bit like field dance in social presencing theater. I walk from this chair, I walk in the center, I do the gesture, I stand, receive. And then I turn. And I turn slowly. I'm aware I'm turning and I walk out into the circle back. So it's a bit of... I emerge. I serve. I let go and I go back. So that's the journey I want to learn.

[00:30:20] Isil: The way that you shared it right now, as we are a channel or we want to be a channel, we can be a bigger container or channel.

[00:30:30] Manish: That's the word.

[00:30:30] Isil: And then, we don't have to stay that way. When it serves, then be that and then let it be, and then be something else that serves best to the moment. I think this ability of being present and then make the biggest service through you, taking this shape.

[00:30:48] Risking being seen and having a lot of power, but not letting that power define who you are because you are changing and being all the time, you have the potential of everything. And maybe the mastery comes from what we call self as not individual self, but interchanging self. It's not that I fully understand it right now, but theoretically, I think that the journey is like, when I am full, we are all full and big. I also allow you to be big in this moment.

[00:31:23] Manish: There's something you used, you also talked about shame and I thought, yeah, that's so insightful because that's the subtle process of self shaming that happens sometimes. I think, this is another poem that, it doesn't help to be small. I think Marianne Williamson. Right? It doesn't serve anyone by you playing small. And I think there is a bit of learning of this fake humility, which I sometimes have.

[00:31:49] My longing is to live our authentic lives. Sometimes there is fake humility, and then I see children who just love themselves and they say it and they just step into something look, I did this, I did this. And the next moment they can cry over what they didn't do. So that's okay. I think there is some wisdom there.

[00:32:07] And I think what you're saying is that sometimes this, how I can show up into that role, into that moment that needs to serve when I'm without shame, without the guilt, without baggage. If there is something I show up and do that and let that. We know that there will be a name and fame attached to it, as you say, as we move into that and not getting too attached to that.

[00:32:33] What you also said, this is not who I am. Knowing in moment to moment that I'm an emerging experience. In this moment, this is called from me. I step into that fully. I do that fully, and I don't need to either let those medals come on my ... Or just do no, no, no, this is not me. So there was a bit of that also. That drama also I have played.

[00:32:52] No, no, that's no, not me. Not me. Ah, no, not me. That's a fake humility. Yes. Thank you. To receive. Because when somebody gives you, I'm learning, when somebody gives you a compliment, when somebody says, thank you because of you this happened. So I'm trying to wait. I would say no, no, I didn't. That's a bit negating. I'm also negating their experience of fullness. So I'm now waiting, wait and say, this is what you experienced, and thank you for sharing your experience. And I receive that and, the practice is to know that I had a great opportunity to be in service today and then letting it go. I'm just trying to learn that, Işıl. This is a powerful question. It touched into my own raw nerve.

[00:33:34] Isil: I love it. How we're creating the moment. I love our conversation right now. And I'm also curious. Here next to me is your book. I need to show it. It's a wonderful book. Your poetry. Midnight Journey of a Seed -Pathways to Resilience in the Face of a Pandemic. How did this book get through you?

[00:33:55] Manish: Midnight Journey of a Seed. This book is born during the pandemic. This is my second book.

[00:34:01] My first book is Trading Armour for a Flower, which is reflections on what is our journey of inner healing of inner masculine and inner feminine, and becoming a leader, which has both yin and yang, masculine and feminine integrated within.

[00:34:12] During the pandemic, at some stage I... we all were going through intense and still going through intense trauma.

[00:34:18] My wife just recovered from COVID, and I recovered a month back by second COVID and still recovering in the body. So we went through intense trauma during this time and intense collective trauma. What pandemic did to migrant laborers, to urban poor, to families. Almost every family had a terrible health crisis during this second wave in India, people lost, people walked on the edge of life. So during that time I had this voice within me. Let me also pick my copy. I just wanted to read this part. Maybe that tells the journey:

[00:34:50] What is a crisis worth

[00:34:52] if it has not transformed you?

[00:34:54] What is a crisis worth, if it has not transformed you? What I started doing was every morning I would wake up before sunrise, sit facing east and wait for the sun to come. And as the sun starts coming, I would meditate and pay attention to all the intense trauma struggles, fear sensations I experienced last night, last day, and just letting them shape.

[00:35:17] Sometimes, I would just get a word or a phrase. Sometimes I would just make a body gesture if I am feeling low, if I am feeling strong, if I'm feeling doubtful, I'll just do that as some contemplative practice, mindfulness and embodiment to let that struggle shape into some word of phrase. And that would give birth to a poem or a gesture or an art.

[00:35:42] And I started collecting that. This was my way of composting, composting the unresolved trauma into something. And we were actually composting because we were cooking at home. So all our leftovers we were composting. So there, I used to sit there used to be a compost bin and it used to smell. So there is this bad smell. There is sunrise. There is me in between, and I'm composting my own things into creative process. And that's how, Işıl, this book was born. At some stage, I felt this has a story. So I started weaving it together: poems, reflections. There is artwork like this, which actually I engaged a tribal woman, Sumitra Ahake. For each of the chapters she made this art and we found a narrative. What is the journey of an artist, of a leader through a crisis? How do we transform the crisis? And that's the journey of a seed. A seed is logged, but seed has immense potential within us. And we all are logged. And now I realize we are offering resilience circles and in these circles we are realizing, as people are sharing, that the poems are not just relevant for pandemic. Any crisis, people are bringing health crisis, job crisis, any crisis and crisis means that you feel stuck. You feel your potential is hidden inside a seed, and there is no way. And then how do we tune into that? How do we resource? How do we reconcile with what's broken inside and outside? How do we revive it into a little sapling and regenerate a forest? So that's the journey. I feel it's a journey of resilience and I discovered it through the pandemic.

[00:37:17] I'm grateful to pandemic for giving this wisdom to all of us. And now my mission in a way is to help more and more people use art, social art to transform their personal and collective struggles or trauma into a creative pathway, into a work of art, into a regenerative society if I allow myself to dream big. And if all the inputs that I've gathered in my life, if I can process that and be in service, that would be awesome.

[00:37:48] Isil: That's beautiful. I have so many more questions. I think we need to do another conversation with you. So, my egoistic question is: what is your creative practice? Because crisis moments seem to be... something new wants to be born, and you beautifully use your art to create something out of this moment. From something beautiful does also something beautiful born? Do you use your art of a normal daily practice to connect with beauty? Or how do you use it?

[00:38:26] Manish: That's a great question. And, this reminds me of a quote, which sometimes we attribute to Peter Senge. I think he used to say a lot. Peter Senge is a leading thinker and my teacher. I really love and value him, of systems thinking. And he said, what is deeply personal is deeply systemic. So what is deeply personal? When we truly, truly attend to what is personal to me, we are actually attending to the whole system and this I relate to the Indian philosophy of Aham Brahmasmi, which means I am the universe. So I think in some way, what you said, it's a egoistic question you're serving the whole, because you're speaking for the whole and how do we truly attend to that what is personal? So I think a journey of an artist or poet in this case is I attend to what is there in me, and pay attention to it, will stay with the sensation till the me drops and the phenomena remains. And then the phenomena has a voice. It wants to speak something. And then it speaks, and sometimes there's a residual of me there, which I have to chisel out later or I leave it, as a beautiful work of art. There's a bit of me, let it be. By bit of me, I don't mean me. My narrative is there, but bit of me means there is maybe something egoistic attached to it, but that's okay. As long as it is in service. Compost is never smooth. So the practice is is whatever your art form is. And, art form, I don't mean traditional art forms. It is anything that helps you to fully experience a phenomena, and create unedited expression of it. So whether it is an art, poetry, theater, movement, bed making, creating organization, leading a movement, throwing a party, all of that is work of art. It's social art, because you are attending to what's needed in this moment, what this moment wants to say, and you're giving it expression through many forms, whatever form you have more access to. I have access to words and movement. So I call it embodied poetry. Some are singers, some are dancers, Işıl, like you. You love through that. Some bring it through their work. Some bring it through organizing. That's also a beatiful work of art. And I think that is a way of processing what is not processed in us, and that kind of heals... heals you. And because it heals you, in a true sense it heals others. It's very fascinating. how the world starts responding, how you get one like on your post and that one person writes to you that this saved me.

[00:40:57] And you're like, okay, thank you. This is all. This is what I wanted it to do. This is what it wanted to happen. I was a medium to that journey.

[00:41:06] Isil: Okay. So the answer you give, I feel like everything is an artistic expression when you are attending to what is emerging inside of you and bring it out, bring it without this makeup, this... you said unedited version and, it's this ability when we are being present.

[00:41:27] And then we are expressing or letting it flow, then we are basically practicing art, feels like to me, and we can use art or we can be artists in everything we do, in any part of our day, rather than taking now a notebook and every day writing so much, which can be done. But, you are defining your art practice bigger than the tools that you have: the dance, and the writing.

[00:41:51] Manish: This is the discovery then comes a discipline because every tradition, every work of art, craft needs discipline. So the discipline is learning the trade, whatever that is, learning it, finding your community members, this, this, this commitment is also in children, right? Little thing they do and they want to be the best in that. So that's the beginning, that's the part of the beginning. Developing the discipline of... you know, if you like flower arrangement as work, then you kind of get interested in flowers. You do it in a particular time of the day or the week, do it every day. And that's when the "it" becomes us. The process becomes us. And then there is a flow. Then there is a flow.

[00:42:31] Isil: What is your discipline, Manish?

[00:42:34] Manish: I meditate. I meditate and I write. And I try to write at a particular time in a particular place. This is my desk. It faces a beautiful view, so it's like doing that, writing at a particular time of day, every day, trying to write every day or this mindfulness movement. Before seven I would get up and wait for the sun to rise and do a movement on the terrace. These are some of the little practices that help me to be connected to develop that language. Then, I'm reading other writers. I read their work, I practice theater so that there's a constant engagement. I keep learning like you, right? I keep learning new methods, new methodologies, what is trauma healing, what is constellation... just learning. Learning from other artists. So that's a bit of discipline. I used to hate word discipline. I went to a military school, but somebody said recently, last year actually, the core word for discipline is disciple. What you're ready to be a disciple of. And I was like, wow, that is a reframing. So yeah, I'm a disciple of this practice, of developing my own access so I can help others. And I think that's the discipline. I'm a disciple of that. So I think that's the journey. 

[00:43:47] Isil: I love it so much. Thank you for taking this time talking with me. What are you leaving our conversation with that we can let it dissolve into the space, into the ecosystem?

[00:44:00] Manish: I want to first of all acknowledge the beautiful service you're doing. Everything you asked me, actually, you're embodying, Işıl. You're embodying it by being in service to the larger community. There's so many of us who are in this transition moments in our careers, in our professions and your book is a great contribution. The Gift of Being Unfulfilled at Work. I think that is the message I want to leave that our unfulfillment, our struggles, our stucks, our pain points are the invitations to discover who we truly are. If there is no irritation, there is no door. So that's the door. Our irritation, our unfulfillment are the doors because that's when we start listening to the soul, somewhere. Whatever be your tradition is the soul or inner voice or a higher voice, something in us starts talking to us, starts speaking to us. That's what you have done with your book and you're doing right now with this, and I am only being in service of validating that yes, those moments of unfulfillment can also become the moments of invitation and moments of new journey that begins.

[00:45:07] Isil: Wow. Thank you so much. I am so grateful that I had the luck of meeting you and I am grateful for the technology, for the communities that have been created so that I can get connected with you and this conversation could happen. And thank you so much for sharing your journey, how you feel, the inspiration, but also the struggle, the full picture. I appreciate this so much and I recognize how important it is to put words into sensations or struggles. It changes the conversation. The choice of your words elevated me and opened my way of thinking in this moment, like this longing, for example. I've expressed it as unfulfillment, but then it turns into the longing. It has a different energy and a different call to it. You shared your words that inspired me and that I am curious, what will this wave move forward with? What will this create? I appreciate so much this conversation. Thank you so much, Manish.

[00:46:10] Manish: If you have a minute, Işıl, I'm going to read few lines which speak to the title of your book and this is The Midnight Journey of a Seed, when we come across a moment when we are struggling and unfulfillment happens:

The seed had no choice.

The seed had no choice 

when she was separated, lost, tossed, and buried 

below the dark earth,


But somewhere, in the middle of the night, 

she felt she had to choose-

to harden up and deny the journey so painful

or to let the journey crack open her shell

and give birth to a new life.

About the author 


I am a LifeWork coach, the author of the book The Gift of Being Unfulfilled at Work, the host of Unique Careers, Unique Lives podcast, and the co-founder of BeCoach Academy. Learn more on

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