It’s official: our lovely Kat Miller has retired from her role at the GF as Director of Donor Relations. Kat has been either a volunteer or part of the staff since the very first time she met Gangaji, in 1999. She’s never left, and she really isn’t leaving now. She is still volunteering her time and in regular contact with many of our donors. And yet something was calling her to step back.
When we caught up on Zoom, I asked Kat what was behind her decision to retire:
Kat: Well, I didn’t really want to stop. I love the job. But I’ve also been living with a chronic illness for many years. For a while, I have had this longing to live in sync with my body instead of always pushing. I was longing for a very simple day-to-day life where I could pay attention to what my body was experiencing. I’m still at the beginning of it, but I do feel like I’m starting to live in the rhythm of my body. On days when I feel tiredness or pain, I can rest.
Of course, there were different things that I had to meet around letting go of my job. A big part of it was financial, and some scary thoughts around feeling relevant, or connected to what really matters. But there was also something strongly calling me to trust myself.
Over the years Kat has brought tremendous grace and delight to the task of raising the essential funds that keep the Gangaji Foundation running smoothly. It’s obvious to all who’ve crossed paths with her that she loved this role, and was passionate about the cause. I asked her what motivated her.
Kat: Well, I’ve been around Gangaji for 22 years. And I was realizing the other day that it’s the only thing in my life (and I have done a lot of different things in my life), that I have done wholeheartedly, fully, without break. The very first time I met Gangaji, I heard her tell the story of how she asked Papaji, “What can I do to repay you?” And he said, “Give your life to this.” In that moment I was like a beeline. I walked to the back of the room, and I said, “How can I help?” I mean, that was the first time I met her. And I have never stopped.
Harriet: How do you see the role of fundraising for the Gangaji Foundation?
Kat: If I were to have a tombstone, it would say that I’ve been perpetually thanking Gangaji for pointing the way home. I am at her feet, and I am also a fundraiser. Some people might see that as a paradox, but to me, asking for donations is just giving people their own opportunity to say thank you, and to participate and be part of something so much larger than their individual self, and yet absolutely not separate from their individual self. So, to be able to ask people if they’d like to participate is one of the most fulfilling things I can even think of.
It’s always an open invitation, and as Gangaji said so clearly in one of our staff meetings, it doesn’t have to work out. That is such freedom. When I heard that it really relieved any pressure, and when there is no pressure to succeed, it is just a joy to ask. I mean, who says that? In fundraising circles that’s unheard of. So it really has been a delight.
Now that Kat is experiencing more space in her day-to-day life and more balance in her body, her natural curiosity and intelligence have found a new passion: photography, and in particular the photography of flowers as they bloom, age and die. I asked her how she got into that:
Kat: Well, it started with an iPhone photography class. I started taking close-up photos of flowers. And I fell in love with it. I photograph them from the time they are buds, to full bloom, to starting to crumble, with their petals hanging off and falling onto the table, and finally as they die and turn to dust. I find myself in a love affair with impermanence.
The flowers are beautiful in every moment. I discovered that I was as much in love with the withered, crumbly, brown hibiscus as the one just popping out, or the one in bloom. Life is inherently beautiful in every moment.
On a broader scale, Kat relates this new passion to a fascination with aging, and specifically ageism, which is discrimination against people on the basis of age.
Kat: Ageism says that as you get older you get less of almost everything. That’s what we imagine and it’s why we fear getting old. But the studies show that people get happier and happier as they age.
Kat’s interest in ageism is inspired in part by her own experience, and by conversations she is having with friends and clients. On the deepest level, it is about meeting death.
Kat: One of the components of the best kind of aging is knowing you’re going to die, actually knowing it in your bones. The people that are the happiest people on the planet cross-culturally are the people that actually know time is short. Really knowing the inevitability of death, that it’s coming, and you have no idea when, makes life pretty damn precious.
Now that Kat has a few months of retirement under her belt I was curious to know what the difference is between spending her days in splendid retirement, as opposed to working for the Gangaji Foundation. Ultimately it seems to me she’s been thanking Gangaji for 22 years. Has anything changed?
Kat: I’m so glad you asked this question because I really see that almost everything I do in my life: how I look at nature, how I communicate with people, how I pass people on the street, how I engage in my relationship with myself, my friendships, it all has the same component of a bow of gratitude or reverence for the unutterable luck of this life. And you know what, it doesn’t have to work out!
It shows, and it’s been our joy as a staff to have you in our midst. We want to say, Thank you, Kat! Thank you for the beautiful service you have given the Foundation over so many years. We are heartened to know, that although you may be enjoying your retirement in Ajijic, Mexico among the hibiscus, you are still just a heartbeat away. Thank you for your ongoing support and guidance, and for seeing and articulating so clearly the mission of the Foundation to make Gangaji’s message of peace accessible in all corners of the globe. You’ve made it so easy for our community of donors to stand behind that.
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