HomeVolume 9April 2024 Deep U

MARIA DANIEL BRÁS met up with VANESSA PATEL in February 2024 at Kanha Shanti Vanam, where Maria was co-conducting a 4-day immersive experience in Deep U, along with Vasco Gaspar and Stanislas Lajugie. They blended knowledge and tools from various heart-centered, awareness-based, and trauma-informed approaches, to enable connectedness and innate inner wisdom. Vanessa was a participant in the workshop, and invited Maria to share more about her experiences.


Q: I’ve just completed the Deep U retreat with you, Vasco, and Stan, and I came to realize that you are fully trained in Theory U and have worked with Otto Scharmer. Can you explain a little more about what that is?

MDB: I work at the Presencing Institute, which was co-founded by Otto Scharmer and the MIT Sloan School of Management teachers. He wrote the book, Leading from the Emerging Future, with Katrin Kaufer on how true change happens in the world. It doesn’t go directly from problem to solution; you need an inner journey to get there. That’s why it’s called Theory U. You stop to see what’s around you, and you stop downloading the old patterns so you are ready to see the new. Like artists who keep looking at a landscape for many hours, then stop, go within, and something emerges from that space. That’s how creativity works.

Otto and colleagues interviewed many people, multi-level innovators from all sorts of professions, and they found that this is how the real process of transformation happens. We may say it’s new, but it’s actually replicating what we already know from the past.

The Presencing Institute is focused on outer transformation, how to reinvent the systems that we have in society, like finance, education, governance, etc. It gives changemakers the tools for free under Creative Commons. It’s all about elevating consciousness.

It’s connected with Heartfulness as well. Deep U, in particular, is a program that focuses on the inner journey, and on transforming, changing, and opening our inner system. Then, we are ready for outer transformation.

Q: It helped to access the inner system, to what lies deep within, and that emerged through some of the exercises we did. It helped my spiritual process in that it gave me glimpses into parts of myself I hadn’t really thought about. That was a revelation for me.

MDB: It definitely gives us more awareness into our unconscious patterns in our day-to-day lives, either because we are meant to be that way because of our nervous system, or because of what happens in our minds.

Then we create the layers, the blockages that stop us from being able to connect with others and ourselves in a different way. Sometimes, we are very critical of ourselves. It’s really about being aware of those layers and being able to take decisions to remove them, for example, by doing practices like Heartfulness Cleaning and other techniques, and also by doing therapy. Without those layers, we can be better toward ourselves, toward others, and toward nature.

Q: How many of these Deep U workshops have you done so far?

MDB: This was the seventeenth one, and the first in Asia. Most have been in Europe, and one in the US.

Q: Do you design such programs for corporates?

MDB: That is a major part of Vasco’s work.

Q: I hope you do many more. It’s a very interesting approach—a blend of spiritual techniques, and techniques based on psychology and self-exploration. What kind of feedback have you had so far? Have you seen shifts in people?

MDB: The participants are the best people to answer! We have heard very beautiful things. One that stood out was someone who said, “It was the first time I was able to be myself.” That is strong. We are very grateful for that.

Q: As you said, this program helps to remove barriers, and shows that it’s okay to be yourself and not apologize for it.

MDB: We create a safe space together. We hope people feel safe enough for that opening, and through the tools and technologies we share, they find ideas on how to do that for themselves.

Q: That was a big part of my own experience. Not only did I feel safe and very supported, it was almost a sacred space that enabled me to explore myself. Can you tell me a little bit about your own spiritual journey? What brought you to where you are now?

MDB: I don’t know exactly when it started. As a child I was at a Catholic school, because in Portugal the main religion is Catholicism and we had sessions at school to learn about Jesus and God. I remember even at the age of five questioning the stories we were told. I had a kind of crisis at that age, thinking that God needed to be different, because why was there so much suffering? I remember the moment clearly. I was angry, because I was thinking about my grandmother, who was a victim of domestic violence. I thought, “Is this the God that they speak about?” And I decided I didn’t believe in religion.

Deep U is a program that focuses on the
inner journey, and on transforming,
changing, and opening our inner system.



At the same time, several times a day, not only when I was in need, I was speaking to an entity that was bigger than myself, and hoping that being would listen. I was very fortunate to have an inner voice that somehow knew what to do. But I wasn’t super aware of it. That came much later and now I am aware of it.

Heartfulness Meditation is a recent practice for me. My husband Vasco was meditating, but I had a very rational mind because of the lack of trust I felt about God. I took refuge in science, and everything that couldn’t be explained was hard for me to believe. When Vasco became a Heartfulness trainer, he offered to introduce me to the practice. He didn’t tell me anything about how it worked, but at the end of the first session I started to cry and said, “Thank you for cleaning me.” After the second session, I said, “I know where the light is.” These words came out of me, I don’t know how. Since then, I have been meditating.



I was very fortunate
to have an inner voice that
somehow knew what to do. 

Q: What were your takeaways and insights about this particular Deep U retreat that we just did? There was more of a spiritual approach to it than you have done previously.

MDB: Yes, that’s correct. In every program we introduce people to Heartfulness, that’s the main purpose. But here in Kanha, it’s obvious. Just being in this environment is transformational. We can take ourselves deeper, faster, potentially more than in other programs we have done. The transformation is always part of it, but here Heartfulness is so present, including through the volunteers who helped us create the experiences.

Usually, a workshop is intimate, with around twenty participants; here, there were almost 100. It was an experiment to see if it would work. The ecosystem and the volunteer attitude that exist here are beautiful. They represent how we can live from a different place than we usually live in our society, especially in the West. Sometimes those concepts are forgotten, and seeing everyone so involved is beautiful. People realize how many hearts need to be open to do this work.

Just being in this environment is transformational. 
We can take ourselves deeper, faster, 
potentially more than in other programs we have done. 



Q: That is special, to acknowledge the people who were involved in the background, who were facilitating the daily flow of activities.

MDB: And of course, the participants meditated together with others in the meditation hall and listened to Daaji speak. Spirituality is directly presented here, whereas in programs in the West, sometimes it is in the background, sustaining everything. We can’t always talk directly about spirituality, as some people might not be ready for it. This program has given glimpses of how to speak about it.

Q: So that gives you the opportunity to offer more. Can you explain the concept you introduced in the workshop of giftivism, paying it forward? Is it that whatever you feel you received you are putting forward to somebody else who can benefit from it?

MDB: That was actually an inspiration from the very first program. The first time I came to India, we stopped in Kanha for twenty-four hours. It was barren land at the time. We went to Ahmedabad for a retreat with Nipun Mehta called Gandhi 3.0, on “kindorism,” the opposite of terrorism. We didn’t know what to do with it. It was such a restructuring of our way of being, our Western society, where you always give something in exchange, right? It was so beautiful, and changed us. We really wanted to implement it in our program.

So Deep U became an incubator for the kindness factor. For example, we involve people who have done the program to stitch the little felt hearts every participant receives and gives to others. There are people gifting their time and their knowledge. We invite people to pay it forward. The program doesn’t have a fixed price; everyone is invited to give a donation or volunteer their time, or give whatever multiple form of capital they have. It’s not transactional. It’s important to keep the chain going, because if we keep kindness to ourselves, then what is the impact?



While it’s important to be kind toward ourselves, 
we can expand and have an impact in the world. 
Kindness touches people, 
and they are transformed by it. 

While it’s important to be kind toward ourselves, we can expand and have an impact in the world. Kindness touches people, and they are transformed by it. That’s why Deep U is an incubator for kindness and for pay it forward. It’s all about service that gives rise to hope and doing it for the next person. I feel very grateful and blessed because these programs are embedded in a sense of service, and that’s a beautiful way to live.

Q: That stood out. So did the fact that participation in each workshop exercise was a choice: “Let me invite you to take part if you feel you are ready.” That invitation was so important, especially for those who are hesitating. The approach was so soft. Sometimes we forget that people are not always ready to leave their safe space and dive into unfamiliar territory, yet they feel pressure to participate despite their reservations.

MDB: It’s like our meditation. The subtle approach gets a better response than the harsh push, right? Everything is an invitation. If someone is not ready, it’s okay. Maybe later they will be. But they need to feel safe and that they are not missing the train.



It’s like our meditation. 
The subtle approach gets a better response 
than the harsh push, right?
Everything is an invitation. 

Q: You said you had an inner voice growing up. We’re so used to being told that the voice is outside. We don’t know to listen to this little voice until, in your case, as an adult you became conscious of it and started listening to it.

MDB: I think it was because I was an only child and spent a lot of time alone. Also, my cousin and I grew up together. He’s three months older, and he has a sister. They were always fighting, whereas I found peace being by myself. In those moments alone, I heard the voice inside more clearly. It wasn’t always loud; almost like a gut feeling, and that kept me in balance all these years. It made me seek the person within for guidance.

Q: What’s next for you and the Deep U team?

MDB: This retreat happened as an invitation from Daaji and the feedback has been good. We are receiving requests to do it again, here and in Europe. We are open to invitations to see where they lead us!

Q: Thank you so much Maria, it’s been such a pleasure.

MDB: Thank you Vanessa.

Illustrations by JASMEE MUDGAL



Maria Daniel Brás

Maria Daniel Brás

Maria is part of the Presencing Institute and U-school for transformation, which focuses on societal systems innovation. She is a co-host for Deep U retreats, an inner transformation accelerator, and a Heartfulness trainer. Maria is init... Read More