Before I begin, I must give a disclaimer. There are some things which one can experience through the imagination, while being an observer. Like a gripping book or a particularly moving film. And then there are some things which can only be experienced- through the act of immersing one’s self and mind into the experience. My Life skills workshop falls into the latter. However, I will attempt a translation of experience through words.
I went to the Jeevanshala workshop because it promised an interesting exploration of a question that was born in me a long time ago. “How can we live in this world, holistically, and happily?” and moreover, “what and how can we change ourselves, in order to create a happier world?” These have been guiding questions through which I have reflected on my experience. These are the questions I seek to explore through my writing. In a nutshell, I wanted to see how other people were addressing this question, how they were reflecting, and how changing their responses to the world they lived in- because I want to stimulate a parallel process through writing (teaching and learning.)
I also wanted to understand how exactly the Jeevanshala trust was started.
So what have I come away with?
The workshop was an exploration of how individual and collective patterns of understanding and responding have created the world that we live in- and what one can do to change it.
As Fullan theorises, any change must be based on a deep rooted moral impulse. My question is, on a normal day, when confronted with unhealthy behaviour- e.g- a teacher constantly slapping her students- how does one even bring in the idea of a “moral” impulse?
Through a set of questions, collective introspection and discussions in the workshop, my faith in the human moral impulse grew. I began to truly agree and understand that humans desire to live in states of harmony- but utterly lack the emotional tools to create that state. Seeing my HMs [Head Masters], teachers, and peer group from this perspective gave me a lot of food for thought.
I will share an example. Suppose we’re walking down a road, and we see two people involved in a violent fight. Everyone agrees that beneath all the conditioning of “don’t get involved/ mind your own business/ walk your own road”- a part of us intrinsically, feels it is wrong to walk on, or ignore such things. We all collectively, in our hearts feel the same way at the state of the world. We know it is not meant to be like this. Yet, our choices and responses stay trapped in conditioned ways of being.
The next question would be, naturally, how can be gain the courage to act from that natural instinct – to turn around and stop the fight, metaphorically?
There was much discussion on whether this impulse is natural and whether this impulse can actually guide life choices, in a world which tells you to look the other way.
I have come to believe more strongly that we are not sure whether we can stop the fight, because we haven’t been exposed to the ways in which we can stop one. We are constantly exposed to all the ills and violence in the world- but there is precious little light shone on alternative and peaceful ways of living. Once you SEE an alternative- you access another realm of possibility which you can choose to operate from.
This is an overlap with our organisational philosophy of role modelling and a deeper layer of being the change we wish to see. By attempting to live with alternative ways- you are showing and communicating a possibility. Not necessarily through your words, but through your behaviour. This has shaped another guiding question for me “how can I live in a way that communicates another possibility to the world?”.
This brings us to the kind of world we want to create- and through moral awareness- the choices we need to make on a daily basis to bring that world closer. We looked at situations where we have felt pain and joy- and understood that conditioned ways of reacting often created situations where we feel stuck and unhappy. For example- If I want to live happily with my peer group- is choosing to get angry over minor issues, or being incommunicative conducive to my own happiness? When one’s responses are analysed through this perspective- you clearly grasp the need for alternative ways of being.
So to change anything, we need to dig deep and source it from an inner moral impulse. The workshop helped me see the dots I have to join, for myself in order to make “happier” choices, and enable those around me to do the same for themselves.
I feel that something within me has undergone a significant and silent shift. Also, the questions that I have learned to ask during the workshop will point me to new and deeper layers of learning.
I have understood that any mind shift cannot happen only on intellectual or logical ground. Unless it is sourced from a moral impulse and emotionally relevant to one’s experience, a mindshift will be unsustainable. The workshop has helped me understand how dialogue can be used to unpeel the layers of conditioning we have wrapped ourselves in. And that kind of dialogue must always be linked with an emotional context and a moral impulse.
In retrospect, this is something which has been consistent with all the HMs I have worked with. Those who have shown “shifts” have done so, not due proposals on my part, or reasoning or logic, but because they felt it was morally incompatible to function this way.
The Jeevanshala trust was started a few months ago. Vinish and his wife Karuna, are the founders. It seeks to create spaces for unlearning and deconditioning for people of all ages. They want to explore everything from psychology, ethics to the politics of food and how economics shapes the choices we make. According to Vinish, everything is interconnected. Choosing to live holistically demands an awareness of everything in your environment – to how you are reacting with others to the food on your plate.
I feel the workshop was a valuable learning experience. One that I plan to repeat next year, and I would recommend to others too.
- June 2011
[Arpita grew up in Ireland and India. She has been a Gandhi Fellow.]