இயற்கை முறைக் கல்வி

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Raudram Pazhagu / Practise Rage

Five years ago, in one of the workshops offered by our teachers at Ritambhara, I underwent a theatre exercise where I had to enact a narration of an imagined story that spans all the navarasas, embodying each of them as best as I could. In that story, bibhatsam (disgust) leads to raudram (rage), which, with sufficient insight into the other's psychological condition, leads to karunyam (compassion).

I was able to evoke the different rasas with varying degrees of ease. Among the easier ones for me was karunyam and the most difficult, raudram. When we had to make a drawing locating the different rasas in our bodies, I couldn’t place raudram anywhere. I shared with Raghu “As soon as I experience rage, I am able to see the suffering of the person I am angry with and end up feeling only compassion!” He casually responded “Check with your mind if it is not making up a convenient story about this in order to distract you. It can be very smart.” and left. Something about what he said shook me. That evening, when I was with my partner, I exploded with rage in one of the most intense ways I'd ever had and was shocked! On the next day at the workshop, I shared that raudram was the only rasa I could feel all over my body.

Until that event, with all the things that my intelligent and smart mind had worked out about 'human suffering' and 'healing', I thought I had 'cracked' compassion fairly well. When I saw an oppressor, I could instantaneously feel compassionate towards him or her “He must have had a difficult childhood! He needs healing!” were words that came most naturally to me. I thought I was a natural at this! I thought I had done a lot of inner work through Buddhist practices and mindfulness and had pretty much transcended anger. But apparently not! I realised that I had a very underdeveloped ability to experience and hold a healthy raudram, and had a lot of work to do there.

***

Now, let’s take a look at my / our larger cultural context and its relationship with raudram. It is somewhat permitted, or at least understandable, when a man expresses it. But a woman anywhere in the world is rewarded only for being “polite, nice, kind, soft-spoken, smiling, helpful, patient, forgiving” and so on, and is invariably judged for expressing rage.

One half of my issue was that I was born a pacifist, averse to emotional drama of any kind, avoiding conflicts at all cost and wanting ‘only peace’. And this half holds a very genuine aspiration for love and peace too. It is a very real longing, with nothing superficial or fake at all about it. I hate to see anyone hurt, and hate it even more to be the cause of that hurt for anyone, especially those dear to me. So, I had always withheld my expression of anger for fear of hurting someone, or losing their friendship.

The other half of my issue was that I internalised the voice of the world about me. “Sangee is a lovely person. She never gets angry.” I internalised as my own. But being a free-spirited and an extremely sensitive being, life had a continuous supply of violations of all kinds: physical, emotional and whatever else. There was enough substance to ensure a continuous flow of rage, which I learnt to swallow wholesale as a way of coping and being that ‘nice person’ in my and others eyes. But my body kept meticulous score of every iota of that swallowed rage.

***

The workshop was not only the very first time a context had given me the license to touch and experience raudram without any judgment, but also told me “It’s problematic when you do not learn to experience and express it”.

I have often heard from close family that, as a baby, I used to cry unconsolably for no apparent reason. Nothing could stop my crying, other than my own exhaustion. The crying when I was that young, probably helped me express and release rage periodically. But since crying becomes more and more uncool as one grows up, I managed to do some of it secretively in the bathroom, but also learnt other ways to cope by imploding.

Paying attention to where all my rage could be hiding, led me to discover my deeply-hidden shadow self: the passive-aggressive, emotionally cold, binge-eating, the obsessive-compulsive and controlling part of the visibly polite, nice, kind and compassionate Sangee. This was the part of myself that I had shamefully hidden from the world, and from myself. And this was the part that used to regularly surface (by erupting in the most unexpected and unprepared of times!) in my intimate spaces. My way of compensating for not being able to express raudram would be to withhold love and turn cold, slam the coffee mug on the table as I offered it with a plastic smile on the face. And then feeling shameful. And then doing something to distract myself from my feeling of shame. And on and on went the cycle. A powerful name for this behaviour is ‘the tyranny of the weak’. Ruth King has explored in great detail all the ways swallowed rage can erupt in our lives. 'Healing Rage' has helped me along my journey as well!

For a big part of my life, I have suffered a few undiagnosable ailments both mental and physical. The mental one has been periodic episodes of dysfunctionality and darkness. The physical one used to be periodic episodes of muscle weakness with no clinical diagnosis, often so extreme that I’d be bedridden for days, weeks and sometimes months together. Exhausting allopathic, ayurvedic and a few other therapies, I turned to clairvoyants and psychic healers. Some of them, including Dr. Mona Lisa told me “Your body is carrying a lot of trauma.” Over the years, acknowledging and giving safe space for expressing some repressed parts of myself, I believe, have hugely helped me heal through these ailments. (These stories of healing are interesting in themselves, and are for another time!)

Another expression of this psychological shadow-phenomenon was to get triggered by and strongly judge anyone who expressed raudram as “so uncool, immature, uncivilised, unsophisticated and unevolved!”

***

As I was coming more and more face-to-face with my own shadow and understood the need to own it and integrate it, other co-travelers helped me in the journey by inviting me to spar with them in safety. Just knowing that it was ok to express anger and fight with someone was a completely new experience for me; an immense relief. Over time, practising raudram has gotten a tad easier. But there is still a long long way to go!

According to Sri Krishnamacharya, whose lineage I learn Yoga from, the yogic definition of a psychologically mature person is one who can experience all the navarasa at ease and at will, deploy them at appropriate times and with mastery over them. Shantam is a state of alignment of all the navarasas, and not the absence of raudram, bhibatsam or any of the “undesirable” rasas. It is a state where they are neither dominating, nor suppressed but are in alignment and balance with all the other rasas, and leave no residues when experienced. It is a transcendental state. In order for a state to be transcendental, it must not reject anything. It must include, integrate and rise above.

In J. Krishnamurthy's words:
“This loving-kindness, compassion and love (metta) is not an intellectual exercise.... this quality cannot be cultivated, cannot be practised, cannot be brought about; but it must happen as naturally as breathing, as fully with great joy and delight as the sunset.... You become kinder by observing yourself when you are unkind. Not by trying to be kind.” 

Our yoga teachers have a better word for shadows: the disowned parts of ourselves, which then become dysfunctional parts of ourselves. Learning to recognise and accept our disowned and dysfunctional parts is really the only ‘work’ to be done. When we do this as honestly and sincerely as possible, the process of integration happens on its own. This is what I understand Sri Aurobindo calls ‘Integral Yoga’.

Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga talks of the need to fully inhabit, include the gifts of and transcend every level of our being. It is also expressed and experienced in a beautifully poetic way in the Nayika’s Quest in ancient Tamil literature, another powerful offering at Ritambhara. It is the evolutionary journey the Consciousness undertakes through the various chakras within our bodies.

In a cultural context, Sri Aurobindo has talked a lot about the underdeveloped kshatriya dharma of the Indian race which has conditioned itself to by-pass the swadhistana chakra, the seat of the vital being. He says the Indian race's weak swadhisthana is also the reason for all the invasions that this land has largely passively received (though there have been pockets of active resistance), endured, suffered and been damaged from. He talks about the need to fully enliven the kshatriya dharma of the race (the warrior's ability to experience raudram), which I see as an extension of my own psychological unlocking. We call it the awakening of the Bhima archetype in our work through the Mahabharatha.

***

Avatar: the Last Air Bender” has given me with one of the most powerful imagery to work with over the past two years of my sadhana of integral yoga. I so connect with Aang, his angst for the world, his idealising of ‘forgiveness and compassion’ over everything else, his lack of awareness of or control over intense energies that flow through him often leaving him hurt, his high vata-prakriti and ability to generate new ideas by the minute but without focus or patience, his optimism, his fears, his constant restlessness to act, his ease with water-bending (healing abilities). All these, while he struggles so hard with earth-bending (grounding) and fire-bending (rage).

Aang’s fire is extremely weak. He also has a deeply ingrained memory of once hurting his dearest Katara with his fire which went out of control. Since then, he also a deep fear of fire-bending. "I can't do it. I might end up hurting someone!" is the voice that keeps ringing within and holding him back.

Image result for zuko colourful fire
Zuko who used to be a fairly good fire-bender loses his ability as he switches from the asuric to the daivic side of the war. He needs to discover and learn fire-bending himself from a very different source. Aang and Zuko travel all the way to the dragons, who are the original source of fire-bending and learn the art from them through a beautifully synchronous dance. The fire that they can now make and bend is of a very different nature. It is colourful and brilliant like they have never seen before! That’s the only fire that is able to meet and confront even what seemed like the invincible Azula’s lightening. This  daivic fire (as I call it) is born from the need to restore dharma, and not out of hatred towards anyone or the need to control.  

***

Even since childhood, the Tamil mystic activist-poet Subramania Bharathi’s call ‘Raudram Pazhagu’ always attracted me, perhaps because it was a secretively-held aspiration. And among all the different masters I have quoted through this article, Bharathi’s call to “practise rage” is the most alive one for me right now. It is interesting to note that Bharathi and Aurobindo were fiery people who were also great friends and co-travellers during their time in Pondicherry. And it is the same Bharathi who also composed and sang “Pagaivanukkarulvaai” (Bless your enemy).

Among all the elements, fire is the hardest and the trickiest to master. For that’s the one element that needs to be used most carefully. If it is used carelessly or without sufficient mastery, it can hurt people. Practise with fire becomes more important with this element than with any other.

With my own practise, I have seen many shades and nuances of raudram unfold over time. Raudram that I must express loudly and clearly because my context needs to hear it. Raudram I can fully touch and experience but postpone its expression, for either the context is too fragile for it, or I don't feel ready to take responsibility for and meaningfully respond to the consequences that it can unleash. Raudram that needs to put on hold to be got in touch with and explored later, for the time needs something else to be urgently attended to. Raudram that can be made into a more playful exploration, or a dance. Raudram that needs to be simply delved deep into through a meditative practice and prayer for transformation. Raudram as a rich field for a harvest of important insights. Raudram as a source of conviction for acting in the world to bring about change. And my practise continues to reveal more shades of it. A critical aspect of the practise is to learn to be easy on myself when my raudram goes out of control leading to unintended consequences, and to pick up the courage to own them up with self-acceptance and self-love, apologise, walk on and continue the practise.

But my most important learning of all is to not revel and indulge in raudram, but to fully experience it so I can learn to transcend it into a space of shantam. From that, and only that integrated space, can the war of our times be fought and won. And dharma restored.  

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Rich Soil beneath the Concrete

Part 1 - In Quest of Abundance

 The first post seems to have piqued a lot of curiosity among the readers about the upcoming posts. What do you plan to write about next?

 Yes, quite an unexpected level of interest actually. Now that you ask me, I’m wondering if we should have a dialogue instead of my writing an essay.

 Nothing can serve a nuanced exploration like a dialogue can. How about we pick up the thread from where you ended the previous one; your intuition about the breakthrough? What are some of your indicators of that?

 First, let me admit that I am known in my circles to be an incurable optimist! So, maybe that’s just playing up. Having said that, I can also give you other reasons. Given that it is a story that is already unfolding in many pockets of the world, what I mean by a breakthrough is that I see the number of people interested in creating and inhabiting new forms of economy, starting to grow exponentially. Like a sudden steep rise in the curve.

 Is this the only reason for you to feel so?

 There is another reason I feel strongly about this, especially for India. I hold very sacred my own connection with the soil I come from. My quest, and that of others from this land, is not a new one devoid of any lineage. My ancestors have lived this quest, created and documented knowledge around it millennia ago. Even as we feel that much of it has been lost, even as I find most of today’s so-called “Brahmin Priests” actually being Vasihyas interested in trading their knowledge of the Vedas for their personal fulfillment and hoarding money seeking social status, even as I see everywhere many more ways that we are holding on to distorted and decaying fragments from our past, calling them ‘Indian’, ‘Hindu’ ‘Brahmin’ and so on, the spirit is still in the air, soil and water of the land in some form. Here’s a story to explain what I mean.

One hot summer day, I went up to a frail old lady selling tender coconuts in Chennai and asked her for one. I quickly looked through my bag and discovered that I hadn’t brought my wallet, and told her so. She gave me one anyways and said “It’s my dharma to give you water on a parched day like this. If you pass by this road another time and remember to pay me for this, great. Otherwise, it’s ok.” I was deeply humbled and moved, and had to, for the nth time, revise my ideas of poverty, scarcity and abundance. What she practised was, to me, business in service. Not what today’s fancy ‘conscious capitalism’ claims to do. And it is this cultural memory of what is dharmic that I still find alive in the unschooled pockets of our country that I am referring to, when I say lineage.

 Our cultural memory! I actually never thought it was worth very much in realms such as Economics.

 Understandable. We have been schooled to believe so. We need to embark on a journey of unlearning all that isn’t part of the larger story of our civilization. To begin with recognize some of the falsehoods that schooling, all of the modern apparatus actually, has forcefully fed us with. A huge one and one that is relevant for our conversation here is that “Ancient India might have had well-developed philosophy, art and literature, but Science, Economics, Politics, etc. were only recent developments from the West.”

 Well, I thought it was true too! I mean, people might have intuitively gone about figuring out how to run their economy and polity. That doesn’t mean there existed well-developed cohesive theories and treatises on these, right?

 That’s what almost all of our people think, including myself until my research into the history of agriculture led me to the facts. The first half of our story of what we could call the ‘Great Cultural Forgetting’ (GCF)’ is our own doing, where we allowed many of our forms (systems, rituals, etc.) to freeze and decay over time. The GCF project was then taken to completion by the recent English education flagged off a couple of centuries ago by McCaulay who said:

“It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgement used at preparatory schools in England.”


We not only gleefully bought into this utter falsehood, but continue to live by it and further propagate it through the billions of school textbooks we print and distribute for our (mis)education year after year. We take it further and make such (mis)education compulsory through acts like RTE (Right to Education). There cannot be a better case of cultural suicide! And the worst part of it all is that all these efforts come to be recognised as the highest forms of service. Building schools, doing charity to support “higher studies”, etc. It is like paying to learn self-hate and masochism and then calling it all “progress”.

 Sounds ridiculous. And the phrase ‘Cultural Suicide’ is especially hard-hitting for me! Can we explore this further?

 Exploring suicide can be depressing, my friend. But yes, a meaningful place to begin our exploration is to simply acknowledge what has died and mourn it. Mourn it deeply. Mourning is an important part of the process of finding the energy and strength to revive and move on. You have only just embarked on the journey of discovering what has been lost. My guess is we have lost so much more than we can ever know in its entirety. My guess is that there is enough to keep discovering over lifetimes. But, let us learn to mourn in installments without getting stuck there. There’s much work to do.

 And what’s the nature of the work to be done?

 To first understand what it is that we had, where we come from, who our ancestors were, what they created. Let me give you an imagery to work with.

Our cultural memory / history is a like a bed of rich fertile soil. Not just a bed that is a few feet deep. But like a crust of the earth extending a few kilometres, building itself up over thousands of years through nature’s workings. Over the past few centuries, it has been systematically covered with a significant layer of concrete through a combination of brute force and propaganda. The brute force was used to subjugate our people, destroy and plunder our temples and our riches, destroy our village governance systems, severe capital punishment rendered for disobedience and so on. So, we first allowed people from outside to make and pour the concrete over our soil. Then came in propaganda, where our own people were so brainwashed into believing that the soil was dirty, that the concrete was superior to the soil, that they themselves started willingly and enthusiastically making and pouring more and more of it thickening the layer over time.

Most of our approach towards creating the new economy talks about building, at best new forms, but using the same concrete material. Some radical economists and activists are mildly tapping into our cultural memory and are saying ‘Concrete isn’t the way. We need to recreate the lost soil.’ And so saying, attempting to work out the most effective way of creating a new layer of rich soil, so that we can sow seeds, grow seedlings, which can then grow into plants and then eventually maybe, if we survive through the climate change catastrophes, into trees. Given that our parasitic ways of being are actually driving us all towards a massive civilizational crash faster than we can imagine, I believe that we stand a very bleak chance of surviving to see these seeds grow beyond the plant stage. What I’m proposing is a different approach where we actually tap into the rich soil underneath the concrete, for that might give us a better chance of survival. Though this concrete layer appears to be strong and impenetrable, it is actually quite brittle and has already begun to crack. What isn’t True can never be resilient. If we can identify cracks wide enough, and through them prayerfully sow some pipal and banyan seeds into our rich cultural soil beneath, invoking guidance and collaboration from our ancestors, they stand the highest chance we have access to of further widening these cracks, growing trees of life that can take over the whole thing. The concrete will not disappear. But it will be incorporated into the tree, may be providing strength to the new ecosystem in ways we may not be able to imagine now. Like the Cambodian temples! I believe that we now have access to this cultural bed through the cracks. And if we will it, we can create the best chance we have for the breakthrough. Blessings of our ancestors are more powerful than we can ever imagine. They are yearningly waiting for us to invoke their energies.



 That definitely sounds like a potent proposal, if we are ok to set aside its practicality!

 My friend, if you have explored the doomsday stuff enough, you will know that even the best of 'practicality' is nowhere close to being able to save us from our impending crash. I can show you all the proof for that! So, I'm saying let us at least try some “impractical” ways.

 Sure, it does not hurt to explore it at least for the sake of this dialogue. To begin all of this, we first need to be able to realise and acknowledge that there exists such a rich world beneath the concrete in the first place. Most of us do not even know that it does!

 Precisely. Actually a lot has been written about these over the past century. So, to honor all the amazing souls that have given their entire lifetimes working for a saner world and to avoid duplication, I am going to only share a larger narrative that weaves them all together and direct you to explore some of their works for further detailed reading. I must also say that a large part of what has been written is either incomplete or confused.

 What, according to you, is missing in the writing that is incomplete?

 The concrete pavement is modernity and its apparatus and the soil beneath, our rich cultural heritage. When we bundle up all of modern as falsehood and all of ancient knowledge as Truth, it amounts to ignorance of another kind. They are both mixed bags and need to be examined carefully to discard what we do not need, take what we do and build forward.

 And what is the confused part?

The confused narrative of Indian Renaissance does not question the fundamental precepts of Modern Economics. It tries to superimpose what it understands to be Indic onto the modern framework, which goes against the grain of what our civilization stands for in the most fundamental way; against dharma. This confused narrative tries to juxtapose two narratives that go against each other, believing it to be synthesis.

 I'm tempted to ask what this confused juxtaposition is. But I guess, before that we need to understand the nature of our cultural soil?

 The confused juxtaposition (believed to be synthesis) is what I hope to be continuously exploring throughout this dialogue. First, let us begin by “Decolonising History”. In his book titled thus, Claude Alvares talks in detail about how rich our cultural soil was. When I say 'rich' here, I literally mean prosperous in economic terms. We were growing phenomenal quantities of food to feed everyone, and producing breathtaking varieties and qualities of crafts, textiles, buildings, sculptures, machinery, crops, etc. We were the world’s most thriving economy, and were exporting our exquisite products to the rest of the world.

 We were rich because we produced abundantly?

 Yes. But we need to understand the word ‘abundance’ in a nuanced manner. If not, there is a serious danger of falling into the trap of modern definitions which are at the very root of our present-day crisis. Abundance, the way I understand and experience it is highly textured, and has many dimensions to it.

The first dimension encompasses three design principles articulated by Vaastu Sastra: bhogadhyam (utility), sukha darsham (aesthetics), ramyam (evoking well-being and delight) that were embodied by the food and other articles we produced. There is a lot of evidence to prove that ancient India produced adequate quantities to meet our demands and to provide for our difficult times (famines and epidemics), and some excess to share across countries and continents. Our products were also known for their excellent quality, finish, aesthetics and their rich diversity. We had 2,00,000 varieties of paddy alone, each with its own unique properties and use which were understood and documented. There has been a similar diversity in every possible field of arts and crafts, in languages, cuisines and so on. Diversity is an unmistakable indicator of creativity and also contributed to resilience. What we produced also nourished us and gave us a sense of well-being. With respect to food, a small amount packed with nourishment feels more abundant than a large amount with empty calories. Or food made and served with love is more filling than with a lack of it.

The second dimension of abundance has to do with our connectedness with fellow-beings and nature. When I live as a member of a caring community, and a life closely connected to a well-endowed natural environment (say a forest and a thriving permaculture farm), I feel a certain sense of security and being taken care of. I feel like I have a perennial access to things (tangible and intangible) that I need for my living. Both these forms of connectedness create a larger field of abundance that I begin to live within. Abundance moves from what I have to what I experience.

And the third dimension transcends all of these external criteria. It is the spiritual connection that was held at the core of all pursuits that is unique to our land. In Sri Aurobindo’s words “Spirituality is the master key of the Indian mind.” A growing connection with divinity leaves us wanting less and less things externally. The way real Yogis feel abundant without any possessions. Someone that comes to my mind, who didn’t retreat from the world and was most active, mobile and productive but lived without any possessions, feeling immensely abundant is Peace Pilgrim. For decades, all she is supposed to have possessed are a pair of clothes, a pair of shoes, toothbrush and a comb.

 Wow! I must admit that I never looked at abundance in all these ways! I’m going to need to come back to this to take it all in. But I can already feel a quick rewiring of my brain that just happened.

 I can understand. Connecting to all these dimensions is an inner journey and might take time. It is part of our cultural remembering for, I feel, all these were quite alive until recently. It is still not all gone. In any case, this is just how I understand and experience abundance. But do verify it for yourself. I’d like to share another civilisational view of abundance too, best expressed by Sri Aurobindo’s words to describe ancient India's insatiable creativity and industry.

"There is no historical parallel for such an intellectual labour and activity before the invention of printing and the facilities of modern science; yet all that mass of research and production and curiosity of detail was accomplished without these facilities and with no better record than the memory and for an aid, the perishable palm-leaf. Nor was all this colossal literature confined to philosophy and theology, religion and Yoga, logic and rhetoric and grammar and linguistics, poetry and drama, medicine and astronomy and the sciences; it embraced all life, politics and society, all the arts from painting to dancing, all the sixty-four accomplishments, everything then known that could be useful to life or interesting to the mind, even, for instance, to such practical side minutiae as the breeding and training of horses and elephants, each of which had its Shastra and its art, its apparatus of technical terms, its copious literature. In each subject from the largest and most momentous to the smallest and most trivial there was expended the same all-embracing, opulent, minute and thorough intellectuality. On one side there is an insatiable curiosity, the desire of life to know itself in every detail, on the other a spirit of organisation and scrupulous order, the desire of the mind to tread through life with a harmonised knowledge and in the right rhythm and measure."

 Seeing the power and conviction in those words, I believe there must be some truth to it. What I understand from all this is that 'abundance' to the Indic mind was multidimensional. But to the modern schooled mind, abundance simply means large quantities. Right?

 Yes. This difference is critical because it has three important implications.

If we want to simply produce large quantities without any consideration for anything else, we can easily build a case for ‘efficiency’ to become the supreme lord, for furthering the industrial society and mass-production. We see that this narrative has almost completely colonised our minds globally. What this does is to destroy everything else like quality, diversity leading to weak systems with very little resilience, and also frays the fabric of community and plunders nature, like it is evident everywhere on the planet.

And when we choose modern industrial production means, we automatically reverse the logic of our economics from being demand-driven to being supply-driven. We no longer use machinery to produce how much we need. We let the machines take over and dictate quantities based on what it needs to produce in order to keep running. We give it a term “economic viability” and then start looking for / inventing ways to sell what has been manufactured. And then it even takes the next step to produce what it can. We call it “efficiency”. This reversal is what Karl Polanyi (also called a moral economist) explains in his seminal work The Great Transformation. From economy being embedded in and serving society, the society got embedded in and started serving the economy. The machines became our masters, and the human spirit got confused about the meaning of life, lost its way and bought into the whole story of it being slave to the machine. The transcendent human spirit bought into a limited story about itself, that it was homo economicus.

 I’m able to connect to another thing you mentioned in your first article. That today’s mass-manufactured products have been sucked dry of their souls! Isn’t that another major damage caused by this “great transformation”?

 Absolutely. And that is the third and the most serious implication of them all. This is what Gandhi talked about. Lewis Mumford has explored this elaborately in his brilliant two-volume series called The Myth of the Machine. He talks about how modern humans’ movement from a soul-centric economy guided by our innate intelligence to a machine-centric economy, we have collectively moved towards a sort of a mania, and eventually to suicide. He crusaded for technologies that served the human race (democratic technics) and against those that served the blind advancement of production (authoritarian technics). Connected to this is another design-flaw in handing over to the machine the decision about ‘how much to produce’. By its very design, it creates economies of war. The very impulse that paved way for the British to colonise India, came from the East India Company wanting to aggressively find foreign markets to sell mass-manufactured cotton textiles beyond what it could consume. And this whole phenomenon has been explained in very simple English by JC Kumarappa in his Economy of Permanance. A supply-driven economy is inherently violent. It needs slaves and colonies for its continuous supplies of raw material, and needs manipulatable markets to buy them all back. We are all stuck in a diseased, cancerous supply-driven economy. Are you beginning to see the fundamental nature of our crisis and the story we are stuck in?

 Yes. But you said India used to export its products even before all this. How was that different?

 India exported her excess production after meeting all her local needs. And she exported certain exquisite stuff like fine Bengal muslin, spices, etc. which were very unique to here. She neither exported staple foods of other countries destabilising their economies, nor imported her own essentials. Neither scarcity nor greed were the impulses for imports or exports. She enjoyed both prosperity and contentment simultaneously, and was willing and able to share of herself with the rest of the world to a healthy extent and in a healthy manner.

 Definitely all of this gives a good idea of the fertile soil beneath the concrete. What next?

 The reason to understand all of this is not to keep basking in past glory or to say that we were flawless or perfect. But to understand that we were way-way-way better than we have been conditioned into believing and celebrate that. And then understand how much we have actually lost and grieve that too. Grieving and celebrating will help us tap into our cultural memory and move forward. But even this is only one half of the story of what we need to do. The other half is about truthfully looking into some of our own flaws and imperfections, feel the shame and pains of them all, own them up, critique and discard what does not belong in our new story going forward so that we can aim for a more glorious future, however distant that might be. Without grieving & celebrating, critiquing & discarding, a part of us will be stuck in the past either by blindly attaching to it or by blindly rejecting it. In order to meaningfully move forward, we need to own up everything in totality: the glory and the pain, the brilliant light and the dark shadow.

Another important reason to understand how soulfully, aesthetically, functionally, respectfully, sustainably prosperous we have been in the past, is to then open completely to the enquiry “What were the systems and processes that enabled such a prosperity, such a way of being?” What was an essentially Indic approach to Economics that is relevant for us today? What were its design principles that we can draw from?”

(to be continued…)

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

In quest of abundance (Part 1)

Economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources. As a “good” student, I memorized this line and was generously rewarded for having given the “correct answer” in my exams. Like everyone else, my journey with 'economics' began with being schooled with the notion that, in order to live happy lives, we needed things (‘resources’) which are in limited supply (‘scarce’); and that we all needed to compete for them; and that economics was going to help us with the right tools to do that.

As a child whenever I saw abject poverty, I felt heart-wrenched and swore to somehow make it rich so I could do charity. In those days of Star TV, I saw the fashion world as one with the treasures I could tap into for that purpose. I spent about four years in pursuit of becoming a designer. Later, a deep-dive into volunteering through my college NSS steered me away from that path.

Fast-forward to my first job in an environmental NGO at 21. There, among many things, my work involved preparing project proposals and reports to aid agencies like the UN and USAID. I saw the power these agencies wielded and aspired to get into influential positions in them so I could direct money to deserving projects in poor countries.

A couple of years later, during the landmark WTO protest, I happened to be in Seattle for a youth program on ecological restoration. For a few months leading up to the protest, the city buzzed with teach-ins on globalization and its many horrid faces. I hopped from one workshop to another lapping up all the new knowledge about the World Bank and IMF being the faces of the military-industrial complex wrecking the planet and all life on it. I participated in the protest too, quite a remarkable experience of the collective human spirit. The same year was Narmada Bachao Andolan’s Jal Satyagraha, when I learnt about the madness of large dams built for “development”. But still being able to see myself being in the UN and impacting things from the inside, I applied for higher studies in ‘Sustainable International Development’ (SID) in the US. One of the three recco letters was from the notorious MSSwaminathan who was then known to me as a sweet uncle. (I was totally clueless about Green Revolution back then!)

For a whole year at SID, I slogged through statistics, micro-economic and macro-economic theories and was well on my way to a doctoral program in environmental economics. Since I was good at logic, I loved my classes and assignments and handled numbers and graphs with ease. I assisted a professor in a research to figure out whether income levels of two Honduran indigenous communities affected wildlife there by cramming numbers through Econometrics, always wondering if there was a simpler way to find this out! Elasticity, supply-demand, marginal utility, opportunity cost, efficiency were concepts that began to slowly occupy my head.

During my time absorbing these concepts, every now and then my inner voice would throw up questions which I’d raise in my classes. I asked one professor who taught a course on ‘The History of Economic Thought’, “Hasn’t Gandhi said something important about how to organise our economies?” He replied “Gandhi? Hmm… I don’t think so! Well, may be, I don’t know. It does not concern us anyways.” I asked another professor “All these graphs of supply-demand, elasticity, etc. give me the image of people as consumers without hearts or free-will to choose not to buy, or to make their buying decisions based on reasons other than price. These graphs make people look like puppets that can be moved around the ‘x’ and ‘y’ axes. Something does not feel right about it.” He said “I don’t know how to answer this one! Well, this is economics. Take it or leave it.”

Very unconsciously, I was being trained to look at many things in my life in terms of their economic and financial costs and benefits. I was assigning dollar value to trees, air, water, etc. even as I was walking through a forest. I remember doing an assignment involving detailed monetization of ‘Ecosystem services’ (dollar value of the oxygen given by the trees in terms of the diseases they would prevent and hence money saved by the economy, and so on). I even began to subconsciously monetize my own simple life pursuits. All this was happening in such an innocuous way that I wasn’t even aware of it. It was like I was acquiring a new pair of lens to see the world through. From time to time, for brief moments, I’d experience a certain weird feeling about becoming someone very unlike me. But I used to brush it off as some kind of a growing pain. I believed that I was shedding my naivete for equipping myself to deal with the ‘real world’ out there.

During this time, we also got to visit the World Bank in Washington DC and the UN Headquarters in New York, my much-aspired-for destination back then. Obscenely opulent structures with enormous carbon footprints. Walls adorned by sleekly framed pictures of emaciated Ethiopian children, ethnic kalamkari and bathik wall hangings and curios from adivasi cultures shocked and sickened me, to put it mildly! And when I learnt about how Indians who worked in these institutions in high positions enjoyed full tax exemption, sponsorship of their children's schooling, free international family vacations, and subsidised food from various cuisines of the world in their food courts, I felt disgusted. (The poem 'Development Set' articulates the whole thing quite brilliantly.) But I promised myself “If and when I get into these institutions, I will be different.”

For my second year, I worked very hard for almost two months to win a grant for advanced study in environmental economics, in preparation for my PhD. A few days after I was awarded the grant and the accompanying sense of immense achievement, I spent three sleepless nights in a row. There was a growing inner discomfort that I was not on the path meant for me. In a leap of faith, I cancelled my second year project, raised funds from friends and decided to backpack in rural and tribal India to find my own answers to questions that I couldn’t even articulate back then. Just that weird troubling feeling about this whole called ‘development’!

Over five months, I backpacked to about forty villages across ten states, and a very different world opened up in front of me. I was deeply touched by my experiences with the ordinary people and the land. The culture which had thus far been presented to me as “backward” embodied values that I held very highly: simplicity, humility, cooperation, trust, trusteeship and a certain deep reverence for nature. All my notions and ideas about ‘development’ and ‘scarcity’ were disrobed one after another.

In one of the tribal villages in MP where I stayed, I saw an elderly woman herding and taking great care of cows in their village. My “educated” mind asked her 'How much milk do you get from these cows?' It was trying to calculate the effort put into maintaining the cows vis-a-vis the economic benefits. She gave me a strange look and said 'Voh hamare saath rehte hain. Jab dhoodh dethe hai, tab ham thoda lete hain' and talked of the cows as members of their community. She explained that they took milk from them only if and when they produced more than needed to feed their young ones.

In another adivasi village, I spent time with women who were sitting together embroidering their skirts with exquisite designs. And some others were artistically weaving their straw brooms, a simple object of daily use. As I sat watching them, I was reminded of a talk by Satish Kumar in NY city that I had attended just a year ago while I was still a student of modern economics. Satishji had spoken a lot about his grandmother who used to make such elaborate embroidery and how much he learnt from her being. He ended his talk by saying ‘To counter globalization, please slow down. Go home and bake your own bread.’ I couldn’t make any sense of what he said back then. Just a year later as I sat with these women connecting to what was getting evoked for me, I could feel in my bones what he had meant! That our mass-produced products in the global market have been sucked dry of their soul. That these women were not making mere pretty cotton garments but were weaving the songs of their souls into their skirts and their brooms, and definitely not because anyone was going to pay them anything for it. They had a certain sacred view of matter that I had thus far never encountered in such a manner!

I slowly came to understand the complexity of the systemic rot. I started placing a lot of, until then, seemingly independent pieces of the puzzle, together. I stopped believing that tinkering here and there was going to help. The very worldview of people as being purely rational and selfish, and of nature as resources to be exploited to endlessly chase economic growth as a way towards human happiness, needed to be challenged and changed. We needed to reclaim our own traditional worldview of nature as our mother and sustainer, of all life as sacred and one, of human happiness as lying outside materialism, and of change as something that essentially starts from within oneself and radiates out into the world. I was convinced that we needed a fundamental re-telling of our story as a race, who we are, where we are, why and how we got here, where we want to journey towards and how.

Different people I met along my journey gifted me Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution, Kumarappa’s ‘Economy of Permanence’, Gandhi’s ‘Hind Swaraj’, Schumacher’s ‘Small is Beautiful’ and Ivan Illich’s ‘Deschooling Society’ which I lapped up during my train and bus rides. My own emerging truth was beginning to resonate with what all these masters had articulated in different ways.

During my travels, on the one side, I was distressed by the havoc that green revolution had unleashed on all life. On the other, I was fascinated by how abundantly natural farming was yielding. Spending time in 'Indraprastha', a food forest near Mysore which had 2,500 different varieties of crops grown on 13 acres, with the farming family harvesting something or the other round the year, overwhelmed me by its abundance! Panchagavya was a recent (re)discovery from Vrikshayurveda back then, and farmers were reaping abundantly by applying it on their farms. They were even diving deeper into it to find other treasures like gunabajalam, and further improvising them to create their own ‘navagavya’ and ‘dasagavya’. They weren’t sitting around waiting for an expert to help them ‘allocate scarce resources’, or claiming ownership of any of this knowledge estimating the royalty owed to them. They were innovating for the collective and sharing joyously all this knowledge through farmer gatherings everywhere. I learnt that Indian farmers had developed and taken care of over 2,00,000 varieties of rice alone (and similarly other food crops) and stewarded these stocks and the knowledge about them communally, without the need for IPR for any of them! They did it with great joy and pride, sung songs on them, celebrated festivals around them and lived such rich lives.

I spent three weeks volunteering in Pebble Garden in Auroville with Bernard and Deepika, who had transformed a rocky barren land into a copiously producing food garden with the help of termites, without waiting around for any funding, workforce or any external resource!

I spent a couple of years working with Rajendra Singh campaigning against the interlinking of rivers, telling the story about how simple traditional practices in harvesting rain water had created a forest and perennial rivers in thousands of villages in the desert of Rajasthan.

Restoring our lost connection with the sacredness of life and nature. Restoring the Commons. Restoring simplicity. Restoring democratic techniques. Seemed like a simple recipe for ABUNDANCE.

My farm visits, and my brief association with Nammalwar and Dharampalji made me look at the wisdom of ancient India. I discovered a fascinating book called ‘Annam Bahu Kurvita’ and read about the famous Chengalpattu data unearthed by Dharampalji especially about Tirupporur and Vadakkuppattu villages. “Annam bahu kurvita. Tatvritam.” said the Taitriyopanishad. “Grow food abundantly and share widely. That is the inviolable discipline of life for the one who pursues Brahmavidya (divine knowledge).” It was immensely enlivening for me to learn that the soil where I came from had talked about abundance and a culture of sharing, and had made ‘aparigraha’ (non-accumulation) one of the primary yamas for a yogic life. My culture had not only articulated this deep philosophy with such conviction, but had even worked out elaborate technologies of how to go about it, millennia ago! I was so stumped by all this discovery that I remember a time when I went around talking about this to everyone I came across!! I even went to the Chennai Archives and dug out original handwritten Chengalpattu data, and found out that the street sweeper of a villager was paid almost equally to the village vaidya (doctor). And the vaidya himself / herself was compensated for his / her services not on the basis on how much illness (s)he cured, but on the basis of how healthy the people of the village remained. An economic design that rewarded health and life-affirming ways made a lot of sense to me!

It was clear that India, as a civilization, had come very far from her original philosophy and pursuits. She was confused about who she was, her soul caught in the stranglehold of ‘modernity’ and ‘capitalism’, which were all about quite the opposite values of greed, hoarding and scarcity, where GDP only increased proportionately with physical and mental ailments, crime, garbage, everything that is undesirable for a wholesome life on this planet.

How did we get here?

I am deeply grateful to Prof. John Byrne (University of Delaware) and Prof. Herman Daly (Univ. of Maryland) under whom I did some more further studies on Political Economy before finally deciding to move to grassroots works. I lapped up Adam Smith's 'Wealth of Nations', Marx's 'Das Kapital', Lewis Mumford's 'the Myth of the Machine', Jacques Ellul's 'Technological Society', Herman Daly's 'Internationalization vs. Globalization', Karl Polany's 'the Great Transformation', Claude Alvares 'Decolonising History', Vandana Shiva's 'Monoculture of the Mind'… Aha! That's how we got where we have!!

How do we get out of here?

Among all the books I had read, Kumarappa’s stood out for its simplicity and practicality. But on my visits to Gandhian and Kumarappa institutions, it seemed like those who ran these institutions themselves were not convinced by their own philosophy and relevance. The ones dedicated to promoting rural industries were, at best, manufacturing toxic detergents. As I took a walk in the T.Kallupatti campus one day, I discovered Kumarappa's hut where he’s said to have spent his last years. I got the keys to the hut from the campus's caretaker and went in. I saw the famous framed picture of Kumarappa’s professor 'the Indian farmer' on the outside and his library of books inside, all covered in dust and cobwebs. I spent a few hours cleaning them up and sitting there in contemplation. Was there anyone trying to live what these humble giants talked about?

As an answer I was taken to Elango, a Gandhian panchayat leader in a village near Chennai, who had been inspired by Kumarappa’s works. I worked with him for a few years with the vision of creating a vibrant village network economy. I traveled with him visiting failed and successful experiments in rural industries and panchayati raj, learning lessons from them, and giving talks on localisation. Whenever anyone asked Elango “In the face of such strong global forces, where mass-made products are made cheaper, has flashier packaging and aggressive marketing, how can we promote the dull local products?” he would respond with a lot of conviction “If I know the person who grew my rice and made my soap and cared for him, and can trust the quality, I would definitely choose that over a glossily packaged and cheaper rice from an unknown farmer. We need to cultivate this very humanity of our people and build our economy on it.” I was drawn by the conviction with which Elango would say this over and over again, anytime anyone asked him this question. Though the work with him had to discontinue for personal reasons, I was convinced about testing his hypothesis. The concept note for reStore began with Kumarappa’s quote “to bring together the consumer and the producer into such intimate relationship as to solidify society into a consolidated mass, which alone can lay claim to (an economy) of permanance."

While in the US, I had volunteered in food-coops which promoted the local, and also spent a couple of days in Ithaca studying the local currency 'Ithaca Hours' which ensured that wealth circulated locally and strengthened the bonds within the community, among the many things it did. Inspired by all these, the next ten year’s journey of setting up reStore, and then another co-journeyer Ananthoo taking it all to the next level of a retailer-cooperative called OFM verified this hypothesis. Creating an authentic experience of trust and abundance (by restoring community and our lost of connection with nature), by embedding economy within community (creating a communomy) was definitely one way to dismantle capitalism.

From there, moving on to experiencing learning naturally along with our daughter gave me the experience of an abundance of resources: places and people to learn from, open toys and tools that create an abundance of opportunities to explore the world, an abundance of time, joy and all things sacred!

Two years in Tiruvannamalai, I further experimented with sharing of skills and things, building relationships with the local vendors and farmers, sharing produce and resources, which further deepened my conviction. I now live in Auroville, another fascinating place where I meet so many people who hold a quest for abundance and are experimenting with different initiatives.

Five years ago, at the Economics of Happiness conference, I took up the invitation by Ashish Kothari to be part of a nation-wide network of initiatives working on creating radical systemic alternatives. Last year, I got on board to co-steward the Alternative Economies Vikalp Sangam connecting with individuals and initiatives from across the country and the world questing for abundance in such a variety of ways.

I somehow have this strong feeling that we are at the verge of a significant breakthrough as a race in our collective quest for abundance and feel blessed to be partaking in it.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

#metoo: a loud call to integrate our primal universe, our wilderness


There’s so much noise out there about sexual harassment, menstruating women entering temples and all. How come you haven’t said anything about them?

Well, I’ve been sitting on a lot to say. Making one statement here or sharing one story there, I am scared, will only fuel further reactions. Not my game. And moreover, I have some unpopular things to say. I’d rather take the time and explore it fully and say all I want to say in one shot. This topic is very close to my heart and needs a very nuanced dialogue.

Sure, maybe now is the time for it!

I’m happy to go, but only if you have the patience to go all the way through. I would like to weave in my own earlier posts where relevant, and what other people have written for further reading. Are you ready to follow all the links?

Can't promise to read them all right away. But will definitely file them away for future reading. So, let’s get started with your own life. I'm sure you have your share of #metoo stories?

Thankfully nothing horrendous. A member of my extended family groped me at every possible occasion for at least seven years from my school to college years. I finally took the courage to confront him, threatened to expose him and put an end to it. I had to discontinue my dental treatment because my 65-year old dentist was regularly molesting me. As a fifteen year old, I was laid down, groped and kissed in my mouth by a sixty-yr old hypnotherapist I went to. I was hypnotised so I don't really know what else was done to me. I felt terrified, dirty and nauseous for a few weeks after that. Everyday going to school on Peter’s Road was a nightmare with guys from the college opposite our school stalking me all over the city, reeling out information about my personal life. I once barely escaped a whole gang of them surrounding me outside my school. I have no idea how I pushed them and ran for my life screaming. But I did. As I narrate this incident, I'm having palpitations. During my activist life, I regularly faced advances, sometimes bordering on attempts, including from peers and 'Gandhians', constantly having to say 'No'. By the time I was 20, my body would get into an alert, sometimes panic, mode whenever I found a male body close to me, or worse, alone with me in a room.

Do you still carry a lot of trauma from all these?

Not much. Thankfully, I have had a lot of positive loving touch in my life since then. And done lots of inner work, learning to love myself and my body, to forgive and to heal. My sister has been a huge source of inspiration for me in this healing journey. She was in an abusive relationship and marriage for many years and eventually took the courage to step out of it. Being one of her confidantes, I was a close witness to many years of her inner work through her deep scars, nightmares, fears and self-doubts, forgiving the guy, and healing herself. She led the way for me in many ways.

But this kind of trauma is also not limited to one's own body alone. Every time I hear a story, my body recalls a memory, or simply plugs into the larger female pain body and experiences trauma, perhaps going back centuries to the days of burning witches and destroying Goddess temples. It connects to the trauma carried by my sisters in contexts of unthinkable domestic violence, marital rapes by their beastly husbands. Brutal gang rape and murder stories on the one end, all the way up to the chilling normalcy of a whole group of 18 guys in a gated community in Chennai regularly piercing into a tender womb and going back home to their roles as brothers, sons, fathers and husbands. The whole normalcy of this was so chilling that I couldn’t sleep or eat properly for a week.

Just before and during my bleeding every month is when this trauma manifests the most darkness in me leaving me with the dementors. Once I was working with my distressed helper who had borne three children out of marital rape. I almost found a caring community for her to move into, when she came home to tell me that she was pregnant again. She stopped coming to work and chose to stay with her abusive husband. It was my PMS time, and I went through so much rage and helplessness. I writhed in a piercing uterine pain for several days. I've progressively learnt to work with building a protective layer around me, the kavacham, to keep myself together, as sane and stable as possible, so I can be available for some healing work in this area. It’s not easy. It’s an ongoing work.

So, have you ever shared your experiences with anyone as you went through them growing up?

Never. A few years later, my sister, who had her share of stories too, became my only confidante. When I was 23, I happened to spend a night with a few women friends somewhere, when we decided to share our stories. I was aghast to find out that every one of them had stories, and one of them had been raped when young and was sharing it with us for the first time ever. Up until then, I had thought I was one of the few girls who had the misfortune of having been through anything at all.

I grew up in a family, culture whose dominant narrative was "Women are the problem. Women need to stay modest and safe. If something happens, women need to learn to retreat and stay safer. Women’s liberation is the cause of much of our society breaking up." and so on. And so I had this huge fear that my already restricted freedom and mobility would be further restricted in the pretext of my personal safety.

So, for all kinds of reasons, our women who have not spoken up, are now getting the space to do that.This #metoo movement is just what we needed!

Absolutely. It is such a huge relief to finally have the space where girls and women can feel safe to share their traumatic stories, to stop holding on to things that don't belong to them - shame, guilt, fear, to name the violators in hiding. It is about time we touched and expressed our roudram (rage), bibhatsam (disgust) and veeryam (courage). Now, having said this, I have some concerns about the #metoo movement.

What concerns?

If you don’t mind, I don’t want to talk about them at this point. I will bring them up at a later point in this dialogue. Ok?

Ok. I’m curious though. But I shall wait. So, coming to the larger story, I can't make sense of why there is suddenly such an explosion of assault everywhere! It's literally EVERYWHERE! What might be the reason?

I haven’t done any rigorous study of this phenomenon. But I’m going to share my strong intuition. It is the same reason why our glaciers are melting, forests are being felled, our coral reefs and whales are dying, plastic gyres in our oceans are expanding, our air, water and soil are getting poisoned at unprecedented rates. Our civilization has reached the peak of its insanity.

I understand how these can be metaphorical to raping Mother Earth. But beyond this, could there be a real correlation?

In our march towards modernity, we have favoured the machine over people, outcomes over processes, math over languages, logic over the arts, intellect over intelligence, GDP over well-being, a mall over a forest, a parking lot over a grassland…

And?

In essence, the masculine over the feminine. The feminine is the space of the wilderness, the unknown, the magical. Modernity feels threatened by wilderness. The masculine feels much safer with tamed manicured lawns. Women who Run with the Wolves powerfully explains how we, men and women alike, have disowned the wilderness within, to in turn explain our present-day civilisational crisis.

I notice that you are using the words 'masculine' and 'modern' interchangeably. Or was that an accident?

Quite intentional. I would go on to say that modernity has successfully sold 'masculinisation' as the path towards emancipation to an entire race of males and female. I've written about it earlier here.  And in our march towards modernity, we have ignored our primal needs. We have forgotten how to honour them and engage with them with sensitivity. Because we have ignored them, they are exploding uncontrollably all over the place screaming for our attention. How long can we keep them under cover?

What do you mean by 'primal needs'?

They are our most primary needs as humans. Our needs for freedom, safety, security, nourishment, connection to Mother Earth and all life forms borne by her, including fellow humans. And most importantly, for our conversation, eros. Modern masculine ways have disproportionately focused on the mental faculty and has disregarded all our primary needs at the levels of the vital and physical.

Could you give some examples?

The masculine's obsessive focus on the output, on "getting things done". Even in lovemaking, the obsessive focus on the orgasm and not on the loving connection. Look at our race's current ways all the way from giving birth to dying. We wear gloves, cut open wombs to remove babies, don't touch our babies unless we absolutely need to or ever let them run around naked. We want them to be independent much earlier than they are ready to be. We tell them it's not ok to cry, send them to factory schools, steep them in a cut-throat competitive lifestyle, model them like machines and call them successful. And we let our elderly die either lonely or plugged into some life-support systems. So entire generations’ primary needs are going unmet thus. Even girl children, in the name of empowerment, are sucked out of their essence and fed through the same process. The modern technological society has been hunting down and squeezing out all the feminine wherever it can find it.

Our primal need for loving human touch and skin-to-skin contact especially in the growing years, our need for intimacy and safety, our need to have a positive relationship with our bodies, our need for sensuous experience with nature - playing with sand, clay and water, enjoying the breeze on our face, the rich smells, tastes and textures of nature - all add up to a healthy sense of sensuality. It is heartening to see that of late, there is growing awareness about the importance of attachment parenting, healing our relationship with nature, rebuilding community and so on. And interestingly much of this work for our times are inspired by the ways of indigenous communities. Like Jean Liedloff spent 20 years with Yequana indigenous community in Venezuela to learn how they raised their children and wrote her classic Continuum Concept, which continues to inspire and change the child-rearing landscape across the world. If we want to survive as a race, we need to go learn from these experts how they honour and work with their primal energies. Charles Eisenstein’s Three Seeds talks about these communities as the third seed in a way that really speaks to me.

I'm still waiting to hear something about eros.

Well, eros is basically life energy that rests at the base of our spine. It is simply there in every one of us. Our ancient cultures, especially Indian, has acknowledged and celebrated it for thousands of years. Paintings, sculptures, poetry, literature and entire treatises about eros including lovemaking by our Gods and Goddesses, have been an integral part of our cultural narrative. 

Actually, many indigenous communities in India still have the practice of letting young men and women discover their sexuality within a certain set of norms. Like the Ghotul system for instance. I once heard that the functional aspect of the practice of 'child marriage' in our country was that the boy and girl already had a partner that they had grown up with, when their sexual needs arose. It made sense to me! 

This shocks me! You support child marriages?

Why are you ready to jump at everything, for or against? Can we learn to step back and look at histories, contexts, both functional and dysfunctional aspects of things simultaneously? This is extremely important for a nuanced dialogue. Of course, I am against oppressive child marriages. And I'm not saying we need to start building Ghotuls across the country. GIVE ME A BREAK! I'm only trying to look at our culture's variety of practices which helped us engage with our eros. The same culture had ashrams, where brahmacharis were taught asana and pranayama to work with and channel their inner energies and urges. Our culture has experimented with an entire spectrum of practices! To add to the complexity, let me introduce you to a very beautifully and sensitively made movie Balika Badhu that tells the story of a young girl and boy getting married. 

 I agree I should have given you some benefit of doubt! But you see, topics like child-marriage are so charged that it's so hard to not react.

⧭ Anyways, somewhere along the way, our culture was colonised and began sterilising everything. We now have a largely unhealthy relationship with our eros, as with all our other primal needs.

  Now, what would be an unhealthy relationship with eros?

Either a pathological indulgence in it as a way of compensating for a lack of real love and intimacy. Or suppression. When psychologically immature men who naturally have very little sensitivity to the others, have grown up with a negative relationship with their own bodies because of a lack of adequate care and loving touch in their growing years, (or worse still experience of negative touch) have had no role models to learn about healthy boundaries, are placed in positions of structural power (as celebrities, managers, CEOs, priests or whatever), they are highly likely to violate the more vulnerable who are lower in these power structures. Ashok Malhotra’s Child Man: The Selfless Narcissist has dealt with processes related to this. My teacher Raghu has beautifully explained the whole socio-psychological phenomenon in his article The yogic response to sexual violation.

Another way pathology builds up is by completely ignoring and denying the eros and sanitising one's life. Like in Buddhist monasteries, the Church, or the ashram of some self-proclaimed celibate Hindu godmen. Unless, one is a really evolved being (has worked through this in an earlier lifetime) and has a high level of integrity, advanced yogic practices to work with awareness to sublimate and channel this energy for higher purposes, one cannot simply bypass it. So much perverse sex goes on in these places because they might be breeding it unconsciously. All these perpetrators are also the victims in the larger story.

Sexual abusers are victims? I have heard that one before, but it is an unpopular view nevertheless, I must say.

Yes, abusers being victims is an unacceptable thing when you look through the lens which sees ‘all of us as separate beings’. The old Story of Separation as Charles calls it. This dominant story that most of us are lodged in has been making less and less sense to me over the years. The story I experience of all humans (to begin with) more and more is that we are like the cells of a larger organism, deeply interconnected. The new story I'd like to inhabit more and more is the Story of Interbeing. This realisation is as ancient as the mountains. Mystics and shamans from traditions across the world have talked about it. You are welcome to take a short break and listen to this delightful rendering of Brahmam Okate where mystic Annamaya talks about this eternal truth in the simplest language.

In my experience of inter-beingness, I see violators as victims who need to be held in the collective field of compassion and healing.

Does that mean we let the wrong-doers go scot-free?

Compassion doesn’t mean mushy gooey sweetness. Actually, compassion has nothing to do with behaviour at all. It is about feeling and telling the other "I completely understand your situation. We are in this journey together!" And out of this space of solidarity, the highest act of compassion to someone so blind and asleep could be to give them a hard slap, push them to the floor, handcuff them, put them in jail or whatever else, depending on their levels of pathology. But can it be done by holding oneself and the other within the field of compassion? Can we say "I'm in control. This cannot go on. I need to do what I need to do to stop this. Now can you wake up and see that you are hurting me AND yourself? It scars your own being when you scar another. Can you please see this? Were you carried and held as a child and taught to love yourself and your body? Growing up, did you have role models who honoured their and others boundaries? Were you truly loved? What is your story?” For someone remains an enemy only for as long as we do not know their story. I am reminded of an indigenous community which has the practice of gathering around the member of their tribe who has committed a crime, and showering her/him with all the positive things they have to say about them. They transform with love. We once again turn to these ancient peoples! 

I'm reminded of a moving Academy-award winning film about a cold gangster, murderer Tsotsi and his intense yearning for his mother's love and touch. Nandu's character in Aalavandaan (Abhay) deeply impacted me as well. His deep yearning for his mother's love and approval, the trauma and abandonment he faces as a child, the uncontrollable rage and severe pathology he develops is portrayed as an exaggerated story. Such 'wrong-doers' undoubtedly need to be put in solitary confinement behind strong iron bars for others (and their own) safety. But punishment is a whole different story. Punishment comes from a space of hatred. It's birth place is the old story of separation. It can only breed further hurt, feeding into and reinforcing the cycle of violence. What they need is healing. I would even go on to say that they are martyrs of a much larger largely-unrecognised process of detox at the level of the collective.

Hey, wait a minute! With some effort, I may be able to live with the idea of sexual abusers being victims. But calling them martyrs is a bit too much!

I can explain if you are willing to journey with me and further see the world through the lens of inter-beingness. I'm reminded of Thich Nhat Hanh's poem Please call me by my true names.

Poem sounds profound. And yes, for the sake of exploration I'll journey with you. But I must admit that I can't yet fathom saying "I'm the pirate who raped the twelve-year old girl".

Not easy, I agree.

I repeat. The seeds of Eros are in each of us. When we sow them in the right kind of soil (consciousness) with acknowledgment and celebration, they bloom and make us delightful beings, and then eventually mature and sublimate. When we sow them in the wrong kind of soil (indulge insensitively or addictively to compensate for a lack of self-love) they release toxins making us more and more pathological. When we abandon them without care (deny and suppress), they can get mouldy and spread another kind of cold withdrawn heaviness in our being, making us frozen, dull and depressed.

Now, as a thumb rule, whenever another's action shocks us and makes us feel “How could they do this? I can never imagine doing such a thing!” it’s a sign we may not have engaged with that part of ourselves enough. We have our shadows lurking somewhere too that needs attention. When we have worked with these seeds within ourselves, we know them so intimately, know both the best and the worst they are capable of. Compassion will arise as a consequence of this inner knowing.

Now, as a civilization, since we have not dealt with these seeds adequately, they have created a huge field of darkness, our collective shadow. We all have a share in it. Even those of us who might have dealt with it at our individual levels, need to own up to the collective shadow.

Why do those who have worked with it need to take ownership? By the way, you haven’t explained your use of the term ‘martyr’ yet!

That is precisely part of the new story of all of us being expressions of the One consciousness. I have lived with a persistent eczema on my right ankle for over 15 years now. When it is hurting and oozing pus, my hands attend to it, my brain is looking for ways to deal with it, and numerous subtler actions are happening to deal with it across my internal system. For the eczema is but a manifestation of a release of toxins on behalf of my entire body and my ankle volunteered itself for the unpleasant task. It chose to give up its beautiful appearance, to be cursed and be frowned upon with disgust, to be the most hated part of my body for the longest time. But when I started seeing how it is actually being a channel for the toxins that belong to my body as a whole, including the most beautiful and attractive parts of it, I started feeling compassion for my ankle. It started healing too! That's how the term 'martyr' occurred to me. As individuated souls, I’m not saying that these abusers are consciously setting out to be martyrs. But they have allowed themselves to let the darkness channel and surface through them, to bring it to the collective’s attention at the risk of facing blame, shame, disgust and ostracisation, albeit unconsciously.

Everything cannot be attributed to the collective. What is the place of the individual here? Doesn't an individual 'choose' to act out his impulses?

I believe that we are both individuals with free will, and part of a collective, simultaneously. This concept of simultaneity is a complex one and needs a lot of psychological maturity to really understand. Ken Wilbur, who was inspired by Sri Aurobindo's Integral Theory has articulated it with most clarity. Every cell is a whole, and part of a tissue SIMULTANEOUSLY. Every tissue is a whole, and part of an organ simultaneously, and so on.. So every individual is a whole and part of the collective simultaneously. All the way up to multiverses (made of several universes). Every concentric circle – from an atom to the cosmos – is a HOLON. In Gandhian terms, swaraj (self-rule) and sarvodaya (the rising of everyone) are interdependent. One cannot get fulfilled without the other.

The #metoo movement is helping us women come out, speak up and give up what does not belong to us. If we see the world through the old lens, where all of us are separate beings, we'd naturally talk about ‘giving it back’ to the abuser, naming and shaming him with hatred. But if I locate myself in the new consciousness of everyone as an expression of the same being, I put it out there for the collective to look at it as a mirror unto itself.

While I do this, I’d like to simultaneously hold the individual violator accountable for what he did. If I don't connect my loss and pain with my violator’s treatment (what is conventionally called justice) if I can separate the two without getting caught in the reaction of one to the other, then perhaps we can do what is most appropriate / best for both and move forward. Like the story of a rapist and the raped learning to confront, dialogue, heal and co-author a book. 

So, is this your concern you mentioned right at the beginning?

Yes, while it is good to see women come out and speak up, my concern is that we might cross the line into indulgence in our victimhood. In a culture that is not yet used to self-reflection, the victim location is a very habitual one, a comfortable one and can become quite tyrannising. Endlessly pointing at the other can end up imprisoning us. As women it is also important to see how we are also contributing to the problem.

That definitely sounds like a regressive statement! I hope you don't mean that women wearing skimpy clothes revealing their cleavages, stepping out at night, etc. are causing the problem!!

Of course not. No way. But times are such that I personally choose to not do these in certain places for my own safety. But I'm not even meaning any of this right now.

To understand how women are contributing to the problem, let’s go back all the way to what I started with. We women are definitely colluding with a system that is hell-bent on masculinizing the feminine in the name of 'development' and 'progress'. We are colluding with a way of life that is either shutting out, scarring or vulgarising our primal being. It does all this by commodifying our primal universe. This includes all the gross ways of brokering sexual-favours, like the female lecturer who was recently caught trying to set up her students with men in power for good marks and high positions. And brutal mutilations of the genitals of young girls carried out by mothers and grandmothers, to prevent women from exploring their sexuality. But what I am talking about here is a more subtle, more insidious process of our modern development paradigm co-opting everything and making it into a commodity.

Including our primal needs?

Totally! In fact, our primal needs are the most that the development monster encashes on. Charles explained it beautifully, so I’m just going to quote from his book here. “Advertisers play on this all the time, selling sports cars as a substitute for freedom, junk food and soda as a substitute for excitement, “brands” as a substitute for social identity, and pretty much everything as a substitute for sex, itself a proxy for the intimacy that is so lacking in modern life. We might also see sports hero worship as a substitute for the expression of one’s own greatness, amusement parks as a substitute for the transcending of boundaries, pornography as a substitute for self-love, and overeating as a substitute for connection or the feeling of being present. What we really need is nearly unavailable in the lives that society offers us.”

Capitalism has found endless substitutes for all our authentic primal yearnings. With an enticing promise of filling our deep void, it keeps offering us things that absolutely cannot fill the void. And we believe in its story and keep thinking more and more of the same will do it. So, while I’m glad that the #metoo space has opened up, at some point after we have vented it all out sufficiently, we need to learn to transcend our own stories and open up to see the larger tapestry.

What do you mean by 'transcending one's story’?

Here’s my eulogy for Subbaraju, a big inspiration in my life journey. Subba was born to a daily-wage labourer, got into IIT and graduated with the highest distinction, and yet chose to become a strong critic of the development paradigm, schooling and all, and walked his talk. He went to his village, set up and ran a beautiful ‘natural learning space’ for children, helped them fall in love with their village life, farming, bamboo craft with great joy. This is a radical act of transcendence considering that normally such “successful people” climb up the ladder further and further, come back to their villages, build schools and IIT coaching centres, and so on.. You know the trajectory. They are so enamored by their own "success" that they can’t see beyond it to understand how their good intentions are actually intensifying poverty. Like Jyoti Reddy’s story which once went viral as an example for women’s empowerment. A moving story indeed, but the likes of JR are still caught up in their own stories further suppressing the feminine principle. I’m not saying it’s easy to transcend one’s personal story in order to see the big picture. That is why, stories of the likes of Subbaraju are extremely rare and need to be told.

So, from what you are saying, it seems to me like indigenous communities, ancient India all had a very good understanding of our primal universe and knew how to work with it. So, would it be right to say that we have been regressing as a race?

No, I think it’s all part of a certain progression!

What???!!

Yes, and I can speak from my own personal experience here. I thought I was progressing and evolving spiritually and was well on my way to ‘enlightenment’ as they call it. In the chakra-language, I was progressing to fully inhabit the Vishuddhi chakra, which is all about realising inter-beingness, co-creation, etc. I signed up to participate in Ritambhara’s ‘Nayika’s Quest’ workshop facilitated by my teachers Raghu and Sashi. It was about experientially exploring the universes of the different chakras. As I explored the Vishuddhi chakra, I experienced a powerful pull from the Mooladhara chakra (the primal universe), and touched intense narcissism. Deep narcissistic hurt that I hadn’t worked through enough became visceral for me. I was shaken. It unleashed a year-long process where I went through months and months of such intense fears of abandonment, jealousies of all kinds, need for attention and appreciation, shame from all these and what not. Thankfully I had enough support from my sangha to stay with and work through these, and come out of the other side of this pretty dark phase.

Having had this insight into myself, and since I believe that we are all holons, I’m comfortable extrapolating this to the larger culture. The higher our collective aspirations rise, the more we evolve, the closer we come to the light, the darker our shadows become. The darker our shadows become, the harder it becomes to hide them. Read Charles’s The Lid is Off. It is like, God or that Higher Self gives us the most difficult questions to answer at the threshold of the breakthrough. Dealing with the darkest shadows is like the rite of passage onto another spiritual realm. So, our journey through patriarchy (or patricentricism as Ashok Malhotra calls it) is essentially a forward movement. As a race, we needed to work through them is at least what I believe.

So, you don’t think modernity, patriarchy, etc. were mistakes?

Well, there are narratives that consider them so. I deeply resonate with Sri Aurobindo’s narrative, which looks at all of these as part of a forward movement. Inspired by Sri Aurobindo, Ken Wilbur has talked about all these in the first part of his Brief History of Everything, in a way that really spoke to me. Of course I cannot speak in an absolute sense. This is just my narrative. I believe that we needed to learn our lessons through individuation, separation which was aided by modernisation, patriarchy, masculinization and the like, and come back to union WITH ALL THAT KNOWING. Evolving in our consciousness means learning to acknowledge, befriend, sing, dance and play with our primal beings and INTEGRATE them with the rest of our being. And like Charles explains in his essay, in order to do this, with all our humility, reach out to, seek the help of, and learn (or remember) from the Three Seeds that opted out of the journey of separation.

⧭ Do you have a metaphor from our culture?

⧭ I'm sure there are many. But I can talk about one that I've drawn power from over the past year for my own inner work. The demon Mahishasura's penance to God Agni led to his being entitled to a boon. He asked for immortality. This, being against the law of nature, was denied to him. So, he chose the next best one "No man can kill me. Only a woman." thinking of it as an impossibility. When all the Gods failed at subduing Mahisha, they turned to the Goddess who fiercely fought with him, subdued / slayed him. Regularly reciting the Mahishasura Mardhini Stotram over the past year invoking the power of my inner Goddess, I believe, helped me with my own inner demons and shadows. Interestingly, I spent a few days last year immersed in the Devi Mahatmyam and found it to be one of the most erotic poetry I have ever read! So, Devi is simultaneously beautiful, sensuous, compassionate and fierceful (because she also merges with Shiva) all at the same time. Just who we need to turn to as a race.

Like all essays and interviews, how about we end this one with ‘What’s the way forward in more specific terms’?

I am reminded of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa, which was a bold and radical attempt at reconciliation and restoration, rather than justice. A space like that held with strength and empathy for violators to admit that ‘they did it’, express remorse and ask for forgiveness, inspires me. But it needs someone as wise and strong as Desmond Tutu, whose warrior was also his healer. A powerful movie is Dead Man Walking, which is about a rapist-murderer who is sentenced to death, whose inner world transforms at the end. This is also based on a real-life story which was written as a book by Sister Helen Prejean. 

Otherwise, I can come up with a long list of things we can do to honor, celebrate and integrate our primal universe.
* Bring greater awareness into our own disowned and disconnected primal beings.
* Offer and ask for touch that awakens the spirit rather than indulges the flesh.
* Let our children run around naked and learn to love their bodies without shame.
* Listen to our little teenagers share their stories of their first love and attraction with curiosity and acceptance, empower them to engage with their eros responsibly. 
* Spend time with sunrise and sunset, enjoy the gentle breeze on our faces, sleep under the starlit sky, connect to the moon cycles.
* Use more essential oils and fragrant herbs.
* Stop mowing our lawns, enjoy the wild flowers and quite literally welcome wilderness into our lives
* Learn asana - pranayama or any other eastern body-breath practice, to learn to work with and channel our prana, our internal energies.
* Build mindfulness in our actions through the day.
* Treat our bodies like temples, bring awareness into our addictive eating habits, introduce juicy, tasty and nourishing foods.
* Turn off our screens and spend time with other people in authentic spaces.
* Cry, sing, dance together. Paint, write poetry in solitude.
* As women, express gratitude as our blood parts with us every month.
* Sweat out in labour of love. Work with the soil. Infuse every act with the unique song of our souls. 
* Bring more awareness into our consumption patterns - whether stuff, or art, or music, or sex, or information, or whatever.
* Shut down factory schools, and replace them with real learning communities.
* Live a rasaatmik, juicy life.
* Learn to make love without focusing on the orgasm, instead feeling the heart connection.

Basically, explore all possible ways to better integrate the feminine with our strong masculine, and aspire to realise the Ardhanarishwara.

Going by whatever you have shared so far, I'm guessing that you unconditionally support the SC verdict on the Sabarimala issue.

No, I do not. But that's for another dialogue. Unlike this one, I need to do better homework on facts and histories to come up with some robust content.

 Phew! That's a lot of stuff to chew on from one interview - concepts, experiences, essays, books, movies all inclusive I mean!

⧭ Thank you for your patient listening and for deciding to 'chew on' rather than 'swallow wholesale' whatever I have shared. All of what I have shared is my perspective. I could be wrong. But I normally tend to take seriously, what I know in my index finger.

 Know in your index finger?

Click on the link and you’ll know. Bye! :)