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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! :)

Sunday, October 1, 2017

My sankalpa on Gandhi Jayanthi

I decided to begin my day by reading sections of Gandhiji's masterpiece 'Hind Swaraj' (from Chapter 6 onwards). The book, in the form of a conversation about what it meant to free the colonised India, was written in 1909. The following paragraph, which is very alive for me today, is like a prelude to my own sankalpa.

"This civilization is unquestionably the best, but it is to be observed that all civilizations have been on their trial. That civilization which is permanent outlives it. Because the (daughters and) sons of India were found wanting, its civilization has been placed in jeopardy. But its strength is to be seen in its ability to survive the shock. Moreover, the whole of India is not touched. Those alone who have been affected by Western civilization have become enslaved. We measure the universe by our own miserable foot-rule. When we are slaves, we think that the whole universe is enslaved. Because we are in an abject condition, we think that the whole of India is in that condition. As a matter of fact, it is not so, yet it is as well to impute our slavery to the whole of India. But if we bear in mind the above fact, we can see that if we become free, India is free. And in this thought you have a definition of Swaraj. It is Swaraj when we learn to rule ourselves. It is, therefore, in the palm of our hands. Do not consider this Swaraj to be like a dream. There is no idea of sitting still. The Swaraj that I wish to picture is such that, after we have once realized it, we shall endeavour to the end of our life-time to persuade others to do likewise. But such Swaraj has to be experienced, by each one for himself. One drowning man will never save another. Slaves ourselves, it would be a mere pretension to think of freeing others. Now you will have seen that it is not necessary for us to have as our goal the expulsion of the English. If the English become Indianized, we can accommodate them. If they wish to remain in India along with their civilization, there is no room for them. It lies with us to bring about such a state of things.”

108 years have passed since this was written. Though our civilisation has further eroded, it can still be said that it is surviving the shock, and quite well. But the time has come for us to take it from a place of mere survival to a place where it can thrive from.

In order to do this, we need to do two things. We need to truly touch deep within us, roudram, the rage of being lied to (and in a sense, betrayed) by a few colonised generations before us and have the fire stoked. And then go deeper than the rage, touch the deep pathos in the ignorance that engulfed us saying 'They (we) didn't know better then!' And understand and intuit the real deeper reasons for whatever unfolded the way it all did, transcend both rage and pathos (while holding them within), touch the space of kārunyam, compassion. Going through this with all our sincerity alone will give us the vīryam, the authentic energy to act like true warriors. And this is what, I see Gandhiji's 'Hind Swaraj' was being a loud call to!

In my embodied exploration of 'What is India?' I am embarking upon a journey to understand vāstu śāstra. This evolved science from India draws me for two reasons. 

1. As a student of Fine Arts in the 1990s, temple architecture was what I was most drawn to. Something about its intent to manifest the highest form of energy on this material realm drew me to it like a magnet. As I was preparing myself to becoming a researcher in this area, I was carried by the other stronger pull towards activism. I'm very delighted to be picking up this thread again, with a deeper understanding.

2. In the two decades of my departure (1997-2017), I have worked extensively with groups of people coming together in varied forms and in varied contexts. A whole spectrum of organisations from 'debilitatingly hierarchical' on the one end, to 'structureless and flat' on the other. Having a designer's mind, the question about organisational design has always been alive for me. And I'm discovering that vāstu śāstra has a lot to offer in this area. What would an 'Indian way of organising spaces for people to come together to co-create' look like? This is my parallel area of study.

  

I'm truly blessed to be undertaking this journey under the mentorship of Raghu and Sashi. The way they have lived (and continue to live) their own lives in the spirit of 'All life is Yoga!', the utter confidence with which they claim their own power, the openness and dignity with which they share their vulnerabilities and human failings and struggles, and most of all, the sincerity with which they have extended their invitation to truly co-create, move me beyond words can express. I pray that I may be worthy of the offering by them and the community of fellow-seekers who have committed to be on this collective journey together!

A talk by Sashi on Introduction to vāstu śāstra.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Mathematics, Mythology & Mindfulness Meet

One hot Sunday afternoon, Isha was throwing around a crazy ball at home, and a conversation started about the nice pattern it made with its each bounce. Rajeev being a big fan of Mathematics, started talking about the relationship between the different heights, each being half of the previous height.

 
And this conversation led to a story about 'Krishna and Payasam'.

There was once a King who was very fond of chess. Over time, he became quite good at it and started winning competitively (by sheer merit and not from sycophancy). For the thrill of it, he started playing the game with prize monies. He was fair too. If he won, the opponents gave him a coin or two or some fruit or vegetable from their garden. If the opponent won, he rewarded them with gold!


One day, an old man came to the palace and challenged the King to a game of chess. The king readily agreed. The old man, of course, beat the King. The King asked him, “What would you like for prize money?'. The old man said, “Just give me some rice so I needn’t worry about food for what’s left of my time here". The King felt quite insulted and said, “You’ve done what only a few have been able to and when others ask me for gold and land, all you want is rice!! Ask for something else.” But the old man was insistent. The king finally relented and said, “All right! How much rice would you like?” The old man said “O King! Just place the rice grains on the chess board using the following arrangement: 1 grain on the first square, 2 on the second, 4 on the third, 8 on the fourth and so on doubling the number of grains for each subsequent square"

The king described this arrangement to the head of the granary and asked him to get a bag of the best rice in the kingdom. Now the granarian obviously had a knack for numbers and a few minutes after he heard about the arrangement, quietly said, “O King! Am afraid you won’t be able to keep your word”. The King was puzzled and furious, “How’s that even possible? All this old man wants is a few grains of rice!” The granarian drew a chess board and explained, “The number of grains on the nth square is 2^(n-1). So for the last square alone, the number of grains is 2^63 and the total number of grains would be 264-1=18.44*1018

A grain of rice weighs about 25 milligrams or .025 grams. So 18.44*1018 grains of rice weigh
(18.44*1018)*(.025 grams)=4.612*1017 grams or 461 billion metric tons. (At 2016 worldwide rice production levels, this would take a 100 years!)


The silence was palpable and the King, needless to say, was shocked. The King turned to look at the old man who with a mischievous smile revealed his true identity - it turned out to be none other Lord Krishna, “Don’t worry, O King! You and your kingdom can pay this debt over time”. And thus began the tradition of offering rice payasam to Krishna.

We then sat down as a family with Kullakkar red rice and decided to try this out ourselves. We then spent a whole hour (in complete silence) doing a spiral arrangement using a simple doubling rule. 1 grain at the centre, 2 next to it, 4 after that and so on. After the 5th square, we started counting in fives, learnt to count fives in different ways and thus went until the 11th square. A practice in mindfulness and fine-motor skills as we picked and place each grain carefully. 

   

It was quite fascinating to experience Mathematics, Mythology and Mindfulness meet so spontaneously!

****
Credits:
Story paraphrased by Rajeev from www.singularitysymposium.com/exponential-growth.html

Some of the weight calculations were taken from www.wyzant.com/resources/blogs/291843/the_classic_chessboard_problem

Seeing Indian Mythology through a child's eyes

One of my primary partners in my exploration of 'What is India?' is Isha. Because, at one level, I am really starting from scratch. And it's also very small attempt to expose kids of her generation who are deprived of growing up with the 'real India' and her riches. We have many more miles to go!

One of the things we do together is to see / read stories of the different Gods and Goddesses on youtube and Amar Chitra Katha. As we do this, she makes her innocent observations, asks her simple and basic questions. Like Tenali Rama asked Kali how she managed if she caught a cold, constantly wiping off her thousand noses! (Lots of giggles! :)

One of our favourite stories is that of Devi slaying Mahisasura. We have seen and read different versions. In one, Devi slays Mahisa. In another, she subdues and transforms him into Yama's vehicle. What all else could Devi do with the terrible Mahisa? 'If Devi is the most powerful, why would it take her 10 days to control Mahisa? How is it that she is so calm and peaceful while slaying the asura?' And we both indulge in wonderment together! And more than anything, we both learn to keep collecting and staying with all our questions, an important learning I realise as a grown up.

And this journey continues beyond the stories we see and read. Every evening for around one mandala (40 days) we have been lighting the evening lamp, and playing and singing along 'Mahishasuramardini Stotram' and the 'Hanuman Chalisa'. I combine my practice of reading the Devanagari script and learning Sanskrit vocabulary and grammar alongside. By now, she has learnt to recite along the entire stotram. One evening she said 'Today you sing, and I will dance.' and went ahead with a full-on performance of the story with abhinaya! And now, this has become our new routine for the past four days. Of course, I am not supposed to watch her dance. It is her personal thing. :) 

And then we are waiting to delve into the stories Shumbha and Nishumbha and all the other Asuras that we sing about.

Indian Mythology: A Beginner's Note

Until recently, I didn't care much for Indian Mythology due to many reasons. One: I didn't grow up listening to any stories from grandparents or relatives, or in school. My first and only exposure was Ramanand Sagar's & Ravi Chopra's versions on the TV, which I didn't follow much either. Two: As I grew up, waking up to the world crisis, I didn't think it had anything useful to offer in saving us from wars, oppression, toxins or climate change. Three: There were a lot of triggers in them for me, usually gender-based. And then I had this idea that the perfectly-shaped human forms adorned with jewels, etc. attributed to Gods and Goddesses were born out of our own obsession with our petty human stories and our insignificant forms, and had nothing to with the powerful energies around and within us!

Thanks to a radically fresh introduction to mythology with our yoga teachers over the past few years, I started taking another look at it recently. I'm riveted to the fascinating stories including the Mahabharatha by Kamala Subramanian. And through what I've heard of the Mahabharatha Immersion offering by Ritambhara, which I myself am yet to experience. 


Reading and listening to Joseph Campbell, his fascination for mythology, Indian Mythology in particular and for the 'mystery of life' in general has been contagious! I'm sitting on a whole pile of his films to watch and his books to read! With all of this, I realised that seeing Indian mythology with a modern / schooled mind is like watching a 3-D film without the 3-D glasses on. One not only fails to see the depth in it, but is also likely to comment that it is a badly made film! 




In an interview Campbell says: 'Myths and dreams come from the same place. They come from realisations of the same kind that have then to find expression in a symbolic form. The only myth that we're going to be thinking about in the immediate future is the one that is talking about the planet - not this city, not these people, but the planet and everybody on it. What one would need to deal with is what all myths have dealt with. The maturation of the individual. The pedagogical way to follow from dependency to adulthood to maturity and then to the exit. And how to do it. And then how to relate to this society. And how to relate this society to the world of nature and the cosmos. That's what the myths have all talked about. That's what this one's got to talk about. But the society it's got to talk about is the 'society of the planet'. And until that gets going, you don't have anything.'

In the words of Peace Pilgrim: 'What we suffer from in this world is immaturity... In their immaturity people want, at the same time, peace and the things which make war. However, people can mature just as children grow up.'


We are running out of time. The purely rational is hitting its limits bumping against walls on all its sides. It is approaching bankruptcy in its attempt to deliver humanity, save the few (or many) small improvements it is capable of. We now need to dive straight into the collective subconscious / unconscious and unleash all the stuff and work with it. And mythology has one of the important keys to undertake this task. 

Like I have written in an earlier post on Vision of Yoga, I believe that as more and more individuals mature, consciousness will shift up the spiral and will become visible to our human minds and eyes as social change. And hence my interest in / study of mythology. Not as an intellectual exercise or a scholarly pursuit, but as a whole-being endeavour.

To begin with, here's a TEDx talk by Raghu Ananthanarayanan based on the Mahabharatha.
Mahabharata, a mirror to the self

Stay tuned for more...

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Subbaraju


To learn of the sudden passing on of Subbaraju last month, came as a huge shock to me! A brilliant, passionate, gentle and humble soul I must write about.

I first met Subbaraju in the early 2000s during my exploratory travels across India in a community called Timbaktu Collective in Anantapur, AP. It was a time when I was very young in my understanding of 'natural learning'. And that first simple and yet profound conversation with Subba made a lasting impression on me. His fascination for the story of Totto-Chan (which he introduced me to) showed his deep love for freedom. His humility and willingness to engage in simple honest conversations kept drawing me to him since that day. He also introduced me to John Holt and advised me to read them if I wanted to understand children, learning and freedom. Every time I visited Timbaktu after that, I would make sure I had at least one long conversation with him, sharing insights from my own journey thus far.

Subba was born in Tirupati to a poor farmer-turned-daily wage labourer who died when Subba was merely five. He was academically bright and made his way into IIT-Madras purely through merit, and completed his B.Tech in Civil Engineering there. He then went to IIT-Bombay where he completed his PhD in Energy Systems Engineering with a 'Best Thesis' award.

Soon after this, his search for life's meaning and purpose led him to question things and also recognise his love for working with children and working with the soil, plants and trees. Among many things, his search led him to the discovery of two simple and profound books (yes, just like his own personality!) Totto-Chan and The Man who Planted Trees. With whatever money he had, he used to photocopy and distribute them among friends. Along the way, Subba identified and joined the Timbaktu community and began working with the children of families from poverty-stricken villages. An alternative-school was one thing. But his real passion shone through the Children's Centre that he had lovingly created.


“Lots of open area, play equipment (like swings and slides), a library of books, lots of games, simple equipment to try out Science experiments, materials like bamboo and clay, tools to work with and a caring adult to watch over and guide gently: create a space with all these, let the children be and watch what happens. After all these years of experience, I can say that this is all we need for a good place of learning for children.” he always said.


Subba had carefully collected a large numbers of the best children books in both English and Telugu, and knew each story and book intimately. Working with bamboo was another passion of his, because of which so many children have learnt to skillfully make furniture, lamps and other articles of daily use. More than anything, one could see the children there were free and happy, two things Subba held very close to his heart.


Also in his own words: “It is important to keep some time and space for children’s interest in land and animals if agriculture is to gain respectability, if traditional arts, crafts and skills are to get respectability. We want these things to get a respectable position in the minds of the people. We think doing well in the mainstream is very simple, it is just a matter of following certain directions – and one can do very well. On the other hand, what children do [at his learning centre] is way beyond following certain instructions and directions – they create their learning paths.”
 

During my last visit to Timbaktu two years ago, I got to visit Subba's house for the first time. He had stopped working at the school for various reasons. And with all the time he then had, he had created a stunning edible home garden – clearly one of the densest and best I've ever seen - edible greens, fruit trees and creepers, vegetable plants, cherri tomatoes, passion fruits and numerous other herbs and plants along every possible wall and in every possible corner.

 
Water-saving Irrigation using bamboo pipes 

Keerai saplings in all kinds of containers on his terrace 
On his terrace while showing us the garden. Seeing beyond his garden 
gives us a glimpse of the completely barren land all around Subba's house 

Here's why I think Subbaraju's story is an extremely important and relevant one for us to know. It is a rags-to-riches story, which redefines “the riches”. After seeing academic success in IIT, one of the Icons of 'Modernity' ' Development' 'Science' 'Progress' or whatever name you want to give it, he neither pursued a life “climbing up the ladder further" by going to the US, etc. (we know the trajectory!) nor did he go back to his village on an ego-trip to “become a saviour - give back to society – build a school – train poor children to qualify for IIT to break free from the shackles of poverty – develop the village, etc.” (we know that trajectory too!) which I think is even more destructive than the former. He took the courage to choose to transcend his own story and create a third path; one of real enquiry into the nature of freedom, Science and Development, arriving at his own meaning and his own plan. An extremely rare story to come by!

The last time we met, when I told Subba “One day, when our little community has its own space, we'd love for you to come and stay with us for a few months and help us set up a lovely place like this!” he gave me a big smile, nodded a big nod and said “Done!” Will now need to work with what he has left behind of himself: memories and inspiration!

An interview with footages of his children in a Science exhibition
Another interview about Subbaraju's journey - Long & Winding Road / John Dsouza

Techie, tree-lover from Timbaktu - Ajit Ranade

Children's Resource Centre - Sanjeev Ranganathan

Children's Resource Centre - Timbaktu Collective website

Saturday, April 29, 2017

My tryst with stuff

Until I was 15, my school books and stationery, a few audio cassettes, some clothes and accessories were all my possessions. After two years of tailoring in my eleventh and twelfth grades, cloth pieces, threads, buttons and stuff started accumulating. After three years of Fine Arts in college, art and craft supplies joined the pile. Starting to volunteer with different NGOs and social movements, diaries and journals filled with to-do-lists, observations and outpourings started gathering. And books, reports and photographs. With my entry into the world of farming and gardening, garden tools, bags of seeds started piling up. With a child into our lives, toys (mostly never bought) and books started gathering. When I stopped buying clothes and starting accepting handed-down ones for all of us in the family, bags of those started filling up our cupboards. And alongside all these, my commitment to not discard used things into trash and upcycle them (I usually throw away literally one small bagful of non-reusable and non-recyclable trash a year!), my burning creativity to execute new ideas that used to be churned out by the minute, led to volumes of junk all over our house. With my experiments in natural dyeing & podi-making over the past year, a whole new collection of podi dabbas, dried peals and leaves, rusted iron pieces (for mordant), etc. started to grow. Well, it's a long list. Basically, I was trying to create a whole 'village' with libraries, workshop spaces, free-stores, studios, kitchens, gardens, play areas, waste centre, etc. all in one single house, managed by one single person. And as someone who does not believe having a helper at home, I'd have all this work with stuff, on top of my share of the housework and everything else I was doing. Madness!!!

Even though I believed myself to be regularly clearing away stuff, in reality, it was only growing in complexity and volume. And with all this stuff, we were shifting our house at least once every year on an average. I would take a few days after our each shift to recover from my shock of how much stuff we had with us, followed by some sort of a depression.

What originally began as my fascination for the material world was beginning to grow in pathology! See this collection of used matchsticks to be used in a mandala craft I had an idea for!



I was spending most of my waking time engaging with all this stuff that had filled my house, and now, my life! Either cleaning and organising them, or searching for things of value that would get buried under some pile of something somewhere.



If you've seen 'The Beautiful Mind', it was like this collection of papers that Nash had put up on his garage wall, about which he had made up a compelling story. Well, not really but almost. My 'beautiful mind' had made up a whole story about how my life was about all this stuff I needed to constantly collect, organise, clean, maintain and use. And declutter.

But my inner voice was persistently disagreeing with it. It kept arguing that I had a much better use of my time than with all this stuff. My real calling was elsewhere. Like spending more time practising stillness, doing body & breath work, singing, serious study and contemplation, writing, engaging and facilitating. Being birthed and Birthing.

Last year, I added two pursuits into my life, Silambam and Music, which didn't go beyond a few classes. My asana pranayama practice was not growing in rigour or showing much progress. My real and palpable fascination for matter was just not allowing me to add any more things into my life. I constantly beat myself up about not being 'organised enough', 'disciplined enough', 'balancing my vata dosha enough' so I could calm down and find that extra time to do all that I wanted to. “One day, I will be so perfectly organised, balanced and coordinated that I can….!” And continued to sew, craft, grow plants, work in my podis-lab, compost, make EM and pack in bottles. Stuff. Stuff everywhere!

Like Nash said running up to his wife in the rain “Marcee never gets old! She can't be real!” it began to dawn on me that this thing was not going to wane on its own. It hadn't all this while! I had to step in to take some serious action.

This past year I have increasingly satiated my appetite for my engagement with stuff. I was feeling a growing sense of fulfillment, of readiness to move on. And also a realisation that waste management is a community responsibility, not mine alone.

Now, the question was 'Where do I begin? How do I get out of this mess, quit literally?' Last year, when I saw people losing all their possessions to the floods excepting those two bags of essentials that they carried with them on the boats, a part of me was distressed, but a part of me watched yearningly to be liberated from the tyranny of all my stuff. I was was desperate about getting out of my entanglement with it!

The past few months was spent going through every single piece of stuff at home and setting it aside for giving away, returning to where it came from, or recycling / composting. And finally with a heavy heart, dumping a few sacks in the landfill. Retaining only what I absolutely valued, cherished and was going to take care of. And most of these are things handcrafted and gifted by close family and friends, naturally dyed, unique and beautiful things that I really valued, which had been submerged under an ocean of unimportant stuff! “I'm going to keep you and take good care of you!” I literally had tears of joy as I did this!

But, old samskArAs don't leave that easily. I sometimes find it hard to simply pass by neatly stacked boxes like these – my fascination for organising stuff. I stood by this pile for a while, staying intensely with my inner struggle, this strong urge to pick them up. I didn't rush past it but stayed there for a while looking intensely at them, and then I was ready to let a deep breath out saying “Bye Bye! Stuff and old samskArAs!”



It's an old belief system that everything can be resolved within. Technically, yes. But I'm someone who believes in taking the help of the collective (sangha) and also moving to an environment which can facilitate inner changes with ease. It so happens that Auroville, where I have moved in, is tremendously helpful in this. This meta-community / city has all the things I was trying to create and accommodate within my house. It has an upcycling studio, a freestore (where people give stuff they don't use and take stuff they need, all in good condition), recycling centres, and possibilities for bulk-buying organic. And I have an excellent partner in this, Isha, who just loves minimal living. “Amma, don't pick that up! We already have plenty of it and don't need any more.” she drags me away from window-shopping bags and other stuff I'm addicted to.

It's been a month living with few things, less than 10% of what I used to think we needed. And it feels like we still have more things than we need. We continue to make bags of stuff to give to the FreeStore each week.

I need to clarify something here. No, I am not very inspired by the Japanese minimalism. Not where I am in my life. That is why I have more to say on this topic. May be for another post / other posts!

My Inspirations
Zen Habits: For inspiring writing
Peace Pilgrim: For her life and her message.
Deepa Preethi Natarajan: For her delightful life where she cherishes and takes great care of the very few exquisite things - organic, natural, handmade - which she creates or buys from conscious stores.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

From mobilisation to movement building



This is an activist's dream come true. How many protests some of us have organised and participated in, hoping that at least a hundred supporters would show up! I visited Marina a few times to see it to believe it.

What just happened right before our eyes indicates a shift of historical significance. I have seen many short-lived, adrenalin-driven, single-issue-focused mobilisations. But this time around there are clear signs of progress towards movement building. Students' overwhelming support to Karthikeyan Sivasenapathy's appeal to grow their support and involvement to address the larger agrarian crisis, is a clear evidence to me in this direction. But the peaceful, self organising, self disciplined protestors now need to get on to some critical self-reflection for the signs to translate into steps.

UNDERSTANDING
Need for nuanced understanding without quickly jumping onto either side
Essays by Nityanand Jayaraman and TM Krishna are a very good starting point. Like them, I too conditionally support the protest and stand by the protestors. But like both point out, for a constructive discourse to be framed, we need people to go beyond simplistic 'pro-' or 'anti-' stand-taking. Both camps need to acknowledge and reflect on the so many nuanced and complex issues involved. Krish Ashok's essay on this is a must read for serious consideration and contemplation.

Need to start connecting the dots and understanding the big picture (to jallikkatu supporters)
I repeatedly heard this line by the campaigners “This is only one of the issues. There are a lot of other issues to fight for. We'll get to them one by one.” The fact is that every one of the issues is connected to each other. We need to start looking at them not as independent threads, but as a tapestry that is actually telling us a story. In order to build a movement, we need to start working towards building a larger life-affirming narrative, which in turn requires a lot of personal and collective groundwork to be done.

Need to learn to continuously enquire
In my years of involvement with social causes, every time I felt like I had arrived at “the final understanding of the problem” and said 'This is it! I finally know!', I was shown that there was more to it than I had seen and understood. A living and growing movement needs to stand on firm ground, but remain open to new narratives, and integrating those that make sense into its own.

DIALOGUING
Learning to dialogue is extremely critical for this endeavor. In all the people's movements and organisations I've been part of over the past two decades, dialogues were practically non-existent. But there are wonderful tools that we now have with us to help us understand “the other” and build bridges, without further antagonising and polarising. We need to learn to use them. Here are a few pointers for now.

Need to take the courage to be more vulnerable and acknowledge our own shadows
I am a strong supporter of the animal rights movement, and my own activist journey began as a member of PFA and PETA way back in the nineties. However, holding on to a narrow single-issue focus taken out of larger socio-cultural and ecological contexts, coupled with their self-righteousness became less and less appealing to me, and eventually became the very reason I moved away from these organisations.

I take pride in my Tamil roots. But what we are left with today in its name is a mix of all sorts of desirable and undesirable beliefs and practices. Practices steeped in casteism and chauvinism are as much a part of Tamil culture as are those inspired by high ideals like respect for nature. The little I have seen of Jallikattu (only on the screen), and given that we are living in times when machismo is highly celebrated by urban and rural male folk alike, I find it almost impossible to imagine them 'embracing their bulls as if they were their lovers', even if this might have been the case centuries, or even decades ago. Read Vinod's open letter to Jallikattu protestors for a larger sampler of our shadows as a culture. 

Now, the life-thwarting belief-systems of both these groups would be the shadows of the groups. Recognising and acknowledging their respective shadows (critically and compassionately at the same time) is an essential step towards creating the condition for movement building for both.

Need for 'invitational activism' (to animal rights activists)
Imposing a ban on a practice within a community we are alien to, is not only not on, but also counterproductive.

A community typically initiates a certain practice in response to a certain specific need located in time and place. This then becomes 'tradition' over a period of time. If as outsiders to these traditions we would like to question them, then we need to first try to understand the cultural context where it originated, acknowledge and integrate that into our critical narrative and then share it, appealing to the members of the community to participate in a dialogue. If there is a sound logic and a heartfelt invitation, then the sincere ones from within the community are likely to accept our invitation. It is then possible to identify allies from among the members who'd agree that there is an issue to be looked at in the first place, along with whom we could try and frame an internal discourse. When this grows in strength, then the people will naturally make amends and reinvent their 'tradition'. This needs to be carried out with a lot of integrity all the way through, without yielding in to the temptation to manipulate processes and outcomes.

Need for co-existence: PETA and Jallikattu supporters
PETA as an organisation has a wider agenda of care for animals, and I conditionally subscribe to it. (If there is clear evidence that they've completely sold their souls to corporate interests, which I am yet to see, I'm open to reconsidering this.) Tamilians need that voice to throw light on their culture's shadows, which I don't see them sufficiently owning up to. Instead of showing PETA the door, the Tamil people need to listen to their deeper concerns, learn to draw clear boundaries with them, and invite them to engage with them more respectfully. PETA needs more education on how to broaden their vision and nuance their contextual understanding of issues and upgrade their modes of engagement and intervention. PETA needs reform too.

Quite contrary to the current dominant belief that it's one or the other, I feel both actually need each other for each other's growth. And for a meaningful advancement of each other's vision.

LOCAL GOVERNANCE & DECISION-MAKING
And finally, and most importantly, why are we limited by the discourse framed by and seeking sanction from the Supreme Court, either for or against? In an immediate sense, we may be bound by these legislative processes. But ideally, decisions such as these need to be enabled at the level of the village. Ideally, every village should be empowered to hold its own Gram Sabha and pass its own verdict on Jallikattu, as for any other issue concerning the community. If we could simultaneously hold this vision and work towards it as well, then we are talking about real empowerment. This is the only way we can build a healthy society where multiple views and experiments are allowed to co-exist respectfully. This will help do two things.
a. Enable diversity which is important for resilience.
b. Have more immediate feedback mechanisms built in for immediate and local self-correction.

When communities feel safe to experiment with what they have locally decided, they are also bound to be more open to be constructively challenged and engaged with.