I am troubled by the question “How is the psychological maturity of the person related to their ideology and values?” at the end of the insAniyat Laboratory Learning session.I am emerging from the intensity of having facilitated the lab for Barefoot Academy of Governance at the Ritambhara Ashram. Participants came from a variety of backgrounds: Corporate, NGO, Self Employed and Family Business. We used the Learning Theatre Methodology that I have pioneered, but placed the lab in the context of societal reality.
How did we explore psychological maturity?
Yogacharya Krishnamacharya has said that a mature person will be able to experience the navarAsa (the 9 emotional states of being) fully and come back to a state of equanimity without experiencing blocks in the expression, nor residues after the event. We worked with this inner process through a combination of theatre, drawing and self reflection. While emotions like anger and fear were more easily expressed, though they carried with it a lot of judgement. Feelings like love were blocked in every body. Humour was evoked only in an exaggerated laughter, and wonderment was faked! The links between the inner freedom to experience a variety of emotions and ones life experiences was clear. There was no relationship between the choice of profession and the difficulty to experience the inner world, and there seemed to be a consensus on the idea that the inner world is a liability! This was surprising when one heard people in Social Work and NGO speak of inner frozenness.
How did we explore ideology and values?
We used a version of Augosto Boal’s methods and asked the participants to choose a drama to enact: prahlAda charitram, Romeo and Juliet, RobinHood and Trishanku. While each of these plays are situated at different stages of ones growth, they also draw out the persons answer to the questions: Who am I? what are other people like? And how do I interpret the world?
The exploration of prahlAda charitram threw up the world of child molestation and the shadow sides of power. It was heart rending to hear the kinds of psychological and physical abuse some of the participants had undergone. But surprisingly, the group found it hard to see how deeply patriarchal structures of thought cause and influence this type of oppression of the vulnerable and soft (read feminine) in us. Participants in the Social Sector had views about personal power and structural power that reflected an acceptance of Male authority in blind unquestioning ways.
Romeo and Juliet were the next on show. The raw passion of adolescent fantasies of heroism got played out and explored. The counterpoint positions of a Romeo wishing to break constraints and that of Tybalt wishing to shine as a role model were examined. In a strange twist to the tale, the person who enacted the Priest oversaw the murder of Juliet by giving her poison and Romeo by encouraging him to plunge his sword into his heart, all the while making pious gestures. This left the group aghast, but many came up with insights about the cruelty and cynicism that a person who has repressed and suppressed all his passions and youthful spontaneity is capable of. Protected by the mask of trustworthiness, and pretending to just be a proxy of powers greater than himself, the Priest came through as a caricature of many self serving authority figures. While the lack of humanity and lack of responsibility were clearly seen and commented upon, the systemic processes that enable and encourage this phenomenon remained opaque to the group.
We went on to the Robinhood Narrative. The exploration soon became a replay of Romeo and Juliet! Though the context of the oppressed subjects was presented initially, the context was soon forgotten. The suffering subject was brought back as a helpless person who is abjectly grateful to Robinhood. Maid Marianne is also just a mindless doll. The fight between Robinhood and the Sheriff took the centre stage and soon became a contest of strength! The group dialogue that followed tended to focus on the idea of right and wrong, the underlying issues of security and survival came through and how the reasons for the confrontation soon get dwarfed in the intensity of the “battle unto death”. Why did Robinhood fight? Did he have a different idea of equity and order in his mind? Is the shift only between a foolish Sheriff who is slowly killing the goose that lays the golden eggs and a smart Robin who will be kind to the goose, engaged in an ‘enlightened self interest’ game? Is the context of the poor exploited just an excuse for Robin to test his strength? Does he have a real love for the people?
We then examined the story of Trishanku. A small king, driven by envy and wishing for a heaven he does not deserve, his cunning exploitation of the competitiveness of Vishwamitra and the equanimity of Sage Vasishta in whose abode Kaamadhenu resides. The players were drawn to the exercise of power, and the nuances of the various inner states that motivate action were not easily visible through the play. The dialogue however went into a lot of depth in understanding the pathos of a person in the middle of his life who confronts an inner emptiness. The lack of substantive meaning for the future was contrasted against the one who at the end of a successful external life discovers latent potential for a heroic journey of self discovery.
What is the inner work?
I enjoy these intense six day laboratory learning processes and like all teachers I think I learn and discover a lot more than the participants do! I was left pondering the great difficulty people have of seeing the link between their thought patterns and the more unconscious feeling structures. The explanations, justifications and judgements of ones own (and others’) behaviour came from an ideology, the inner triggers were seldom acknowledged. Most of the inner triggers were invisible to themselves. Let me illustrate: one of the participants is a dedicated “social activist” he spends a lot of his personal income (from teaching) and almost all his time enabling underprivileged children to get an education and then tries to place them in jobs. He had been through a very hurtful rejection of his love and had experienced a lot of exclusion in his school days because of his introversion (as he sees it). He has buried himself in his work that is meaningful, ideologically sound and gives him social status. However, his relationships with people is devoid of any emotianality and he yearns for friendship and love, and the absence of it is compensated for by an obsessive engagement in social service. He counsels people who come to him with personal issues to engage themselves in a greater purpose so that their own problems seem infinitesimal!While this cycle seems very productive, it is also a process of desertification of the inner world.
Enabling the participant to work towards a simultaneity of his inner and outer worlds is the core work of the lab. The direct exploration of the navarasa that we start with makes it possible for the participants to “act the withheld”. Once they have an embodied experience of the emotion, the enactment of inner turmoils becomes possible and the structures of feeling that generate ones thought and action become visible. Once the participant awakens to the inner drama, the compulsions and the yearning that one feels become more amenable to exploration. Discovering the “sakshi bhaava and sakhi bhaava” is the next challenge i.e., how do I locate myself in a compassionate and insightful observation of myself. It is in the discovery of this inner location that the healing and the recovery of ones true potential lies, as also the key to becoming the best that one can be. “I have discovered what a beautiful butterfly I can be, but to unlock this possibility I must realise my caterpillarhood” one of the participant exclaimed when she had her “Aha!” moment.
sHesh prashNa- the residual questions
So we are back to our initial question: “How is the psychological maturity of the person related to their ideology and values?”. I have a hypothesis that I would like to share with you and ask you to share your reflections. Most people are aware of and own up to their cognitive understanding of themselves, other people and of the world, but the actual meaning making and choice making process does not lie here.
Choices such as ones career, ones life partner, ones politician, ones work place and so on happen in these inner spaces that remain invisible, but the story one builds of oneself is largely from the cognitive, and here also, “the self as a victim in a heroic struggle” seems to be the theme of the story. It takes a lot of work and a willingness to enter the spaces of frozen pain and fear, as well as spaces that are safe refuges to uncover the real processes of the psyche. In this process of exploration, the true nature of ones gifts and the dream waiting to be lived get revealed.
Do the real political processes that we see playing out today reflect this “inner victim seeking a saviour” drama? Does the emotive appeal and the ability to “sell the pill” through a subtle manipulation of the unconscious that a Trump or Modi seem to have mastered mean more than logic or even self interest? Does the attractiveness of an organization lie in its ‘saviour’ like quality? How will insAniyat, true humanness emerge in our living reality?
Healing. Profound. Beautiful.
These were the key words of the group feedback after the Mahabarata Immersion. I am enchanted by the power of the Itihaasa-Purana, the depth of the introspection it evokes and enjoyed every minute of my facilitation of the process.
The Mahabharata Immersion is a dynamic meditation. The week long process can be broadly divided into two parts: The first part introduces participants to an embodied awareness of the navarasas and the inner drama played out by one's many selves; the second part invites the participants to delve deep into their own psyches through an exploration of any of the characters from the Mahabharata.
These characters are Archetypal, and an exploration of the dynamics they create between each other as the saga unfolds reveals the nature and structure of the human psyche. The traditional Therukkoothu (folk theatre) of Tamilnadu explores some of these with great power, beauty and depth. A Koothu group from Salem fostered by Harikrishnan performed the classic episode of Draupadi’s de-robing as part of the encounter that the participants experience in the programme.
My wife Sashi and I had a fascinating conversation with the renowned dancer Meenakshi Cittaranjan a few years ago. She was talking about how modern living was changing the sensibilities of the young people who were learning dance from her.
“Today's youngsters don't know what it means to delicately pluck a jasmine bud and make a garland out of it, they don't understand vetkam (shyness and coyness expressed in a sensuous way).”
I was strongly reminded of this conversation when we were putting the participants through the initial body sensitising exercises. An activity as simple as walking seems to reveal so much of our unconscious! Perhaps because we do not pay much attention to it, the way we walk reflects the body armour we develop.
Ravi Varma (our Theatre expert) started the Immersion with a bang. He got the group to practice the entry of a King through various stylised ways of walking. The participants were very energised by it. Then he introduced the entry of the Queen, evoking the feminine within.
And to the surprise of the whole group, every one, including the women in the group found it difficult to experience the flow of femininity through their bodies! It made us reflect on the ways in which we internalise and embody the “yuga dharma” (the collective unconscious ground of our times).
As the participants became more familiar with the basic alphabets of body awareness and expression of the navarasas, we moved into an intense exploration of some of the characters in the Mahabharata that the participants had identified deeply with. We explored Arjuna, Sahadeva, Draupadi Yudhistra, and Karna in that order.
The exploration of the Arjuna Archetype was done using the famous episode of Arjuna returning home from the swayamvara of Draupadi with his new bride only to be told by his mother Kunti that he ought to share whatever he has brought back with all his brothers. The deep anguish of both Arjuna and Draupadi in having their inner worlds shattered even as they take their first steps into a future they have dreamt of was enacted with great poignancy.
Arjuna is torn between the pulls of his roles as a son, a husband and as a person. He is unable to really resolve this tension, and pleads for a compromise. One cannot flower and celebrate life in the solution that emerged in the theatrical exploration, and the inner tensions did not get resolved.
The group explored the deep hurt that we inflict on each other because of the ways in which we internalise a Patriarchal Social reality. Every one becomes a victim. When the willingness to question the fundamental assumptions of the social construct, and bring in a revolutionary possibility is not entertained, one condemns oneself to live out a compromise.
Two things became apparent, firstly, that the heroic struggle in Indian Mythology is placed in the context of “Dharma Sankatas”: choice making and role playing dilemmas where one has to establish a way of being that is more wholesome and enlivening to the self and others than to existing ways of being. We reflected on how difficult this is and even though we have seen many such Arjunas question societal mores and lead quiet revolutions, we continue to hold on to our heritage and traditions in moribund ways without actively questioning them. The only way for the individual to cope with this state of affairs is “public agreement and private resentment” leading to the inevitable erosion of self and society.
Is this where we are as a nation today? Our religions are far from being dogmatic, but we choose to reinforce the tradition blindly. Where does this lack of vibrant questioning the status quo come from?
Sahadeva was taken up by the next group for their exploration. The “invisibility” Sahadeva was mired in reflected in the difficulty the group experienced in finding a meaningful story to explore. The process by which one ends up sabotaging one’s own gifts and waits for the authority figures to create the context for one’s unfolding became painfully apparent. Our Sahadeva waited for bestowal and even when the space was offered, became very hesitant to assert his insights.
We reflected on the tendency of most Indians to play the game of “come discover me”. And when the time comes to express and allow oneself to be discovered, a great fear of asserting oneself, of taking responsibility and claiming space takes over. Caught in the double bind of “Damned if I wait for bestowal, damned if I claim my space” the Sahadeva Archetype holds us in a space of suspended animation.
In the next post, we shall inquire into Draupadi, Yudhistra, and Karna.
The Mahabharata Immersion 2 was the first event that was conducted at the Ritambhara Ashram. Situated close to Kothagiri in the Nilgiris, nestled in a valley and surrounded by shola forests, the place has a natural serenity and healing energy. Sashi and I were drawn to the place and we have lovingly created a space for contemplation and inner work. We are delighted and immensely grateful that the participants spontaneously opened themselves to the energy of the Ashram and benefited from it.
For a short overview of the approach to the Mahabharata Immersion:
My work revolves around helping individuals, groups and organizations discover their Dhamma, and become “the best they can be”. This aligns with my own personal saadhana. I have restated this question for my self as follows: “how can I be in touch with the well spring of my love for the world and my love for my self simultaneously”