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?
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”