Being a facilitator at Sankalan has been quite a journey of self-discovery over the years. When we began the earth meditation, it was something very new to most of our participants. We were not saying sit with your eyes closed, chant this or that as you meditate. We were beckoning them to go into contemplation of Gaia in a space of their choosing, outdoors, and then move into meditation as it were. They were to think of themselves as a child of the Universe, as an Earthling, of being embedded in Nature and so on and meditate upon Gaia... upon the earth within and without.
Photo Courtesy: Preeti Sharma
Though this has been something we have done consistently, first thing in the morning at Sankalan over the last few years, and it is only for 45 minutes, it has been a significant part of the means to self-discovery for myself. While the rest of the day is packed with sessions and the faculty meetings thereafter, this seemed and continues to seem to be the one time everybody gets together briefly, and with no words shared. The sharing of the outdoors seemed to contribute to the heightened awareness of one's solitude in togetherness, of non competitive collaboration, of general goodwill that prevailed between strangers and friends alike. I have never been more aware of the sharing of the air we breathe and the humane aspects we all possess and have in common. In my world of drama and film we are in enclosed spaces and the awareness of such sharing becomes easily possible. That it happens outdoors at Sankalan, without being confined to a small space is remarkable. It is in this space and time that I have over the years been able to connect with Nature's principles. It is not enough to know something as a concept or a theory in a structured manner for when that is so, it remains in the head and the heart is deprived of its experience. It is indeed a luxury to get this time to oneself in silence when time itself seems to stand still for just a wee bit before one is brought back to reality, time boundaries and the need to get to breakfast on time. It is in these short spans of time that I have felt a oneness with the Earth Mother.
No matter how old we get, no matter how much we grow up, no matter how much we detach from loved ones, the memory of one's mother's lap remains unparalleled in experience through the rest of life. When I have sat under a tree, even on a rock in its shade I have come close to feeling held by the one who has always been there for me, my mother and mothers innumerable before her. It is this connect that has brought alive a connect with those around me, unrelated by blood but by the simple commonality of being 'of' her...a part of her... her child along with the others who travel with me on journeys chosen and assigned.
While the connects made with oneself and others in sessions are deep, there are connects made here in this time and space within that offered me a certain strength and courage to face myself for the rest of the day. It is not something that was dwelled upon, contemplated with a degree of specificity that we are so used to doing in our structured lives. Instead, as I experienced it unfold for myself, the courage I lacked for decades of facing the real me seemed to become possible. I do believe it happened slowly... very very slowly... so much so that I did not even realise what resilience and trust, faith was brewing up within me as I allowed myself to feel into the disowned Gaia within. It was a faith that came from watching a sapling grow out of a crack in a rock, of watching sunrise after sunrise, of seeing a seedling sprouting but not taking root, of learning from birth and death and the processes of life in between, of bearing witness to metamorphosis of one's own personhood, of taking responsibility for one's immature irresponsibilities... It is this faith that has helped me dare forge a new path where I could making way for change and accepting that there are some things that cannot be changed but accepted. Easier said than done. But when Nature is the guide and the firm yet gentle teacher and her processes the inspiration, much becomes possible.
I have seen this happen for many as it has for me at Sankalan. In her accommodation of every earthling, is a learning for each of us... that it is time for us to accommodate her needs... That in her healing lies our rejuvenation. And we shall hum a new tune in harmony with her rhythm as moonlit shadows dance to a tune composed spontaneously with neither word nor pre meditated note.
Getting in Touch with the Sacred in Nature
The beauty of the trees
The softness of the air
The fragrance of the grass
Speaks to me.
The summit of the mountain
The thunder of the sky
The rhythm of the sea
Speaks to me
And my heart soars.
(Earth Prayers from around the world- Elizabeth Roberts & Elias Anidon)
Nature has always had a divine, mysterious and sacred presence in the history of mankind. A source of inspiration for poets and a place for spiritual awakening for many a seer and mystic. In the modern world of urbanization and consumerism, we seem to have lost touch with the natural world - Nature has become a place to visit for adventure trails and recreational purposes.
From appreciating nature for its beauty, to experiencing oneself intrinsically connected and embedded in nature has been a meaningful journey for me. What better way than be in nature to explore and know the sacred through our own life experiences?
In Sankalan Programmes, the nature meditation and solo walks are an opportunity to cultivate a deep connect and relationship with nature and self. We live in times when the disconnect from Nature is so great that for a few participants in the programmes – adults and children alike, being alone in nature brings in feelings of apprehension, boredom and even futility. But most feel a sense of renewal, wonderment or serenity and calmness. Nature can never be dull if we are open and present. It can provide triggers for much more deeper explorations.
The grandeur and diversity in nature can be a humbling experience and is also a realization of our role in the larger schema. Issues of man-made systems can be seen with new perspectives. These experiences are important for us to wake up from our totally anthropocentric engagements. It opens possibilities to ‘live out’ the learnings we have experienced. After nature meditation, one of the participants had shared the following quote by Rastrakavi Kuvemapu‘Srastiya vyuhadalli Marada tudiya hooveshtu mukyawo gobbarawoo ashte mukya (The flower on the branch end is important, equally important is the manure) which sums it up beautifully.
The deepest part of our separateness from creation lies in our forgetfulness of its sacred nature, which is also our sacred nature.
-Llewellyn Vaughan Lee
An experience in nature need not be grand or magnanimous to touch us. The beauty of the ordinary can be a powerful experience. We often find children unfolding their own wisdom as they find analogies in Nature to their own thoughts, feelings and behavior. Discovering our own insights is much more powerful for us compared to being told even some great truths that we are not ready to receive. When we make a habit of being meditative, reflective and finding our convictions, we get to be much more anchored and centred.
Research indicates that nature is the most common setting in which peak experiences occur. The solo walks in the forest, the sighting of a peacock walking past, a bird peacefully perched on a rock very near you not feeling scared or unaware of your presence, the feel of the soft grass and the wet soil on your naked feet gazing at the night sky in silence while sitting together with others and many such experiences leads us to a sense of oneness with the nature and the community. And many a times the experience is difficult to describe in words!
On Being Oneself as a Sankalan Facilitator
She was twenty-two and I was in my early forties. While I was listening to her, my own struggle to be understood and accepted by my mother for the choices I have made in my life flashed in front of me. I knew too well how she was feeling. Did I not see my reflection in her? So it stumped me when she called upon me to take on the role of her mother to have a dialogue during our group session. It was my first time as a resource person for the IOE programme and frankly, I was counting on my co-facilitators to handle the “tough” situations. Now, there was no looking back or around! Anchoring within, I took a step towards her. We faced each other holding hands - engaging with each other - fully, intently, listening deeply & responding earnestly. As our dialogue ended, she felt settled and relaxed, having seen her mother in a different perspective, understanding her way of caring, her compulsions, her limitations. She seemed ready to give a new meaning to her relationship with her mother. It was something that would allow her to bear the pain and stop the suffering in order to take care of her own well-being. As for me, something within had changed too.
Then there was this other time. He was an enthusiastic youth wanting to be a social entrepreneur. He was candid in sharing his narrative with the group. But it felt like there were some missing pieces in the picture which was painted so well. What was he not saying in saying so much? It seemed to me that it was not about hiding but about not being aware of what was prompting him to make such choices. I asked him a question which at that moment did look like bursting a balloon that he was busy blowing. Perhaps he sensed that it was something he needed to ponder over. He was quiet for the next one and a half days. Then, he chose to speak to the group. He said that the question made him restless and tore the usual cheerful mask that he wore. It made him look deep within. Being in that state for those days allowed him to get an insight. That insight made him calm and he felt that he was a wiser person who had understood himself better and now had more options to work with. His statement filled me with joy and I felt very happy for him. Don’t we all want to tap into those capabilities within us which enable us to take charge of situations? Of course, until he made his statement in the group, I was concerned about how he was going to handle it. That is part of being a facilitator - sometimes one needs to ask tough questions and call a spade a spade. What is important is the place it comes from - genuinely caring for the other.
So, what does it take to facilitate group processes as experienced in IOE? What did the experiences I shared ask of me? Certain skills, some knowledge-base, following some do’s and don’ts, going through the internship programme? Sure! Along with that, it involves continuously learning to be an authentic person wanting to work on one’s biases by trying to understand one’s thoughts, feelings, actions and beliefs, a person who is willing to question deeply – as a life-long process. Being oneself, being true to oneself. This has been the most significant part for me.
If I am looking at building communities and alternative spaces, will I not begin by knowing myself better? Knowing myself better means understanding the other better. This enables me to empathise better. As I see it, empathy is the foundation for connections that we see in communities. So my friend, your first step in alternative space begins with looking within.