To Begin Healing Another, I Heal Myself: Gayatri Jayaraman
Early last year, just prior to the assembly elections, when the papers were chockfull of mind numbing political analyses and reportage I couldn’t wrap my head around, I began to notice a sense of increasing disconnection. It was something I had felt ever since a close friend died by suicide a year prior, causing me to delete my verified Twitter account of over 22k followers. Here I was in what was pretty much my dream job, a salary I felt was fair, colleagues I admired, freedom to voice myself, book projects at hand, visibility and stability. I had lived through so much worse. Yet, I had never felt so lost, like I was going through the motions. I shut it all down and took up Vipassana, a life changing ten-day pivot that you’ll read about in my forthcoming book by Hachette India (no spoilers here).
When I emerged I felt a clarity I had never known before. I was radiating okayness. And I wanted this okayness to touch others. I knew if I had to share this inner balance in a way that was structured and adaptable, I needed to study psychology as well. I was convinced that both needed to go hand in hand. Many who take to deep meditation are not equipped to process what comes up, and meditative practice adds anchor to counselling. I wrote to the Indian Psychology Institute at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, one of the only institutes in India where psychology is studied alongside Indian philosophy, and connected with Matthijs Cornelissen, teacher of Integral Psychology. With his direction, I wrote to several institutes and began my study of psychology with the generosity of Sujatha Abraham at St Xavier’s Institute of Counselling Psychology, Mumbai, who took a chance on a lost journalist wandering in need of self discovery.
The process from Vipassana to counsellor has been excoriating at times, but vital. When I began I would burst into tears every time I mentioned my friend. Today, I am able to counsel or refer others. I am held together. I feel shorn of artifice, positions I took for reasons that I never questioned, and accountable for myself in the context of others. It is a journey I am still on and will be on for a long time to come, getting my Diploma in a month, a second Master’s degree in two years (my last one was in English Literature), and hopefully a doctorate in five. (With apologies to those who object to PhDs in their 30s, I will be nearly fifty by the time I complete mine). I am also due to acquire my teacher certification in yoga by the end of the year and continue with my Vipassana practice through long and short courses. These will allow me to function on the cognitive level of western study, the spiritual level of non denominational meditative practices, and the physical level of body consciousness.
Today, I am able to counsel or refer others. I am held together. I feel shorn of artifice, positions I took for reasons that I never questioned, and accountable for myself in the context of others.
Friends ask if all this isn’t too drastic a change. To me it isn’t. In my writing for journalism, I have always examined the human condition. I am just equipping myself to do so less superficially. Like a writer, the counsellor’s only tool is words. I have caused upset with words before, and I am learning to use words to heal and soothe and redirect. It has been an unlearning and relearning at a microscopic level. Today, I see telling the story as not the purpose but an outcome of a person’s indescribable inner journey. My go to logo is the Zen Enzo circle, incomplete, imperfect, constantly in the making, constantly striving towards completion. Poornamadah, poornamidam, that is full, this is full. Somewhere all the streams of study I have ever been engaged in come together. The new world that inducts me is a healing world, a compassionate world, a serving world, functioning quietly behind the scenes of people’s pain every day.
Like a writer, the counsellor’s only tool is words. I have caused upset with words before, and I am learning to use words to heal and soothe and redirect.
I heard an anthem put out for people who are speaking out. I wanted to offer that we all speak out in different ways. When I was in the world of media, social media, political and social commentary, I remained effectively disconnected from it. Now that I am an observer, cleaning the lens with which I see, I witness more consciously. When I consider how my light is spent…, as John Milton put it,… they also serve who only stand and wait.
I witness the hurt of those who are seeking definition of their own identity and hoping others, dispensable by their absence or presence, will consolidate that. I observe the rush to label others by what we think they mean even as we pass unheard ourselves. I see us waiting for others to fix the ways in which they act and think, frustrated by our inability to direct that quicker. Here we are, seeking the solution to our lives in others’ hands. Every hope and expectation and fear building another Other, and multiplying instead of reducing our separation from ourselves. I recognise that the past doesn’t determine the future unless it dictates our now. And our now is consumed by this cloud in which we are each grappling with this immensity of separation. Socially, politically, economically, culturally, we are beginning to follow the splinter to the split as we separate ourselves from family, partners, friends, social groups, and ultimately ourselves.
I recognise that the past doesn’t determine the future unless it dictates our now. And our now is consumed by this cloud in which we are each grappling with this immensity of separation.
This is what The Monk Huddle hopes to address. It is the building of a therapeutic community for self reflection and connection derived from the principle of the Sangha. We are each alone in our journeys, but we draw our strength from the quiet coherence of the collective. We are none of us enlightened without each other because our roles are to reflect back the energy of the other. This is the principle all great marriages, families and businesses work on. An unswerving faith in the potential of those we work with. Jesuit priest John Joseph Powell said, reflecting the Rogerian methodology of reflection of feeling, “it is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being”. We see this everyday in practice as we sit across from those trying to piece together their fragmented selves. We see it most of all in children, as young as 6 or 7, dealing with brutal or neglectful parents, coping with disability, even terminal illnesses like cancer. In rapists and paedophiles, in people who hit their wives or harm themselves. At their worst, at their most vulnerable, at their most lost, a human being is capable of finding himself and realigning. We must work with the presumption of this, whether you’re working with meditation, counselling or physical alignment. When you reflect with unconditional regard for the person in front of you, regardless of what he may have done, his self image and potential for change is clarified for him through you. As a society we have become stuck in reflecting back our brokenness, and we are serving as infinity mirrors, multiplying the fragmentation until we have each identified with it.
When you reflect with unconditional regard for the person in front of you, regardless of what he may have done, his self image and potential for change is clarified for him through you.
Gandhi said many things, but the most powerful thing he said is also the simplest: “Be the change you want to see in the world”. All of philosophy tells us this in the simplest of words. All of psychology tells us this too. We control nothing and no one but ourselves. The only way to deal with this crushing separation of man from man we see manifesting around us like a viral pandemic imported from China, is to find the unconditional companionship of ourselves. And we can only find that together.
To begin healing another, I heal myself.
The Monk Huddle is one-hour therapeutic meet up held weekly at different venues in Mumbai.
Gayatri is the author of the forthcoming Diary of a Vipassana Novice (Hachette India, 2020), of Who Me, Poor? (Bloomsbury India, 2017). She is founder of Shamah | शम: an integrative mind+body+spirit counselling practice.
Picture credit: Jared Rice Unsplash