- a thing regarded as a protective or restrictive barrier:
- synonyms: obstacle barrier · barricade · fence · impediment ·
One of my very dear friends once called me a ‘Wall’. Well, being a huge fan of Dravid, it was not less than a compliment. But what she meant in this context was that although I can connect with people well, I don’t let people take a glimpse of my life stories so easily, which means there’s a wall in between separating the two entities trying to connect.
Astonishingly, walls (or fences) have come to me in various shapes, colors, and thickness and they have been an interesting source of learning for me, a subject I love to learn from. They may look dead, but to my amusement, they breathe, eat and grow, and unlike other common walls that can be brought down by hammers or machinery, these walls are multi-layered, complex, deceiving, deep rooted, many a times invisible and all of them self-built, and that is what makes them potent (sometimes lethal). Perceptions, experiences, notions, beliefs, values, judgements, image, culture, tradition, and practices are some of the architects & building material behind making of these walls. Thus, to bring it down is not a simple one-time task. It really takes courage to destroy one’s own creation. It is a fair co-incident that one of the poems I read in school that I still remember fondly speaks about walls. It is Robert Frost’s ‘Mending Walls’. “Good fences make good neighbours, walling in or walling out” he said. But what has been with me the most is another line from the same poem “There’s something that doesn’t love a wall; that wants it down”.
#1 from the series of ‘Doesn’t Love a Wall’ is a compilation of stories of the walls I have witnessed, built and shattered and sometimes still building in my life at a personal and inter-personal level. The walls thus play a big role in creation of this ‘between/separation’. Some of the instances and moments that helped me understand the walls within:
# Poetry of tears: At one of my Khoji meets at Swaraj University a few years back, a fellow Khoji Vijay raised a question – why do we fear looking into each other’s eyes? It gave birth to one of the powerful rituals/processes I have come across. We took up a challenge and did an eye-gazing exercise, facing each person present in the group, for not less than 20 seconds each, turn by turn and looking into their eyes without speaking a word. From that year on, I have hosted the same for many groups and every single time people start with giggling or awkwardness, but end up bursting into tears and hugging each other. And every time I do it, it has brought a few walls down within me and surely in others too. The first time I did it for myself, I found no reason, but I started crying. While crying, I didn’t know where the tears were coming from. This was the first time I ever cried in front of people and that too so many. It felt awkward. I never questioned why it felt awkward. I thought I didn’t believe in the popular notions of ‘मर्द को दर्द नहीं होता / Men don’t cry’ yet that was what I had seen in my world around. ‘Being strong and crying are arch rivals’ and such beliefs overpowered or rather controlled my body’s response and unfortunately does for millions of others who carry the same image.
Much to my surprise, amazement and happiness, that same evening, I found myself connecting and sharing more deeply with others and felt much lighter. I felt there were some walls (some people also call it masks) within that went down. Sooner in my life, I realized tears have no single reason to come out, and they are the most beautiful thing to happen to a being. To add to this wonderful realization, I must not forget to mention that I bonded with my soul-mate Kamalbir (soon to be wife) over tears. We were crying for different reasons when a common friend gave us an article by Osho on ‘poetry of tears’ to read together.
It was a simple realization, but it deeply reflects how the society works and manifests. An excerpt from Osho’s talk that simplifies this:
“When touched by love, what you can do? Words won’t help; only tears can convey what is happening deep down in your heart. Tears are the most valuable treasure you have. But man has been distorted in every way. Man’s nature has been pruned according to the ideas of vested interest. Nation need armies and they do not want man to be at all touched by love. Their tears have to be dried up and their love has to be blocked, otherwise they will not be able to kill and murder and massacre people – people who are just like you, and people who have not done anything wrong to you, and people whose wives, whose children, whose old parents may be waiting for them just as your parents, wife and children are waiting for you”
# Patri-archery within: One of the interesting things to happen at Swaraj Uni, when I joined was the live debates and discussions that would occur on gender and patriarchy. The only girl in the group Sakhi, from Nasik was a hardcore feminist and she would always assertively put across her views on gender insensitivity, patriarchy and its impact. Coming fresh out after my graduation, I had probably just heard these words before, I never knew anything about it. Although, I would not get into debates as I hardly knew anything on the topic and had nothing to contest against (and was afraid to fight too:-D) but I would listen to her with deep interest. And understanding the subject and introspecting it with own life made me more aware and present to the patriarchal values flowing within my family and around, the subtle ways of snatching and exhibiting power and sometimes not so subtle, but very obvious. And that is something I hated to see within my family and around. What was more shocking realization to me was the presence of same within me! I was left startled and ashamed to witness the same seeds within me that germinated during my interaction and being with the loved ones. Be it my relationship with my mother, my girl friend and the way I would see the world around, I could see the judgements, the anger, power-struggle, and the suspicion that would arise out of that little patriarchal belly of mine. It indeed was, and is still painful to witness the same. To see and witness within, what you hate outside is deeply humiliating for self, yet mere observing those signs has helped a shift within and around.
# Main aur meri body: Being able to be aware of self brought in an understanding of the rift I had created between my body and the notion of how my body should be like. I realized there was a discomfort with my body, and how it looked like. And also began to question the source of my discomfort. Is it because I have been bombarded with images of perfect faces and bodies in media all the time? Is it because how I am is not acceptable with some standards of society? Am I seeking acceptance from outside or it must come from within? It was pretty vague, there wasn’t a proper reason, yet there was a distorted image of self. And this got me running into analysing how persistent pressure from media and society to have the perfect body, face, colour, shape, size has made me lose respect for our bodies and has made us uncomfortable within it.
‘I am not comfortable with what I am, at present – a fully, proper working body, yet, I carry those images of more proper bodies’. That sounded strange. What images am I carrying? Am I just living in those images rather than living with my present self? I have been studying advertisements for last few years now and also the consumerist traps they lay down. And these images, as I studied further, always leave us with a feeling of incompletion, being not perfect, and more to achieve. I am glad I didn’t go to the extent of measuring my body parts with an inch-tape. Societies’ differentiation of mind-work and body work is another wall that creates subtle hatred for body. Work where physical intensity is required is looked down upon and paid less for and quite opposite for mind-based work. I have realized how difficult it gets to heal from such notions because it is not just individual, but the whole society which suffers this dreadful disease of notions.
# Seekers and Shakers: Khojis (learners) who come to Swaraj University are great wall-shakers. 4 years now since I have started facilitating, and every year there are khojis who shatter these walls within me – with their questions, actions and being. And I have deep gratitude and love for these lovely souls who walk into my life to make me more humble and down-to-Earth. They shake me off my beliefs, values, and notions of the world. Aparna, a girl from Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh was one of them. She loved to question and her questions were bare, very simple yet they hit hard. I remember there was a workshop on Presentation skills and she raised a question on presentations – ‘why do we need to learn presentation skills? Is it not just about sharing our true and present feelings? Why do we need to add artificial stuff to it to be more attractive? If something is true, it doesn’t need any support.’, ‘Why do you call someone lazy? May be that person needs rest at that moment. Is it because we consider someone working, on a higher scale, than someone just sitting idle? Where is this assumption coming from? And so on. Witnessing her journey helped me understand the power of questions that I felt would never come so easily from within. Another Khoji Sayani, who took a courageous step to actually sit idle for a long period of more than a year, listening to self, in spite of persistent pressure from family and society, she gave herself time to understand what is driving her to do something. She would start working on something and would always lose interest in a few days. And she felt behind this dissatisfaction, there is something and there is something behind her constant need to jump into doing something. Listening and witnessing her journey gave me courage to take responsibility of self, to understand what is driving me and why. And there have been many more khojis like them who every year come and make us more flexible and open to learn. All this while being with khojis and on my self-designed journey, I have realized that true learning will persist only if I am open to all kind of possibilities in life, even if they are something I am completely unaware of, afraid of, have judgements about, or something that the society doesn’t approve of. And when I feel I am open to all the possibilities, I feel that in my body. My body is much more flexible and less rigid.
# f%#k : I remember walking and chatting with Vijay, my fellow khoji at Swaraj University, six years back, I mentioned something about being “जंगली” (which means wild and also refers to a forest-dwelling person) and about another tribe I had heard of from a forest officer saying that these tribes are the reason for excessive logging. Vijay immediately questioned me as in why did I mention it. He asked me “Have you met these tribes? Have you ever talked to them? Why did you say जंगली? And why is it fun for you? How can you say if you have never met them?” I became defensive for a while, trying to cover up for what I said because that was purely said in fun. But his questions had brought my assumptions on the table. I had made a belief without ever cross-checking it. And surprisingly, for years that have passed, these terms we use, many a times in a derogatory manner, have drawn my attention. Words like कंजर, गंवार, भंगी, कमीना, and many more words refer to a sect, or a community and they have settled so much in our sub-conscious minds that we take it as it is we have heard from other people who use it (many a times our family members) Why any community has to bear the brunt when we never even know about them? And the same is for our body parts. Almost all the cuss words used have few things in common – either they refer to a caste/sect/community, or they refer to a body part (which is mostly female’s) I am sure there must be other ways to remember these communities or body parts than use them as cuss words. I understood that it is so essential to strip us of our assumptions. And the best way is to go beyond our set community, class, culture, religion, region, and meet and interact with every possible person.
# Right, Wrong, Truth and perspectives: I’ve always been interested in stories and stories bring in a lot of different perspectives. Some perspectives stand opposite to each other thus questioning presence of a single truth. It is interesting that 4 years back I wrote an article on Right, wrong and truth (https://thefreedomwalker.wordpress.com/2011/12/03/wrong-right-and-the-truth/) and my interest has all the more increased in this subject. For our ease and workable understanding, we are quick to classify and label things and people as essential and non-essential, right and wrong, etc, etc. And when we classify and compartmentalize them, we make it as ultimate truth to be lived and perpetuated. But there’s a hidden danger – we necessarily don’t have a common truth. And that becomes a conflict. And when there is a conflict – there’s either this side or that. There’s no common ground. Some examples that may help understand this subject – Who discovered America? The story we are taught in schools says Columbus, the explorer who discovered America. And then, there’s another perspective (in the pic) that says “In 1492, Native American discovered Columbus lost at Sea”. How can someone discover a nation when there are hundreds of tribes already living there? We have all seen the World Map. Why is it not the other way round? The Earth, as it is said, is round, so why is the map always shown the same way? A closer look would show how the map generates perception of the world towards Northern Nations (which in the current map are Upwards) that they are more developed, superior and prosperous than the Southern nations (which in the current map are Downwards) When news anchors on top of their voice glorify army, stating that the army is securing us from the hands of terrorists and other forces, it is a partial statement. They never mention, and I am sure they would never even think of the reasons why one would be a terrorist. Would they be for the fun of it? Adivasis who are fighting for their land are pushed out of their lands (land which is mother to them), displaced for the industries and mineral mines to come by the same army. It is so easy to alienate and label people as Terrorists, Maoists, fundamentalists, Naxalists, but do we have the time and capacity to listen to their story as well. Hundreds and thousands of Syrian children have died in the ongoing war. Every year hundreds of such children are sent to dangerous mines in Congo to mine coltan for us to kill imaginary angry birds on cell phone. Do we have the time to listen to their story? As a famous author Chimamanda says “that we live the danger of listening and believing into a single story” Can we just hold on, and make space for the perspectives, for the other stories to come up? – To form a common ground, to listen to each other’s story, and to end the glorification of vengeance and separation. I will cover more around this in the #3 part of the series.
Now, the interesting part is, when I mention the facts above from history, or from books I’ve read (for example the Columbus example), barring a few, I have not checked all of them for reality, some of them are way far, some I really can’t as they are way past in history. So, for any matter, if I am holding these perspectives and making them my ultimate truth or my way of life; if I am on any side of the perspective, it would always result in separation. It would divide us between us and them. Color, caste, religion, culture, region, and many more separations we have already formed and the end result is that it always separates. I wonder who I am without these perspectives. It is very easy to shift from one perspective to another, but to stand at a neutral ground seems much more difficult – a place where I don’t have to be on either sides, there are no sides at all; it is complete in itself – and maybe that’s the field Rumi talks about, far from the wrong and right, I would like to meet myself there.
# The dangerous presence of ‘Measurement’ in our lives: Another interesting facet of this whole wall game we are playing is measurement – some sort of ranking mechanism that makes something/someone better or worse than the other person. We live in a world where every one of us is trying to find something unique within – it could be a skill, talent, dealing with matters, and way of approaching life. And in finding this uniqueness, which is not restricted to simple matters, the society has gone beyond, to search for how better off we are from the rest and thus people (including myself) find uniqueness in their own culture, colour, living setting, class, financial security, etc. We are, in this era of extreme competition (or may be this era has always been there, in some way or other) trying to figure out what extraordinary thing we can be part of or how we can do something extraordinary (you would have heard people say – “I want to do something different and unique” or “I want to something for the society”) In pursuit of being someone better and unique, we separate what is around us, to see ourselves in isolation. Some examples would set it straight – People (may be you too) in your home would have said “look at those poor people, at least we are better off, we have 3 meals a day to eat”; Poor whites would say to their wailing children “look, need not worry, we are still better than the blacks”; Scientists claim “human mind is larger than any of the other mammal, thus we are superior creation” and a few days later, when they realize whales and elephants have much larger brains, they say “humans’ brain to body ratio is much better than other mammals, thus we are superior creation”
There’s a constant need to evaluate, measure and put an index for ranking people, places, money, class, animals, what is of value, and what is of not. And it hits everyone, some way or the other. Everyone, at some point of time in their lives, would feel others are much better. And when we are at a stage, when we realize that there’s no uniqueness within us, we are all the same, ordinary as others, our whole drive and motivation to life evaporates.
A closer look at my life showed me how I am constantly creating a wall, trying to be better and unique, to be different from others – in the way I look and the work I do and the life I live. And I wonder, who am I without these? How do I live in this ordinariness? If I live without a measuring scale in my life, would I be able to transcend my connection to all the souls of Universe? What if I am already in sync with everyone, but not able to see or feel it yet?
These are just few examples to put across what these walls are capable of. I am still juggling with questions like – Who am I? Am I just my beliefs, values, dreams, philosophies? What if one day they fall through the cliff? What will remain of me? What if this ‘between’ doesn’t exist at all? Who am I without the perspectives? If what I am seeing is just an image I have of the world, then what is real and what is true?
Questioning my beliefs, and already instated thoughts; questioning what I’ve been taught by the Schools, College, Society, Media, family and re-checking their integrity; questioning my not-so-questioning attitude; thinking beyond the set standards and the flow of society; challenging set standards and unnecessary customs followed by the society; looking at the other side which the forces (market, corporate, school, society, media) of the world devoid us of; these are a few things that would help those of you, who are willing to see the walls within and break them down.
Coming to an end to this #1 of wall series, I invite you to do a Tod do Wall (Break the wall) challenge. What are the walls you are breaking? What are the walls you are willing and wanting to break? It would be interesting to know how you are struggling with certain walls, in finding ways to dismantle them.
And indeed, there will always be something that doesn’t love a wall, it would want it down.
Till we meet again,
HAKUNA MATATA 🙂