Longing for Dignity

Transforming  human trafficking ecosystem

Sometimes we need to walk to the edges of our civilization to see deeper truths. Human trafficking is one such edge. It is a story of how human can reduce humanity to an object for flesh-trade.

I was ignorant and apathetic to the world of human trafficking until two leading non-profit organizations, working on anti-trafficking, invited me to facilitate a dialogue. They asked me to help them solve complex systems challenges in their field that was leading to internal ideological conflicts and impacting their collective work.

We convened a group of men and women committed to fighting against this gruesome act of humanity. At the end of the first day, we sat in a circle and shared painful stories of how young girls and boys are sold, how their innocence is manipulated, and their dignity is destroyed. As they introduced me to the dark world of human trafficking, I felt deeply sad, angry and helpless. I had no courage to facilitate a dialogue on such a painful topic. At some level, it was hard for me to relate to their complex challenges.

Honouring the FieldKali trampling Shiva. Chromolithograph by R. Varma.

Coincidently, the workshop was scheduled during Navratri (April 2017)– a festival where Hindu’s worship nine avatars of Goddess or Divine Feminine over nine nights. On that particular night, it was Day 7, Kalaratri pooja. I invoked the Goddess in my meditation and confessed my limitations as a man holding a conversation that related to deep dishonouring of the feminine. I asked her to help me in my role as a facilitator. Image of Kali with Shiva lying on her feet popped up with two clear insights: 1. Listen to the body (Kali doesn’t like anything heady) and 2. Surrender (as Shiva did)!

Next morning, instead of conversations, we used an embodied contemplative theatre practice called 4D Mapping to understand the social system that leads to trafficking of girls. 4D Mapping is one of the practices of Social Presencing Theatre developed by Arawana Hayashi. In this, we work with complex systems challenges, embody key stakeholders and co-create a social sculpture of current social reality. This process makes visible the hidden dimensions of the social field and generates in-depth data about the shifts that could move the whole ecosystem towards its wellbeing. Most importantly, this process required us to surrender our agenda and listen to the wisdom of our bodies.

Participants played different roles representing victim girl, her family, her dignity, police system, shelter homes, anti-trafficking NGOs, the justice system and customers. As we embodied the roles and relationships between various actors, all the stories from last night and many generations, become alive. We were uncovering the primal patterns of systemic oppression: where suppressed-sexuality turns women into objects of sex; and upheld-morality fights back to give her justice. She suffers on both ends. Sacrificing her dignity and freedom. While we walk the clean streets with our pants zipped and collars upright.

Collective Resonance: 

When we sat back in a circle to reflect on what we just experienced, the whole room went in deep impregnating silence. There was an unspoken resonance vibrating through space, transforming words into tears. After a while, few spoke from their heart. Others nodded in deep acceptance.

A man who played the role of a ‘victim girl’ shared that while embodying her role, he could feel her trembling fear and pain in his body. He added that while every other player in the act were pulling or pushing the girl to justice, all that she longed for was acceptance and dignity from her family.

A woman who played the role of a ‘policeman’ shared that while playing the role, she felt exhausted and misjudged by others. All that policeman wanted was appreciation and dignity for his work.

Another woman who embodied ‘family’ found herself powerless and filled with shame. All through the exercise ‘family’ kept lying on edge away from ‘dignity’. She said, “I know the girl longs to come back, and everyone else judges me (family) for letting her go, but I have no dignity left within myself. I have no agency or power either.”

Everyone in the room, including me, cried as we embraced the fact— we all were somehow victims and contributors, unfairly stuck in this systemic suffering. And each one, irrespective of our gender, longed for acceptance and dignity.

Collective Resolution: 

Slowly our heart-felt reflections transformed into collective resolve.

A program leader opened her heart and said “I think we got it wrong from the beginning. We got so invested in our idea of justice that we turned insensitive to girls need. How different are we from the trafficking ecosystem that robs her of her dignity? We need to redefine our purpose from anti-trafficking to pro-dignity”.

A young man who works with communities and shelter homes said “I have been feeling this for long. Her dignity dies at the source: when her family sells her due to their vulnerable social-economic conditions. We should work at the source instead of trying to fix the problem after she has lost all hopes in the trafficking system”. Another leader declared: “Let’s redirect our attention and funds for bringing dignity to girls and working with their vulnerable families”.

In following days and weeks, insights were translated into new projects. Relationships between the partners has deepened and so is their collective advocacy for draft bill on anti-trafficking in India. However, there was another piece of the puzzle lying in the outer circle.

Customers & Citizens: Two sides of the same coin?

Throughout our reflective dialogue, I kept wondering about the mysterious role of the customers. How could men be so inhuman to turn a woman or a child into an object for the sex-trade? Don’t they get curious about her feelings, her fears, her helplessness?

In the paralysed stuckness of the customer, I could see wounded masculine energy that falls prey to their own repressed sexuality, and, gets stuck in corrupt game of sex, money and power.

Towards end, my attention shifted to yet another invisible role– bystanders or citizens. Those of us who are aware but choose to disengage from the dark quarters of sex-trafficking or prostitution. We do not want to get our linen dirty in this mess. We would instead write college essays on ‘legalization of prostitution’ or share WhatsApp jokes on ‘Bangkok holidays’. Aren’t we part of the social system that creates the ground for sex-trade? Haven’t we invented and upheld morality that shames sexual desires? Pushing it to shadow realms of prostitution and pornography. In that sense, how different are we form the customers who create demand and activate the human trafficking system?

We generated powerful felt-insights when we created the embodied map of the stakeholder, oppressors, rescuers and oppressed in the social system. I wondered, how we would place the feminine, masculine, child, shame, sexuality, dignity within our hearts? Who oppresses whom? What accentuates the customer? What disempowers the bystander? What is the divine within us really longing for?

Returning to the Woman within

After the workshop, I sat alone in the room, feeling the resonance of the dialogue we just had. Unresolved, I turned again to the Goddess, the divine feminine. She responded from within:

A woman is reduced to an object for sex
So you can strip her of all her dignity
And redeem yourself from your shame

A stone is turned into a revered Goddess
So you can project her dignified presence
And redeem yourself from your guilt

Where have you lost it, O civilized man?
Couldn’t you pause and feel the woman within?
She longs for dignity and your presence!

—————
This experience led me to a poetic exploration of the inner dimensions of masculinity; and it’s journey from woundedness (exploiting feminine) to wholeness (honouring feminine and healing the world); in my upcoming book “Trading Armour for a Flower: Rise of New Masculine
—————

– Manish Srivastava


Gratitude:

I am grateful to the leaders and team members of Kamonohashi Project and Save The Children India for this opportunity to learn and work with them. They are doing incredible work to transform the trafficking ecosystem. Pls, visit their website to learn more about their work and contribute to their projects.
Kamonohashi Project: https://www.en.kamonohashi-project.net 
Save The Children India: https://savethechildrenindia.org 

Subtle violence of new year resolutions

And an invitation to experiment another approach!

New years often begin with setting goals & revisiting visions. Sometimes it is like repainting the walls to hide cracks of an old building. New goals help in overcoming guilt of the unmet old lot. New visions create temporary high necessary to forget the unrealistic pain created in pursuit of last year’s rhetoric.

Corporate culture has taught us to set stretch targets that would lead to creative tension and push us to achieve more.

Now read the last sentence again. Do you feel the pain and subtle violence in that?

Often goal-setting and visioning starts with discontent with our current reality. Be it an increasing waist line or declining profit margin. In some cases it’s reframed as love. Like “this year I will spend more time with family”. Every “more” has an unacceptable “less” that sets us up on a war against self. An illusory new self will wake up at 4 am, run a marathon, save every nickel and so on… to liberate the not-so-good old self.

That’s the story of most new year resolutions. Most wars fade away as we exhaust our resources. Only a few survive the first month.

What if there is another way to pursue what we most long for?

What if, we could start our new year with full acceptance of our current reality. We could say to ourselves… “Well, right now I am here and that’s great!”. Even in most gruesome life conditions there is something to celebrate. There is breath and there is hope.

We could end the old year with gratitude for the many gifts that life has given us— failures with lessons, relapses with messages, successes with struggles and so on.

And we stay in the space of acceptance & gratitude for a while… without planning a different reality. We stay in the richness of now. We see it fully— the hidden beauty. We witness our struggle, pain, regrets and we embrace them as part of being human.

Radical acceptance of the now is not a passive surrender to an old pattern. It is a deep acknowledgement of the whole being. It’s courage of a warrior to see life as it turned out to be, without judgements. It’s confidence of a sailor to stand and witness the massive tide in silence before adjusting the sail and riding the next wave. It takes wisdom and humour of a sage to chuckle and accept the mess. A child could do it with ease.

How do we overcome our current patterns and strive for a better future?

We can’t stay in the current reality even if we want to. Striving is a problem though. It’s a recent human construct. Nature never strives. It only evolves towards holistic wellbeing. Human striving is driven by our ego-need and messes up with nature.

I am therefore proposing to myself and my readers an alternate way to evolve. Like nature does. And children too.

Practicing radical acceptance of current reality gives way to a new future.

By following our evolutionary impulse we learn to ride the wave to our next stage of well-being. I have learnt this from contemplative movement practice called Social Presencing Theatre. Let’s try it now.

If you stay in your chair (or whatever posture you are in while reading this blog) and drop all agendas for a while, your body will first come to rest. As you tune in your awareness to your resting body, after a while, something, some part of your body, would move. Slowly taking you to next stage of wellbeing. Be it stretching, contracting, standing, walking, dancing… it’s all beautiful and you don’t have to plan or strive for that.

Let’s take this embodied wisdom to all aspects of life. Here’s the experiment I propose:

Step 1, drop all agendas and fully accept the current reality of where you are with the particular life context— health, relationship, profession, spiritual. Feel the joys and struggles in your body. Let all judgements and ambitions drop away. Be a witness to your own drama of life. Appreciate it’s beauty and ordinariness. Stay with it as long as you would.

Step 2, pay attention to the micro movements. Somewhere in your body or consciousness or life context, you may feel an impulse. Something that would tell you to move, take a baby step, toward the emerging future. It could be an urge to wear dusty running shoes, make an unplanned call, cook a healthier meal, take a walk in an unknown street, confess it all in an open journal or whatever. Follow it. Just do it fully and without any expectations. Feel your body as you do so.

Step 3, go back to Step 1. Before mind seduces you into planning next thing, take a short break. Be still again. Be the witness to this new reality of yours. Having followed your first natural impulse, how does it feel now? Accept this moment fully. Appreciate it’s beauty. And wait… till you get the next impulse.

Sometimes you nudge a little to let it happen. Like a trekker taking baby steps, aware but detached to the mighty cliff. Or a painter making brush strokes in oblivious anticipation of what may come.

This approach may sound counterintuitive to some. Instead of big goals and painful schedules, what-if, we follow the next natural impulse. And then the next and next… with stillness, acceptance and appreciation of wherever we are in-between.

Let your body, your relationships, your work, find its own rhythm. With no promises to keep except a deep commitment to love self and naturally evolve every moment!

Wish you a beautiful new year!

Manish Srivastava

……..

PS: Re-starting this blog this year, to reflect on what’s evolving within me and my social context, is my evolutionary impulse. Let’s see where it goes. Please keep tuned in by entering your email address in the follow tab on http://www.sacredwell.in

You can also like my Facebook page for regular updates https://m.facebook.com/sacredwell.in/?ref=bookmarks

……..

Gratitude:

I am grateful to Sonali Gera for being first reader and editor to this post. Also to http://www.futurefieldatudio.com for inspiring the artwork.

Why is it hard to forgive? (Part 2)

WIP (Manish)Four self-protective mechanisms that never let us heal !

My last blog on the above topic resonated with many readers. Some of you shared deep insights on “forgiveness” from your life experiences. From your comments, I have summarised four main themes about what keeps us stuck in our emotional wounds.

 

Illusion of forgetting
Forgetting is not forgiving. It’s only a quick fix that keeps us way from real healing 

Imagine a thorn pierced your bare foot. It’s so painful that you didn’t want to touch it. You stopped walking that path and swore to never see that thorny bush again. That’s forgetting. However, a part of the thorn still lives in you and every time you walk, it hurts.

Forgiving, on the otherhand, is coming to terms with the reality. Developing courage to look at the wound directly.  Pulling out the part of the thorn that does not belong to you. Healing what’s yours. Keeping the lesson. And, developing courage to walk the path again if you chose to.

When in pain our first reaction is to protect ourselves and so we tend to cut-off the relationship or situation that we associate pain with. Forgetting is like taking a painkiller to survive the night. Suppressing pain makes sense when it’s unbearable. However, our attempts to cut off or forget makes pain unpredictable and chronic. The real root cause never gets addressed. And the pain surfaces again and again in other life situations and relationships.

Novelist Paulo Coelho captures this difference while saying “Forgive but do not forget, or you will be hurt again. Forgiving changes the perspectives. Forgetting loses the lesson.”

Prison of stories
We are hurt not cause of what happened but the stories that we tell ourselves about the same.

Lets look at our most unforgivable wounds. What hurts us now is not the incident itself. It’s the memory of what happened. When we feel violated or wronged, we weave a story. We tell this story of our own pain, shame, blame & victimhood to ourselves again and again. Its like rubbling salt to keep the wound fresh. Why do we do that? 

Transactional Analysis defines such behaviour as “rackets” we get stuck in. If we examine deeply, we are stuck cause there is an illusionary pay-off and a hidden cost to our persistent stories of pain. We often repeat these stories cause we believe that it may help us feel justified or righteous about our victimhood. Or it may protect us from future insults. Whatever our payoff is, it’s illusionary. It would never heal us. The cost of living in pain is way too high as compared to justification about that pain 

What happened is as unpredictable as what would happen. Each actor in our play had his or her own story. Any attempt to figure out who is right or wrong is a zero-sum game. Forgiveness is letting go the story we tell ourself about our suffering.

After 27 years of unjust imprisonment, Nelson Mandela exemplified the act of forgiveness in his quote— “As I walked out the door towards the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

Myth of resolution 
We can wait for life-time to seek resolution for our hurts or find another way to unleash their creative purpose  

As we heal our wounds thru forgiveness, deeper ones may surface. Some go back to childhood. Some pre-verbal. Some come from the collective suffering, from many lifetimes of disrespect and violence. When such a deep void opens what do we do? How do we forgive when the perpetrators are long gone or incapable of any confrontation or reconciliation? And what do we do with those arrows that have become part of your tissue? 

My friend Rie Gilsdorf made a great suggestion on Facebook post referring to the book, My Grandmother’s Hands, by Resmaa Menakim. She said “when the arrow is so deeply embedded and enmeshed in scar tissue, there’s no way to pull it out any more. But perhaps we can digest it, dissolve or catabolize it with an accompanying release of stored energy”

I feel she pointed out to what I now call “radical acceptance”. Radical acceptance is as simple as innocence of a child and as sophisticated as spiritual mastery. It may take us lifetime to embody it or it may happen in an instant without any training whatsoever. Forgiveness, true forgiveness, could be that simple and easy. It is the act of  gathering all our courage and saying “Whatever happened, happened. I know I can’t change the past. However I choose to influence the future. I fully embrace the current reality, with its incompletions, pain and hope. My past alongwith it’s joys and sufferings is my gift. It’s a part of who I am. I embrace it with gratitude and I step forward with confidence.” 

Sometimes resolution is not an apt solution. We seek deeper resolution and integration within. Psychologist Carl Jung reflected on the importance of integrating for our own development. “Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries”. 

Hidden purpose of wounds
Wound are an invitation to step into higher spiritual realm and unlock our creative energy  

Imagine that the jewel you were looking for all your life was delivered as a dagger pierced in your heart. What would you do now? Walk with pain and curse the messenger or thank them for the dagger and heal your wound?

In Sita Ramayana, Devdutt Patnayak writes about a lesser told story from the famous epic Ramayana. Royal maid servant, Manthara had influenced Queen Kaikeyi’s to ask King Dashrath (Ram’s father) to send Ram on exile. Everyone hated Manthara for corrupting Kaikeyi and bringing grave misfortune to Ram. When Ram discovered that what did he do? He met Manthara and forgave her. Ram could see the divine purpose for which he was born. He could see that Mathara had only done a divine error to enable his path. He accepted that and moved on.

Now that’s mythology not our daily life. However, we do have little Ram and little Manthara living within us. We do have deep power to forgive and wisdom to see the divine path we are born for.  It’s important to understand that emotional pain is a doorway to our spiritual growth. The unforgivable “other” has showed up in our life in a particular way to help us deal with some aspects of our own mess. In a mystical way they hold a piece of the puzzle that we long for our own liberation.

Forgiving requires courage– to look within our wound, to reframe our pain as our teacher, to rise beyond transactional field of right or wrong and embrace that grand play that we are all part of. 800 years back Rumi noticed that field— “Out beyond our ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field.. I will meet you there”

….

I am grateful to my readers and their contributions. It’s helping me (and hopefully all of us) in deepening our practice of forgiveness. 

Wishing you a wonderful new year 2019

Cheers 

Manish Srivastava 
(Artwork by Manish Srivastava)
http://www.sacredwell.in

A Gentle Warrior

“Gentleness and understanding create in others an unconscious willingness to be led.”

“The I Ching teaches a simple but effective method of influencing difficult people and arduous situations. It advises us first to lay aside our prejudices – our feelings of being wounded, angry, or in the right – and second to seek to understand the positions of others and the lesson that the Sage is teaching us with the situation. ” (I Ching translations by Brian Browne Walker)

I Ching is the Chinese Book of Changes that has been consulted for sage’s advice at life’s turning points. It has been an oracle to rulers & warriors for many centuries. Yesterday, while dealing with an arduous situation, I consulted I Ching and it gave me some wonderful advice that I would like to share here with my reflections.

To better understand this insight, you may take a moment to recall a difficult situation or encounter with a difficult person that you have recently experienced. I Ching presents a counterintuitive approach to leading in difficult situations. It highlights 3 warrior-like qualities: “acceptance, gentleness, and a desire to understand the lesson underneath”.

Acceptance:

We often misunderstand acceptance with passive behaviour. Instead, acceptance is an aware choice.

We are tempted to escape to future or resort to past– demanding what we expect or fighting for what we lost. Accepting the moment helps us in being present in the here & now. We accept each experience with the awareness that it is “necessary for us to learn something about ourselves and about the higher laws of life” (I Ching). Such acceptance shifts us from being a victim of the situation to engaging with it as a curious learner.

In your difficult moments, how could you practice ‘accepting the moment’ and truly welcome all that it has to offer?

Gentleness:

When faced with difficult situation and people, gentleness seems to be counter-intuitive. It appears like a softer, weaker quality that is not appropriate or possible in difficult moments. We wonder– how can warrior be gentle in midst of a war? We need to deepen our understanding about gentleness.

Best way, I have understood gentleness is through an image: a strong warrior, gently holding a sparrow in his palms. Thus, gentle to me, is full awareness of your power and therefore being gracious and mindful of how you use it. Gentleness is deep centeredness in who you are. It has an element of care, love and respect. Gentleness melts the barriers, generates trust, deepens awareness and inspires a willingness to be led.

In the difficult situation that you are confronted with, could you gently hold the other person, their point of view and their deeper needs?

Desire to understand the lesson beneath:

When we are confronted with difficult people, we feel stuck. We slide into victimhood and externalize the blame. Its natural. It helps us, temporarily. All we want is to unstuck ourselves but we end up being, further entangled.

I Ching advises that all difficult situations and people, come to our life to teach us deeper lessons about ourselves and the higher laws. They become enablers in our journey to wholeness. Like Kekai helped Ram in his journey from being an obedient prince to becoming a warrior king and realizing his divine inspiration.

When we engage with tough conversations with this belief, we connect with our deeper longing and inspire others to do so. Each moment and each person becomes our aide and cotraveller and we feel liberated from the helplessness we were stuck into.

What are you longing to learn in this moment? What lessons for personal growth is this situation bringing to you?

I Ching further alarms that what you are inside will be experienced by other people. If you are accepting, gentle and understanding within, they will experience that, even if you are quiet. If you are not experiencing it within but just putting up a facade of being gentle or accepting, they will experience your facade leading to further stuckness and powerlessness.

This new way of leading is an inside-out job!

Sacred Well