Noticing the power game of knowledge that disempowers our embodied wisdom.
Around 2600 years back, Buddha differentiated between knowledge that’s downloaded from external authority and real knowledge that emerges from felt-experience of the body (Pragya or Pratyaksh Gyan). He urged us to go for latter. And yet, we did just the opposite.
If we pay attention to the relationship between our mind and body, we will see that most of the time, our mind controls, exploits and uses our body to meet its ego needs. We get so obsessed with ideals of progress that we disempower the innate wisdom and needs of our body. All our life-style diseases, depression and anxiety are result of years of slavery that our mind subjected our bodies to.
This is the way our mind colonises the body.
And this is how powerful social actors (intellectual authority) colonise the free agency and wisdom of the collectives (social body).
Those located on the top of economic pyramid, colonise knowledge to dictate and control our experiences & identity. It’s true not just for profit-seeking corporations and media houses, but also altruistic policy makers, development agencies or academic institutions. They often come from historically powerful countries and privileged contexts, proclaim their intellectual or moral authority, intervene in less-privileged worlds, dictate their frameworks (often sourced from native wisdom), sell their knowledge products, protect their copyrights, ignore the wisdom of natives and walk back with their royalties or righteousness.
As an Indian working in western context, I have been aware of the knowledge-colonisation of west and pained to see their entitled arrogance. However, what shocked me most was how I ended up playing this game.
Five years back, SSP India, a leading social enterprise working on women empowerment, invited me to design a leadership development program for their grassroots women leaders. Some of their enterprise staff were fascinated by my experience with societal transformation leadership frameworks developed at MIT & Harvard and its application across business and development sectors. I felt excited to bring the new global transformation processes to grassroots in India. Some of my colleagues even envisioned a new case-study coming from this project to demonstrate the power of our work.
However, every time we tried to work together something was missing. I realised that the western frameworks that I was bringing were not resonating with the felt experience of grassroots women’s empowerment journey. I was touched to see them struggling to fit their narratives in the lens I was providing, while I was busy proving them lesser and preparing their development plans. Their love and faith broke my heart. It made me aware of my privileges and blindspots as a western-trained-Indian-man.
At one stage, I surrendered, admitting that, I really don’t have anything that truly honours their journey. That’s when few women offered to help me. They shared their story about how they gathered as a collective, negotiated power with village men and local government, co-created innovative prototypes and transformed their village cropping pattern. They not only reversed the water table but brought farmer suicides to zero in a draught-hit region.
This experience revealed to me, the power and embodied wisdom hidden in the grassroots. I was able to access it only when my concepts, ideas and frameworks failed. And when, I accessed the helplessness and brokenness within my own body.
As my role transformed from teacher/ facilitator to a witness/ celebrator of their native wisdom, I felt ease and aliveness in my own body.
Later, while practicing Social Presencing Theater, a contemplative embodiment practice, I started seeing deeper connections between how we disempower our bodies and how social elite or think-tanks disempower the wisdom of collectives.
It felt like a vicious circle that works both ways. When our mind is disconnected from felt-experience of our body, we have little sensitivity to what others feel. This lack of empathy, disconnects us from the social body. We feel lonely and vulnerable to the institutional narratives of hatred, greed, fear and helplessness.
On the other hand, when those in power, assume that they have better solutions than the native wisdom of communities, they end up promoting their thought leadership (ego-power) inspite of their altruistic persona. Their framework becomes their only lens and creates ego-reinforcing bubble. Making them disconnected from their own and the collective body wisdom.
However, when we start honouring the felt-experience of our body, as Buddha invited us to, we stay closer to truth. We are not seduced by ego and fear based narratives. We develop courage to call the colony over and return to the fields where we belong.
Decolonizing is a courageous act to give power back to where it belongs. At personal level it is our own body and at societal level it is collectives of natives and grassroots. It requires us to let-go our agendas, concepts, frameworks, even save-the-world narratives. It’s an invitation to feel vulnerable, helpless and look into our inner power-game. It calls for developing deeper capacities of mindfulness, acceptance & honouring.
Imagine if we could truly listen and honour the wisdom of our personal, social and earth body, what a beautiful world would that be?
from the Sacred Well
I am grateful to:
- Anil Kulkarni for graciously offering his picture from “Stuck” exercise during Future Field Studio
- Arawana Hayashi for introducing me to contemplative and movement based practices and SPT community for creating such deep reflection spaces.
- Sonali Gera for reading and advising on first draft of this blog