Decolonizing the Collective Wisdom of our Bodies

Decolonizing the Collective Wisdom of our Bodies

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? 

Manish Srivastava

from the Sacred Well
(17.04.2019)

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

 

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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

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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

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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.