Immersion as a Metaphorical Tirthayatra
We go on a tirthayatra to help us turn inwards and let a higher energy flow inside us to heal us. Similarly for me, laboratory learning processes are nothing but an immersion into the depths of the human psyche from a space of shantam and compassion. Here I discuss with Raghu Ananthanarayanan the meaning of an ‘immersion’ and what happens in that process.
An immersion just like a dip into the holy Ganges or walking thousands of miles to that revered temple is a deep dive into one’s commitment to observe and heal the self from a space of quietude. How you ask? Read on as I explore the meaning of an ‘immersion’ and more.
Q: I find you using the word Immersion very interestingly in the context of behavior study. Can you tell me more about it?
A: For me an immersion is just like a tirthayatra: In any pilgrimage or yatrA, the process leading up to the destination of say dipping in the river or offering to a deity is very intense and profound. The process involves vows, satsangs, discourses and sometime even arduous journeys. When devotees/pilgrims reach their destination, it is a release of an inner churn that takes place, a surrender. This whole space of the external and the internal allows for a deeper intelligence to seep in for healing etc. So, in a laboratory learning methodology I have introduced the same process, like preparation of the body/breath and mind, getting in touch with your deeper selves and finally letting the process take you to a whole new space of intelligence through which are born, the insights and the beginning of healing
Q: Many people undertake pilgrimages to wash away sins, is an immersion a place to do that?
A: The concept of sin is a very western one. In yoga, there are a few ideas about the inner movement of prana that are very interesting.
- prayaschittam– it is an attempt to get back in touch with the innocent self to help heal the hurt psyche. Unfortunately, today it has taken a meaning of penance or punishment. Any puja or ritual is done to help you turn inwards to regenerate yourself because there is a higher Intelligence residing within you allowing the replenishment.
- papa– the word papa is derived from “paapam kroti” which means a disturbance in the flow of say a river. There are many obstacles that do not allow the river to flow freely, similarly there are many obstacles within myself that cause blocks and interfere with the natural flow of my propensities. These blocks are visible in our body, breath and mind. To release these blocks, one must travel inwards.
So, as you see we are not working with the concept of evil/good, because all the energies and the blocks reside within you and are a part of you. A yoga sAdhana helps you to look inwards through Asana, pranayama and dhArana practice.
Q: So, then is immersion an answer for the problems one faces in life?
A: People look for quick fixes to end their duhkha: But what one does not understand is that even if I tell you a solution, applying it with the same state of mind that caused the trouble, would not yield favorable results. The key is always to take a step back to look at yourself, your mind and inner patterns with curiosity and compassion. This itself does wonders! To grow a tree, one must know how a tree grows! The immersion enables a person to become aware and then watch the whole inner drama from a place of quietness or shantam. This generates insights into ones own gifts, distortions, desires and aversions. One also listens to others share their inner processes, all this enables you to move forward in life with vibrancy and clarity. The yoga sutra clearly tell you how to observe yourself from a space of shantam thereby allowing a space for an insight to emerge.
Q: Is an immersion required only for breakthroughs or can I just learn how to observe myself?
A: Yes, immersions are a way to get in touch with oneself and watch oneself from a space of quietness, to discover the reality of one self and one’s world. Catharsis often takes place in a lab situation because of our suppressed feelings, the shields we build to protect us from hurt, our own distortions about the self and so on. Often, one has not learnt to respect oneself and thus adding to the many hurts one experiences in life. When we reexamine this inner reality, there is catharsis. We emphasize the discovery of a compassionate space from which to observe the catharsis as it takes place. Only this will cause healing, and this is the essence of an immersion
Q: What is shantam in such cases?
A: shantam is an intense yet quiet place where there are numerous possibilities for oneself. Lot of people define shantam as a dull peace, but it is an intense deep space. To look at my energetic and raw self, I need to be in a space that has the ability to absorb the energy without being disturbed by it, that is shantam. The processes are created to help you appreciate your emotions and also help you reflect on them. For. E.g if you are struggling with getting in touch with shringAra rAsa, then you can keep stepping back to question “why do I feel blocked?” and observe the inner process with care and curiosity. This step by step introspection will help me get to the truth of my inner processes.
Q: How does one touch these rAsas or emotions that you talked about?
A: To go deep inside, one needs to explore certain archetypal characters like those from the Mahabharata, wherein parts of oneself are personified through different characters. These archetypal energies are brought alive and illustrated through various situations in the purANA: Considering purANa like Mahabharata and Ramayana are epics that showcase every possible human reality in an easy to comprehend form unlike the vedAs. The stories deal with issue of birth and death, love and jealousy, old age etc., which are part of our daily life. They give multiple contrasting situations as well. E.g Bheema and Duryodhana are equal in capability but Duryodhana gets caught in his envy which causes destruction; Whereas a Bheema understands reality and listens to the voice of Yudhishtra and Krishna and deploys his ability in a dharmic way. You can juxtapose your own situation on the purANa, thereby giving you a mirror of tremendous clarity.
Q: Wow! Isn’t that like a daily svadhyaya?
A: Yes, it is a self-reflective tool, and that is our aim with all immersions like Mahabharata Immersion. It is a process of introspection one can use with prANayAma and DharanA:
Q: Tell me a bit more about the way in which you help a person access their rasa?
A: Our methods encompass dance, theater and art which makes it very beautiful and graceful. Indian dance and theater are the best ways to get in touch with the navrasa in a compassionate manner. There are evocative songs, suggested breathing techniques and so on. This creates numerous possibilities for self-reflection and dialogue at every step.
Q: As a facilitator, what is it that you offer?
A: All I do is to be in constant touch with myself and my inner reality. If I start giving my interpretation, then that is not being a sakhi/ sAkshi. I only need to reflect the other person off myself through observations, thus extending my inner space to the wider group. Generally, people get caught with their own intensity and hence, cannot observe oneself in shantam. By observing them in shantam, I evoke their quietude.
Q: So an immersion has a lot to do with listening?
A: Yes of course! Which is what we seldom do, starting with listening to our bodies and breath. In our attempt to avoid pain we cause more damage to our bodies because where would the unprocessed pain go? That is why a sAdhana that includes Asana practice and breath work which slowly releases those blocks in various parts of the body is essential. For e.g. I had a student who was learning Asana from me and then one day while teaching, she broke down on the mat because all the emotional pains from her divorce flooded her consciousness. This was a great release for her, she spoke about some of her innermost feelings calmly and this practice was a source of healing for her. This is exactly what we strive to do in an immersion. You learn to look at yourself, understand the patterns of your mind, the blocks, the escapes and the attachments.
Q: But what if participants start to depend on you as a facilitator for all their answers?
A: If I collude with them and take on their responsibility, then I have kept them in a dependent state. This is against my ethics and integrity as a teacher. One must walk the thin line that separates enabling and causing dependence, of evoking heroism and challenging too early.
Q: There is an old Buddhist saying that healing happens in a community and cure is found in private. I can see a lot of healing happening in the immersion lab, is it not?
A: Yes exactly! Our behavior patterns are created in a community context and not in isolation. I not only relate to the processes of others but can share and release a lot of hurt in a community. The Indian thought says that you are not an isolated entity. You are linked to the context at a very deep level, you are in relationship with the context at every moment.
Raghu Ananthanarayanan regularly conducts Mahabharata Immersion programs based on Itihasa-Purana tradition
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