November 2019 Meeting

We met for a few hours yesterday. It was just three of us, which happens often but it was good to catch up. There was tea, there were masala peanuts, coconut barfis, a singular shared orange, Noah and catch up time. There was conversation around the mechanics of creating and holding “safe space”: What does this mean in the messy sphere of real and complex daily interactions? Does this kind of space have to come at the expense of people not being able to voice their opinions and disagreements or fully ‘be themselves’? What happens when one addresses their mental health and wellbeing in way that might seem utterly absurd to another? When do we speak up and when do we shut up? When do we change ourselves and when do we take a stand? There were accusations flung and disappointments revealed. It was uncomfortable. It made for lively, sometimes heated, discussion and debate. To me, being able to have the diffcult conversations is so important. But I have a lot to learn in terms of how. It’s all in the how.

I also wanted to try a picture sharing exercise because I think the pictures on our phones are a pretty good snapshot of what’s going on with us at a particular time. Each one’s photos might seem ‘obvious’ to them, but, I think, reveal a lot of ourselves to others, and quite casually (thank you fellow participants for humouring me – though some of it is not publically shareable). The task was – pick 3-5 recent images from your phone and write a few lines about it.

Here are some from Tamma:

A constant learning and growing. For me. For them. Learning to listen to what they say amidst all this noise. Noise. In the city. In my head.
From Rishi Valley, where I went to reset. Mid sem break spent in an attempt to reclaim silence and slowness. Walked, slept, spent hours catching up with friends. Birds, bees and mosquitoes.
Plants inside. Giving me company as I read.
What does it mean to talk about biodiversity in a city with uninhibited greed? What does it mean to visit, however brief, places that are far out of our comfort zones? An experience that was too different from my everyday, in every way

An important part of my job is to teach undergraduates biology. What does it mean to teach, to learn? What does it mean to assess their learning? Teaching this semester is making me question our ways of teaching and learning. Timelines, deadlines and timetables as the world slowly perishes.

Here are mine:

Saturday is swim day. Not in the lake, but in the pool next to it. I always take a photo of this tree and the lake after a swim. Swimming is the best way for me to cut through the mind clutter and literally go with the flow. Shame it only lasts 45 mins. Going to sign up for classes next month to get more efficiency into my movement and stokes. I do some pretty appalling lap times right now.
Looking up, while sitting at the back of my ammama’s house. A home feeling place. Also the secret crying place. Not so secret anymore!
In the process of getting these 2 old typewriters fixed so that I can maybe create stuff on them. They’ve been lying around for decades now. This is at the Typewriter Service Company near KR market.

Tamma also had the idea of creating a community garden and we potentially found a space to do that in. (yay!)

Another thing we’d like to do now is get some basic rules and guidelines down for how we operate as a group, stemming from the earlier mentioned discussion.

Why I’m still here

Quite often, more than one of us has questioned what we’re doing as this group; whether and how we should be focussing on making more tangible things happen in the world around mental well being. It brings to mind this TED talk by Vikram Patel that was shared by Prashanth some time ago, that talks about using community and peers in managing mental health.

For me, its been a support on my individual journey. Being in this group has sparked and depeened conversations with people in my life that I would not have had otherwise. It’s made me more aware how of utterly crazy I am, just under the surface. (I wonder if we all are. I wonder if thats an over simplicfication.) It’s opened me up to journeys and perspectives I would not have come across otherwise through meeting some fascinating, strong, vulnerable people and really get to know them, its helped me trust again. It’s helped me write again, and speak up for myself, and hold my own space better. It’s been a place I could put my energy into when I was re-figuring everything else in my life. And, most of all, helped me realize that I crave safety and safe space only because, really, I want to play uninhibitedly again (and not because I want more walls around me that turn into another self created prison).

Being a part of this group has also coincided with more attempts at regular physical exercise, the hard task of quitting most addictions (damnit, cigarettes), hours in behavioural therapy, support from family who put a roof over my head when I needed it and friends who have been caring, kind and firm, books, art, so much art, finding words, losing them, making music, getting to know dogs, spending more time outdoors and learning to have healthy relationships.

I think I have also learned what doesnt work in this group setting – that putting pressure on individuals to make something tangible, or even participate, often sets too much expectation and more pressure. That there is no other way but to take care of oursleves first before we can take care of anyone else. That ‘takeaways’ are personal. That intangibility is okay in a world that is focussed on showing results and tangible outcomes. That relationships take time, and community even longer.

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