TIP-2011: Observations from the sidelines

TIP-2011 — IPI’s collaborative workshop on Teaching Indian Psychology —  began with much hope, enthusiasm and eagerness, as something, the need for which had been felt since quite some time. In spite of the resistance against the teaching of Indian Psychology in universities and other age-old institutions, where western classical positivist psychology had been the norm — as if it were the only psychology! — and especially since the Pondicherry conferences (in 2001, 2002 and 2004) on IP, a slow but steadily growing murmur of discontent with the existing system of psychology was being heard. But how to include IP in the teaching curriculum? What to teach under IP which would not come across as teaching philosophy? How to teach so that it would bring home the realisation that IP is actually what psychology essentially is and should be? Even those who believed that IP ought to be an integral part of psychology curriculum felt uncertain as to how to do justice to the richness of this tradition and the knowledge and insights contained in it. Since most of the psychology teachers keen on teaching Indian psychology had been trained in the western tradition, a change of orientation and approach was necessary to teach IP as an independent knowledge system.

The group of 15 participants and five resource people finally came together in the exquisitely beautiful and serene precincts of Savitri Bhawan in Auroville, Pondicherry. The participants comprised largely a group of (teaching/counselling) professionals, some with well-established careers, others just starting out. All of them had come with expectations to learn about the teaching pedagogy of IP, which they would be able to use in their respective work areas. I was a peripheral part of the group, yet very much wanting to learn and silently observing….

The first four and a half days were packed with various activities: sample classes by resource persons, discussions, sharing of experiences, exercises such as snowballing, concentration, etc., choosing individual projects by the participants and working on the same to be able to make a presentation on the last day.

This five-day workshop was an intense experience for most of the participants. The manner in which the whole atmosphere of the workshop, and the consciousness that permeated during the sessions seemed to have touched the participants alike in some subtle manner was evident in the presentations made by the participants and during the last round of expressing gratitude, which succinctly highlighted what each of them had received from the workshop. It had a sweet personal touch to it, was an expression of their inner selves and revealed how the same atmosphere, same people, had impacted each one so differently. One of the significant discussions during these days had been as to who is equipped, or who can/should teach IP? The interesting insights each one came up with were actually the manifestation of that basic ingredient needed by those interested in teaching IP: the ability to look inside, confront oneself honestly, try to know and understand oneself, and be one’s own subject and workshop (as beautifully expressed by one of the resource people). All this of course together with the willingness to help others through one’s own learnings.

To briefly touch upon some of the areas explored by the participants as part of their individual projects: where one participant shared his personal life experiences vis a vis his experiments with love relationships, another shared her ardent faith and love for her personal God. She expressed that she had never thought such people as she met here ever existed, people who would understand and respect her faith. As was obvious, this part of her life was a complete disconnect from the psychology she had studied and was teaching. Another confessed having gently tapered down her lofty ambitious ideals from dealing with her egoism to finding the calm and silence within and trying to help her clients experience the same, because it had made a difference in her life. Again someone else was brave enough to voice her fears about life and how she needed to confront and deal with them; yet another, who in the beginning of the workshop had been convinced that there was no need for two different ways of teaching IP and Western psychology, with much humility admitted that yes IP could be taught in other ways, through love, silence, faith, etc.

I realized that all these were people who had attained a particular station and stature in their lives and that what they had believed for so many years, taught, thought to be the right way of doing things, was a part of their identity and I expected that they might have consciously or unconsciously defended it as such. When they walked into that room where the workshop was to be held, for many of them this would have meant simply another academic exercise, similar to several others they might have undertaken during the course of their careers. But something which was pleasantly added here was the no-threat, no-judgment ambience, where they were not expected to prove or defend themselves. Perhaps all that was required (even in this respect they had the freedom to be as they liked) was just to be, which most of us have forgotten in the outside world, where we are our careers, our roles, our education, our achievements, etc., with a total disregard and a consequent loss of the real person we are without all of these. This workshop helped the participants, through several direct and indirect ways, get a tiny peep into what and how each one could be, unfettered by the whole baggage of external things that we carry with and on us all the time, actually as crutches to help us stand up in society, amidst people, needed only because we do not know our real self! The non-threatening, non-judgmental ambience of the workshop, the genuine respect, positive  regard and acknowledgement accorded to each individual as an individual, for his/her views, opinions, experiences, seems to have been the catalyst which facilitated the open and honest sharing by each one of their personal experiences.

The rich variety of the participants, their individual journeys, life experiences and all that they brought with them to this workshop, simply drove home a gentle but a poignant realisation that underneath the diversity, there was a oneness which was subtle and harmonious, and which perhaps is the essence of IP.

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5 Responses to TIP-2011: Observations from the sidelines

  1. Dr. Anjali says:

    Beautifully described the essence of workshop. Fortunately I was one of participant.This reading happened at a time when I had serious discussions with other Psychologists teaching in universities on need to change the mindset of western Psychology training. they were so hostile for the relevance of Indian Psychology. This discussion led me to write on certain important issues.

  2. Vikas says:

    Let me know if something similar happening in Delhi anytime. In other words, what could be my starting point to learn IP?

  3. asha dutia says:

    This is a great undertaking Matthijs! I look forward to reading the blog. Please could you divide your writing into more paragraphs-it will make for easier reading at least for me.

  4. divya says:

    beautiful…

  5. Maneesha says:

    thanks for sharing a wonderful experience and a very thoughtful subject. Really, enjoyed reading this.

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