Self talk, and embracing the enlarged Self

The purpose about communication about one’s own self can only be towards enlarging the scope of possibilities of human endeavour, hope and courage. So though I usually do not like to speak about myself, unless the reason be very compelling, I did accept an invitation to talk about myself for once, in a detailed manner in the Department of Psychology, at the Delhi University, on 4th Sep, 2015, at the behest of a professor, who has been a collaborator on many issues of mutual interest in the past as well.

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Dr. Suneet Varma, is to the extreme left in the picture here

Dr. Suneet Varma carries out the tough act of introducing the new paradigm of Indian Psychology to his graduate students and as part of that exposes many a scholar, practitioner and academic to students to drive home the point of the various threads that contribute towards the ethos of India’s myriad cultural, artistic, spiritual, aesthetic and philosophical traditions. In that context, he has exposed his students to many aspects of Indian music as well, particularly those strands that interest him deeply. My interest with him coincides on the page of Kabir. My article about Kumar Gandharva is also something that he has shared with his students in the past.

When I shared with Suneet, about my article – Making Song, Making Sanity, being purely in the context of Kabir, he was interested in having me come and talk to his students. I took up the option, even though it meant talking about myself, which I find extremely difficult, because of my shy nature. No, do not get me wrong– I am not shy the way one would think the ‘shy’ word- I am shy to talk about myself (a great irony in the times we live in). That is it! The paradox is that my own life has many a hint for many to think about in the context of illness and recovery, or in fact human capability. On the other extreme, in research I have frequently written about myself, which is a very difficult thing to do. But I cannot explain the complex thought behind that is this blog post- it would take a full research article, about my motives.IMG_2435

Illness of the spirit is not an ordinary somatic illness, because everyone’s spirit can be troubled, just like Arjun was in the midst of the Mahabharata. The troubled Arjun can remain troubled until a discerning Self in the form of Krishna does not appear. Krishna is actually the ‘Viveka’ in the human, that awakens by complex ways. I cannot go into details here. The journey of what is classified as mental illness is something that I see as the search for an authentic self- the self that cannot connect with the falsities and facades of modern living. Various people reject the world around for various ways in the which they do not sync with the possibilities inherent in the experience of daily living. To come to the point of a ‘breakdown’ is a real amplification of those incongruous situations and the rupture of the psychic fabric.

Of course it is another thing to experience, what students in Psychology would understand as PEAK EXPERIENCES, and another thing to be able to harness the waking power of the sleeping serpent- that is where madness emanates. Naturally life is too short to explain all that I have understood in journal articles and I have no use for any further academic writing. But yes, there is a need to write about the consciousness and how it originates and how it diversifies and whether it really achieves the dimension of the transpersonal or whether it is only a theoretical possibility.

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So I gave a talk in the department, which was received with an unprecedented appreciation, for me. I have spoken about myself in guarded ways, in the past as well- particular in conferences. The prime reason for my shyness does not stem so much from the stigma of mental illness, as much as it does from the self-centred, attention seeking attitude with which those who share  illness narratives, often end up representing themselves with.

For me, there is no self that remains to be represented, if not the past self of an immature mind, that goes through a process of maturation, by its dive into the IMG_2416underworld of its unconscious and by integrating knowledge both from the personal to the collective human history, which lies in each of us as the collective unconscious, emerges from the experience a tired, centered being- no longer dazzled  by anything at all in the world, not interested in any trappings of scholarship, spirituality or a desire to attract attention. It is just like coming home to oneself- there is no one there, but silence- and all noise is outside now. And yet we have to constantly guard against the outside noise, which is only too close and will catch one unsuspecting.

But I am happy and surprised to note, that though my narration of my past was to a group of young women and men, who were perhaps on an identical inquiry in their own ways, with the tools that they have at their age, the response I got from this lot of young people is by far quite unusual, for it brings to mind another interaction of another nature, whose context was directly mental health. That was in the Ambedkar University, and a panel discussion on the subject of mental illness- in which a number of people were invited to be part of the panel, including me. The year was 2013. However, the response I got from the students there, who would perhaps be directly dealing with the subject of mental health, was markedly lukewarm as compared to this experience of Suneet’s students.

Even in the past many students have filled their seminar room, including having more senior professors too hearing me talk, but this time the students lingered on IMG_2464much longer, after the talk got over. Not just a couple of them, but many actually. This is surprising, and made me self reflect what was the reason? Is it because they are hearing a self narrative of recovery? Is it because it gives them hope and courage to deal with whatever they are dealing with at present? Do they see a possibility out of mental illnesses for others as well? There are questions galore in my mind too, as to why the story of one person interests another.

However, the reason for this post is partially to note the experience and partially to invite the young women and men to comment about what was it really that they felt connected to, which they can openly articulate for everyone to read. So this blog post will go to all the students, with a request for their footprints here, and their thoughts, reflections and insights. That may give me the scope to look for further possibilities to connect with them, via another talk/lecture/workshop or collaborative research- the way I had initially mooted about the ‘musical self’ but which the time constraint did not permit an articulation of.

The young man who has taken these pictures, was astute enough to note that if someone can overcome something as difficult as a mental illness, then possibly overcoming the struggle of doing a master’s degree would not be so bad! Well, they do not even occur on the same page Rishi. And on the last note, knowledge which is gained from universities is just an introduction, which is no substitute for lived experience based knowledge. Perhaps you would agree as also several of your friends understand.

IMG_2355Thank you my dears, for helping me deal with the hesitation of self narration, so that though I have attained a certain level of triumph over my past self that suffered so much, I still have to move myself towards a larger self, in which I am not hindered by what others conceive of me, upon hearing about a past of mental illness. Your feedback, appreciation and generous ideas certainly give me hope and courage that the youth are not impervious, indifferent people but sensitive and looking for authentic encounters- to express their own authentic selves.

I invite your comments and the same ideas or new ones, on this blog post, to save it for all our future references. Thanks to Rishi for the efforts, as of course we all must thank your department, and Suneet in particular. Eric there is a lot of Jung in me, so perhaps the next collaboration could be with you ?!! 🙂

Ah yes, I muIMG_2366st mention how difficult it is to talk and sing at the same time, to illustrate some of the ideas that I am discussing, but I try not to fight shy of the challenge. The voice from talking, becomes tired and is then made to flip over to the singing side. I hope to master this challenge, if someone can! IN any case, I seem to be doing this quite a bit, in talking on the subject of music all over the scope of my work.

I could add here that the title of this post is a trifle misleading, because ‘self talk’ is what happens inside a person’s mind and not in the public domain. But when the inner self talk, which arises due to a disturbed state of mind is more or less over, then the talk about the ‘self’ which is not an individual but universal self is what the post title could be seen to imply. Self is not the focus, but the SELF, which is common to the whole of humanity and its awareness- that is the intent.

This post has an unusually large number of photographs because the photographer was generous enough to not only shoot many, but also send them to me. Thank you for that.

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prateeksha sharma

Recovery Specialist in Mental Suffering- via counseling. Non Profit Founder. Love to write, tend to dogs, manage a little garden. Largely a hermit. Equally as much- classical musician with fingers in many pies. Parallel work in applied musicology-in particular pedagogy. Also...a Phd researcher

13 thoughts on “Self talk, and embracing the enlarged Self”

    1. Yes Pragya, that classroom where possibly you and me also met once, or did we meet in Zakir Hussain? It was interesting as always, with young people with inquisitive minds having so much curiosity in a positive way and after the talk got over, many of them, easily ten- twelve sat down again to linger and chat. It was really illuminating how much young people would like to know, understand and help others. I do hope in your line of work, you would also hear some of my public communications some day, because it unsettles many an idea about mental illness.

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  1. I, as usual, loved listening to you – listening to your songs and listening about journey. I think I speak for most of the students, when I say this; We’re greedily waiting for you to be able to share more about journey. Your journey is inspiring and enlightening. It questions everything we’ve ever heard and learnt about ‘Clinical and/or Abnormal Psychology’, the need for medicines, therapies, prognosis, etc. Every individual related to Psychology, Psychiatry or Medicine, must read this paper, and must definitely meet you once.

    I hope your story reaches far and wide one day, not just in academia, but beyond! I hope ‘normal’ people learn from your journey and acquire the ability to look beyond any labels, they may be caught into. I know of many people with serious mental ‘illnesses’, who will pop in all sorts of pills and not consider any other alternative. One very close relative is taking vitamins for his catatonic schizophrenia, because the family feels his legs and arms are not working properly. He’s on anti-depressants and anti-psychotics and what not! Academic journals will never reach the general public. They only know how to read glossy magazines and newspapers and novels. You’re beyond the academia and your journey deserves the bigger platform; to be able to reach out to the masses.

    I will, thus, forever be waiting to read your auto-biography; not just the published articles. You or may not decide to write the autobiography, I think the lingering students proved the need for it. And, I will always be hopeful.

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    1. Dear Divya

      Notwithstanding how much I value your appreciation and coaxing about writing further about myself, I think I need to distance myself from my personal self and take a view of the larger reality around. I agree one person’s experience can contribute tremendously towards the re-conceptualization of many people’s ideas about certain ‘fixed’ realities or assumptions. However, since I have done the difficult path of autoethnography only too recently, I need to move away from writing about me for at least awhile, for now.

      I understand and see the earnestness with which you have repeatedly told me to write an autobiography or at least a memoir- but writing autoethnography has been to enervating, for one has to re-live the experience to narrate it, that it brings up parts of life which are extremely painful to handle, even at hindsight. Then the route becomes, what is the utility of me writing about myself now, if not self-promotion; which in any case scores are busy doing about themselves. In what manner is my writing going to differ from their’s?

      Perhaps this is a part of the dilemma too, which makes me shy away from a writing commitment about myself once again, or in the near future. But then, you never know how quickly things change and a remote possibility becomes a central part of your consciousness. Thank you my dear, for being so firm with your one persistent urging. It may change much within me, who knows at what rate. And I will not forget your role in it. Affectionate regards.

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  2. Dear Prateekshaji, On behalf of the students of the Department of Psychology, I can truly say that it was not just a pleasure but a privilege to hear you speak in our department. I would like to thank Dr Suneet Varma for his many initiatives on behalf of the students that have allowed us to experience a number of such seminars. But your talk was more thrilling than even the many other exceptional talks and presentations that he has organised. Life is undoubtedly not meant to be a particularly easy journey but to hear the tale of one who has been through as much as you have is as inspiring as it is humbling. It also allows us to place our own (little or large) struggles in perspective. Suffering is never meant to be a badge of courage – feted and celebrated for its mere presence. But overpowering that suffering as you have most definitely deserves plaudits of the highest order. You had mentioned that sharing this story is not easy for you but you do it to help those who may still be caught in the whirlpool of similar trials. For that and for all that you shared with us on that wonderful afternoon, I thank you. I hope we shall have the chance to hear you speak again.

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    1. Dear Rishi

      Thanks for the affirmations that the sharing means something to you, in the larger sense of the word. However, the very purpose of this post was to invite further views on the matter, since now we were all removed in time and space.

      If the talk meant something only to a couple of people then we can easily identify them and call them for a small meeting or chat in a small space. But if it makes sense to a lot others, then we may consider making another effort of a similar nature, though likely with not me or my story at the center of that endeavour. So until I see more voices emerging, I would think it matters only to you and your senior Divya, whose comment is already here on the blogpost, in which case when I come to DU later, I will invite you two or three to come and meet me wherever I may be. Is it? Is that what we really wanted?

      Please urge a few of your classmates to shed their inhibitions and write back to me. Now hopefully the immediate reactions would have passed and the deeper reflections would emerge.

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  3. Thank you so much ma’am for coming to the department and sharing your experiences. It not just provides us with the hope during the time of difficulties but it also helps us to find a meaning fr our lives and our own selves, which is often being suppressed in this world of ignorance.

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    1. Thank you too Prakriti. Don’t worry we are all finding our ways through our own unique set of difficulties, different at different age and station of life- but enough for everyone where they are. You are not alone in the least.

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  4. Dear Prateeksha, I rad this post with a great deal of appreciation. Thank you for bringing us along on this important adventure! It seems your invitations to humanize Psychology are being taken, at least by a few. This is so important.

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    1. Thank you so Michael. I am equally touched by your words as well as by the echoes I heard in the psychology department. It shows to me so plainly that the young people are open to new ideas and willing to embrace them, if they come from a proper, well thought out perspective- they have a great deal of clarity and discernment as well. For the first time, for me too, the talk in the psychology department had new resonances and they make me even more reflective, about the sort of role a person like me could play in society. thank you again Michael. Regards

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