The power play in university departments

I ought to have written this blog post longer ago, but spinal pain did not permit me to sit at the computer, to last as long as a blog post (naturally the priority is always the emails first of all)

I want to share my dismay at the sheer play of power that I got wind of from a recent dialogue with a graduate student pursuing a masters’ course in psychology in a prominent university in India. As part of the course they are also being offered a six-monthly exposure to counseling (I pray to god, they don’t become counselors after that- it would be a great disaster). As part of that course, they are also invited to undergo their own analysis for the briefest possible span of time. I asked the student how much the time was and who was doing the ‘analysis’.

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I was told that one of their professors, (who is known to me as an academic and not a therapist) listens to their dreams and interprets them. So what follows is the memory of my dialogue with the young scholar, that left me troubled and anguished for many days afterwards, but I will share the reasons of that after the dialogue that I quote. I represent me as M and the student as S.

M: So your teacher went through a dream analysis session with you? And what was the outcome of that?

S: The outcome was nothing specific, he gave me an explanation based on symbols, which he said were universal symbols, and which were part of his repertoire.

M: By talking to him, did some clarity emerge in the picture or put is differently, did you benefit from his dream analysis?

S: Yes mam, I gained some clarity in some respects about the dream?

M: What does that mean? Did it leave some unexplained things as well?

S: Actually it opened up some unexpected parts, which were left unattended to.

M: Really?! But there was no further dialogue with the teacher on them?

I was angered, because an academic who is not an analyst is not supposed to interpret dreams out of context for a student. Just because they have the power to demand from students a certain accountability does not mean they can pry open the lives of their students.

Unfortunately, Indian students are very vulnerable and docile by temperament, more so women. They would never think of raising their voice against this sort of an intrusion, which has no accountability. How can a university professor demand that his students tell him their dreams in a sporadic manner and then leave the dreams with whatever interpretation he knows best? There is nothing universal in dreams, except for the imagery. A dream has to make sense and have relevance for the person who sees the dream.

I remember in years of my own analysis with my therapist, we barely discussed dreams on more than two three occasions. It was never the centrality of our dialogues- if I had a dream that I wanted to talk about we did. There was never a nudge from her to share dreams. But whenever I did, the explanations that emerged were very deep and meaningful. I always felt it had been worthwhile to talk it out with her.

But look at this blatant misuse of a teacher’s power in the classroom. Of course he did not publicly hear the student out, but nevertheless when he was not an analyst, did not know what all it takes to unearth the symbolism inherent in a dream, by simply interpreting it in some universal way, he just showed for once again the patriarchal nature of our education system…where the souls of students can be cut open without due regard to their humanity and suffering, without a qualm or a guilt as to what pandora’s box you are opening up for them. SHAME ON HIGHER EDUCATION in India. Will we ever become sensitive towards our fellow human beings?

Why family support is NOT WORKING in mental health

This article can be downloaded from here, and is one of the resources offered by Antardhwanee. In this location, this article is titled, Families and Recovery.

In societies where social resources in health are limited, families play a crucial role in the illness and recovery of people. In mental health the case is even more so. For long periods, it is the family alone that bears the brunt of people’s illness and disabilities. Sometimes this may amount of a lifetime, and then the parents/siblings, who are the primary caregivers end up with the massive concern of who will look after their loved one[1], after their own demise.

Here is a brief list of findings, that research leads me to conclude, in the context of roles that families are playing, which ensure that people remain mentally ill, rather than recover and reintegrate back into society. This list is not exhaustive and as study is an ongoing process more thoughts will get added to this. Here are the beginning ideas.

Learning to be helpless together

Sometimes when one person is given a mental illness diagnosis, the whole family is paralyzed by a fear that mental illness has crept into their gene pool. They feel  extreme pressure due to the diagnosis and the social stigma associated with it. They all feel helpless about it and the infirmity or sense of loss that accompanies mental illness diagnosis of one person, in fact impacts everyone deeply. Secretly, they all start analyzing their own behaviours to see whether some traits of it are also lying within them!

In such a case if another member of the family faces anything of a similar nature, they are very quick to take action and take them for a ‘check up’ as well.

Protecting the loved one interminably

I have seen personally families being so defensive about their loved ones, that they keep protecting them from the world around. At times it amounts to the extreme case of hiding them from view, or not letting their loved one engage in any social milieu by themselves or without supervision. It aids in chocking both the people or set of people very severely, as no new ideas can come into the ecosystem, which does not interact with the outside world in any significant ways.

I have even seen another extreme, which surfaces in scenarios of marriage. I am not sure if this happens in India, but I have seen it here only. I have seen multiple families ‘hiding’ the mental illness diagnosis from the partners of their loved ones. As a result people are not able to remain truthful in relationships, and the trust that could be there between married partners never develops fully, because one partner knows they are not honest. This protectionism of the parents does not allow the partners to be one another’s greatest support systems, which marriage was traditionally meant to be.

Hero worshipping

Paradoxical as it may sound, I have found in many families that parents or siblings talk about their loved one, with a great fondness and regard, often attributing their mental illness to a ‘high IQ’, superior intelligence, artistic abilities or anything else like that. Though there are studies that have proved that mental illness is more positively linked to artistic creativity, the reverse is not true. Artistic creativity does not appear out of the blue, just because you are mentally ill and therefore your intelligence is also more than the average person.

By making their loved believe they are ‘smarter than the average’, families bestow them with a sense of entitlement, which means, just because they are more intelligent, they have a right to have moodiness, depressions, or any other attribute. This even inflates their ego and self belief that whatever they do or not do is well deserved, because now they are ‘mentally ill’.

I have seen in many cases that these loved ones, even when they come into counseling are so cocksure of themselves that they do not believe they will gain anything from counseling. They don’t. Their own intelligence is such a barrier, which their parents have created around them, that they are unable to use that intelligence for their own betterment by seeking help from anyone outside the circle.

Families ensure compliance to Medication

Since families have a great amount of faith in modern medicine they do not believe that psychiatry does not have a cure for mental illness. In fact, I would go to the extreme of saying that in families where parents or siblings are doctors or scientists, the possibility of anyone recovering from any serious mental illness is quite remote. Due to their unquestioning faith in modern medicine they keep medicating their loved ones, without ever probing into whether medicines are really bringing any tangible outcome.

Families may become human rights violators

Nobody ought to be coerced or forced into psychiatric treatment, especially electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Families often believe doctors so blindly and rather innocently, that whatever the medical professional recommends is to be taken as a rule. ECT  is a very controversial procedure which has long term repercussions for a person. There is no need to administer ECT to anyone, but doctors do not educate families enough, who are anyways only too willing to follow what psychiatrists say.

Often people are given psychiatric medication against their will and in spite of having no need for it, even on the sly (by mixing in food for instance). Those with mental illnesses are not allowed to choose their treatments, because their families believe they cannot decide for themselves. As a result they keep medicating them and pushing them towards the edge, for the rest of their lives, till they reach their end! Sadly, the human rights violations in mental health are the most in any category of health, and the most part of it comes from families.

Fractured Communications

In  a whole lot of families people do not talk to one another- either properly or at all. As a result whatever support could come to all of them due to interpersonal communication, does not come about. Everyone lives in an emotionally marooned state, spiritually shrunk, cold, deeply fatigued, restless and wounded.

Even if one of them finds a solution to a problem, since their inherent communications are flawed, they are not able to convey that to others. In my own work I have seen many a family member, including people with a diagnosis, have been enthused to either meet me, encounter my work or hear about the sort of work we do. However, they have not been able to convince other members in their families due to a long term loss of trust, in one another and in the fact that any other ways could appear, leading them out of mental illnesses.

Not only in my case, but often due to lack of communications, people do not seek any other social mechanism to deal with mental illness, apart from free resources that the internet offers them.

[1] Throughout this writing I have used the phrase ‘loved one’ to refer to those who have been given a mental illness diagnosis, rather than calling them someone with a mental illness.

The Incongruity of ‘Yoga Day’

Yasmin gyaate sarvamidam gyatam bhavati nishchitam[1]

Tasmin parishramah kaaryah kimnyat shastrabhashitam II 18 II

‘When by knowing this (Yoga-sastra) all others are clearly known, of what profit can it be to labour and find out what the other sastras say?- 18’

From younger days I have been exposed to yoga at an emotional and spiritual level, as a practice that integrates and unifies the human organism. I never believed it to be anything but an allowance for developing an inner discipline. That is the most significant thing about it- inner discipline; not an outer enforced discipline which comes due to the authority of another and not from self motivation.

Even though I was exposed to yogasana early in life, I never took to it easily, because of plain laziness. But I always remained interested in the other sides of yoga apart from asana, in particular to understand pranayama, and other aspects that signified withdrawal of senses and becoming more still. It was a difficult road considering the extremely difficult mental states I traversed. However, it never took me away from the theoretical interest.

In 2010-11, while staying in Faridabad, I came in contact with Subbarao-ji, who had been a great yoga adept and taught generations of students at the NSD, in Delhi- both yogasana and voice culture. He took me under his wing and decided to teach me. For the first time, I formally learnt yoga under the direct one-on-one supervision of a learned person. Soon thereafter he moved to Hyderabad, and my contact with him terminated. By then I had consolidated all the knowledge of yogasana I had from younger years and he added a whole array of breathing exercises as well as other exercises for voice culture etc.

Over decades of my life, by assimilating ideas from many convergent direction, if there is one thing that I have learnt about yoga, it is humility that must accompany it. In fact the very word yoga is such a big idea that it carries with it deep philosophical connotations, which are lost on most who keep using the words yogasana and yoga interchangeably. They are not interchangeable. They can never be. Yogasana is the mere start of the journey of yoga, especially if we see the eight-fold path. Asana or physical exercise is done for  one’s own wellbeing and  the purpose of one’s  body is not conquest of others. It is about cultivating a disciplined, principled stance towards life, society and the world at large. If we do not care about our body, how will we take care of anything else?

But equally significantly, yoga is not about showing-off or about marking days in the calendar year, to signify the presence of yoga as a form of knowledge, which is Indian or belongs to a particular part of the globe. All knowledge is universal and belongs to the human race- and any part of the human race can be the place of its origin. A place of birth does not hold proprietary claims, but in fact becomes responsible to take the knowledge wider- to the whole world, as an offering to the human race.

I feel amused at the efforts at the noise and the self-congratulatory back-patting in the recent media reports about the acceptance of 21st June as the World Yoga Day by the United Nations. Crores of rupees are spent in meaningless exercises by official government machinery in planning and creating events to mark it. School children and government employees are being roped in huge numbers, across the country to come, participate in yoga day exercises and displays. Why, why, why?

I cannot but see the futility of it. Instead of creating a school system in which health is a natural concern of the child, giving them ample room to play and discipline the body through various forms of exercise while at school, the government decides to institute a day to mark its commitment to public health. Why not increase the area allotted to schools and let them build spaces within them where indoor auditoriums can be built, or more public parks be created in which there would be spaces for exercising, running, playing, doing any form of physical exercises? Will one day take care of their need for the rest of the year, or be enough to inculcate a habit on a long term basis?

Does anyone remember how people live in inner city spaces in any city in India? Do you know that children have never entered a public park on ten consecutive days in their lives? Millions live in jhuggis and slums where it is not possible for ten people to stand side-by-side and exercise in any manner, where children go to open spaces and garbage heaps to defecate and they are chased by dogs, pigs and vultures? There is no question of women exercising anywhere- millions of women. I am not referring to the ones who can go to gyms, jogger’s parks, and privileged spaces demarcated from the rest of the population. I am talking of humble, hardworking, toiling girls and women, who walk out of Muslim ghettoes, of Hindu slums, of Catholic vaddos, and who only know the joy of their body when they come to dress it up for festivities and weddings. Would they ever find the space to do yoga, where their lives are so saddled with disproportionate work and responsibility?

Some might say, oh, why get cynical, this is only a start- more will be embraced by this wave. More people will start exercising and doing yogasana- in future surely.

Right, I get it, World Yoga Day is only meant for those who can  afford to take the time off or be forced into it by authority figures in their vicinity to partake of a government program. Yoga is not meant for the man on the street, because being the man of the street he still has to live off the street. So he cannot give up his occupation and join the yoga crowd, because who will tend to his teashop, bookshop, kiosk, fast food shop, or any shop on the street? Who will tend to your home if the domestic help decided to do yogasana? Okay one day is fine, but what if she gets serious and starts it everyday?

I  get it: we do not need more public spaces where people can do yoga, because as long as they know the significance of yoga, they will do it anywhere, including in their jhuggis which have garbage accumulated close by, or open drains, crisscrossing their paths, making pranayama difficult no doubt, but possible nevertheless. As long as the government can spend crores of rupees on advertizing about it and then feeling proud that a day has been marked in honor of the yoga day, we all have reasons to be proud of something which, in any case, is a part of our lives, even without this governmental effort. How we embrace it and whether it changes anything that now there is a World Yoga Day is something I am not even going to ponder about. It does not. 

It does not change anything. Oh yes, the taxpayer had been made a little proud that his/her hard earned money, is being expended in ventures where they did not have a say, without any public goods being created by way of parks, spaces, jogging tracks, conversion of lands from wastelands to green parks or anything, or even spending the money to pay yoga instructors, who would go into community centers and such public spaces and teach people yogasana for free. At least it would have created more employment!

The institution of the yoga day is actually a repudiating of the very spirit of yoga, which is not about yogasana alone, nor about dominance of yogasana over other any other path of living. The word yoga, signifies union- meant to be a union of the opposites within a person, the evolution of an integrated self, by overcoming through diligent hard work the duality, we are all torn by and emergence of a unified being. It is not meant to be a dominance of any religious belief system over another, in a bid to make them look lesser, or insignificant.

Yoga is about overcoming one’s own lower nature by letting the divine aspect within express by conquering the lower mind, instincts and tendencies. This is the attitude with which I have followed the path of yoga in its different forms, and tried to comprehend the diverse streams of bhakti and karma yoga. To feel the need for a World Yoga Day is the sign of mind having an egoistic attachment to fame and need for adulation, in which we want to drive home the point of our knowledge to other countries, instead of trying to offer it to our own people in ways that they can access it easily, safely and joyfully.

If only more people remembered that Hindi song from the film Guddi-

Hum ko mann ki shakti dena, mann vijay karein; doosron ki jay se pehle khud ko jay karein.

‘Grant me the courage, that before seeking to conquer another, I conquer my own (divided) self’            -the real essence of yoga will come alive for a whole civilization.

It is reasonably doubtful whether 21st June will accomplish the same. India does not need to ‘sell’ yoga further, but become a land of real knowledge seekers, who live the spirit, not mere salesmen, alienated from the soul of what they stand in the market as their wares. It is a world market, let us sell something else now. Any ideas?

(It seems India repeatedly needs to  project its ‘soft-appeal’. Now from a land of snake charmers, holy men and elephants, we are the official salesmen of yoga. Thank you baba Ramdev- but you only came in the line of scores of gurus, before you, nothing special. I remember in my childhood watching Dhirendra Bramhachari. You have sold yoga well, starting from the Astha Channel. But what was your contribution to it, which others did not make? You only came in a time of the media boom, that is all!)

[1] Ghosh, Shyam (1980). The Original Yoga. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd. New Delhi. p.6

Forcefully holding on, damaging people for generations, does not create a great society

My heart is throbbing in anguish at reading this article– and I quote from it briefly, as follows.

In December 2013, a mob numbering a few hundred and belonging to the Karbi tribe attacked a Rengma Naga village in Karbi Anglong in Assam. A total of six Rengma people were killed, including four women – one’s intestines were pulled out and another was burnt to cinders. The mob, led by armed men, cut down all orange and betel nut trees in the village since these are the source of livelihood of the Rengma Nagas of Assam. A shelter protecting children of the village during the attack was bombed. All households were burnt down.

Till date, the Rengma people who fled their villages find themselves displaced. They still live without roads and power. The government of Assam provided ex gratia compensation to the families of the victims and washed its hands of the matter. The Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council cared even less. The few mainstream news media outlets that covered the incident lost interest quickly (since, you know, this happens all the time). No judicial inquiries were set up.

When state organized terror seeps into the lives of people it dehumanizes them. To expect that by  coercing such people, in any name and to bring them into the mainstream of a nation, by forcing them to accept nationality, that slaughters them, marauds their spirit, their sense of self and their inner resilience, by putting fear- is surely not the making of any great nation. This is the egoistic stance of a nation. Why bother with holding anyone so forcefully, in such fear? The nation has failed- alas, cry the beloved country! Your children die in your name.

A new ‘madness’ of blog statistics

I remember when I started blogging, it was long ago. I was ill- quite ill. There was nobody to talk to, and I would just talk to myself via the blogs I wrote. A blog represents a notebook to me, where I put in ideas of a similar kind in one folder. In a way I used blogs like multimedia. My brother had got me a digital camera- i loved the medium of photography. It was engaging, made one focus and concentrate, it was a communication for one was trying to say something without having anyone to listen to it.

I have not yet written much about it, but in a recent article I wrote about using the arts for self help and I want everyone to understand that we can all utilize the options within the arts for self healing. Without worrying about what response a blog gets, one should just write- because the purpose is not to impress anyone, but to express yourself, clarify your thoughts and streamline ideas cogently. Blogs can be an effective medium for rehabilitation from mental illness- I talk from self experience naturally. In the earliest blogs I wrote I would observe life around me, very insignificant life – nothing spectacular about it. it gave me an inner peace and quietude to watch the lives of people around me. Day-to-day lives, not celebrity or special people, very simple, humble folks who would make my day and my life move around- even if they made it ugly. I would sometimes capture it in poetry or in writing, mix with photos and post it on my blog. Sometimes I had other recollections or dots to join. I had nearly 14 blogs on blogger alone, and now on wordpress there are at least six-seven. Most of them are shared and some are linked to one another as well. Blogging was therapeutic for me-seriously.

In the article that I recently wrote, this is what I say-

Writing on the road to recovery

To initiate the process of communication one can  directly establish it via literary expressions, like poetry, short stories, blogs, novels, or any other form of writing. At first it may be difficult to start  any of it, but that does not stop anyone from reading them. Then a point comes where the inner anguish starts finding a verbal expression via literary devices. Scores of people write poems about their mental anguish and also find publishers for it. Nowadays with the advent of social networks, and in particular blogging- a whole lot of it can  be shared easily.

Writing is an effective medium toward reclaiming one’s lost sense of identity, and initiating a flow of communication from the heart, even if nobody is paying heed. Frequently during deep depressions people just forget language and words. A small start one can be made- by reading. The idea is to find a mechanism of expression and not remain emotionally frozen or bottled up. Even if one’s own expression is frozen, someone else’s writing  can become a path to connect to your own self.

Why bother about blog statistics! (for goodness sake, just write)

In the times that we live in, I notice a new thing – or maybe only now I get to read/hear about it. it is about blog statistics- the sort of stuff this post shares with you. I am not sure about the utility of people worrying about how many are reading what they are writing- is your writing nothing more than attention seeking? Why this all time obsession for who is paying heed or who is not? Why the exhibitionism? Perhaps this is a new way to show how anxious you are or how keen to impress. Once upon a time I did not even know whether anyone read my blog or they didn’t. The reason why I am doing a blog is to share simpler things- for the more complex, i will probably choose a journal article or a book.

I see whole blogs dedicated to telling people how to get more readers for yourself or how to attract further attention. Of course these ideas have utility in the own right- however if people only start worrying about blog statistics instead of worrying about creating meaningful work, or about finding their own expressions, it would be detrimental for them in many ways.

People need to think about these issues in the context of mental health. I, for sure, am thinking in the context of how anxiety comes to us from life around, from social triggers and from things which are insignificant yet become significant. Research reports about social media say how young people (or people) derive a sense of satisfaction when people ‘engage’ with their posting of photographs and one-liners. In a curious twist they also ascribe their sense of self and confidence to these posts. Instead of engaging with people on a heart-to-heart, real life basis, people are happy to just click LIKE buttons and so forth on social media (i am particularly referring to facebook). So I am going to warn about the egoistic or social utility of blog statistics- even if they give you a momentary kick about how popular you are becoming.

The reality of life is that we do not need to be popular- we need to be true to our core, once we know what the core is. It is easy to be inane and get popular (without offence, to be like a filmstar in India). But if you search in your heart of hearts and see whether you really did the most you could have done to ameliorate human suffering, you will realize that a lot of things do not really achieve that end!. A film star’s significance to my mind is less than that of a farmer- for the farmer is creating something of real utility, while the filmstar is just acting and not even living up to the role after the acting is over. S/he is also taking a lot more money home than a farmer…anyways these are simple or complex issues depending upon how you see life. There can be a whole worldview on what is worth doing in this world. To someone like me, whatever I do, should diminish the misery of life around- for anyone- even one person in a day, even if they do not give me anything in return. In a nutshell being truthful to your core is more important than being popular…truth will last longer than popularity- in any field of life and work.

We certainly do not want the DSM’s next version to have a new category titled- blog-statistics induced anxiety/neurosis (becoming BIN!). Trash it! 🙂

Anyways, just to share with you the trigger that got me to write this post- The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 930 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 16 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.