By Yoginder Sikand July 2013 Yoginder Sikand undergoes a course in Psycho-synthesis and the Inner child, and comes away exorcised of his childhood demons The healing touchAlmost a hundred years ago, an Austrian Catholic lady doctor named Anna Dengel arrived in India. Moved by the sufferings of Muslim women in Rawalpindi, who had no access to regular medical care because of the custom of women’s seclusion, Anna set up the Medical Missions Sisters (MMS), a group of Catholic nuns who could provide professional medical treatment to such women. Today, MMS is an international Catholic congregation, with some 600 nuns involved in healing work in almost 20 countries. Despite being a Catholic organisation, MMS serves people irrespective of religion. In India, MMS has set up a number of hospitals, including the well-known chain of ‘Holy Family’ hospitals. In recent years, it has also been involved in public health-related issues, through training programmes for preventive health care and numerous grassroot courses for village health workers, traditional birth attendants (dais) and health animators. The MMS centre in Pune organises various short-term residential courses throughout the year on issues related to emotional, psychological, and physical health, with traditional, holistic, non-allopathic, and meditative approaches to treatment. The Holistic Health Centre in the campus provides holistic treatment for a number of illnesses for a modest fee. I had never imagined that I could ever be so honest about myself, and that, too, among a bunch of perfect strangers. But Sister Celine, the course instructor, has a remarkable knack of getting you to spill the beans about yourself. And so, even before I knew it, I was rambling on and on about some of my most intimate secrets. This did not just happen with me, though. In a short while, everyone of the dozen-odd participants in the nine-day Psycho-synthesis and the Inner Child course organised by the Pune branch of the Medical Mission Sisters had succumbed to Sister Celine’s firm ministrations, sharing things they would never have dreamt of. Grappling with childhood traumas Our personality is crucially shaped by our childhood experiences, which start when we are still in the womb. Psycho-synthesis is a method of healing that enables people to travel back to their childhood and confront situations that have deeply impacted their minds and personalities. It helps them grapple with the trauma that childhood reactions to these situations have engendered. It leads them to see how these reactions form their ‘sub-personalities,’ trains them to drop damaging and hurtful patterns of thinking and behaving and helps them respond to difficult situations in new wholesome ways. Through the process, they are encouraged to enthrone their ‘true selves,’ as directors of their lives, rather than remaining at the mercy of their emotions. They learn to see themselves as distinct from their emotions, thoughts, and feelings, to be aware of them, and to let them arise and pass without getting affected by them. It closely resembles Buddhist vipassana meditation. Healing mental wounds Much has been written on the theory of Psycho-synthesis, and I was apprehensive that the course might be unnecessarily theoretical. However, mercifully, there was almost no theoretical discussion, the focus being entirely on enabling participants to understand and heal their mental wounds, and enable them to become happier, more assertive, more loving and forgiving. Psycho-synthesis might use other techniques, too, but Sister Celine’s course uses a few forms of meditation. To begin with, participants allow their minds to throw up symbols or pictures, which they then draw. Each of these drawings, Sister Celine explains, has to do with our basic childhood experiences—mainly of fear, sorrow, anger, and dread, and a few of joy. They represent different sub-personalities that still rule our lives, deep into adulthood, even though we may not consciously be aware of them. Participants take turns in explaining how the pictures they have drawn are deeply linked to their habitual unwholesome ways of thinking and behaving. It is not easy for everyone to be frank about his or her childhood experiences that their drawings symbolise, but Sister Celine’s gentle and assertive words work like magic. Positive vibrations and helpful feedback from the other participants, as well as the confidence that the revelations one makes about oneself during the course will be kept confidential, make the sharing of closely guarded secrets less difficult. Letting go As each participant narrates her or his story of childhood traumas, their perceptions undergo a change. Our individual stories, we come to realise, are not as unique or horrific as we once thought they were. It seems that even the most seemingly cheerful participant, has suffered in childhood. This is a truly humbling realisation, and a major relief, too. But it is not enough just to know that we are not alone in having a troubled childhood. As Sister Celine stresses, we also need to forgive those whom we continue to hold responsible for our childhood suffering – in most cases, it is the parents or siblings. As long as we blame them for our troubles and nurse resentment against them, we can never heal ourselves, and so we will continue to suffer the pain of anguish and hate. Forgiveness, then, is something we needed to do for our own happiness, and not just for the sake of others. We also need to understand how those whom we habitually blame for our childhood hurts were themselves products of difficult childhoods, that they may have been motivated by good intentions in dealing with us, and, also, that it is our reactions to them, rather than they themselves, that have caused us suffering. All this makes the task of forgiveness seem less impossible. We were not all healed miraculously after the course, but the process did trigger significant changes in our attitudes. One participant, who had a troubled relationship with his dead father, decided to forgive him. “I’ve realised now that I was cruel to my father and that I had refused to let him love me. He was not half as bad as I wanted to believe. In fact, I now admit he was actually a wonderful person in many ways,” he says. A participant who had not spoken to his brother for years decided to patch up with him. “From this course I have learnt the power of forgiveness. I forgave my brother,” he relates. “In my mind, I visualised myself hugging him. You cannot imagine how wonderful that feeling was, when the mountain of hatred I had accumulated came crumbling down. I feel so happy and light now, having cleansed myself of that enormous resentment. I plan to visit my brother soon, and I will certainly give him a hug, after 30 long years!” Psycho-synthesis and the Inner Child is just one of many short-term, modestly priced residential courses for inner development and healing conducted by Pune’s Medical Mission Sisters. These courses are held almost throughout the year. Most of them are open to medical practitioners and ordinary folk alike, including those who want to heal themselves. But doing acourse here is not just another academic exercise. The good cheer, simplicity, warmth and love that Sister Celine and her fellow nuns exude, is, you will find, simply infectious. This is what makes the courses that they conduct and the healing work they do so extra special.
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