By Faraaz Tanveer February 2008 How cancer transformed the lives of globetrotting couple Vijay and Nilima Bhat The Gift of CancerVijay and Nilima’s five years of lived experience and subsequent work with cancer culminated in a seven-day intensive retreat-style residential programme that they delivered for the first time at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Delhi, in collaboration with Dr. Ramesh Bijlani (ex-AIIMS and an expert in mind-body medicine and yoga).The aim of the workshop was to introduce participants to the latest mind-body-spirit approaches useful in managing cancer, and to provide a safe and supportive environment in which to share their own experiences and learn from each other. The programme consisted of lectures, practical training and experiential sessions.The retreat brought home the fact that mind, emotion, meditation, prayer, spirituality and other forms of ‘inner work’ turn out to be at least as important in handling illness as diagnostics, drugs and surgery. It is not a question of ‘either-or’ but of ‘this and that’. The main insights gained during the workshop were: One, a life crisis can be transcended by honouring and truly accepting it. Two, it is important to reclaim one’s power after the loss, pain and vulnerability. And three, by accessing deeper resources one can create a new life for oneself. Sriram Krishnan, one of the participants, says, “The retreat was an eye-opener. After attending the retreat, I tend to appreciate more the good thing that has happened to me after my illness. I am now friendlier with the ‘cancer’ word, and I have the conviction that any illness can be reversed by changing our lifestyle.” “Over the course of our workshop, I came to understand that my life is purpose-driven, as opposed to a random set of circumstances that occurred to me through a 80-year time span. I came to appreciate these circumstances as “gifts”, wonderfully and uniquely created for me, to move me towards a greater understanding of who I truly am, who I will become, and what I am here to accomplish in this lifetime,” says Juliana Nelson, a participant from USA. Vijay and Nilima put their experience thus: “The retreat format allowed for some amazing depth of personal awareness and healing to take place on all levels: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. We were humbled by the way the process allowed individuals to open up and come together as such a strong group in support of each other and empowered each to face their own journey with skill and grace.” “The result was that, as expected, the participants understood cancer and the role of the mind-body relationship in its prevention, genesis and management better,” summed upDr Ramesh Bijlani. ‘Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music.’ – Angela Monet It is always exhilarating to meet anyone who can purposefully stop the trajectory of their well-ordered and comfortable lives, and take off into a wholly uncharted path that enables them to make a unique contribution to the world, drawn from their own rich experiences and insights. Such people move the world forward, and help it to shake off the cobwebs of habit and fear. Five years ago Vijay and Nilima Bhat were just another yuppie corporate couple enjoying a globetrotting lifestyle. Vijay was employed with the leading advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather, where he had worked for 21 years in various leadership positions including serving on Ogilvy’s Asia-Pacific Board as Regional Strategy Director. Nilima had spent 10 years in the media and communications sector, with leading corporations such as ITC/ Sheraton, Philips and ESPN STAR Sports. What changed them forever was their own burgeoning sense of spirituality and Vijay’s brush with cancer. Today, they are founders of Roots and Wings, a Bangalore-based consultancy which helps individuals and organizations deal with transitions and make them a learning experience. They have also started a website called Holistic Bangalore ( http://www.holisticbangalore.com ) which provides an exhaustive directory of services and resources supporting a holistic lifestyle. These include alternative energy, books, music, movies, complementary therapies, counselling, reforestation initiatives, eco-friendly products and centres. Bangaloreans can use the unique search feature on the website to locate a practitioner / supplier / holistic centre in the locality of their choice. It is an inspiring and innovative community effort which can act as a model for other Indian cities. One of their most recent initiatives is a seven-day cancer retreat called From illness to wholeness, oriented to enabling participants recognise the gift within cancer (see box). Their own journey is a perfect testimony of this. Says Nilima, “As we got into looking at cancer from a holistic perspective, my journey too began alongside his. I can say today that ‘we’ had cancer…it was in his body but the life-changing and life-growing event happened to both of us. I am who I am today because of his cancer. The work we do today is because of his cancer. We are back in India today because of his cancer. I can touch so many lives today as a holistic healer and life coach because of his cancer. The cancer was our prasad.” Why Roots and Wings? What does a ‘transitions coach’ do?Vijay: Having lived and worked in Mumbai, Bangalore, Singapore, London and Hong Kong, and bringing up our children as Indians and global citizens, we have learnt the value of both ‘roots’ and ‘wings’, and the real challenges in balancing these two apparent contradictions. Hence the name.Nilima: During our work and interactions with people from varied backgrounds we noticed that life-changing events create a lot of turbulence in the lives of individuals and organizations. When faced with such a situation most people tend to withdraw into a shell. Our role as a ‘transitions coach’ is to help them find the inner resources to change their lives within themselves, at a time when they are most vulnerable. Tell us about the activities taken up by R&W.Nilima: Our scope of work includes strategic HR consulting, facilitation, training, leadership coaching, and community service in the form of our Holistic Bangalore initiative.Vijay: Roots & Wings targets a select client set and seeks a deep and long-term engagement with them. Usually, our engagements start with a face-to-face meeting with the CEO and Talent Head to gauge personal and professional chemistry, followed by one-on-one sessions with six to eight selected staff members.We then develop an ‘approach paper’ for an initial discussion, which is then fleshed out into a detailed proposal with scope of work, who-does-what-by-when, fixed and variable costs, success measures/ monitoring process, etc.Tell us something about your Holistic Bangalore initiative.Vijay: It is inspired by Holistic Hong Kong, which was started by a friend of ours. The concept is actually quite simple: to create an online home for all things holistic in our city. We want to help Bangaloreans find local resources, share knowledge and expertise, join communities with similar interests, and participate in onground activities around holistic living. To us, ‘holistic’ has four pillars: development, ecology, spirituality and health (D-E-S-H for short). It is still a nascent initiative, but we are pleased with the results and response so far. Nilima, tell us something about Sri Shakti. What role does dance play in your inner journey?Nilima: I have always been a dancer. Dance defined me, my personality, as I grew up. It enhanced my ‘sense of self’. With marriage and kids, I lost touch with it. In Hong Kong, when my journey into this ‘inner work’ truly began, I attended a ‘5 Rhythms’ workshop. It is a body of work by an American dancer, Gabrielle Roth, and is deeply therapeutic. I knew then that dance was to reappear in my life. I also came across Panchabhoota – creation as the dance of the five elements; a theme explored in all Indian classical dance forms as well as yoga. Through an amazing synchronicity, at that time in Hong Kong there was a highly trained Bharatanatyam dancer, Ranjini Menon, an equally talented Kathak dancer, Neesha Jhaveri, and in nearby Beijing, an Odissi dancer, Raka Maitra, and my own neighbour was Priyadarshini Ghosh Shome, a Mohini- attam dancer and well-known contemporary dance choreographer. We also had R P Jairam, a banker by day and gifted music composer by night, right there to create original music scores. Our dance company simply coalesced as if by it self. Sri Shakti was born. Our first performance was Panchabhoota:Dance of the five elements, then followed Vama-The Feminine and to complete the trilogy we culminated with Tao of the Heart. When and why did you decide to get into the psycho-spiritual sphere as a full-time vocation? What was the transition phase like?Vijay: I’m not sure I can call it a ‘sphere’ or even, that it was a conscious, considered decision. It is very natural for us to simply incorporate the spiritual aspect into everything we do, whether it is corporate, individual or educational work. We have come to realise that whatever the ‘field’ (intellectual, social, economic, etc), the ‘ground’ is always spiritual. The transition was tough, but made bearable by Ogilvy’s support and the kindness of too many people to name here. We had to deal with it at many levels: home, school, work, diet, etc … and the process is ongoing. I took a six-week sabbatical to go to the US and UK to qualify myself in some of the latest tools and approaches to transpersonal
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