By Nandini Murali
A writer’s workshop that knitted together yoga, meditation, and interplay had a transformative impact on the participants.
The Universe is made of stories; not of atoms.
– Muriel Rukeyser
I invite you all to tell your tale that you’ve been longing to tell… a longing deeper than words… to discover your personal story is part of Her story… an integral part of the Cosmic story… We’re part of the new story…” intoned Sr Margaret Gonsalves, feminist theologian, and Founder of ANNNI (Alliance of Nari Nar Nisarg Ishwar) Woman Man-Nature God, a spiritual movement to foster the feminine, and transform systems that have traditionally suppressed it.
|Invocation of the Divine before the start of a day|
The unusual welcome was followed by an invocation to Sophia, Goddess of Wisdom. A fitting beginning to the Women Writers’ workshop organised by ANNNI from May 4 7, 2009, at Pasayadan Holistic Spirituality Centre, Vasai, 70 km from Mumbai. I was among the workshop participants. Interestingly, the workshop wasnclusive in its approach to gender and was also open to men who were in touch with the feminine in themselves. Fr Prashanth Olalekar, PhD; Director, Pasayadan Holistic Spirituality Centre, and Sharukh Vazifdar, mechanical engineer by training and presently a correspondent at Life Positive participated. The thematic workshop on “Telling and writing our stories” was facilitated by Katherine Keefer, US based artist, sculptor, and writer. The workshop, with a focus on autobiographical writing, provided a safe space for women writers to recall, process, and record their personal life experiences as a tool for personal and spiritual growth.
Autobiographical writing enables us to contact our souls. The act of owning and accepting our stories, the courage to honestly acknowledge and accept the events that have formed us, frees us of self sabotaging defences, the need to don masks, seek external validation and hunger for approval. Writing the stories of our lives then becomes a quest for personal and spiritual insights; a move towards being a balanced and integrated person.
The workshop enabled participants to share their experiences as women. The aim was not to teach HOW to write or have a finished product; rather the sisterhood of women writers shared our experiences, our stories as women by “writing from the heart, our truth, our reality”. Our very first activity was cutting out a set of 30 pictures and a string of 30 words or short phrases from magazines. These were random choices, a free associative process, without conscious thinking on our part. The picture and word list was narrowed down based on each participant’s personal favourites into ten, five, three, and finally the one picture — our final favourite that symbolised our core experiences. We pasted this in the centre of the collage, with the other pictures clustered around it. I felt child¬like and joyful, and in communion with my inner child.
|Back to school – the process of self-discovery|
Each participant’s collage was revelatory and deeply personal. I was amazed to discover that our choices were not random, but purposeful, meaningful choices, in which the Unconscious whispered to us messages that we needed to hear; to intuit. Indeed, in writing, as in life, there are no coincidences; only convergences.
At a symbolic level, the centre of the collage represents our core concerns and beliefs; the top of the collage, our past; the bottom, the present; the left, the inner landscape; and the right, the exterior or outward face of a person. My collage, however, was a reversal of this interpretation, which nevertheless, resonated with my current life situation and concerns. We adopted the same process with the word clusters to create a poem. I found the emphasis on free writing and free association that underpinned these activities as a replicable pre writing activity to generate and cluster ideas.
We began each day with morning yoga, and movement meditation led by Maggie Gonsalves and Prashant Olalekar. The yoga, which included ‘yoga facial’, was a great way to start the day. The stimulation of the pressure points on the face and neck rejuvenated us and set the ideas flowing (as we were to discover later!) The Movement Meditation that consisted of the sublime ‘Touching the Earth’ meditation and the Labyrinth Walk, a sacred inward journey, enabled me to get inside myself, and access my inner recesses. As I walked step by step across the labyrinth, purposefully and mindfully, the concerns I chose to focus on seemed to evaporate and dissipate during the return journey.
The writing sessions were interspersed with Interplay, a body based improvisational arts practice that weaves together movement, song, and storytelling. These activities infused the process of writing with a spiritual essence. Indeed it was no mere coincidence that all the writers were also deeply engaged as seekers in a spiritual quest. It also enabled me to experience the reality that writing is not just a mental process but rooted in bodily experience and wisdom; an integration of the human trinity of body, mind, and spirit.
|A heart-gripping afternoon story-telling session|
Participants also explored “seed” ideas to generate potential themes for stories. These encapsulated core issues. Some of the “seeds” that germinated during the workshop centred on themes as varied as forgiveness, spirituality, nature, food, death, fear, patriarchy, feminism, illness, infertility, and voices. We then chose one ‘seed’ to sow, water, and nurture with our creativity and imagination. We had an array of writing style options to explore: poetry, stream of consciousness, flashback, travelogue, obituary, letter, first and third person points of view. I chose a combination of two interesting styles: the obituary and flashback narrated from a first person point of view to create a narrative about a woman’s rite of passage to wholeness and personhood. The narrative explored a problematic relationship with a member of the family from a woman’s perspective and her journey from victim to a survivor who emerged from the struggle fearless and free.
I wrote out of my own reality, my lived experience. I quilted fragments of memories retrieved from the past; from disowned ‘shadow’ aspects of myself that I was afraid to acknowledge and accept. The process was painful. I often felt vulnerable and exposed. Yet I courageously quilted these scraps together to reclaim and honour my past experiences and let go.
“The workshop led to the discovery of a hidden landscape within me, which I was only remotely conscious of, if at all. It flashed light on parts of the heart, which I didn’t know had existed. In that sense, the workshop proved to be cathartic,” recalls Harvinder Kaur, writer, poet, and principal, of an international school in Mumbai.
The most memorable part of the workshop was the act of reading out one’s story to a supportive, empathetic sisterhood of writers. Each writer’s pains and sorrows, trials and tribulations, fears and hopes, were so individual; yet so universal that it resonated with each of us as we were drawn into a “fictional dream” woven with the warp and weft of reality.
Archana Pai Kulkarni, writer, poet, and editor, New Woman, and a workshop participant, says, “We explored so much that I believe we discovered a lot of dimensions to our personality that we didn’t know existed. It was like looking into a mirror and seeing myself for the first time – all new, in all honesty. I dealt with guilt, grief, pain, anger, and every other emotion that had assailed me for years and I felt tremendously healed.”
According to Paula Sullivan we ordinarily do not think of our life experiences as “stories. But when we relate these events to another, that’s when it morphs into ‘story’. We have a powerful need to listen to each other’s personal histories as well as a powerful need to tell the stories of our lives. It is in this telling that we come to understand the meaning of our life.”
Our lives are works in progress. Paradoxical as it may sound, telling our stories enables us to discern our truths. Our souls learn the lessons and move forward on a sacred journey to become all we can be.
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