By Jamuna Rangachari February 2012 Contemporary workshops are today’s equivalent to the archetypal paradigm of the Buddha surrounded by seekers under the Bodhi tree, says Jamuna Rangachari What weekend holidays at Phuket or Bangkok are to the yuppie, workshops and retreats are to the modern seeker. If the yuppie basks in the holiday’s R&R (rest and recreation), the seeker too enjoys the workshop’s R&R (rejuvenation and restoration).Workshops work for a lot of seekers because they are conveniently short and held mostly over weekends. They are more democratic and freer of hierarchy than traditional learning environments like classrooms or even ashrams. Importantly, they allow New Age seekers to adapt, integrate and deepen their spiritual practice in short spans of time. The reasons for the ever-growing tribe of seekers queuing up for workshops are many but the shared goal is one – the unveiling of self-knowledge in the seeker with the help of a facilitator. In that, the workshop is not different from an Upanishad. The teacher, the seeker, the transforming knowledge, the probing questions and the illuminating answers are as common to the Upanishads of old as they are to contemporary workshops. “I joined Isha Yoga in 2010 to learn physical asanas. I have always kept myself fit with sports and gradually developed an interest in yoga. At the Isha Yoga workshop, I learnt that the core of yoga was union of the body, mind and spirit. Practising the kriyas I learnt there daily has become a way of life for me. It has helped me enjoy life to the fullest. After an advanced course in kriya yoga, I became keen to spread the message that yoga is an experiential reality.” Dr Shanti Radhakrishnan, Mumbai. I went ahead and completed the advanced course in kriya yoga. This has made me keen to spread the message that yoga is an experiential reality,” says Dr Shanti Radhakrishnan, a doctor from Mumbai. The earlier Shanti would often get stressed by the need to do justice to the many roles she had to play as a senior executive’s wife and a professional in her own right. Now, post the Isha Yoga course, she says she feels empowered to play any role life presents to her, without attaching any labels to her self. She swings effortlessly from being a doctor to a mother, from a spouse to a hostess.Spiritual mooring “I have attended three and five-day residential workshops by my guru Shri Shri Nimishananda in his ashram and at venues away from Bangalore. The presence of my spiritual master, the lush green setting, the deep silence, the seclusion and the freedom from routine make these workshops effective. In this environment, I find it easy to slip into meditation,” explains Purnima Coontoor, a seeker and writer from Bangalore.Mumbai-based Mallika Vyas, a senior vice president, HR, Tata Capital, considers that one of her most meaningful experiences came from a workshop on astrology conducted by Greenstone Lobo, banker and weekend astrologer! “I was surprised to know that I do not belong to a particular zodiac sign because every person is shaped by the combined influence of the Sun, Mercury and the Moon. The placement of the Sun rules the soul, Mercury, the thought processes and Moon, the emotions. He showed me how we are all different thanks to the permutation and combination of these three planets. I applied what I learnt during the workshop to the people I interact with in the office and it helped me understand their particular quirks and motivations. Irrespective of the roles people perform, Greenstone’s Know Your People workshop helped me realise that people are individuals with independent perspective,” she explains. Says KabirChintan Girish Modi, a Mumbai-based educator, speaks highly of a workshop on Kabir, jointly facilitated by Shabnam Virmani of the Kabir Project and Ravi Gulati of Commutiny. “The most significant of my journeys happened around a workshop called Learning with Kabir, a four-day gathering of artists, educators and community workers. It was an immersive experience built around the poetry, music and ideas of Kabir, a 15th century saint-poet whose voice invites us to break down walls we erect between self and other, to meet fellow beings in a space of love and compassion. While I had read and listened to Kabir’s verse as a child, the workshop opened up the depths of Kabir to me like never before. It urged me to examine the various identities I hold on to; to see what is received, and what chosen; to be aware of how holding on to identities is a potential source of disharmony. ”He adds, “The workshop also explored issues surrounding caste oppression, communal strife, oral traditions, and questions about faith and history, the sacred and the secular. This experience brought forth with searing clarity the realisation that we often think of ‘change’ as something that ‘others’ need to undergo. The workshop ended, but my relationship with Kabir continues. Through this, I have come to appreciate how crucial it is for us to engage in self-examination. This awareness, when it comes, does not remain restricted to one area of work. It manifests everywhere,” An engineer converts Mallika Vyas credits her honed managerial skills to a workshop Always interested in exploring, Santosh Joshi (42) from Mumbai, a past-life regression therapist in Mumbai, attended a Siddha Healing workshop by Baba Shivananda in 2003 and practiced meditation that he learnt during his participation there. A mechanical engineer with a multinational back then, Santosh got bitten by the spirituality bug. Soon, he attended Swami Sukhobodananda’s Life workshop and the fascination with personal growth and spirituality increased. Several workshops later, his search finally took him to a past-life regression therapy workshop by the doyen in the field, Hyderabad-based Dr Newton Kondaveti. So impactful was the workshop and its learnings that Santosh finally took the plunge and decided to part with the corporate world and become a past-life therapist himself. Today, he claims to be blissfully happy doing what his soul had always aspired for – to be of service to people. “All these workshops helped me uncover my purpose and gave me the insights I needed to find my path,” he says. Writer Megha Bajaj from Mumbai attended TT Rangarajan’s workshop in Pune in January 2006. She says, “The most empowering workshop I have ever attended is something called Top Gear that my guru, Rajan, conducts. In an eight-day programme, I underwent a multitude of experiences from silence to the bliss of dancing under the stars, from God to guru. All I know today is what I learnt there. This workshop took me within mysel. It was a purifying experience. It made me intimate with this person called Megha, and this presence called God,” she says.One of the main reasons why workshops are effective is because we choose to attend them voluntarily. In fact, if they are thrust down our throats they are no more effective than any other mode of conventional learning. A few years ago, I learnt about a programme, Jeevan Vidya, a course on peace and life skills training, from Sandeep Pandey, a Magasaysay awardee. “It is important to identify what works for you and what does not rather than giving yourself up completely to just any process.”Ajay Kalra, Mumbai Intrigued, I attended a workshop on the subject in a school in Hyderabad in 2009. There were many participants, mostly teachers who were upset because they had been forced to forego a holiday to attend the programme. Only three of us had chosen to attend voluntarily. Unsurprisingly, we were the ones who benefitted the most. My key takeaway, which has enriched my life hugely, was the realisation that trust and relationships are the core of a meaningful life.Back when I used to be a software professional, I noticed that most people who attended workshops sponsored by their companies never really made the effort to imbibe what was being offered. I remember once a young man from another smaller firm asked us if he could attend our workshop. Later on, we found that he was the only one who had not just learnt substantially from the workshop but also kept in touch with the facilitator after the programme was over.Often, participants take their learning further and turn facilitators themselves. Megha Bajaj now conducts online teaching courses. “It’s so wonderful to conduct these workshops. I truly believe that all we can be is mere facilitators. Everything happens to a person and through a person – with me as the context. Receiving mails of gratitude, knowing that something about one’s life is a little more beautiful is such a wonderful feeling. It completes me. It gives me a reason to live,” she says.Democratic choiceAjay Kalra, an organisation development consultant in Mumbai, attended many workshops, including those organised by the Art of Living and Landmark foundations and the Indian Society of Applied Behavioural Sciences. Most have been impactful, he maintains. He, however, emphasises that one should decide what works for one. “It is important to identify what does and does not work for you rather than giving yourself up completely to just any process,” Ajay says. Today, Ajay is a facilitator himself, and says, “I believe that as a facilitator I can simply create a safe space for exploration and reflection with self and others. I make it a point to tell all involved beforehand that what I initiate is a voluntary process, both for them and for me. So, we have made a conscious choice to work with each other. While I challenge people in my workshop, based on my experience or intuition, I never enforce my views
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