Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Paradigm Shift

Decades-old Asthma and complicated relationship issues were a cause of immense misery, suffocation and great fatigue. My self-esteem was at its lowest though I was not doing all that badly in life. I felt my life was a chaos. At thirty six I wondered when will all this end finally. I tried psychiatrist, I toyed with the past life regression therapy and tried religion as therapy. I attended Landmark Forum out of hope and curiosity. I hoped that Landmark Forum would offer me some insight and show me some ways of dealing with this suffering. I had longed for some drastic paradigm shift in my life and Landmark did not let me down.

I always knew that my past was painful, but the Landmark taught me that I was responsible for it. I clung to it in the form of serious grievances and suppressed anger. I discovered that I had serious complaints and veiled anger beneath every single relationship. The blame-games (` racket’ in LM terminology) drain us of our vitality, joy and sense of freedom. The blame-games, Landmark revealed to me, were ways of evading responsibility.

Responsibility, here, is not in the sense of ` blame’ or `guilt’, as can be misunderstood. In fact, this is how I looked at things. I blamed myself and felt miserable about almost anything I did. This, Landmark Forum taught me, was actually a way of evading responsibility. One needs to reconsider the meaning of the word `responsibility’ here. The compact Oxford Dictionary defines responsibility as ` responsibility • noun (pl. responsibilities) 1 the state or fact of being responsible. 2 the opportunity or ability to act independently and take decisions without authorization. 3 a thing which one is required to do as part of a job, role, or legal obligation.”

I discovered that taking responsibility was not a way of blaming yourself or saying sorry to everyone I knew but to recognize my role in the mess I have created in my life. It means taking charge of your life which actually is extremely empowering. Blaming oneself or someone weakens you, taking up the responsibility makes you feel powerful. I was blaming everyone including (most importantly) myself for my miseries. Instead of blaming myself, I learned to owe up the suffering as my own creation and I have started doing something about it. I owe the sense of being in charge of my life to Landmark.

The Forum taught me to separate `what happened’ from ` what I made it mean for me’. For instance, my mother used to be very bitter and quarrelsome most of the time. I had extremely bitter and rancorous fights with her and then I kept feeling extremely guilty about it. My relationship with her was that of extreme anger, fear, revulsion, pity and guilt. I discovered that her behavior was due to her own disturbed life and I was actually adding to her unending sorrow. In some ways, I was responsible for her misery. And this was because I interpreted her behaviour to mean, ` she doesn’t love me or care for me’. Hence, during one of the assignment, I called her up from Mumbai and apologized to her for making her life miserable. I discovered that the wall I had created around myself to protect myself or rather avoid my mother was the wall I had created to avoid the whole world. I did the same with my father, Ashwini, my sister and even with my five year old kid. I felt the great burden on my back falling off, much in the way it falls off Christian’s back in the Pilgrim’s Progress. I felt incredibly light. I felt huge surge of energy flowing through my life once again. I was no longer dragging my life but was actually driving it.

The Forum’s philosophy that nothing has any meaning apart from the one that WE give it can actually be extremely powerful and liberating. I had given so many `meanings’ to asthma, incidents in my childhood and relations and these things actually had no ` meaning’ apart from the ones I gave them. Asthma is just a disease like thousand other diseases. But I had made it mean something. Like for example, that I was `unfortunate’ or that it was because of my parents or because of my nature and the things like that. It dawned upon me that asthma was nothing but asthma.

The Forum’s philosophy distinguishes between the choice and the decision. The term `decision’ like its etymological relative `incision’, involves cutting out the alternatives. The Forum sees `decision’ as being based on ` reasons’ rather than on responsibility and as being based on the past. I learned that choice is not dependent on reasons and life has no real alternatives from which we can select. You don’t decide upon your father or your disease or your being. I learned as asthma means asthma and nothing else I have learned to choose it. I have learnt the significance of the position which says ` I choose asthma because I choose asthma’. I no longer cling to it or make an issue out of it. In the same way I choose my distress and anguish because I choose my distress and anguish.

Thanks to the forum, the environment at my home has changed for better and the life appears in a new perspective. Once you realize and accept that it is you who are holding on to your past, past is no longer holding on to you. They equip you to change your rigid and ossified ways of thinking and behaving which are limiting you. These constraints fall off. You realize that you have wings and the earth is simply not interested in holding you down…

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Richard Rorty on Literary Studies Today

  • "I think that the English departments have made it possible to have a career teaching English without caring much about literature or knowing much about literature but just producing rather trite, formulaic, politicized readings of this or that text. This makes it an easy target. There's a kind of formulaic leftist rhetoric that's been developed in the wake of Foucault, which permits you to exercise a kind of hermeneutics of suspicion on anything from the phonebook to Proust. It's sort of an obviously easy way to write books, articles, and it produces work of very low intellectual quality. And so, this makes this kind of thing an easy target from the outside.", Rorty, interview in The Dualist, 2, 1995, pp. 56-7
Thanks Prof Rorty for saying this.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Education for Life

No, they dont teach you such things at school or college or even at your home. This is something that is never taught at all. Thats why the Landmark Forum is so remarkable. It offers you the technology to discover a new way of being which is so powerful that you feel you can do simply anything. It shows you how you can overcome constraints imposed upon you by your past and build a future which is not based on your past. Thanks to insistence of my friend, I attended the Forum in Mumbai which was held from 10 th July to 14th July and discovered this new way of being for myself.

The technology consists of a set of conceptual distinctions and metaphors which help you discover who you really are and allow you to take charge of your life. It basically helps you to shift your rigid ways of thinking and fixed points of view which make your life miserable and unproductive. It teaches you to unshackle your vision. This technology is delivered through a series of conversations in which the people are invited to participate and look for themselves at their lives. For instance, one converstation distinguishes between ` what happened' to a person and the `story' or the interpretation or the conclusion which the person himself has made. We are invited to see how this story is nothing but an interpretation and how the person himself is responsible for making it and clinging to it. We are also invited to see how this interpretation is running and ruining our lives. These `stories' become who we are and imprison us. The rigid ways of being based on these stories are of two types. One is the productive and positive one( `the strong suit') which enable us to produce the results which we are producing and the other is a ` racket' or the unproductive mode of being which brings immense misery to us and everyone around us. The rackets are essentially `the blame games' , the stories which we use to hold someone else responsible for our miseries. One may even have a racket with oneself. They enable us to avoid responsibility. Their payoff is self justification ( you are wrong and I am right). The technology consists of many such distinctions in which we are asked to participate as ACTORS instead of AUDIENCE( COMMENTATORS, OBSERVERS OR ANALYSTS). The distinction here is between being ` on the court' and being ` on the stands.' The former one involves playing the game and the later one is merely about talking about things without taking the responsibility, risk and involvement. The audience obviously is often the racketeer. There are many such distinctions provided through fascinating conversations.The techonology is profoundly philosophical and enables you to see things as they are and empowers you to make yourself and your future.

I felt extremely light and energetic after I `came into the court' in life and started taking ACTIONS instead of merely trying to understand things conceptually. I discovered that my every relationship was a racket and I was carrying an immense grievience box on my shoulders. I even had a racket with my computer and two wheeler!!!! So here I am on the operation unloading and can feel the surge of confidence and energy already.

Our coach Gurmeet Singh Khurana was extremely dynamic, powerful and fun! It was indeed a wonderful experience. More on this later!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Art of the Novel and the Novels of Art

I read three novels recently: one translated from French and other two in Marathi. One common thing about the three novels is simply the fact that they should have been read long time back. But then I hardly read to keep up with the jones because jones's tastes and intentions differ from mine. The Counterfeiters by Andre Gide, Sat Sakam Trechalis by Kiran Nagarkar and Shyam Manohar's Hey Ishwarrao, Hey Purushottam Rao are three novels which can hardly be placed under a single category, except, of course, that of ` the novel'. This goes to demonstrate that there is no such fixed thing as ` The Novel' . Hence, I feel, the slogan that the Novel is dead is as meaningless as the slogan God is dead. These three novels, greatly different in style, theme e historical contexts , cultures and periods make strange ( should I say `queer'?) bedfellows. However, I discovered that there was a common preoccupation in all the three. Interestingly, while discussing the distinction between genre as category or type and particular texts as token i.e. the distinction between `poetry' and ` poem' or `drama' and ` play' with my students, I notice there there is no such distinction in the case of the novel. Nor can you discuss `fiction' as a category or type of writing and novel as its instance. This means there is no such particular fixed type of writing which can be classified as the novel in the strict sense to which particular novels can thought of as its tokens. This implies that with the novel there is no fixed mode of writing. Three novels which I read recently can be considered as an illustration of this fact.

Gide's famous modernist classic is not just a novel but also a very famous theory of the novel. Sat Sakam Trechalis is one of very important novels in Marathi, notable for its craftsmanship, style and intensity while Shyam Manohar's novel is remarkable because of its material which is actually unremarkability and ordinariness of day to day life. While the first two novels deal with extraordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, Manohar's novel deals with ordinary people in ordinary circumstances and what's more it suceeds in engaging reader's interest till the end. Written mostly in dialogic form with very little descriptive passages and interior monologues, Manohar's novel is almost a non-novel in which the things like style or technique seem to be conspicous by its proverbial absence.

The Gide's classic is the novelist's novel and the philosopher's novel because the subject matter is a complex philosophical question of the relationship between what is called ` reality' or `nature' and its representation, art or its `counterfiet'. And by implication, relationship between Reality and Art, and even Hetereosexuality (which is considered `real' and `natural') and homosexuality which is typically considered artificial, derivative and counterfiet. Gide turns the relationship on its head in a typically French way and demonstrates how the counterfeit is more real than reality and by implication, art is more real than nature and obviously,how homosexuality is more authentic than heterosexuality. Nagarkar's novel is notable for completely doing away with the traditional norms of fiction like linear plot construction, coherent structure and a fixed point of view and there-by implying that life also has no linearity, coherence and fixity. That life has no fixed formal logic is suggested in the title ` Saat Sakam Trechalis' that is `seven times seven is forty three'. Both Gide and Nagarkar are ` artists' who see their work as `art work' and lay great emphasis on craftsmanship and artifice. Manohar's novel attempts to capture reality without using any technical paraphernelia, including those found in realism. However, the novel does have an allegorical and philosophical dimension cleverly concealed in its apparent artlessness. The novel deals with a quarell between two higher officials of the agricultural department, Purushottamrao and Ishwarrao in a small village. These two officials were great friends once but now they are enemies. Their quarrel divides the office staff by forcing them to take sides. This causes huge amount of stress that affect the staff member's private lives. One of the chief official is fond of `adhyatma' or spirituality while the other one prefers to live practical and mundane life. One suspects whether Shyam Manohar is trying to suggest that the dichotomy between spirituality and the ordinary day to day life is cause of stress and disharmony by the means of covert allegory. The title ` Hey Ishwarrao , Hey Purushottamrao' suggests the split between the God and Man and by implication the spiritual and the mundane. If we read more into the novel, then we can say that it also deals with the split between art and life and Manohar trying to imply that this split is the cause of disharmony in our lives and society.

It seems that these novels seems to be preoccupied with themselves as novels, that is they are `metafictional' -overtly as in the case of Gide's gamey novel and covertly as in the case of Nagarkar and Manohar's novels.

However, I loved them for being so very different from each other and plan to take up Manohar's and Nagarkar's other novels in future.