Archive for the ‘India and Indonesia’ Category

Cultural experiences

FlowersAs I come regularly to India, I realize that I have become accustomed to the sights, smells and tastes that are all about India. Below are a few pictures about my current trip. I arrived earlier today, and have been settling into my flat, which will also double as one of the  training spaces for the work I am doing with the East/West Center for Counseling. In this day, I have already seen cows meandering the street, heard honking as if honking was going to change any of the traffic, and experienced what I most miss when at home- A sense of vibrant engaged people in the streets.

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DSCF4273Last weekend we spent in Bangalore working with the Yours Truly theatre company. We also had the pleasure of meeting with Fausto And Elena, Playbackers from Italy. The weekend  was one of connection between people from 3 continents, exploring themes that connect us all: culture, faith, and Playback . Our differing backgrounds created a rich experience.

On Sunday, Michael and I led the troupe in looking at the issues facing them around gender. Many deep feelings arose as the group ask itself questions about their identity as men and women- looking for a way to be authentic, and for their voices to be heard. In the afternoon, we split up into two groups, men and women. In the women’s circle we share what it was like to desire our voices be heard, for us to be taken seriously, and for us to be able to have our needs met in this process. In coming back together, the men on one side and the women on the other shared their feelings and experiences. The men playing back for the women, and the women playing back for the men. In the end, the stories went very deep as group worked to truly hear each other through the veil of cultural and societal expectations and norms. This is a group prepared to lead the way to having their voices be heard. In the end,  the women and men of realized their wants, hopes and needs were very much aligned.

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Elephant Park


This post was written last Tuesday evening.

Today was our third day in Kochi- We arose early (My body is still somewhere over the Arabian Sea, and so waking at 330 is the norm right now. Michael fared better- I woke him at 5, as we had a 6am take off in a hired car to go to the village of Kotanad and the Elephant Kraal. I inherited a deep love of Elephant, their sense of family, and ritual and strength and this love passed down through the generations in my family.

Michael, with a desire to appease this desire of mine agreed to get up at this ridiculous hour to go and see these mighty beasts.Bathing Elephant (more…)

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This is my last week, not only of class (we end Friday), but of my time here in India for this trip. I have been watching  my process: arriving and getting used to being In India; working and being with students,(and all) that means; getting to know more of where I am, and processing all the new things; visiting hospitals, and schools, and seeing the amazing work that is

I taught 4-5 year olds for an hour. Lots of fun!

being done here for those in need. Now, the letting go has begun. Letting go is being felt keenly in the classroom, where, as a group, the class has been watching the developmental aspects of our group, and witnessing each milestone.

Students created Mandalas as part of the course.

In class, hearts are connecting, and I am reminded that people are people no matter what our cultures are. We work for justice, raise our children, and connect. We  fall down, to pick ourselves up again and walk forward. Hopefully we open more doors than we close, and try to bear witness. With this group, it is clear that these are the goals. It is heartwarming to watch, experience, and be a part of.

Today, I took a walk behind where I am staying, on a calmer road, with nice homes. I was aware of trying to imprint my impressions. As I walked, I smelled the Jasmine in the air. Although it is winter,  there are may flowers out. I tried to breathe it in in such a way that I could  take the aromas home. How does one take impressions home? So many impressions: cows wandering in the midst of traffic, seemingly unconcerned and owner less; the smells (some very unpleasant and others not); the crazy traffic; the interactions that I’ve had in every day; women in saris;  fruit and vegetable vendors singing out what they are selling; the Kolam, freshly done each morning on door stoops; the genuine belief that what will be is meant to be; and hearing the ringing of bells through every neighborhood, as people pay homage to Shiva, Vishnu,and Gonesa in their homes, and in the many shrines throughout the city.

I use my camera to try to grab these impressions, but photos do not impart the smells of Indian spices, the sounds of all the horns, or the goats bleating, the roosters, and Muslims and Hindus all praying at the same time at 5 in the morning. The camera cannot capture the haggling and bartering, and genuine interest in people you may not know so well. And the crows.

Coming home is a mixed blessing. I’m coming home to family, and life as I am used to it.  Only, now I am seeing it through a different lens, one in which my two months in India (October and now) blend in with my life at home. I return home committed to learning how to cook Dosa and Roti, and to simplifying, letting go of what keeps me from being present and connected.

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So, the reason I’m here, besides enjoying Pongal, or fighting traffic, is to teach India’s first academic course in art therapy. The Survey of Art Therapy was evolved by Sangeeta Prasad, and George Washington University in Washington DC,  in collaboration with the Fine Arts Department at Stella Maris College.  It is funded by the Prasad Family Foundation to help bring concrete art therapy tools to professionals here in Chennai. I created the syllabus based on my previous work, and collaborated with GWU on it’s development.

We have 20 students from a variety of backgrounds: artists, housewives, teachers, and therapists. The participants are all interested in art therapy for use with their students or families.

The energy has been tremendous. The use of the arts, in general, for healing is really taking off in India. There is a lot of attention being paid to these ideas now.  While I have 20 students in my class, I have 30  others signed up for a workshop that introduces people to what the class is about!

In the last two weeks, We have talked about many subjects, including: how art therapy can be used in different populations:  how it has evolved from cave drawings to now; looking at brain development; and using different materials. I am, of course, trying my best to ground the class in good counseling process and ethics.

Then, there is the important task of looking at all the learning within the viewpoint of the Indian mindset.

Three hours go by in a flash. The course is highly experiential, so there are a lot of teaching games, and activities to help ground the conversations, and the theories being presented. And of course, a lot of art. Because my background includes Sociometry and psychodrama, I have used some of those skills to teach about listening, observation, and counseling skills.

The students are engaged and have worked really hard. There is a lot of reading, and writing, questioning  and creating involved. Most importantly, we are trying to see how art therapy, which was created from a western perspective, will work effectively within the Indian culture and context. Ultimately, art therapy has to work here, and  there are many differences in how therapy is perceived here. This is a major conversation. The other, of course, is what students will do, and have the ability to do, after one 30 day course. Since completing one course is not the same as finishing a 2 year graduate program, this is a conversation that will take place in an ongoing way as GW and Stella Maris evolve the next steps for the program. But for ethical reasons, we do need to look at this now, as the last thing anyone wants is for people to go beyond what they really are capable of. This course is a wonderful beginning and, clearly, there is a desire for a full program. The question is when and how.

I am grateful to be a part of this pilot program, and to be connected with the journey of bringing these therapeutic tools to India. Nothing happens in isolation, and I have met many wonderful people along the way. I am a student as well.

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I have the opportunity to be in India at festival time. That is not hard. Indian people celebrate a lot – festivals are especially important  in Hindu traditions.

This time the celebration is Pongal. Pongal is the  Tamil Nadu celebration of the harvest.  Think harvest festivals and Thanksgiving rolled into one. People in my class have been preparing for Pongal all week: practicing dances, cooking food, and going shopping for a new Sari to wear. It is a time to dress things up, dress up ourselves, and eat the bountiful harvest.

The Hindu celebrate pretty much everything. When I was in Bangalore in October, the Puja (another word for festival) was 9 days in which all things created were celebrated. One day was the celebration of machines. During Pongal, people make offerings to the Gods and pray for rain, in their often dry riverbeds.

Pongal (which literally means “Boiling Over”) is a 3 day, Tamil Nadu based, celebration that officially began Friday. While at school, on Friday, dancers from around Tamil Nadu came and performed. There is dancing and storytelling all around the city this weekend. I am hoping to get to a park today. Pongal is wonderful; it’s colorful and it tastes good. A common activity is the making of Pongal, a sweet sticky rice dish.

Today, Sunday, the remains of the feast are given to the cows and Oxen that work so hard. They are dressed and paraded about in celebration of their hard work, and given special foods. And tomorrow, there is more dancing and people gather on the riverbanks with yet another sumptuous meal to eat.

Yesterday I was fortunate to be invited to a Pongal feast. I was with people who had been friends for 40-50 years. It truly was enriching in more ways than one. And last night we went to dinner at a boathouse along the Adyar River, and listened to Tamil/English/Hindi fusion.We also had a lovely Pongal feast on banana leaves (natures take away plates!!Very common here and very eco friendly)

I waddled home, full in more ways than one. Happy Joyous Pongal to you all.

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I arrived in Chennai early this morning (3 a.m. early…) and am settling in. I am discovering that things feel familiar to me. It’s the first time I have not been met at the airport, so I hired a taxi to take me to a hotel (one I haven’t been in yet… Very nice). I also discovered that driving at 3 a.m. is a breeze compared to any other time of day. I actually saw the road, and flashing lights along the sides that I have never noticed.

Today I have gone shopping, and worked toward buying a phone, but got held up in the need for a real photo, so it will have to wait until tomorrow. Then I had my first auto rickshaw, bargaining, and getting lost experience. Chennai is big, and often the taxis drivers don’t know where things are. Getting a map is challenging too, although I intend to work on that.

I am here for a month. This time I am teaching a 3 credit survey course at Sella Maris College. I am working through George Washington University. While Magdalene Jerarathanam, of the East-West Counseling Center, in Chennai (centerforcounselling.org), and I are not planning any projects right now, I am hopeful that she will come and offer her expertise in a presentation about her work integrating arts based therapy in her clinical psychotherapy practice. I have a couple of other people who might present as well. One is Michael Watson,who will present from the States via Skype.(Topic to be announced…) You can see his blog at michaelwatsonvt.wordpress.com.

I am looking forward to this, and all the complexity of getting around. It is going to be a journey for sure. Stay tuned.

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I have been home a week now and just getting settled back into work. It is cold these days- I am wearing layers of fleecy things and wrapped in scarves.  I am aware (as I often am after a trip) of what it is like to be home- I am glad to be back with my garden (have already been out raking leaves) and how isolating it can feel. In part this is due to warmth, or the lack of it. We close our houses up and become more insular. We have to work harder to see people on a daily level. In a day I can potentially go without seeing anyone-  Other days, I see clients, then go home. It takes effort to reach out and touch someone.

As a native New Englander,  a stereotype that is given to us includes being – “Stoic, distant” quiet” “stand offish” ones that actually I don’t like nor feel applies to me- Yet here I am feeling the edges of it myself. I like to hide in my home-  I admit to hermit like qualities within myself. I like to hide when its cold. My home is warm and friendly, while the world outside on so many levels is cold and unfriendly. I find that it takes much for me to pick up the phone or to interact- I would much rather nestle in with my work and  a good book.

While in India, One heard people chatting and saw people all day long. One engaged all day long.   It is quite the conundrum actually.I find that while I don’t miss the clutter, the dirt or the pollution of India, I really miss the sense of social interactions that happened daily, minutely at times and reminded me of the need and desire for human connection. often I spoke with people I didn’t know. It was easy. It was warm.

Today, with much intention, I socialized. With the gallery owner, while she took more art. With an artist friend that I print with. With Herb, my colleague and partner in crime (He and I began the Bangladesh project in 2003). Coming home tonight,  I emailed with a friend from India.It was warm and connective.

Note to self: Connecting is a human need. And,  Warmth is generated with connection.

Right now I’m feeling pretty warm.

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While my last training was going on (a wonderful creative and very spontaneous psychodrama/Playback theatre training in Bangalore with the Yours Truly Theatre Company) Festival (Puja) was also going on outside our windows. Noisy, inventive, crowded with worshipers from all over, Hindus come to Various India 143 offer gratitude for everything that exists. The festival lasts for 9 full days into nights. On Saturday, one was to worship all machines. So everything from laptops to cars were cleaned and decorated. Traffic is hard enough, but bring in a few extra million people, and add some chrysanthemums, incense and (very large ) banana leaves to your windshield, and driving truly becomes a process of clear mind (hopefully) over matter.

Firecrackers by the thousands went off at once and at times we would stop the training so as not to scream at each other.

Last night, we came to Mysore (home of the oldest palace) and throngs of people were in the street. The palace (across from our hotel) was all lit up and Hindi music was playing. cross from our hotel, street vendors selling material, saris and other traditional things worked in the dark until it was just too hard to sell anything- Lights are not provided. But the mood was very festive. Think Mardi Gras without the drinking (that I could see anyway).

This morning it is calm. It is cooler here in Mysore- Karnataka State- More in the mountains. We are going to stroll in the Palace Gardens and go to an art  museum at one of the smaller palaces- a little more doable than the mammoth larger palace- which we can’t go into anyway this week, as the King is here with his family to celebrate the Puja.

I am nearing the end of my trip now and realizing how rich and vast this experience has been.  While I have one more training, This week is mostly about seeing temples, and connecting to India in a different way.

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As I enter the last week of my time in India, I want to take some time out to reflect and appreciate the incredibly hard work of my sponsor and main, very instrumental, collaborator for this trip, Magdalene Jeyarathnam. Magdalene is the Director of the Center for Counselling, (centerforcounselling.org)here in Chennai. She has worked as a social worker and counselor for the past 16 years and for the last 5 years, Magdalene and her counselors have been contracted to work in schools and NGOs to work with, and for, people and groups in deep distress. She works at the collegiate level, helping to plan and implementing counseling programs, and governmental level to implement policy to support people who have HIV/AIDS and also the GBLT population. She also just completed a 1 year  Expressive Arts Certificate program in Poona.

I couldn’t ask for a better person to work and collaborate with. Magdalene is a bridge.  Her deep understanding of the psychological needs of others, and profound empathy, coupled with her ability to bridge Eastern and Western ways of thinking, have deeply supported this process of bringing the use of Expressive Arts Therapy to India. Expressive Therapy  is clearly wanted and needed here, based on all the reactions from the trainees at each workshop. As well, Magdalene has an unbelievable ability to network! Needless to say, I am taking notes!!! Magdalene collaborates and works with her husband, Eric Miller, who is the Director of the World Storytelling Institute (storytellinginstitute.org). They frequently collaborate on projects around Chennai that range from fun and entertaining to deeply moving and with a focus on social Justice. It really has been enriching and special to work with both of them.

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