creativity · Mental Health · Shamanism · Spirituality

On holding space – a student’s feedback

I’ve been working with many things and keep changing whom I work with. This is not because I can’t stick to one thing but because I knew that what I had to teach had to reach others and that is how I’m going to know it does work ‘universally’ so to say.

When I begun with abstract events through The Red Door a lot of people were skeptical apart from my few mentors. Five years of implementing those concepts brought me to school and working with adolescents who were taught the same concepts differently. And 2 years later with them the universe gave me another opportunity I was aiming for, to have it run as a credit course in a college/university.

I’m sharing one of my student’s feedback and self-evaluation of the course here, after receiving her consent to do so.


A Self Evaluation- Shweta Rao

The first time I heard about the Mental Health Elective that was being offered by Ms. Reshma Valliappan, I will admit to being quite dubious as to its applicability in my life here at NALSAR. But, never the less, I signed up out of curiosity, as I had never pandered in the discipline of psychology, and also because I was under the assumption that this would be an easy academic credit to gain.  I would later find out how wrong I was.  

The very first question we were asked in class, on alter egos and ‘imaginary friends’ was jarring to my logic oriented sensibilities, and most of the other students in the room reflecting that sentiment, as answers came hesitantly, questioningly and incredulously.  As that first class continued, and Ms. Valliappan narrated different incidents of her life and how she viewed those incidents, I could hardly believe what I was hearing. As someone who has spent the past two years in Law School, certain notions and viewpoints are embedded within us, like how rape is a punishable criminal offense under section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, and that is how one must view it, from the actions of the perpetrator. Ms. Valliappan on the other hand chose to look at it from the point of view of the consequences for the victim, and even referred to her own experience as a “sexual awakening”. This, along with her views on the concept of suicide and the exercise of free will in that concept, shook most of our embedded beliefs to the core.

But still, at the end of our second session, I was still skeptical as to its usage in my day to day life. It was only after a private chat with Ms. Valliappan did I see as to how to apply all the abstract ideas that were discussed in class, out of which, one concept stood out to me the most, the concept of “holding space”. In a high stress environment such as NALSAR, the feeling of inadequacy is commonplace, and this is often followed by period’s dejection, and mostly one turns to ones friends in order to disperse this emotion. I had always found it hard to find a way to comfort friends who felt this way, and also found it hard to explain to my friends what I needed from them when I was in low spirits. What “holding space” taught me is that during times like this, or in even bigger emotional crisis’s the best possible way to help out is to just exist with the individual and ensure that you are with them every step of the way, regardless of the choices they make.

This notion, of simply being there and ensuring ones presence is something that hit home to me, and was definitely one of  my biggest takeaways from the course. It was only after my personal session that I allowed myself to open my mind to letting in other perspectives, and freed myself from preconceived biases accumulated throughout my years. This helped me assimilate to the environment of pure acceptance Ms. Valliappan was creating in the classroom by making us confront our animal counterparts and to connect with it to achieve simplicity, a trait most of us dismiss, but is essential to assure mental balance. But the very act of just getting on all fours and losing all of one’s inhibitions to act like one’s inner gorilla, snake or even hamster, was a herculean task.

To me, the essence of the course was me, myself and I. It taught me to help and be kind, but to also put myself first. It taught me how to better open my heart to others so that they could hear me and I could hear them, but to always ensure that my heart was protected. The course taught me that in the end, I am enough. Though I will never compromise my dedication to Science and my pursuit of The Truth through logic and reasoning, I will carry with me the evidence that physiology and chakras can coexist in harmony.

crisis · Mental Health

Life musings towards World Mental Health day…

I’m blogging after a very long time, because of obvious reasons as always! I travel, am engaged in my practice, my never ending work with The Red Door, balancing my art and writing and mime, and god knows what else my alters do.

So last weekend (16th September 2017), Delhi brought me in for a recording at NDTV office for ‘We The People’ on Mental Health which will be aired on 8th October 2017 at 8pm.

Along with the interesting as always discussions and indirect disagreements, the pressing issue and common ground we’ve all seen is the lack of patience and the fast fix attitude our society and youth or anyone in today’s world carries in their behaviour and thought.

I notice it even in my very friend circle. Technology has given anyone & everyone the leverage to send messages, brainstorm ideas, thoughts, chat A LOT, discuss things but unfortunately this creates a thought pattern in the head on instant gratifications and answers. Of course I am no neuroscientist and I don’t use medical terms to state my point but I’ve had to spend years retraining my own brain not just for schizophrenia but with the after effects of my meningioma and having my skull cut open. This I believe as in any experience speaks more as evidence than terminologies and concepts.

Gone are the days where people know what it is like to wait (sometimes for days together) before getting a reply. This actually teaches patience, resilience and respect for the other person’s time and one’s own which are central to how we relate & learn from our environment. This taught us time-management which is also important in matters of the heart and soul, or better said managing our emotions and thoughts.

Gone are the days where if you have an idea there is no one to discuss it with you but you have to use your own brain to figure it out before approaching anyone. Today people can send you ideas, open discussions and shoot across a lot of things but very few truly value it much as before because it is free.

I’m grateful to many old school thinkers & teachers who still practice this while obviously getting hard hits by impatient youngsters who need their answers immediately and if not given one is spoken about badly. I’m grateful that my own masters always taught me to think for myself and not take even their own teachings as the only truth even if it is something that can be experienced. We were severely punished at many levels but maintained respect and inner wisdom to know the difference between a teaching and an abuse. Unfortunately such masters don’t exist anymore.

We live in a world that is forever rooted with contradictions but I’d rather call it necessary change today for change tomorrow. We think that our ‘younger minds’ are open to change, challenge and discussions but in my experience such minds are not. They don’t like to be told anything. They don’t like to be questioned, challenged or proved wrong. And therefore when realization happens through a hard hitting experience, it really hits hard and it is called ‘life changing’ whereas it should just be called ‘life’.

What is it then which is leading to this high rise of depression in India which is scaring the shits out of all of us? Is it the lack of patience and resilience? Is it the fast fix lifestyles which allows us instant gratifications where when unfulfilled leads to depression? Is it really some genetic and biological problem that caused this? Or it is just how such mindsets are shaped by such social factors that they will become prone to such experiences of depression and anxiety?

…sometimes and always I have always wondered which group I belong to but that’s also okay since my schizophrenia has given me another reality to live in in order to survive the lack of another. And I can only continue doing what I do…


Health · Mental Health

Depression? Let’s talk

This is a piece I wrote for The Pioneer, New Delhi. Though nothing is ‘new’ about my thoughts anymore and what I write and say is expected 🙂

Original article is published HERE  do leave your comments on the site’s post if you could.

Depression affects all ages & walks of life. It causes mental anguish and hits one’s ability to carry out simple tasks with devastating consequences. Depression can lead to suicide, the second highest cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds. RESHMA VALLIAPPAN talks about the issue on the occasion of World Health Day which is themed on this affliction this year

When I first met M, I saw a reflection of me in him. He came across as reserved, rebellious and unbothered by what people said of him. This was, of course, a surface level mask he presented, much like many other youth swimming between their child and adult self. When M attempted suicide, I was called to intervene as he would only listen to me. A social worker I knew called his behaviour “attention seeking” and asked me to be careful as he would keep repeating it since he knew I could be beckoned through self-destructive acts he presented.

I agreed and watched out for his emotional tricks, but it only lasted 20 minutes. This was because I was in the same place M was in as a teenager. I could relate to what he was trying to communicate through his emotional tricks and focussed on what he was not saying. He was definitely trying to get attention not because he had nothing else to do in life but much like the rest of the world, M couldn’t find a way to communicate his feelings and need for emotional security since the world around us stops us from doing so.

M is no different than other people, whether they have the label and experience of depression or not. The more civilised our world gets, the more emotionally distant we become of what our heart needs and wants. It is predicted by WHO that 36 per cent of India’s population is struck by Depression. Depression is often called the silent killer, like diabetes equating it to the latter as a medical problem that has to be treated and controlled.

There are different forms of depression and a list of symptoms one can watch out for to prevent depression complications. All of us feel sad, lonely, aimless, helpless and even hopeless. These are natural reactions to grief, loss and an injured heart. It is when these emotions become overwhelming, begin affecting our routine and functioning, that clinical depression becomes the label to our condition and our first contact for help is a medical practitioner or psychiatrist.

The Government has accepted depression as a serious mental health problem that needs to be addressed. In the past three years, there have many organisations and groups addressing this silent epidemic. There is also the alternative school or remedies which include Ayurveda, Homeopathy, Yoga, Meditation, Reiki or energy healing, Acupuncture, Body Movement, Tantra, Shamanism, Chanting, Martial Arts, Dance and other art-based therapies but very few credible practitioners that can work with an individual having Depression or another ‘mental illness’.

The problem here is that many from the latter group are not known or validated for their methods since the identifying markers in alternative medicine and thought differ from the conventional school of medicine and living. The conventional school is about fast fixes much like all our lives; fast food, fast thoughts, fast gains.

As an Asian nation, we need to know that psychiatry and psychology were born in Germany where the treatments, diagnosis, prognosis and even alternative methods come from a Western mind-set and structure of how illnesses and lifestyles are seen. There is a huge cultural, social, political, medical, religious, spiritual, economical, biological and familial mishmash going on since, as Indians, we are trapped between the Western and Eastern cultures. The youth are caught in having to live American dreams and chase Western norms and yet being respectful or true to their Indian roots and traditions which is confusing, contradictory, often even hypocritical way of living and thinking.

Unfortunately, this hypocritical way can be seen in all our lives and families. Individuals make families, families make societies and societies make communities and nations. This is not to say our families are at fault. Our growing civilized identities are at fault. We are still  recovering from 200 years of colonialism and patriarchy and in doing so the youth of this country is constantly shuffling between many identities and they don’t often know which one to call ‘Me’.

The stigma here is not that depression is a ‘disease’. Mental health advocates use the term “mental discomfort” instead, which means we understand and know there is an experience of something overwhelming which has been given the label of depression but we don’t necessarily accept or call it an illness that requires treatment in the conventional way.

The difference between a mental discomfort that disables us as opposed to physical disabilities is the invisibility of our discomfort. As a society, we don’t tell a blind person ‘Open your eyes, you’re not blind’. We don’t tell a person using a wheelchair ‘Oh you should try standing and your legs might work’. This is because we don’t have a choice to not see their blindness or limbic limitations.

However, we do tell a person having depression to ‘Buckle up, stop this nonsense, get focused, do something, you’re wasting your life…’ As a society, we are blinder than the blind since we need to ‘see’ something in order to believe it exists. This is because we have a choice here to not see someone else’s failing heart and emotion as it reflects us and looking in the mirror is something painful.

We need to fall so low and so helpless that those who we love and care for us can then open their eyes to see that we need their attention. It would be easier if our lives and the people around us let us say: ‘Hey, I want your attention because I feel unloved’. But we don’t do that despite this being what 1.21 billion hearts are asking for.

I see depression as the side-effect to a sudden rise in empowerment gone un-channelled. There are many mental health professionals and doctors who’ve pointed out the same only using different words that of: A faulty idea of what success means and in that chase the stress shows as anxiety and the inability to act on what is received becomes depression. The stress of living is what is causing depression, when living should be a wonderful journey.

I consider depression a very valuable guide. In fact, what is wrong if we experience depression? Why must it be something we need to fix or get rid of? We don’t say the same about cancer. We allow someone with cancer to choose if they would like to extend their lives with chemotherapy or to live their few months without it. So even when we are making medical comparisons we are doing it blindly.

Depression can be dealt with and we can reach our healing if we choose to be honest to who we are and we stop living lives filled with lies. When we begin accepting ourselves and, consequently, others. Perhaps the real question we must ask about depression is: What is it that we really want? We might find the answer in the ability to hug someone and just hold them. We might find ourselves opening our hearts and minds to listen intently without judging. We might accept that depression, just like other human conditions and suffering, is one part of our journey and it is okay for it to exist. We might find that this depression is changing us and it’s not something we need to fear since growth can only happen when we decide to change ourselves.

Maybe, depression isn’t something as dark and dramatic being presented over the decades. But it is a natural reaction to life stressors forcing us to wake up and do something about our lives that makes it purposeful. How do we choose to accept any human condition of suffering and pain is what points us towards our true healing. But the next question this poses to us as a nation is: Are we ready for it?


Has society made boys emotionally disabled?

What work do you do in school?someone asked.
In short I work with the heart. It’s all about the heart, I said.

In one of our TRD club sessions in school everyone (including the adults) said that ‘We come to school to look for love that we don’t get at home’.

In another TRD club session a student asked our previous intern What is The Red Door? to which the reply was…’The Red Door is you. You become the change, the helper, a better human being and you reach out to others’.

The girls from school initiated their own peer support meetings every Thursdays during lunch. The boys having heard of what the girls were upto showed interest in starting their own but are facing their own battles of maintaining it. Expressing their emotions is one uphill task since it is rooted in the lives of boys and men that they shouldn’t and that soon becomes an inability for them. It becomes their disability which to me is the starting point towards the creation of anger and violence.

Yesterday, one kid tells me ‘Didi, I need to cry. How do I cry?’ and began narrating how the only expressions he knows is of hitting, punching, breaking, throwing, fighting. I left him with a story to think of and ended with ‘We know how to make people laugh, which is great. But we don’t need to make them laugh, if we don’t make them cry. Everyone knows how to make another person cry but they don’t know how to help another person cry. There’s a difference’.

Then another kid allowed tears to fall when I hugged him and said ‘It’s okay. I’m also crying with you’. 5 minutes later he said ‘This is good my anger reduced’. After sitting on the stairs with him and a few friends of his I told them about love, attention, needs, care and compassion.

I am amazed but not surprised that kids are losing this ability to ask for love, to ask for care, to ask for hugs, to ask for attention through what was once a natural process for them. They are asking for all of this but through violence because the adults in the world don’t offer any role modelling and are equally trapped in their own ridiculous choices.

I’m curious to know about others. How many of you can ask for love? for a hug? be open and ask for attention? OR do you choose to hurt another person in disguise of this. Because the latter is dangerous and cannot be an excuse since it is a conscious choice.

love · Mental Health

Friends to celebrate!

In 2013, I wrote an article ‘On being normal‘ which was the same piece that got the attention of my publisher Ritu Menon of Women Unlimited/Kali for Women.

This article like many of my other articles, statements and talks speak of a ‘friend’.

On 1st October 2016, (after 12 years) the same friend I mention in this article spotted me on Facebook & sent me a message: “Resh, old friend, is that you? It is you! Oh, I’d know that face anywhere. I’ve missed you.”

The minute I heard from her I had to respond! I was boarding my train to Dehradun for work with Project Burans. So my first post for 2017 is going to start with the celebration of a real friend *drum roll please…… Neha Srivastava who thought she wasn’t there for me or didn’t do enough, but she didn’t know that I wrote an article keeping her in mind.

There are many different kinds of people in the world and kinds of friends in different realms. I’ve had the bargain of both imaginary and real. Maybe the real ones aren’t closer physically, we don’t meet ever, we don’t hang out, we don’t speak but they have impressions that last a lifetime. And I rather have these kinds!

Neha, I have not taken your ‘consent’ to tag you in my public post and blog. However I feel the world needs to know that people like you do exist – so that the message continues. Nevertheless, I can remove your name if you do not wish to be known. Until then I am going to be brat and go ahead with this. 🙂