The following is an amalgamation and elaboration of tiny notes I found written to myself, that tried to save little revelations I came across during days and weeks of living and working at AhimsaGram, a community space where we’re trying out the concept of building our own custom-families, with whom we work, cook, learn, share and so much more. Here we’re trying to construct an environment infused with consciousness of ourselves, the ripples our existence and actions create, and how they affect the world and the beings in it. The people of AhimsaGram are a feast of diversity, coming together from various, contrasting and complementing backgrounds, to pursue their passions, be it for food, Nonviolent Communication (NVC), nature, to see a change, or be one, or just because they enjoy having a space where it’s okay to dream alone and sometimes together.
Having left a liberal arts college within a year, after disagreements with their philosophy and its actual execution, I was grappling with my own disappointment and wariness with anything that sounded idealistic or alternative. So at a time like this, when a friend of mine reached out to me to attend a workshop done by a guy, she claimed, I could really hit it off with, given his lifestyle choices and philosophy related to gift culture, community building, and many other things that sounded too good to be true, I was obviously skeptical of her optimism and judgement. Meeting Shammi Nanda and hearing him out, my first observations led me to believe, here was a guy who’s all talk, no play. His claims, ideas and dreams, were big and beautiful, but I wasn’t very sure if there were people out there who could actually come together through a shared ideal and then stay together.
My favourite shape is a circle
A circle has come to signify so much more for me, than it did back in my geometry classes in school. Sitting in a circle now implies sharing, inclusion, equivalence, and a togetherness where people have gathered for a mutual cause, they feel for or are affected by and wish to do something about it. I was really frustrated in the beginning about the emphasis laid on following the steps and rules of Sociocracy. It felt like a strangulation of impulsive creativity and the need to be heard. We move in a circle to listen to everyone, than just letting everyone contribute as they wish, different from the ‘open discussions’ I was used to. It took me a while to realise that I had gotten so scared of never getting a chance to talk, that I was ever ready with opinions, wherever and whenever I could put it. It was and still is hard work, to accept that you’ll get your chance, that everyone will be heard, no matter what.
I have experienced an environment where after a voting, the majority wins and it’s completely natural to disregard the minority’s opinion and in some cases, even the minority population feels it’s a fair decision and live with it. And now I’ve experienced a ‘leave no man behind’ environment, where exists an agreement that all of our opinions, ideas, objections matter equally. Everybody will be heard. Any decision taken will emerge out the people’s’ collective wisdom. In such circles, I’ve seen a person say that here they learned that sometimes it’s okay to shut up, and another where a person said they enjoyed contributing, that they could contribute because they felt safe to share their ideas. Often these past few months, I’m reminded of the story of six blind men standing at different points around an elephant touching respective parts, and declaring they know what they’re touching. Once in a while, a synergy can flow, when in a circle, everybody has accepted that there’ll be times when they’re privy to some information, and blind to some.
Alive and fighting
I’m still running on the great ruins of structural fuels that I’ve lived with for the last 18 years, that have always presented fights as undesirable situations that should be avoided at all costs, and in case they do arise, to become an ostrich, who thinks that if you can’t see the predator, it can’t see you. So, I still avoid many sticky conversations that might lead to stickier fights, but in the past five months, at least I’ve gotten aware of this habit of mine, of the blames and stories I dish out, and how I just hadn’t been fighting the right way. Fights are no longer the monsters I run from, I have come to try and see them in the same way as the flashing bulbs in the car panel, that tell you something’s up with the machine, the tank might be empty, or the engine might not be doing well, and it needs your attention, so something can be done about it. Objections, arguments, screaming matches, disappointed sighs, are what shook me out of my ignorance and pushed me to look deeper and to work towards the transformation of my ongoing way of living and dealing with things. Fighting with our community member Kunal, for a while became something I looked forward to. I waited for the wisdom, and the newfound closeness and understanding that emerged out of it. On a human level, it felt amazing to glimpse the seas and mountains, the world that exists in another person and guides their actions and words.
How, when my mother tells me in varying levels of volumes that I should be home before dark, it isn’t a scheme to control my life; it’s just her concern over my safety, speaking. Now, that was something I could understand, accept and find ways to accommodate in my life. The conflict resolution system of Restorative Circles (www.reatorativecircles.org), that we’ve set up for AhimsaGram, follows the belief that a conflict is never between only two parties as there is always the third or the community that is also involved and is impacted by it. Everyone gets affected, and therefore the system allows an opportunity to anyone to share their grievance about a hot or cold war going on between other people and call a circle, so the situation can be addressed openly, thus clearing away the mists of gossip and suspicion.
In the last five months, my head has turned into a waiting room for questions, big and small, immediate and long-term. Things that never registered before now stand out like neon signs I cannot ignore. Walking down a tourist place, I wonder will these plastics on the street be our legacy, surviving long after our species is barely a haze in history. Why we think suffering is character-building, when someone is not enjoying what they’re doing in life, be it a child or man, they’re told that’s how it has always been and will be, so just live with it. I’ve seen enough of little kids crying that they do not want to go to school, they don’t like it, their stomach hurts, that I now live with a sensitive rock, built through years of collective sediments of pain. Formal education has become a touchy subject for me.
Having a life of dignity for all is something paramount to me. No wonder, it boggles me that the subordinate cannot question the boss’s judgment, just as the child cannot talk back to the father, even when they might have something genuine and helpful to contribute. What structures have we surrounded ourselves with? Gender, age, class, colour, power are some I recite off the top of my head, every time the discussions turn these ways.
I risk here sounding very skeptical and disappointed, but I’m actually glad that I’m more aware of age-old, man-made structures. That I no longer assume them to be normal, that I ask questions that make even me uncomfortable. Sometimes I wonder about the blissful ignorance in which I had lived a life of ‘normalcy’. When I had not even heard of homeschooling and unschooling kids, let alone, interacted with the vast opportunities and results it can provide children with. When I didn’t even imagine I could’ve had a choice in deciding if I wanted to find the x and y of algebra, or just strum a guitar all day long. Where freedom could nurture purpose and vice-versa.
It’s actually amazing, the future is not all figured out for our community. We’re young and clueless in what we’ve set out to do. The successes are as exciting as the mistakes. As we go along, we grow, people come and go, we learn about ourselves and question what’s around us. We argue, we laugh, we question, we discuss, we plan, we celebrate, we dream big and then are blown over by how much bigger it can get.
I’ve experienced first-hand, the magic of what can manifest when people are given the space and support, to try things they enjoy, to contribute. The wisdom and energy a community can harbour, when everyone believes their ideas and opinions matter as much as the person. When I can plan opening a library-cum-café with eight-year-old Adi, or have impromptu storytelling sessions with NVC-crazy Astu.
But once in awhile, reality compels me to take off my rose-tinted glasses. When the doubts sneak up and the uncertainty snuggles, because the failures are as new as the discoveries, no instruction book for either. I question my choices, is this the right path? Will it even work out? Working at AhimsaGram, I’ve marvelled many a times, about how easy it is to criticise what you live in, and how hard it is to live what you believe in.