Reflecting and Making sense of Earth-Shastra
Let me begin from a year ago, when we first thought of doing this work. We had deep care for the environment and we had our own set of experiences that brought us on the exploration of the relationship with ecology that we, humans share. But there were a few things that stood against us, we thought:
We are all young born and/or grew up in post liberalisation era India, grew up to be consumers as one strong identity. This means less connection to the cultural roots of how Indian society in different context has been organised. Secondly, we are seeking to understand and harmonise the relationship between between economics and ecology. And none of us have had any technical background in the field of economics. Notice the word, relationship here - we will come back to it later.
With grit, we decided to dive in and allowed the water to teach us how to swim.
Harvesting tea leaves with rains and songs playing a tune meant good community.
Days before Earth-Shastra program began, we met Ravi Bhaiya, one of our mentors. He told us something that stayed with me at the end of each day and grew stronger as we moved along. He quoted: “If you are alone and weak, find more people who are alone and weak. At least you won’t be alone.”
In front of the system and collective force of reckless consumerism, inequitable development and homogenisation of cultures - we felt alone and weak. Bringing together 36 individuals from all over the country who share the passion for the environment and are bothered by the status quo - we feel less alone. It created magic when the innocent fierceness of the 19 year old among us and the experienced resolve of the 40 year old came together; or when traditional knowledge of Sumit came together with Richard’s belief on technology; or when journalist curiosity of Rajat came together with emotional capability of Nikita.
All we had to do, was hold space - where people could connect as humans (or may I say as living beings), where there could be an authentic dialogue and where comfort and challenge played like siblings. Of course, where some people slept in some sessions and while others didn’t blink even once. :P
So, for us it got reinforced that investing in building community enables us to navigate through adaptive challenges of our times and radically expands the wisdom that’s available to people.
For 3 months now, a small cut out is pinned to my desk - “The question is how to see (not what to do).” Questions itself became doorways to new ways of seeing.
To Kartik’s expression of hopelessness, Aseem (ecological economist, one of our mentors) asked him (and us) a profound question: Lets us assume that the world is ending in 2050, how would you lead your life then?
Asking a question also meant inviting people to open things up, deconstruct, understand what’s it made up of and how is it organised. And most importantly why is it this way. This went from-
- Inquiring what were the emotional needs of our forager ancestors, to
- Opening up our mobile phones to see what is made of and where do the ingredients come from, to
- What goes in making our cotton t-shirt, to
- What unconscious part of us responds to those Axe advertisements that we end up buying them.
The discomfort that got created in a group with the question ‘How would you measure the cost of externalities? Who will bear it?’ - was a great sign of igniting a deeper search. Siddharth (Founder, Sacred Capital) during his leadership circle asked 'How does one expand human beings engagement with wealth?'. Questions like these invited us to think at different paradigms.
Sonal, Richard and Sumit deconstructing a mobile phone during Extraction session.
'What do you wish us to do when you ask us to close our eyes and notice?' - asked a participant. I was surprised myself at the profound power of noticing that happened through the forest walk, the water walk, the peer reflections and several other things embedded in the 7-days.
The Buddhist wisdom talk of developing the capacity to observe the sensations within the body as a way to transcend them. Bhagwat Gita also talks of not being the 'कर्ता' / 'doer'. Science has only begun to accept the limits of measurement. Quantum mechanics talk of how the act of observation changes the object itself.
This is where the relationship piece come into play. Everything exists in relation to something else. As we framed the work of Earth-Shastra, we intuitively had relationship as the key approach to it. And we tried to go to it every now and then. And attempted to notice the personal relationship each one of us shared with water, soil, waste, advertisements, desires and so on. Because we believe, the more personal it gets, the more real it becomes. Tejal and Sudha facilitated such a brilliant game ‘Web of Life’ - that enabled us to see interconnections in an ecosystem.
Web of Life co-designed by Vinod Sreedhar (Journeys with Meaning)
During his leadership circle, Nirat (Senior Partner, Dalberg) invited us all to be aware of the narratives that guide our lives and not being picky about our own narrative and being willing to put ourself in discomfort while engaging with others’ narratives.
Have you heard the song - ‘Duniya’ by Piyush Mishra. That for me is based in present-day’s realism yet crafts an audacious call for action. PFA.
So many instances personified this realism and audacity - Nikhil sharing his radical vision of a moneyless world; Priti inviting others into her vision during facilitating a session on ‘Preparing Forest Soil’; Sumanya finding hope in the midst of cynicism; Pavani intending to take 20 more of her friends to a landfill; Rupal feeling grounded in herself and finding strength to design the life that she wants; Nishit calling the crisis a ticking bomb was a call to be incessant in our action.
Himanshu Ji took it to another level when he shared how the most underprivileged bear the costs of development for the privileged from his experiences in / with Bastar. It was jarring to hear his experiences. But his smile brought an undying optimism.
As we move forward as one team - already rippling out as collaborators to create similar experiences for children by Nishit and Gourav, or by beginning small practices of composting, water saving etc. by a lot of us, or a shorter version of Earth-Shastra concluded at Swaraj University within 15 days of the first one, or developing a new way of seeing and thinking by a lot of us - it fills our hearts with hope. A conversation this morning in our WhatsApp group as to what would an economic disobedience movement may look like - is testimony to the thirst for raising the consciousness.
Thank you for bringing forth who you are and taking this on. We shall continue to have an adventurous ride ahead.
May peace prevail on Earth,