Not very long ago, I was part of an online healing circle, where people were supposed to listen and “hold space” for each other. These kinds of circles exist at the intersection of mental health, spirituality, community support and life coaching. It was mostly populated by people who would do frequent workshops on different modalities of “healing” and knowledge — be it the secular Non-Violent Communication, or different forms of psychotherapy or schools of wisdom like Buddhism or Advaita.
During the strictest phase of lockdown, we all turned to some online community to find company and solace. I, too, became a zealous member of this group, attending every online community meeting and workshop. I spoke my heart out to people I had never met. And they listened. Probably that's what kept me going back to this circle again and again. Consistent meetings led to the feelings of mutual admiration among the members. And yet there was something about the meetings that left me feeling alienated.
As we go through life, we often adopt a genre of wisdom that resonates with us for we need a framework to make sense of a world that is largely random in the way it manifests itself. So, even when organised religion and its rituals may not appeal to many millennials, there are schools of secular knowledge that provide them the meaning and order they are looking for in a world driven by chaos. Often we get attracted to philosophical worldviews like stoicism, Zen Buddhism, Advaita (non-dualism). You could be enamoured by some ancient practices of Tantra, or adopt a meditation technique. You could spend hours watching videos of Sadhguru or Brahma Kumaris. The choices are endless. From the eloquent commentaries of Ramanuja and Shankaracharya on Upanishads to “spirituality lite” as practiced by modern “Godmen' — all of it is accessible on YouTube.
If your orientation is towards more scientific modalities of knowledge and healing, then the psychotherapy literature provides you rich content to navigate your life. Again, the variety is simply mind-boggling.
You could be interested in trauma informed healing, in psychodynamic theory or humanist approach to counselling. Some others could be fanatically committed to body-based therapies like yoga, mindfulness, and freestyle movement to heal oneself. Others may obsess over neurology and brain functioning. Yet, others could be all about cognitive biases and errors in thinking. These are modern day hobbies. This knowledge has left the psychotherapeutic circles and permeated into corporate offices as well. Even as toxic work culture destroys our physical and mental health, the Human Resource department never misses an opportunity to organise a yoga workshop or a relaxation retreat to make their employees feel cared for.
The degree to which our vocabulary is influenced by our philosophical and spiritual pastime became evident to me when I was interacting with the people of the healing circle. Each member in that group was aligned with some form of knowledge, which is central to their identity.
As I started interacting with them more frequently, the cause of my resentment became clear to me. Despite the cordial tone of these meetings, what I couldn't reconcile with was the use of spiritual and psychotherapeutic jargons in interpersonal conversations.
Such conversation makes one feel that they are not talking to a friend or an equal but to a therapist (a bad one at that) — analysis, insights, unpacking of psychic material. Contrarily, spiritual hodge-podge being offered as a solution to your 'problems' is also common — the assumption being your current state of being is a problem to be solved, and just because you chose to be vulnerable, the other party has the licence to analyse you and offer you tools to deal with your situation.
We have made tremendous progress in understanding the human mind and the reasons it suffers. We have devised effective tools and techniques — both biological and cognitive (some inspired by ancient Eastern philosophy) to help us mitigate the mind's suffering. They are all legitimate paradigms of personal awareness and healing.
However, problem begins when we start attaching our identity with this knowledge and carry it wherever we go and impose it on people who may have a completely different orientation towards life and healing. From psychoanalyst Karen Horney to modern day holistic psychologist Dr Nicole LePera all swear by self healing. But often that knowledge can be consciously or unconsciously weaponised, normalising a culture of neo-spiritual and psychological evangelism. The first casualty in such a scenario is interpersonal relationships — as our commitment lies in converting people to our paradigm, and not being fully present to their needs as an individual.
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