Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where knowledge is free;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the
dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
-- Rabindranath Tagore
When this poem, which is more like a prayer, was written in the early part of the 20th century, many Indians were fighting for political independence. But these soulful words seek something greater and enduring: freedom of mind, of spirit; freedom to live and speak what we truly believe; freedom to seek inner perfection in the outer day to day life. Has India or any country found it, after 100 or more years of these words being written?
Perhaps not. But everywhere we see considerable changes in society: a coloured president in America, more acceptance for lesbian and gay people in society and church, more of interfaith dialogues, greater share for women and people with disability in various spheres of life- and many more people turning away from dogmatic interpretation of the old faiths. In India itself, some trans-gender people (eunuchs) contesting elections for public offices and succeeding, indicates a new consciousness. Of course for every step forward, society slides back a couple of steps and almost every such 'progress' comes at a terrible price for some individuals, the people who lead the change. Mukhtar Mai of Pakistan is one such example.
Who are these individuals? And how do they come to this point, where speaking out becomes not only possible but even an undeniable need? Does it happen to people who stammer (PWS) also ?Communal living presents an important phase in the evolution of our consciousness from birth onwards. As children we learn to accept society as an important “given”- an over-riding system. As children we also learn to react in a fixed pattern to various stimuli, arising from within and without. We tend to believe that society is the unchanging and final reality. We develop patterns of coping with our reality. These patterns persist over long periods of time because few of us have the necessary psychological impetus to venture out in to the unknown beyond 'society'.
We suffer, we enjoy and we carry on. A point comes when we are satiated with both suffering and routine joys and look for something beyond. Quite often this is instigated by acute distress and other life changing events. Buddhists, call them Bardo moments. One of the scriptures of India, describes similar evolution quite poetically:
“dva suparna sayuja sakhaya..
Two birds of the same plumage- one is seated above, the other below, on the same tree. The lower one tastes sweet and bitter fruits frequently- getting pleased and disgusted alternately. The other one touches none of the fruits, sits calm and serene. Lower one keeps hopping to upper branches. It finally reaches the upper branch and discovers its oneness with the upper bird. There were never two birds. There was always just one bird. Its tasting of fruits too was just an appearance. This realization leads to a state of eternal peace and transcendence. (Mundaka Upanishad)
So, pain and suffering are a resource for change. But they must achieve a critical momentum. Then, suffering is no more meaningless, no more personal. Then, it communicates to us a meaning which is universal. We see a sense, a pattern, a purpose behind our suffering. Then, we become open to others' pain and are willing to share our pain with others. Talking about it becomes easy. Suffering is no more a personal storyline- but a bigger plot underlying the cosmos itself.
Five years ago, I was conducting a Training of Trainers (TOT) and was given a little feedback: “You are doing everything fine. But some of your syllables are not very clear.” This acted as the last straw and I decided to accept openly that I stammer and to find out what I could do about it. It represented a major departure from the way I had coped with difficulties in my life till then. Only a couple of years later, I realised that this was a bardo moment and that I should be happy about it!
With acceptance came insights, release from buried emotions and a lot of psychic energy was free at last for a forward movement. With acceptance came forgiveness too. I forgave myself and the others. This made my attitude and relationship to others very 'light' and full of light. I could talk to anybody now without being defensive or offensive. I could also talk about all the embarrassing moments buried in my psyche for years. I had woken up in the land Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high..
In 2008 I met many Indians like myself, who were on a journey of self realisation. For the first time, my stammering had earned me friends! The Indian Stammering association (TISA) was born soon thereafter. What I had learned to see as my weakness had changed into a strength! I discovered that walking with others on this path was more fun. Seeking fluency for myself alone was a poor idea in comparison. Seeking acceptance in the company of other PWS was a better idea. Together, we could educate our families, friends, employers, colleagues, neighbors. Together, we dreamt of bigger goals.
By the beginning of 2009, we had self help groups in six cities, a vibrant on-line community participating in a blog and a website. Inter-SHG exchange had begun. There are miles to go yet, but when I turn and look back at my own tracks, buried in the sands of fear, shame and lethargy, I realise that what may be just a step for TISA, had been a mighty leap for me. What Tagore wrote was not a prayer, but a prophesy. We are not repeating a prayer, but fulfilling a prophesy, a vision. A vision which we wrote ourselves in past births:
..Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
(Ed. This article first appeared in the commemorative publication of Freinds for Fluency, sometime in 2009)