At first I had decided to call this piece of reflection “Preface” to spare myself the rigour of having to think of a name for this piece of reflection. As I was typing it out though, it occurred to me that it is indeed a preface, as I am only making a beginning of what I am going to supply here according to my light and ability. The rest is going to follow in detail from my cohorts, whom we call the facilitators collective.
It was Wednesday, the day that we all gather to nourish our intellectual, mental, physical, and emotional capacities, and our innermost being. It’s like a buffet spread: to each their own, create what you like!
I joined the collective after a full day. What I mean when I say a “full day” is a day in which my physical body, mind, and emotions have all been stretched out of their usual boundaries. Stretching seems difficult while you are performing the action but in the end it brings with it a feeling and an experience of relaxation. The whole of my being had been nourished with a supply of the right amount of nutrients for the day.
I quickly take a 45-minute short break from this full day (i.e., from 5:15 to 6:00 pm) and join the session after a cuppa chai and quick hot shower (in the month of May!).
I log into zoom and my eyes land on the youngest member on the screen that accompanied our guest for the evening. Soon he disappeared from the screen implicitly signalling that the session is about to start.
We started with our ritual of checking in. But today we were asked to use our bodies instead of words. That was a big relief, it took away a bit of load from me — the load of having to use words. We were given some time to check with our bodies. I went to find out from my body what is that it was feeling and communicating. Just when I was beginning to listen to my body, it was time to share. I wanted to multitask. Look at the screen, listen to my friends, and think about what I was feeling. However, I did not succeed and soon, I was tagged (meaning, it was my turn to share). In that space between being tagged and performing the action, I recognised a voice internally that demanded a perfect action. I call it the main voice. Unwillingly I obliged and the outcome was a crippled and an incomplete action.
It was not what my body had communicated to me, but I was happy to share that in that safe space which had created an opportunity for me to nourish my spontaneity. I soon tagged another teammate. As we continued, the various expressions that I mirrored gave me solace from my incomplete crippled action. I was witnessing in appreciation a piece of art that was flowing and coming alive in silence. In that moment the “I” widens and expands, blurring the boundaries between the self and the other. I feel so light, my breath flows smoothly and gently. Can I hold myself to this widening and expansion every moment, I wondered?
After this ritual we return to our main agenda for the evening, which was collective reading. We began with the preface. This time it’s the preface of Paulo Freire’s book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”.
We decided that one team member at a time would begin reading and stop whenever there is a question, thought, or an idea waiting at the door. The idea of having many voices (meaning many volunteer readers) was floated. I liked the idea of changing voices. It adds colour and flavour I believed.
We began and the first word that landed on my ears was conscientização ,
Our team member who volunteered to read also paused and asked for help to pronounce this word; he was comforted by saying only a Spanish speaker in the group could help him out with the perfect pronunciation. That brought smiles and freedom. Those words were comforting even for me who has chosen to be a listener in that moment.
The reading continued but I remained with the word conscientização. I found out that the word means “taking action against oppressive elements in reality”. It remained with me and it became my theme for the evening.
From here, I quickly tried to gather myself, paid attention to the reader’s voice and was soon successful in locating the words in the text. (I like playing that game: how quickly can you find the words in the text!!!!)
As we continued, I heard the phrase “fear of freedom”. These words were ringing louder than the word conscientização. Have I experienced fear of freedom? What is my relationship with freedom? Should I raise a flag to share that these words are ringing aloud or will I be disturbing the flow?
“Wait, see what follows and engage with thoughts before letting them fly into the space, not sure if you should…”. I followed this voice .
With that began an internal process to look for the oppressive elements within. I resonated with similar words that were shared by our guest for the evening, that one can relate/apply the ideas of the book to the self or begin with oneself.
I decided to walk with the group this time and not run to join them. However, realised I had joined the group only when I heard the reader reading “Sectarianism, fed by fanaticism, is always castrating. Radicalization, nourished by a critical spirit, is always creative. Sectarianism mythicizes and thereby alienates; radicalization criticizes and thereby liberates.”
I missed a whole paragraph in between, my mind space was like that of a television screen that goes blank. Coming to the above lines from the text, I was over whelmed by the “ism” words. I would blame my non-familiarity on my educational background and non-engagement with these terms in the past. Soon, a fellow team mate had raised a flag to discuss the sense in which the words “sectarianism” had been used.
I heard the question and soon slipped into the reading by myself. What did these lines communicate to me? Radicalism is good but sectarianism is not good; one has to be a radical, not a sectarian, to carry on the good work.
Am I processing it right? It cannot be, I thought, with my trust in Freire’s work. He wouldn’t advocate choosing one over the other. I paused my internal dialogue and returned back to the space of our discussion hoping to find clarity and prove myself wrong.
The Rainbow of Desires was being discussed, which made it seem like a continuation of my internal dialogue. I quickly noted the question that emerged from my internal dialogue.
“When do I want to belong to a particular identity and when is that I do not allow myself to be in a box? What is the rainbow of my identities? Do I also hop between the “isms”? Where in my life do I adopt radicalism and where, sectarianism?”
More questions followed: “what does radicalisation means? What is the relationship between freedom and radicalisation? How are we perceiving radicalisation? How does one prepare oneself to be a radicle? Is everyone eligible?”
As these questions continued, I started experiencing a mental traffic jam. I helped myself come out in some time by breathing and entering into a blank space. When I returned, I heard a new reader reading chapter one, and a new theme emerged holding hands with the old theme, from this chapter, “Oppressor and the Oppressed”.
The many voices within played many roles and interacted with each other; some caused inaction and some led to a traffic jam. This gave rise to more questions: “Who within is oppressing and who within is willing to get oppressed? What within me causes action and inaction?”
Can I take Freire’s help here to inquire and liberate myself?
Swapnika is a facilitator and educator, with a special interest in integral education which lays its foundation in experiential learning. She has completed her PG Diploma in teacher training with I am a Teacher and has also attended Shiv Nadar University’s Theatre for Education and Social Transformation Course. She has been engaging with children of different age groups in schools. She was previously associated with Shikshantar School, Gurgaon and is currently working with Mirambika free progress school in Delhi.
Illustration by Jasmine