Sojourn in Kumaon

When we at Bhoomi, received an invite from Alaap to co anchor a programme on Leadership through Self Exploration in Kumaon, our spontaneous response was very John Muir like-

 “The mountains are calling and I must go.”

Part of the pull was the deep love and reverence for our lofty Himalayas, the sheer joy of being amidst its pristine environs. Part of the appeal was also Alaap, the fledgling young organization whose mission it is to bring back to Himalayas its native forests. Another compelling reason was to meet and interact with the youth from the hills to build communities to live wisely and tread gently in the bountiful yet delicate bio-region.

Alaap’s vision of preserving and conserving the Himalayan forests and at the same time working with the youth to foster and nurture custodians and eco leaders was what Bhoomi found a resonance with. Bhoomi believes that working with one’s inner self enables individuals to commit to a path that is meaningful for them and it also opens up possibilities for proactive action. Moreover it reinforces faith in the power and synergy of collectives.

However, at the outset we had our own uncertainties of how the programme would unfold and how the participants, who were mainly Kumaoni youth, would respond. Whether working at the self level, with their emotive universe would appeal to the hardy, down to earth and pragmatic folks. Also we were acutely conscious of how these were also assumptions we were making.

The design of the programme allowed the group to take a pause, to step back and look at the story of their lives so far. To share with the others what they were ‘with’ in the moment; to ask questions not asked of themselves before; to express thoughts/ feelings held back within them; to find in others co-travelers and kindred spirits.

The group’s response to the triggers given was spontaneous. There were moments of intense sharing and quiet reflection in the group. The working at the self level in a group setting enabled most of them to dive deep within and state to themselves what they would like to commit to. Some of them who expected to hone their leadership skills through the programme were not able to see the connection between working with the inner self and outer engagements. Stating the dissonance itself released energy for the individuals concerned. For others the sharing and working helped to feel into what could be possibly blocking their energies. It also enabled them to build on their interests/concerns about ecological living with inputs from the group.

There were precious moments of deep stillness in the forest where one almost experienced the absence of one’s presence. Exercises that facilitated the experience of oneness with the forest, befriending and connecting with the forest as well as engaging with Earth art was deeply enriching and meaningful. What got touched was the feel of being embedded in Earth and our inexplicable connect with her. For most people in the group the exercises made them revisit childhood memories and re iterated the primacy of their forests in their lives. In the group sharing what stood out was not just their intimate knowledge of their forests but also the intimacy shared with it.

The facilitators group in the sharing of their stories, experiences, challenges and learning offered glimpses of possibilities that exist in areas of afforestation, eco-tourism, waste management, building local economies and creating alternate learning spaces. This had the effect of kindling a flame among the participants and the throb, the hum of enthusiasm was palpable!

The programme concluded with an interactive session with some members of the van panchayat wherein possible avenues for engagement and action were discussed. This engagement enabled many in the group to express their desire to work in a specific area, share their concerns and challenges and sharpen their focus. What played out was grassroots activism in its essence.

Quite often the distinctive spark in each of us, the potential to live out our greater story is not given the time and space to be nurtured enough. Programmes like these provide the time and space to focus on ourselves and explore our patterns of thinking, feeling and acting in a group setting. The insights one gets in touch with, the perspectives offered by the group, the inner shifts one makes leads to changes in one’s life and the world. We have seen it happen in many of the programmes that Bhoomi has offered.

What stood out for me in this group was their receptivity, their willingness to share despite the initial reticence/doubts, their deep desire to make a difference and their search for a group, a community to walk with. What touched me was witnessing the flowering of many a leader, the feel of many dreams unfolding and a strong sense of a community coming together. The running thread was to take collective ownership of the commons, the forests and commit to action.

And then it was time to leave…to part ways to get back to our day to day engagements. But before we parted the group reviewed the time spent with one another and committed to carrying the spirit of our work and time together. Each one of us also articulated our Sankalpa for ourselves. A Sankalpa that will anchor us, that would give us direction and would also direct our energies towards essentials. It was a stirring and moving experience to deeply listen to each other and wish for the other the fruition of their cherished intent; to say ‘So be it.’

As we, the Bhoomi team prepared ourselves to say our goodbye to the group and the mountains I was tempted to rewrite Brecht’s poem—-‘ Contemplating Hell’.

I was in the mood to contemplate paradise.

Contemplating Paradise
There are different definitions for it
But contemplating paradise
I find it to be a place
Much like the beautiful Kumaon Himalayas

With its verdant diverse banj forests
And towering snow capped mountains
Its crystal clear mountain air
As well as the stunning padam trees!

Also the people
Who have strong roots there
and deep caring for their forests
Who have the fire in them
To conserve, protect and nurture
their forests, their van

And there are others
Who are not from there
And yet are driven, stirred
To do all that needs to be done
For the forests to thrive…

And when we don’t doubt
Our intent and find others
To join in
We not just contemplate
But co create paradise!

We left the mountains with a promise to come again.

Rema Kumar

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