It wasn’t the course, it wasn’t what lay ahead for the next 10 months and it wasn’t the job placement the course guaranteed. The one thing I was most apprehensive about when I attended the first ever info session of IAAT was this retreat. For me, making the decision to do the course was almost instantaneous. What took a lot of convincing was attending the retreat. I am turning 40 next year. As I near this landmark birthday (it is indeed a big one, at least for me) the idea of ‘hanging out’ with complete strangers for four full days and nights didn’t exactly excite me. Add to that, roughing it out with most other students at least a decade younger than I, wasn’t appealing at all. I honestly thought of all possible excuses I could make to get out of this.
After the first day’s interaction with IAAT-ASB team, I was more than convinced that I wanted to go on this trip. The single most important factor being: Prerna, the head of IAAT, Mumbai. Her personality, her calm demeanour, her style of talking and listening, the absolute pleasure one feels when she is around was the ‘deal breaker’ for me. The challenge of reaching ASB at 6 am for the retreat wasn’t daunting anymore, because I knew Prerna would be there.
The bus ride started and ended as expected. I mingled around well but you know you haven’t really made a very strong connect if you can’t even remember names! We reached the place and it was pretty obvious that everyone, including me had made a mental note of whom we wanted as our roomies! The way the tent allocation was done, for me that really set the tone of things going forward for the next 4 days. And then there was no looking back!
The first team challenge (the pipe and the marble) brought out the teenager in me. One who didn’t care getting all soaked up in the rain and the one who used to get aggressive in a competing sports game. Snapping at fellow team members, the impulse reactions were all on display naturally. Even the action of hitting Pranav (the games coordinator) in jest or trying to bribe Shekhar was something I have always done in a competition. The spirit of ‘I have to win’ or ‘My team has to win no matter what’, I now realize was intact all these years. Just as my sportsmanship spirit. My team won. But my reaction within was just ‘well done’ because I knew that was just the icebreaker! There was a lot more to follow. I felt all charged up.
So while we were warned that the challenges were going to be like Roadies, I never in my wildest dreams did think they would really be so formidable. The rope bridge activity was confusing, to begin with. But I had figured my role in the challenge and was pretty confident that I would be able to do it. In retrospect, I think having Shringi in my team gave me that confidence.
This comes from years of conditioning that only a man can do physically tough tasks. I think I was probably the third last person to cross that bridge. By then the rains were down on us in full force as was darkness. Not for a minute was I scared but a thought that kept popping up in my mind was that a man is really nothing in front of nature’s fury.
The next two days and nights had equally demanding tasks. Without getting into specifics I’d just like to highlight my feelings and thoughts:
Courage is all that we have and it is courage that keeps us going, helps us grow. There is a lot of hidden courage within us.
All emotions are common. If you are going through some, the other person is going through the same. It is of utmost importance that we show empathy towards another person and have some control over our impulsive reactions. Think before reacting.
It is absolutely essential to focus on the journey and not just on the goal.
For anything to happen, YOU must make it happen.
Be true to self.
Apart from just the physical challenges, our minds were really put to use. For me to see the passion of Smriti, Prerna and Bindya were really inspiring. It honestly makes me want to work harder and a lot more sincerely. Often we come across people who seem to be in full control of their emotions. It is not easy to get someone to open up in front of relative strangers and be true. But I think Smriti you do really have some powers. At the end of 4 days, each one of us ‘choked’ up on our emotions multiple times. Something that haunts me 3 days after the trip as well. And strangely enough, I don’t feel vulnerable. I think I just needed somebody to peep inside my soul, understand it and awaken it. I probably may have been running away from confronting unpleasant things/feelings/situations but I now realize how important self-introspection really is. If we can lift ourselves from a space of non-awareness, it can truly be awesome. And once you are aware there is no stepping back. We just need to consciously work towards creating a space where we can truly be ourselves.
The single most important takeaway for me from the camp was being mindful. “Mindfulness is not about erasing bad feelings but about acknowledging them, even befriending them and then choosing how we respond.”
I would just like to end by saying it really has been an experience of a lifetime. For someone who has zero thresholds for pain, to emerge absolutely refreshed after this four-day rigorous mental and physical hard work does say something. While I did think a lot about my children and family and my relation to them, I didn’t miss them. The first call to them was on the third day of the retreat, such as the engagement of the retreat for each of us!
Grateful to Prerna and Smriti for introducing me to this whole new world. Teachers are adventurers, and I began my journey of being one by experiencing the other.