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Aarti Kuber: Healing through Acceptance and Forgiveness



Guest: Aarti Kuber
Host: Amit Dungarani
Moderator: Sujatha Baliga

Welcome to Awakin calls. Every Saturday, we host a conversation with an individual whose inner journey inspires us and whose work is transforming our world in large and small ways. Awakin Calls are an all-volunteer run offering of Service Space, a global platform founded on the simple principle that that by changing ourselves, we change the world to create a more compassionate and service-oriented society. Thank you for joining us.

Amit: The purpose of our weekly calls are to share stories from the lives of incredible change-makers from around the world. Through thoughtfully-guided conversations with them, our special guest speakers share their personal stories and inspire us through their actions, their experiences and their insights. Our hope is that these conversations will plant seeds for a more compassionate and service-oriented society while serving to foster our own inner transformation. Behind each of these calls is an entire team of Service Space volunteers whose invisible work allows us to hold this beautiful space. We are thankful to them and to all of our listeners who are helping co-create today's call. Today we're grateful to have a very special guest speaker with us, Aarti Kuber. Aarti can be described as a healer who harnesses art, communication and the power of a circle to provide strength, support and solidarity to individuals who have endured violence, abuse, mental health challenges and more. She lives a life with purpose and meaning. However, this purpose and meaning didn't come so easy. Today we'll get to hear about her journey and how she was able to transform her own suffering into good and even utilize compassion to forgive her transgressors. So with that, thanks for joining today's call. Let's start with a moment of silence to anchor ourselves into this space.

In a few minutes, our wonderful moderator, Sujatha Baliga, will introduce Aarti and engage in a dialogue with her. Then, at the top of the hour, we'll roll into a Q and A and a Circle of Sharing where we'll invite all of you to invite your reflections and questions. At that time, I will ask for those of you that are dialed into the call to go ahead and push Star-6 (*6) and you'll be entered into our caller queue. For those of you that are listening to the stream, or feeling shy today, you can always email us at ask@servicespace.org. That's A-S-K @ ServiceSpace.org. Now our theme for this week is "Healing through acceptance and forgiveness."

We couldn't have asked for a better moderator today than Sujatha Baliga who's been an inspiration that has been shared on this show. Sujatha is the Director of the Restorative Justice Project of the National Council of Crime and Delinquency in Oakland where she helps communities implement restorative-justice alternatives to juvenile detention and zero-tolerance school discipline policies. She's also specifically dedicated to advancing restorative justice as a tool to end child sexual abuse and inner-familial sexualized violence in the US, as well as South Asia. Her work is characterized by equal dedication to victims and persons accused of crimes. We're grateful to have her as our guide during today's call. So Sujatha, I would love for you to just share a little bit and set the table on today's theme of "healing through acceptance and forgiveness" and then introduce us to Aarti.

Sujatha: Sure. Good morning, good afternoon and good evening everyone. When I was approached about doing this call, I was just thrilled to be able to interact with Aarti around these topics. I just want to start by saying that we understand that the topic is sensitive. We're going to be talking about overcoming sexual harm and confronting sexual abuse. So, across the globe, between 25 to even over 50 percent of children experience sexual abuse, of all backgrounds and walks of life. So it's highly likely, then, that there are some people who have suffered this harm that are listening in on this call today. So, we just want to say first, for starters, please take good care of yourself. Practice whatever grounding practices and healing practices that you have in your life, as you listen to this conversation and know that everyone on this call is wishing your liberation from any residual suffering you may have from your experiences, and wishing happiness and peace for all of us. So personally this is a very touching topic for me because I am myself a child-sexual abuse survivor who has also forgiven my abuser, who was my father but who passed away when I was 16, before I was able to fully confront him and before I had released the anger that I was feeling for him.

So when I first heard about Aarti's journey, it was so beautiful for me. I myself forgave my father when I was 24, and that changed my life. But hearing about Aarti's journey and of her age, in her early 20's, made me feel quite kindred to her even before we spoke. I know she's her own person, but I feel a lot of resonance with my 20-something self when I listen to her speak, and I've watched some of her talks online and so this is just a great joy for me to be interviewing Aarti today.

So a little bit more about Aarti in introduction. She's a 22-year old Mumbai-based person who calls herself a "planeteer" and believes her life's mission is to help our planet and its people heal. She's a strong, powerful, outspoken survivor of child sexual abuse, and she peacefully confronted the person who violated her ten years after the abuse. So her transformation began before this, in her last year of college when she joined something she calls "The Circle." It's a support group that I'll be asking her about today, to spread awareness about violence and mental health and gender and sexuality through communication and through art. So she facilitates these discussions with her classmates and with others, and it's really about listening and asking questions. This is a community that's growing in Mumbai and Bangalore and is just a beautiful, growing space that we'll learn more about today as well. I'm just very, very pleased to be in conversation. So Aarti, for starters, I would love to know a little bit more about word, this idea of being a "planeteer" if you would like to share with us.

Aarti: Hi. I'm totally, really touched to be here and to have this conversation with you of all people. You're really inspiring and, like you said, I remind you of a childhood version of yourself -- I wish that I grow up to be someone like you. It's really a very important moment for me. About why I call myself a planeteer. As a child, I watched Captain Planet and the Planeteers, it’s a cartoon, and it really inspired me. All the things that I like to write about, like all the essays and letters were about how I wanted to end suffering in this world, how I wanted to end poverty and how I wanted to see everybody happy and that inspired me. Growing up, I somehow conformed to what society had expected of me, and I was studying Business Management, and I was nearly around the last bend, really wondering what I was doing.

At that point of time, while I was drawing and doodling in my book, I was hugging my inner child and holding on to the last hope. That's when I realized that what really motivates me is doing something to protect the planet because where we're heading is not something that I'm comfortable with, and I wanted to do everything in my power to reverse that. That's when I decided that it doesn't matter what I do. It doesn't matter what I do. The aim of it should be to restore and fix the problems that we are creating for ourselves. That's why I decided to call myself a "planeteer." Because I can say social worker or environmentalist, but I think the world "planeteer" really encompasses everything that I feel.

Sujatha: Well, it is literally quite global, isn't it? And I love the your aspiration is that large in a sense. So Aarti, we were all quite moved by your courage, not just to break silence about abuse publicly, and at such a young age, but also to confront the person who harmed you. So I'd love for you to tell us a little bit about the story, if you feel like sharing.

Aarti: What I went through was basically molestation that used to happen over two years, from the time I was 11 until I was 13, and it would happen when I'd go to class for tuition. Initially, I didn't know what was happening, but as I grew up, I figured it out and then I told my parents. Then I realized that my life was getting affected by it, growing up. Like I was making certain decisions. My idea of boundaries was extremely twisted. I did not understand, I didn't love myself the way I needed to. I would feel compelled to help other people when it would hurt me, because I would stay silent about something and that really changed the way I was behaving. And this is something I really noticed growing up.

Obviously, because of these things that had changed about me in my early childhood, by the time I was 20, I already had so many things that were going wrong in my life. My mental health was at its lowest because I did not know how to have a healthy relationship with anybody around me. My family was supportive, but I was not able to connect with them. I was studying something I didn't like, and it was a very difficult time.

That's when I realized, "Okay, let me sort these things out." So I started going for therapy. Then I realized that there was this one thing that I‘d repressed in my mind and it was this. I needed to do something about it. That's when I started working towards it -- it took me a good six to seven months, and at that time, I was also going to Circle sessions and conducting them and holding space for people to share their stories. That gave me a lot of space to share my own. Through this support group, I healed a lot and I had the support of my friends. I got to a point where I knew what was wrong. I knew that this is what caused all these things. This is my pattern.

I think after that I realized that, because of that one incident, so many other, way more serious things had happened to me. Without taking blame for it, I had allowed them to happen, right? Because I was not aware of this pattern. That's when I realized that I am responsible for my own life and I can do something to change it. So I think I had a miniature anxiety attack one day, when I was at my friend's house. It was a sleepover, and we were having a lot of fun, and all of a sudden, I broke into an anxiety attack. I was shivering under the blankets. My friend came up to me and asked me what happened. This is a friend who also works with me at the Circle. She asked me what happened. I told her, "Hey I think I want to do something about this. I can't be silent any more." She stayed with me until I was done and I felt better. That's when I realized, "Okay, cool. This is something I'm feeling called to do, and I will do it."

I immediately called up my mentor. I spoke to him. I told him about it, and he said, "Yes, that's a great idea and I'm sure this will transform you, but I suggest that you take it slow. Do it step-by-step. Go to your therapist and ask her how you should go about it." So that's what I did. I got a worksheet from her. She helped me figure out my actions, my intentions, what I expect out of it, what the ideal reaction would be, how I'm going to stay safe. And after I went over the entire thing, I decided that, okay, I feel ready.

Again, I was extremely disturbed and I was 21-years old. I was at a party with my friends, but I was extremely withdrawn. I was sitting and I was staring at the moon at this party, at my friend’s terrace. I started writing, because that's what I felt like doing. So I started writing what I was feeling, and it turned into this letter about all the things that I wanted to say to the person who molested me. Once it was out of me, I shared it with my friend who was sitting next to me who was also extremely supportive, and he told me, "I think what you're doing is really good and you're really strong." And he reinforced my truth to me, the one that I was hiding and trying to run away from.

After I was done, in the next three or four days, I was going to conduct a healing workshop through the Circle, and it was really grounding. We did some grounding exercises, some breathing, also some reflection and right after that, my friends who attended the workshop and I, all of us went up to this person's house. We rang the bell. His wife opened the door. We asked for him. She said, "He's gone for his bath." So we waited for a bit and then we came back. I think she knew what we were going to do and she knew what we were going to speak about. So she asked us to come in, but I was uncomfortable with that. My friends, who knew I was uncomfortable, they kept me grounded. They said, "If you don't want to go in, don't go in." At that point, it was crucial for me, because I was about to walk in, without my own consent. It was a very important moment. I felt so grounded just by their presence and the fact that they were supporting me.

Eventually I had a conversation with him. I told him, "Hey, I need to share something with you. I don't mean to harm you. I'm just letting you know about something that happened many years ago and I just want to end it now. And I'd like to share, and please don't interrupt me." That's when I went ahead, reading the letter that I had written. It mainly consisted of what had happened and the fact that I had chosen to remain silent because I did not want to create an upheaval and harm his family. The fact that I'm doing this now was because I want to let it go, so that I'm free and so that he can also forgive himself, because I believe that it's important that he also moves past it. I'm still afraid of math. I'm still extremely afraid. Whenever I see numbers, I'm not able to process it, and I shared that. I said that this incident has really impacted me and, because of what had happened, I choose to see it positively. I am going to go on helping other people deal with these issues. That's what I said.

After that, his wife gave me a hug and she told me that she's really sorry and that he had confessed to her about his habit, and he’s changed and really repents it. It made me feel really good, like that's exactly what I was looking for. So I was flustered but I was also really happy, and my friends also were there. Looking at their faces made me calm down. He was all this while, half behind the door, just peaking in, looking down. He couldn't look me in the eyes. Then...

Sujatha: Yeah, this is what I was going to ask you about. So he was hiding behind the door, right? But he was listening the entire time. He hadn't come into the room yet, but he was listening to your dialogue with his wife. And you had heard things you needed to hear from her, but not yet from him. So what brought him out from behind that door, do you think? What was the cause of him coming out from behind his little -- you know he was there and he was listening, but what brought him out from behind the door?

Aarti: He was always there -- hiding half behind it, and I could see him. But I think when he realized that I was not here to take him to jail or yell at him, that I was not there to harm him...So I think he didn't feel that threatened, and I think it was easier for him to face it, because what I was asking him to do was forgive himself, not to apologize even. So that kind of made him feel like I wasn't trying to threaten him...

Sujatha: Aarti, you've said that you've forgiven him. I have so many questions now. I want to put them maybe in my own little hopper here. My own list. Some of the things that come up for me as you've shared so deeply and so beautifully, and I want to start by saying thank you. It was inspirational. I know that there are many people on the call who are -- you know, we hold, whether it's about something as serious, that feels as serious as child sexual abuse, or it could be some frustration with a co-worker or something -- this notion of confrontation, of compassionate and direct confrontation, I think is something that many people are afraid of. So your bravery is remarkable.

Also, I think that the world would be a better place (with it). Dalai Lama often says that the 20th Century was a century of bloodshed, and the 21st Century must be a century of dialogue. Right? This is quite an impressive example of dialogue. So some of the things that are coming up to me as you speak is that there is an exceptional amount of preparation that you did. Maybe it wasn't pre-planned, but you wrote a letter in advance and you chose people that you felt safe with to go with you and who were there to protect you emotionally. So I'm going to get back to that in just -- why don't we start there. Tell me a little bit about the people that you chose to go with you, and what were the characteristics of those people? When I think about my friends who've suffered things, I think, "Who should I be in order to be that kind of supporter to my friends, if they were to call me to be in those spaces?" So tell me a little bit about the people you chose to go in there with.

Amit: Then Aarti, if you wouldn't mind, just speak a little bit louder because some of our callers are having a hard time hearing you.

Aarti: Sure, is this better?

Amit: Yeah that's great.

Aarti: Okay, good. So a little bit about the friends that I chose to take with me. So I went along with friends who work in the Circle with me, so they've built trust. We've supported each other through our journeys. It was obvious that I'd want to go with the two of them. At the workshop that we conducted, there were two other friends who came and they also really were sensitive. So there are a few qualities that I found in them that made me feel like I'm comfortable taking them along. Firstly was patience, because it was taking too much from me to actually share what I was going through, and actually process the fact that I am going to do this. So they were very patient with me. They gave me space and that was very, very important.That was the first step. And active listening, when I did collect my words. Once I did share, they were very empathetic and non-judgmental, and also unconditional compassion. These are the qualities that I felt in them that allowed me to trust them and take them along and feel so strong around them.

Sujatha: Wonderful. So going back to, you shared with him that you didn't need an apology from him, that you needed him to forgive himself. So while I believe you received an apology from his wife, you didn't necessarily get a direct apology from him. I've always wondered, in my own life, if my father had lived long enough for me to confront him more directly -- I'd sort of made references to it, to the degree to which it caused him to stop abusing me. I think he knew that I knew that what was happening was not acceptable, and then it stopped. But I never directly asked him for an apology, right, and I always wondered. I hear from many people, "I require an apology before forgiveness." But it didn't seem that you required a direct apology for forgiveness. I'm curious about -- you chose to forgive him anyway and why? So also a little bit about what does forgiveness mean to you.

Aarti: Okay. I guess, when I was a child, I already knew that what he was doing to me was wrong, even though I did not have the full knowledge. I felt like, in that moment when he was molesting me, that he was in pain, and for some reason I could feel that pain. My therapist, Rasu, she was telling me something very interesting. Just like in Harry Potter when Voldemort hurts Harry, there's a horcrux that gets stuck inside him and he has a scar on his head. But Harry feels Voldemort's feelings as well and there's a monster inside him that's growing. So there's two things that I want to share, based on this analogy.

One was that I could feel his pain and I could empathize with him as a child. It sounds really weird, but now when I think back, I do know that I would see the pain on his face when he was touching me inappropriately and that allowed me to understand it from his perspective. So that's one aspect I could feel in my childhood.

And the other aspect is that I, now as an adult, have seen the monster inside me grow as well. I'm aware that there is a part of me that can be a potential abuser as well. I mean, we are victims. We are abusers. We can't escape from it, or be only one of them. So because I spent some time reflecting and understanding that there is a part of me as well that relates to him, that helped me forgive him as an adult.

Also the reason I wanted to forgive him and have this contemplation was because, yes, he harmed me when I was a child. Because of that incident and how it scarred me, I've had many other instances that were very serious. For some reason, I was putting all the resentment on him. I was resenting him for things that happened to me, when I was an adult which he had nothing to do with. The thing is, it happened to be that he lived nearby and I kept bumping into him and it was very uncomfortable for both of us. We'd end up running away from there -- it would just re-trigger everything that has happened in my life. Like all the pain triggered by one person. That was not healthy for me. I was blaming myself a lot, and it was causing lots of irrational thoughts. Thoughts of revenge -- and that was not like me. I wanted to be free of it. I wanted to let go of that part. I somehow had an inkling that he has changed, because of the way -- I just felt like, it's been so many years. It's possible that something has happened. I mean, what if? Because I was blaming myself and taking responsibility for not having done something earlier, etc. So I thought that it was just better for me to let go of this, so that I can be with the things that happened after instead of going back and forth and having sleepless nights and telling myself that, "Oh look what my childhood was like, it was messed up. I'm never going to be better", and things like that.

Sujatha: It's such a powerful distinction that you draw that there's things that have happened in our past and surely it sows seeds for future problems. And at a certain point, without victim blaming -- I don't want you to blame yourself. I don't want to blame myself for the residual harm that remains, I didn't plant those seeds and I'm not going to take responsibility for the seeds. At the same time, there are things in my life that I'm doing to add nutrients to the seeds and to water the seeds of pain.

I think that's a very complex conversation to have. I think that it's this fine line that you're going to be walking, and I"m certainly walking still in my mid-40's around this balance between understanding that I didn't plant those seeds, right, in this lifetime. I was not at fault for the sexual abuse that occurred. At the same time, as an adult, I want to be removing any continued causes and conditions from habitual habit patterns, etc. And it's just wonderful to see you breaking those for yourself.

I think that another part that really resonated for me, Aarti, was this notion that you could empathize and see his pain. When I was a child, I used to pray that my father would stop doing what he was doing to both of us. It was very clear to me -- I don't know that everyone gets that. I think there are some folks who abuse who are very good at masking their own pain in relationship to it, or don't even understand that they're causing themselves harm as well or that their behaviors are coming out of a negative place. So it's actually quite a blessing to be able to see that this person who is doing harm is not just harming me, but harming themselves, harming all of us in the way in which we're connected. And that Voldemort/Harry horcrux analogy is quite powerful. It makes me want to go back and watch the movie again and really dig into that analogy. That analogy is beautiful. This breaking the patterns that you talked about in your past, writing on this and talking about this, certainly has something to do with the Circle that you've become a part of. So I would love to know a little bit more about the Circle and what role it's played in your life and sort of what's been your experience from it, and how do people benefit from it. So that's a lot of questions. So I can break those down. First, tell us a bit about the Circle.

Aarti: The Circle is a community and a support group that was started by four girls who have all had a history of sexual abuse and have mental-health issues that stem from it. They came together and sat in a circle and realized that they all have stories and there's no space for them to share. This was in 2015 when we were in the last year of college.

I happened to be friends with one of them and I found out about this and I started doing the same thing in my college. So it was these two groups that started growing. What was interesting is that, in actuality, we've had a lot of women who have come and shared their stories, and we've had a lot of men who have come and asked questions and understand that they are also a part of the problem. I think mostly that it's only like, "Oh my God, women are suffering." But men are also suffering and they also have a part to play. So that's why we started having a safe space which was non-judgmental, where people could come and share. And we had a strict confidentiality clause. And we host workshops and discussions and things like that. Sometimes movie screenings on the same themes or karaoke, just for people to come together and express, to dialogue and art. That's what the Circle is.

Sujatha: Wonderful. So how have you benefited from it? What's been your experience of it, and how have you, how do you sense other people benefit from it?

Aarti: I do remember very clearly the first session that I had -- I stood up and said, "Thank you all for coming." Then I had an anxiety attack and I went back and sat, and my friend took over. And I honestly had no idea what I was saying. I just knew that I needed this in my life, so I was trying to co-create it with my friends. That's about it. I needed it for myself and so did my friends. So the Circle was born because that was exactly what we needed for ourselves, and it has given us everything. It helped us transform ourselves, understand, give us space, give us hope, and it’s nurtured us. Especially the three of us who run it, we feel we have benefited the most from it. And we’ve met a lot of amazing people through it and we’ve had the honour of supporting other people through their journeys, and having a discussion about things that mean a lot to us, because nowadays at least, most people have very surface-level conversations. So this is a place for people to put their heart out there.

Sujatha: You know, my experience of these kinds of sharing spaces is that sometimes it’s difficult for us, particularly when we are sharing our deepest secrets, or the things that we've experienced, the things that we struggle with -- there's always this fear that even with a confidentiality agreement, that there's going to be judgment, you know, that people are going to say, “Oh, did you hear?! This person had this thing happen!”, almost like, in a sort of gleeful way, in which people can talk about other people’s suffering. It is terrible, but it happens.

I'm wondering what was it that you felt, helped you push through maybe those kind of fears with this group of people? I mean I’m sensing that it was a group of pre-existing friends. Was there anything else that helped people be able to open up and share? What is it about that experience that let people share? If you have thoughts on that….

Aarti: Yeah, I think one is that once we facilitate it and we open up and let people know our journey, it’s like a conversation. People start sharing stories that are similar to that. We’ve had so many times in our circles, people sharing things for the first time ever, about their childhood experiences, suddenly realizing that something had happened to them that was not quite right. I don’t know...I think it’s just a place -- that there is a need for it. You know, especially in a country like India. I don’t mean to say that it’s more messed up than in other countries, that’s not what I’m saying. But just that there’s a lack of mental health awareness, there’s a lack of space. And just the fact that we are here for people, just makes them trust us slowly. We also do activities that are ice-breakers, we help people get to know each other...Just knowing that it’s a non-judgemental space, they pour their heart out.

Sujatha: Can you tell me maybe, if it’s easy to come to mind, one of the ice-breakers that you might do, that would get people being more comfortable, if you could describe it?

Aarti: Would you like to know what kind of ice-breakers we do?

Sujatha: Yeah, if you could share one or two of them with the group?

Aarti: Yeah, sure! One of them is the mask activity, where we ask each person to draw masks and on the front you write down emotions that you show on the outside, things where you wake up and say -- Today, I’m going to be this. On the other side of the mask, we write down emotions that we hide away from people, or the ones that we don’t share with anyone. And it’s never happened that people didn’t share because it’s anonymous. And everybody is happy on the outside and has negative emotions on the inside. And of course, some people are more balanced, but the consensus is that most people harbor painful emotions on the inside. And that allows everyone to understand that we are all in the same boat and nobody is perfect, that I am allowed to be myself and accept myself the way I am.

Sujatha: Oh, beautiful exercise! You mentioned mental health a few times and I'm thinking about -- just that there's bravery around talking about child sexual abuse, right? And then there's bravery around talking about mental health, and I feel that there's something around that stigmatization, like you said, in India and everywhere really. There's nowhere where anybody wants to be labeled in these ways, right? There's fear about consequences later in life, about jobs, relationships, family. It doesn't matter if you're South Asian or you're from anywhere else in the world -- I think those are fears. And one of the quotes that's always been really beneficial to me is Krishnamurti. He said, “It's no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Right?! And so that’s one of the things that helped me understand why it is. That it's not something about being oversensitive in a sense, right? And if we really stopped and thought about these kinds of numbers, right? Twenty five percent of the United States are reporting, but I think that is under-reported, child sexual abuse; in India, it is fifty three percent, by government studies, that are sexually abused as children. So we have, you know, we have literally, we have a pandemic of harm, a global pandemic of harm.

There's no place in the world where it is not happening, and so of course, this is going to impact our psychological and spiritual well-being. And so, I’d love to know a little bit more about what has caused you to become so outspoken about the mental health impacts of living in this world, right? Gender issues as well. If you’d like to share a little bit about that piece of your breaking silence and coming forward

Aarti: Yeah, so just like I’m not going to take the blame for sowing the seeds of abuse, I cannot take full responsibility for having mental health issues, right? I understand that some of it could be -- they’re still debating whether it’s hereditary or not, or whatever. But a lot of it comes from the trauma that I’ve been through. And most of it is something that I couldn’t really help. Let’s not place blame or assign responsibility. It just happens. So I don’t see why we should not look at it as something that should be nurtured. I feel everyone on this planet needs love and support and because we don’t get it, we have evil shades. The reason I’m coming out about this is because I feel it’s personally important that I don’t label myself anymore. But I think it’s positive. Like you said, the quote that you shared, it’s so important that we understand that there is disorder around us and that we are constantly absorbing it. And if we don’t understand where we are at, and start getting better from there, then what are we doing?

I wanted to share about how right now, there is a lot of pain, a lot of violence, a lot of suffering that is going on in the world and it is obvious that it is affecting all our minds. And not all of us have mental health issues, but we all have a mind and mental health, right? And I want people to see it like that. And I want people to understand that it is important for each one of us to give ourselves love and care. And yeah, labels are important for you to understand where you are at, and what you are going through. But after you know, you need to start working on it. That's exactly how I feel.

I understand why I have the issues that I do. I had such severe anxiety issues that I couldn’t get out of my house, at one point. I used to feel unsafe in my own house. I was wary of people around me because I felt like everyone was out to get me. And obviously, I will feel like that if I’ve been through what I’ve been through. It’s not something that you have to ignore, because it only gets worse. I spent a long time feeling like this. It’s only when I started doing something about it, accepting it, telling myself that yeah, okay, this is what it is. Now I have to do something about it, instead of feeling sorry for myself, and start reaching out for help. I think reaching out for help is very important and that’s why I want to speak about it. Because I need people to know that they are not alone. And reaching out for help is the first step. And it only gets better.

Sujatha: This is so true. And every time we’ve chatted -- which is too briefly, and too few times, but I’m sure we’ll talk more in the future (laughs)! There’s so much that you say that resonates with me, right? I too was literally unable to leave my apartment, from anxiety in my early 20s. And reaching out for help, to push past that embarrassment and shame, and realize that I’m going to need to push past this, to tell someone this happened to me and this is the current consequence for me today. That I think is the first gift we can give ourselves, right? To be able to say, “Hey, even though I am super-embarrassed that I am suffering from this level of anxiety, that I’m afraid of things that are totally normal, this is a normal reaction to an abnormal set of things that is happening.”

And whether it is, you know, something as personal as abuse that happened during childhood, or just right now, in the United States, you are turning on the news and seeing the non-stop coverage of this school shooting, these are profoundly abnormal things that should not be happening in our world. And I love how you framed this: Even if you don’t identify as someone having mental health issues, you do have a mind and you have mental health (laughs). So you don’t have to go with the label if you don’t want to but you do have to acknowledge that we all have a mind and we all have mental health and that we need to attend to that.

In thinking about today, right, so you have made such incredible strides already. And I am wondering - what are some of your go-to things? For me, it is meditation, and its making sure that I spend significant time with my son. And I do difficult work around child sexual abuse and around criminalization of people in relationship to both sexual harm and other harm. And I have to really make a regimen, in a sense of self-care. And of self-love. And so am wondering what does yours looks like? What are the things you do to take good care of yourself. And it is ok if you don't have a really clear answer. And I am sure it changes over time. I would love to know. What are some of the things that you do to take good care of yourself.

Aarti: It is something that I struggle with, to be honest because I don't look after myself the way I want to. Right now for me it is eating three meals a day -- because I usually just end up skipping them, and exercising, because I have really bad physical health. I have lots of back aches, and knee pain and stuff like that. So looking after my physical body, drinking water. And apart from that something that I practise, it would be Reiki, something that I do for myself every few days. Something that I plan to do more often. I get a massage every month. And I use to go for Yoga classes around the time I confronted him. So that really, really helped. Like it helped me immensely. I like to sing. Something else that I do is, every new moon, I set intentions for myself. And every full moon, I review everything that I have been going through. And like tweak my plans. And check in with myself. And I have been doing that for a while now and it really keeps me going. It is something that really helps me stay in tune with myself. Because it is very easy to lose touch and be all over the place. And something that I do often. It helps me stay grounded.

Sujatha: Wonderful. I saw this in the answers to the questions online for Service Space, there was this Chandrakala thing. How did you choose that as the way to do this practise and was it particularly something about the moon, or the moonbeams that spoke to you? Or was it just, you know historically, I think, our peoples have operated by the lunar calendar. But there was that question in my mind. How did you choose that as the symbol really, of this practise?

Aarti: Chandrakala is the name of my aunt. And I was extremely close to her, and I met her right in the beginning of this long journey that I have taken. Right after I was done with college and I just started doing all these things. She has really nurtured me at a time when I was extremely weak. And she was doing it herself and I just lost her a few months ago in December. She had cancer and she passed away. And when she was in the hospital, I visited her and told her that I like to do something to honour her. And it just happened to be. Like it was just one day when I realised that "Oh! My god. I am in love with the moon and I am in love with her and she really inspires me - and this is what it is going to be called." And I was at the Service Space retreat and it was hilarious -- I didn't even know that the Service Space retreat is going to happen. And this idea was brewing in my head and then I happened to meet her. And everything happened in the month of December. It was like very major life changing month for me. That's about it.

Sujatha: I am so sorry that you lost her. But I am so moved that you have this beautiful way of remembering her in your life. You literally have the gift of her name become something that embodies your practise. That is really lovely. I am going back a little bit, towards this notion of the physical health piece. For those of us who have suffered physical trauma. It is really is the hardest one for me. Right - I am also a singer and I find it is the most embodied thing I was able to do earlier in my journey. The singing is a beautiful thing that comes out of my body after I have suffered harm in my body. Right. But the other piece is that the Reiki - the massage, the yoga, this drinking water- these things are truly like having to acknowledge - yes indeed we do have a body.
And I think of those of us who have suffered, sometimes that is a little bit difficult. Right. And so I was really inspired by that. By this offering that you have given here. This notion that - we really do have to take care of our body. Because you have a bright mind. You have a beautiful soul. But it lives inside something. And better integration of that - I think it is really a challenge. And so I am really inspired by this. And I have been thinking a bit about what you have said about reaching out for help. And so for me there have been many things that have inspired me. But I am actually realizing that what I need to do is reach out for help in my life, amongst my friends. And say - "Hey will you take a walk with me. Hey do you want to go to this Yoga class with me. Hi, why don't we go get massages together. " These may be ways in which I can try to reach out for help on this front. So I just wanted to thank you. As I am thinking - I am going to put both those things together. And that is something that I can do more.

So you are a young woman who is wise beyond your years. I am wondering there are many many wonderful years of your good works ahead of you. I would love to know a little bit about - what do you dream of doing? You have already done so much. What do you dream of doing with your life?

Aarti: Firstly, I would like to say that I am just speaking on behalf of the other amazing people who are young. And there is so much going on -- like I know a hundred people - doing such amazing work at such young ages. It is really cool. Like this is a revolution. A peaceful one. And what I dream of doing - so I think starting Chandrakala is just my dream in the short term. Maybe this year - if I am able to. Take a space where I can hold sharing and healing circles, every new moon and full moon. Using art based therapy. And I think this - what I am going to be doing with my life is - something very similar to what you do actually - working equally with victims and abusers. That is something that really, really resonates with me and something that I feel on a very personal level. And all the work that I want to do will be you know related to that. So even restorative justice, conflict resolution. Or even starting a home for people who are going through something. I mean - I don't know. Maybe a mental health home. But then again I don't know - I haven't thought about it. But definitely something to support...(Aarti connection lost for sometime)

Preeta: Hi Sujatha -- while we are waiting for Aarti to come back in -- I thought that I would engage you for a moment -- because you such an incredible expert on this subject. You work a lot with survivors of sexual abuse and all kinds of abuse. And I am wondering what are some of the tips that you keep in mind for yourself as you have conversations - at least the very initial conversations with those who are maybe not used to sharing their stories?

Sujatha - Absolutely! Thank you, Preeta, for your question. And I always just try to go at the pace that the person who is sharing wants to go. So the important thing is - especially when people’s experiences are so different from our own -- or even if they are the same -- we may have a curiosity that is actually coming more from our hearts than from our mind. So I would like to say - approach people with a curious heart, not with a curious mind. So you don't want to ask any sort of prying questions. Always let the other person bring forth their story. Without you asking too many prying questions.

I follow the language of the person. As they are defining themselves, someone uses the words ‘survivor’, ‘victim’, whatever... I use the word that they use, to the degree to which I am comfortable with that word. So that's one important piece. And I think just listening more than talking; try to be more interested than interesting. In a way this is how we should engage in all our conversations, so it's definitely something that helps me, I think. Last but not least, really, genuinely thinking about the gift that this person's vulnerability is giving me, to touch my own vulnerability and being grateful for that. I know, from my side, from sharing my story a lot, that it is certainly not easy, and so I try to remember that. Whatever it is that this person's suffering is, whether it seems small or large to me, it's real for them and that I should be grateful for the vulnerability that they are offering me, regardless of what the thing is that they are sharing.

Preeta: I think we have Aarti back on.

Aarti: Hi! I'm here. I'm sorry I don't know what went wrong.

Sujatha: No.. it happens. International calls, so not to worry. So Aarti we were talking a little bit also about what you dream of doing with your life before you got cut off. Did you have more that you wanted to share on that front?

Aarti: I don't think much about, you know, exactly what I want to do. I like to flow with whatever is happening; remember that I'm a planeteer and all have to do is do whatever is best for the planet and the people around me. I just stick to my philosophy, and flow, and right now, all I know is I want to start this thing called Chandrakala.

Sujatha: When I was a kid, I wrote in my journal. At one point, I was really struggling with whether I wanted to be a singer or I wanted to be doing work with eradicating oppression, and harm, and suffering in the world. I saw them as somehow mutually exclusive. I was tortured. Should I go off to a conservatory and become a singer or should I become a social justice activist? I remember writing in my diary; I looked at my journal a couple of years ago and it said, “It doesn't matter what I do as long as I'm either creating beauty or eradicating suffering.” Right. And it was interesting to me, as I have aged, I realise that those things weren't mutually exclusive. That overtime, when you are eradicating suffering, you are creating beauty and vice-versa.

I love you seem to have figured out this, far earlier in your life than I did. So I am wondering if you could talk about the art piece of your visions -- this infusing beauty and things of that nature, into your work with working to end suffering.

Aarti: It is just another thing that we have in common. I also wanted to be a singer. I also wanted to do something that was fulfilling. I also had this conflict. But I feel like even during the toughest times in my life, I always doodle. I am not a good artist at all, but I really enjoy it. It gives me peace, it makes me feel calm and I have so many sheets of paper that I used to draw in college. I have saved all of it. In fact even for me, in my journal, way back, I think last year or something, I'd written "art therapy". At that time I had no idea what it was and here I am now like actually studying to be an Art Therapy practitioner. It is really funny. I love journaling and collecting my thoughts and going over it. I am very creative, I am very restless and I am not a performer. I do it for myself, just to express myself.

The course that I'm doing right now, it's based in Buddhist psychology and Indian mind practices so that's like makes sure that I'm satisfied and I'm always pointing all my fingers towards myself and growing as a person and only helping people based on my own progress. I just love where I am at right now, and how I manage to take all my passions and my feelings and convert it into something that I can do and help myself grow and also help people.

Sujatha: Wonderful. I'm curious about the collective nature of the art, right. I find people bringing art [into therapy] and art therapy. There are tons of people who use tons of exercises like the mask that you just described. There is a beautiful project here in the United States, I can't remember the name of it, which involves African-American boys using the same mask technique and this is a push for some people. This is something seen as, particularly in working with folks for whom, you know, this is a stretch maybe, this is something that it's asking culturally, particularly with men I think, to push through this notion that 'we are gonna draw and share feelings and express through art'. A few years ago, I did a healing circle around the concept of forgiveness, once a week, over 18 weeks, in a jail here in the United States. It was designed for men who are in jail, awaiting trials for violent offences. We were looking at forgiveness as a concept -- every 2nd or 3rd week, I would have an artist facilitate or come in and help us physically make objects or design things or do drawings, whatever, that were related to the subject matter that we were sharing. It ended up becoming this quite beautiful piece that all got sewn together in this huge beautiful representation of these men's journeys towards forgiveness of self, forgiveness of other and the request for forgiveness from their hearts to those whom they had caused harm. And I found that first week there was a little bit of resistance from some of the participants to actually engage in the art making and I'm wondering what your experiences been in bringing art into your work with others and do you find people are generally very open to trying it or is there resistance there? How does that feel?

Aarti: Yeah, I do feel like it's both. Some people ease into it really well and some people are very reluctant and they just watch. But I feel that both these experiences are healing. Just like excluding yourself and watching other people explore into art is also quite interesting, and again it's a non-judgemental space where everybody is allowed to do what they want, so I feel like it's certainly the space where you are given the opportunity to express yourself. So I feel like it's beautiful. You can pick whatever you want based on what you are feeling. Art can be many things, it can be drawing, it can be music, it can be running around, it can be exercise, yoga...it can be anything. I think giving people that outlook, that option of it or the knowledge that there is this outlook, that's beautiful and letting people take to it as they are ready is something that I've noticed. It's beautiful like sometimes people make something and it means so much to them that they take it back and they reflect on it and sometimes they just express and they leave the paper there, and leave. It is different for each person. It's nice to have one medium that is so diverse, it has so many uses or it means absolutely nothing. It's just amazing.

Sujatha: Wonderful. So Amit, I think I'm gonna hand it over to you.

Amit: Yeah. Just wanted to first, open it up to all of our callers that have dialled in, if you a question that you would like to ask Aarti or just a reflection that you would like to share, please go ahead and push *6 and that way you can be entered into the queue. Again that is *6 and then you'll be entered into our queue.

While we wait for caller to do that, I did want to share one of the comments that we got in, anonymously, and it's: "I believe as the Buddhists say, we are shaped by our thoughts, we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves. I was violated for a decade as a child by two family members and four times as an adult. I choose to forgive every single person involved. I admire you dear one, your pure heart brought you to joy. Your joy is creating a healing, flowing across the world. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, dear Aarti."

Aarti: Thank you for sharing so deeply. I am glad that there are more people around the world who also believe in forgiveness and are able to practice it, it is really powerful.

Amit: Do you still find that you need to find ways to practice forgiveness not just in this sense but just in general to almost develop that as a power especially where there is residue left over and in ways where things kind of come up. I almost feel it is a power that you can develop all the time and from the spirit how you practice forgiveness.

Aarti: I guess I begin with looking at in a non-judgmental way, with empathy, from both sides, and understanding the entire situation and then I work on forgiving myself first, because it is the hardest thing to do and then eventually I don’t even have to think about forgiving the other person, because once I forgive myself contributing to that situation in whatever way I did, I understand that I have learnt from it and it has come into my life for a reason and I think holding on to a person or an incident doesn’t allow us to take learnings from it and move faster. It came to my life for a reason and we can either choose to grow from it or stick there and stop. There is a quote that I really like that says," It doesn’t matter what happens to you, but how you react to it that makes all the difference" and that is something that I would like to keep with me.

Sujatha: You know one of the things about forgiveness from my side is that sometimes it feels like when you've forgiven the really, really big thing -- like for me with the sexual abuse -- then somehow I expected that I would never be an angry person again, and that is not at all the case with me. So from my side forgiving each harm that we experience in our lives, I think we have to give ourselves a lot of space to understand. I aspired to be someone for whom anger doesn't arise in a way that is internalized or externalized in damaging ways.

So sometimes that initial flash of anger can be sort of the backbone of healing, where it's like, hey that's not ok and that should not have happened, and you should not have done that. That's a way we can be self-protective, in a sense. It can cause our limbic system to kick in and say, you know, fight, flight, freeze, dissociate, appease, whatever we need to do to keep ourselves safe in that moment, sometimes there's that, right?

But then at a certain point, for me, anger has diminishing returns for myself and others, and it's not appropriate to the moment anymore, right, until that forgiveness is a part of that journey for me. But it has never been a blanket thing. It's amazing to me -- traffic or you know when someone says something in a meeting that is incredibly racially insensitive -- I notice the anger. I may have forgiven maybe some of the worst things that have happened to me, then when I'm experiencing something that is slightly different, I don't want to have the expectation that I'm going to necessarily automatically forgive everything. Although that's something that I would like to work closer towards.

I think that there's confusion sometimes between forgiveness and passivity, and so you know I'm always reminded of Gandhiji's strength, with which he’s walked and spoken. And His Holiness the Dalai Lama too is someone who is a constant proponent of forgiveness, and at the same time takes a very strong stance on injustices in the world, so those things can coexist, and that makes the journey complicated.

Aarti: In fact, I would like to share that I am not an expert in this or even being connected with my anger, I still struggle with it. I am still struggling with saying "no" in the moment. I still take time to understand that my boundary has been crossed and I need to do something about it. I think my reaction time has reduced a lot. It happens in the same day, sometimes it doesn't. I am still getting there. I don’t get angry -- that is my problem. Like I don’t feel angry or I don’t feel somebody is hurting me. It takes time for me to notice. Forgiveness comes much after that. After I have told them that, hey what you did hurt me, after that, I start processing forgiveness.

Amit: Thank you for that.

Gayathri: Hi Aarti, my name is Gayathri and I am calling from India. I don’t know if you remember this but we actually share a connection -- we have the same Reiki Guru. You and I met, when you learnt Reiki last March from Jayanthi aunty. And for me this was so amazing -- to find out that you were going to be a ServiceSpace guest this weekend, because it was like two worlds colliding. So this is lovely. I have two questions. One is from our teacher who is curious to know how much has Reiki helped you and secondly, last time, when we met, I know you were interning at Sadhana Forest in Auroville and that's also a very interesting sort of space because it's run on gift-economy principles, very similar to ServiceSpace -- so my question in relation to that is, how do you think, kind of, being in nature helps these sort of healing circles. Has that helped you? Do you hold your circles out among trees or use more garden-like spaces. Just what your experience has been -- how has that shaped you?

Aarti: Thank you for your question. I think the reason that I decided to learn Reiki was because I had severe anxiety, breathlessness and it had started affecting my physical body. I was extremely depressed. I was sleeping way too much and I had heard about Reiki because people in my family practice it. So I thought I’m in Auroville, I should just go to Chennai and learn Reiki from Jayanthi aunty. And she was so sweet and supportive. While I was learning Reiki itself, I started noticing the difference and now I have done my level two and it’s magic. It is amazing because it helps me to tune into my body and understand which part of my body is holding resistance or trauma in, and how am I going to release it and I’ve had a beautiful journey. I love Reiki! Every time I’m low, I practice it, I feel better; and even the whole philosophy behind it, not getting angry and so on -- it is life-changing. So thank you to Jayanthi Aunty for listening.

And to answer the second question, part of my healing happened at Sadhana forest. For people who don’t know about Sadhana Forest -- it is a living community in Auroville run by an Israeli family and I spent a lot of time there, and it is amazing to be surrounded in nature. Like for someone from Mumbai who lives in a high-rise building, that place was heaven. Just being in nature and there is a mud pool at the back where I spent a lot of time. That is also the place where I started doing star gazing and moon gazing, and to just be there and listen to the frogs. I was lost in the moment. For somebody who is dealing with anxiety, I was living in the past or the future, but that brought me into the present and it was beautiful. And about holding circles in nature, in Mumbai we do try to go into gardens. It is a little more challenging than it was in Auroville. There we use to have circles very often in the forest, and it was very beautiful. And I will try and incorporate holding circles in outdoor spaces in Mumbai as well. I do hold it on my terrace now. We go up to my terrace; there’s no great view of nature that we have because the beaches are polluted. We could go to a garden or something, yeah, that is something that I have been thinking about...

Gayathri: I also just quickly wanted to say thank you so much because this conversation is so, so inspiring and beautiful and I also wanted to say that I felt like, you have these beautiful, luminous eyes -- that's what I thought, though we only met each other for one day; and I felt this connection with you and I'm so glad we met again. And I wish you all the best. Thank you!

Aarti: Thank you!

Amit: Thank you for that great question, Gayathri.

Sujatha: Beautiful! Aarti, I was wanting to ask you a little bit more about the moon. It has just been so moving to me -- this idea, that you know...the name (Chandrakala), originally in some way came from your aunt but you have always had this love for the moon, and this is another thing we have in common -- something that I find quite soothing, actually, is spending as much time with moonlight as possible. And I just wanted to know a little bit about this thing with you and the moon. Why is that you love the moon so much, what is it about the moon that moves you?

Aarti: I believe that it is important who stays with us at a time of pain and suffering -- the friends who are there for us when we are really in need are the people we need to keep closest to us. The night that is dark has the moon that lights the path for us. That’s the analogy that has always stayed with me. And apart from that, everybody talks about how the sun is so bright and the day is so bright. But I like to look at though the night is dark and we have the new moon night where we have absolutely no brightness, the fact that it keeps growing and then goes back, it waxes and wanes. I’m also very interested in the connection between the moon cycles and the menstrual cycle.

I felt like there was a time when I was very out of touch with my femininity and being in Sadhana forest, living in nature, tuning into my feminine side, understanding my body, and coming to terms with it, it has got a lot to do with the moon cycles and astrology. And the fact that Indians, back in the day, people would follow the lunar calendar. I felt like it just came naturally to me to follow it and now it’s become a regular practise for me to tune into it, what’s happening with the moon...I’m currently looking at it, though my window.

Sujatha: That is wonderful. I've once heard of the description of the Buddha as being a finger pointing at the moon and someone described the Dalai Lama as -- I can’t remember what book it was in -- as a finger pointing at the figure pointing at the moon!

And I think that was really one of the things that just came to mind as you were speaking. And the way in which there's a compassionate sense of -- sometimes the rays of the sun directly onto some of the deepest and darkest problems that we're having are too bright -- you know, it burns! And the way that the moon kindly reflects the light for us without it being so extreme and direct, there's something in it, in and of itself, that it's forgiving. It's a gift, that is a more forgiving view of the light coming into those dark places, for us, so I just really appreciated that -- that was really beautiful, what you just shared.
Amit, I want to check in -- are there any other questions in the queue?

Amit: I actually wouldn’t mind jumping in with a question myself, while I have the opportunity. A fun one and then a more serious one. Do you have a favourite planeteer?!

Aarti: No...no! I don’t. I just watch it and I’m so busy like finding parallels in the real world that I forget about what’s really happening in it. It’s like -- this is what is happening, this is how you counter it and this is the value...my brain is just too deep in it to notice characters...But I really like Gaia if I’m allowed to say that.

Amit: Oh yeah! Absolutely.

Aarti: I spend so much time trying to understand what she says. I pay so much attention to Gaia.Yeah, she’s my favourite character.

Amit: For someone who used to watch it too, myself as well, it was very much a cartoon with a great message that was well-ahead of its time. You know, global warming and climate has been such an important conversation in the last decade but this was something that had come out back in the early 90s. So in a lot of ways, it was ahead of its time. So there’s definitely an appreciation for its message and I feel that kids today would resonate with it as well.

One of the things, hearing your story, was, you know, oftentimes family can respond to things like abuse in different ways. And I'm curious how -- you know, some families can be loving and supportive, and others don't understand it and they want to be in denial and I wanted to ask about the role that your family played throughout that process, in your healing.

Aarti: I’m going to share it. It might sound like something...but I just want to let you guys know that my family is very supportive right now and they know everything and they’re on the same page. But back in the day, when I shared the story with them, they wanted to confront him and they were about to do it and everything, right on the day I told them. But it was way back in 2008 when there was no awareness and it just happened to be that it didn’t end up happening because we didn’t end up getting support from other people we reached out to as well. We wanted to do it in a proper way and it didn’t end up happening because there was not enough support. My parents were not really sure what the right thing to do is. And this person is quite influential. So we were not sure we wanted to create a scene and it was very painful and something my dad shared with me very recently was that he didn’t want me to be defined by this incident. He didn’t want everybody to know, like, “Oh, look at that girl. She is that girl who was molested.” And we tend to be a very victim-blaming society -- that we live in; so they didn't want that to happen to me. So we didn’t do anything back then.

But now they’re fine with me. They really love the work I do and understand why I’m doing it and what drives me. But back in the day, I think it was not possible and child sexual abuse was a big question mark. But right now, there’s a lot more awareness, there are a lot more workshops in Mumbai that people are conducting on how to deal with this issue, what the right thing to do is, what can parents do to prevent it. I think there are a lot of preventive measures happening right now so I’m feeling hopeful about -- that kids will not have a really bad fate.

Amit: Appreciate that share. Sounds like your parents were there trying to be as supportive as possible but also working through the context and the cultural situation too. The other question I had was really around the circle itself and as a group/organisation, having these type of support structures are so important. Are there things that you, reflections that you invite from people who are new to the circle, both from a place of listening and from a space of sharing?

Aarti: Is there something like a ritual, or something?

Amit: A ritual or a set of thoughts or pretexts that someone should understand when they come into a space that this is what this is and this is what this isn’t. How do you really create that safe space, when it’s in a group environment like that or even when it’s on a one-to-one level and small?

Aarti: I think it’s very important for us to first state that whatever is going to be shared will not go outside. They can let us know if they want to talk about this afterwards, if they’re open to having a conversation about it, or whether they would not like to; and the fact that they are not going to be judged, whatever they say. We encourage people to share stories where they have hurt other people as well and we don’t judge people for sharing that. I think we say that obviously be mindful of the amount of time you are taking so that other people can also share...it’s very basic rules and we facilitate it if it gets out of hand. We’ve had sometimes people sharing conflicting opinions -- you know, this is a discussion, not a sharing. You know, it got out of hand because people started talking about... some very aggressively but I think we managed to step in and let them know that if they get angry, there’s going to be no solution, so we actually managed to have them calm down and share their opinions and in the end, they were both in the same page. So I think for us, being present in the moment and embodying the principles and making everybody feel comfortable and heard and facilitating it well is what we do.

Sujatha: Aarti, this is the thing that has moved me the most in this conversation, I mean, everything has moved me in this conversation, but one of the things that I've been thinking about, is something you said earlier with regards to -- “I'm someone who's also done harm, right?” And that your ability to connect with the person who harmed you, came in part from this, not just empathy from seeing his suffering, but also knowing that you yourself have done some harm in your life. And certainly not to the degree to which he did, and I think this is true of all of us, right? And one of the things that I love about these kinds of circles especially when you actively engage with other people, admitting the harm that they've done, is that this is not just a space to share here's what happened to me, but also one that shares, “Here’s what I've done to others” and it opens up this possibility of unconditional love. And for us to really experience unconditional love, we have to actually be able to share the things that we've done.

And so I just really laud you for creating spaces in which people can begin to move in that direction, in the direction of the possibility of unconditional love, because we really have to be able to tell each other the things that we've done, in order to see us in our worst moments. And so that I think is really a world that I would love to see us moving towards, and I'm so glad that that is a part of your work.

You know, we often -- I don't want to disparage, but we often have spaces that are just for folks to come and say this happened to me, this happened to me, this happened to me. In that sense, group therapy never really resonated with me, because there was almost like a ‘We're only here as victims’ vibe and then we stayed there, right? But when I can also bring forth that these are the things that I've done that I want to change about myself, right? And that these are the things that I want to atone for, that is something that feels like an important thing to do...

Aarti: Yeah, I mean, even if you're a victim, it's almost like -- part of it is feeling helpless that you are being hurt, and when a person is in that place, they have their fire adding up and you’re going to hurt people around you. So it’s not like physically going and slapping someone and being abusive to someone, it’s also just hurting people around you because you are not all right. It could be just at a subtle level. Even when someone is depressed, people around them are concerned about them. So if we are in a helpless state, we are both a victim and a abuser. If we are hurting someone, we are hurt and we are hurting. So I think that’s what I understand of this. I also believe that if there’s a place where victims are sharing that Oh, My God, this happened to me, then we are further enforcing our helplessness.

Sujatha: Wonderful. Yeah, there’s just so much opportunity for transformation for all of us.

Amit: Aarti, you know, one of the things that we like to ask of our guests is that is there anything that we as a ServiceSpace community, can do to support you or the work that you are doing.

Aarti: That’s an interesting question because I’ve been a part of your retreats and they’re always nice and my brain always has a hundred ideas, and I think the last time I was at your youth retreat and there was this really cool idea of taking Awakin Circles to schools. I find that really interesting. I don’t know if it was just a random idea that came up because all of us were fans of meditation and wanted to spread inner transformation to the youth, and that was what drove all of us.

Apart from that, I don’t know though. The work that you guys are doing is so amazing. Continuing that. And holding space every week. It’s such a beautiful thing -- these spaces; meditation and gift economy, all these principles are so futuristic even, in a way. There are people out there doing it, I know. But in the world out there, it is such a contrast and just the fact that there are people doing it, it gives me hope, it keeps me going. The other things that I need from the community I already have. I’ve received so much love -- like even with this Awakin Call, I don’t even know how it happened! I just shared something at one of the retreats and I couldn’t even believe it when Nipun invited me. I was just like, what?! So I’m very overwhelmed.

Amit: Thank you, Aarti, thank you so much for the conversation and just the dialogue between you and Sujatha has been wonderful. Sujatha, I just want to give you a moment to see if you want to share any closing thoughts before we get ready to sign off here?

Sujatha: Well, just again, thank you so much, Aarti. I'm so pleased that our connection, which I know will continue beyond this call, and I know that other wonderful connections will happen via this call and though the Service Space community. And so I was saying to Preeta that we really need to come to Mumbai and see you, and so that will have to happen somehow, sometime soon!

Also, just again a reminder to everyone who listened in today, or people who listen in the future, that you know, even when the worst things, unimaginably horrible things happen to us, that transcendence is always available to us, right? And some of the greatest learnings I've had from this call today is the reminder that there are people who want to have us heal, and there are people who will walk with us in our healing journeys, right? And that as survivors, we don't need to be perfect and that we're all on our way. And that we all do harm, and we all experience harm, and that we're capable, through collectivity, and through connecting to our own heart and our bodies and our soul journeys, that we are we are really able to, collectively, to move beyond this, to being able to just taking that risk, to step into the interdependent web that we're in. So I just wish that for everyone who is listening, and really just deep gratitude to the ServiceSpace community and Aarti for sharing your inspiring story, and gratitude for this connection and future connection.

Amit: Beautiful. Thank you so much and so one of the things that we like to do is we'll do another moment of silence here, at the end of this call and hold space in gratitude and reflect on all that we've heard. And once we do that, I’m going to take everyone off mute and we can do a collective thank you to Aarti. That would be a nice way to sign off from the call. A moment of silence, please. Thank you!

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