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Reflections On 
the Gandhi-Mandela-Freire (GMF) Fellowship Learning Journey
Aiswarya Raj

I am Aiswarya Raj, a GMF fellow from batch 2023–24. I am happy and honoured to introduce myself as a GMF fellow because of the transformative experience I had on this learning journey. It deepened my understanding of my-Self and the eco-social world around me.


Here, I will share some of my reflections.

At the core of my being, I embrace life's challenges as opportunities for profound self-development. While I navigate the complexities of existence, I find solace and inspiration in the nurturing embrace of Nature, often tending my home garden with unwavering devotion. My deep-rooted connection to my family serves as a cornerstone of my happiness, and I cherish moments spent with them as invaluable moments.


For me spirituality is not just a facet of my life; it's the guiding force that illuminates my path with profound wisdom and purpose.

In my view, life has both good and bad parts; accepting both in the flow of life makes it complete. Accepting and being able to handle difficulties helps manage life situations better.

Speaking about the GMF Programme in Contrast to Sociology

The juxtaposition of my experiences in the GMF fellowship journey alongside my academic pursuits in sociology initially stirred doubts within me. Can I manage? Yet, as I immersed myself in the rich tapestry of learning encounters in the GMF learning journey, my scepticism evolved into fervent curiosity and silent determination to complete it.

Over time, I developed an interest in attending GMF learning encounters because of the diverse, deep and enriching learning experiences about 'Self and the Other' and of understanding the critical role of compassion in serving the 'Othering' process. How do we remain compassionate to the Other in our everyday life -- individuals, communities and Nature? I learned about understanding my-Self and Others. I learned about the wisdom of inter-beingness.

I related to all these through the pedagogies of Gandhi, Mandela and Freire, i.e. the pedagogy of non-violence and peace, the pedagogy of reconciliation and the pedagogy of the oppressed. Rather than exploring and explaining these concepts and theories in abstractions, it was a kind of experiential learning. We reached out, identified and sought to make sense of these realities in our lived experiences. My understanding was deeper.


Through mind mapping, I remember understanding reconciliation deeply by reflecting, recollecting my memories and articulating my own experience of reconciliation. I 'knew' what it meant to Nelson Mandela.

The Way I learned at the GMF Programme was Different from My Sociology Classes.

In the GMF learning journey, I could share my personal experience instead of just "bookish knowledge". Prof. Nat encouraged us to share deeply from our own lives, which helped me understand difficult concepts or realities from a ground-level perspective. The GMF learning space was a safe, hospitable space to share where I felt I was not judged.

Many international educators accompanied our learning journey in the GMF programme. They did not lecture as in the mainstream academic classes. They shared their personal life experiences as they engaged keenly on the topics covered in the GMF programme. These exchanges helped deepen my involvement in the GMF learning journey. I could connect with my educators' experiences. We were all really learners at different levels.

One of the learning encounters was Behind the Mask by Prof. Uday. He shared his personal experience of pretending to be a good boy and student because of a 'social script' (a dominant narrative) that he unconsciously lived by -- "failure is not an option". He explained how this affected him deeply. He also discussed Tim Galley's performance equation: performance is equal to potential minus interference, i.e., our potential influences our performance, but interference, which we unconsciously live by, can affect it adversely. Interference comes in many forms to us as dominant narratives in our lives. And more often than not, it is unexamined or unquestioningly accepted as part of our normality, i.e. our normal way of feeling, thinking and behaving. This realisation helped me to re-examine my life to 'deschool' and 'reboot' myself. I think this is a lifelong process.

Speaking About the Influences GMF Programme Had on Me

First, the understanding of 'dominant narratives' or the unexamined 'social scripts' I lived by. I know and understand that our lives are socially conditioned in particular ways to feel, act and behave -- to act 'normally', they say. Looking at my life from a broader perspective, I realised that the societal systems claiming to work for the betterment of people like me may actually promote dominant or hegemonic narratives that control us, our thinking, our feelings, and our behaviours.  They have negative consequences and affect our relationships -- alienating us from our-Self, our community, and Nature. 


We have a 'schooled mind', and we need to be actively aware of it and work towards 'deschooling' or 'decolonising' ourselves where reclaim ourselves and find our voice. It involves critically but compassionately examining the norms in our Normality. For me this meant examining our cultural norms, our religious norms, our academic norms, or our disciplinary norms. Though difficult, challenging and demanding,  I sensed it is necessary to work on to continuously create better versions of my-Self.

This understanding helped me to think critically about the world I live in and to reorient myself. The 'embodiment practices', for instance, helped me directly and indirectly in deschooling my mind. Practising 'mind mapping' developed multi-dimensional/directional thinking ('3D thinking')...breaking away from the norm of uni-linear thinking. It is a practice I continue to work on.

The Second is About Sharing Personal Experiences.

Reflecting on my own life, I realised how past experiences shaped the person I am today. In the past, I have struggled with many challenges as varied as 'body shaming' and 'academic struggles'. Gradually, I understood these challenges and questioned them. In the process, I developed a better understanding and my own voice. It gave me a way to handle them. Through this, I was able to witness my transition from 'who I am' to 'being me', an important journey in the GMF learning process coming before the journey to 'being compassionate'. I have been exposed to the six integrated pathways to 'being compassionate'.

The practice of deep self-conversation with my conscience in the daily diary writing practice allowed me to discover sometimes meaningful, sometimes disturbing or disruptive insights through mindful self-reflection, critical and compassionate. It also contributed to and strengthened my questioning orientation. This helped me reflect on dominant narratives.

Let me share another observation. I usually take time to think about my life. For instance, I know I have acquired an education. But I feel incapable of doing certain things. Sometimes I do not feel confident. The GMF journey challenged my fears and made me realise the potential 'hidden' behind my fear. Understanding and transforming it is healing.

The Third is My 'Forest Bathing' Experience

It was my first time meditating in the forest—a new learningful experience. We went to the Mankayam and Vazhvanthol waterfalls in Thiruvananthapuram. Both trips gave me different experiences. It helped me to disconnect from my 'noisy mind' and immerse myself in Nature. It also offered me a way to encounter and experience spirituality. While my religious experience is important, I realised that spirituality is not only about religion.

The 'forest bathing' journeys were more than just trips into the wilderness; they were journeys of growth, reflection, and connection. They reminded me of the importance of stepping outside our comfort zones, facing our fears, and experiencing the beauty that surrounds us. Through these experiences, I realised the importance of body-and-senses-grounding in the midst of a forest. This is something one has to experience in their lifetime. And continue it as part of their life.

For me, 'Zentangling' was another kind of embodiment-meditative practice. It's a very simple way of experiencing art, an art form that anyone can do. It involves drawing repetitive patterns into shapes with lines and circles. It mimicked the fractal designs of Nature. It really helped me to take 'mind breaks', relieve stress and experience a meditative state through simple art.

As part of the programme, my friends and I in the fellowship watched some documentaries like Home, The Earthing, Samsara, The Human, and The Last Shaman. These powerful documentaries opened a world that I was not aware. They were deeply related to our individual and collective lives. They addressed the human-induced threats facing all life on the Earth, the value of the Earth's electromagnetic energy for our health (through grounding), and various other key human experiences. These documentaries provided a broad view of human civilisation from different perspectives and experiences, helping me understand the challenges other people and communities face while encouraging empathy and compassionate orientation towards people, plants, animals and the planet.

Through the many learning encounters, the GMF programme provided me with hands-on learning, helping me understand my-Self better, building meaningful relationships with others and Nature, and nurturing my compassionate spirit. It is a journey that I need to continue (in the post-GMF programme period).

Imbibing the spirit of the GMF learning journey, I realise that I am not only a human being but also a part of the entire system of existence. My interdependence with all beings makes my life worthy and complete and turns me into a compassionate, eco-social, spiritual being. I believe that I am on this transformative journey and will continue the GMF practices. I'm confident this will be beneficial for my future. And I can sense that it will be beneficial for society too.


I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to Prof. Nat, our programme coordinator, Nirmal, director of LESMultiversity/Loyola Extension Services (LES), Dr. Fr. Ranjit SJ, our principal (LCSS), Dr. Saji P. Jacob, our HOD, Dr. Nisha, and all the other faculty members of the Department of Sociology for giving me the opportunity and guiding me as a GMF fellow throughout the learning journey.

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