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A Transformative Pilgrimage: 
Exploring the Eco-Social-Spiritual Path with the GMF Fellowship Programme

My name is Aswathy Gopinath, and I proudly represent the vibrant spirit of Kerala's cultural hub, Thrissur. Beyond just a title, I see myself as a mosaic of positions and roles within society: a devoted daughter, a passionate writer, an empathetic listener, a nurturing gardener, and a perpetual problem solver (sometimes, admittedly, a problem creator, too). I am currently embracing the role of a student by pursuing post-graduate studies in sociology. It certainly allows me to delve further into the nuances and complexities of my society.

It has been a remarkable adventure to be a member of the GMF fellowship programme for 2023–2024. It's a fellowship that has weaved ecological, social, and spiritual growth into the fabric of my being to initiate self-and-social transformation. GMF programme offers an unusual blend of experiential learning and immersion into the virtues, values, and principles of non-violence, reconciliation, and non-oppression passionately embraced and nurtured  by Gandhi, Mandela, and Freire. 

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Aswathy Gopinath

Unlike the norms of classroom teaching, the GMF learning process places considerable emphasis on experiencing the world through socio-ecological and spiritual immersion. It avoids the habit of just picking up concepts and theories and memorising them. Our learning encounters covered both socio-ecological and spiritual immersion as well as deeper multimedia exploration of the eco-socio-spiritual world we lived in.

 

Documentaries like Schooling the World: The White Man's Last Burden that we watched made me examine the shortcomings of contemporary schooling and education and prompted me to pursue real-world, experiential learning opportunities rather than just theoretical or abstract classroom instruction.

This life-changing experience provided by the GMF Fellowship Programme has profoundly affected me and moulded my personal development in a variety of ways. Growing flowers and vegetables on our organic farm has strengthened my bond with the natural world and made me more aware and mindful of the challenges and hardships faced by farmers, which has fueled and strengthened my urge to speak out and act for their well-being. I will keep working on this 'urge' to reach out to help others.

Through my involvement with socio-ecological learning encounters, studies, and activities like 'forest bathing', I have become increasingly interested in addressing 'ecological and environmental crimes'. I am specifically looking at those mindless acts that injure or destroy plants, trees, and animals and that go unchecked and unpunished. My GMF learning journey and encounters have strengthened this.

In addition, the GMF programme has helped me cultivate a multidimensional ('3D thinking') way of thinking, moving away from linear thinking and viewpoints. It has helped me to be grounded in empathy and compassion. As I think back on previous disputes and settlements, I've learned to value the transformational ability of empathy and compassion to strengthen reconciliation, heal divisions, and create deep bonds—among people and between people and Nature.

My understanding of myself has enhanced as a consequence of engaging in 'Zentangle' art and embodiment exercises. They have given me the opportunity and practical tips to explore and express my creativity as well as to continue to seek 'better versions' of myself, progressively. Through these activities, I've questioned or challenged societal conventions and norms that place a higher value on mindless, health-wrecking productivity than overall well-being. My realisation of the deep interconnection between the mind, body, and dominant, toxic societal norms will hopefully help me seek a more mindful livelihood. 

The GMF programme has been a learning journey nurturing 'conscience and compassion'. It has been a journey of self-discovery. Maintaining a diary had helped me come closer to myself—to identify times when my conscience was absent, and my compassion was lacking or sporadic. It has made me reflect on what I did for the day. It helps me live more consciously. It has brought my work on empathetic compassion closer to the efforts of the GMF programme—the six interconnected pathways to becoming a 'compassionate being'.

I believe that the GMF Fellowship Programme has set me on an eco-socio-spiritual adventure beyond the duration of the programme. As I continue to immerse myself in the suggested daily practices and my learning from the many learning encounters, I see it as an ongoing eco-socio-spiritual pilgrimage, enriching my understanding of the world and nurturing the relationships with my-Self, other individuals, communities, and Mother Nature. With each step, I grow more attuned to the interconnectedness of all living beings and the nurturing importance of compassion in creating more harmonious 'Self-Other' social spaces in society.

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