Sunday, August 02, 2009

Confessions of a spiritual junkie

(Debra Winger and John Malkovich in a scene from Bertolucci's 'The Sheltering Sky' - photo courtesy: Imageshack)

My dear cousin and a close friend want me to go and see a shrink. It was sparked off by an innocuous admission on FaceBook about mid-week lows. But, little do they know that I love shrinks. Actually, I am an amateur one myself. I decided to try my luck at prurient psychology after my practice as a quack gynaecologist went bust – with most of my clients, both past and potential, fast hitting the median and preferring to opt for safer and surer surgical solutions.


But, jokes apart, I am a great believer of (psycho)therapy. I was introduced to “shrink-ism” by a Salesian priest from my alma-mater (Don Bosco)– who took a sabbatical to get a degree on applied psychology from the US. On his return he set up a counseling service for fellow priests of the order, who – not unlike lay parishioners – had their own share of mid-life blues that – in their case - usually manifested in a crisis of faith.

I found this interesting – as I didn’t know of any similar tradition amongst some of the Hindu religious orders that I am acquainted with. I remember having a very spirited discussion on the subject with some friendly monks of the RKM, who, of course, scoffed at the idea (somewhat complacently, I thought ). They felt, our Hindu philosophical traditions have in-built systems (or ‘release mechanisms’) for taking care of such phases of self-doubt and confusion, which are inevitable in the path of renunciation and were, in fact, essential experiences for attaining ultimate realization. Though no authority either in philosophy or psychology, I agreed to disagree.

struggling souls trapped inside cassocks

Meanwhile, the Salesian shrinks soon found out that, the need for such psychological intervention extended well beyond the struggling souls trapped inside a pastor’s cassock. They quickly expanded the network of the Bosco Psychological Services (Okhala, Delhi) across the country with centers such as Prafulta (in Mumbai) and Sumedha (in Jeolikote, near Nainital), that offered a full range of psychological services for treating conditions as diverse as marital disharmony, adolescent delinquency and learning disabilities to depression and manic disorders.

Contrary to popular belief, Mid-life Crisis (MLC) is not always about extramarital affairs and sex addiction. Those are the easier and perhaps the more enjoyable aspects of it. The best definition I have heard of is – MLC sets in with the first intimations of mortality. Till a point in life, we take tomorrow for granted. Then comes an event (usually in the later 30s or early 40s for an average male) – could be a minor ailment such as diabetes or high-cholesterol or the demise of a close relative - which suddenly brings home the point that life is finite, after all. Paul Bowles in his book The Sheltering Sky (rendered immortal by the Bernardo Bertolucci film starring Debra Winger and John Malkovich - click here to see Video clip) puts it beautifully: if asked “how many more full-moons will you see in this life ?” our instinctive response is “countless”. But, come to think of it – not too many, perhaps 4 or 5 or may be 20 at best. It's a disturbing sense of time running-out, literally and figuritively, in every aspect of life - physical, personal or professional.

of cloisters and closets

Mid-life is, therefore, essentially a time to take stock of life and re-examine your values and goals to re-set your sails and radar. But, I wonder if priests can come out of their cloisters (you might argue they have a long tradition of ‘confession’), why is it that we ordinary folks are so afraid of opening the closets of our mind to a neutral listener.

Thanks to Bro Jose and his spiritual mentor Pita (Fr) Lourdes (who I came to know later), I got a glimpse of different schools of therapy – from Jungian Analysis to CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) and sampled some of them. Being an early adapter (for those of you – who haven’t noticed – yours truly as been blogging since 2001 – long before ‘blogs’ became a house-hold term) and an inveterate tourist of the psycho-spiritual circuit, I have met a few celebrity shrinks – seeking them out in the back-lanes of Bandra, in their high perches in Worli or or idyllic Goan hide-outs.

Blog Therapy

‘Talk therapy’ has helped me make major career change decisions and deal with toxic bosses. Everyone, to whom I have recommended therapy so far and have chosen to try it – especially those dealing with trauma and depression, has come out as neo-converts of its benefits.

We think either with our head or with our heart. While talking in a non-judgmental environment – suddenly there comes a point when the thoughts in the head coincide with those of the heart. That’s when realization dawns and the healing occurs.

This brings back to what the senior monk at RKM told me. It is after all a quest for finding out who you are and coming to terms with it. It doesn’t matter which route you take. And if you lose your way – you can always take to blogging , which, by the way, can be deeply therapeutic as well. Try it for yourself.