By: Rishabh Lalani
My initial years of working were spent in large offices, enclosed in air conditioned cubicles, wrapped in formal clothing. In search of fresh air, I would move around the campus, and sometimes take a stroll outside the boundary walls. During my evening strolls, I noticed an elderly couple, maybe in their 70s, put up a stall selling potato crisps. They were inconspicuous and could have easily gone unnoticed. I didn’t ever ask them their history, but I routinely bought two packets of crisps from them, promoted their small enterprise and encouraged all my colleagues to buy from them. In my eyes then, it was a small act of love and solidarity. Love because they seemed no different than my own grandparents, and solidarity because I knew of the struggles of surviving on the streets.
It was also an act of hope. It was hope that led me to believe that by selling their crisps, they could live a life of dignity and self reliance. Childish as it may sound, I did believe I was changing the world. The hope of change led me to an education in social sciences and a plunge into the social sector. Idealism is a raging fire – it drives one to chart the unknown with unbridled optimism. The risk of a raging fire is also that when the fire dims, dies, it leaves behind cold and dampness. After seven years in the social sector, my idealism was facing distress. I had reached a dead end – a tall wall at the end of a road leading me to the path of angry questions and conclusions. I was grieving and mourning the loss of prized values – ideals, hope, and solidarity. I was stuck.
Fighting one’s own cynicism is very unnerving. Cynicism is to human emotions, like rust is to iron. It corrodes us from within. It is the anti-thesis of compassion and empathy. In the hope of rediscovery and revitalisation, I decided to enrol myself into Amani Institute’s Social Innovation Management program. It was a leap of faith at a time when my struggles were getting the better of me. While the program offers skills for social impact, and invites practitioners to share their real life learnings, I was interested in undertaking the Inner Journey. My own inner journey. It was about alignment of one’s purpose with one’s heart. The logic is unbeatable – change can never happen if your heart isn’t in the right place. And to change the world, we must be ready to change or accept ourselves. Only, if the world were logical.
The Inner Journey spread over four months covered several aspects – from exploring frameworks to help understand values, strengths and personalities to writing our own life CVs and take falls, sometimes leaps of trust. We spoke to each other about fears, resilience, joy and stress. Combining that with purpose, passion and pragmatic needs, the Inner Journey tested my resolve to truly align all my inner asymmetry, all my aching parts to come together into something meaningful. It was but a small step to acknowledge a subdued voice, amplify and follow it.
The Inner Journey is somewhat like the process of growing up (again and continuously). Growing up is messy, bruising and confusing. Somedays seem like all the pieces are fitting in place while other days seem like everything is falling apart. There are days of triumph and days of chaos. In the rush to do things, we don’t allow ourselves to reach our own wisdom, to speak to our emotions, to name our feelings and to let go of emotional baggage. Going through all of this with love and care gives us the power to heal. In doing so, we allow space for light to fall and clarity to emerge, whenever it does.
Walking backwards alone in the serenity of Auroville, I was looking at parallel journeys, of growing up and shrinking back. It brought me both strength and sadness. The longest journey of all, says Natasha Badhwar, is the shortest distance. My reconciliation with myself. I have renewed hope for this journey.
Originally from Kolkata, India, Rishabh Lalani is a Social Innovation Management Fellow at Amani Institute in Bangalore, India.