Shiva Nataraja, the Cosmic Dancer
© Rainer Wolfsberger
Thirty six years ago this week, my father died from a sudden heart attack in his sleep. He was forty years old and in good health, as far as anyone knew. I was six years old and having lived most of my young life in India with my grandparents, I had barely known my father for three months. At the time, the social services in the UK were flexible enough to agree for my siblings and I to stay together and live with my mother while she continued to work at her full-time job. Looking back on this event from an adult perspective, it comes as no surprise that it had far-reaching consequences, particularly in my ability to form healthy relationships with men.
As I grew into a teenager and young adult, I felt that the whole world was against me. I fought with my sisters constantly, rebelled against my culture, and my mother was the last person I would share my problems with. At nineteen, I blundered into my first serious relationship with a man who was 22 years older than me. He was the wise and experienced role model of the father I never had. We planned to get married, have children and live in bliss forever. All the while I thought he was my saviour, I ignored his alcoholism. Fortunately, the relationship ended after two years.
When I was 24 years old, I was working as a trainee architect in Berlin. I'd seen no sun for most of the winter and felt exhausted. I was thinking about taking a cruise down the Nile, as my doctor had recommended a holiday to recharge my low immune system. Just before Christmas, I received a letter from a fellow student friend that was to change the entire trajectory of my life. She wrote to me at length about a weekend course she had done called the isa Experience and said that I should go. And so, instead of going to Egypt, I booked a place at the next isa Experience weekend and onto a flight to England.
The North of England in January was cold and wet. As I sat in the taxi from Bradford train station to a hotel just off the M606, I began to wish I'd gone down the Nile after all. I felt doubtful that a weekend course could give me all that my friend had promised in her letter. Yet her words struck a chord; she had been open, vulnerable and heartfelt. I simply trusted her. Over the following days, in spite of my cynicism, I listened, participated in the exercises, met people from all walks of life, and reflected on what my life really meant to me. We delved into many topics; communication, relationships, family, work, money and the human spirit. It was like hovering in a glider high above my life and getting to view it from a totally new and expanded perspective.
It was not until I returned to Berlin that something other than feeling downtrodden and depressed all the time began to ‘happen.’ I started socialising and making new friends. I asked for more responsibility in my job. I practised my beginner's German without worrying about making mistakes. And most importantly, I began to call my mother regularly and found myself talking to her about my insecurities and problems without getting frustrated. I felt confident and a clear sense of who I was in a way I had never felt before.
At first, I didn't connect this very different energy and enthusiasm for life to the Experience weekend. Then, as I looked deeper, I realised the information I'd been given on the course really had the potential to transform my relationship with me. I didn't have to remain the fearful, angry, needy woman, who had no respect or value for her opinions and dreams; qualities I thought had been given to me at birth and that I had to bear for the rest of my life, until I died and was reincarnated according to the Hindu religion. In fact, I had been offered an insight into the reality of being able to ‘choose’ who I wanted to be… and the truth was, I had a lot of work ahead of me!
Over the subsequent years, I decided to take on the unequivocal support of isa's founder, Ole Larsen, and of the people I met at the Experience; I used the information I'd heard to ‘create’ the person I wanted to be and to embrace the challenge of fulfilling my wildest dreams. I wanted to look at myself in the mirror and love who I was without judgement, a thought I'd not dared to imagine until then. And as I began to practise alternate qualities in the small actions of my daily life, such as kindness, acceptance, responsibility, and joy, I understood the damaging consequences I had created from the reactions and decisions I'd made in so many situations in my past. I also recognised that my problems and challenges would not just ‘disappear.’ They were part of life's journey, and it was by changing the way I approached them that I would generate less damaging outcomes. And along the way, what seemed insurmountable, became a reality; such as paying off a £20,000 student debt, making peace with my ex-boyfriends, buying a house, and changing my career to do work that I love.
What I've learned from the isa Experience is imbued in every aspect of my life. I use the lessons in my coaching and massage work, my writing discipline, being with my family and friends, and in the amazing relationship I've created with my husband. And as my life continues to unfold, I know that I can integrate these lessons together with other forms of support; learning to trust that by letting the past remain in the past, the present will present only those challenges that I have the capacity to resolve. It seems a cliché to say it, and yet it truly is the journey, not the destination, that offers the richness and texture of what life can be. Our creative possibilities are limitless: what matters is how, where and when we choose to act, in the here and now.
Not long after that first isa Experience weekend, I visited my mother and talked with her about my father's funeral and how much repressed anger I had carried within me for so many years. She listened and talked too, and for the first time in my life, I was able to see his death from her eyes. She lost her husband, the father of her children, the one person who had shared the burden with her. She had been just as scared and angry, and simply did what she knew to take care of us. She understood that she had made mistakes as well, and she was human, not a superwoman mother. We held each other and cried. I couldn't even begin to know what she went through to raise four children on her own; her resilience and determination was astounding.
Today, I am (and will remain) grateful to my parents and to my friend, Hannah — who gave me life in the form of a human birth, and life in the form of a human being.
If you are interested in finding out about the isa Experience weekend, please view the website here.