Friday, August 24, 2007

Would you learn the art of living with death running amok?

Away from the mayhem back home, a clutch of Iraqis are taking a break at Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's (Why does he get two "Sri"s? Ever wondered? And why do the media accept it without a query?) spiritual retreat in Karnataka.

According to a Reuter’s report (a guaranteed puff job, if you read it well enough), they will “follow an intensive meditation and rhythmic breathing regime for a month to learn about an alternative lifestyle”. That means waking up at five every morning, followed by yoga classes, meditation, a stint in the kitchen, spiritual discussions, public speaking classes and spiritual singing as part of their “physical, mental, emotional and social development”. Whoa! As strenuous as life back in Iraq, if you ask me.

Also, I wish the reporter took the pains to enlighten us on what he/she means by social development of a person. Making a person socially more acceptable? And what would the difference be between mental and emotional development of a person? I know what's the similarity - plain good old guru-ish gobbledygook.

The young participants (55 men and women) hope to use their leadership skills learnt at the retreat to lead their communities back in Iraq. One participant says, “With so many problems of endless killings, bombs and war, life in Iraq is very stressful ... we have no hope. After coming here, we see a new ray of hope." Hopefully, you see that hope back in Iraq too.

I really wonder how all this actually helps the Iraqis deal with the war? Is breathing deep enough or a certain yogic posture the first thing on one’s mind when the neighbourhood store is blown away by a fidayeen attack? "We go back and help people come out of depression by teaching them breathing exercise and other techniques we are learning here," is what another participant says. Spirituality comes last in trying times. Iraqis for sure have more mundane and material issues to deal with - their taps have run dry... food's scarce... the neighbourhood school's probably shut down... the naan-wala next door most likely has moved to Jordan... they probably can't even move out of their homes after sundown.

I am curious to find out how many Iraqis have really benefited? Isn’t Ravi Shankar just using Iraqis for more effective international publicity? Why doesn’t AOL, if at all it wants to, help rehabilitate some of the millions of Iraqi refugees that have spilled over Iraq’s borders? Instead of concocting some vacuous Arab-Israeli bonhomie at his ashram. Some Arabs and Israelis are participating in the training together, helping each other with techniques and interacting on issues of life and spirituality. "This (the Arab-Israeli bonhomie) can only happen when the mind is relieved of stress and emotions are softened and refined," Sri2 claims in the report. "This state cannot be achieved by force or violence." Well, I’ll turn into an AOL disciple if in his lifetime Sri2 successfully creates a Palestinian state.

Excuse me AOL devotees, but I just can't take these new age gurus.


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