A w a k e n I n g     t h e  A e s t h e t i c     A w a r e n e s s


A workshop titled “Awakening Aesthetic Awareness” – or anything titled a “workshop”, for that matter – conjures up images of facilitators delivering presentations that highlight and deconstruct works of accomplished artists and lead us to profound insights that change our paradigms and make us better artists. Little did we expect our “facilitators” to be children who graciously shared our space and did what they do best – play. The organizer of the workshop – K B Jinan – made it very clear at the beginning of the workshop that he doesn’t pretend to know anything and especially doesn’t harbor any notions of being able to teach us anything. Instead, he shared with us his findings on how children learn and helped us recognize and apply some basic tools for appreciating and creating beauty, such as silence and intense observation. Through the rest of the workshop, he encouraged us to engage with the elements around us using potter’s clay, paint, cameras, pens, music or just your eyes and ears. In this context, we could not have envisioned a better workshop space – a covered terrace opening up on 3 sides to lush green vegetation and refreshingly cool breezes. The food we were served – traditional Kerala food lovingly prepared by our hosts – complemented and enhanced the energy of this space. We also had the good fortune of having Joseph, a friend of Jinan, join us for the workshop. Joseph is an amazing soul – patient, loving, humble, wise, uninhibited and fun to be with. He has spent the majority of the last 15 years in the Himalayas on his spiritual quest and generously shared his experiences with anyone who was interested. He also guided the early birds with Yoga.
For someone like me (an urbanite with a background in engineering and business,) the exercise of noticing colors and shapes and textures of fallen leaves was initially painful and seemingly pointless. But as the days progressed, all of our activities – cutting vegetables with awareness, meditating on the food before we started eating, walks through rubber plantations, hikes up to a hillock to catch magnificent sunsets, rambles through paddy fields on a full moon night, swims in a beautiful meandering river with a majestic Western Ghats backdrop – slowed my stride, elongated my gaze, and expanded my observation of intricacies in nature such as patterns formed by bamboo groves or the subtle shades of brown of fallen deciduous leaves. Quite notably, this sensitization was happening not just on the outside but also on the inside. I started becoming conscious of subtle feelings as they arose within me, such as fear of being judged as I was making my clumsy clay forms, feeling proud when complimented on the progress I was making in the workshop, and feeling distracted when I was tempted to check the time as I was observing tender young leaves in a garden. And just becoming aware of these feelings made them disappear and helped me become centered again.
By the end of the workshop, an inexplicable peace had entered me: I wasn’t afraid of being judged as what was beautiful to me need not mean anything to anyone else; I felt no pride or ownership for achievements, such as successfully starting a campfire that just wouldn’t start; I could ignore a mind wanting to wander and be completely in the moment when listening to a conversation or taking a photograph. What started off as an attempt to improve my aesthetic awareness ended up being much more than that – a spiritual journey that has enabled me to be truly silent and feel more connected to the beauty that surrounds us in all forms. So much so that all I could do in the sharing session at the end of the workshop was to cry with joy and gratitude for being able to connect with my true self.

The retreat has indeed been an intense experience. An awakening in the true sense. There was so much that was experienced that I am feeling totally lost trying to verbalise the whole thing. It has only been a week but I feel it has been a long long time since I left home on this journey  to Nilambur. Iam trying hard not to put my logical thinking into this whole process. This has to be a conscious effort and I hope this develops into a habit soon. If someone were to ask me to explain my learning out of this weeklong stay in Nilambur in a couple of words, I would say " Learning is Intrinsic".
Nothing can be taught. Everything has to be learnt. And learning is all about knowing oneself with respect to his/her environment. The awareness of being present at the moment-Observing, listening, experiencing,meditating and totally involved in whatever you are doing- might be the life-changing lesson that I have carried from Jinan. And if this has to happen, our senses have to work in total harmony.
These five days at the workshop... would rather call it a  retreat, have been turbulent. The first day saw most of the participants shaken up as we started seeing our 'conditioned minds'. The next two days saw us internalising the whole process. Learning from children & observing the way they see and understand the world has indeed been an eyeopener for me. I realised that children are observing, exploring, innovating and applying all the time. They keep themselves engaged and the learning process happens very naturally.
Since the participants came from diverse fields, the circle times were always intense and the interactive sessions would sometimes lead to chaos and confusion. But, these discussions always resulted in an inward journey of self reflections.
So much so that towards the end of the fourth day, I could expereince a change in my thought process. I had started enjoying this whole expereince of being present at the moment in totality. My decisions were now ruled more by the heart and less by the logical mind. 
The best part of the retreat was our interaction with Joseph. Every moment spent with Joseph was enlightening and I am sure to carry his lessons for life. These few days with Jinan, Joseph and all others have definitely kindled a fire somewhere deep down, which I can experience. The journey has just begun.  Don't know where this will lead. But, am sure the process has started and there's a long long way to go.
Thanks Jinan. Thanks Joseph.
A special thanks to my school management, without whose support I wouldn't have got this rare opportunity to experience a new lease of life.

Dream is not what you see in sleep,
Dream is the thing which does not let you sleep!

Take a couple of college goers, two teachers, a home maker who is into home schooling, her two children, an IT professional, a seeker, a foreign yoga practioner who teaches music, a tour organizer and throw them together on a learning journey and what do you get? Enough drama for a reality show! And much more. You are at one of Jinan’s workshop.
The mail in my in–box was indeed a pleasant surprise. Breath taking visuals. Who could have thought an innocous and seemingly dull Jewish ear on a rotting log could arrest you in such wonder?  And which ingenous mind captured the rays of the sun streaming through a canopy of leaves so beautifully? Mesmerizing  images. “Awaken you aesthetic awareness”, proclaimed the e-brochure. The accompanying write- up was equally alluring.I wanted to be part of this nature trail.  And that’s how I  signed up for Jinan’s workshop in Nilambur.
Pushpa and I got off the train and with bated  breath and  arrived at Nilambur Manor( our accommodation for the week)  in the heart of the town where you should count yourself lucky if you don’t turn stone deaf with all the honking or get run over by a KSRTC bus. As we were expecting a retreat of some sort nestled in a coconut grove through which runs a stream, the run-of - the mill   Nilambur Manor, with its  clinically white bed sheets was assuring but  some- what of a  let- down. However, Jinan’s place, the venue of the workshop, with its red oxide flooring, terracotta murals on the walls,  chicken coop and cool interiors in a typically rustic setting was picture perfect and  made up for the may hem that greeted us outside Nilambur Manor.
Just like  every other workshop, the first morning began with the typical round of introductions. Why does every workshop begin with this ritual? It takes away the fun of finding out for yourself, especially so in a workshop of this nature where it is all about observing to learn and learning to observe.

As the session unfolded a multitude of things happened. There was the “what am doing here?” moments interspersed with “ I am really glad I signed up for this ” self assuring inner monologues. As soon as the first half of the  day is over, you get the feeling that all that needs to be said and shared seems to have taken place. What is left for the rest of the week one? Wonders one, little aware that the learning is yet to begin.

The rest of the week had its challenges. It was hard indeed, finding myself in a situation where the learning methodology itself was the lesson. Roaming around as a silent observer discouraged from indulging in the pleasure of incessant yapping and  the distraction of the ever bugging cell phone, a means of escapism, was a very difficult thing to do as most of us discovered.
Lesson number two: Unlearning is much more difficult than learning! Old habits die hard but  it is harder to kill old thinking patterns. Try as hard as I may I found myself scurrying back to my comfort zone and judging by the interaction during circle times I was not the only one. The “new” ideas that were meant to induce our thought process to begin a hitherto unknown journey failed to make an impact. I found myself shackled to existing paradigms and questioning from an old vantage point was not helping me one bit and left me mentally exhausted.

A lot of what was discussed was making sense  but how was I to bring about a  change in the existing scheme of things personally and professionally ? I was flummoxed and so was Pushpa. It took time but towards the end of the week I felt empowered for having sought an answer. If change is what I was looking at then a paradigm shift was essential. Jinan’s repetitive  reminder, or should I say request, to just feel and not rationalize everything certainly came in handy.

The million dollar question I took home with me  : How do we develop the  intuitive sensing ability characteristic  of the primitive mind while keeping in check  the inevitable intellectualizing tendency of the conditioned mind?

Have I found the answer? No, to sit down in seclusion with a notepad in hand and meditate with the hope of stumbling on one would defeat the very purpose of the quest. For the time being, I am at peace knowing that I am going to allow myself to see more and feel more and think less. Therein lies the answer and the true outcome of my novel and memorable learning journey!   

My heartfelt thanks to the management for making this experience possible and to  Jinan and Joseph for being who they are.     

hi Jinan,
how is Chinnu? Hope she is busy in her play and learning and has got over absence of her new friends.

Personally to me the Retreat and meeting you made lot of sense, to what i had observed about schooling.

The evening we came back, Shree wanted to have a head shave, for she did not like to apply oil and comb her hair. She was so joyously allowing her head to be shaved. And she was happy till her sister and other adults kept questioning her why she took head shave.........
and after that now she is not sure of why she took it and she appears pretty confused. Though i am assuring her she looks as pretty as earlier and her school teachers also assured her the same, the child is still confused and wants to wear caps to escape questions from adults.
the situation is so similar to my decision of staying away from schools. It was joyful and full of trust upon life. But now so many feedbacks and peer group stress....i was so confused.But it was nice meeting you for it reassured my decision to stay away from schools.


You ask me if i know my 1,2,3. But i know -
how many plants are in my garden,
the number of nests on the road-side tree and
how many legs a spider has.

You ask me if i know red, blue and yellow. But i know -
how orange the rising sun is,
how pink is my rabbit's tongue,
how brown my garden soil is.

You ask me if i know circles and squares. But i know -
shadow of our window is checked,
we have star flowers in our garden,
my daddy's belly is round like a ballon.

You ask me if i know how rain is formed. But i have -
seen my face on your eyeballs and know it is thus we see;
seen a seed becoming a sapling and then into a plant;
noticed katydid have longer antennae than grasshopers.

You ask me if i know eating vegetables is good for health. But i like to eat -
vanilla cake with strawberry and blue sauce,
crunchy, crispy and salty chips,
chocolates from morning till night.  

Now let me ask you a question.
Yes, please, dear.
'Can you now without looking at your palm
draw the lines as they are on them?'

....thus she taught me to see.

I had come to teach her, how to read with fingers:
for i wanted to help her.
But the child wanted to give me some gifts,
once i closed my eyes.

The child placed a flower on my hands
and asked me to smell it.
She then held my fingers and traced
through the flower inner and outer.

The child gave me a box full of sand,
she had collected at the river side.
She asked me to dug my fingers into it
and feel its coolness and smoothness.

The child gave me a tin box
and made me shake it.
She then took shells and seeds from it
and made me feel their shape and texture.

The child shared some chips and asked me to
bite with front, middle and front teeth;
she then showed the difference in the sounds,
every time we crunch-munched into them.

She then took me to the kitchen
and made me listen to the sounds.
And she vividly described
who was doing what.

We then visited her best friend,
a tree in the garden.
She guided me to look for a nest, an anthill,
the blooms, a noisy squirrel...

And then she skipped off to play.
i realised her world was alive,
full of sounds, textures, smells.
I left the place, silently thanking her -
for teaching me how to see.

LUM Chee Hoo

The workshop has reaffirmed for me, the essentiality of spaces in between, the betwixt: space for dialogue and conversation, to reflect and be silent. It is in the betwixt that oftentimes leads one to grow and where the most meaningful learning happens.  The conditions with which the betwixt happens can also be peppered with possibilities that entices the senses, leading one to a state of awakening and reawakening of the beauty of the everyday, drawing from the essentiality and wonderment of nature.