As we got closer to the time, the anticipation of another TA conference in India, grew. The warmth and connection in past Indian conferences stands out for me – people boldly give and receive positive strokes and it creates such a wonderful sense of belonging – a theme that is important for me. The enticing conference theme of The Dance of Culture felt important for me as a South African living within such a multi-cultural society.
This time the monsoon floods added another type of dance to my experience in Kochi – a dance within myself about making decisions that would both keep us safe and allow participation in the conference; a dance of both valuing international connections and a deep valuing in being a South African.
My husband was travelling with me for the first time in India. After almost three weeks exploring other parts of south India and meeting people that have been significant to me over the 11 years of coming to India, we arrived in Kochi five days ahead of the exams and conference so that we could explore together. After a brief concern with the airport being closed for a few hours when one of the dam’s shutters were opened, we arrived with no problem later that evening and had a wonderful five days exploring Fort Kochi and doing a trip on the beautiful backwaters.
And then the rains returned…..
So many things stand out for me now as I reflect on the experiences of those next four days. The conference organisers were flexible to consider, moment by moment, what the best decisions were – rearranging workshops, and ultimately deciding to end the conference one day earlier. What a strong and compassionate team they were! There was a balance of enabling those presenters and participants who had been able to get there, to still experience deep moments of connection and learning, as well as sensibly considering the safety of people. At the same time there was always the concern for the people who had lost everything – the generous donation of money that was collected to support relief efforts was heartening.
Adrienne Lee’s keynote address highlighted for me the balance of autonomy and homonomy. I see Berne’s (1964) initial emphasis on autonomy as a gift to people striving to find their voice within families and systems of oppression. But autonomy alone is not enough – it can separate and divide and become all about ‘me.’ Angyl (1972) in Salters (2011) wrote about homonomy – the need for interconnectedness within and between each person’s autonomy. In South Africa we have the concept of ‘Ubuntu’ – the concept that a person is a person through other people. My own spiritual journey at present is being powerfully impacted by the writings of Dr Cynthia Bourgeault (2016) who speaks about non-duality. This is a different way of viewing the world – it takes away the subject-object way of seeing people and ideologies and moves to living from the experience of oneness that mystical expressions of many faiths, speak about. For example, in Christianity Jesus said: ‘The Father and I are one’ (John 10:30)
This sense of homonomy and non-duality was powerfully lived out during those days in Kochi. As people from outside of India were anxious about how they would return to their homes and families, the conference team and local participants went out of their way to source different travel options and make wise decisions about the planned conference events.
The experience challenged me as a white South African who comes from a privileged background. It brought back some of the colonial elements of living in a society where I have more means and privilege than others and so can make different choices. My Indian friends, with whom we would be staying for a few days back in Bangalore, initially suggested that an overnight train was a safe option. But we were only able to be on a waiting list. And my fantasy of the challenges of a twelve to fourteen hour journey on a train began to loom large. A different plan was to travel by road to Trivandrum and then book a new flight from there. I spent some time thinking deeply about the choices I made. If I took what seemed like the easier option and booked a new flight, was that betraying my friends who had chosen the more economical option? In a situation of crisis, was this coming from an I’m OK, You’re not OK attitude? What message was I sending about homonomy and interconnectedness if I chose the easier option?
As it happened, my friends also decided to do the road trip and flight from Trivandrum. and so we were able to share in that experience together.
Another poignant moment was saying goodbye to one of my SA colleagues who had chosen to leave on the Saturday, while we chose to leave on the Sunday. As we hugged goodbye we wished each other well and the message to each other was ‘Stay safe’ A few days ago we met up in South Africa and I realised the power of the South African sense of belonging as we once again hugged each other hello and I felt the tears of relief flowing. It was a powerful confirmation of my roots in South Africa, the country of my birth, despite the challenges in our country – that strong sense of belonging in this land.
I know that one of my injunctions has been ‘Don’t belong’ and my eighteen year journey with TA has in so many ways offered powerful permission to belong in a very deep way. The experience in Kochi enabled me once again to deepen this sense of belonging – with my Indian friends and international TA colleagues, and with my fellow South Africans and my homeland – what a gift!
Berne, E. (1964) Games People Play Penguin Books
Bourgeault, C (2016) The Heart of Centering Prayer – Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice Shambala. Boulder
Salters, D (2011) Transactional analysis and Spiral Dynamics The Transactional Analysis Journal, 41, 265-276