Sunday, October 26, 2014

IDL at Van Niwas Ashram, Nainital for students of IIM, Indore

What can I say about this program that I had the good luck to conduct five years in a row? That it is getting better year by year and I am enjoying it more and more very year. Somehow.
First, let me talk a bit about the program. It is a combination of outdoor adventure activities, Yoga/Pranayama, mindfulness and fun. The most important aspect is the venue- the serene Sri Aurobindo Ashram perched on a hillock in the lush verdure of the foot-hills of Himalayas. I believe that the immersive communion with nature for a week is highly transformative, for each individual in a unique way even though it may not be obvious. But, it happens. And, everyone goes back enriched and enlightened in some sense. Can I prove this? No. Can somebody disprove this? No. Therein lies the opportunity and mystery of this program, making it an enigma, a romance, a challenge and an indelible experience every time I conduct it. 
I have three primary passions at this juncture in my life: conducting workshops, travel and my own personal growth. I am lucky that almost every event that I do gives the opportunity in all these three dimensions. The interesting aspect of IDL is that it is the only program in which I am also enjoying the immersive, transformational communion with nature. So, in some sense, it offers more opportunity for my personal growth and that is the delightful aspect of this program for me. In the five consecutive years, the program is refined and fine-tuned to suit the participants and make the best use of the time and space. So, as time went by, the one week stay here is giving me more time and space as an opportunity for my personal growth. That is a blessing!
We had a new challenge in the form of rain. The cyclone in the Bay of Bengal that devastated Vishakhaptnam reached up to Nainital and no outdoor adventure activity was possible for one complete day. But we could actually address some of the planning and alignment issues in the morning and the students did go to Nainital town in the rain - an unorganized adventure. Some of them came back after a short time and many enjoyed Nainital by rain.
We went on the long trek next day and there was a pleasant surprise in the form of golden sun shine, more vivid colors of nature and unbelievable clear visibility. The combination was fabulous and fantastic! From the Snow View Point, we had an uninterrupted panoramic view of the snow clad mountains of Himalayas and that was an awesome sight I never experienced in any mountain range. I could see every peak and every valley with the naked eye and the glowing, snow white peaks and the dark green, lush verdure were a feast for the senses beyond the eyes. The silver clouds were lying low as if a veil has dropped down to reveal the eternal infiniteness of the Himalayas and the clouds added fascinating colours and an ethereal beauty to the already incredible beautiful scene. The ozone charged air, the smell of the rain soaked greenery and earth, the songs of birds were a feast to the senses and when I am typing this I am transported back to that magical experience. This had an unpredictable effect on me and I was drawn to keep going and going without a break and that took me far-enough ahead of the group that created an un-explainable, magically transformational experience of being alone in this immersive infiniteness. The vastness of the Himalayas appeared to be dominating and at first I felt small and insignificant, over-awed by this eternal and seemingly infinite and infinitely beautiful and life giving mountain range – the abode of the Gods. When I kept walking at some point this duality of big and small, infinite and infinitesimal, eternal and transient dissolved and I experienced a oneness with this beauty and vibrant energy in which I am immersed. I felt that blissful oneness and lost it when some of the earliest student groups caught up with me about 500m from form our destination. What would it take on my part to be in the conciseness of Oneness and Bliss when I am with people? Isn’t it the same conditioning which made me feel small and spate form the Mountains and the Nature? Aren’t the other people part of the Nature and I need not be separate from them to experience Oneness. Though I was not mindful about it in the moment I lost it, I appear to have an answer, at least intellectually. Filling the gap between the intellectual insight and experiential wisdom is the next step in my Yoga.
I was very fortunate that Mukesh, the Class Representative (CR) of the program was very effective in performing the difficult role of being a bridge between the faculty, students and the Ashram staff and administration. It is difficult because he has no authority over anyone; and quite often , there are conflicting perspectives and interests. These would require long meetings and almost endless discussions to bring coherence.  The fact that we did not have even  a single meeting with group leaders or Ashram staff or Ashram Administration - is a testimony to the effectiveness of the CR. He did the job excellently, ably supported by Priyalata, the CR for lady participants and the leaders of all the 10 groups of students. It would have been impossible for me to participate like I did in the long trek without the confidence in CRs and group leaders. I am grateful to them for giving me the time and specie to trek alone. Paragliding is an optional event that is growing in popularity and now close to 50% of the students opted to go for it. Deepak did a good job of managing it. Finally, I made new friends in Akshaya and Biswanath, the facility from IIMI.
One of the unexpected boons of conducting this program is the inspiration and joy I feel when I see the participants going beyond their perceived limits – bringing forth that bold, courageous hero (or heroine) that is in every one of us. This IDL was particularly rewarding in this direction. While there are many such heroic deeded, I would always remember some of them for the way I was moved and inspired.
It was pleasure to have met Ajay at Indore after the introduction to Himalaya Outbound Program, Nainital, when he expressed his interest and apprehensions to participate in the program. I responded positively but had no real idea about how he would participate and enjoy the program with his (near 100%) impaired vision. In the very first trek on day 1, I realized what a  privilege it is to witness how his indomitable spirit could overcome physical limitation. I read about people like Erik Weihenmayer but it was the first time ever that I saw someone actually transcend visual impairment.  Day after day, Ajay kept amazing me with his participation in Scrambling, Rappelling, River Crossing and all the treks in the difficult mountain terrain. He topped it up with a very enjoyable stand-up comedy act in the camp-fire program. There is a story about Helen Keller – someone asked her how difficult it was to have no sight. She said that the important this was vision and the real difficulty was if one had no vision. Ajay made me see this experientially. It was  a joy to witness the joy with which he participated in each and every event. It was an honour to award the “ The Most Inspiring Participant” as well as the “Best Individual Participant” prizes to Ajya. This is the first time in 5 years that the same person has won both the prizes.
Then there was Ranbir, who had club-foot and other difficulties. I remember that a couple of times people with such difficulties came to the program but quit after a day or two saying that they were getting bored. But here was Ranbir, who invented his way into participating and enjoying despite his limitations. That spirit is awesome.
The heroine of the program was Ankita. She slipped and fell at the end of the first day and twisted her ankle in the process. She was in two minds about the night trek on the second day but mustered the courage to boldly go for it. I was walking with her on the way back and could connect with the pain she was experiencing and the courage she was generating. It was during this time she learnt and used a self healing process while walking and actually healed herself. She was the lone lady participant to climb Niana peak. She is bundle of positive energy and her enthusiasm is infectious and it was wonderful to watch her transcending her real and imaginary limits again and again.
I would also remember the two teams from the Mumbai campus of IIM, Indore for their extraordinary participation and jointly winning the best team prize. Their level of participation, enthusiasm and bonding as a team committed to take the best possible value from the program were a cut above the rest. Charu was also the joint (along with Ajay) winner of the “best individual participant’. I feel privileged to witness that spirit; more so as the instructor. The most interesting aspect is that the two teams form Mumbai are so close in performance and so much above the rest that we were compelled to declare them as joint winners(for the first time in 5 years!). It was inspiring to see that spirit and attitude of giving 100%. After all, that is the opportunity of being alive- choosing what you do with your whole being- mindfulness.
The team prize last year was also won by the lone Mumbai Team. I do wish and hope that the Mumbai campus would nurture the attitude and culture which is at the source of this because it is precious and fundamental to excellence in groups and teams.
One of the bonus aspects for  the IDL is the campfire programs put up by the students. I enjoyed this  year as well and enjoyed them immensely. Sometimes, I wonder if some of the students I see have  missed their true calling in fine arts and entertainment. 
Another bonus is to meet Sri Nalin Ji and watch Jayanto and his team. My respect for this team increases every year and I do hope that we can do a case study of the Ashram.
I am adding some pictures here.  The complete set of pictures I took (when my camera was working and I remembered to carry it with me and take pictures) could be seen at

When I am concluding this post, I feel a deep gratitude to everyone who made this possible and contributed to my personal growth.