Walking Together

Spring-GreenThis morning is showery and cool. The world has turned a brilliant green, even the light is saturated with the color. The garden seems thrilled with the rain, plants sprouting and growing rapidly. I am grateful for spring and my life.

For some time now I’ve been thinking and writing about the crisis of spirit confronting humankind. This crisis touches every aspect of our lives, and is reflected in our collective choices regarding personhood, ecology, spirituality, and ethics. As daunting as we westerners find the task of addressing climate change, we acknowledge that for densely populated countries like India, the effects of climate change are both immediate and potentially catastrophic, even in the near term. Still, good people of many traditions and countries continue to wrestle with these enormous issues.Wednesday evening’s soiree at our home brought together mental health clinicians, artists, and Medicine people, all engaged in, and committed to, healing and social change. This seemed fitting given the lives of our honored guests.

We began the evening with a potluck, sumptuous as always. At first it appeared dinner would consist of deserts, yet in the end there was an abundance of delicious entrees and salads. Whew! We then gathered in council, acknowledged our Abenaki colleagues who are the traditional stewards of this land, and invited everyone to introduce themselves. Not surprisingly there was a theme: whether making films to tell the stories of marginalized individuals and cultures, or creating socially engaged educational, healing, or therapy practices, those gathered shared a determination to create a more just and equitable wold.

Yesterday I wrote about Eric Miller . Today I want to introduce you to Magdalene Jeyarathanam. Magdalene and my wife, Jennie Kristel, have worked and taught together in Chennai for the past five years. Magdalene began the East-West Counseling Centre in Chennai, and has been a driving force in the introduction of the Expressive Therapies to South India. Before that, she built a network of AIDS focused counseling centers and engaged many women in AIDS counseling. She also did pioneering work with the Transgendered community. Magdalene is committed to bringing the best available mental health clinical practices to the people of India, and works tirelessly to do so. She is determined to walk life’s roads with those who most need her company and wisdom.

In conversation with those gathered at our home, Magdalene noted that India is changing. The social safety-net once offered by large extended families has largely disappeared as economic and social forces favor more Western style nuclear family structures. Divorce is on the rise along with social isolation. Additionally, several severely traumatizing events have impacted the region around Chennai in recent years, and there are simply not enough clinicians available to meet the need. Magdalene believes the expressive therapies offer therapists the opportunity to bring effective treatment to more people than might be served by conventional therapies, and she is training a new generation of clinicians to use these powerful tools.

Magdalene and Eric have brought their considerable skills knowledge, and passion to bear on some of South India’s great social problems, yet they speak of more challenges requiring attention. In addition to the immense problem of growing economic inequality, they are concerned about the fate of tribal people in the face of ever-growing demands for space and other natural resources. Magdalene also notes disability issues are largely unaddressed, and gays and lesbians remain marginalized. These are concerns that inhabit, and extend well beyond, the mental health consulting room, for they are deeply embedded in social trends.

In their week with us we have played, laughed, cooked, and talked late into the evening. They have graced us with their presence at a city accessibility (disability) committee meeting, engaged with our family and friends, and listened to the challenges we face, professionally, socially, and as artists.

It has been our great pleasure and deep honor to welcome them to our beautiful, thinly populated, state. We feel blessed to have been able to introduce them, and their work, to our friends and colleagues. We are grateful to have come to know them, and look forward to working with them going forward into the future. There is so much to be done, and it is good to share companionship and the labor with kindred others. It is good to walk this road together.

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