Reflecting on living untamed by learning from animals, on healing in and through community, recognising the gift and power of silence, of creating sacred and safe spaces for authenticity, compassion and innocence to flourish, particularly in the lives of children and young people…

On 1st November 2020, around 100 people from across India gathered online for the Teach Me to Be Wild (TMTBW) Circle & Film Discussion. It was a diverse mix of social workers, youth workers, educators, activists, farmers, film makers, volunteers, parents, and animal lovers. Interestingly, this gathering was hosted by our beloved friends from California viz. elder and mentor John Malloy, Steve Karlin, and the passionate filmmakers Rajesh Krishnan and Anne Veh, who so beautifully captured the essence of the transformational work carried out by Steve, John and the team at Wildlife Associates.

From the outset, it was conveyed that this wasn’t going to be an event or a workshop. In John’s words, “It is a bringing together of human spirits to remind each other of our responsibility of making safe spaces for children and to serve them.” He asked us to sense that we are in a circle, where no one is better, no one’s higher or lower, where there’s an equality in the circle; to remind ourselves that, children don’t need to be fixed because there’s nothing wrong with them. And so, we bring our collective consciousness to the fore. We want to make sure we don’t teach kids, that their trauma defines them, we want to remind them that all their pain is part of the journey, it’s a purification, it’s not  a sign something’s wrong with them, so you’re the guide poles, you don’t have to know a lot, you just have to know their nature. Bearing these thoughts in mind, John led everyone into a ceremony inviting us to introspect our hearts and thus prepare ourselves to give and receive in a way that is pure, honest and clean.

As we moved into a time of reflection and sharing about the movie, the impact was powerfully evident. Here’s what a few had to say:

Sumithra said, “It was a moving and soul-searching experience. It made me realise how empowering and energising silence can be and how animals can teach us that. Silence is a tool that gives us security and safety. That is the only space where we can experience our real voices and the film sort of reinforced that and animals are the healers in the process.”

Neesha said, “Living high up in the city the film was a lovely reminder and invitation to be with the wild where I am. I turned off the lights early after I watched the film and stared at the full moon for ages last night. Reminded me to imitate my Adivasi family to offer water, to offer fire, to tend my plants, to clean up…”

Mailini said, “I was truly inspired by Steve’s deep passion and spirited advocacy for those fragile little birds that he felt responsible for, and how he and John have co-created a sacred space where humans can connect with hurt animals who then enable healing through connection with the source, with the cosmos, with ancestors, with their best selves… and come through on the other side radically transformed.”

Following the time of reflection, Sachi and John facilitated the Circle with 12 participants while everyone else got the opportunity to witness the coming together of a group story, a ‘we’ story, inspired from an inner space yet one that resonated with our collective consciousness. John reinforced the idea that everyone is equal in a circle, and when everyone does their part, we have a whole

He added, “If you take the ‘I’ from illness and replace it with ‘We’, then we have wellness…that we’re not alone, we’ve never been alone.” In order that the Circle could create the desired space, John spoke of the four elements which needed to be respected i.e. silence, storytelling, sound, and movement. John began the story saying, “Once upon a time, there was a village counsellor. You came together to show your concern for the state and the plight of local youth. You spoke about things that had never been tried or spoken of before, or you spoke of things that had been forgotten…” Click HERE to read the full story.

The story very beautifully echoed the fact that no matter how ordinary we may be, no matter how deep our pain or shadows may be, we can still create incredible human moments where healing and restoration can happen for ourselves and each other. John added, “We got to bring our shadows to the table, to the work we do. There’s nothing wrong when the sun goes down. It keeps the balance.” He further shared with us some questions to honour and ponder upon, in order that we may not end with the group story but take the journey forward by seeking inward for answers. The questions were:

1) What do people sense about you?

2) when you walk in the room or participate in a circle? What if you looked at everyone as holy and a hero? What would change between you?

3) What makes for a sacred spirit workplace?

4) What you want to manifest for children? Where do you go to get direction?

5) Can you bring out the holy and hero in others?

6) When have you felt overlooked, unseen, or dismissed?

7) Is your thinking institutionalised, over conditioned, and trapped?

8) What is your inside spark?

9) Can you get a kid to trust again?

Steve, who was listening to everyone patiently, was asked by John to share with the group why he loved all of us. He said, “I love you because you’re a human being. And you have the same miracle as I do, LIFE! We forget that living itself is the miracle…I am so grateful to have this existence and share it with other human beings…” Steve goes on to share his journey of learning to trust himself and others, of receiving healing and life-lessons from animals such as honesty, to stand his ground in the face of trials and opposition; he highlighted how we’re strikingly similar to animals. For instance, he shared how the DNA of a fruit fly is 98% similar to that of a human. On the other hand, a dog has around 80% similar DNA to us. We have the original space dust within us, from which the Big Bang came forth; that we’re all biologically connected. That we all have something to relate to one another with; this for Steve, is the magic of life. This wonderfully reiterated what John said earlier that we’re not alone, we never have been alone! We can look to nature, and each other for answers, healing, and continue widening our circle.

After Steve’s heartfelt sharing, Pavi Mehta (Service Space) facilitated the Q/A process which was open to all. To end this gathering, Radhika Sood Nayak and Shruti Vishwanath offered their soul-touching musical tributes. Steve too joined in and played his flute to bring things to a close. The comments sections on Zoom, YouTube were filled with dozens of positive, insightful, and honest responses. It simply demonstrated the ways in which this time had blessed and inspired participants to reflect, reimagine, reawaken their spirits and play their part in creating authentic, safe spaces for children and young people to learn, trust, and grow as people; to remind ourselves that their crime, traumas, past experiences do not define who they are and can become.

A big thank you to each one who contributed in one way or another to make this gathering possible, especially to John, Steve, Anne & Rajesh, Mia Tagano, Pavi Mehta, Rohit Rajgriha, all our Circle participants, attendees, folks at Service Space, Sachi & the Ashiyana team.