Building Bridges Peace by Peace (Jivan, Sept. 2011 by John Rose sj) New Frontiers was one of the take-home concepts for all those who participated in GC 35. It appeared powerfully, both in the congregation documents and in the Popes address. However the spirit of seeking new frontiers is not new for Jesuits. It is a constant theme of St. Ignatius, poignantly seen when with a heavy heart he had to send Francis Xavier to India, the edges of the known world. The spirit of frontiers is the spirit of the magis challenging us to make our apostolates relevant in times of rapid change.In a globalizing world with its increasing stress and widespread violence Bombay Jesuit PrashantOlalekar was in search of new ways to communicate and create peace. In his quest he discovered acreative spiritual practice called ‘InterPlay’, a word that evokes play and relationship. Used for pastoralcare, spiritual formation, community building, empowerment and liberation, InterPlay brings people andideas back together to heal the deep splits between body, mind and spirit, create paths of grace, health andjoy for contemplatives in action, and empowers people to tell their stories in affirming communities.“InterPlay is rooted in a theology of the body that seeks peace,” says Prashant, the founder of InterPlayIndia.While doing his doctoral studies in peace at Berkeley, California he discerned the mysterious call of Godleading him through the co-founders of InterPlay - Cynthia Winton-Henry and Phil Porter – to launch intoa peace ministry that could even bridge continents.Conceptualized in 1989 InterPlay is an active and creative way to unlock thewisdom of our body! It opens the doors, windows and shutters of our bodies tothe wonders within as well as in the rest of humanity and all God’s creation. Ithas now developed into a global social movement dedicated to ease, connection,human sustainability and play.On his return to India Prashant integrated InterPlay with some compatible easternspiritual practices to devise what he calls ‘Movement Meditation’. Since 2007with a team of dedicated lay collaborators he has introduced InterPlay/MovementMeditation to about 10,000 people in various parts of India and abroad. Theparticipants range from social workers to commercial sex workers, from rural tribals to city elites, fromphysically differently abled to adults having mental illness, from teachers and students to therapists andtrainers, from budding youth to married couples, from priests and bishops to lay leaders and womenreligious.Prashant finds InterPlay a wonderful medium for holistic peace: intrapersonal, interpersonal, societal,global and cosmic. As a bridge builder in keeping with the spirit of GC 35, he initiated the global peaceexchange project in 2008. American and Australian InterPlayers come to India to interplay and interactwith rich and poor, rural and urban people of all faiths and ideologies. For the most recent peaceexchange there were a variety of creative workshops mainly facilitated by Trish Watts, the co-founder ofInterPlay Australia. Some titles will give you an idea: InterPlay - a Way of Life, Playing with Life’sChoices, Compassionate Communication, InterPlay for Health, Listen to the Hum of Life, Explore theChild Within, Sparkle and Sprinkle, Voice Medicine, Teamwork and Beyond.
GC 35 reminds us of our mission for today: “‘Nations’ beyond geographical definitions await us, ‘nations’ that today include those who are poor and displaced…there are new ‘nations’, and we have been sent to them.” The main highlight of the peace pilgrimage from Jan. 7-20, 2011 was the exposure to the “new nations” of the poor in S. Gujarat and Varanasi. The peace exchange opened up a new form of partnership which can best be captured by the image of ‘co-pilgrims’ on a journey to the heartof India. The pilgrims reawakened the tribal couples to the wonders of their innate body wisdom thusconnecting at a deeper level with each other and creation. Like the previous year for the tremendous tribaldance festival at Bardipada, S. Gujarat, so also this year at Dediapada and Nani Singloti of BharuchDistrict, the tribals were thrilled by the readiness of the pilgrims to join in the flow of their dance.Participating as co-pilgrims in the naach/nu or tribal dance, which involves the whole community withbodies intertwined singing and dancing in harmony with nature, was a rare experience of cosmiccommunion and co-creation. Pulsing to the Tribal Heart beat…In Varanasi the visits to Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim shrines left an indelible mark on the pilgrims. TheInterPlay with the students, quite a few of whom were tribals, of the Navsadhana College of music anddance as well as with the youth representatives of several northern dioceses, was a veritable spiritual treat.Playing with the deaf and dumb children at the Navvani centre left us dumbfounded at the profoundconnection that goes beyond words. Dumbfounded: Connecting beyond words…
Prashant says “The peace pilgrimage turned out to be a beautiful opportunity to engage in the tripledialogue, namely the dialogue with cultures, religions, and the poor stressed by the Federation of AsianBishops’ Conference.” He adds, “We were constantly confronted by the challenges of globalization insolidarity, a globalization without marginalization. The collaboration across geographical, economic,social and religious boundaries brought about a heightened sense of awareness of our interdependencehelping us to deepen our pilgrimage theme Nurturing Co-Creation: Playing for Peace.”Thanks to the initiative of the lay collaborators on the team he feels it was possible to fulfil the Pope’sclarion call to the Jesuits at GC35 “to reach the geographical and spiritual places where others do notreach or find it difficult to reach.” At home with the tribals of Dediapada (S. Gujarat)This author got Prashant to speak exclusively for Jivan.Q.1 How did you get involved with InterPlay?On my sabbatical in the US I was scouting around for some relevant body-based spiritualities. After theopening retreat which awakened me to the God of surprises I mysteriously found myself a curiousparticipant for what I initially thought would be the first and last class of a spirituality course. CynthiaWinton-Henry, the teacher, in the process of introducing herself placed her shawl like a wreath around thephoto of an Afro-American InterPlayer, who had died a few months earlier. On recalling their closerelationship Cynthia, who was doing an InterPlay form called ‘the full body story’, started weepingbitterly and rolling on the floor. Finally with head raised high and outstretched hands she thanked God forthis gift of an ancestor in heaven to intercede on her behalf. The spontaneous resurrection dance thatfollowed was truly out of this world.The rest of the class was truly amazing and soon I found myself not only a part of the full course but alsotaking every opportunity to learn InterPlay, thanks to the graciousness and generosity of Cynthia.Q. 2 How were you inspired to initiate a movement for global peace?During an InterPlay retreat Phil Porter, the other cofounder of Interplay, was guiding me through adiscernment process to seek for the next step on my life’s journey. He asked me to lie down and let onehand dance in the air. The Jesuit in me began to doubt how anything could be discerned in this crazyfashion but at the end I was unexpectedly filled with a deep sense of consolation. I sensed a call to aradically new mission but wanted some signs of confirmation to be certain. When Phil indicated the
possibility of God calling me to be a peace bridge between USA and India it immediately hit me that thiswas the first sign. In prophetic fashion I felt totally unworthy, only to be gradually reassured that if Godhad chosen me He would see it through.Q. 3 How is InterPlay different from other forms of play?InterPlay is basically about childlike play. It is totally different from play that is competitive andcommercial. For adults it is fun to play like little children once again. They regain and rediscover theirlost childhood. They experience the bliss of God’s kingdom promised to those who truly become likelittle children.Anthony de Mello’s beautiful wisdom story on play is very pertinent: “The Master once referred to the Hindu notion that all creation is "leela" — Gods play — and theuniverse is his playground. The aim of spirituality, he claimed, is to make all life play.This seemed too frivolous for a puritanical visitor. "Is there no room then for work?""Of course there is. But work becomes spiritual only when it is transformed into play."InterPlay is not only a skill to be learnt at workshops but an invitation to a spirituality, a way of life thatteaches us to look at life less as a work to be accomplished and more like play to be enjoyed.Q. 4 Is InterPlay one more therapy?InterPlay is not designed as a therapy but very therapeutic. Participants report remarkable healingsbecause tapping into our body wisdom often brings wholeness and healing. If we respect the dignity ofour bodies then we will not abuse our bodies and those of others. InterPlay reminds us that we are createdin the image and likeness of God – the Word made flesh.Q. 5 This means it is about the incarnation.Yes, it definitely is. InterPlay takes the whole body into consideration because it takes the incarnationseriously. Jesus is enfleshed, embodied God. In Jesus Christ the human and divine are inseparablyinterconnected. In his person we see the harmonious interplay of the human and divine. At the LastSupper Jesus offered himself to his disciples, “This is my body. Take and eat …” Not only were Jesus’birth and death full body experiences but even his resurrection was a resurrection of the body. The adventof the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is intimately connected with bodily manifestations like the gift of tongues.The body is sacred and to be valued as a temple of the Spirit.Q. 6 How does InterPlay value the body?InterPlay trusts the wisdom of the body. Body wisdom integrates body, mind, heart and spirit into oneharmonious whole. We have been trained to trust the mind and distrust the body due to our dualisticmentality. The socialization process, whether religious or secular, has conditioned us to look at our bodieswith suspicion. We tend to consider the mind as separate from the body and superior to it. The ongoingconflict between our bodies and minds creates stress and health problems. InterPlay demonstrates howlife can be more relaxing and less stressful when we trust the body.Q. 7 If InterPlay releases stress it should have been very popular by now.
Very true but there is much resistance which is quite understandable. From her experience of teachingInterPlay for 25 years Cynthia testifies that it can be quite scary. “Death is a scary word” she says but soare “play, body, dance, feel, touch”. These words scare us to death because like the reality of death theychallenge us to be vulnerable, to let go and let God. Those who dare to dance are labeled as crazy. Thiscomment by a famous philosopher rings so true:“.... and those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”Q. 8 How do you see it as an aid to build up the Church?While InterPlay is not affiliated to any particular religion it can be used to build up any community.InterPlay has been effectively used to build up Christian communities worldwide. Our usual approach -not only to our own bodies but also to other human bodies and the body of the universe - is one ofdominance and violence. InterPlay helps build joyful communities because it bonds people together insimple yet amazing ways. It breaks through individualistic tendencies and hierarchies fosteringcollaboration and equality. It is a creative tool to promote active participation and interdependence amongall members of the Church, the Body of Christ,.Q. 9 Why do you foster Movement Meditation?I find Indian audiences much more receptive to Movement Meditation as there is an opportunity to plungedeeper. Movement Meditation integrates Interplay and eastern techniques like Walking Meditation,Creative Visualization and Deep Relaxation. The focus is on awareness in movement and stillness.Simple techniques involving improvisation bring us to the present moment. Awareness of breath, soundand bodily sensations leads to greater centering. The appropriate combination with other static forms ofmeditation can make the whole experience more fruitful. It can deepen our prayer experience so that welearn to walk on mother earth, smell flowers, breathe fresh air, sip water and taste food with greaterawareness. We can thus cultivate the art of finding God in all things.Q. 10 What has been the response for your programs with Jesuits and Jesuit institutions?Most of the programs have been held at Jivanvikas Sadan, the Bandra Retreat House at which I am theDirector. It has been an excellent stimulus to seek for ways to bridge Ignatian Spirituality and BodyWisdom, the theme of my ongoing action-reflection and research. There are doubts and fears andapprehensions but this is inevitable for any ‘new frontier’ ministry which is in its infancy. It is afascinating adventure and frustrating too at times, but the joy of kindling fires is irresistible.The peace exchange programs with the tribals were organized in close collaboration with the GujaratJesuits, diocesans and sisters.The feedback from the annual retreat on ‘Prophetic Play and Mystical Movement’ for the Keralascholastics in 2010 was extremely encouraging. Brief sessions for various groups of scholastics as well asfor the national coordinators of JIGSA and JEPASA were quite well received. The experience at a Jesuitschool for tribals in Diyungbra, Assam was memorable.
Just two examples from Bombay Province Jesuit institutions are worth mentioning: one of the tribal areain Talasari mission and the other in Mumbai city.The village leaders of Talasari mission had a taste of a unique ‘Lenten Recollection’ at Gnanmata Sadan,Talasari. Simple InterPlay forms of movement, story, sound and silence led the tribals to discover theamazing power of their inner voice which is longing to break free from a culture of silence.The lay collaborators of InterPlay India facilitated several Movement Meditation workshops for theseventh standard students of St. Stanislaus High School, Mumbai as part of the spirituality component ofthe Jesuit Certificate program. The students’ testimonies reveal that besides experiences like ‘my soulwas searching for my body’ and ‘feeling in a place more relaxing than paradise’, they also became awareof ‘the melody singing within’, ‘learnt to coordinate with others’, and ‘how to control anger andimpatience.’ It was amazing to realize that ‘movement meditation could be not only enlightening but alsoso much fun’.Q. 10 How does it promote global peace and understanding?At the domestic, national, and international levels we arewitnessing an unprecedented upsurge of violence. Never beforeare we more desperately seeking for peace in the domestic aswell as global family. In 2008, as part of the peace exchangewhen Cynthia and her team visited a BJP-dominated area ofDahisar slums in Mumbai, we were a bit apprehensive andcautious. After a session with the poor women, theyspontaneously remarked, “We were amazed to see how peacefuland peace-loving Americans can be.”Like many others Tony Hole, an Australian whose drum and heart beat with the poor, is deeply impressedand inspired by the way we play with marginalized groups.Playing together for peace with people of different cultures and building bridges across narrowboundaries of caste, creed, and country are among the precious gifts of the global peace project. A senseof universal solidarity through networking for peace is slowly but surely growing. The thrust towards themarginalized has made us more aware that poverty is at the root of violence urging us to continue withour humble attempts to sow seeds of peace.Q. 11 Could you share any one experience of reaching out to the marginalised?At Cheshire Home for poor paraplegics when using the InterPlay form called “Lead and Follow” therewas a man who was totally stiff due to a stroke, but I noticed his eyes dancing. Without using any wordsI started moving my hand and he followed. Then Ibegan following his movements and soon we did notknow who was leading and who was following. This is afrequent occurrence, called ‘ecstatic following’, inInterPlay. It was really amazing to see that at one stagehe started moving much faster and even tricking me
while I was trying to match his energy. I could see the change taking place in his eyes, in his face... andin his whole body. Experiencing the mysterious flow of energy between the two of us had a mysticalquality. He also loved the experience of tenderly touching his own face. This memory is stored in thebody. I won’t be surprised when I go there next time to find that he will be using that hand much more.It was a very touching experience for him and for me too.Harriet Platts from USA, one of the InterPlay pilgrims, referring to this experience sent a striking email“Watching the recently released you tube (Through Dance Jesuit Connects with the Poor in Indiahttp://www.nationaljesuitnews.com ) of the InterPlay work in India,I found myself with tears pooling in my eyes.Tears of wishing I could be along there...Tears of gratitude for those whom youre having an opportunity to serve...Tears for new modes and ways to be play/grace-missionaries...Tears of joy and hope for what is springing forth because youre willing to step forward and say YES...Please know my heart is with you as you continue to play in grace and freedom in India!!” Lend a helping hand for global peace…