Shared Experience

Thursday 11 June, 2020

For the first time in 16 years, the three of us sat together and chatted. We hadn’t spoken in this constellation since I left my work with Karaj on New Year’s Eve 2003. I was struck by how much neither of them had changed. It made me think that maybe I hadn’t changed either. Had all the work we did during those intense years been for nothing? It was only a fleeting thought because I know that I am different to how I used to be. I know I have improved in ways I would not have been able to, had I not spent the four years with Karaj and the others.

I’ll write more about that in the next post in this series. For now, I just want to record my delight at being in touch with these two people again. Dev and Sunil are the two group members from my time with Karaj to whom I felt closest.

Dev and I were so similar that we could almost blindly assume that whatever was relevant for one of us, was relevant for the other. It was as if two people were doing the experimental research for one person because both of us benefitted enormously from the learning of the other. There was a lightness about him in so many ways (he was the funniest of the whole group), yet he also carried with him a defence mechanism which kept him in and others out. When he relaxed he shone, and when he shone he was very impressive.

Sunil was a gentle man, full of wisdom, yet hampered by his own frailty. I challenged him more than I wished to in my final year because Karaj had told me it was part of my own process to do so. But the overwhelming feeling when I think back to my connection with Sunil, is one of love and respect. It was clear he was doing everything he could to break through whatever masked his light, and even in his lowest times he was always there when I needed him, with a combination of peaceful silence and thoughtful deliberation.

There’s a paragraph from October 2003, near the end of my time, which lists the support I felt from the group members as they left one Saturday night. It was a time when I was seriously thinking about leaving. I was angry and felt alone, so on this particular day the contact with those men meant everything to me.

As people left, every one of the men touched me with their goodbyes. Dev patted me on the shoulder in a way that he has done before, and which said, ‘I am right there with you, keep going.’ […] Sunil and I hugged in a way which said, ‘After all we have been through, I am getting there. Thank you.’ Sunil and I have been through a lot together and he has maintained his commitment throughout all his mess.’

Nearly two decades later, here were the same men before me on my screen. It was a virtual get-together (of course), and my heart was beating fast as I dialled in. I’d had intermittent contact with Dev over the years (even visiting him briefly in 2013), but had not seen or spoken to Sunil since he drove with Karaj to drop me off at my friend Aubrey’s house at the end of my time with them all. I was most nervous about seeing Sunil.

I needn’t have been. As soon as I saw his face, my heart went out to him as it had done so often years before. 80 minutes later, as the call came to a necessary close, I felt I could carry on talking all day. These are the only people who fully know what it meant to be there at that time, and they are the only ones who know how hard we all worked, how much we were tested, and how heavily we were challenged.

That is where the shared experience comes in. It was something Karaj always encouraged us to value and to create. The three of us certainly created that together, and this call – and especially the ease with which the nerves evaporated – were clear evidence that our shared experience is something which has the capacity to sustain us forever.


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