Tending Climbing Vines – the Vistara Project

Vines naturally seek to climb and grow ever closer towards the light. When untended, if unable to find a fence, or tree or other strong support on their own, they tend to sprawl chaotically into a great, tangled mess. But when pruned and guided onto a support by an attentive gardener, then this same twining nature of the vines can fully express and they quickly climb higher and higher.

In all forms of service, whether as educators, awakening the thirst for knowledge in young minds, or as social workers, empowering people to solve their own problems, or spiritual aspirants helping other travellers along the path of life, we become like the gardener. We seek to help vines make contact with a strong supportive structure that will enable them to grow and express their own inherent potentiality. The Neohumanist understanding of our unique human psychology gives us this clear strong support, and can be used as a practical guide when working with people of all ages to help them unfold their latent potential and move forward in their personal development. Neo-humanism is not only a philosophical approach, but also provides concrete practice of disciplining our mind to focus on the unlimited, divine potential in each and every entity, and therfore to nourish and strengthen it. “What you give attention to, grows”

Our social service work in Romania, has entered into a new phase, as we guide the young people from our children’s homes towards becoming empowered, responsible, mature contributing members of society. In developing the “Vistara Transitional Project” several key questions have guided the process: How does the youth mentality of dependency transform into the responsibility and autonomy of a contributing adult member of society? What is maturity? What can we do to support and stimulate that inner process?

This process of asking and discovering answers to this question has deep implications not only for educators, but for any type of social work in general, as one of the implicit goals of all forms of education is to help prepare, shape and guide people of all ages towards greater maturity.

Definitions of “maturity”
From the materialistic point of view, the process of maturation is complete when the individual becomes an economically independent and economically productive member of the society. This means though, that those, due to special needs, social injustices or other causes do not succeed in becoming economically productive or independent, are not accorded full respect in society, nor in many cases even seen as complete human beings. Extremes of this philosophy even lead to seeing some members of society therefore as expendable, less than fully human, and have led to dehumanizing atrocities such as the Holocaust. In fact, in Romania during Communism, children with special needs were often classified as “irrecoverable” and sent to special institutions where they were treated worse than animals.

In the Neo-humanist model, each individual has an existential value, with its own unique, inherent, divine inner potential, beauty, and reason for being. Maturity is then not only measured objectively, according to the economic independence of materially being able to meet one’s own needs and no longer be dependent on others, but even more importantly as an internal, or subjective process of realizing and expressing one’s own latent potentiality. This leads to a process of discovering personal meaningfulness in own’s life and a sense of belonging to a wider community. This process of maturation therefore transforms the psychology of dependency to a mature and confident psychology of serving society, and contributing to creating a better future for others. Maturity can then also be seen as a spectrum and that even those who may suffer from certain limitations or special needs that may make full economic and material self-sufficiency impossible, can still be facilitated to find meaningfulness and a dignified life that empowers rather than marginalizes them.

The inner process of maturity is achieved when the inherent human potential is given scope and encouragement to develop freely. There are three basic aspects to human nature that must be cultivated in order for this full flowering of the human being to be expressed:

Vistara – freedom
The first is the need for freedom (vistara). This is the continual process of expansion and personal growth that happens when one overcomes rigidities, insecurities and limitations through undertaking challenges. Making mistakes are an important part of the process. It leads to rationality, self-esteem and ultimately the tantric realization that “I enjoy challenge.” and “I am overcoming all obstacles.”

Seva- meaningfulness
The second is the need for meaningfulness (seva), to feel that one’s life has a purpose – a mission. “I have a gift, the world needs my gift and I am ready to share that gift.” As the founder of NH Philsophy, P.R. Sarkar said, “Nobody should be given scope to feel that their life is useless. Help all to build their careers in a nice way.”

Rasa- graceful, intuitive flow
The third need is to experience naturalness (rasa) and gracefulness that comes when we are harmony with our inner self, feel the universe benevolently guiding us to intuit the right thing to do in the right moment, as per time, place, and person. “Everything is happening for the best”. “I can fully surrender and trust my Guiding Force.” “I am never alone.” These realizations give optimism and hope (asha vritti) which is one of the most fundamental motivating factors of life.

Practical Application
These factors, when developed internally, bring out the full, divine potential in any human being. They also provide a clear support structure when working to facilitate growth in others, like the gardener training the vines to climb. If any of these areas is neglected, growth stagnates, and can lead to a sense of unfullfillment, frustration, cynicism, boredom, and many other complexes and problems. Therefore, we must develop practical means to encourage each of the aspects of freedom, meaningfulness, and optimism discussed above.

Vistara through opportunities to overcome obstacles
One must try to intuitively understand where the thinking or growth is blocked – by insecurities, limiting ideas, lack of experience, and then to offer opportunities to experience “Vistara” – the expansion of overcoming those limitations. This can be through educational opportunities that develop a potentiality and give confidence. They also come through directly facing practical life experiences – such as dealing with bills. One of the most important ingredients is to allow scope for a person to directly experience natural consequences of his/her actions – in other words “clash and cohesion.”

Rasa – optimistic flow
Discovering and trusting “Rasa” or a sense of guided flow is fundamental. Much of the educators or social workers work is not so much solving the objective problems that arise, as it is to shift their own subjective perspective of the person their are trying to help. The basic yogic truth, “As you think, so you become,” applies not only personally, but also socially. As we think of others, so they also become.

Therefore, the inner work of continually shifting and reframing our understanding of a beneficiary to find a positive perspective that gives scope to discover and appreciate new subtle positive changes cannot be underestimated. Our own subjective belief about a person has a very direct impact on their own self-image, working like a mirror. As we cannot see our own face without the help of a mirror, until one has a solid inner understanding of oneself, we tend to look outside and understand ourselves based on how others see us. One can easily fall into the trap of simply reacting to the person’s own negative self-image, thus reinforcing the limiting concept. If instead of reacting, one can mirror back to the person a different, more positive perspective, this also gives scope to the person to change their own self-concept and grow beyond the limiting belief system.

Another aspect of practically applying “Rasa” is the importance of using flexible intuition to find the right moment according to to time, place and person, for a particular shift to occur. There are no recipes for this – except to be careful not to repeat the same approach with the same person. In order to awaken a fresh, new realization, always the approach should also be something new, unexpected. There has to be naturalness and sincerity – minimizing artificial interventions or manipulation – and letting the environment and circumstances do as much of the teaching as possible. This requires an optimistic attitude of trusting the wisdom of the universe as greater than our own. It often requires surrendering our own expectations and need to impose “solutions” on those we help and thus gives more freedom and scope for others to develop their internal resources, and grow from within.

One of the best situations that encourages Rasa to work freely is to “solve all problems big or small in a collective way”. Learning is multiplied for all participants when problems are solved collectively as much as possible. Collective meetings are not organized in a rigid or routine way – but arise naturally according to the need. This offers solidarity and support to the person experiencing difficulty, and those not directly experiencing the difficulty have a chance to offer help, as well as to benefit themselves from the process, as they may face similar difficulities. This approach also provides mature and positive models of conflict resolution and problem solving skills.

Seva – discovering a meaningful path
The objective of these processes, is to help a person to discover a meaningful path in life and sense of mission. Especially when working with young people that have experienced traumatic pasts, this step is what can ultimately help to reframe the self perception as a “victim” or “self-pity”, into a dignified, noble protaganist that is able to find a way to give a positive contribution to the society. Fostering volunteer spirit and active citizenship give ideal opportunities to practically experience giving a meaningful contribution to the world, and can be very transformational. In all of these processes, positive mentors are very important, and ultimately one becomes a mentor, continuing to grow and learn through the process of helping others to grow and learn.

Neohumanism inspires us to recognize, love and nurture the unlimited, divine potential in each and every being. By understanding and practically encouraging vistara, rasa, and seva when working deeply and closely with people, no matter how developed or undeveloped they are, we shine light on their own personal path of growth. Helping others to move along the path of self-realization is not only the essence of all types of service work, whether in social work, relief work, education or spiritual counseling, but it is also part and parcel of spiritual practice of training and disciplining our minds to focus on the positive essence in each and every being we come in contact with.