London, 12 Mar: From the rapt attention and hushed tones in the room, The International Women’s Day celebration at Brahma Kumaris’ Global Cooperation House, kept the audience (approximately 100 in total) fully engaged and mentally stimulated from the beginning to the end. Everyone applauded, laughed, nodded or stood to get better views as the program ensued.
Starting with a slide show showing 66 outstanding women from across continents, professions, arts, feats, and ages from AD to the current epoch. Examples such as Mary Magdalene,AD, follower of Christ; Ida B. Wells, 1862 – 1931, African-American journalist, newspaper editor, suffragist, sociologist, feminist and early leader in the Civil Rights Movement; Lee Tai-Young, 1914–98 , Korea’s first female lawyer and first female judge; Dadi Janki, 1916 – , Administrative Head of the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University; Ann Frank, 1929 – 45 , the most discussed Jewish victim of the Jewish Holocaust; Jukuna Mona Chuguna, 1933 – 2011), indigenous Australian artist and writer having first received education when she was in her 50s; and the final slide was of Malala Yousafzai, 1997 –, Pakistani activist for education for women, and the youngest ever Nobel Prize Laureate.
C BK Leza Scott-Riddell, welcomed everyone to GCH and introduced the two artists:
BK Madhvi Lamba – a singer who faced many challenges from childhood to be able to sing, and not allowed to until she married. She became the first female singer to lead an Indian pop band in the U.K. in the late 70s, travelled to many countries, and sang and recorded with top singers from India.
BK Maria Arostegu, (Jos) – a self-taught artist originally from Spain, now working with a private company employing the physically and mentally impaired to do commissions. Jos worked throughout the programme first drawing an angel from a charcoal sheet, then another much larger work in colour depicting the three speakers and aspects of their stories they related.
BK Romina Melwani, formerly in the Finance sector and currently a nutritionist, was invited onto stage to introduce and facilitate the panel of three speakers:
Ravinder Kaur Nijjar, Chair of Religions for Peace UK Women of Faith Network, and a member of Religions for Peace European Council of Religious Leaders. Also an experienced educator, having for thirty-two years. She has worked in the interfaith field for over twenty-five years, and awarded the Scottish Asian Women’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. Yuwa Aghedo, naturopath and experienced lecturer, qualified in Nutrition and Western herbalism, has a clinical practice in Knightsbridge, London. She is committed to helping her clients make sustainable choices. Her interest in feminism has led her to explore topics related to body image and women’s worth in society.
Philippa Blackham, former staff reporter and presenter of Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4, now works as an Interfaith Minister and Independent Celebrant. In addition, she co-ordinates activities for the Brahma Kumaris in the Welsh Borders as well as being part of the team for the national project, “100 Women of Spirit”.
The following three questions were asked by Romina:
Q1: What was the initial quest that led you to where you are today? What became your calling in life? Share some of your challenges, realizations and insights on your journey.
Ravinder doesn’t think of herself as outstanding but just makes decisions to do or not to do something that impacted her. She was initiated into the Sikh faith aged 18; after marriage, she started classes for children, keeping her children involved in the faith; she studied and became a teacher but was always intent that her spiritual inner mind should be connected to God at all times; she saw an opportunity for community understanding of Sikhs and in 1999, the Scottish interfaith was launched. I believe that we should help at least one person in our lifetime then our presence on earth will have been fruitful.
Yuwa: Her journey started with her family dynamics because she didn’t grow up with either of her parents and had a big question on identity about who she was. So she travelled into world to see whom she could grow into, someone to mirror. What helped, is that she always had a strong connection to God and nature. She now has a passion to support people to regain wholeness, ‘when we are wounded in one area of life this is where we can find our freedom’. Her first degree was in psychology; now as a naturopath she looks at things holistically, mind-body-spirit and the emotional body…an emotional wound needs to be given as much attention as physical wounds because it pulls our attention. The key to growing into that fullness is the heart: our heart is the part that relates to every other human being. It is the part she protects no matter what happens, even when we don’t understand (here she became tearful in memory of her brother who died young). She has a sense of peace as her professional and personal life now complement each other.
Philippa: Growing up in a matriarchal family of women, she comfortably went along until she was hit with what she refers to as a “speed bump”, a life event that feels like a bad event and is a catalyst for change in your life. This happened when she learned at age 16 that she could not bare children. Her life plans to be an actress changed. She bought a ticket and a rucksack and went in search of her “authentic self” and to find God by travelling the world. Then in Kuala Lumpur, while in a store, she saw a jack-in-the box in which a point of light jumped out. On the box, were instructions to attend a free 7-day meditation course with the Brahma Kumaris. Here, she found what she was looking for. She went on to marry and adopt two children. She feels that the world needs us to be fully awake, fully connected to ourselves, and to our spiritual power source. It is the power and wisdom of the feminine qualities, that the world needs, not just women. Our journey as humans is to clear our baggage to be free of these things, which prevent us from feeling free and finding that true authentic voice within. We need to become channels for the way we’d like to see the world going forward and to become the best human being we are capable of becoming at this time. She says we play small, thinking we are not capable. So she quoted Oscar Wilde, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken!
Q2. What is your perception of wholeness? Can we ever regain that sense of wholeness – how would you perceive that?
Ravinder: She sees it as the development of her spiritual path and how she is moving towards the end, i.e., merging with the Lord. You need to move along knowing what is right and wrong. She feels that we won’t realise our potential in this lifetime but must move closer to God; and we mustn’t cause suffering to others in attempting to fulfil our fullness.
Yuwa: It means recognizing all of your being – mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional, ensuring that each day, we water all parts of our being that needs to be nurtured. Her perception of wholeness lies in the smallest particle,each part is everything. It’s about embracing our weaknesses because it’s like nature, we must honour our own rhythm.
Philippa: Wholeness…fake it until you make it; because your failings are self-evident and evident to others…it’s not a moment in time, it’s a journey.
Q3. How can we allow ourselves to feel that fullness when at times we are not feeling wholeness? What do we do at that point?
Ravinder: You need the suffering to remain connected to God. Those are the wobbly bits…You need the suffering to recognize what happiness is and to make the connection to God, to experience fullness.
Yuwa: It is having a sense of community…as women are gatekeepers…they inform each step of the cycle. Connection for her is dance…just movement, looking at the sky or being by the sea, and her women friends are important because they are supportive and natural.
Philippa: The thing, which means the most to me, is my connection to spirit. This is our original wound…the fall from God. We need to incorporate some practise in our life which helps bring back that connection. It is twofold: knowing myself so that I can know that connection to spirit, to the divine.
Question 4: Give one feminine quality you would like to share and take away?
Ravinder: An abundance of love!
Philippa: Think about the whole and think of “we”…how are we going to move forward? Women hold this quality of being able to see the whole.
Yuwa: We have to nurture. We need to keep the heart open to love, protect it and nurture it. It requires forgiveness…this is the key to being able to keep on loving.
After Tea Madhvi captivated the audience with a Hindi song, Na Tum Hame Jano. A workshop followed led by Philippa and Reena and asking the group:
- What have my main challenges been so far [in life]? How have I overcome them?
- If I were to dream into a sense of myself living my full potential, how might that be?
- What steps might I take to reach my fuller potential?
The following points arose in the feedback:
- Forgiveness for self and others helps on our journey to overcome challenges.
- Unconditional love is needed and the realization of old habits so that when we realise something that doesn’t serve us, to be able to address it and change it.
- To achieve full potential we want to practise soul consciousness and do more meditation.
- I realise today that I need to free myself for “me-time” to do things I have always wanted to do…
- As an honorary manhere today, I recognize that to be more complete as men, we have to be in touch with our feminine side. An insight I gained, is to be still and allow the magic to manifest.
- I was inspired by the singing because I was silenced as a child. I am now only really learning to own my own voice. I found today really inspiring. I survived against very high odds as child, and I am taking courage to own my unique singing voice.
Philippa closed this phase with a beautiful meditation to link with all women around the world.
Joss shared about her charcoal pictures, and the symbolism of the characters in charcoal would not last, but the soul and the Supreme Soul depicted in the medium of acrylic would.
MC, Leza appreciated all those on the team. Finally, the enriching and empowering afternoon ended first with a rousing song by Sister Madhvi, that got everyone to their feet and clapping to: “I am What I Am”; this was followed with toli and blessings distributed by Sister Jasu, one of the Senior sisters in-house.