Twenty-four-year-old Sonia Mackwani is the founder of an NGO called Touching Lives. She is also a clinical psychologist, hypnotherapist, integrated healer, writer and researcher in metaphysics and Ancient Indian Sciences and a counselling psychologist with an NGO working with sex-workers and their children.
Why did you take up the profession of a psychologist?
Right from the beginning I was fortunate enough to understand what I wanted to do in life and that was definitely serving people. Yes, I realized that my purpose was to love and now Touching Lives is my existence. I felt like this ever since my school days. To serve people I needed to understand human beings. I felt that psychology as a subject would help me to understand people better.
You are a hypnotherapist too. Why does it interest you?
Hypnotherapy is always done with the consent of the patient. I don’t do hypnotherapy on a patient who hasn’t asked for it. Hypnotherapy gives a lot of understanding into the conscious and unconscious mind and how the entire world is evolving. Hynotherapy shows how the conscious and the subconscious correlate with one another to form human behaviour. Hypnotherapy, personally brought me close to the metaphysical world, which is a topic I am deeply interested in.
Any example of how hypnotherapy has helped your patients?
I had a patient who was phobic of water. She was scared of drowning as she had seen someone drown. This had aggravated after the 26/7 Mumbai deluge. She would avoid water to the extent of avoiding taking a bath for days. She wanted to free herself from this phobia. With help of hypnotherapy, she was fine.
Please tell me about your research in metaphysics.
Metaphysics as a term came much later in life but the understanding of it grew at an early age. Being aware and being a witness of your own life is something that I am experiencing every moment. This research is nothing but an understanding of my own life, my own experiences and putting it down on paper for our people to read.
Metaphysics is something in which you go beyond physics; go beyond the dimensions of the world. It is blending of exoterism and esoterism. The feeling of love and compassion, the feeling of patience and persistence, the experience of effortlessness and transcendence, is all that one experiences can be called as metaphysics.
I had an understanding of metaphysics ever since my childhood though I had heard of the technical term ‘metaphysics’ much later. Metaphysics to me was a world of love and how love and faith would help me achieve things in life.
I believed that what I had in me I needed to give to the society. Whenever I went through a struggling phase in life, I knew I had to have patience. This patience which was beyond faith and time was called metaphysics.
My journey took a deep course when I joined a firm. Years ago I joined a research firm called the Astronessy Research Foundation. The research was centred about human beings and its evolution.
During that course of time a physician, an astrologer, an engineer and myself as a psychologist contemplated on how the world was evolving and how one can be the master of one’s own actions and live life beyond space and time.
I read books on spirituality – The Bhagwad Gita, The Mahabharata, The Ramayana, Tao, The Power of Now etc. My favorite authors are Paulo Coelho, Aurobindo, Osho, Fynn and James Redfield. Thus, I wrote an adapted version of Mahabharata and Ramayana for children which released last year at Frankfurt Book Fair. I could really correlate it to my life, mission and my NGO Touching Lives.
I realized how important it was for me to build humanity on love. Even when I am talking to you, drinking water or turning the pages of a book it is about how aware I am and how much love I can put into whatever I am doing. I believe love unprofessionally and unconditionally and serve professionally.
How did you get interested in Ancient Indian Sciences?
I would often share my thoughts and views with my friends when they would often point out that it was an Oshoite, Sri Sri Ravishankar, Tao or Buddhist thought. The realizations of Ancient Indian Sciences were already there in me. It is just that I wanted to know more about them. Besides the Ancient Indian Sciences are our roots.
Somehow I felt that we must reflect on our roots to understand oneself better. I look forward for courses on Indian Psychology which I will blend in with my research on Ancient Indian Sciences. This will enable me to understand better our country’s religious roots and how we have evolved over time.
How did your NGO, Touching Lives, come up?
Touching Lives is my being and my existence. It is not that I am serving the needy, but it is completely my need to serve. When I started off, I only had a vision. And that vision was of love. I didn’t know what kind of projects we would do. Love and faith taught me everything in life and I let this wisdom flow in me to give my best. We however didn’t want to stick to any particular area of work but wanted to serve as the need came to us.
Touching Lives is a completely project based organization. Though Touching Lives came into being in 2003 my research was on ever since 2002. To experience how it feels to serve, I started distributing tiffin and clothes to the needy poor. I joined a Toy Foundation. Every Sunday I would visit the hospital and play with the children with the toys.
Now we have various activities going on in Touching Lives. Touching Lives’ diverse projects cater to children, the elderly and youngsters in the avenues of physical/ mental health, education, entertainment etc. Touching Lives is a flow which is moving ahead with understanding the need and reaching out to fulfill it.
Please tell us about Touching Live’s workshops.
Last year we organized an exhibition of the paintings done by an inmate of a Thane Mental Hospital. This cannot be called as a workshop as such, but it indeed presented a great art and culture, talent of a man who believed in his dreams of colors. Yes, the exhibition did inspire lots of people and thus, it was no less than any workshop. His dream was to have a one-man show and Touching Lives just played a medium for him. His paintings are sold and the proceedings have gone to him for his rehabilitation. The happiness in his eyes was a workshop for me.
I have done workshops on nothing therapy. Nothing therapy is all about nothingness. In many religious books it is said that before our birth there was nothing and after our death there will be nothing. Thus in between Nothingness, what we experience is our life. Nothing therapy is about time, space and what lies beyond that. This is again a metaphysical theory in which you are connected and integrated with your own five senses.
The integration of these five senses brings you close to your own inner being and finally an understanding of your existence and purpose of living. It helps you to be more aware and when awareness seeps in, the thoughts become powerful. They become your decision. Then a single thought is an intention. And suddenly, there is a realization that things are just happening to you effortlessly. Well, this is my experience and each one is unique and each one’s experiences are different.
Thus, in the workshop, I only facilitate accepting each and everyone’s experiences. Once you are your own decision maker things just start happening, as you are totally synchronized with the universe. We devote the initial phase of nothing therapy to space- the participants are synchronized with the space around them. When a person is disturbed it is because some space around that person is disturbed.
Nothing Therapy helps you to arrange the space around you. Time is taken as another factor and your senses like space are integrated with the time. Above space and time you would actually sense nothingness in yourself. Nothing Therapy helps you to calm the disturbances within you and to become a more composed person.
I use drama therapy in my counseling sessions with kids. Generally performed as group therapy. For instance the participants may be asked to narrate an imaginary story. The first participant may start off with a happy story. When the second person is asked to continue with it he/ she may give it a sad twist. This may show that there is sadness in him/ her. I’ve done many workshops on self-empowerment, study techniques, love and relationships, love and elders, parenting, understanding children and many more.
How have the people you serve enriched you?
To give you a simple instance, when we started our first project in the Fort area, that is spending time with the street kids, a four-year-old boy shared with my volunteer that he would be a famous person when he grew up as after all everyone was with him including the moon. And he proved this by running towards the end of the road making my friend look at the moon. As he ran, he said, “Look, the moon is coming with me.” After that, he made my volunteer run and looked at the moon, and said, “Look the moon is not moving with you. It is here with me.” His optimism touched me.
Then there was a child who drew a red cloud. When I asked him how it was that a cloud was red he answered that he had after all worn red glasses. His creativity awed me. Such instances touch me.
You were just 21 when Touching Lives came into being. Was it a challenge to open an NGO at such a young age?
Yes, challenging and simple too! After having come to this point, I would say that there were only challenges. What has helped me is the love, faith and patience. I loved falling down, and each time, I fell down and rose much more invigorated. Initially it was like the waves were coming and I was unaware. They were all new to me, but now I have accepted that the waves would always be there, but the only difference is that, now I am aware of them.
Tell me about your current project of networking NGOs.
I am connecting NGOs through the National NGO Survey. This is a very huge project in which would cater with the NGOs all over India, every state. For any growing NGO, it is important to understand the nature of what is happening in one’s country and implementing one’s service for the researched need. This project would not only provide contemporary information about the conditions in India but will also provide a platform for the young students to open to different avenues of life.
NGOs doing similar work may collaborate for better progress. This will enable us to know how the NGOs operate and what intricacies they face. It is like building a bridge between an individual, society, organizations and in all, one’s own progress. It is an awareness avenue of how the NGOs have helped the lives of the people and contributed to the nation. We can then trace common problems of the NGOs and try to solve them. Even charitable organizations which are not registered as NGOs but doing good work may be included.
What are the mental health problems that you have faced specific to women among your patients?
Well, there are many but the common issues are depression and anxiety. The reasons for this may be manifold. However I have often seen patients of mine getting depressed because of the same monotonous house work. Any work is meditation, be it washing vessels or clothes. We are living on ‘conditionings’ in life.
There is a mental set that educated women shouldn’t be languishing at home doing domestic chores. This puts women off when it comes to housework. They feel that what they are doing isn’t what they are supposed to do in life.
We are potential enough, educated or uneducated; married or unmarried, we all have the spark to bring our potential energy into response. And this spark within us we forget because of the outer layers of conditionings.
Sometimes women may be forced to forsake a career for simply domestic chores by their husbands or in-laws. What advice would you give to those women?
In cases like these ‘communication’ with in-laws will help. Our basic mental set up is that even if you communicate with your in laws they won’t understand you. Communication is must. And communicating with responsibility and faith is surely of fruition.
You have worked with sex workers. What problems do they face? How have you helped them?
I am a counseling psychologist with an NGO working with sex workers. The children are extremely sharp and talented. However, there is dearth of proper education and environment. I act as a ‘guide’ to the children who are really talented but need direction to channelize their potential. Their mothers are generally very concerned that their kids get proper education and not take up their profession.
Their mothers can’t control the environment in which the kids are and are worried that they lack the necessary resources to bring up the children with good education. My work is to go and motivate them to grow in a positive way and instill self-confidence them. I am happy that the mothers want their children to live life better than how they do.
What problems have you discovered while working with the girl child?
Well, though I’ve personally not encountered any, but what I observed over a period of time was of their safety and sanitation, and of course getting them married.
What obstacles have you faced? What advice do you have to women facing a similar situation?
I have never distinguished myself as woman from men. Rather I have taken myself as a human being first. Each one’s problems are different. Although I am nobody to give advice, but one thing I can say is whatever life brings to you – accept, allow, and have faith. I give this advice to both men and women. With faith and love can you overcome all the hurdles. Deal all your problems with love and compassion.
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