My deep, sat back Indian wedding
It took us two months of travelling through India before we started to be able to discuss with local people things like love, relations, castes. And even more to understand that love, maybe, is just a cultural construct. As of today, half of the marriages in India are arranged. And yet, as we could see ourselves, many seem to work quite well. Maybe even better than some in Europe. It's not easy to enter the topic, people are not open or simply not accustomed to discuss certain things. Fascinated by it, we kept wondering how is it possible that two strangers are able to unite after marriage, to create a family. Is there any tool, method or ritual embedded in the culture itself, which helps them to do so? Some of the answers were quite unsatisfying, like girls are taught to adapt and adjust to the new family. Some gave a bit more hope: through generations, Indians learned how to match couples the way they have a chance to create good relations - they come from a similar background, have similar habits, beliefs and attitudes. The wedding does not just unite two people, but two families. There is nothing more important than the family, in a much deeper and broader sense than what we can see in our cultures. The family is so important that most people can't imagine acting against it, falling in love is simply something which doesn't exist in their dictionary. Or maybe they do fall in love, out of sharing the same space, out of respect to the other person and family; but then, wouldn't love be something different than what we were taught through romantic novels and movies? One thing is sure - building a relation, building a connection with another person on a deep level requires conscious and constant work. And that's what Conscious Connections tries to bring into the romantic scenario of India.
Sonal: Conscious Connections aims to bring more meaning, mostly to wedding ceremonies. They became something you are supposed to do, most people don't understand why they are doing certain rituals, what's their meaning. Let's take vows as an example. They are an essential part of the wedding, they are one of the most intimate promises you do in your entire lifetime. Don't you think they should be personal, something you prepare for yourself, rather than a text which was written centuries ago and it has no meaning to you anymore?
How do you design a wedding?
Sonal: First of all, we design ceremonies that are very personal in nature. Every couple is unique, so their ceremony should also be absolutely unique. Something that reflects them and their relationship. We design ceremonies completely around that particular couple, picking up stories from their life, passions, what they are interested in, what they are not interested in, what kind of elements in nature or man made objects connect them to each other. Some might feel themselves stronger in the presence of candles. Somebody else prefers the presence of water. We use those elements to design the ceremony. Another important aspect is the people who come for your wedding. In a standard ceremony the guests are just guests, they come, they give you wishes and they go. The focus is only on the food, clothes, decorations ... the true essence of the wedding, the ceremony itself, is getting lost. Love and connection are getting lost. We try to involve guests. We create a space for them to bless the couple in a certain way. Giving an envelope or greeting a couple from the stage as it happens in most weddings doesn't give enough space for them to give an honest blessing from the heart and for the couple to truly receive it. Blessing, gratitude, appreciation, those are important pillars of the celebration.
We met Conscious Connections at the LSuC, a 5-day meeting of people seeking alternative ways, willing to learn and maybe unlearn, to share and to be with others at a deep, conscious level. One of the workshops organized there by Conscious Connections focused on romantic relationships. Firstly, in small groups we discussed the challenges we face in our relations; we observed differences in relationships between our and previous generations trying to understand what we want to learn from them and what we want to leave behind; we brainstormed how we can bring new quality to our own present and future relations and finally, we expressed in a written form our deep wishes for the connection we are building with another person. At the end of the workshop half of us were invited to sit in the middle of a circle, keep our notes in front of us, close our eyes and open our hearts for blessing. The remaining half moved around the circle, giving blessing by touching our heads, arms and whispering to our ears. After a while we switched, so everybody had the chance to be inside. It took no more than 20 minutes. We hadn't known each other before. Yet, after this small ceremony, we - complete strangers - felt strongly connected. How powerful it would be in a circle of friends and family, guests of our own wedding?
How did it start?
Sonal: It came up with our own journeys. When I was in the process of getting married a lot of questions popped up: what is this all pomp and show for? Do I really want it? What is this wedding happening for? What is the real thing that connects the two of us? I never wanted to do traditional vows as I don't really know what I agree for by saying them. In Hindu tradition of marriage there is the holy fire as witness, as higher energy, and people take 7 rounds around it saying 7 different vows. They come from old times, passed from generation to generation. I don't understand how vows that worked for my grandparents can work for me, we live in a completely different context. I wanted to do something I can really connect to, I can feel deeply. I got married in an Ashram in South India. A place that has been supporting my spiritual journey in so many ways for many years. It was a very ancient ritual but I connected to it so well because of the sanctity with which it was performed. And, because I felt a deep connection with that temple. It was such a beautiful ceremony, a very relaxing atmosphere, no loud music. I dressed up in half an hour, not getting crazy about my dress, my hair, this and that. I simply went through that process and it was so deep... such a phenomenal experience. I started to think, why is it not accessible to more people? But that thought got lost, I didn't believe I had knowledge and skills to really pass it on. Then my friend got married. She was present in our wedding and she also had that urge to do something special. She decided to design her own ceremony and I hosted it. The process of co-creating that wedding became our first experience of doing it. We got really amazing reviews from people about how they felt during the ceremony. That was the click for us, we decided we should bring it out to more people.
And you opened a business.
Sonal: Yes. It's our first formal season and we see that people are really interested. We had around 10 weddings. Although it's not just about the wedding itself, the whole process for one couple lasts 3-4 months. We meet with them, we have some phone conversations, but mostly they work with each other, we are just facilitators. There is a lot of work required before, if you have to write your vows how do you do that unless you have a common vision of how the marriage should be. We give couples questionnaires, we arrange sessions with them so they discuss significant topics with each other. Also conflict is a topic, there are things... for example kids. A lot of couples don't discuss whether they want to have kids or not and after the wedding they realize they have different views. Just imagine.
Isn't it that a big number of marriages are still arranged? Maybe there is simply no time and space to discuss it before.
Sonal: That's true. But arranged marriages in India are not as they used to be. Earlier your parents would arrange the marriage for you, they just told you where and when to come and you get married without seeing the person before. These days, even if the wedding is arranged, you do have a chance to interact with the person and see if that works for you or not. Most people won't be completely new to each other, but there is still a lot of freshness in that relation as they may meet only once or twice before deciding to marry. What we do is even more important for such a kind of relation. Long-lasting couples have more time to get to know each other. For arranged one we need to create openness to discuss intimate topics, even if they barely know each other. It can ground them, bring the feeling of knowing the other person better.
It can also lead them to change their mind and quit.
Sonal: It can. We do realize that, even if it hasn't happened so far. When people get to know the true self of the other person they may quit. But we feel it's ok, it's better to do it then than regret all your life. Also, if you really mean to live with another person for the rest of your life you will work things out. But it is better to know it before, so you have time to build acceptance in your mind and to not have false expectations. When you are expecting the right kind of things, your expectations can be fulfilled. Our mind is... you can mold it whichever way you want, you can trick it, your thoughts are ever evolving. Depending on what is stronger - the intention to live with each other or the priorities you have in your life - you may adjust your mind. I believe strongly in arranged marriages as well, because at least it's clear what's the significance of that marriage. All in all, people come to it because of their personal needs, otherwise they won't do it. It may be a social need, a physical need, an emotional need, the need for a companion, whatever it is. But people involved have it clear, they understand why they get married, why they make this decision and it is significant. It opens the conversation.
More about Conscious Connections: conscious-connections.org