“When she saw herself in the mirror, what glared back was a broken image, her eyes flashing in pieces, face seared with scars, hair soaked in blood, the deep cut on the edge of her lower lip dictated silence. She breathed heavy, the gush of violent smoke choked and strangulated all the faculties of her senses. Gasped at what just happened, all that took away her sanity in one stroke, she demanded to know, if, she was the chosen one, or if, there were many burning under the same fire. How, in a friction of a second, the catastrophic infringement of humanity seized all that it compounded of? And, for what? “They” had dislocated her roots, declared her a ‘fugitive’ and forced her into anonymity in her own country. “They” had traded ‘her dignity’ with everything that came their way. From a self-sustained woman, a loving wife, a mother of two, she had suddenly reduced to this faceless, nameless individual fighting for existence. Who would identify her, they had all disappeared in smoke, long before she was about to…
But, there was something daunting and powerful about her that “they” could not take away. Something that stood as a barrier “they” could not destroy…She insanely believed in peace, in the power of healing, in the infallible art of letting go, in submission, in forgiveness, in re-conciliation, in reasoning, she believed that all of this will end and that brute force cannot operate for long. She believed that somewhere in the corner of a road stained with blood grows a flawless purple fireweed fighting for its existence too and it survives. She believed that, if, one re-invokes a soul in a burnt house, the desire to make it home comes alive. She believed, there was no point lamenting over a perfectly orchestrated misfortune, and that everything just happened to her cannot crush her solidity as a human being, or, cripple her for life…”
Threat of any kind, actual or impending, activates our “psychological immune system”, a term coined by Timothy D. Wilson, which further results in an active state of defense. A while back, I read a research paper that widely talked about how a situation of combat can be mentally threatening, and if pushed to a deeper and uglier limit (which is what we are encountering ever than before), it can be physically threatening too. So now if you see, in a war-zone, people are constantly in a state of defense, because they feel threatened always. They experience psychic corrosion in the form of identity crisis, temper issues, depression, worthlessness, confusion and frustration; they are highly vulnerable which makes them opt for survival tactics even in a slightest stir. Situations of conflict compel them to compromise morally leading to moral injuries, one feels stuck between the right and the wrong; and there is increased emotional sensitivity, self-doubt and guilt. While it seems easy to assume that such conditions are experienced by the ones who are ‘in the war’ or ‘actively participating ‘or ‘exposed to conflict’, but, they are equally experienced by passive participants too, the ones who are indirectly involved.
Peace, Faith, Acceptance, Resilience, Submission to Inner Self, Forgiveness, Self-affirmation are effective antidotes to any kind of conflict, they don’t imply an absence of conflict but dealing with them in a creative manner, they are alternatives to aggressive responses. On that note, I would like you to meet Ufra Mir, the first and only peace-psychologist in Kashmir and South-Asia who has received a formal training in various international conflict management processes such as conflict resolution and reconciliation, negotiation, communication, facilitation, dialogue and change along with a degree in Psychology and Health-Wellness. Her prime focus has been to work with the youth in context of peace-psychology, mental health, peace-building, youth empowerment, education, leadership and human rights. Over the years, she has presented her work on the Kashmir-conflict and conducted workshops on peace-psychology at different international forums such as Campaign for the US Department of Peace, World Economic Forum (India), Nobel Peace Prize forums (USA), the Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative (USA) & the Swedish Institute (Sweden).
“I intuitively think like an artist; I use imagination, creative thinking and creative sensibilities in everything I do. Because, I believe where there is pain, chaos and conflict, there is scope for art, creativity and deepening of relationships, if only we can make that switch in our heads. This is the reason, I teach people how to express their trauma, stress and conflicts through creative expression.”
-Ufra Mir (Peace Psychologist)
Peace Psychology works to promote peace in the world at large and within nations, communities and families. It encourages psychological and multidisciplinary research, education and training on issues concerning peace, nonviolent conflict resolution, reconciliation and the causes, consequences and prevention of violence and destructive conflict. The division fosters communication among researchers, teachers and practitioners who are working on these issues and are applying the knowledge and methods of psychology in the advancement of peace and prevention of violence and destructive conflict.
“Most people I work with, look for peace as something that is futuristic. I believe it’s one of the prime reasons why most of them today feel conflicted inside and stressed out all the time, because, we are constantly thinking about achieving peace in future, juggling between past and future. But philosophically, I believe Peace is dynamic, nuanced; it’s a process not a product. Transformation is not easy. Positive change making involves a lot of patience, commitment and faith in the process. If you can have your own inner-pillar of strength amidst chaos; if you can deal with conflicts in a healthy way; if you can be mindful of what’s happening to you in the present moment; that to me is peace at the very core level. It’s important to understand that peace and conflict exist at various levels: from intra to inter to community to political to global levels. But having a deeper understanding of the essence of peace at the core level is important because it helps you understand and build peace at other levels through a more conscious approach. The model of peace-psychology that I work with is something I have created on my own; taking my experiences, learnings, research and above all, the need for it, into consideration. Broadly speaking, I merge Philosophical understanding and Creative Thinking with conflict reconciliation and peacebuilding through leadership development, facilitation, neuroscience, critical thinking, mental health work, empathy, stress management, peace and conflict analysis and using arts in conflict.
The world, today, lacks imagination and philosophical understanding of problems; we are busy quick-fixing things without taking the broader picture and sustainability into account. I intuitively think like an artist; I use imagination, creative thinking and creative sensibilities in everything I do. Where there is pain, chaos and conflict, there is scope for art, creativity and deepening of relationships, if only we can make that switch in our heads. This is the reason, I teach people how to express their trauma, stress and conflicts through creative expression. Because this helps them to deal with the ramifications of living in a conflict-zone and cope with the pain in a constructive manner.
When I took Psychology course as a part of my International Baccalaureate diploma in my High School (UWC, India), I knew it was something I would do for the rest of my life, keeping the need of my state (Kashmir) in mind. However, I soon realized that I can’t just do mental health work there, because, it’s a conflict zone where the dynamics of much desired peace and ongoing conflict change every day. I needed something more eclectic because, in the holistic wellness wheel that I work with, your physical, mental, emotional, occupational, social-all aspects are interlinked and depend on each other. Conflict is complex, hence, I thought of creating a multidimensional model and approach for my philosophy and understanding of peace-psychology. This interaction between psychology, and peace and conflict is beautiful, and anyone regardless of their backgrounds and professions can connect with what it offers. The main idea is to empower people by helping them transform their thinking; Paigaam’s motto being “Transform thinking, Transform Lives.”
– Ufra Mir
Ufra is certified in Kingian Nonviolence from the University of Rhode Island (USA), and in Mental Health-mhGap training program done by the Royal College of Psychiatry (London) and Department of Psychiatry (Kashmir), along with a lifetime membership in Psi Chi- The International Honor Society in Psychology. She runs a beautiful initiative “Paigaam” that educates and empowers people through the eclectic skills from both psychology and peace-building aspects (peace-psychology). She also engages currently with an external change management organization that focuses on leadership development and empowerment for education officials (headmasters, teachers, chief educational officers, zonal educational officers and senior level educational officers in the government) to improve student learning outcomes, where one of her primary focus is introducing mental health initiatives in government schools.
(During the leadership and women empowerment workshop with Sozni homebased women workers, organized by Help Foundation and Action Aid, Srinagar. P.C. Tahmeed Mir)
(Mental health workshop with Special Educators group. P.C. Ufra Mir)
“In Kashmir, I have worked with at-risk youth involved in regular protests; with orphans, many of whom have lost their parents to violence; with young children living in at-risk areas of the state striving for better education; with ‘half-widows’ still awaiting the arrival of their disappeared husbands; with women entrepreneurs from rural areas who are trying to make a difference; and with youth struggling with drug-addiction and mental-health issues. Most of my work is workshop-based along with one-on-one interactions, where I use experiential activities, simulations, scenarios and exercises to get the message across through diagnostic approach and pre-and post-assessments. Operating as an artist at the core level, I use various forms of art in all my work to initiate the healing process (creative writing, art journalism, clay-therapy, storytelling, etc.). In a place like Kashmir, it becomes even more important to initiate the healing process through creative expression, because, it lacks substantial platforms for expression which is a basic human need. I try to help people transform their pain into creative expressions.”
– Ufra Mir
Conflict deprives one from walking through a space, they can happily call their own, where their depths are not measured, their corners are not overrun, their faith is not put on display, their fears are not fed, their sorrows are not celebrated, where they breathe and are not guilty as charged. Conflict deprives one from being human, and naturally all emotions get drained in this process. But, just for once, try to imagine a situation where one doesn’t let go of this parachute of hope, or the last strand of belief that someday, someday we will overpower this conflict, this monster that has ruled us since ages. Someday we will have a stand and it will be respected in equal light. Someday, the peace will have more say than war, the situation may seem delusionary, but, it’s grave. It’s grave enough to wake you up, and heal you from inside.
Steve Maraboli, in his book Life, the Truth, and Being Free writes, “The universe is so well-balanced that the mere fact that you have a problem also serves as a sign that there is a solution.” Where there is a conflict, there also lies in propinquity an intention to resolve it. Ufra’s vision and mission is a testimony of this fact. She strongly believes that a lot can be achieved through an act of opening up, just when people try to open themselves to situations, they create a pool of possibility within themselves, they become more receptive to differences, to people or their inner turmoil. For me, Ufra is herself a Hero for choosing to do what I call a “restorative act of humanity”.
I am with Ufra Mir in her journey, are you?
(Left: Creative Writing on Emptiness by Ufra Mir; Right: Zenting by Ufra Mir, a creative way of expressing her own stress/creative frustration)
(These journeys have been personally shared with me by our ‘Heroes’)
Know more about ‘Our Hero’ – Ufra Mir @