Food for Thought – Interview with Bhavna Solecki, Founder and Director of Inner Evolution Healing Centre

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By Katherine Dornian

Photo Courtesy of Bhavna Solecki

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 5.07.21 PMTherapist, businesswoman, activist, healer, philosopher – it’s difficult to pin down an exact title for what Bhavna Solecki does, since her work is all-encompassing enough to defy simple description. As the founder of Inner Evolution Healing Centre and now as a member of the planning committee for the Kerrisdale Permaculture GardenScreen Shot 2016-02-10 at 5.35.01 PM, Bhavna seeks to foster mental, spiritual and community balance in everything she does.

For the past 15 years, Bhavna has run her holistic practice with the goal of building communities around the pursuit of “mindfulness” – the harmony of the mind, body and soul achieved through healing foods, meditation, exercise, and other curative pursuits. Though she holds a BA in psychology, her practice is primarily based upon Shiatsu and ancient Indian and Chinese medicine. It also features a significant amount of spiritual counselling, which she believes is directly linked to mental and physical health.

“Doctors may try to take away pain,” she tells me. “But you cannot do that unless you first identify its source.”

Because of this, Bhavna finds that therapy becomes a very immersive experience; she cites the paramount importance of fostering relationships with her clients, putting empathy at the forefront of her approach to healing. “If you don’t feel it, you can’t help,” she says, and makes a point of telling me that she uses the word “help”, not “treat”. Her process must be team effort with the individual, who must be willing to fully participate. Since she gives full autonomy to her patients, she trusts that they will take that step towards healing when they are ready, at which point she is truly able to help them.

It is this act of trust that Bhavna states is one of the most rewarding aspects of her job. Fear and isolation, she says, are forms of negative energy, and the right attitude of a patient is necessary to overcome both. In order for therapy to work, the individual must understand that they are not alone, and that negative energy – whether it comes from within the patient or without – can be defeated with help and support from the community.

Indeed, the community that has grown up around Bhavna’s work is nothing short of remarkable, though perhaps not surprising, considering how much her practice relies on relating to others. The people who come to the Centre become like a family, with everyone bringing their own enriching experiences to the table. For Bhavna, working together is as important as it is challenging, especially given how much more disconnected she feels society is becoming as a whole. As valued face-to-face conversations become more seldom, she takes great joy in breaking through that everyday isolation, and is passionate about getting to know people in meaningful ways.

“I’ve never felt like it’s my work,” she says. “It’s more like play – I play with my work.”

She goes on to tell me how much of her community is based around creative pursuits – music, art, dance, fashion, a variety as inclusive as it is valuable. At the center of her holistic philosophy is that everything can be healing, especially art. One of hear earlier community endeavours involved bringing together artisans from all around the lower mainland in a sort of “mini-convention”, and ever since then has built her community around artists and connecting them to her healing mission. She values the restorative relationship that artisans cultivate with their work, and knows firsthand just how powerfully art can heal. Back in her native India, she experienced emotional trauma following physical assault, but found great comfort in her work as a fashion designer. She tells me of the joy involved in crafting patterns and finding a connection with the fabric, ultimately discovering the power of healing through creativity. As a result, Bhavna knew that her Centre had to be a creative space, and has built one from the ground up, starting with a single program at the Centre’s inception but expanding into dozens over her career.Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 5.01.06 PM

Many of these programs are philanthropic as well, in accordance with her views on communal obligation. She deals extensively with women’s issues and runs a group for sexual assault survivors, creating a network of mutual support in order that no one must face such a trauma alone. She understands the need to value the survivor’s voices, to listen to what they have to say and to give them all the help they can, first and foremost. She also runs occasional campaigns to collect food and clothing for those in need, and cites the responsibility to avoid ignoring “so much poverty in our own backyard.” Healing must be available universally, and for Bhavna it lies not only in creating a community around herself, but providing the opportunity for everyone to contribute, no matter their external circumstances.

Events like her artisan convention are rarer for Bhavna nowadays – a wide-ranging event like that would often take up to six months to plan by herself – but she continues to cultivate a close-knit community at the Centre. Over the years, her viewpoint that “creativity lies in playfulness” has had far-reaching effects, and past and present members now number in the thousands, and maintain ties from all around the world. Closer to home, too, she never stops getting to know those around her; she takes pride in being very close with her neighbours, and sees her strong relationships with them as confirmation of how easy it can be to foster a community, simply by being open and willing to spend time together. I wonder out loud if her capacity as a spiritual healer might make this a bit easier for her, if it makes people feel more comfortable getting close to her, and she laughs in reluctant agreement – but assures me that just like with her patients, these relationships are a two-way street which require a mutual cooperation to be truly successful.

This is the sort of mindset that Bhavna wants to bring to the Kerrisdale Permaculture Garden – that of a community working constructively with each other in order to promote healing through common ground. And playing to her strengths and values, that common ground will involve healing through food. Inner Evolution has food healing as one of its primary focuses, and Bhavna believes strongly in the medicinal powers of organic, locally grown food.

“Food is our main source of life”, she cannot emphasize enough. “Food is our emotional mass. It is medicine.” She expresses concern about the dangers of imported, non-local foods, and argues that people should be growing as much of their own food as they can. She tells me that despite living in an apartment with limited space, she has around forty-five different plants in her living room, leading me to imagine vines climbing up her walls in some sort of indoor wilderness paradise. She doesn’t contradict me.

But even more important, she says about the garden, are the bonds that communally grown food creates among people. Locals who get in touch with their gardens and participate in the sharing economy that grows up around them naturally become closer. Cross-culturally, sharing food is a familial activity, and a tight-knit community cannot help but emerge among those who get involved with such a healing pursuit. It’s the same reason she holds so many potlucks at the Centre – to understand the restorative power of food is to better understand each other.

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 5.37.53 PMAnd in some way, too, this supportive, constructive, emotionally profitable network may be what helps us to better understand ourselves. As Bhavna talks about the importance of community, I begin to understand that at the heart of her philosophy is the idea of self-discovery by way of connecting with others. It pervades her efforts to set up public, creative spaces. It resides in her therapeutic processes, which begin by assessing the patient’s needs and building them up to a point where they can be ready for a workshop, or a group session. It’s at the centre of her network for assault victims, in which the paramount concern is to assure everyone involved of the support all around them. It is the focus of her additional seminars and workshops, where she helps people to identify who they are, why they’re here, and how to achieve happiness. For Bhavna, happiness comes from within, and is tied up with her success in what she does and that of people she interacts with. “Satisfaction is within you”, she says, and it is not a material satisfaction but a mental one, which can only be found with effort, enthusiasm, and a deeply understood balance which connects mind, body and soul.

But above all, it cannot be achieved alone. If isolation is negative energy, then it must be countered by the positive energy created by community. Healing comes first and foremost from within, but Bhavna and her efforts are what makes the subsequent necessary support a possibility. It’s as she says regarding the mindset of new patients – “If they’re ready to take action, then I’m here.”