Iris Chiang
Iris Chiang
India 2016-2017
I studied psychological science and art studies at Belmont University. I am going to Auroville, India to work under an art therapist for a program called Sankalpa. Read More About Iris →


It’s been just about three months (about halfway) into my trip here in Auroville. If I’m being honest, I feel the sparkly newness waning. I’m struggling with finding a balance between scheduled and productive stability versus taking opportunities for spontaneous adventure and not feeling complacent. I am feeling more comfortable and I’m afraid that it gives off a jaded, unapproachable vibe. I’m taking less video footage, but there is, no doubt, still so much overlooked and apparent beauty to capture. Adventure isn’t every single day anymore, but every so often I still get overwhelmed with the fact that this is real life and I’m in India. And it’s good, y’all. Really, really good still, I promise.

I’ve had a few people asking me, “But Iris, what about work? What are you actually doing?” So I figured maybe I should probably talk about “work” now…

The first task I took on for my internship in Sankalpa was the art cart. It’s a colorful station on wheels filled with art supplies. Part of our funding for Sankalpa goes into stocking materials propagating creativity (paper, coloring utensils, scissors, glue, string, beads, etc.). Usually stationed at the visitor center, curious passerbys would ask or be approached to make art for free. I often must remind new friends that art is for all to practice and enjoy (all ages, all professions, all experiences—“artsy” or not)! Our motto is “there is no right or wrong.” The intention for the cart is to be connected with yourself and with the community around you through art. I have witnessed a lot of imagination and precious collaboration during my time at the art cart. I have also met many wonderful strangers with fascinating stories and backgrounds. I have definitely seen myself grow and change through the art cart. I think I was taking a lot in the beginning (i.e, people would give me information, stories, encouragement). Since then, I’ve learned different ways to engage different people and new tactics to inspire creativity. I finally feel like I am giving back to these visitors and Aurovillians who come to the art cart, particularly through sharing my experiences and knowledge of Auroville, a place I now truly consider a home (that I really want to show off, like, all the time).

Once a week, I help out in a class called Art and Yoga in our art center. Each week, we would focus on a different chakra, or energy center, of the body. We would create an art work or mandala related to the different colors and ideas to represent the chakra we are focusing on that day. It is a time of creativity, reflection, exercise, and release.

In the same art space, we also have a dance therapy and art class every week with a dance therapist and life coach. Before arriving in India, I was not a dance-y person. But y’all: this is one amazing class. It’s never felt so good to MOVE. I’ve heard from others that this class has made them feel more free than they have in ten years! What an amazing thing to feel safe to express and not judged amongst strangers. What a gift to be able to create that safe space.

Every day we have a mandala session. Mandala literally means “magic circle”. It’s a meditative practice that can be done with one person or with a group of people. Typically, it is a silent process where communication is through creating patterns with beads, seeds, and any other materials while sitting in a circle together. Again, there is no right or wrong—certain patterns and symmetry are not necessary. When it feels finished, we meditate on our mandala and share words reflecting our intentions. It is posted on social media with #MySankalpa. (Sankalpa means intention in Sanskrit.) This part of my day is often near sunset. There are fewer vehicles driving around where we make our mandalas; the evening birds and insects are beginning to sing. Everything around me is so alive, but at the same time everything feels still. I feel connected and I remember to let go. I regroup from a busy day and week and month and year, and I am again at peace.

When people ask about what I’m doing here, I tell them these things. I also tell them I do some not-so-glorious things like taking inventory, accounting work, emails, cleaning up, etc. They tell me that it still doesn’t sound like very much work. It’s because it’s not. I get to play and make art and practice yoga and dance and use my imagination and challenge myself and push my creativity and chat with eclectic people. As cliche as it sounds, I learning so much about people and life. I am learning about true and deep connection, as well as the techniques and effects of healing through art. It’s a dream. It’s THE dream. It’s this wonderful, beautiful, incredible, real-life dream.

PS: very excited to share that month three video is done, currently in search for some good wifi to upload. Stay tuned.