5 December 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network

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IFTA Creative Minds & Wellbeing Day: In Conversation with Deepak Chopra and Panel Discussion
22 Sep 2023 :
The Irish Film & Television Academy presented a special In Conversation event with Deepak Chopra as part of IFTA Creative Minds & Wellbeing Day, on Thursday, September 21st at the O’Reilly Theatre in Dublin.

An audience of screen industry professionals and members of Ireland’s creative community filled O'Reilly Theatre yesterday for the IFTA Creative Minds & Wellbeing Day. The day consisted of a one hour panel discussion with figures whose expertises lies in both creativity and mental health advocacy, followed by a one hour In Conversation event with Deepak Chopra.

The event was hosted by broadcaster and author Dermot Whelan. While Whelan might be most well known for his career in radio and comedy, he is also a meditation advocate. He recently published the bestselling book Mind Full exploring solutions for better mental health.

Before the panel discussion began, IFTA CEO Áine Moriarty gave a quick introduction. Firstly thanking Minding Creative Minds and Screen Ireland for supporting the event, and continuing to thank Deepak Chopra: “This gentleman has been so supportive of our industry on an international scale. We're delighted to welcome Deepak Chopra here to Ireland to be a part of this. He's a leader in holistic medicine, mind wellbeing, and meditation. He's dedicated, passionate, and incredibly inspiring.”

The panel discussion led by Whelan included broadcaster, producer, and musician Niall Breslin, politician and filmmaker Senator Lynn Ruane, psychotherapist and journalist Dil Wickremasinghe, director of Minding Creative Minds, Ann Marie Shields, and author, speaker, and advocate for holistic health Deepak Chopra. 

“So I want to tap into your individual stories, because I think they're fascinating,” Whelan said at the beginning of the panel discussion. He began by asking Senator Lynn Ruane about being both a politician and a filmmaker, and if it was difficult to embrace her creativity given her political background, and the element of being open to public scrutiny that comes with that line of work.

“I think sometimes you can begin to question who you are and what you are,” Senator Ruane responded. “Because they won't be short in trying to tell you who they think you are. You have to try and be very strong to just embrace that people have opinions of you or have stereotypes of you.”

Touching on George Orwell’s position that no writing is free from politics, Ruane explains that she sees her political and creative pursuits as one and the same, rather than two identities she is torn between.

On that point, Chopra introduced the idea of the “four illusions that are responsible for all human suffering”, with one of them being the illusion of identity.

“There is no such thing,” Chopra said of identity. “If you say ‘What is identity?’ and look at it very carefully… It's an imposed identity. As soon as you're given a name, you have an identity.”

He continued: “What identity do I have besides my name? I mean I was a baby, a fertilised egg, zygote, an embryo, a teenager, a young adult, a mature adult, all the way to dusty death. So identity is very provisional. It constantly evolves. And if you start identifying the fixed person that you think you are, you're going to suffer.”

The discussion then proceeded with Niall Breslin discussing his journey in the sphere of mental health advocacy. Breslin, much like Ruane, wears many hats: musician, television host, and most recently, a PhD student. Breslin discussed how his perspective of mental health in Ireland has expanded over the years, and that the onus of solutions to mental health problems are not on the individual, but rather need to be systematic.

“We’ve got to start looking at why people feel the way they feel,” Breslin explained. “Rather than focus on the anger, focus on why people are angry. Rather than focus on the anxiety, focus on why they're anxious.”

“I think that's what has shifted in me. That took a lot of admitting that the way I was talking at the start was nonsense. I believed that by exercising all the time that would solve the problem, and that is part of the solution, but we need to create far better systems of governance.”

One way in which the Irish screen industry is taking a systematic and holistic approach to managing mental health in this sector, is the work of Minding Creative Minds, represented at the panel by the organisation’s director Ann Marie Shields.

Before becoming involved in the music industry, at one stage tour managing My Bloody Valentine, Shields did a degree in psychology having always had an interest in mental wellbeing. She later began working at BIMM in Dublin, Europe’s largest music institute, where she was responsible for nurturing young creatives. In discussing how the organisation came about, Shields explains she first reached out to Dave Reid, CEO of Minding Creative Minds, in relation to having one-on-one discussions with BIMM students and seeing firsthand that there were not enough mental health resources available to them. Reid studied psychology and was a board member of First Fortnight, a charity that challenges mental health prejudice through arts and cultural action.

“There hasn't been enough services for people and it's quite hard to access them,” Shields says of the impetus for creating Minding Creative Minds. “Particularly if you don't have any money, and a lot of creatives don't have spare cash. Minding Creative Minds isn't just a mental health service, we also provide financial advice, legal advice, and career mentoring.”

Much like Shields, Dil Wickremasinghe didn’t begin her professional career in the world of mental health, having started out in journalism and broadcasting and later training as a psychotherapist and counsellor. Wickremasinghe described the fast-paced lifestyle of her career in journalism and the pressures that came with that, a pace of work that screen industry professionals are sure to be familiar with.

“My life was very fast paced, very stressful, and full of deadlines, but I was building this identity that I thought, as a migrant, when I came to Ireland, would gain respect and status,” Wickremasinghe recounted. “In 2017, I spoke out against the misogynistic attitudes in Irish media, and after presenting a show for a decade on Newstalk, I suddenly found myself standing outside the radio station with a cardboard box with my belongings. So that trauma of when I was homeless at 16 suddenly came right up again.”

In studying psychotherapy, Wickremasinghe discovered that learning how the nervous system works was instrumental in healing from the trauma of being made homeless after coming out as gay to her parents in Sri Lanka at age 16.

“In our brain, the amygdala is tasked with one job, monitor for danger, constantly monitor for danger in your environment, and then send appropriate messages to your body,” Wickremasinghe explained. “The interesting thing about the amygdala is that it does not know the difference between actual danger, like a life threatening situation, and the perceived danger of being faced with an angry boss.”

Consequently, Wickremasinghe’s advice for the screen industry professionals who may be frequently facing high-pressure, fast-paced situations and various deadlines, to “take the time to befriend your nervous system”. This means to be aware of the coping mechanisms you have developed in your lifetime to get through stressful situations, but to recognise that these coping mechanisms may not be serving you anymore.

Following this panel discussion packed with insights into how screen industry professionals and members of Ireland’s creative community can approach managing their mental health, there was a short interval before the special In Conservation event with Deepak Chopra.

Whelan and Chopra discussed many areas of the author’s work and life. Chopra grew up in New Delhi in an Irish Christian Brothers missionary school, where he was introduced to the works of James Joyce, WB Yeats, and Oscar Wilde. They discussed the relationship between religious prayer and meditation, in regards to chanting as a form of breath regulation. Chopra argued that the pursuit of happiness can be the biggest cause of unhappiness, and that the difference between those that are an and are not happy is, simply put, perspective. He also recalled his parents background as diagnosticians, and his own journey in the medical world. Speaking of how his father’s work inspired him to find a way to heal suffering, Chopra said:

“He was compassionate to the ultimate degree. He said ‘Empathy is feeling what others feel. Compassion is the desire to alleviate suffering. But you will not have compassion ‘til you have empathy’. And from compassion is born love, and love in action is the biggest healer.”

At the end of the In Conversation event, Chopra led a guided meditation. This involved the audience closing their eyes, putting their feet on the ground, their hands resting on their laps, palms upwards, and Chopra verbally guiding the meditation.

Finally, director Jim Sheridan was invited to the stage to present Deepak Chopra with an IFTA Lifetime Achievement Award, to which Chopra received a standing ovation.

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