Described as a “book club for TED talks”, TED Circles is a new TED initiative where small groups of people come together to discuss ideas proposed by various TED and TEDx speakers. 

Every month, we watch two TED Talks, proposed by TED on a specific theme to spark conversation at our TED Circles event. In keeping with Valentine’s Day, February’s theme was “How we love”. Hosted in collaboration with our Impact Partner, The Conduit, and facilitated by the TEDxLondon team, around 50 people joined us to delve deeper into talks by TEDxLaSierraUniversity speaker Shasta Nelson and TEDxLondon speaker Sanah Ahsan.  

Shasta’s talk, “Frientimacy: The 3 Requirements of All Healthy Friendships”, explored the theme of loneliness, suggesting we are suffering from an epidemic of it.  Loneliness can lead to a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety and dementia, she explained. But Shasta believes that to combat loneliness we need to improve the quality of relationships we already have. Watch Shasta’s talk and hear her thoughts below. 

This TED Circles event was particularly special to our TEDxLondon community as we were joined in person by Sanah, who spoke at TEDxLondonWomen in December last year. We were delighted to have her return to the TEDxLondon family to join the conversation and share her thoughts on love, romance and relationships. 

Through poetry and writing, Sanah has challenged shameful, internalised narratives that she grew up with and that society imposed on her. As a Queer, Pakistani, Muslim womxn, Sanah decided to write to herself with love as a way to protest the structures that dehumanise and undermine her identity. Sanah’s talk opened a discussion on “self-love”, not as a buzzword, or media trend, but rather as a more fundamental journey towards building an accepting and loving relationship with ourselves.

Watch Sanah’s TEDxLondonWomen talk on “Rewriting my story with poetry and love as a Queer Muslim” to hear more. 

We spoke to Sanah at the end of the evening to explore the theme of her talk further.

TEDxLondon: I wondered if you could tell us a bit more about your choice to use poetry as a medium for expression.  Was that a conscious choice, or something that has been instinctive for you? 

Sanah: Yeah, I guess my journey in poetry has been from a very early age for me. I was played a lot of hip hop in the house by my brother, so I’ve always had an ear for lyrics. I think that was my first realisation that poetry was even a form of expression I could do. I wrote just for myself for a long time and then a couple of years ago, this advert for BBC Words First came up on Facebook and I applied. That was basically my first performance! I was on the stage with cameras everywhere and I had never performed before. It was just really mind blowing that there was even a whole poetry scene and then from there, it kind of just took off.

But, in terms of writing explicitly, for me, it’s very therapeutic, being able to have that form of processing and documenting where I was at different points. Especially the process of externalising and releasing feelings from my body onto the page. I found that offering myself out in service to others through my poetry cultivated connection, which was important in my healing too. Transforming the pain into poetry, in hope that it might offer some healing for others, helped remind me that healing doesn’t occur in isolation. I also think reclaiming language is so important for historically colonised tongues, and for me authoring my own story through poetry has been empowering.

TEDxLondon: I wanted to touch on a few of the topics and themes within your talk. In particular, the idea of contradictory identities which you explore in relation to race, religion, gender, and sexuality. Could you share what you’ve learned about yourself when reconciling these identities? And the role of love in that journey?

Sanah: I struggle with the word reconciliation, because I think it implies there is something to reconcile. And it’s like, who determines what is contradictory? I mean, we can take being queer and Muslim and there’s a strong sense in certain communities that those two things can’t co-exist. But part of my journey has definitely been understanding and separating what other people’s perceptions are and my own – especially if other people’s perceptions are shaming.  

Also, I’m a person of faith, and I have a strong belief that God made me exactly as I am meant to be. We all need self acceptance regardless of whatever struggles or conflicts we’re having internally with our identities – especially because I believe we need to accept ourselves as the source of being able to accept others as well. I think that there is so much in offering ourselves compassion and to be able to extend that to others. 

So yeah, I think compassion is at the root of loving yourself and then being able to extend that to others – and that is a real journey. One of the questions I ask myself is what is love in action? Because loving yourself can be so hard to pin that down. What is loving myself? For me that has been writing and meditation, but it is different for everyone. 

TEDxLondon: There’s this brilliant phase you use in your talk about ‘a self acceptance that is radical’, which has been really thought provoking and you’ve mentioned it again here. Could you elaborate on what self acceptance means to you?

We live in a society that’s constantly telling us that we shouldn’t be accepting ourselves. I think, especially as women of colour, that we were always taught to feel shame and that we’re not good enough. So, it’s hard, how can you learn to completely accept yourself when you’re fundamentally being taught the opposite? I think it’s a radical act to offer yourself love, to offer yourself acceptance, to see yourself as whole and to offer yourself compassion in a world that is teaching you everything else.

Thank you Sanah for joining us!

We’ll be running TED Circles every month. If you would like to join us, make sure to sign up to our mailing list to be the first to hear all the details and how to register. 

TED Circles events are free to attend and will be run virtually for the foreseeable future. 

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