Long Walks On Leafy Streets

5/25/2017 Sligo Creek Trail, Silver Spring, MD
Finally I am able to sit down and write. Apart from being busy with end of semester exams and grading, I have been spending a bit too much of my “spare” time reading the news. More on that later. But I am glad to be able to write this. I started this blog as a way to express my deepest thoughts and feelings, in a meditative way, so that we can have a sort of shared experience of contemplation and meditation. I like to write when my mind is reasonably calm and I feel like I am living somewhat mindfully.

Earlier this month I saw a video on Facebook made by someone who hiked the entire Pacific Crest trail, from Baja Mexico all the way to Canada, along the ridges of the mountains on the west coast. He shot 2 or 3 seconds of video every day and made a compilation. It was quite beautiful to watch. It brought back memories of the days when I used to hike often, either in the mountains or along the Potomac River.
I was also inspired by pictures from my friend Mark and his brother hiking along the Appalachian Trail. Apart from the experience of communing with nature hiking was also a way for me to get my mind out of its normal turbulent state by spending some time in solitude and tranquility. I hope to go on a two-day backpacking trip in a few weeks. Nicole has graciously agreed to take care of Prashant by herself. This will be the first time I spend more than a day by myself, in the more than two years time since when she was pregnant.

I was sitting in meditation a few weeks ago after the end of the semester, feeling more relaxed. The mind wandered into plans for two days of hiking and camping. Then I tried to be mindful and bring myself back to the present. I realized that being in the moment creates the same effect as hiking in the woods. One should be able to do it anywhere, anytime. Although being with nature is special, one ought to be able to have that peaceful and fresh mind in every kind of surrounding. Doing research in math and running both need that kind of a mindset and they also reinforce it. I am fortunate to be able to do more research now that the teaching is over. As for running I won a place (through the lottery) in the Marine Corps Marathon this year as well and I have been running regularly. Now I am up to five miles on Tuesdays and Thursdays and eight on Saturdays. I look forward to running for hours along the Rock Creek.

That night my fellow meditator and good friend Neal and I were driving back home. It was quite dark and for some reason I started thinking about how we live with the fear of the darkness, the unknown. But when you have the “Buddha mind” you have no fear. During the discussion after meditation our beloved Jindra (who is moving to her ancestral Czech Republic) talked about connectivity and how she is feeling in her being more and more strongly that we are all one. Later I watched a video from Saturday Night Live from the previous night. It was a satire of this rap video titled “World Peace.” Although it was a satire it did make me realize that all this conflict in the world today is really artificial and superficial. Inside we are all one and we all want peace.

Speaking of conflict, as mentioned before I have been reading quite a bit of the news lately. On the one hand I want to have compassion for the Republicans, especially the President. On the other hand I know that many of the things they are doing is quite harmful to the world and the whole approach of this person who is the President now, his whole attitude towards life, is unfair to other people and immoral at its foundation. So while I remind myself to be not led astray by anger, I do keep myself motivated to act by reading and thinking about the injustices perpetrated by this administration and ways to fight them. One could have sympathy for the serious mental deficiencies of the person who is the President yet at the same time, perhaps for his own benefit, oppose and fight his administration. Also, I have been reading a lot of articles by Republicans current and former who are equally upset with this person. It helps to know that they too care about the country although I do have many disagreements with them about policy.

On Saturday the 13th I was visiting my sister with Prashant while Nicole was busy otherwise. I ran along a stream on the Gude trail near their home. It was quite a thickly forested area even though it was in the suburbs. I felt like I was in the woods! After the rain the stream was full of water. At one point I had to cross the fast flowing water. Not wanting to get my shoes wet, I hesitated. I must also admit that the force of the water made me think twice, even though it was not very wide. Finally I decided to do it just to test myself, and managed to cross by stepping on some small rocks without slipping too much. It did get my heart racing for a brief moment, but I felt quite energetic afterward and ran much faster than usual.

So in many ways I am trying to maintain the strength and vigor of my youth, but I have a good reason in Prashant. One Friday evening I got a few hours for myself – Nicole was picking up Prashant. I went to Dupont circle to get something to eat and watch people. I used to do this often in my younger, single days, especially during the early days in Washington. It was a gray evening and I was in a contemplative mood while sitting in Starbucks. A melancholy song was playing. Somehow Dupont Circle with all the homeless and crowds of people passing by gives me that detached, peaceful perspective on life that I also get by hiking in the woods or meditating. Perhaps it is the realization that there for the grace of God go I. It reminds one of the fragility and transient nature of our existence.

This morning I ran in Burr gymnasium because it was raining outside. All was quiet in the basketball court where I ran. It is a court used for training and nobody was there the whole time except for me. For a moment I was able to step back from my thoughts and life itself and a fresh mind emerged, just as it does while hiking. A mind untroubled by recent events and worries as well as my misgivings about my own unmindfulness and excessive engagement in thoughts and feelings about politics. All these are nothing but waves on the water. They rise up and then they fade but underneath is the vast ocean of our true self.

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