Long Walks On Leafy Streets

1/22/2018 Rock Creek Park, Washington, DC.
Nicole is away on a work trip, and Prashant is sleeping. The quiet is helping me deal with what has been a very difficult few weeks. Also helping was going to meditation last night at the Buddha Vihara. The Sangha or spiritual community of Thich Nhat Hanhís students has always been a place of refuge. It was amazing how much difference it makes to be with a group of people practicing mindfulness Ė living with honesty and kindness. It helped me to draw myself away from my own little worries and realize that we are all part of the One being. Yet it has been a testing time, a time during which it was difficult to stay in touch with that Truth.

Howard University was supposed to open on the 8th. Since campus was closed until the 8th, I spent the week leading to it working on my research mostly at home. But it was difficult to work.
Lacking much rest after the end of the fall semester, I was completely exhausted and spent much time watching the Cricket Test matches between India and South Africa. On one day that week I went to the University of Maryland at College Park to study. It was a rainy day and I walked for long distances to and from the metro station. I had always enjoyed walking in the rain and I found that I was able to think about my problem better while walking than while sitting in the library. Somehow the rain draws you closer to nature and stimulates creativity in the mind. But overall I felt like I didnít spend enough time or make enough progress on research during the break.

On Saturday the 6th it was announced that Howard would not open until the 16th. Apparently some boilers had broken down during the intense Arctic cold of that week and several pipes had frozen and burst. The historic Douglas Hall building and a few other buildings were severely damaged. When I went to campus on Monday there was no heat or Internet (they were also upgrading the network over the break) in our offices. It was discomfiting at many levels. We finally started classes last Wednesday (the 16th) but there were still many problems.

Then towards the end of that week Prashant caught a virus and we kept him home on MLK Jr memorial day. On Tuesday I took him to daycare but had to pick him early because he had a high fever. He did recover eventually but it was a stressful week. On Wednesday my father was admitted to the hospital with high fever. He is also recovering but coming at this time it made me more worried than I should have been. To make matters worse I myself caught a virus and had to somehow summon enough energy to teach my classes and attend to family needs. The fact that Nicoleís job is very stressful by its very nature does not make matters easier. Luckily running and meditation help me to weather sickness without needing a whole lot of rest.

These are actually minor stressors compared to two other issues I had to deal with, during this period. On the weekend before the 8th an old friend from my volunteering days reached out for help. He had been doing social work in India for the past decade or more. He had spent much of his savings on his cause and now needed help just meeting expenses. I was on the one hand very happy that I was able to be of help to someone, that too in a time of need. But on the other hand it really made me sad that such things happen to good people who had been sacrificing their lives for others. Then last week I had a heated argument with someone very dear to me, someone whom I have loved since that person was a baby. While I still love that person dearly, it broke my heart to hear that person speak ill of causes that I have been fighting for all my life and side with people like Koch brothers who have been doing everything to destroy the planet and progress for the poor. It is truly a test for my capacity for love. I would of course continue to offer my love but now need to walk a fine line between not supporting what I consider immoral and destructive views and not letting my disappointment cloud my view towards that person. I am hopeful, knowing the nature of this person, that things would turn out well. Nevertheless it is devastating in the present moment.

Of course all this happens against the backdrop of continuing bad news for the environment and even worse news on the social and political front. Selfishness, greed, fear and hatred seem to be gaining the upper hand all over the world and especially the U.S. I look at my own life and ask myself, what have I done to make a difference? Have I been too asleep in my life, too preoccupied with my own advancement? I have not achieved anything of note that would even provide me with a base for doing anything in the near future. My research is stagnant and although there are always students who like my teaching, there are other teachers who seem to be far more popular. Sometimes I feel that if I were to be true to my convictions, I should be offering my life completely to some good cause such as fighting climate change.

So yes, it has been a difficult few weeks. I donít know the answer to any of the questions. All I know is that I need to continue on, for the sake of Nicole and Prashant, and for the sake of my parents. I cannot allow despair any foothold in life, because apart from being a waste of energy it would prevent me from being the best I can be for the sake of the loved ones. I am grateful to the love that comes my way, whether deserved or not, from friends, family, colleagues and students. I am grateful for the clear voice of Thich Nhat Hanh and other teachers. In last nightís Dharma talk (recording) he described how everything, including those things that we view negatively, is a wave in the ocean of Dharma. That is something one needs to always keep in mind.

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