Long Walks On Leafy Streets

2/19/2019 Race Course Rd, Coimbatore, India
Last time I wrote we had just returned from India. I continued to miss India for a few weeks after that, in the sense that I kept thinking about the places that we visited, things that we did, the sights and the smells, basically everything about our experience. If I were not so worried about climate change and carbon pollution I would be flying to India again soon.

But I must say life here has been good as well. The past couple of weeks have been especially pleasant and positive. We celebrated the birthday of Nicole and Valentine's day with some nice outings. I went ice-skating with Prashant in Silver Spring. It was his first ice-skating outing and he was absolutely enthralled by the experience. I also took him to a West African drumming class in Takoma Park and after initial shyness he got into it as well. I was very happy that he enjoyed the two activities.
I was also very proud of how cool he was even though these were new and unfamiliar experiences for him. This past Sunday Richard Brady, the founder of the Washington Mindfulness Community (WMC), visited from Vermont and gave a Dharma talk at the Srilankan vihara were we meet for meditation. He has been one of my inspirations and it was great to see him in person again. After about three decades of teaching High School and leading WMC he lives in retirement in Vermont. He talked about his life experiences and it was quite moving. He is one of those people who truly are a gift for mankind. We were grateful to have him at our wedding nine years ago. He gave a little talk giving us our blessings and some advice for the journey ahead.

I also continue the practice of watching a video of Thich Nhat Hanh for about ten minutes before going to bed, each night. I must say it is slowly changing my body, mind and consciousness in the sense that I am more mindful every moment of my actions and catch myself whenever I am drifting into negativity, despair, laziness or irritability. Buddhism is full of great practices to develop enlightened thinking and actions. One of the practices that I learned from Thich Nhat Hanh that is helping me is to use the energy of mindfulness as a warm blanket to surround and calm down negative thoughts and feelings when they arise. You do not fight them or try to control them or avoid them. This is helping me transform my personality and become a more optimistic and positive person who is more engaged with the world and other people. It is not that I was an angry and pessimistic curmudgeon before, and it is possible I will lapse into negativity from time to time. But I definitely feel a certain change happening and hopefully it will be a long lasting one. It is helping me to be better at my teaching and research. I am getting some good ideas and making progress.

At the same time I keep thinking about what I can do to fight climate change. Right now I am teaching a freshman math class that uses examples from environmental studies. It has several students who are environmental majors or at least interested in doing something for the environment. It is great to meet with them every week and I hope they will do a better job than we have done in healing our planet. I also hope to organize some hikes for Sierra Club and the Nature Lovers' Meetup this semester but bigger projects will have to wait. Hopefully I will get a good, publishable result in my research that will provide a bit of breathing room for me and time to do something that will make a difference for the environment.

The reason I feel so much urgency is that, according to scientists, time is really running out when it comes to acting on climate change. Every one of us has to do everything we can. It is a planetary emergency. Earlier in January I attended the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Baltimore. I really enjoyed the talks and the travel to Baltimore. I rode the MARC train one day, Greyhound bus another day and then drove my car on the third day. Much as I enjoyed the conference, I could not help feeling that sometimes we, especially mathematicians, are living like children. It is as if the mathematics is doing the people as opposed to people doing mathematics. The AMS is doing a lot when it comes to research related to climate change, but we as individuals need to do more. I do not know if it is just the nature of the profession that we cannot do much for society. People in general need to wake up and start pressing their Congresspersons. Unfortunately like the frog that is in a boiling pot we are oblivious to what is happening around us and are living our life like zombies, many of us literally zombies in front of our TV/computer/smartphone screens. I hope we wake up and act before it is too late. I see some welcome signs of that happening in America today, with the unveiling of the Green New Deal etc., I hope I would also be able to contribute something that helps in this fight.

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