Long Walks On Leafy Streets

3/20/2022 I.I.Sc, Bengaluru, India    
Thoughts about India -- part 6.

It is early on a spring morning here in Washington, DC. The birds are up and calling to each other. There is a cool breeze that brings comforting and pleasant reminders of the beach at sunrise. All is quiet in the home. The mind is fresh from a decent sleep and ready and happy to write on these pages again.

Much has happened since I wrote last, about five weeks ago. We have bought a new home, are about to sell our old home that has been a rental, and are preparing our current home for renting. Nicole has started a new job at FERC. While this new position is exciting, it brings a heavy responsibility with it and a lot of stress. There is a dark cloud hanging over the world due to the war in Europe, and one can only hope and pray that the suffering ends soon.
The IPCC report on the status our planet's climate came out recently. It says we also have a big storm developing in the form of climate change. It has gotten so depressing that I have stopped seeking out articles. Yet one cannot help hearing about it here and there.

All of these things are in addition to the normal stresses of an academic career. While I am enjoying my teaching more and more, and much satisfaction comes from the interaction with students, online teaching also brings its own headaches. I am enjoying my research and just wrapped up a series of talks about my topic, namely Artin's conjecture on primitive roots, but I am struggling to find time to bring my ideas to fruition. Meanwhile some Howard faculty are preparing to strike after failing to come to an agreement with the administration. I am more and more concerned about the conditions under which our non-tenured and adjunct faculty colleagues are working. This situation is not unique to Howard University. My friend Chris who works at San Francisco State tells me of actions that such faculty are taking, in California. On wednesday I participated in a rally on campus organized by the faculty union to protest the actions of the administration.

So it goes without saying that there is a lot of tension and turbulence in the body and mind, these days. On some nights I couldn't sleep much, and I could feel the blood pressure rising. One evening I was feeling light-headed just walking around the neighborhood. So I try to slow down and cut down on activities. I want to make sure I am there for Prashant and Nicole in the long haul. We have had a few of our colleagues pass away in their fifties and sixties. Two of them, Gerald Chachere and Todd Drumm, were somewhat close to me. I used to chat with them a lot. They both left teenage sons and daughters.

Luckily I have various resources that help me to handle the difficult emotions and thoughts arising from these. The first one is my mindfulness and meditation practice, incorporating both Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Thich Nhat Hanh (he passed away in January, and the memory still brings tears) often said that a good practitioner should be able to handle difficult situations. He should know, because he and his fellow monks in Vietnam worked for peace during the Vietnam war, dodging bombs and government threats. Secondly I have my running. Training for the marathon each year has become a kind of spiritual practice in itself. While it helps me deal with the cholesterol, blood pressure and sugar issues that I inherited, the more important effect has been in helping me deal with discomfort and pain of all kinds. Another very important resource has been the love and support of family and friends. I am grateful to have Nicole and Prashant in my life every day, and my sisters and parents along with other relatives and friends.

Nevertheless, sometimes I feel that I used to be better at dealing with such things when I was younger. Of course, it was easier when I was a student or a single person, but still I think there was a fundamental calmness in me that I find myself feeling nostalgic about. In the previous post I wrote about my grandfathers and how I was blessed to have had such wonderful ancestors. I got that inner calmness from them, along with a certain detachment from worldly affairs. As I immerse myself more in the world, I find myself occasionally coming up for air, grabbing on to that calmness like a little raft to carry me through the storms of life.

I wonder if part of the turbulence is just the nature of life in America. Back home in India there is a constant rhythm and structure to life. One takes it for granted but it comes out of thousands of years of spiritual practice and tradition. Even allowing for the oppressive caste system I have seen a certain calmness and inner peace in how people go about their lives, whether it is a middle class professional living a comfortable life in their flat or a poor laborer living in the slum or a hut in the village. There are problems everyone faces, of course, but underlying it all is the bedrock of social coherence and tradition. Perhaps it has changed a bit recently. I have not spent enough time in India to be a good judge of this. On the other hand, America gets its dynamism and energy from the fact that there is no such structure, and everything is fluid. That is what makes it great, but it is also what creates a lot of anxiety and stress among people.

But of all the things that help one deal with difficult situations, nature is the best. At least for me, it has been the best source of comfort and refuge. One day I was feeling particularly low in spirits, with many things not going the way I was hoping. Then I heard the sparrows singing in the backyard in the quiet of the morning. It made me see everything from a whole new perspective. They don't dwell on any of their problems like we do. They go through loss and pain, of course. But every morning they continue to go about their lives with the same energy. The sun has risen, the flowers are in bloom, and it is a new day. It will be a new day, every day, on this beautiful planet, in spite of all the wars we fight and all the damage that we inflict on it.

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