Long Walks On Leafy Streets

7/4/2018 Honolulu, HI, USA
It is July 4th and the sounds of fireworks are all around. We are in the middle of summer, during a week of really hot weather. I must say I am enjoying the summer. For several years now I have not been teaching in the summer because it is the only time I get for research. It is also nice to have one’s own schedule and have the time to go on endless walks or bike rides in the sun, or spend days with the family at the beach. At the end of May we visited Delaware. We stayed at a hotel in Dover and visited Bombay Hook wildlife refuge and Rehoboth Beach. We had visited Dover earlier in May in order to attend Nicole’s brother Mike’s graduation. He just finished his Ph. D in Optics at Delaware State and Nicole was very proud and overjoyed watching him from the stands. Dover is a quiet town with a nice historic area around the state Capitol and not far from the beaches. Prashant really enjoyed playing in the sand on the beach and we all enjoyed watching the wetland birds at Bombay Hook, although we got into a bit of trouble at the visitor center.
Prashant saw a nice stuffed fox toy there and refused to leave without it. Unfortunately it was only for display and we had to drag him out crying.

I liked the fact that we were able to drive in our own Nissan Leaf everywhere because there were many charging stations. The hotel even allowed us to charge the car at a wall outlet and there was a charging station in a parking lot close to the beach. People often ask me about our car, how we charge it and how far it can go on one charge and so on. This time it was a man who looked like he might be a supporter of the current President and I was pleasantly surprised when he turned out to be someone who really cared about the environment. We ended up having a long chat about electric cars and solar panels. It made me feel a little better about America given everything that is going on.

This summer is also a little more special for me because the Soccer World Cup games are going on. Every four years I look forward to a month of watching the nations of the world play some of the most exciting soccer. It is not just for the soccer – you might get more quality in the Premier League. What I enjoy as much as the soccer is learning about the fans from various countries, watching games with people from competing countries in sports bars and generally feeling like a kid again enjoying a month of festivities and games. The games this summer have been exciting and of higher quality due to the increasing parity between various countries. This is in contrast to the past when a handful of countries dominated and the early stages were very predictable because you knew these top teams were going to win for sure.

Yet this World Cup has also been less enjoyable to me for a few reasons. The first one is that I could not finish my research project before the games started, so I could not watch the initial games with a relaxed mind. In fact I tried to continue working at the same time although that turned out to be difficult and towards the end of the group stages I gave up and decided to just watch the games as much as possible. Secondly this is also the first World Cup since Prashant was born. So of course daddy duties came first. I was also taking my parents to various Doctors’ appointments. Finally, these games are being held in Russia where an authoritarian and corrupt regime is crushing all opposition, at a time when Russia and the current US government are undermining many of the connective bonds between the people of the world. I even considered boycotting the games but decided against it. My reason was that these games are for all people, and that includes the people of Russia. Much as I oppose the activities of their government, I have no quarrel with the people. I was glad to see that they enjoyed the games and fans from different countries were pleased with the hospitality. Hopefully this would open their eyes to the rest of the world and perhaps their government would also change its ways although I am less optimistic about the latter. I also watched a bit of cricket, in particular some action between West Indies and Sri Lanka taking place in the Caribbean. Watching the tropical landscape around the cricket grounds made me nostalgic about India and life in the tropics. The tropical weather makes people happier and puts them in a relaxed state of mind. Perhaps the weather is the main reason that Westerners are more combative and organized? Indian cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar who was commentating on the game said that if you haven’t watched a cricket game in the Caribbean you have truly missed something. I hope we are able to do that one of these days.

I am also running and meditating in the summer. As mentioned before on these pages I am training to run the marathon again this year. Running in the summer is nicer in one way since it is sunnier and warmer but right now it is a bit harder because one has to run very early in the morning before it gets too hot. On one particular day I decided to get a haircut before going for a run and ended up running in the late morning heat. It was a struggle to finish the run and by the time I got to the bus stop to get back home it was past noon. I was hungry and to make matters worse I took the wrong bus and ended up walking more than a mile to get home. Many negative thoughts got into my head, including my frustration with progress in research, not having been able to contribute much to the fight against the fast worsening problem of climate change and so on. But then I looked at the sunny skies and caught myself. I decided to just enjoy the walk and got some snacks and a drink to nourish the body along the way. I also picked up some bottles and cans that were lying along the road and put them in the nearest recycling bin. This is something I often do on my walks and it helps me feel a little bit better about my lack of contribution towards healing this planet. I ended up really enjoying the walk and even got some ideas for research.

The same thing happened at meditation one night. I was the bell inviter (or facilitator) for the night of meditation with the WMC and ended up not having anyone with me. Again all sorts of negative thoughts came up. It turned out to be a good exercise in mindfulness and also resulted in a good realization – that I need to think of my purpose in life as to live every moment in a way that increases love and happiness in myself and for all living beings. One of the WMC recitations says this eloquently: “To bring joy to one person in the morning, and one person in the afternoon.”

As I was walking from work to pick up Prashant from his daycare one evening last month I saw a flock of geese in the McMillan reservoir. Normally you don’t see too many of them in the summer so it was nice. It always takes me to a place of peace and quiet reflection when I see them floating in the water. At that time a funeral hearse passed me by. It made me think about the nature of our life itself. Are we simply machines running according to some program that stop working at some point, like a computer that has a hardware or software issue and crashes? Perhaps the program starts with just one command: “I must exist” and everything else develops from there? Where does our desire for understanding our lives and ourselves come from? Is this just a desire to exist at a higher level? Or is even that an accident, wherein like a child puzzled by its reflection in a mirror, one runs into an awareness of one’s own existence and becomes curious about it?

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