Long Walks On Leafy Streets

8/7/2018 Honolulu, HI, USA
Today was a hectic day. I had to take my parents to their respective medical appointments. They were staying with my sister Hema in Gaithersburg and I had gone there last night so I can get up in the morning and go for a run before taking them to the Doctors. I started my run at 7 feeling a bit weak and sleepy but after a mile the energy came back. I have been running all summer and now with only a month to go before the Parks half-marathon and less than three before the Marine Corps marathon my training is in full swing. Pretty soon I will be running 30 to 40 miles every week. I have enjoyed running this summer very much. Sometimes I park near the zoo and run up and down the Rock Creek trail, along the rushing stream and under the dense canopy of trees. Sometimes I park at the Takoma community center and let the car charge at one of their free J-1772 plugs while I run along the Sligo Creek trail, with its equally dense canopy. Most of the time I run in the morning, as early as possible.
It is especially nice to run on weekend mornings when the roads are quiet and the air is cool - by now even 70 degrees feels cool.

As we always do in the summer we also try to travel a little. This summer our travels have been minimal. In the previous post I wrote about our trip to Rehoboth beach and Dover. Early last month we traveled to New Jersey to celebrate our Hindu wedding anniversary. We took the train to Newark and stayed at the hotel near the station. As always Prashant loves train travel. He has become quite fond of trains of all kinds. More on that later. We stayed there two days. On the first day we took the subway to Brooklyn, New York. Nicole and I love visiting New York with its vibrancy and energy, although we probably would prefer to live in the relatively sedate environs of Washington, DC. We were all a bit cranky after waking up at 4 am to catch the train. But with some determination we made it through and the energy of NYC helped. After visiting the Brooklyn Zoo, on the trip back home we enjoyed watching couple of acrobats perform in the Subway. We were impressed by the motivation and drive they showed to make it in the world in such a tough way, in front of strangers in a crowded and moving train. Later we had dinner at Pongal near Lexington and 28th St. I had taken my parents and my aunt and uncle visiting from India to that restaurant a few years ago and was truly impressed by the quality of the food. It came as close to South Indian home cooking as I have ever experienced and good home cooking at that. They even add some twists and tweaks that make it even more delicious without diminishing the authenticity. .

On the way to Pongal I carried Prashant for about half a mile from the subway station. We hadn’t taken the stroller with us and he usually asks to be carried after a few blocks. I got a little carried away and walked a bit too fast and a bit too far ahead of Nicole without giving her advance notice. Obviously she was upset and let me know about it. But on the plus side such experiences deepen the relationship and in this case we ended up in an enlightening chat about our relationship, and how we are still getting to know each other. Nicole mentioned a story she had heard, about Jada Pinkett Smith asking Ruby Dee the secrets of her long and successful marriage. Ruby asked how long Jada and Will had been married. When she answered 17 years Ruby responded “Girl, You all hardly know each other” (or something along those lines ☺ ).

On the next day we visited the Guruvayoorappan (Krishna) temple in Marlboro. The small building where we got married in 2010 has become a dining hall and a grand temple with an imposing Dravidan style tower has been erected in the same compound. It was wonderful to relive that day that felt so chaotic and tense at the moment and now feels quite romantic. We then drove back to the parking lot near the hotel to return the Zipcar. New Jersey and New York are a lot like India, just organized chaos. There were two parking lots that looked the same and we entered the wrong one and after some tense (mis-) communication managed to find the right location and just make the train in time. Again, such experiences make the trip memorable. They are also a lesson in maintaining one’s composure and staying mindful.

Speaking of mindfulness I had the great fortune of listening to Brother Phap Vu of Thich Nhat Hanh’s monastic order, the Order of InterBeing. Brother Vu is white and I must admit I had some initial reservations, based on some monks that I had met before who turned out to be not good practitioners. But his calming presence and wise words dispelled such feelings instantly and made me regret that I had judged him based on his race. In fact he looked so much at peace with himself that I was very surprised when he related that in his youth he had suffered with anger. After the meditation when I walked out into the cool night outside I felt a release from all the pressure that I had made myself feel during the past several days. It was like a big weight lifted off my shoulders. I suddenly felt free from all fear. It takes only a few moments of being with the Sangha of fellow practitioners to see oneself from the outside and regain the deeper perspective. One tends to lose touch with one’s true self in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It happens gradually and you don’t even realize it. .

Speaking of different races and spirituality, while race might be an artificial construct and I firmly believe in the oneness of all humanity, it is also true that different groups of people have had differing tendencies, on the average. I think the spirituality of India is the result of the mixing of the different groups of people that have lived there. Wish America had been same. What if the Europeans had learned to live harmoniously with the Native Americans and there had been a mixing of the spiritual traditions instead of the violent conflicts? Perhaps a better way to think about it is that America is the result of such a mixing, and even if it is not obvious, the spirit and heart of the Native Americans is in the lifeblood of the people here today. .

Mindfulness has also helped me in my research. Last Saturday I was feeling a bit down after reading about the various terrible things the current administration is doing and how some people are still supporting it, including some people dear to me. It made me feel the urgency of action, and gave me the motivation to go to my office and really concentrate on my work. I told myself to work on mathematics as if I were meditating and it made a big difference. Even though I didn’t solve the problem I was hoping to solve, I did make progress and came up with a nice observation. Mathematics is a collection of patterns and it is always exhilarating when one comes up with a new pattern or relationship. .

My friend Manoj had recently posted on Facebook a letter from Richard Feynmann to his old student Koichi Mano. Mano had described, with a bit of disappointment, his current work as “humble and down to earth.” Feynmann told him to take satisfaction in small discoveries and listed all the eclectic and interesting albeit not so famous problems he had worked on. That is going to be a guiding philosophy for me from now on, to take pleasure in discovering something every day, however insignificant it may seem to be at the moment. After all, who decides what is significant?

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