Long Walks On Leafy Streets

8/15/2021 Stoney Man trail / Appalachian trail, Shenandoah NP, VA    
Thoughts about India - Part 2.

When I wrote part 1 of this I said that I will write a series of these. I still hope to do that. Somehow 5 months have passed since I made that promise. It is amazing how things sometimes just slip through the cracks. I certainly could have made time for this, and maybe I will be able to do that on a regular basis this fall. We will see.

This particular post, though, will be mostly about the summer that is coming to a close. Before I write about that, let me just mention that today is India's Independence Day. It is a bit strange now to think about the fact that India needed independence from Britain and that it is a day worth celebrating. India is much stronger now, and the people more self-confident. Perhaps what we are celebrating is independence from our own mental shackles.
How else can a country with such a large population and strong traditions be enslaved by a small group of people from a faraway island? This is a question that requires a much longer post of its own.

Today I also celebrate a certain kind of independence of my own. Over the years I have gotten used to a certain routine of life, and certain things that I count on to be there every day. This summer though I got a rude awakening. Let me just say that I realized that there are some things I cannot count on to be there permanently. At first it was a bit disorienting and disturbing. Luckily my meditation practice is much stronger now and it helped me to avoid spending too much time mired in despair and self-pity. I was able to think with a clear mind and see reality as it is rather than what I told myself. I was also able to come up with a good plan of action to find a way out of this situation. I told myself to be grateful for my blessings, things that many people don't have: a supporting and loving family, good health, friends, a roof over my head and enough money to feed myself and my family.

The main reason for my meditation and mindfulness practice getting stronger is that over this summer I have been practicing on a somewhat regular basis with three different groups. First there is the Washington Mindfulness Community, the group of Thich Nhat Hanh followers I write about often. They meet Sunday evenings and I have been meditating with them for over twenty years now. Then there is the Monday evening group, primarily for Howard University, that I started in the spring of last year. It is hard to believe that a year has passed! Those were the beginning days of the pandemic and I felt that there was a need for it. Even before that it was my desire to start a meditation group at Howard.

Finally, I was thrilled to hear that the Office of the Chapel at Howard is running a mindfulness and meditation program for students and when they sent out requests for faculty to volunteer to teach it I eagerly joined. I had to attend a workshop run by the Koru Mindfulness Center based at Duke University. It was truly a great experience to spend three days mostly meditating with people of similar interests. It helped me clear my mind and reinforce and reinvigorate my mindfulness and meditation practice. It reminded me of the days when I was single and used to go for long solitary walks on a quiet stretch of the C&O canal towpath that runs along the Potomac, in order to clear my mind.

The Koru program seems to be very successful and the trainers at the workshop had an almost evangelical zeal. Clearly they see that this program is very beneficial to young people (and I agree) and want to spread it as much as possible. Seeing their missionary enthusiasm helped me understand the zeal of some of the Christian missionaries. Although I don't like the tactics some of them used in the colonial days, I can see how they believed that they were saving the world by spreading the Gospel.

After the workshop I soon set up a course and got two of my former students and some of my friends to sign up for it. This was the first of three training courses that I am required to teach before I can be certified as a Koru mindfulness teacher for students. I really enjoyed teaching and I hope the students got something that would benefit them all their life. It also made me practice my own mindfulness better because I felt a responsibility to be as mindful as I could be.

Apart from meditation during this summer I had some truly wonderful, blissful moments. Watching some cricket, soccer and Olympics; Being at the beach with Nicole and Prashant, on our first beach outing since the pandemic ; Walking along the Anacostia river while waiting to pick up Prashant from his soccer camp nearby; Running in the mall in Washington, DC on a summer day with a cool autumn like breeze; Hiking in the Shenandoah mountains and staying in the Skyland resort there...

This morning I ran 12 miles, from my house to Dupont circle and back. During the first mile, the mind was still occupied with worries. Following Thich Nhat Hanh's advice, I listened and tried to understand what was at the root of the worries. I realized that at its root was my desire to make a difference / make a name for myself / do something Prashant would be proud of, or whatever you want to call it. Then I reminded myself that the best way to do that would be to be mindful, every moment of life, and to make as many people happy as possible. That filled my heart with peace and joy, and my feet with fresh energy. I was able to enjoy the rest of the run on this cloudy, cool morning, taking in the sights of the first stirrings of life on a relatively early hour of a Sunday morning in DC.

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