Long Walks On Leafy Streets

9/4/2018 C & O canal towpath near mile 2, Washington, DC
On saturday I organized a hike for the Sierra club. It was a morning hike and the meeting place for starting the hike was in Georgetown, at the corner of M Street and Key bridge, at 8.30 am. I had to leave home before 7.30 to catch the metro train. Waking up at 6 am on a Saturday I was feeling a little tired and lazy. The temptation was strong to just lie in bed for some more time. But I managed to get up and biked to the metro station and then on to the meeting location. Biking on the M street bike path in the fresh early morning hours energized me and I felt happy that I got to do this.

We had a very diverse group of 16 people, three of them from abroad, namely Denmark, Spain and Ecuador. We hiked on Roosevelt Island and then on the towpath. I enjoyed talking to my fellow hikers while taking in the wetland scenery. Two of them happened to be of differing political views from mine and we had friendly arguments.
It was encouraging that even people who had such diametrically opposed viewpoints could come together to enjoy nature. We didnít see any red-winged blackbirds but did get to see some herons, turtles, fish and double crested cormorants.

Not every day this summer I was feeling such a sense of satisfaction. One day in mid-August I was reading about the acclaimed writer V. S. Naipaulís death. I am quite ambivalent about Mr. Naipaul. I felt that he was a bit of an intellectual curmudgeon from the little I have heard, and almost a racist. Nevertheless reading about his life always makes me think about truth and my quest to live truthfully, because he was known for saying what was on his mind even if it was offensive to others. While I donít think that is a good thing to do, his point about being brutally honest with oneself is worth considering. I often wonder about the contradictions in my own life. I want to live a more sustainable life and help those who are struggling. Yet here I am living in America with its profligate use of resources. All I am doing is sending some money to NGOís in India who are doing charitable work. Is this the most purposeful way to live? Even given all my family obligations and personal limitations is there a better way to live that would be more in line with my principles and useful to society?

One morning last week Nicole couldnít drop off Prashant at school because she had to go to Davidsonville, MD for a work related meeting. So I cut short my morning routine, skipping sandhyavandanam (prayer plus meditation) and oatmeal breakfast. Promised myself I would meditate on the bus. Prashant was surprisingly co-operative, considering that during the previous week Ė his first week at school Ė he had been very fussy about getting out of the house. But just before we left, Nicole had trouble with her cellphone and she didnít want to drive without the GPS guiding her. Since it was late I dropped off Prashant and finding that she had not been able to fix it, came home and helped her to get it going. By that time sweat was pouring down my back because of the heat and humidity (we were in the middle of a heat wave last week). After toweling off I went to the bus stop. The busETA system was not working well and I gave up after waiting for about ten minutes. What do you know just as I got far from the stop the bus came, and then another bus on the same route! Anyway, this was a good practice in mindfulness. I stayed calm and relaxed on the metro and on the way to work. But I was glad to hear from Nicole that she made it safely to her destination. It gave me much satisfaction. It also gave me some happiness that I was able to walk Prashant by myself to school and he seemed to enjoy the walk and although he was a bit clingy while dropping off he didnít cry like he did the previous week.

I often chide myself, with some help from others, for being self-involved and not being attentive enough to others. As mentioned above I also wonder if I am living a life that is useful to society, especially India, by living here in the US. But I keep forgetting how much happiness and satisfaction it gives me to see others happy Ė whether it is my family, friends, students, or even random people. It is just that sometimes I am so focused on something that I lose awareness of my surroundings. One thing I have learned from Buddhism is not to be too harsh on oneself. Love for others is difficult if you do not love yourself. As for living in the US, it is a question I ask of myself all the time. One answer is that by being here perhaps I can help India more. Thich Nhat Hanh put it very well when someone asked him why he is living in France in comfort. Leaving aside the fact that he lives austerely in a monastery, his response was more profound. He said that if the problems of the world are like a tree, the roots are here in the west.

I have always had the sense that there was a purpose to everything, including my own life. Maybe that is just a way to be positive about life. But being positive is powerful. While I may not contribute even a minute percentage of what someone like Thich Nhat Hanh might, it is still an important drop in the ocean. So I am staying positive, feeling peaceful within myself and trying to be as helpful and caring about others as possible.

Going back to the topic of Prashant going to school, even though it is Prekindergarten but still he has started his education and it is quite unreal for me. It seems as if just yesterday we put him on a little baby seat and brought him home from the hospital. Nicole has taken over dropping him off and picking him up. She walks him since the school is just a few blocks from home. It is nice to see him walking to school holding her hand, yet I also miss his company while commuting from work. One day I was driving to work and it was hard to shake off the feeling that he was in the back seat, looking out the window or watching a video on his portable video player. He loves to watch Thomas the train engine or Sid the science kid. Sometimes the video stops in the middle and I would have to reach over and get it going again. He has learned to press the play button but if that doesnít work sometimes he would open the dvd player and take out the dvd. So much so that two of his favorite dvdís have scratches on them and donít work well now.

Most days I just take the bus and metro. One day last week was so absolutely beautiful that I had to bike to work. I miss biking and walking, because the running takes up so much time that there isnít much time left for other activities. So whatever chances I get for walking or biking I cherish them. On most Fridays I get the evening off from parental duties and after work I walk to DuPont circle. It is a very nice walk and combined with the Friday evening euphoria of ending the workweek and looking forward to the weekend it is one of the highlights of the week. This was a truly gorgeous evening and I walked very slowly because I was resting my legs after all the running and biking during the week. There was a Christian preacher walking around the fountain in the middle and sermonizing loudly. Some people yelled at him. I was tired and wanted some quiet and moved away from him but nevertheless his passion for what he was doing was inspiring.

Directory Previous