It’s only Tuesday, but already the dumping chair in the (spare) master bedroom is piled high with clothes and the dining table contains the (plastic) detritus from dinners ordered in two nights in a row.
This only bears mention because for the past few weeks I have taken to doing a quick but thorough tidying up of the house on Sunday evenings. Clothes that are strewn about the house are returned to cupboards, the washing machine runs its weekly cycle, dishes (piled high in the sink from the week before) are washed and surfaces are washed and wiped down. It gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction to see clean, shiny counter space in the kitchen and a valuable sense of achievement at having got something done. The process of getting shit everywhere begins right from the next morning, but I will coast on that sense of having-done well into the week. So, yes, it’s Tuesday with the clothes pile up, but I can still see clean black marble-top in the kitchen from where I sit. (And the dishes in the sink which I postponed, but shh!)
In the fourth year of PhD I feel a greater sense of purpose and can-do than in the third. Last year I was hit, repeatedly, with a debilitating sense of drifting with nothing to show for all the work of the previous two years. I encountered the Imposter Syndrome many times and was nearly flattened by a tough reception to only the second paper I have ever presented during my PhD, at an international workshop in Bombay. And I came perilously close to deciding to quit.
In my spiritual life I was struggling to meditate. It was less a problem of ‘dry’ meditations, and more a problem of being able to bring myself to sit down to it, and of being unable to nurture the frame of mind all day long necessary to sit down to meditation. It was not helped by, in fact, it probably was even caused by the changes wrought in my spiritual life when my option to go to the ashrams and centres to meditate (of the organisation that gave me my meditation techniques) was taken away. An unpleasant, unhappy incident (for me) on the very first day of 2016 at the ashram I began going to in 2012 was used as a means of inner prompting to develop the ashram atmosphere at home.
So far this year, things have eased. I have, I think, learnt some important lessons about my spiritual practice. I am now content to aim to sit before God and Guru twice a day, even if very briefly and even if I’m only averaging at 30 minutes per session, without worrying too much about following all the techniques, in the order one is supposed to do them. After all, my end goal hasn’t ever been to evolve spiritually or ‘see’ God. I may have thought along those lines, but actually, what I really, really wanted and want is to love God and give love to God. I am content to stay right where I am, spiritual evolution-wise, as long as I can learn to give more and more of myself and my love unconditionally to God. This realisation frees me to just sit wordlessly in front of my Guru, sometimes insistently saying ‘teach me!’. ‘Just you! No one else!’
And with the PhD I have a definite plan and I’m moving along it. Two months to wrap up Calcutta’s fieldwork, reviewing audio recordings from the Delhi fieldwork, keeping a month aside for a potential follow-up field trip in Delhi, and a conference mid-year in a city in a country I have grown so fond of- Hannover, Germany. I won’t be presenting a paper, a source initially for disappointment. Instead, I will be a ‘young scholar’ on a ‘travel grant’ presenting an academic poster, paid for (the grant, not the poster) by the car company that the Nazis loved.
There are also two papers that I find myself wanting to write, from my field material and general remunimunations* since, in a way, 2009. I find that I am giving myself permission to say thoo! to trying to fit myself and my work into the labour studies body of work and also to trying to proceed with a sense of ‘should’ with the writing. Should have a theoretical framework, should have a complete lit review first and foremost, should address the big kind of questions that my research is automatically engaging with.
I mean, yes yes yes, to all that, yes, I will eventually have to. And had my paper proposal been picked up for the conference, I would have had to hustle and get on with it, producing more chaos on the work front. But writing is an organic process, even academic writing. Your body of work has to take shape, you can’t hurry it up all that much. And one way for it to take shape is for you to have fun with it, and write the kind of papers and chapters that appeal to you right now. The shoulds will fall into place. My second supervisor (who has been an unofficial supervisor and mentor since my MPhil days) has been instrumental in making me see that.
I’m unlikely to finish this year. But, I will make the kind of progress that has not been possible till now, simply because I haven’t finished my fieldwork. Some would like to see me finish and be done already, but really, is there any shame in taking things slow, as long as you are not a financial burden on anyone? I’m open to being convinced as to why the answer to that one is ‘yes’.
*I know. But I like it.