22 Jun

Thought I to get by on two weeks of only ‘light’ God/Guru contact!

Not out of arrogance or complacence, but because of high anxiety as I worked on the journal article revisions. That old fear and self doubt about my capabilities means that close to any intellectual work related deadline- seminars/workshops, journal submission things, etc., I end up addressing the work that needs doing from that place of fear and self-doubt. Meals, sleep schedules, regular meditation etc, everything goes.

I’m getting slightly better at practicing working from a place of knowing that all knowledge, everything that can be known, is contained within the Infinite. That Infinite is present in me. Therefore formulating arguments, refuting or confirming existing literature, constructing a thesis is not a matter of me grappling blindly for ideas and competence outside of what I have available to me. My perceived inadequecies do not matter, because the Knower of all, the universal set of Knowledge itself, so to speak, lies within me. All I have to do is tap into that Infinite, and craft a sentence, and then another, based on what is shown. My many real inadequacies are not greater in magnitude than the ability of that Infinite to direct my intellectual process and output.

This time, I was better at consciously relying on that inner guidance, as I revise my paper. But my cup runneth empty, since I still functioned out of enough anxiety to prevent deep communion with that Source. Panic became overpowering, so I requested for an extension on the deadline, was kindly granted one, and used today to fill myself back up again. (My respect for this journal just keeps on increasing. I work on questions of justice, highlighting deep inequalities and design flaws in our society that means our very development models are predicated on exploitation. This journal publishes work in my area, and on multiple occasions I’ve seen how they practice the ethics that they publish their debates on. In the academic world finding someone practicing what they preach is rather rare.)

It is my one wish that the rest of the PhD period be but an intense practice in learning to do this properly. Rely on that Source, dissolve my fears into the reality of that Source, and commune properly with that Source. Balance.

13 Jun

I have a looming deadline for a paper, after which, the plan is to go to Delhi for a bit.

This is for the journal publication I’ve been pursuing since last August/September and I’ve been aware of this deadline since March. However, unsurprisingly, it’s still come down to the wire. I’d begun work on it in early April, then Covid struck, so no further progress was made. May went in tending to my mind and soul (and post-covid recovery, because precautions are advised for 2-3 months after), trying to process the Covid-devastation in the country and frantically praying for loved ones, and crafting a structure and plan for the only dissertation chapter that I had not yet started working on (the other chapters are not complete, but they are far from blank drafts).

The plan had been to resume the journal revise-and-resubmit edits from 1 June, but the first week went, again, in tending to the mind. Le sigh. (I did, however, in this period of tending to the mind, find a wonderful new fantasy series of books to devour- Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. I loved all 7 books, and am now slowly savouring a fairy-tale-ish collection of short stories she wrote connected to the Grishaverse).

Late that I am, I was unsurprisingly struck by a bit of panic today. Today was meant to be the last day of pre-revision prep-work,reading and re-reading the literature I’m referring to, pulling notes from earlier pieces etc. Tomorrow was going to be the day I’d begin the actual writing and rewriting.

I’m not very good at pushing past panic, to soldier on with work. So, I think, I’ll take the time to read a few pleasure pieces, and encourage my mind into a calmer state. I’ll still address the task I had scheduled for the day, but I’m reducing the to-do list for that task.

Tomorrow calls for an early start. Perhaps I shall meet the dawn, and stare at some trees, while reading tiny sections from the Ursula Le Guin I’ve been trying to stretch out for months. And perhaps after breakfast, a cappuccino, ordered in, as I dive into the re-writing. Fingers crossed.

29 May

Demanding to have God, chasing God, is not an external pursuit; one is not running after something that is external to oneself. It is the other direction we run in when we demand to realise God, the universal everything-inward. That which we seek is already within. All spiritual pursuit-no matter what faith or religion- is a matter of revealing the presence of Divinity within us, realising we are that. Through our practices we peel away at the layers of what we think we are as humans, as individuals-all the limitedness we think and feel we embody- until we uncover the limitlessness of the Self, the universal everything, which is what we are actually constituted of.

So simple. So hard.


Grief

13 May

A short while back I read that a monk from my spiritual organisation passed away because of Covid, day before yesterday. This weighs on my heart. I did not know him personally, but in 2016, when I was frequently at the NOIDA ashram, I saw him many times-conducting the group meditations, meditating alongside others during a long meditation, after some of the evening meditations…

Last year, when the Ashrams closed around mid-March-before we had an inkling of what was to unfold- I sat up and took notice, because the ashrams and meditation centres have never to my knowledge taken such an action. It was my first indication that things were serious. (They have continued to be cautious, and the ashrams have not opened to the public since they shut last year; neither did they organise a Kumbha Mela camp this year, which I fiercely love them for. But they also continued to figure out ways of being there for devotees, and non-devotees-through an online transition offering meditations, and now live, daily prayer and healing services. I have lost count of the number of names my family and I have been adding to the anonymous prayer request form, lovingly offered, over the past month-ish.)

With the passing away of this Swamiji, I don’t know what to feel. Grief, that it’s hit the ashrams. Joy, for his soul, now freed from the body. Worry about the health of the others at that ashram, and at the other 3 ashrams.

There is so much uncertainty about which of us, and our loved ones, will survive to emerge at the end of this immensely challenging period. Certainly those of us that make it will be forever changed. The grief of the losses will be heavy. I don’t know a single friend or relative untouched by this second wave. Nobody does. A dear friend’s young, under-40 cousin. Two people my age-dear friends of friends. A dear family friend’s young sister-in-law. The next door neighbour’s neice-in her 20s-days after her baby was taken out via a caesarean section. An unimaginable number of former colleagues of both my parents. All dead.

Others amongst our nearest and dearest family friends became serious, spent time at hospitals-itself a luxury and blessing right now-and returned to begin long recoveries.

How to handle so much grief? How to stand immovable, and strong, as soldiers of light and love? For we are in a war-like situation, and gentle, half-hearted prayers will not suffice. Spiritually, we will need to be warriors of prayer, love and service, behind closed eyes, and in our communities for the foreseeable future. Because this isn’t and has never been just about a virus. We suffer because of the way we designed our societies. We suffer the consequences of our actions-material and spiritual. Without a collective, transformational change of heart, we will face such tragedies again, and again and again.

(This is not just abstract, loopy new-age woo woo speak-science has known for a while the correlation between the destruction of natural habitats and the beginning of pandemics. And yet, we still globally, with aplomb, pursue extractive, destructive development models. Even as I type, the government of my country is spending Rs.20,000 crores-USD 2.8 billion- on a vanity project that is removing the green lungs of central Delhi, including countless 100 year old Jamun trees. It is a natural habitat for countless birds, squirrels and their brethren. Let nobody ever get away with saying India is a poor country-we’re not. We just choose to not spend on healthcare, education, housing and on other infrastructures and security nets that increase public good. We don’t passively have poverty-we actively create it.)

I don’t have words, I haven’t felt very coherent. This isn’t much of a reflection, just reaction.

The situation is grim, but no situation, no matter how grim, is ever worthy of despair. For what were the endless flashes and revelations of the Divine last year, if not promises and reassurance of help for what lay ahead? I firmly believe we have a task ahead of us as a collective-but even as we participate in that task, in whatever way we can-the workings of the Divine never cease.

14 Apr

My cafe working days are brought to an end by…covid. Yep, I tested positive. So very glad that on that last cafe day I accidentally ordered the biggest cappuccino cup they offer, and ate both my favourite sandwiches, rather than just one. That giant cup of cappuccino will carry me for months.

I don’t know where I picked it up from-whether Chandni (unlikely, since I was masked and shielded for the entire duration) or the cafe (more likely; though I used to sanitise my seat, the table, and even the wall beside the table before sitting down, and would wear the mask at all times except for eating and drinking). The AC was very cold that last cafe day, I was freezing, and my lower back was jammed from not moving for 6+ hours. So when I came back and had a severe headache and lower back ache (which persisted for 2 days), with a possible temperature (I didn’t use a thermometer) I thought it was my body reacting to the Siberian temps at the cafe that day.

I stayed home, and on the second day, started receiving Pranic healing, and carried out a few gentle exercises that are a part of my meditation routine, intended to flood all the muscle groups and body parts with prana. Because of the Pranic healing I began to feel completely fine, so much so that I felt well enough to cook. Then a couple of days later, my nose became blocked and my sense of smell went. It was still confusing, I wasn’t sure whether this was a normal cold or covid.

However, even though I was feeling on the mend with whatever I had, and the symptoms were not typical covid symptoms, I decided to get tested to know whether I needed to quarantine or not, to keep others safe from me. (Thankfully the last I’d stepped out was on that cafe day, and hadn’t come in contact with anybody except for fleeting seconds). And thank goodness! Because I tested positive with a mild case (the have some CT numbers in the RT PCR test which apparently indicate severity of the infection-the doctor said mine was mild.)

I called the last two cab drivers I rode with, the cafe and the Chandni repair shop to warn them. Thankfully, till then, they had been ok (hopefully afterwards too). The person who comes a few times a week to clean is also ok. I’m quarantining until I’m no longer infectious, and then an additional week or two just to be sure. My kind neighbours have been leaving home-cooked meals at my door because one needs a healthy diet during recovery and doctors ask you not to exert yourself until you’re ok.

I’ve been back to full health for a few days now, thanks to the Pranic healing. And I’ve been very fascinated with the smell loss thing-I’d assumed it would be uniform and severe. However, in my case it fluctuates quite a bit-I can smell and taste some things (though perhaps less intensely than usual times), and some- like Earl Grey tea- I cannot.

I feel very fortunate to have gone through this bout with covid with no medication, no distress, and practically none of the usual symptoms. And I feel very, very grateful for my neighbours!

1 Apr

Yesterday my laptop keyboard finally gave up the ghost. It had been giving trouble for a few months-the shift key was extremely moody, leaving me with creative decisions to make with punctuation when I couldn’t cajole it to activate. So back I went to Chandni-the savior of every cash strapped user of electronics in Kolkata (and the planet, for that matter-repair trumps replacement environmentally.)

This keyboard lasted a little over a year- I had bought it in January 2020, after spilling water on the original Dell keyboard (which had lived for 7-8 years). There is a perceptible difference in quality between compatible keyboards and original ones, reflected in the price. But given how old my machine is, there is nary an original keyboard (or battery) to be found. Not even in Chandni Chowk. So onto replacement keyboard #2 (and some jugaad repair work on my ancient, hand me down, Cooler Master laptop cooling pad), with fingers crossed it lives till the end of the dissertation!

I’m cabbing it everywhere these days, except for routes that are connected by share autos. Buses and the metro don’t feel safe in the face of rising cases, especially given poor mask hygiene. At Chandni, or instance, practically nobody was wearing a mask, including the repair guy and his young assistant in the tiny, hole-in-the-wall-shop I go to. And plenty of people happily continued to spit around like we’re in the pre-covid days.

I can’t blame the not mask-wearers though, when their jobs are outdoors-yesterday it felt like it was 40*C out there-hot and dry like Delhi. I could keep my mask and face shield on because I only had to do so for 3-4 hours. If I had to be out there in this weather, everyday, I wouldn’t be able to manage it. Sweat begins to pool in the mask, which then rubs against your damp skin leaving rashes (even for short periods of use). So, no, the impetus remains on the privileged sections of society to look out for those who cannot follow pandemic protocols at work and at home because we built a society so deeply unequal.

17 Mar

Things have been eventful the last week. The reviewer comments came in for the piece I’m trying to publish, and my peers and I learnt we can apply for another extension on the PhD. The first flattened me for a few days, even though most of the comments were fair, if more immoderate in language than they need to have been, and the latter was acted upon immediately. I hope the extension comes through, because that is the only way I can hope to write my dissertation and revise my article.

I’m doing a few cafe days again, because desperate times etc. With a mask, with a face shield for the expensive cab commute and hand sanitiser. I’ll make the most of it while I can; one doesn’t know if or when the cases will begin to shoot up in Kolkata again, like they are doing in Maharashtra. It will be back to home confinement then, even though it’s a tremendous privilege to have a comfortable home in these difficult times.

I’ve a lot on my mind in this first quarter of 2021, all of which I’m navigating anchored to the Divine and my meditation practice. I’m at a coffee shop today, but several hours in, I’m yet to open the word doc on my chapter. Despite the caffeination, I’m craving a nap, which won’t do. I’m due to wrap up a rough draft of some stuff by Friday. I’m also overdue on backing up my laptop and transferring more than a year’s worth of multimedia from my phone. The laptop is more urgent, since Windows wants me to update my OS soon-and there is no telling how that will affect the system.

26 Feb

The long life of things one leaves behind…! I’m still taken aback by how my first (and now lonnnggg dead) blog continues to get new visitors, who subscribe and leave comments (and don’t read, clearly! Because I do state I’m moving on…). Granted, many of the comments are by spambots, but every now and then an actual human will leave behind a response to a post, mostly the music posts. This is doubly surprising for me because blogs simply don’t occupy the kind of space in imaginations and practices of internet users today like they used to. Most of the younger folks are on the latest short-form social media platform, many of my generation and the older ones I used to read have switched almost entirely to Facebook and Instagram and podcasts and Youtube. Bloggers that continue to blog frequently do so because it’s part of their personal brand or business. The life of the internet and internet things is certainly fascinating!

But it’s not just the internet…things that one builds and leaves behind in time… Tiny gestures or interactions that one might have had and forgotten all about…none of these ever disappear. Every thing that is created, remains. It may change shape and form, but it cannot disappear into nothingness. It’s been a long time since I formally studied Physics, but that’s the essence of energy, too, right? It cannot fail to exist, once there. So too teaches esoteric metaphysics in its understanding of energy.

If we lived our lives knowing that every breath we exhaled, every word we spoke, every thing we touched was forever, gently, playfully alive ever after, what would change? What could change?

21 Feb

I have zero self-control around packets of chips. Whenever deliveries arrive with the inevitable 4-6 packets I order ‘for the month’, they are gone in a day or two :-/ However, since I’m still resorting to deliveries-can’t see myself being able to make the switch to my normal mode of shopping until this period of dissertating ends-it atleast means that I can’t top-up the ‘monthly stock’ by walking to neighbourhood shops.

February has been quite a bit better than January (and now I’m curious enough about a potential ‘January phenomenon’ to be tracking it for a few years). I’ve got a bit more work done, I’m feeling less shitty, and I’ve also been out and about a bit B-) However, a lot of very intense work is still called for, since one of my supervisors would like to see everything by mid-March.

I’m doing what I can to make it work. Cutting down on my original, more elaborate plans. Trying to sit down with work first thing in the morning (even if I only write a few words or a para), so that I build the momentum early and have something to resume, as opposed to start from scratch, after brunch and a beverage. (Oh yeah-I brunch now. Saves time.) Working with a friend twice a week. Using technology-there’s a wonderful online community of grad students out there, and Youtubers who livestream study sessions. However, because my brain isn’t firing on all cylinders as yet (the last it did so was in December 2020), and my heart isn’t in tune the way it was last year, I’m not covering the kind of ground that I usually would in that mode. But I’ll keep plodding on.

30 Jan

January ends tomorrow and, regrettably, I have not achieved much by way of dissertation writing, or even having fun. I have lived most of this month without my 2020 perspective (see what I did there? 😉 ), and have been facing, not very well, the resurfacing of old fears and anxieties about the future, including wondering about what in the world I’m going to do to earn an adequate living. The test of my (privileged) pandemic-life endurance will probably come this year, unlike most people, for whom it came last year. I’m always late for everything :-/

This is the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing my family. I’m now positively aching for a few cafe days, or even a cappuccino. A bus journey. Airports and airplanes. I miss Delhi, and walking around CP. I miss walking around my favourite Kolkata neighbourhoods. I miss Dakshineshwar.

I’m wondering, again, whether my creative plans and ambitions are foolish and unreasonable. I’m wondering where all my confidence in my abilities came from last year. I’ve been almost self-flagellating myself back into my auqaat.

But what even is anybody’s auqaat if not the expanse of the entire universe itself? We take up the space we think we deserve, and it’s okay to be reminded every now and then of just how fiercely our little selves try to limit us. Being confronted by the limitless expanse that is freely available to our selves can be frightening. Illogically so (one would imagine that we’d grasp happily at limitless growth!), but for most of us, inevitable. The older I grow, the better I understand why the caged bird hesitates to leave the safety and familiarity of the open cage.

Many years ago, in my early twenties, before I knew my mind and inner world adequately, I was once frightened by a reaction I had while facing the expanse of the sea from the beach, waves lapping at my knees. As I looked at the horizon, my friends some distance away having a whole lot of fun in the surf, on a beach where we were the only ones there, along with a few fishermen, I realised I had a strong, strong desire to keep walking further and further into the sea. In that moment, it frightened the hell out of me, because obviously, endlessly walking into the sea would produce death. Did this mean I was suicidal??

Now I know that it was the very opposite; far from being a death wish, it was a yearning for the eternal, a desire to merge into the infinite- physically embodied sometimes by oceans and mountains and skies- is the natural response of the soul that sometimes expresses itself in us, despite ourselves.Whether we are alive to the presence of that eternal, unchanging soul or not. We keep seeking many things in life, but nothing satisfies fully, short of the merging into the infinite.

I take hope in the knowing that our fleeting glimpses and experiences of the limitless expanse and the infinite, and every soul’s deep desire for it, means that we will continue struggling against shrinking ourselves into sizes we think we ought to be. Sometimes we’ll be able to struggle harder, sometimes the fight will be weaker; but, enticed by what lies at the end of it, on we’ll keep struggling, and on and on. And in so doing, realise that joy is threaded to the process itself, and is not withheld till the finish line.

I’m now one month behind on the two chapter deadline, and frightfully behind on multiple household tasks. However, perhaps I can take comfort from the fact that even though I’m not writing as fast as I need to, whatever I have written, I’m satisfied with. And that it is already longer than I thought these two chapters would be. It is fruitless to be impatient with myself and frightened when I’m unable to stick to the timelines I need to. I have to have faith that the writing will flow in its own good time, and that whatever time I have left is always going to be the time I need.