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How to not evaluate your life through the sole lens of your PhD attempt

12 Mar

Or, How to Not Miss the Forest for the Trees.

One of the biggest temptations during a long, full-time PhD where your only commitment is to the PhD (and not, say, also simultaneously providing economically and emotionally for dependents) is to answer yae or nay to the question ‘Am I making progress?’ based on your progress with the PhD. Or maybe on whatever else you are prioritising with the PhD, which in my case is my spiritual practice. This might not be a very good way to do things because hey, those are just parts of your life, not the sum total of.

So, fellow yumans, take note of all the the little wins that will come in handy in doing life. You can’t put ’em on a CV, but you can put ’em on social media with saccharine filtered photos and flowery new-age prose-poetry.

To my list I’ll add: earning mum’s approval for single-handed maintenance of domestic premises, including the newly gained ability to jhadoo-pochha whenever needed.

 

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26 Feb

It is 2 AM, and I am reading through a World Bank report on urbanisation while drinking lightly brewed (in deference to the hour) Earl Grey tea from my favourite mug.

I am on a deadline to submit whatever is ready of a rough draft of my first chapter, and it has been a while since I’ve done the night owl thing for work.

Feels good.

The night is the best time for work, and everything else \m/.  Too bad I’ll go back to attempting healthy normal hours from tomorrow :-/

A PhD student’s guide to health and nutrition

17 Feb

P.S.-This also works if you’re stupid lazy. Or on a budget. Or all three.

Need to eat? Concerned that your idea of a balanced diet now includes Uncle Chips and dahi? Be not concerned. Buy yo’self some beans. Chop said beans and toss them in a pan with butter or ghee. Done.

When the mood strikes for something more elaborate, find a vegetable seller who will give you coriander for free. Then buy from him carrots, cauliflower, potatoes, more beans. Chop them all (yes, cauliflower stems too, what are you, like Richie Rich or something?) and simmer in a pot of water with all the coriander. Fry leftover cauliflower pieces, if any, in leftover ghee, if any. Eat as soup or, this part is not for those on a budget, in a bowl with melted cheese and chilli flakes on top.

Need to have clean floors? Get a broom and a long-handled twist mop, in orange if you can.

Need to work out? Put aside orange long-handled twist mop, and bring out the normal mop and get to it, Indian style. As you move crab-like from tile to tile, you’ll discover muscle groups you never knew existed.

You’re welcome.

So, 2018.

17 Jan

We are seventeen days into the new year and I sincerely hope it brings renewal, hope, determination and keep-on-keeping-on-ness to every single soul on the planet, and more specifically, to those who continue to read this blog. And gentle peace and happiness, too.

Image result for top cat gif

Ok, and maybe some madness too!

After my small success with the October-November experiment last year-where, for one month, I vowed to meditate twice a day for 15 minutes only*-I’m after some more goals this year.

1) I’d like to resume full practice of my meditation, including the energisation exercises that precede the actual sitting down part of it. Once a day will do, because:

2) I’d also like to resume the practice of Pranic Healing which I started learning in stages from 2011, without ever becoming a regular healer. Pranic healing is an energy healing system developed by Master Choa Kok Sui, and my family became acquainted with it more than two decades ago. One parent was a patient, the other learnt it so that it could be practiced at home, and we’ve been receiving healing from that parent ever since. It is powerful and effective in a manner that can only be understood by someone who has experienced it.

Pranic healing has played another very important role in my life; it kick-started the present phase in my spiritual life by giving me intellectual and experiential knowledge of the yogic system of inner and outer worlds, and bodies, and taught me how to meditate (even though I went on to practice a different system of meditation than the one they teach). For a long time I thought perhaps that was where its role in my life ended. I couldn’t find a way to actually practice the healing because I tended to get very, very anxious at the mere thought of it.

However, time’s up for anxiety! I’m approaching the re-introduction to Pranic Healing like I do my meditations; leave it up to the Divine Guide to do the actual healing, as I follow through with the motions. As long as the responsibility lies Up There, I won’t get nervous. I think!

3) Getting regular with the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra. The immediate motivation is the health of a family member, but I hope to keep with with the 108 times chanting, which takes about half an hour for me. This mantra was my experiential introduction to the power of mantras. A skeptic of anything canonically religious, I became a convert when I finally decided to try verbally chanting along with my Yoga class one day, some years ago. They begin the class with this one-

https://bodymindlight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Opening-Prayers.jpg

And end with-

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Chanting it felt wonderful in a very physical way, like the words entered deep inside my back and resonated. It released energy and gave me peace. Since then, I’ve frequently started my meditations with the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra chanted thrice, followed by the Shanti Mantras, just as they chant it in Sivananda Yoga Centres.

4) Walks. Every late evening, after the crowds thin, for atleast 30 minutes. This one is motivated partially by health reasons and more so by vanity. Several months of eating out via food delivery services led to the necessity of buying what I call my fat pants. I need my fat pants to not fit me anymore, even with a belt! 30 minutes of regular walking might not be anywhere close to a heavy-duty workout, but perhaps combined with a diet of home-cooked food it will be enough for me to regain my regular levels of metabolism.

5) And oh yes, finish writing that dissertation!

 

 

 

*It led to more continuous twice daily meditations than I’ve ever had since I started meditating in 2012. Since the focus was regularity, I allowed myself to set aside my usual techniques and length of time spent on it.

Practising

5 Dec

*I found out today morning that the Britts apparently spell it like the above and that ‘practiCing’ is the American way to do it.

I grew up with British English spellings, but somehow never got the memo about practising. Whatever I learnt in my primary schooling years of Wren & Martin grammar books have long been forgotten and I have been doing grammar and spelling by intuition ever since. Today’s flash-bulb moment courtesy the book reviews editor who offered me the book review.

*The book review was, in the end, written to my satisfaction and submitted much in advance of the deadline. By which I mean in the middle of the due day, instead of 23.59, which is what I am wont to do.

The manner in which the book review got written captures the essence of why I’m to stick with the PhD and why the PhD is first and foremost, and only most, my specific spiritual training ground. Till about four days before deadline, the words were not organising themselves into anything write-able, in my thoughts or rough drafts. It was a minor crisis situation and the pitch of my panic was rising on cue. On the morning of the third day I felt a deep internal reassurance that the words would flow, and in the correct order too. And, despite it being a day of outdoor and indoor chores and plumbing crisis, the rough draft got written.

If the ONLY thing I learn for good at the end of this is that action flows not from the ‘I’ but from God, and learn to operate with that conviction, I’ll be satisfied. As always, experiencing something is very different from knowing it intellectually.

*In Delhi I have Sivananda Yoga right behind my CGHS. As I am a lazy bum, that is most fortunate. I’ve signed up for a monthly pass, as I tend to do once or twice a year, and yesterday was my first class. Sometimes the energy flow in the body is a blessing rather than a consequence (of hard work) and yesterday was such: the body was falling into many asanas with ease, despite the levels of unfitness I have worked myself into.

However, I realised I have plateaued in my practise because of one thing: effort. When I first began a regular practise in 2010, the maximum benefit came not from what I could do easily, but in pushing myself to hold the asanas that challenged me longer than I thought I could**. In recent times I find myself doing that less and less. I must remedy that today.

**Edited to add: I guess this is true of meditation as well.

The temperature today

28 Nov
  • There is something so wonderfully comforting about a cup of coffee with gigantic digestives. Or, gigantic digestives with a cup of tea. Just gigantic digestives, actually. Size approved.
  • Reddit’s front page yesterday informed me that Brian May was in the fourth year of his PhD when he left to, um, pursue music. And that 36 years after that he came back and submitted his thesis.
21 Nov

Coffee makes me garrulous and feeds the tendency in myself to make epic plans. Like, epic. For example-

Caffeinated brain-

Did you know that you could go to Sarajevo (and come back) for under Rs.50,000? I could totally do that. If I finish my PhD without exhausting all my savings. As a grand gesture and all to celebrate becoming a ‘Doctor’.

De-caffeinated brain-

Then again, Rs.1,00,000 could be put to much better use. It might even fund a writers retreat for one in a picturesque mountain cottage.

Why Sarajevo? Because I’m reading Bruce’s memoir, and came across the chapter where he speaks of going to war-torn Sarajevo to play a gig during his solo, non-Iron Maiden career. He describes the incredible beauty of the mountain roads leading to the ravaged city and I was struck again by how some of the most beautiful places in the world suffer from extraordinary violence.

Except, Sarajevo is now free of war. And I could go there. Except I won’t, because travel for the sake of travel died for me in Berlin, 2014 (R.I.P.). I was spending a week there as a tourist, after presenting a paper in a workshop. Why? Many factors came together that led to that natural death.

For one, I got serious about meditation and my relationship with spirituality became all-encompassing. I realised that I would seek only that which would be in sync with my spiritual goals. Chasing travel was not, but travel itself could be. I became even more interested in exploring from where I was, rather than going away to explore where I was not. If the source of joy lay within the self, why waste time chasing what could never be found externally? A long local bus ride on a new route can give me as much pleasure as going to NYC, or Sri Lanka, or Goa.

For another, I have become more conscious of consumerism, and travel is often about consuming experiences that one can buy with money (including that airplane ticket). Spending money just to travel feels meaningless now, I prefer to club some other purpose with it. Like work, or visiting family.

And also, I’m a person who likes to absorb slowly and how long can ‘trips’ be, after all?

And also also, reaching the end of my twenties made me come to terms with the whole FOMO thing. On the whole, I do not anymore, if I ever did, suffer from the Fear of Missing Out. I’m at peace with knowing that yes, the potential exists to do a million wonderful things, and I have displayed a potential to be a jack of all trades, but a time comes when one makes choices and sticks to them, at the cost of ignoring other possibilities. You choose what you want to focus your energy on, because it is not possible for most of us to focus with intensity on several things at once.

As the last traces of the morning cup of Bru Gold leaves my system, and the November sun retreats from my balcony, I come back to more pragmatic matters. Time to work on the draft of the book review due next week.