Archive | PhD RSS feed for this section

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-

https://bodymindlight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Prayer-Canvas-II-2.jpg

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.

Advertisements

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.

 

Further remunimunations

2 Nov

I had a brief moment today when I considered applying for a job as a librarian at a community library project in Delhi.

My PhD isn’t writing itself despite having no obligations, work or otherwise, to anybody other than myself at the moment. I’m living alone in Calcutta and it’s no longer the adventure it was back in 2012. Not an adventure, but still, at some level, the space is welcome enough that I don’t want to move back to Delhi without reason. Being stretched by work has, I have seen in the past, been good for my mind and mental abilities even though a part of me resists busy-ness.

So, went my rationale, it might actually be good for my PhD to hold down a 5-day a week job that also paid me for my time. It might leave me with more enthusiasm and motivation to write my thesis than I currently have with a surfeit of leisure. And, money. It’s always reassuring to have a steady influx of funds that comes by dint of one’s own work rather than kind parents who don’t want you to run through your savings.

Even as I wrote asking for more information, I wondered if it was the caffeine from my morning cup of coffee that was fueling my enthusiasm or something more lasting. Was it like the time I contemplated applying for Teach for India? Even before I received the reply to my email detailing the profile of the job, I knew I was probably hankering after it for the wrong reason. After receiving the reply, I knew I wasn’t a good fit. The job required one to be librarian and community organizer. And, reading aloud to kids, which doubtless involves doing voices *shudder*. I’m good for manning libraries, organising activities within, procuring, maintaining and cataloguing books, but am far too much of an introvert to take calmly to the level of human interactions involved in community organising. Not my cup of tea.

Was it escapism-laced with caffeine-that prompted this flight of desire? Very likely. I need to take the bit between my teeth right here right now, and remember again, what a blessing this obligation-free time is. Besides, if I don’t conquer, or attempt to conquer, my demons-academic, mental, psychological-right here, right now, it’s not as if they will go away if I switch streams. I’ve always held there is merit in struggle.

In other matters, I got impatient with the wait for my copy of Bruce Dickinson’s memoir to arrive, and sampled the preview on amazon. I expected it to be good, but it seemed to be more than merely that. There was some serious literary merit in the extract I read.

Additional thoughts

23 Oct

*I feel I was a bit hasty in forming my opinion on #metoo. It seems to have provided an outlet that wasn’t seen to exist before. I withdraw my reservations about it.

*I am deeply fond of soft, creamy cheeses but they are hard to find in India. Brie and Camembert are still found in fancy shops, but what I really give my heart to is frishkaese, which was wonderfully cheap in Germany, especially if you bought an in-house brand. For around Rs.35 I’d have a 200gm tub of herbed frishkaese, which is a fraction of the price of Amul cheese.

The Germans also make a variety of soft cheeses that taste similar to Brie and Camembert, all for under Euros 2. I love Germany, have I mentioned? 😉

Cheese is not a viable thing to ingest in the hot climates of either Delhi or Calcutta, the two cities that are home to me. So most of the time the lack of availability or expensive imports don’t bother me. Besides, Philadelphia cream cheese isn’t, in my opinion, half as tasty as your average frishkaese.

Sometimes though, the craving hits, and in winters it is permissible to indulge. It was with great delight that I discovered this year that a home-made substitute exists that is very close to the taste I am seeking. And that is a hung-curd dip that my mother makes. When you hang curd long enough it assumes a texture and taste quite like frishkaese, and when you add in whatever additions appeal to you, like garlic, chopped coriander etc etc, it becomes suitably elevated to divine! A bonus: this is actually healthy and good for all weather consumption.

*Salt and vinegar chips are rather yummy. INOX makes a brand of kettle-cooked chips which delivers this flavour at Rs.40 for 50 gms. It’s quite good, though the chips aren’t as tongue-curlingly sour as I’d like. I am, however, not paying ridiculous prices to try the other brands that offer this in India. When I’m not PhDing, (which seems to be always these days!) I begin to fantasize about making these at home, without the maltodextrin.

*I discovered English Breakfast tea in December 2011, in the panic of MPhil coursework exams. I’ve loved it ever since, but haven’t ever had it with milk, because I prefer my tea without milk and sugar. Today I was craving a milky drink and found it tastes as good, maybe even better, with milk.

*The fridge went kaput yesterday and I will be fridgeless for a week until we buy a new one. I’ve never lived without a fridge, ever. I’m very dependent on it, a reflection of my extreme privilege ofcourse, given how monstrously expensive those things are!, and I’m driven to near panic at the thought of existing without one. (I’m almost as dependent on washing machines.) My neighbours are very, very nice and they will keep my cooked food for me whilst I woman up to the challenge of planning my meals without the cushion of storageability.

*This post is almost entirely about food.

Year Four

18 Oct

Stocktaking:

  • Came out of PhD paralysis by going through and making notes from all audio recordings. Some of that shit’s really interesting.
  • With one last round in Calcutta and Delhi, brought the fieldwork part to a close.
  • Prepared and presented a poster in a conference in Hannover.
  • Trying to read the book I have been asked to review for a peer-reviewed journal.

I need to begin the writing part, and for that I need to wade through historical literature. Dipesh Chakravarty was fun, illuminating, and done. Raj Chadavarkar? Making me doubt my abilities severely. Should have had a tentative chapterisation down by September. I dumped the scientific process and chalked out three chapter possibilities-the historical lit, writing down of fieldwork#1 and fieldwork#2. I’m hoping that from there will emerge chapters four and five.

At this point I feel like an outside observer watching my own self with disinterested interest. Will she? Won’t she? Finish the damn thing, I mean. I wonder what the picture will be one year down the line.

There isn’t a whole lot of work that I’ve got down since July. I thought I would find the work frenzy motivated by desperation that happened during the MPhil. But nwope. I’m even getting a tad worried about the book review I said yes to. Sure, book reviews don’t count for anything in an academic’s CV. But a)I don’t do things for the CV (except summer jobs in undergrad-that I definitely did for the CV), b) it’s a new experience, and for a journal I intend to try publishing in, and c) it might get me started on the publication journey.

I’ve been spending almost all my time indoors, and I’m sure that’s not very healthy. Been doing a lot of bad eating-and thought my cooking days were over. Well, I’m still indoors a lot (with a few coffee shop binges thrown in) but as of this month, I’m happy to cook and bake again. Though brownies for breakfast don’t do much for the waistline. Oh, that’s another thing. I can’t seem to abide any exercise. The thought of getting out for a morning walk just makes me roll over and go to sleep. Yoga? What yoga? Consequently, my clothes are getting a bit tight around the middle. But I’ll knock it off post-PhD, won’t I?

Have decided to cancel festivals this year. Post October is always delightful in the Indian calendar. But I decided to skip Durga Puja, Diwali, Bhai dooj. The mother isn’t happy at all. But I feel I need to do this in a bid to force myself to get a sense of urgency and in routine, and sort of like a deny-self-till-achievement-visible.

In all this, my spiritual life has both suffered and not. I’m more mentally fragile, as can be expected from a 30 year old struggling with a PhD and not sure about whether she’ll be able to handle adulthood on her own. I’m trying very hard to develop a routine of twice daily meditations, short though they may be. I kept it up for a month, but am yet to start again for month#2. The only part that hasn’t suffered has been the urgency of my need-that has grown.

Make no mistake-the scary moments are enough to send me into a panic and they do. The level of uncertainty about things grows a lot towards the end of the twenties, I see that now. And my coping habits leave a lot to be desired. I’m reading a LOT of fiction and non-fiction again this year (just not maintaining a log to feel good like last year), doing some writing, doodling. Have in fact joined an online art exploration course that my very talented friend is conducting.   I’ve also, as mentioned in the previous post, been discovering the Russian Army.

What is to be done though? Nothing but keeping on. Keep on keeping on. Even through an excess of detective novels and junk food. And un-scrubbed toilets, and overflowing laundry baskets, and clothes strewn everywhere. And Chandavarkar staring threateningly at me along with the book I have to review but can’t seem to be able to read.

Cheers!