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8 Feb

A yogic way of living life is incompatible with blaming bad fortune (and praising good fortune?) to external circumstances. However, the power of one’s external environment is acknowledged, and one is exhorted to strive for an environment that is compatible with one’s goals, inner or outer. Between the external environment and inner resilience, spiritual protection and will power, it is the latter that is acknowledged to be the more powerful tool.

In materialist conceptualisations of the social and the political, the environment is seen to have the greater hand in guiding human fate. Human agency and endeavour is to be directed outward to re-arranging material society, which will ultimately lead to inner joy, satisfaction and meaningful life.

This distinction is somewhat crucial to my academic work and post-PhD life. Merits further concrete thinking. I need to know exactly where I stand on this and how far I want to push this distinction while reformulating my own politics and figuring out my working future. The overlaps between the two make it difficult to definitively make declarations.

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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.

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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-

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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.

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.

 

26 Oct

I’m only as good as my ability to love God when I can’t.

 

State of Affairs

15 Feb

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.

 

 

 

 

Bye, 2015. And Season’s Greetings!

31 Dec

I’m glad to have made your acquaintance. In many ways you were like 2013: you walked me through quite a journey. In no specific order, some of my favourite things from this year:

*The share autos at Noida City Centre metro station. Because:

1)UPiites (Uttar Pradesh iites) really are polite, even if they burn their women and mutton eaters occasionally. And,

2) In order to extract the crazily parked and inevitably hemmed-in auto you are sitting in (or sitting behind) (filled with a minimum of 10 passengers) the driver will move backwards and forwards, going thud-thud into the autos in front and behind, like dodge’em cars, until there is space to manoeuvre out onto the main road.

*That twice daily meditations did not happen, but routinely longer ones did.

* The Cafe Coffee Day on Barakhamba road. After many misses, I’ve found ‘my’ coffee shop in the city.

* Days that begin at 5.30AM on winter mornings, finish by 3, leaving me the rest of the afternoon and evening for Noida visits and meditation.

* Who’d a thought I’d enjoy being out of the house by 5.30 AM? That I LIKE less sleep when forced into it?

* Goettingen. Lucking out on wonderful people there, both friends and strangers. Especially strangers.

* Uncle Chips. Many, many packets of it.

* Beginning, meaningfully, on field research for the second part of my PhD. I don’t care whether I actually finish or not: the journey thus far has far exceeded my expectations of learning when I began. But I will finish, because the ICSSR has kindly paid me a fellowship thus far.

* Noida, Nurnberg, Dakshineshwar.

Happy New Year, all. Because whyever not?