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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.

 

 

 

 

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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?

Sunday Diaries-9

12 Jul

Some Sunday diaries stayed unwritten because I’ve not managed to transfer photos from my camera. On June 19 I was at Dusseldorf for a day and the only thing I liked about the city were these themed sculptures of every day people on traffic signals and such. That, and the miso soup and sushi roll from a Japanese restaurant near the Gehry buildings. Places give off vibes and Dusseldorf and I simply didn’t hit it off. It’s not my kind of city. Or perhaps we did not meet on the right day.

The reason I was in Dusseldorf was to apply for a UK Visa. I have a very close friend in London and it was always our plan for me to visit whilst in Germany. The visa process-and cost-gave me major second thoughts, although in the end I concluded not visiting now meant I don’t know when I’d get the chance to see her and her husband next.

In the interest of saving some money, I booked myself a discounted OneBus return from Dusseldorf to Gottingen that arrived in Gottingen at something like 3.30AM. This was my second OneBus journey (the first being Prague-Gottingen) and this one came with packet of snacks and a bottle of water gratis. The driver-there was only one- was very young, with a very pleasant nature although I was wondering if he was overworked (it seemed at points that he was blinking very hard to chase sleep away, although I could be wrong about that). The thing with smaller bus companies is that you don’t know what kind of labour standards they follow. The market for long-distance buses is beginning to see some severe competition in Germany and OneBus offers deals that are cheaper than the market-leaders Meinfernbus, but not as cheap as MegaBus.

Sunday early morning I went to Hannover, and that day found out what I’d missed: that they also have Thursday meditations. I’ve now been making twice weekly visits to Hannover: mimicking my Calcutta routine, finally. Like I’ve already mentioned, I’m glad for it. It’s been largely responsible for holding together my inner environment.

The Lidl at Hannover Station might just be the only supermarket I have so far seen that stays open on Sundays! I’ve started doing most of my grocery shopping there since I’m in Hannover so often, and Lidl has some very good deals, especially towards the end of the month. I’ve also discovered 99 cent egg salad sandwiches at the Back Factory which makes for my Thursday dinners and Sunday lunches.

I amped up the reading for my second chapter and presentation, getting a surprising lot done on my train journeys. But the past couple of weeks have been a little stressful because suddenly there was presentation work to do, logistics to take care of and decisions to make. They’ve offered us an extension on our fellowship and after a lot of thought and speaking with my family, I’ve accepted it.

The biggest stress agent has, however, been the presentation. I’m sure the actual work is not as bad as I’m making it out to be, but my familiar demons have emerged, on cue. I’ve been reacting to my simple task with sheer panic and constant fear, so much so, that I have not even been able to write a sentence as yet. The best way to deal with it, as always, is to ensure that one keeps up with the meditation and maintains one’s perspective. It’s been harder to do that this time because I feel as if the stakes are higher for this presentation in comparison with presentations back home. There if I mess up, it reflects badly on just myself and I have a redo. But this presentation feels very big in my head because I see it as a day of judgement: was I worth the fellowship? My mind has visions of people going ‘That’s it? You’ve been here an entire semester and that’s all you’ve managed?’

Again, rationally speaking, I know nobody would say this. I also know that people aren’t really that bothered about these presentations, they are almost a formality. So in a way, it’s actually my mind that will be posing this question to me: ‘Is this all you have to show for it?’

These aren’t helpful thought patterns, but I’m having trouble shutting them down. It really does not help that this has been a week of no meditation. I tried to sit down today but I was too worked up to manage it. I also had a cold last week, which left me unable to work for two straight days. I’d like to believe that had I managed to work those two days, I wouldn’t have had to cancel my second Nuremberg trip scheduled for today. But I did, and I did.

One way or the other I will have to write this up by tomorrow. And somehow I will have to trust the words of my Supervisor who told me that I’ve never given a bad presentation so far. The hardest thing to do is to actually start writing. It feels like such an impossible task.

I will not let the fear win.

Sunday Diaries-8

19 Jun

Group meditation again! Hannover, I love thee. In the past week I started work on my second chapter (‘started’ being the key word :P; I am letting my first chapter rest at the level of notes for now), attended a concert by the Gottingen Philharmonic Orchestra with friends (at the grand price of one Euro! Last minute student tickets, I ❤ thee!), got some library work out of the way, and had a major case of FOMO. Fear of Missing Out. The hazards of being in the Schengen area. You see this-

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A departure and arrival board for buses at Prague- Ukraine! Bulgaria!Poland! The possibilities!!WP_20150607_12_16_32_Pro

-and trucks from Hungary and Romania on the highway and feel so tantalised. So many places that one could go to, but limited time and money. Hence, the FOMO. I don’t want to do lots of tourism but I also do-because ‘what if I never get such an awesome opportunity again?’

Still grappling with this one.

Sunday Diaries-7

17 Jun

This was a week of lovely, touristy, travel. My family was visiting for a short European holiday (it was so good to see them!) and after seeing them off from Gottingen, I joined them in Berlin from where we went together to Prague. On Sunday the 7th of June, we parted; I went back to Gottingen and they went on to Austria.

It felt surprisingly great to ‘be back’ in Berlin. The familiarity of a repeat visit makes a place feel like home. There were moments of recognition as I passed stations that I had frequented so many times last year, around this time, when I had come to Gottingen to present a paper. I love Berlin. It may be touristy, but it is beautiful, warm and full of character. And cheap!

DSCN1116DSCN1150The Berlin Konzerthaus was grand, as was the rendition of Mozart and Beethoven by the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra.

DSCN1201WP_20150603_21_21_11_ProSome things had changed from last time. Bloch was missing.

DSCN1187Rosenthaler Strasse is like a secret garden in the midst of urban normality. It is close to Hackescher Markt, and amidst pricey brands there is a little alleyway that takes you to the very definition of ‘alternate’. There is graffiti, there are hipsters, there is the Anne Frank museum as well as Otto Weidt’s workshop. This is kind of what it looks like-

DSC_0001 DSC_0002 DSC_0003 DSC_0010 DSC_0012 DSC_0013 DSC_0023 DSC_0027

Where Berlin-and Germany-is classy to my mind, Prague is shabby chic. Buildings with plaster falling off but oh my! Grand buildings! Quirky, and full of attractions almost made to cater to tourists.

DSCN1204 DSCN1206 WP_20150605_13_08_47_Pro WP_20150605_13_13_14_Pro WP_20150605_13_22_33_Pro WP_20150605_13_35_20_Pro WP_20150605_13_37_39_Pro WP_20150605_13_38_35_Pro WP_20150605_14_09_27_Pro WP_20150605_14_19_48_Pro WP_20150606_14_25_35_Pro WP_20150606_16_43_57_Pro WP_20150606_21_28_29_Pro WP_20150607_10_22_49_ProHistory jumps at you in the face in Prague, whether or not you are into history. It is old, it has many stories. Such as the fact that parts of the old town has an ‘underground city’. Old town was prone to getting flooded so when the new town was built, soil was dumped in the old town to raise its level. Consequently its ground floor became the new basement and the first floor the new ground floor. You can still see it, if you take a guided tour, or chance it out and scope out pubs and restaurants and shops.

Prague has public toilets everywhere-never to be under-appreciated!-cheapish accommodation and food and enough sights to keep anyone happy. For all its awesomeness, my personal vote still goes to Berlin. It is the right size for me.

Sunday Diaries-6

15 Jun

Sometimes continuity is interrupted because other things take precedence. No matter, this record shall live on!

On the 30th of May, I was going to go to Kassel. No meditation was scheduled for that weekend at Hannover, and there was one at Kassel, so I fixed with the very nice lady I had been speaking to, to meet at the Kassel Station. We were going to recognise each other in the old-fashioned way- she told me she’d be waiting outside the only book shop at the station, her age, and I told her what I’d be wearing. Easy peasy, pudding pie.

On the 29th of May, I discovered through the internet that Kassel might actually have two stations, but I was unable to figure out which one I ought to be waiting at. The logical thing to have done at this point would have been to call and confirm. But a) I had already spoken to her too many times and didn’t want to trouble her again (I’d been speaking to her since mid-April trying to find a date which would work for me to attend) and b)I had four minutes left on my phone plan and I wanted to save those for emergencies.

And yes, it happened, the foreigner/traveler moment. She and I ended up at different stations. The irony is that I had arrived 45 minutes before meeting time; had I figured out my mistake early enough, I could have made my way to Kassel-WILHELMSHOHE, which is the station through which the high-speed ICE trains pass through, instead of waiting at the Kassel HAUPTBAHNHOF at which the regional trains stop. Turns out hauptbahnhofs are not always the main stations. And that all stations have a book shop.

Follow me!

Follow me!

I love this fellow, by the way. He hangs out outside Kassel Hbf. Like so-

DSCN1053 DSCN1055It was a cloudy, overcast day, with occasional drops of drizzle.

I was unable to meet her. I used those last four minutes to call her land-line, where her husband confirmed that I was indeed at the wrong station, but there was no way to reach her for she was not carrying a cell-phone and nor did he have the address of the venue. I felt pretty awful at the thought that she must have been waiting for me and on not finding me, might have thought I had stood her up. I explained and apologised to her husband and I am sure he conveyed it to her. In the ideal world I should have also called later that evening and spoken to her myself. But I couldn’t as my minutes had run out and I could not insert a new scheme until the month had run out. And by then it just felt too late and too akin to flogging a dead horse. Oh well! Awkward Moments 100, Me-Null.

That was two weeks of missed group meditation- the previous week because of a missed train, and this one because of a mix-up. Pretty frustrating. Unwilling to just turn around and go home, I took a tram to the correct station anyway, and walked around. In the distance I saw this-

DSCN1057From prior internet research I knew the first structure up the hill to be the Schloss Wilhelmshohe and the one further up to be the Hercules Monument from which water is let down twice a week in what is said to be a spectacular show. Both points also supposedly offered fantastic views of the city. Not being a particular fan of views from heights I had no specific plan of actually going up there. So I kept walking and taking images at every traffic signal not knowing when I would turn around and go back. The feet, however, decided to walk on. It was surprisingly quiet and peaceful.

DSCN1059 DSCN1065Before I knew it, I was here.

DSCN1067Seemed a shame to not go on. That dirt path up the hill was a short cut, and those two girls in the frame took it. I, however, was inappropriately dressed to hike through mud (it was drizzling and I was in white, with shoes meant for smooth city roads) and took the longer, winding way.

DSCN1074The greens and the lakes were the perfect balm for my disappointment.

WP_20150530_17_33_27_ProA wedding had just taken place at the Schloss when I reached it.

DSCN1083Between the Schloss and Hercules lies a long, long trail.

DSCN1084DSCN1089DSCN1093On top of that tower like structure stands Mr. Hercules.

DSCN1095This is where you begin the climb towards him-

DSCN1091It was hard to believe I had covered so much ground. That long straight road behind the Schloss? I had walked that. There was still more to go-many, many steps up to him. Like before, I kept taking photographs after every flight of stairs, sure that I would turn around and go back. My knees were beginning to announce themselves! Then I saw a man with crutches make his way down, still later, an amputee. There were old people making that climb effortlessly and even a man training by running up and down those steps! So I went on. And it was worth it. Mr. Hercules went from this-

DSCN1097 A black silhouette, to this-

DSCN1108It felt good to have reached here 🙂 And the view was more than just a view. Being so far above everything stills the air and calms the environment, I am now convinced. It was beautiful.

DSCN1098Sometimes it is so good that our plans fail 🙂

Sunday Diaries-5

25 May

Or, Nobody Said Stop Breathing II.

Or or, Notes on How Not To Not Have Time For Beauty.

Sometimes, despite knowing better, I give less importance to the act of writing than is warranted by its therapeutic nature. I was feeling fairly ‘off’ the past few days, predominantly feeling that I was rushing to ‘catch up’ but was lagging behind. Like that inevitable trope in cartoons- a cat (or some such) running on a treadmill, not running enough therefore sliding towards the edge of the machine, putting in a panicked fresh burst of energy to gain a little ground until it slides behind again. When the machine is inevitably switched off, in the end, it collapses, with fat drops of sweat pooling all around it.

I needed to switch the machine off and introspect a bit. Part of that involved spending much of today in bed, listening to some chants/music and eventually sharing with a friend, in writing, what was troubling me. Amazingly, though perhaps not magically, the act of writing it down not only clarified for me the cause of my trouble, but also pointed me towards the solution. It took a lengthy WhatsApp monologue for me to realise that I was putting the wrong kind of pressure on myself to create the right kind of work, and in the process I was not enjoying myself, and feeling like I wasn’t doing enough and feeling anxious that I was not making the most of this experience.

Towards the end of last week I attended a concert being held as a part of the annual Handel Festival that this part of Germany celebrates. Not only did I enjoy myself greatly, I could feel something shift in my internal environment. Whilst taking a leisurely walk post-concert I found myself being drawn to exhibits in shop windows and taking photos of things that were catching my eye. I was enjoying myself and allowing myself to ‘play’-which, without noticing, I had stopped giving myself permission for in the past few weeks. I was taking things too seriously-both with respect to the meditation and the PhD- and was beginning to miss the forest for the trees*.

Enough of that. So, for this week’s diary, I’m going to post photos that I enjoyed taking.

A display in town about the Handel Festival

A display in town about the Handel Festival

Concert memorabilia

Concert memorabilia

Then there is this guy looking surprised, twice, in a shop window because that is what fairy folk do when human eyes see them. I call these Fairyfolk by Night and Fairyfolk by Day. Fairyfolk at Antique ShopFairyfolk by day

Next come bad photographs of a favourite phenomenon– the flowering Amaltas.

Purple ones by the Hauptbahnhof. That interesting structure in the middle is the information centre/office for the city bus system

Purple ones by the Hauptbahnhof. That interesting structure in the middle is the information centre/office for the city bus system

Yellow ones by a Gymnasium, or school

Yellow ones by a Gymnasium, or school

And finally, a statue of Frau Charlotte Muller, also near the hauptbahnhof. According to this page, this sculpture was made in 1937 by the artist Katherine Thayer Hobson Kraus. Frau Muller built a stall in front of the station in 1889, selling fruits and sweets to travelers, after (if I understand correctly) there were evictions from Goetheallee in the city centre and hawkers had to move far away from the station. She sat there in all weather conditions, every day, until her death in 1935 and became almost an institution. As part of my PhD deals with hawkers and evictions, this is perhaps particularly apt. (I took this photo soon after missing the train to Hannover, and therefore my weekly group worship. Self-awarded brownie points for making lemonade from lemons!)

Frau Charlotte Muller

Frau Charlotte Muller

One last series of images showing changes in the season that happened before my eyes, but I only noticed through photographs. Sometimes I question whether photography as a hobby is self-indulgent and whether the impulse to make images makes one miss out on experiences. However, this past week made me realise that while the self-indulgent part might be true, it is a good kind of self-indulgent because it trains the eye to notice beauty, creativity, the passage of time…

The day after I arrived

The day after I arrived

The day after that

The day after that

And now

And now

*And as I was glad to be reminded via my blog, this is a recurring theme. I (still) have a lesson to learn about how to work in the correct spirit. I am aware God comes first-indeed, I consider that to be the truth most real to me-but when I’m under pressure to deliver on the professional front the meaning of ‘God first’ shifts in multiple ways until it no longer resembles what it actually means. It means, now and always, to work according to the will of God, to let God guide one’s actions. An essential condition to achieve this, atleast for me, is unhurried, joyful meditation at the beginning of the work day, and keeping God in mind for the rest of the day and allowing that guidance to permeate all action all day. This is clearly a challenge for me, given my past patterns of work.