2016 – A thing to remember 


First times are always remembered. Good or bad, the first kiss. First dip in water. First time you scored an A (or a F :P). It is hard to forget those experiences. The older we get, the harder it becomes to experience firsts. 2016 was a year when I was blessed enough to experience a new first. 

It was related to a meditation technique (vipassana) I practice in daily life. To strengthen this technique you are required to go into 11 day camps where 10 days of silence and strict meditation routine is followed. In January, I sat in a course and in September, on my birthday, I went as a server. The camps are only occupied by servers and students. Students are meditators who come to learn and practice. Servers are old students who come to serve, i.e. provide students with the necessary environment and all facilities required for them to do well in the course.

As a student you are not allowed to communicate with anyone other than your teacher, mostly initiated by her. Your last meal is at 11 am in the morning. If you have established well in the practice, after 5-6 days, you don’t sleep normally. Either you sleep very deeply for a couple of hours or you are in a continuous meditative state of mind. Whatever you might be doing – eating, bathing, walking, watching, sleeping, you are in the same state of mind as you are with your legs folded, sitting still and meditating. Time passes extremely slowly. You can observe threads of thoughts coming in your mind and disappearing, very similar to observing vapours getting dissolved in air over a hot cup of tea in the morning cold. It is beautiful. It is very obvious, at that time, how insane our minds are.

Talking about vipassana is very similar to describing your first sexual experience. You know those who have done it would be able to understand you immediately, without you having to explain much. And those who haven’t done it, won’t be able to understand you properly no matter how much you explain. And yet there are poets all over the world attempting to describe their passion and love and share that experience with one and all, because that’s what we humans do. We communicate.

After those 10 days of intense experiences, on the 10th or 11th day, when you open your mouth to speak and communicate with servers and students, it seems quite unnatural. However, on these days, your body and mind remove it focus from itself and start observing and paying attention to the outside world. All the sensory organs can start working full swing now. It is then you realize your part in the world. The highly crucial role you play in the world.

I was a third born. Honestly, an accidental child. Hence for me the question, why am I here on the face of this planet, was a very obvious one. The more I read, the more I found out that no one knows an answer to this one. Everyone is here pretty much like me. Accidently. Well, that didn’t help much. If we all are here accidently, might as well stop being here, stop all the killing, stress, hate or even love, which is mostly longing and desiring. Why run all through the life to die. The only theory which made a little bit of sense was to have fun, do whatever makes you happy. You will anyway die sooner than later! Hedonism seemed better than most of the other farce of theories.

I challenge all those who practice hedonism properly, with all their heart, to come out and say, it gives them the highest form of happiness. I can very much say, been there and done that. It can give you a lot of satisfaction and a purpose to life, however, there is much more to life than that, I believe now. This realization happened in the year 2016.

When you serve for others, it is not much different from working. You have your role and responsibilities defined and you just need to act on it. The key differentiating factor is “if at any time you are not at peace with yourself, if you are agitated or disturbed, you are required to stop the service at that very moment and find your peace within before continuing”. Now this small piece of difference is a huge one.

Imagine you didn’t do a very important task which was assigned to you. And your boss finds out. You make excuses. Boss gets angry and blows you off. He had every ‘right’ to be angry with you! Now in his state of anger, he attends a meeting where he rejects a proposal of a new project which isn’t very crucial to the company. The enthusiastic employee who worked for a week on this project gets pissed off. He might end up leaving the company, a huge loss to the team. All because you didn’t do the job and the boss got angry. You would obviously say it’s coz the boss is incompetent and gets angry. The boss will say it’s coz of lazy people like you that company culture gets rotten. The fact is Anger is very expensive. There is never a negative emotion which can be justified, no matter whatever a reason, a so called cause. 

The practice of being able to observe your emotional state and act accordingly is what you learn as a server. You also learn that if you don’t let your emotional state affect your actions, you can actually bring peace, productivity and sense of fulfilment to the world. If you can be peaceful and avoid all negativity, at least a very small world around you will follow the path. What that means is, every individual is immensely powerful. We have the power to bring or to take away not just the happiness of ourselves but also of other human beings.

Happy people spread happiness. Unhappy people spread unhappiness. Angry people spread anger, sorrow and disappointment. This becomes very obvious after vipassana. And so does your role in the world.

Like the title mentioned, this is the first time in life when I found the meaning of life to be so simple. There is a lot more to be seen, to be understood. Many more years to live. Amen.

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The stretch

“Where does it hurt exactly?”

Here. Pointing to the area just below lower back, around buttocks.

“Ok, I want you to try out these actions and let me know which hurts.”

“Bend down and try to touch your toes. Does it hurt?”

Yes, but not all the way down, only at the initial 60 deg curve.

“On the scale of 1-10, how bad is the pain?”

How do you answer that question? What does 10 stand for? Will I pass out at 10? Then it will probably be unbearable at 5.

1-2 (Why am I even here if it isn’t paining 5 or above?)

When a doctor asks you about pain why is the pain always feel less than what it felt at home?! I felt a bit stupid not being able to pinpoint the problem though I knew my movement is restricted, it isn’t what it used to be.

After a few more exercises, we located the problem. 2-3 sessions later I felt new as before. No more ice packs at home! No more pain when I needed to bend to pick something off floor. Its funny how you notice your daily actions when you are not able to do them as smoothly. How many times we have to bend just to get dressed: putting on underpants/pants/socks/shoes. Now I am fine again.  Soon I will be able to row again!

Snap! Something just snapped inside. Sharp pain. Fuck. Will I drop this? This is food for a 100 people who have come here to sit and meditate. Time stood still. I can’t drop this. All focus on the weight. Take a few steps and reach the nearest platform. Dispose of the weight. Reach for a chair and sit down. Fuck.

I am in early thirties and incapable of picking up at 10 kg weight from the ground! What the fuck!!! Is it because of rowing? I don’t want to row ever again if it means I would be compromising with my basic abilities. Panic.

Doc! I thought I was well now! Desperation.

“Your core is very weak. Especially the back. Due to the lot of stress on the back lately, it is still in a delicate stage. The muscles aren’t very strong around that area so it the backbone gets the burnt.” After a session of a myofascial release I felt much better. Calmer. But I was still uncertain. I have felt better before. It was misleading.

Today is the DBS Marina Regatta. The races I wanted to participate in.

Annichaar. Uncertainty. A good lesson for a control freak like myself! Sports teach you almost everything you need to learn in life! Persistence, perseverance, uncertainty,  patience, discipline, motivation. And it teaches you when to stretch yourself beyond your fears. It teaches you that there will be many more chances to look forward to.

A note of thanks

I am at the last step of my formal education. It has been quite difficult, challenging, interesting, boring, frustrating period! I have had my highs and lows. But overall I can say I wouldn’t have developed the meta cognition skills so well had I not got into this programme. And my life time (? hehe) search on finding what I really like to do is finally paying off. Whether it might be the art of developing different meta-thinking skills in a child as he progresses in school or whether it might be to understand my own thought processes as I think and speak or the art of analysing any study in the development area particulary in education written by an ordinary school teacher or a hugely funded World bank report, I have gained a lot.  Within first 3-4 pages of any report I can now judge what might have happened and what all is projected. That is thanks to the zeal to travel and explore. And having a company, however tiny, of like minded enthusiastic people! 

It has been a total luck-chance loaded series of events which has placed me at this position. And I couldn’t be more thankful to the workings of universe for this opportunity. I feel its quite some luck to feel empowered and ready for any challenge when you pass out of an education institution. 

:)

Class Notes

In a course we were asked to submit a write up describing a symbol important to one. I have no energy right now to explain the detail the word “symbol here”. But I wanted to post this write up on blog and I have linked a bit with theory which might give some clue to the profound meaning of “symbol”. I have written it in a rush as there is just too much to do these days with too little time, and also this wasn’t a graded assignment. :D So ignore the bad sentence formations at places. Ofcourse, there is a lot to write in this regard. This is perhaps the phase I of 2-3 phases (experienced so far).

“A symbol that is important to me.”

The only subject I recall being taught seriously to me as a child by my parents and elder siblings was Mathematics. Science came in much later and in a different context. Math for me represented “important” stuff in school. This was conveyed to me through different expressions. My interpretation from early childhood experiences was that I do one good (that is doing well in math) I can do all the rest bad (all my mistakes would be forgiven). This was a very convenient solution and negotiation with adult world. In all the classes I would do poorly in every subject while topping in math and at home they would still pat my back!

After primary classes, internal dialogues started playing another role. Math was no more limited as only a ticket to escape from punishment. I would help classmates to solve problems and re-live the experience of being the first one to give the answer which was never wrong. This process of “going back over experience, a way of working upon our representation of events” (Britton 1971) now attached a new meaning to the old symbol. Math was the power to win respect. Everyone around me believed me to be some sort of genius, while only I knew the reality. My parents wished me to be a genius. And so did I. The culture in middle class families is so that there is strong symbol attached to the words like “intelligence” and “genius”. They have shared meanings in the culture. For instance in my case, attaching these words to my personality when I was able to perform in school math better than others was a phenomenon which Edward Sapir describes as: “language is primarily a vocal actualization of the tendency to see realities symbolically”. The fact that one person can solve problem faster and more accurately than other was symbolized by such terms.

Yet, difference in personal experiences result in difference of how an individual symbolizes these terms for themselves. For instance I was always aware of the time when someone called me intelligent that I had to prove it to myself that I was really one and of the distinction between me and those who are not called “intelligent”. This was language created a model of the world in my mind in which there was a distinction between those who are called “intelligent” and those who are not; and in which group does one exist.

In order to justify the term “intelligent” I would do more Math (including topics outside syllabus). I would actually tell myself “I love Math”. This reinforced the idea that I deserved to be called intelligent, since I loved Math more than others. Math was the symbol that I was different from others in terms of being superior. It was the symbol of a secret that I had to keep close to myself to keep the status quo alive. It was the symbol of the struggle to prove to myself that I deserved to be superior.

Hope

continues from here.

All the people I am friends with – unfortunately all of them come from middle class, tell me how reservation is such a bad thing. Reservation – affirmative action policy of India, is caste-based. Its party politics. Its injustice. Fortunately, I know people from other classes now. I have a friend teaching, in campus of IIT Kanpur, kids from the village inside the campus boundary and those belonging to worker class (construction and mess workers). He coaches them for JEE. Charges minimal. To draw his expenses. This is his way of contribution coz he loves to teach and he wants to see these kids rise. And the only hope he has is from the reservations. These kids don’t get any support from family – financial or otherwise. They work at home (household chores are plenty when both your parents and elder siblings are laborers) and they have to attend school to write the exam. Is it fair to think that these kids stand an equal chance to compete in meritocracy with the super rich kids from say DPS R K Puram? These kids can’t afford to buy any extra books, these books are gathered from first year students and institute library. They even have to care about how much they are spending on stationary forget books etc.

You go travel the world; yet you see nothing.

You are blinded about the fact that you are blinded because your other senses take over you. You live in an illusion and believe it to be true. And believe it to be true with such a fervor that you throw aside any other sight. You call that another sight an illusion. You hope you would never see it again. And you never do. Because you are busy growing other senses.

I have friends and family members who are freaked out about reservations. They have to think about their careers, their futures. I am concerned about them, but not a bit more than I am about the Nankari kids. Nothing is fair. Lets accept it. Its all about the power. And power never stays still.

Hope

Anything I read anymore, related in anyway to education, I smirk, which is the most positive reaction I can manage. A simple and not so precise reason for that would be, irrespective of source from which it comes, anything I hear or read about education is crap. It truly is. Literally. Which means its indigestible remains of information we take inside. In educational domain, the art of teaching is only something which is not crap or fart. The art of teaching, isn’t even close to the art of speaking which management gurus practice. Its quite much superior to that. And you need to look at it from a point of view opposite to conventional parlance. That’s very important to do. Coz teaching doesn’t mean facilitating an individual to learn a skill alone. Its a balancing act where you have to evolve yourself and other individuals and be in the process of be evolved by those individuals. As soon as it is restricted by the curriculum, by the dreads of the survival of an individual, by the greed to know more – more than others, you fall below that separating line. That line which separates the world into two categories. There are some people in the world you keep it going. Reproduce the same stuff. And then there is a minuscule group which create new. Or should I say, process into something which didn’t exist earlier. Created out of the already existing ingredients though. Yet recycled. In a lifetime, you keep rotating between these two areas, but more often than not fall into reproduction one. Thats how the world keeps itself going.

Now, with all this in my head, it is very difficult to read a paper which talks about a non-formal education intervention that took place in a tribal area of Madhya Pradesh with an aim of increasing confidence and self-esteem of participants, and also of with hope to include children in formal education at appropriate standard. Why is it difficult? Because, in my understanding you can’t increase confidence of kids if you try to bring them into formal education. You would say – thats not true. You inculcate the feeling of competition and light the fire of desire to learn more – bang, you have got yourself not only a kid who would crack the formal education system, but also a one who is ambitious and wants to do more. True. I totally agree with that. What is the catch here? The process. How do you do it? For simplicity, if we say, our end product (one needs to define the characteristics of it) is the child with following qualities: 1) He is curious. 2) He knows how to feed his curiosity. 3) He is productive. Aha! Here is the problem. As soon as you use the word which falls out of scientific domain. “Productive.” Impossible to define it. When you are not in conventional mode. Ok, lets leave it for the moment. 1 n 2 are good enough. Any formal education would not want 2) to happen. Because if it does, the world will fall apart. Economies will collapse. Some tell me, there is a functional need for people to stay in the low-graded jobs and not feel bad about them, coz lets face it someone’s gotta do the shitty work. So say, if a data feeder (feeds data into computer) becomes curious about microsoft excel and tries it out and excels in it, he would want to be promoted. He would want to become an analyst. He would want to make sense of the symbols he was until now blindly using. But hey, there are many self-acclaimed “social workers” in this field.  They have the hope for impossible to make possible. To win the war against the world. They try to do the 2) while also getting the child crack formal education. This is the only way out, one needs degrees to eat! But, unfortunately, we again got into a loophole. The formal education doesn’t treat everyone equally. It can’t because it serves the economy and the existing structures/processes in the society.  So one child might be able to do both 2) and exams, another one might fail at both. As the expectations are higher. You want the child to do music which he loves, but also math which earns his bread. I would respect it if the intervention says we only wish for everyone to pass exams. But then, that doesn’t work either. Because, its is not a thought through program. After 12th class, if the kid goes back to fields to farm/gather food from forest he is worse off than his illiterate counterparts.

So the first problem with anything I read in education, is that we don’t have a goal, a vision, an aim. Nobody does. Not even the leaders. Everyone lies in the category of re-producing the existing types. For those who have read a bit more, would say, lets just focus on getting things done to start with. Like the teacher goes to school regularly. Kids don’t use any textbooks. They don’t do any formal exams. They just play with lots of toys, make toys, talk about things, etc etc. Have a time to develop, what we call, abstract thinking. Which routine day-to-day activities don’t give us opportunity to do. Kids have fun and teachers have fun. That is what school would do. Say this is an aim. We bunch of intellects sitting far far away from the lands we are talking about, first assume that this doesn’t already happen and then assume that this is something good to take place. Also, fun?! Really? Would world bank give us billions to have FUN?!! We are talking about results here. Concrete results. Which would prove that money is put to good use. How would fun in classrooms achieve that? Unfortunately, that is the only way to achieve (whatever they want to achieve) and the only way we are too insecure to try out. No one knows how to do. Thats the second one. For those who tried, failed. Because of the reason below. The third problem.

Some say, education is the ticket to better lifestyle. Monetary. Spiritually. Sensibly. Ok, then let that be the evaluation quotient. Better lifestyle. So if you have fun in school, what difference does it make? School would be over one day and you enter big bad world which is not fun. Ok, then lets focus on apprenticeship model. You show them whats lie ahead. Well, that is precisely what happens. With a huge drop out rate in our education system, children work or remain jobless – which is a window to future.

When people say we should invest more in education, we should have more research, we should have this n that… I could hardly smirk. I feel like shouting and telling them to shut the fuck up. Just stop talking. Stop living for all I care.

I have lost all hope. I need a reason to move my ass, to be able to talk to people.

Education system

Its like common cold. Only more glamorous. No one would make a super-hit life-changing movie on common cold. At least no one has so far. Also much more deadly. Never heard of anyone killing themselves or dying naturally coz of an influenza flu. Though papers and news reports have claimed deaths due to the much feared board exams. Its an industry. From the individuals who just earn a little extra income by checking answer papers of large scale assessments and entrance exams (like my Dad used to do till late night for the better education of his kids) to those individuals who create and sell pre-school softwares worth 1-2 lacs and run centres where 4-5 yrs old kids become proficient in computers. Its a system. You get good education which gives you good job so that your kids get better education who can create jobs. Everyone can’t create jobs, for themselves or others. The society will fall out of order. Hence, you can’t give better education for all. But the system runs on the slogan of – universal quality education. Its prolific. Like common cold. And Everybody has a remedy for it. Yet there is no external cure to it. Its self-limiting.

Its not the end, its the means. It means different things to different people. To earn money. To develop confidence. To become a visionary. To build  personality. To buy lifestyle. To travel the world. To explore the worlds. To survive. To live. Yet, its not the cause, its the consequence.

When we talk about universalisation of education and giving quality education to all, we effectively say, we want a certain level of skills in people. So that they are able to earn money. And lead a more comfortable life. If there is no money in the society or the nation, what will that means (=education) achieve?

Its a disease in which we are caught right now.

The real education lies in information dissemination. Yet, we don’t know anything for true. Gravity is just a concept. A belief. Teaching is nothing but influencing with subtle power.

The art lies in differentiating between information and beliefs.