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November 03, 2008

Develop the heart

Advice from His Holiness- it seems pertinent:

Never give up
No matter what is going on
Never give up
Develop the heart
Too much energy in your country is spent
Developing the mind instead of the heart.
Be compassionate not just to your friends but to everyone
Be compassionate.
Work for peace in your heart and in the world.
Work for peace and I say again
Never give up.
No matter what is happening,
No matter what is going on around you,
Never give up.

November 02, 2008

Mpls Wild

It's been unseasonably warm and since my beau is out of town I decided to head out late last night and join a random group bicycle ride that starts at 10 pm and can go anywhere all over the twin cities based on what the group decides.

This ride meets in a fast food restaurant parking lot (conveniently close to the liquor store) at the heart of college-ville. Between the college students and the post-halloween aura this was an interesting place to hang for twenty minutes. One student came up and asked what my fellow rider was drinking - apparently he'd never heard of hard cider. There were plenty of date-couples wandering by - it has been forever since I've observed the mating habits of college students. Being ten years past that I can assure you it is even less interesting now. However, the oddest site by far was when eight "ninja's" failed to walk stealthy out from behind a nearby building. Their outfits were complete with black tights (a bit too tight) and many had face masks that obscured who they were. One or two had a sword or some sort of "weapon". Yet despite all this equipment they moved with the giddy eagerness of a colt first learning to stand. Their attitude alone would have flunked them out of any ninja training that I can imagine.

"Those aren't very good ninja's." The other waiting cyclist commented after the boys in black whisked past us and bound up the steps.

Another ten minutes and we were done waiting - despite the beautiful weather (about fifty degrees, mild SE wind at 9 mph) turn out was low with just two other riders.

We rode into the wind the first ten miles - challenging ourselves with hills (my legs are crying today) but also kept returning to the river. After mile ten we crossed the river and headed NW through Fort Snelling Park where I saw the other side of wilderness in the cities.

Three deer were hanging out by the parking lot as we cruised by, slowing in awe. I have been to this park many times but this is the first I've seen deer on this side of town. They were skittish but as unafraid of us as the ninjas were earlier that night.

November 01, 2008


I went to yoga class for the first time in five years this week.

My shoulders still ache.

I'll be back next week. Class was surprisingly easy - which made me grateful for the solid yoga base my one and only previous yoga teacher, Mansi, gave me when I was studying abroad in India. Not only did she help me develop a yoga routine that fit my personal needs, but she also ensured that I left the class understanding the fundamentals of yoga - what it can do (and what it can't do) and why anyone would want to stretch and contort their body in the first place.

We learned the history of yoga, the spiritual side of it (in a very approachable - not new age - sort of way) and how the main purpose of this ancient tradition is not increased flexibility but an increased connection between body and spirit.

Thus class was easy, even though I ached after wards and noticed I lacked flexibility. It was easy because I felt successful in my goal of reconnecting with my body - remembering to breathe and notice every muscle, ache, and pinch, as the instructor helps me move in ways that I wouldn't think of on my own.

Without Mansi I believe my expectations would be much different.

Thus I was only mildly surprised when I saw that the Bangalore english newspaper, The Deccan Herald, recognized Mansi for her innovation and depth of understand about the world:

I am a voice for nature

She is an environment science graduate, a certified yoga instructor, holder of a masters degree in psychology and is currently pursuing research in environmental philosophy. Bharathi Prabhu meets the multi-faceted Meera Baindur.

Terms like Gaia theory and existentialism, roll off Meera Baindur's tongue as easily as Yoga, Sankhya etc. Meera is after all an Environment Science graduate, a certified yoga instructor and is currently pursuing research in environmental philosophy at the prestigious NIAS. So, what is she? An academician? An activist?

"It was during my sojourn in the Himalayas that I learnt not to box people into categories," smiles Meera who spent seven years in a remote village called Sankhri in Uttarkashi district, while still in her twenties.
"In fields such as Environment or gender studies, activism is as much a part of your work as academics. Yes, I'm an environmentalist and would like to think of myself as a voice for nature."

Meera had been interested in nature and life forms since childhood and a degree in environmental science seemed a logical step. Even during her student days, Meera was active in sundry environmental activities like tree census in Cubbon Park, Narmada Bachao marches and bio-control of parthenium. But after her graduation, she embarked on a spiritual journey. Living the life of a Sadhwi as part of a spiritual group, she learnt to eke out a self-sustaining life in the Himalayas. It was also a period of rigorous philosophical training. "I was awed by nature in all its rawness. Even though my stay of seven years was a relatively short period to study climate changes, I witnessed firsthand the effects of an environmental crisis. The snowfall began later and village elders told us about a lake which used to earlier freeze over for months and which no longer did. I also learnt about the complex relationship villagers have with nature, their mythological beliefs etc."

On her return, Meera pursued her masters in Psychology. "Nature has been used as prescription, people get a peak experience while communing with it, children can be ‘primed’ to view nature as friendly or as threatening. Human beings and nature are intricately connected but scientific study of this relationship has so far been based on a western perspective," says Meera who has now started digging into classical Indian texts to see how our ancestors conceptualised nature.

Meaningful research

Ask her whether these aren't purely academic questions and she says, "No, once we know the philosophical premises and presuppositions, our work in protecting the environment can be more goal directed. For instance, at a basic level, we can coin more meaningful slogans. We can even influence the way policies are formulated." Academic work is important, she asserts yet again. It was papers like Lynn White's ‘Historical roots of ecological crisis’ in Science that led to the development of the field of ‘Environmental Ethics’, which studies the moral relationship between human beings with the environment as a whole. Gaia (Greek goddess of Earth) theory in fact offers insights into climate change, energy, health etc and its central concept of a self-regulating system has practical applications even in fields like economics.

Meera, with two other students, took up a student stipend project on Hebbal lake last year. Titled ‘The lake as an urban public space’ and funded by Delhi based SARAI, one of the things the study documented was how the lake meant different things to different user groups, the fishermen, dhobis, etc. "Although I'm deeply concerned about the lake ecology, our study was an anthropological one. It commented on the impact of leasing out the lake to a private hotel chain and making it an entertainment centre. We showed that we would be excluding a whole group of people who were the original users of the lake. Several people who were already working to save the lake from commercialisation quoted the study in their campaigns.?

Yoga and nature

As for yoga's relationship to the environment is concerned, the credo ‘do no harm’ applies equally to both, says Meera. Yoga is also a way of keeping in touch with her inner self and inculcating environmentally responsible values in children attending her Earth yoga camps.

During the course of her doctoral work, Meera hopes to raise questions that are not normally raised by scientists, especially those trained to think through concepts of western philosophical traditions. "We Indians look at nature differently. For instance, villagers feel that it was wrong to build a dam across Ganga because when lord Shiva couldn't stop her flow, what could we, mere mortals, do? Our conservation efforts should probably take into account these deep-rooted beliefs for them to become successful."

In the light of criticism of western models of conservation (chief one being that the western model of nature excludes people), work such as that of Meera's assumes significance.