Tales from Fall Break 2014

On Tuesday afternoon, my memory of the four days of fall break is in a haze. I had grand visions of following a healthy routine of sleep, cooking my own food, doing the tasks on my to-do list and spending some time with friends. Of course, those visions were lost right after my last class on Friday, when I spent the evening just chilling in a hammock on our porch, listening to music.

Since most students were visiting home or travelling over the break, the campus was unusually quiet and empty. The majority of those who stayed on campus were international students or west-coast residents. The dining halls were closed and there were no events happening on campus. So on Saturday night, some of my sophomore friends from India and I gathered for a small dance party at my nearly empty house. After a long time, I danced to Bollywood music with friends and played cards against humanity with them. They even had a mini foosball tournament at three in the morning.

I woke up at noon on Sunday, made pancakes for breakfast and walked around Beebe lake with a friend. The Cornell campus – especially the trails and surrounding natural areas are glorious at this time of the year. Given the good weather over the weekend, it was a pleasure to just be here.

Beebe lake in the fall

On Sunday night, my two housemates who stayed here during the break decided to watch Gone Girl at the Ithaca Mall. I had read excellent reviews for the movie, so I joined them too. Since then, I have not stopped raving about the film and it takes much self control to not spoil it for my friends who haven’t watched it yet.

After a long, refreshing night of sleep that night, I had a sumptuous brunch at the Mehak buffet, where for once, they actually had paneer in the paneer dishes. Then I spent most of my day at the library. I read for fun, something I don’t get to do often as a Cornell student. That evening, a friend and I decided to go to Moosewood Restaurant for dinner. This restaurant is among the first few things I tell people when I describe Ithaca. I am a big fan. We decided to go at 8pm, but we missed our bus and ended up walking to the Commons from West campus (not such a long walk, surprisingly). When we arrived at 8:32pm, the host politely told us that they closed at 8:30pm. We browsed restaurant row in the Commons and finally ate at Taste of Thai.

On Tuesday morning, most of my friends who had left Ithaca for the break were back. So I met some of them at CTB; we chatted about our respective breaks and made plans for future breaks. As we walked back to campus, I saw someone riding a Big Red Bike. For a long time, I had wanted to ride a bike on campus. The weather was warm and we all had some time on our hands, so we decided to borrow a bike from Uris Library.

We got a bike and as I tried it out on the Arts Quad, I realized that these bikes were quite different from what I was used to at home. My bike at home was heavy and required a lot of effort on my side to move. This bike accelerated at the least pedaling, within a second of my riding it. I panicked and searched for brake, which is horizontally parallel to the right handle in all the bikes I have ever ridden. Before I could find the brake, which was below the right handle, I saw some children playing on the path ahead. In an effort to stop the speeding bike, I ended up falling and scraping my knee. (Yes, the kids were safe. Is this how heroes feel?.)

It had been years since I had last scraped my knees. I regretted my decision to ride that bike on the Arts quad without even knowing where the brake was. But I guess we don’t take risks or learn many new things as adults because we are so afraid of failing or getting hurt. I convinced myself that I had learnt something new today: Learn how to stop something before starting it. I felt like a child all over again as I cleaned my wound and went back home.

And there end the tales of Fall Break 2014. I spent the rest of the evening doing some last minute homework and writing this blog post. It’s time to get back to the busy rest of the semester ahead.

My Love Hate Relationship with my Co-operative House

At the end of each day, I look forward to going home. When I return home to the cook group playing upbeat music, housemates swing dancing in the kitchen or just playing foosball in the living room, it makes up for a long,exhausting day at Cornell. For me, home at Cornell is a small, blue house on North campus.

I still live one of the co-operative house on campus. Although the building is owned and supervised by the university, the house itself is self-governed by the nineteen undergraduate residents. Until now, I have always painted a rosy picture of my co-op life. Perhaps, being a freshman in a house where half the residents were seniors did not allow for much opportunity for me to handle problems in the house. So much so that I did not even think there could be problems in the house.

This semester, I am a house officer – treasurer for Whitby and half of our residents are new – they moved in this semester. So I feel more responsible, or more entitled towards house operations. It ranges from are we getting enough bread/bagels for breakfast? Does our budget allow for a new house printer? Why is our kitchen so messy during the weekends? Why aren’t people doing their chores? Can we sponsor more house events to increase bonding between residents?

Being able to make decisions about how our co-op runs, how we live and what we’d like our house to be gives me a greater sense of belonging to the house. It feels more like it’s my own home and not a university building I have signed a contract for. But the issues we face are sometimes more complex than which printer we want to buy.

When your cook group goes to the kitchen on Sunday afternoon to prepare dinner for the house and finds the sink full of dishes, used pans with remains of two day old omelettes and counters stacked with kitchen applications, it’s hard to love your co-op in that moment. Since there is no way to tell who all contributed to this mess and how much, a handful of people must take the responsibility to clean it up. In recent weeks, I have often had to help clean up this collective mess.

I wonder if the house was like this last year as well. Even if people had not shared their responsibilities equally, I don’t recall being frustrated about it. Then I realized that last semester, I just did not take it upon myself to clean the occasional collective mess. There were some older housemates who would often clean a mess they did not contribute to. Then they’d send an email to the house list-serve about cleanliness. Now I am that older housemate.

At some point during the collegetown apartment lease madness, I even considered moving out of my co-op because I was so frustrated with cleaning others’ mess. But when I went to the kitchen that weekend, it was neat and someone had baked cookies for the house. I definitely didn’t want to move out. This place and the people aren’t perfect, but no home or family is.

Glimpses of Myself and the World Beyond

Every day on campus, there are several events about cultures, arts and ideas I may have never heard of. Cornell brings together talented researchers, performers and artists of diverse interests, backgrounds and nationalities.This is a place where I only have to walk for a few minutes to get a glimpse of anything in the world beyond.

On Friday evening, I watched a documentary called “Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago” at the Cornell Cinema. I had first read of El Camino de Santiago in a textbook for my Spanish class. It’s an ancient, Christian pilgrimage which now attracts modern pilgrims of all faiths, nationalities and purposes. One of my housemates who I watched the documentary with had studied abroad in Spain last year and walked a part of the Camino. I hadn’t imagined that many people even knew about the Camino, never mind that I might be living with someone who has walked it.

The documentary followed the journeys of six strangers along the Camino. Some were doing it for religious reasons, some for spiritual ones, some as a form of healing, and a few who had no idea why. What stood out to me was that along the way, everyone’s backpack seemed to get smaller and smaller. Perhaps we don’t need all the things we think we need. I also realized that the Cornell Cinema plays an excellent,diverse selection of films and documentaries throughout the semester and that I should probably be watching more than one film per semester there.

While making plans for Saturday night, a friend mentioned that SPICMACAY Cornell was sponsoring a concert by the Mysore Brothers, classical Indian violinists. Although I was initially uninterested, I decided to go because a friend convinced me to. The music was brilliant and we stayed for the entire duration of the concert – about two and a half hours. I left with the feeling that I should learn enough about music, art and dance to be able to truly appreciate it.

What was funny about the night was that I was being introduced to my own cultural heritage as far away from home as possible. Being a South Indian, I should have probably been more aware of Carnatic music while growing up. But at home,neither I nor my friends would have attended a classical music concert. I had to be half way across the world to be able to appreciate its beauty.

At the end of last semester, a graduate student from India had asked me how my identity as an Indian had evolved since I had come to Cornell. I didn’t have an answer then. Last night, I realized that I’ve only been aware of my identity as an Indian since I came to Cornell. In the homogeneity of Delhi, where everyone around me shared the a common culture and upbringing, I never had to think about it. Here I’m forced to think about my differences, to acknowledge and embrace them.

I left the concert feeling more consciously connected to India than I ever have before. At Cornell, I see not only glimpses of the world beyond but also glimpses of myself and where I come from. As a Cornell student, I probably have access to the best professors and resources in the world but I think the most valuable part of my education comes from these experiences and reflections I’d have never had in the familiarity and homogeneity of home.

Relearning to Breathe @ “Intro to Meditation”

When I first wanted to establish a meditation practice, I thought a Cornell PE class would be a great way to learn. Last semester, Introduction to Meditation did not fit my schedule, so I took the “Meditation and Relaxation”.The class met once a week, on Tuesday evenings, for about two hours. In retrospect, I’m surprised I didn’t see why it was a bad idea. Every prelim for my CS and Math classes was on a Tuesday. And getting to Teagle Hall took a long, twenty minute walk through wintry Cornell. After three weeks, I stopped going to the class.

Although I received a grade of “Unsatisfactory” on “Meditation and Relaxation”, I still did want to establish a meditation practice. So when Intro to Meditation fit in my schedule this semester, I added it. The class meets for 50 minutes, twice a week. It has only been one week so far, but I know that this is the right class for what I want to learn.

On the first day of class, we talked about what meditation meant to each of us, individually. My response in class was somewhat incoherent. I often find myself being anxious about little things I have no control over. Mostly, these thoughts are repetitive. Maybe I have to print something for my Spanish class but my printer is malfunctioning; I decide to go to the library early next morning and print it before class. But it doesn’t end there, I’m not even fully aware of how many times the thought of printing my homework crosses my mind after that. Supposedly, on an average, a person has 60,000 thoughts per day and over 90% of them are exactly the same. (I haven’t found the study which proves this, but it sounds believable to me.) I want to have power over the way I think and feel and that is my motivation to meditate.

Then we read a list of twenty quotes on meditation. Each person chose what resonated most with themselves and meditated on it for ten minutes. There were some fantastic quotes on that sheet, but I chose something simple which gave me an action to do – focus on my breath – while meditating.

Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.  - Thích Nhất Hạnh

I had my second class today. After a few yoga poses, we tried two introductory meditation techniques which focused on breathing. I like what was called “counting meditation”. You focus on and count each complete breath you take, but as soon as your thoughts stray, you must start from zero again. If I am honest with myself, even ten is a difficult target right now. It’s also funny that my stray thoughts are about how I’ll brag when I’ll be better at meditation.

At the end of the class, everyone received a personal journal to write in. My journal entry prompted me to write this blog post. The reflections in my journal seem to be the most enjoyable part of this class for me. It’ll be interesting to read it at the end of the semester.

Notes -
Introduction to Meditation is offered by Cornell PE.
And there is also a free, mindfulness meditation series on campus on weekdays.
I loved Robin Sharma’s –  ”The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari”.