A Summer in Alaska and Reflections on the Year

Date: 18-20 May

Location: Princeton, Brooklyn, Talkeetna

Daylight: 21h

Photos of the day:

Gorgeous clouds west of NY; Sleeping Lady across Cook Inlet from Anchorage.

I’ll be spending this summer in Talkeetna, Alaska, working for Alaska Mountaineering School, spending time with my 5-year-old cousin Lisle and their many animals (the “ranch”), practicing yoga, and spending time in the outdoors. I look forward to being in such a beautiful environment and with people who also appreciate and love it; having emotional and mental space and perhaps actual time to study and practice; and having some space to process my discoveries this year. I will also spend two weeks in Cambodia at summer’s end with other students and staff from Princeton on an Office of Religious Life-sponsored trip to examine sex trafficking there and NGOs. While in Alaska, I’ll try to blog frequently and take a photo daily. Please comment and keep in touch.

Academically, I suppose this year was about what I expected – though I didn’t have much expectations. I was well-prepared intellectually and with work habits from Stuy and improved in my ability to process readings, synthesize material, and produce papers. My extracurricular activities were certainly more intensive, and not things that I could set aside if life was getting too intense. Yoga practice and teaching; stage managing and performing; and events management are all at some level deep commitments that sometimes had to take priority over my other work. I always find second semester to be the busiest time of my life. Nero was enough work – but afterwards when coursework started hitting heavy along with East Meets West, I wasn’t able to manage my life well. My musical and yoga practice fell apart. I do have to accept gradual buildup to a strong practice and have patience with myself, but walking the line between patience and discipline is difficult. Goal-setting helps – as does being in an environment like Talkeetna, surrounded by very active and athletic climbers.

When I arrived at Princeton I expected to give the college lifestyle the old college try as I had begun to do senior year. I expected to have a friend group as at Stuy, go to parties and the Street occasionally, engage in social drinking, and be an active member of the community. Within about a month I was totally turned off from that approach. I find marvelous that so many of my inclinations have found deeper meaning in spiritual practice. Healthy eating and veganism; rising early; yoga practice; meditation; music and breath; non-dating or celibacy; dhyana; cool-headedness and clarity; commitment; compassion; advaita; and my other philosophical inclinations are very much connected to the spiritual way of life.

This year I reconceived my interest in development as more than a passion and a calling – as a service, that I’ve been particularly called to. I learned a great deal about the region, political theory, and my path. I value the Princeton network and resources greatly in getting there. I’ve questioned my utility in this work as someone who’s not called to medical or engineering training; but this year I learned anew that my role is best as a facilitator and administrator, one who gets those services to the ground. I’ve loved events coordination and organizational management this year and hope that I can express my skills in communication, empathy and understanding, team management and coordination, and ability to make calls in the field(s) of development, humanitarian aid, and humanitarian crisis management.

This year, my greatest transformation and my greatest joy has been in discovering a spiritual life. Throughout my adolescence I was interested in philosophical questions and theological inquiry as a subset of that, but everything was always theoretical. I wanted to know (and still do) how the world works; why things are as they are and how that happened; how historical events and processes can be explained. In high school I discovered those answers in physics and later in philosophy, history, and literature. Over the past year, I’ve addressed existential questions in a different way. My yoga practice and meeting Sri Amma last summer set me on a path of spiritual inquiry and discovery and this fall I realized that somehow I had come to believe in God. Studying Bhagavad Gita, the Princeton yoga and Hindu communities, the NY-area Bhakti community, and my yoga teacher training provided sources of nourishment, growth, and inspiration – and ample opportunity to set sanga, shastra, and sadhana above academics and even family.

I have lately resolved to renew my academic life as a preparation for service and as a devotional act in itself, remembering that academic study does answer existential questions and provides essential information and provocation in my field. How can I best understand this information or this theory? How can it help me better understand the world? Can I synthesize it well and produce something explaining it? Sufism next year will be easy to integrate but I do have trouble understanding how to approach studies devotionally in general, no matter how much I remind myself that everything I do should be devotional and that my dharma is a student.

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3 thoughts on “A Summer in Alaska and Reflections on the Year

  1. I am glad I found your blog! Great that you are doing what you are doing. Good luck, and may you discover deeper and deeper meaning of life and spirituality. We will miss you in the NY region while you are gone, though!

  2. I will comment on what I know – approaching studies devotionally. I think the best way to do that is to think of studies not as a means to an end, but as an end in itself. I think the first time I took a class in Princeton for personal growth and interest was Christian Ethics with Eric Gregory, and that class made me realize, that I love theology, particularly, Christian theology for what it is, and for the questions that it asks, and also the ones that it answers. This semester, Spiritual Exercises with Albert Raboteau was spiritually fulfilling beyond anything that I would have expected in the academia.
    So, here is the suggestion – find professors you love and ones who will make you the best that you can be. Do talk to professors about your spiritual life, and ask them about their spiritual life, and ask them how to integrate spiritual life with intellectual life. These are no longer quite separate for me, once I found what I really love to study. It took three years in Princeton for me to find what I love studying,and I hope that it takes you less time.

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