Swachhata Hi Seva- September 15, 2018

Towards the end of last week, we started to see signs posted around the ashram about an upcoming event planned by  Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The event, Swachhata HI Seva, would be held from September 15 through October 2. It was timed to be near Mahatma Gandhi’s 149th birthday and the 4th anniversary of Prime Minister Modi’s campaign to clean up India. To read Amma’s encouragement for everyone in India to participate in the clean up click here.

 

We soon learned that Swachhata Hi Seva would begin with a video conference where representatives from many different groups around India would report to Prime Minister Modi, and each other, about the clean up work they had done during the first four years of the campaign. They would also share their plans for Swachhata HI Seva.

Amma was to be one of the speakers. After the video conference, ashram residents and visitors, students from the local Amrita University and groups from Amma’s other institutions in the area would be cleaning up a six kilometer stretch of the coastal region near Amritapuri. Work parties would also be held at Amma’s schools, universities and institutions throughout India.

During the afternoon of the 14th, I glanced into the auditorium and saw lots activity. There were at least ten men setting up and testing cameras; I believed that they were from Amrita TV and surmised that this must be part of the video conference preparation. Later in the day, and throughout the night, chairs were set up in and around the auditorium, and the auditorium was decorated.

Seating began at 9:15 a.m. Amma arrived around 10:15.  Ashram residents and visitors as well as students from Amrita University and people from Amma’s other local institutions were present. I thought it was interesting to listen to the speakers; they represented so many groups dedicated to cleaning up India. Only a few of the presentations were in English but it didn’t matter to me. I enjoyed seeing and hearing the speakers’ passion for the campaign. The Prime Minister responded to each presentation.

Amma watched the video conference on a monitor that had been set up in front of her. The presentations were projected onto numerous larger screens so that everyone seated in the auditorium could watch… and hear…them.

Amma was the last speaker to present.

The first video below shows the Prime Minister introducing Amma. It also shows Amma giving her presentation. (The flags you see waving in the background on the photo above and in the video are Swachhata Hi Seva flags.) To read excerpts from Amma’s speech in English click here.

The second video is of Prime Minister Modi’s response to Amma’s report. There are English subtitles at the bottom of the screen throughout the video. The Prime Minister’s respect for Amma was palpable.

After the video conference was over, instructions to go to the beach to board buses were given over the loud speakers. There were so many people. Some of the female college students grabbed each others waists so that they wouldn’t get separated. I felt like joining them as a way to make it through the crowd, but I resisted the impulse. It has been a long time since I’ve been in the middle of a crowd that big.

I had originally thought about going to the beach and helping with the cleanup. I knew that I couldn’t do it for very long in that heat and the last time I did litter pick up without a litter grabber, I hurt my back and was out of commission for most of the  year. I thought I could help for 15 minutes though. When they started talking about buses, however, I assumed that going for a short time wasn’t going to be an option, so I headed for my flat.

Later, I learned that Amma had gone to the beach to help with the clean up before she started giving darshan that day. The couple that she was going to marry at the beginning of darshan helped too, in their wedding garments! I’m assuming that Amma was at the beach closest to the ashram, so that would have been an option for me too. Seeing the photos below reminded me of all the times Amma has joined in the ashram work. In the early days, I remember her carrying building construction materials, such as bricks and bags of gravel. She was, and is, SO strong.

More than 1600 people participated in that day’s 6 kilometer clean up!

(This has been the first of two posts about this event.)

The photos and videos came from Amritapuri.org.

The Intriguing Pond Heron

Two days ago, I visited a small garden that is near the Western cafe. When I walked into the garden, I saw a friend who lives at the ashram.  For years, devotees have brought her injured or abandoned birds that they have found. She nurses the birds back to health and then frees them. On that day, she was interacting with a pond heron. I was intrigued.

The “hole” towards the back of his head is his ear.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: September 12-14, 2018

Choices

Nonattachment (or not)

I often say that the only joke I remember is Question: Do you know how to make God laugh? Answer: Tell him your plans for your life. Since we don’t even know what’s around the next corner, when we make plans, we have no way of knowing if we will be able to do them. I used to attend a church that added “If the Lord shall say the same” before any announcement. While there is nothing wrong with making life plans, I think it is important to remember that those events may or may not happen. Holding on tightly to plans can send pain and suffering our way.

I got a good reminder of that last week. I had planned the dates for my Amritapuri trip around the Ganesh Chathuri holiday. Last year, I had discovered that there were amazing bhajans held in the Kalari nine nights of that ten-day festival. The bhajans were led by a group of young men. Some played drums or other instruments. The singing got pretty raucous and I loved it. In fact, I think it would be accurate to say that I experienced unbridled joy. I have been waiting to have that experience again ever since last year’s Ganesh Chathuri.

There was a puja scheduled for the morning of September 13, the first day of the holiday. When I saw the area being set up on my way to my cafe shift, I realized I had forgotten what a big deal that puja was. It is held in the auditorium. The ashram elephant is brought in and there are rituals performed … and lots of singing.

When I went into the cafe, I mentioned it to Chaitanya. She hadn’t thought about the fact that I would want to attend the puja either. She offered to find someone to replace me, but it didn’t seem right to back out on her at the last minute, so I said I would stay. After all, I had the night bhajans to look forward to… and those were my priority.

As the sounds from the auditorium intensified, however, I longed to be there. I began to get agitated. Sreejit walked into the kitchen, so I asked him to relieve me for a few minutes so I could go see what was happening. Being at the puja, even for three or four minutes, was just what I needed. After all, I had the night bhajans to look forward to.

When my replacement came at 9:00 a.m., I was able to go to the auditorium for some of the last bhajan and for the Ganesh Aarati. I was also there when the prasad was handed out. It consisted of numerous types of treats in a small banana leaf bowl. I had already committed to myself that I would take that morning off next year if I’m here, but I felt satisfied with the small parts of the ceremony I had attended. After all, I had 9 evenings of wonderful Ganesh bhajans to look forward to.

On my way back to my room, I decided to go look at the Ganesh Chaturi schedule on the bulletin board. I was horrified when I saw what was written on the flyer. There had been a homa earlier in the morning and then the big puja …. and those were to be the only Ganesh Chathuri programs this year.

Amma had canceled the games and big processions associated with Onam and Krishna Jayanthi in recognition of the pain being experienced by the Kerala Flood victims. I hadn’t thought about that being extended to Ganesh Chathuri as well since there were no games or big processions associated with that festival.

I felt devastated. I started crying and I cried all day. It reminded me of a time years ago when I went to Amma crying to the core of me. At that time, a friend standing near Amma was alarmed. She thought one of my children must have died. The event that brought on my tears that year was not the death of one of my children, but rather was due to the fact that I didn’t have enough money to make my yearly trip to Amritapuri. Up to that point, I had come to India every year since 1990.

I believe what I access when I am in that state is my soul crying for God. And it may be have also brought up longing for experiences I have had in past lives. (For most of my years with Amma, I have cried whenever I saw Ayyappo pilgrims. They sing in that same style of music, raucous and tribal. I speculate that I took Ayyappo pilgrimages in some other lifetime. The yearning to do that again is still inside of me even though my conscious part doesn’t really want to go with them!).

Amma has said that crying for God is as powerful as meditation. I believe the longing I experienced when the bhajans were cancelled was good, but it sure was painful. I also believe that part of my pain was due to my holding on to plans instead of living from a place of nonattachment.

Later in the day, it occurred to me that having Amma’s darshan might help. Darshan was being held in the temple that day. I decided to look for the token table and found it in an unexpected place about 30 seconds later. Within the hour, I was in Amma’s arms. And, of course, being with her did help. Even though I remained teary for the rest of the day, they were not the kind of tears that were painful and wouldn’t stop.

Trust My Inner Wisdom (or not)

In the psychotherapy community I practiced in, we used an affirmation that said “Trust Your Inner Wisdom.” I usually added “except when you can’t.” Most of us have so many voices in our head. I believe it is important to make sure that we aren’t listening to a voice that supports our unhealthy belief systems and/or behaviors.

Decades ago, I heard a minister say that the first quiet voice we hear inside is usually the voice of God. The next messages that come into our mind may be a flood of discounting messages that tell us why that first message is wrong and why it won’t work. If we choose to listen to that second stream of messages, the original “voice” will fade away.

The misery I experienced when I found out there would not be Ganesh bhajans in the Kalari for the next nine days was a good example of my not listening to my inner voice. “Go check the schedule” had gone through my mind daily for about a week. I always responded. “I will …. later.” Later didn’t come until late morning on the day of the event.

As I already mentioned, I knew that Amma had cancelled the games and big processions during the two previous holidays because of the floods. While the night Ganesh bhajans weren’t games, they were raucous and high energy. Having them every night for nine days would certainly have fit into the “celebratory” category. While I was aware of this, I had not allowed myself to seriously consider that they might not happen, I believe that was also a discount to the wisdom of my inner voice.

The 20 Step recovery community extensively uses Portia Nelson’s Autobiography in 5 Short Chapters.

I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost...
I am hopeless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I'm in the same place.
But it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in...it's a habit
My eyes are open; I know where I am;
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V

I walk down another street.

I have found her autobiography to be a very powerful and helpful way of looking at life’s lessons. Years ago, I added another chapter to it… for my own use. In my adaptation, the new chapter came before any of the others. It said:

I receive a warning.
I ignore it.

My experience with the Ganesh holiday was a good example of this additional chapter. I had received warnings in the form of advice and intuitions and had ignored them all. And the result was I brought more pain to myself than if I had listened.

Exam Time

I worry too much about what other people think of me and I don’t like to be laughed at. I cringe whenever people tell stories about me that they think are funny and I don’t. I also get upset when I judge that I’ve made a fool of myself.

An incident that happened in the early 70’s stuck with me for decades. I went to a New Year’s Eve work party with Al (my husband). I worked nights at the time, and for some reason got dressed in the dark. At some point during the party, when we were talking to Al’s boss and his wife, someone noticed that I was wearing shoes that were two different colors. (At that time, I owned two pairs of shoes that were the same style, but different colors. When I had slipped them on in the dark, there was no way for me to tell that they didn’t belong together.)

I was mortified. Other people seemed to be fine about it, and said understanding things, but my inner critic flared. My feelings of humiliation were strong even decades later. I ended up doing some EMDR (therapy) on the issue in the mid 90’s. During it, I started to laugh. I had been divorced from Al for many years and here I was still worried about what the person who was his boss in the 70’s thought about me. My energy about the issue reduced tremendously after that, but it wasn’t 100% gone.

Last week I had a chance to see where I stood on those issues. One morning, I took my garbage to the recycling station. When I returned to my building, there was a group of women residents sitting near the elevator listening to the broadcast of a class that was being offered in the temple.  Before the elevator door shut, I saw one of the women smile and lean over to talk to the woman sitting next to her. They were both looking at me. At first, I took their smiles as a greeting but then I realized it didn’t feel that way. I looked down and was dismayed to discover that I was wearing two different kinds of thongs; and these weren’t even similar to each other. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t noticed. Again, I had made a fool of myself and worried about being judged.

The difference between the event in the 70’s and the one that happened last week is that I had so much less energy about it. I still didn’t like that I made the mistake and I didn’t think it was funny, but I had much more of a “whatever” attitude about it.

Long ago, someone taught me the difference between shock and embarrassment. Shock is deadening. We may freeze and turn white as the blood drains from our face. On the other hand, when we are embarrassed about something, it can actually enliven us. We may turn bright red as blood rushes into our face. Some small part of us may even think it is funny.

I realize that the words I chose for these two experiences also show the difference between shock and embarrassment. For the one that occurred in the 70’s I used “mortified” and for the one that happened last week I used “dismayed”. I believe I went into shock during the first event and was embarrassed in the present one.

I’m not happy that I set myself up in this way and know that I still have energy about being laughed at, but I do appreciate seeing that my energy about the issue has lessened so significantly.

[Note: Soon after I wrote this section, I went to work at the cafe. Ziggy, a long term devotee who is also a clown, came up to me and asked permission to put a balloon earring on my ear. I laughed at the synchronicity and said yes. People did indeed laugh at me, and I thought it was fun!]

To read the previous posts in this series click here.

A Visit to the Nature Sanctuary: September 2018

I first visited the Nature Sanctuary, which until this year was called Kuzhitura Farm, in 2014. It is located south of the Amritapuri ashram. That was before I had a blog, so I don’t have photos from that year. The photos below are from my 2015 visit.

(Click on any of the galleries to enlarge the photos.)

The gardens have changed so much over the years. The volunteers have overcome so many obstacles. Their persistence was well worth it; entering the property yesterday  was like walking into a magical wonderland.

When I turned onto the path that leads to the sanctuary, I noticed that there were plants lining the borders of the path. Many of them were potted roses. I don’t know what the other plants were.

When I reached the entrance, I saw two new signs.

I walked into the lush wonderland.

There were so many beautiful flowers.

Plants grow so fast in the tropics. There were some rudraksha trees in this garden that were planted a year ago. They have grown 4-6 feet since that time. I’ve been excited that some of our Seattle Greenbelt trees grew 6 inches this year.

There are numerous turtles on the property. When I visited these gardens in January of 2018, the volunteers were installing some tubs for baby turtles to live in. The babies would move or be moved to bigger ponds when they got older. This is what the tubs looked like 8 months ago:

I was amazed at how different the tub area looked on this visit. It was so dense with vegetation. I could barely see the blue tubs.

The ponds were not easy to spot either. The photo below shows one of them:

A volunteer asked if I wanted to see some of the turtles that are living in the bigger ponds. Of course, I said yes. Once there, he told me that we could feed them treats; if we called to them, they would come. When he called, a turtle that was about the size of my palm responded right away. It would not take the food from his hand though. He said that the turtle might respond more readily to my voice. He was right. The turtle came to me right away and took the pellet from my hand. Once he ate it, I offered him another one, and he took that one too!

I learned that there are turtle eggs all over the property. When the eggs hatch, the babies find their way to water. So no one carries them to the little tubs, they find them on their own.

Later, I learned that the nature sanctuary does not have any problem with mosquitoes because there are tadpoles that eat the mosquitoes when they are in larva stage.

I saw butterflies that day and in the past and I’ve seen bees and dragonflies in these gardens. If there are tadpoles then there must be frogs! I wonder what other kinds of wildlife are in the sanctuary.

I could have stayed there all day and not have seen everything that there was to see. I look forward to my next visit.

To read the previous posts in this series click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: September 7-11, 2018

Attitude

On my first day in Amritapuri this year, I noticed a man wearing a t-shirt that said “let go” on the front. Since my blog is named Living, Learning and Letting Go, his shirt caught my eye and my interest. A few days later, he asked me if I was having a good day or a great day. I was startled at first but then realized it was a nice example of how powerful choosing our attitudes can be. If our choice is between a good day or a great day, we are more likely to create one of those two options for ourselves.

***

I was reminded me of a story that I once heard Jean Illsley Clarke tell. She is a parent educator and was a mentor for me. Her story was about a seven-year-old girl who had been kicked out of a number of foster homes. Jean visited her on a day that she had been acting out. When Jean went outside to talk to her, she asked the child “How did you make your day go today?” The girl was startled for a moment. After thinking about it, she said, “Exactly the way I wanted it to go.”

***

A quote that is projected on the screens during Amma’s programs in Amritapuri and the U.S. (and probably elsewhere) is also about the importance of choosing ones attitudes.

***

For the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust. In one of his books, Man’s Search for Meaning, he wrote:

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

***

There is so much power in realizing we can be responsible for our own attitudes.

Choices

Towards the end of last week, I realized I hadn’t done many of the activities that were important to me during previous trips.

  1. I hadn’t joined the prasad line to hand Amma the packet of ash and candy that she gives each person who comes to her for a hug.
  2. Amma has given western visitors and ashram residents the opportunity to sit on the stage with her each darshan day. Not only had I not taken advantage of that opportunity, I hadn’t even checked to see what my assigned time was.
  3. During my last three trips to Amritapuri, I had enjoyed doing a one-hour shift as a prasad assistant twice a week. That job consists of making sure that there are always people available to hand Amma the prasad and teaching them what to do if it is their first time giving prasad, I had planned to do that seva (volunteer job) again this year, but kept putting it off. I soon realized that it wasn’t going to be a priority for me this year.

Instead, I have kept focused on coming to bhajans on time, and sitting in the floor-seating area in the front of the auditorium, as well as attending more of the meditations and Q&A programs.

A few days ago, I walked by the prasad-giving line and saw that it was almost empty. I know what it is like to not have enough people to run the line, so as soon as I could, I joined the line myself. I enjoyed giving Amma the prasad packets as much as I always do.

After I finished doing that, I noticed that there was a lot of empty space in the area on the stage where devotees sit. That is very unusual, so I decided to take advantage of it. I had an incredible view of Amma as she gave darshan. I sat there for about half an hour and then left. I realized this was a good example of the importance of staying aware of opportunities that arise and not holding on to plans in a rigid way. It is important for me to consider each choice that comes my way individually.

***

This week I also had the opportunity to see that I don’t always make choices that are in my best interests. On Sunday, I got a hug from Amma and then decided to have dinner with friends instead of listening to the Swami bhajans. During that dinner, I heard Swami Pranavamrita singing one of my favorite bhajans after another. Even though I longed to be immersed in the music, I chose to stay with my friends. It was nice to be able to choose between between two good options, but since I am still longing for what I missed that day, I don’t think I made the best choice for me in that moment. I know it was a learning opportunity though and I believe I will have an opportunity to make a different choice many times in the future.

***

I used to teach a workshop based on Wayne Mueller’s book Legacy of the Heart.  I ended the workshop by saying “You will have endless opportunities to choose between Pain or Forgiveness, Fear or Faith, Performance or Belonging, Scarcity or Abundance, Grandiosity or Humility, Drama or Simplicity, Judgement or Mercy, Busyness or Stillness, Disappointment or Nonattachment, Isolation or Intimacy, Habit or Mindfulness and Obligation or Loving Kindness. The choice is up to you.”

Discovering My Limits

I have enjoyed sitting on the floor during bhajans. My legs often get uncomfortable but my back feels better than if I am sitting in a chair. If I go to the earlier meditation and Q&A program, I usually sit in a chair since sitting on the floor for the 1 1/2 -2 hour bhajan program is all I can handle. I’m pleased that I am able to get up and down from the floor, although I’m not very graceful about it.

On Thursday of last week, I faced a new challenge and soon realized I had discovered a new limit. When the program is in the auditorium there is a lot of space in the front area. However, on Thursday, darshan was held in the temple, which is much smaller. I decided to go to the temple for the 6:30 bhajan set. Since Amma would be giving darshan,  a swami would lead the singing. It would be like the “old days”.

The situation was very much like the old days. The front area was very crowded and there was no room to walk between people. As more and more people sat down, I began to wonder how I was going to get out. The swami would sing longer than a normal bhajan program and I knew I couldn’t sit that long. As crowded as it was, it would be difficult to get into a standing position and my balance would probably be a problem.

I worried about it for a while. Then the person next to me stood up. By using her space and my own I was able to stand up. That didn’t solve the problem of walking through a crowd of people when there was no space between them though. I slowly made my way past one person and then another, and then reached out my hand for support to go the last distance. One person either didn’t see me or ignored me, but another took my hand. With that extra support I was able to get to the aisle.

I had discovered a new limit. I will not sit on the floor during the 6:30 p.m. bhajans if darshan is in the temple. I can sit there at other times during the day.

***

I used to tell new devotees to be sure to stay until the end of programs because so many special things happen then. Another limit I have had to accept is that I can’t handle staying up late. If I do, I feel horrible the next day.

One of the events I missed this week was Rosh Hasshana, the Jewish New Year. A group from Israel sang for a while. I was there for part of that. I loved their music. Later in the night, another group of Jewish devotees sang for Amma and then Amma sang with them. I could hear a bit of that song from my room.  Part of me wanted to join them, but I knew I needed to respect my limits.

Saraswati Garden

I spent some time in Saraswati Garden a few days ago. It has become so lush. As I wandered through it, I marveled at how big the plants are compared to those that were there in 2016 when the garden was fairly new. Some of the plants that were 18-24 inches in 2016 are now well over 6 feet tall. And there are many new plant varieties.

November 2016

September 2018

Photo credits:

The Amma quote is from Amma’s Facebook Page.
The attitude, choices, and limits photos are from Pixabay.com.

To read the previous posts in this series click here.