During the first quarter of 2016, I created a series of 12 Challenge for Growth prompts. At that time, the challenges were published one week at a time.
Yesterday, it occurred to me that many readers were not following my blog back then. I have decided to publish a post that includes a list of all 12 of the personal growth prompts.
Since it is easier to make behavioral changes if we focus on them one day at a time, each of the weekly challenges start with “Today, I focus on…….” While I believe you will get the most benefit from a challenge if you focus on it for an entire week…. or longer…. it will be up to you to decide how long you want to focus on a particular challenge— even one or two days during a week will have value.
If you decide to take on these challenges, consider sharing your experiences in the comment section of this post. I’d love to hear about them.
You can, of course, begin or stop the challenge process at any time.
Challenge for Growth Prompts
Week 1: “Today I focus on my needs rather than my wants.”
The nature of the mind is that as soon as one desire is met, it is off to the next one, often without taking any time to appreciate the desire that was just realized. An endless stream of wants leads to the experience of scarcity; we never feel full, we never think we have or are enough.
One way to create a sense of abundance in our lives is to decrease the number of our desires. We can do that by putting our primary focus on meeting our needs and then prioritizing our wants.
The first step for many people is to learn to differentiate their needs from their wants. Some examples: We need water – We want a soda; We need food – We want a big restaurant meal; We need shelter – We want a new house.
This week practice identifying which of your desires are needs and which are wants. When looking at your list of wants, decide which are the most important to you. This week give priority to meeting your needs. If you put energy into obtaining any of your wants, be sure they are ones you have identified as priority wants.
Week 2: “Today I look for the good qualities in others.”
When we are in a bad mood, we may find ourselves focusing on someone else’s faults. When we focus on the negative, we are likely to see negativity all around us. Remember that even a broken clock is right twice a day.
People often get triggered into negative thinking when they are with someone who reminds them of a person who hurt them in the past. In the psychotherapy model I use, we refer to that as “putting someone else’s face” on the present day person. That process is also referred to as projection.
Clients in therapy frequently project their parents’ faces on their therapists. I remember a time in the mid 90’s when a client was always angry with the male co-therapist in one of my therapy groups. He knew that the therapist reminded him of his father, but he was having a hard time “getting his dad’s face” off of the therapist.
This therapist had some unusual characteristics so I said to the client, “Did your dad ever wear an earring?” and “Did your dad sometimes wear red toenail polish?” The client started laughing. His father would NEVER have considered doing either of those things. Seeing the differences really helped him separate the therapist from his father.
This week focus on looking for the good in others. If you have trouble finding anything positive about a person, consider whose face you might have on them. If you decide it is a parent, or a boss, or someone else from your past, identify ways the current day person is different from the one in your past. Then “de-role” the present day person by saying to yourself, “You are not (insert the name or role of person from the past), you are (insert the name or role of the person in the present).” After you de-role the current day person, you may be better able to identify some of their good qualities.
Also consider making lists of the positive qualities of anyone you have negative thoughts about, whether they be from your past or present.
Week 3: “Today when there is nothing to be done I will do nothing.”
In our over-doing world, many of us have lost the ability to simply BE. Our days are filled with doing things and our minds are filled with thinking. We may be bombarded with electronic stimulation such as radio, television, emails, texts, video games, internet surfing, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Linked In, etc.
Too often when we are not over-doing, we are over-thinking. We rarely have new thoughts; usually we are just recycling the same thoughts over and over.
It may be that when we are quiet, we are uncomfortable with the feelings and thoughts that surface. We try to shove them down by potentially addictive behaviors like over-doing, substance abuse, obsessive thinking, and over-eating. We can learn to see those uncomfortable feelings and thoughts as indications that there are changes we need to make in our lives.
Most of life’s peak experiences happen when we least expect them. In addition, bliss is unlikely to come when we are thinking or over-doing.
This week take some time to focus on being rather than doing. If there is nothing that NEEDS to be done, don’t do anything. Take the time as an opportunity to simply BE. Watch the internal messages and impulses that come up when you do that. Note them, but don’t act on them. Allow yourself to continue being.
Consider making a commitment that during your being time you will not use the phone or computer and will not have any electronic music, television or radio going on in the background. If taking being time sounds impossible to you consider starting with five minutes- or ten minutes- or fifteen minutes a day. You can build up your being time slowly if you need to.
Week 4: “Today I take time to think before I say Yes or No.”
While some people have trouble saying Yes and others say No to every request, I believe it is much more common for people to struggle with saying No. This struggle often stems from childhood experiences. It may not have been okay, or even safe, to say No in our families of origin. Many of us were taught/programmed to please others by doing what others wanted them to do. As an adult, we may say Yes to things we don’t want to do; say Yes but then not follow through on our commitments; or say Yes reflexively without taking any time to think about the request.
I once heard a joke that addresses this issue. “What happens when a codependent dies?” Answer: Someone else’s life flashes before his eyes.” While it is a funny joke, it is also a sad situation and it may be true. You cannot live your own life and do everything everyone else wants you to do.
The first step in looking at this issue may be to observe struggles you have in saying either Yes or No. At the same time, start pausing to think before you reply to a request. You may need 15 seconds or you may need 48 hours or more to get clear. It is perfectly appropriate to respond, “I will think about it and get back to you.”
This week focus on thinking before you say Yes or No.
Week 5: “Today I repeat the affirmation ‘I am Love’.”
Occasionally I ask my psychotherapy clients what they would think if they overheard someone talking to a child the way they talk to themselves. They often respond that they would think the child was being abused. I believe when we direct endless criticism towards ourselves, it is as if we are abusing a child, but in this case it is the child within us.
One of the tools I have found helpful in stopping negative self-talk is to flood one’s mind with a single affirmation. I’m not talking about saying the affirmation 10 times in the morning while looking in the mirror. I ask clients to say their affirmations a minimum of 1,000 times a day for 21 days. Actually, I prefer that they say it 10,000 times a day or more, or better yet, anytime their minds aren’t being used for something else!
When we flood our minds with an affirmation over a period of time, it may start flowing automatically during the day, and sometimes during the night as well. Imagine what it would be like to have something positive going through your mind day and night, instead of all of the negative messages.
This week internally repeat the affirmation “I Am Love.” I suggest you say it at least 1,000 times a day. (It takes 15-20 minutes to say it 1,000 times.) It will help you to stay focused if you use a tally counter from an office supply store or an app such as Counter +. If you find yourself engaged in negative thinking during the day, start saying the affirmation again. Be gentle with yourself no matter how many times you repeat it. There is no right or wrong way to do this challenge.
Week 6: “Today I listen attentively.”
Sometimes when we are listening to another person, we may find our minds wandering to problems at work or home, or to future plans. At other times, rather than paying close attention to the person’s words, we may start thinking about how we are going to respond to them. Or we may reflect on advice we want to give them when they stop talking. If the person is angry, instead of listening to them, we may start planning our defense. These communication patterns often leave people feeling unheard, discounted and/or disrespected.
This week practice giving people your full attention when they are talking to you.
Week 7: “Today I unplug.”
Don’t panic. I’m not talking about totally unplugging. But think of how much time during the day you spend engaged with emails, texting, instant messages, Facebook, Instagram, Linked-In, Twitter, Snapshot, surfing the Internet, playing video games, watching television, online shopping, talking on the phone, etc. What would you think and feel if you no longer had access to a phone, computer, television or any other electronic device? Does the thought of not having those things bring you a sense of relief, panic or something else?
This week commit to unplugging for some period of time each day. Pick a time of day when you normally use those devices and then set an amount of time to unplug that would challenge you, but not set you up for failure.
Week 8: “Today I stop my repetitive thinking.”
So few of our thoughts are actually new; we recycle most of them again and again as we ruminate about past traumas, feel indignant over ways we were slighted, or obsess about possible future problems. Overthinking keeps us trapped in our heads, rather than living from our hearts. It also leads to depression and anxiety.
We may believe if we think about a problem long enough, we will figure out what to do about it. The reality is that inspiration is much more likely to come when our minds are silent than when we are in a never-ending cycle of analyzing.
This week commit to stopping your repetitive thoughts. One way to do that is to say “Stop…..Be here now” to yourself and then focus solely on the present moment whenever you find yourself in unhelpful thinking processes. Distracting activities such as working in the garden, exercising, reading, writing, walking, etc. may also be helpful. If there is a problem you actually need to think about, set a beginning and ending time for doing that, rather than letting it take over your day.
Week 9: “Today I say something to a child that I wish had been said to me when I was young.”
Did you hear the things that you needed to hear during your formative years? Were you given enough guidance, enough love, enough validation? Are there words that you wish you had heard from your parents or other adults during your childhood or teenage years?
This week give children or teenagers messages that you wish had been said to you when you were young.
Week 10: “Today I do not waste food.”
In 2012, the National Resources Defense Council of the U.S. concluded that Americans waste 40% of their food. Food is wasted at the farm level, between harvest and sale, during processing, during distribution, in grocery stores, in restaurants and in our homes. The study also reported that American’s throw out 25% of the food and beverages they buy. You can learn more about these statistics at: Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill. As I searched for more recent statistics for this post, I read that American households throw out 150,000 tons of food each day.
Many children in my generation grew up with parents who demanded that they eat their food because of the starving kids in China. As a result, many of us learned to tune out that message and disregard the fact that there is some truth to that way of thinking. I believe it is important for us to become responsible citizens of the world.
That does not mean we should force ourselves or our children to eat when we/they aren’t hungry. It is also not about shaming people into cleaning their plates. Instead, I think we should focus on how much food we buy, how much we cook, and how much we put on our plates. Children will be more likely to finish eating their food if they are given small portions. They can always ask for more if they are still hungry after they finish the original serving. That is true for adults as well.
While these are U.S. statistics and may be higher than those in other countries, I doubt we are the only country with the problem. This week focus on not wasting food.
Week 11: “Today I do something I’ve been resisting.”
A co-therapist I used to work with often told clients that it may take 75% of the time one is in therapy to do 25% of the work that needs to be done. The remaining work is likely to be completed much faster. I also remember hearing Amma, my spiritual teacher, say that we ask her to clean us up, but then we won’t hold still for the bath. The common factor in these two circumstances is resistance.
Resistance isn’t all bad. It would be unhealthy to walk into a new situation and turn ourselves over to the whim of other people. Blind faith can be dangerous. It also takes time to determine a correct course of action. However, when we know that there are changes we need to make, holding on to resistance often results in us holding on to, or creating, pain for ourselves. It may also stifle our growth.
This week do things you’ve been resisting doing.
Week 12: “Today I eat and drink food and beverages that honor my body.”
Most of us know which foods and beverages are healthy for us to eat and drink. However, when fast food restaurants, sodas, desserts and junk snacks call out to us, we succumb, much like an alcoholic giving in to the call of alcohol.
As alcoholics in recovery know, unhealthy habits are changed one day at a time. This week eat and drink only food and beverages that honor your body. Treat your body as if it is a temple, a temple worthy of great respect.
Nineteen enthusiastic students from the UW’s Introduction to Environmental Science class participated in our October 6th forest restoration work party. Our staff consisted of two GreenFriends members and a volunteer who had helped at the September 30th work party.
As always, the work party began with an orientation. Afterwards, we formed a bucket brigade to spread wood chips along the paths throughout our Greenbelt site. Last year, the paths got muddy and slippery during the winter rains. We hope by covering them with a thick layer of wood chips, we will prevent that from happening again.
The first photo below shows what the wood chip pile looked like at the beginning of this work party. The second shows its size at the end of the event. It is even flatter than it looks! There is no doubt in my mind that the pile will be gone by the end of our next work party.
(Click on the galleries to enlarge the photos.)
For the second week in a row, I got so immersed in the work that I forgot to take photos of the bucket brigade. But I can show you the results of our work!
Halfway through the work party, we took a 15 minute snack break and then divided into three work groups.
Work group 1
Last year, when we cleared the land in the southern part of our site, we piled the blackberry vines and blackberry root balls that we removed on nearby drying racks. We ended up with four large piles of debris that is taking up room that could better be used for planting.
We decided to eliminate the piles by cutting the debris into 3-8 inch pieces and then spreading it on the paths that we will be covering with wood chips during our next work party.
I had spent a considerable amount of time cutting up the debris in one of these piles prior to this work party. I don’t have a photo of what the pile looked like when I started, but the photos below will give you an idea of what it was like when this group started working on it and what it looked like at the end of the work party. The size of the pile has decreased at least 50% since the beginning of October. I hope we can finish that task soon.
For now we are placing the branches that are too thick to cut up at one end of the pile. We will decide what to do with those later.
Work group 2
The second group worked on a compost pile that had been created on the site many years before this forest restoration project began. Volunteers in the last work party had started removing trash and branches from the pile. The photos below show this area before and after the September 30th work party.
On October 6th, two of the students dug out a plastic garbage can that was buried near the compost pile and then began to remove bluebell bulbs that had been multiplying in the pile for years. They also separated more trash and branches from the rich soil.
While the two students were working on those tasks, three others removed big branches and tree stumps that were scattered around an area where we will be planting trees, shrubs and ground covers in November. Once the big items were moved to a different part of the site, the students raked a pile of dried bamboo branches away from that area as well.
When they finished those tasks, the students joined the two who were working on the compost pile. They sorted the branches that had been removed from the pile of dirt. The small branches and dried blackberry canes were cut up so that we can spread them on the paths; the bigger branches were stacked. The photos below show what the area looked like at the end of this work party.
Work group 3
The third group dug up blackberry shoots and blackberry root balls from the area where we will be creating paths next weekend.
At one point, I started hearing shouts of celebration coming from that direction. I wondered if the students had dug out some huge root balls. That is always cause for excitement. When the sounds continued, I got curious. Eventually, I walked to that part of the property and asked the staff member what was happening.
I learned that some of the students were having a competition to see who could cut down the longest blackberry vine. By then, they were working in an area that we have not cleared before, so they were finding some LONG vines! Some of the cut vines were put on a small drying rack while others were taken to an area we call The Rack Zone. (The Rack Zone is located in the foundation of a house that burned in the 50’s. It is filled with large piles of dried or drying blackberry vines, blackberry root balls, ivy and bindweed.)
Look at the length of the vine in the last photo. I don’t know who won the competition, but that vine was certainly a contender. (Remember, you can click on the gallery to enlarge the photos.)
All of the debris that had been cut up by the first and second work groups was spread on the areas where we will be constructing paths next weekend. The photos below show what those future paths look like now. (The paths will be 3 feet wide except in the occasional places where several paths merge.) The last photo is of the section where I believe the students found the long vines.
Fifteen minutes before the work party ended, we began to clean and put away the tools and supplies. As they finished that work, the volunteers began to gather for the closing. These photos were taken while we waited for the last few students to join us. Once everyone was present, we celebrated all that we had accomplished during the three-hour work party.
Afterwards, everyone brushed their shoes to remove any remnants of invasive plants that might be spread to other properties, said goodbye and went on their individual ways. Several participants told me they hoped to attend one of our next work parties!
I returned from India around noon on September 24th. I brought my luggage into the house and soon thereafter was checking out our Greenbelt site, eager to begin the forest restoration work again. I was pleased to see that most of the plants had survived the drought.
The University of Washington classes began on September 26th. This was to be the ninth quarter that students from their Introduction to Environmental Science course would help us. Most of our volunteers come from there, but we also get people from many other sources, such as neighbors and the Green Seattle Partnership Event Calendar. Most of our staff are part of GreenFriends, the environmental arm of Embracing the World.
Our first fall quarter work party was held on Sunday, September 30. Including the staff, we had eight volunteers. (There are only six people in the photo because I’m taking the picture and a neighbor didn’t arrive until the second half of the work party.)
I was so immersed in the work that I forgot to take photos throughout the work party. Luckily, I can show you some before and after pictures.
The Seattle Parks Department staff had delivered a pile of wood chips that looked similar to this one. Our main task for the day was to start the process of spreading wood chips along the paths in the Greenbelt. I knew from last year’s experience that during winter the paths get muddy and slippery and wanted to prevent that situation from reoccurring. After the work party orientation, we filled the buckets with wood chips.
(Click on any gallery to enlarge the photos.)
Then, we carried the filled buckets and spread the wood chips along the path, 3 inches thick and 3 feet wide. Some of the volunteers stayed at the wood pile to fill the empty buckets as they were returned. Together, we spread wood chips on 620 sq. ft. of land. I was amazed by how much a small group was able to accomplish in a little over an hour.
After a fifteen minute break, we divided into three teams. One team dug out invasive blackberries near the south-east part of the site. They also spread dried blackberry canes over burlap; this strip will become part of a path during an upcoming work party.
The second team moved some stumps and thick branches from a future planting area, took wire and other trash to the trash pile, and then dug out blackberry vines and root balls from two areas that had been planted in March. The planting areas looked so nice after most of the blackberry shoots that had been coming up in them were removed.
The third group worked on a compost pile that was here long before our restoration project began. They dug out weeds that were growing through it and pulled out any trash, branches or lumber that they found.
I was so happy with the results of our work and feel very grateful to the volunteers who participated in this work party.
A friend sent me this video a few days ago. It is tough to watch but it has a VERY important message. I hope the time comes when the world has changed so much that this 6 year old’s words are no longer needed, other than for a history lesson.
I also found this follow up video:
It would be nice to see a follow up of the follow up.
I’ve been back in Seattle for 9 days, so it is high time that I finish the last post about most recent visit to Amritapuri, Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: September 15 to 24, 2018. I have previously published three posts that focused on individual events that occurred during those dates.
Much of my last week in Amritapuri was spent packing, cleaning and doing the other things I needed to do to get ready to leave. I felt a sense of heaviness throughout the week. I had noticed that sensation towards the end of my last trip and have begun to realize that it is caused by an underlying sadness. Even though I felt ready to go back to Seattle, I felt sad to leave my family (Sreejit, Chaitanya and Akshay), Amma, and my Amritapuri friends.
Western Cafe and Western Canteen
People from so many western countries come to Amritapuri. I find it interesting to see how our food habits differ from each other. One of the things that has always seemed strange to me is that some people spread peanut butter and/or chocolate on their pancakes. They may also put peanut butter or chocolate in their ragi porridge. This year, a friend from Australia joked that peanut butter belongs ONLY on toast. I responded that peanut butter is good on bananas too, but she didn’t agree, restating that it only belongs on toast.
As I thought about it, it occurred to me that I like chocolate on everything else, so that I’d probably like it on a pancake too. And chocolate and peanut butter go together great. So, on one of my last days in Amritapuri, I tried chocolate on a pancake. I don’t think I’d do it again but it definitely was tasty. I just don’t need more reasons to eat chocolate.
People from some western countries only eat fried eggs that are cooked “sunny side up”. They don’t call them that though. I remember someone laughing at me years ago when I referred to their eggs in that way.
My favorite Western cafe items are cinnamon rolls, pesto omelets, lemon bars, chocolate bread, and pasta with cheese, soya, and tomato sauce. My favorite Western canteen items are all of the soups, mashed potatoes, Mexican rice and beans, and coconut beets. I’m sure there are some items I’m forgetting but those are the ones that come to my mind now.
Prasad Giving and Prasad Assistant
As I mentioned in an earlier post, during the last part of my visit, I started taking the opportunity to hand Amma the prasad she gives to each person who comes to her for a hug. (In this case, the prasad is a packet of ash and a piece of candy.) I loved doing this seva as much as I usually do.
Prasad-giving is also a good way to practice staying focused. I’ve learned from experience that if I don’t keep my eyes on Amma’s hand, I will miss the gesture she makes when she is ready to be handed the prasad.
There are often extra challenges to this seemingly easy job. One of the first times I handed the prasad to Amma on this trip, a woman dressed in a white sari was whispering something into Amma’s ear. Part of her sari was draped in-between Amma’s hand and me; I couldn’t see a thing. I had to find a way to move the sari so I could see at least part of Amma’s hand as well as get the prasad into Amma’s hand when it was time. It was a tricky situation but I did it.
At the beginning of my visit, I had said no to taking on a prasad assistant job. I declined the opportunity because I wanted to stay focused on my decision to attend more of Amma’s meditation, Q and A and bhajan programs and to sit in the front of the room rather than in the back or sides of the large auditorium. While it was possible for me to do all of these things, I didn’t want to overload myself with commitments; I was already working in the cafe every morning.
One of the prasad coordinators came to me about a week before I left Amritapuri and told me that she had lost one of her prasad assistants. She asked again if I would do it. This time I said yes. I served as a prasad assistant on September 16 and 21. That job required me to make sure that the prasad-giving line was always full of volunteers and that they were trained. I also was responsible for calling prasad-givers up to the stage in 2 minute intervals.
My shift was during a time of day when it is hard to find volunteers so it was an intense job. And as it turned out, I not only did my own hour long shift but also forty minutes of the person’s shift that did the job before me. Keeping the line filled was a challenge. Luckily, my supervisor helped find people too. The reason finding volunteers was difficult at that time of day was that many of the devotees were chanting the Sri Lalita Sahasranama and a variety of other chants during that time, and once that program was over, many of them went to lunch.
I have mentioned many times that an important focus for me during this trip was to sit in the front of the auditorium so I would be closer to Amma and could be more attentive than when I sat in the back or far sides of the hall. I also promised myself that would go to more of the programs. While I did not attend all of the meditations or Q&A sessions, I did go to more of them than I have in many years.
I was present for all of the bhajan programs. I routinely sat on the floor in the front section of the auditorium at that time. That was a major accomplishment for me. Being up front helped me stay focused. I loved singing so many of the older bhajans and looked forward to singing some of them at satsang once I returned to Seattle.
I have also mentioned that this year devotees have been able to go for Amma’s darshan (hug) more often than “normal”. I’m so used to going only when I arrive and when I leave, or when I feel a strong need. Going frequently often feels wrong to me.
Generally, darshan tokens are given out in the morning. Sometimes, later in the day, Amma tells the token coordinators to hand out more tokens. On the evening of September 16 or 17, I was offered a darshan token and accepted it. I started to question that decision as I was going through the darshan line.
As I neared the front of the line, Swami Amritaswarupananda started singing a slow version of Hare Rama, Hare Krishna. That is one of my favorite bhajans. When I was directly in front of Amma, and was next in line to be hugged, she started talking to someone. They talked for quite a while, so I was close to Amma much longer than I would normally be. My consciousness became so altered (i.e. I was going into a meditative state) that I wondered if I was going to be able to kneel down and stand up easily. Then I was in Amma’s arms. I no longer had any doubt that I had made the right decision when I chose to go for darshan.
I wonder how much stress I put on myself unnecessarily. Maybe I should just trust that if Amma asks the darshan token coordinators to hand out more tokens, I should just take one.
There are often one or two small geckos in my flat. In December, the geckos that are living there are bigger than the ones that are present when I come to the ashram in August. Early on in this trip, I saw a little gecko in my room. A few days before I was to leave, I saw a really tiny one; it wasn’t much bigger than an inch. I enjoy having the geckos as roommates.
Returning to Seattle
As I age, I have had a harder time getting over jet lag. There is a 12 1/2 hour time difference between India and Seattle and switching day and night is not easy. Several years ago, I started spending a night in the Dubai airport hotel and that has helped. I added another “make it easier” step this time. My practice has been to take a taxi from Amritapuri to Trivandrum starting at 4:45 a.m. on the morning of my flight. That means that I need to get up around 3 a.m. This schedule has been stressful for me and I have had a hard time sleeping that last night.
I decided I would take a taxi to Kovalam, a town near Trivandrum, the night before I was to leave India. I left the ashram at 3 p.m. on the 22nd and arrived in Kovalam around 6. I was able to get a good night’s sleep in the Kovalam hotel before leaving for the airport at 6:30 the next morning. It really did make my leaving easier and I was rested when I boarded the plane. I plan to follow that schedule in the future.
Getting a good night’s sleep the night before I left India, and another one in Dubai helped a lot. The 14 1/2 hour flight between Dubai and Seattle still seemed endless and since I couldn’t sleep on the plane, I was exhausted when I got to Seattle. I hoped that my decisions would help the jet lag. And it did. For many years, it has taken 6 weeks to regain a normal sleep pattern. When I first return to Seattle, I don’t sleep for more than two hours at a time. As I am writing this (on October 3rd), I’m not back to “normal”, but I’ve slept five hours several times!
I was out in my beloved Greenbelt within an hour of returning to Seattle. I discovered that all of the trees and most of the shrubs we had planted had survived the drought.
I noticed that some of the vine maple leaves were already turning red. We have planted MANY vine maples throughout the site. I am eager to see what the planting areas look like as all of them start to turn red. I imagine they will be even more beautiful as they grow. I wonder what they will look like at this time next year.
To read the previous posts in this series click here.
Sreejit’s Friday reflections are getting more profound every week. This is my favorite of them all.
When I was 16, my guru gave me the name Sreejit and I immediately went to the courthouse to change it legally. Everyone in my school knew the reason for the change, so I didn’t have to explain it. When I joined the workforce, people would constantly ask me where my name came from and I wouldn’t want to go into the details because that would require a longer, deeper discussion. I hated the presumptuous question of, what is my real name, because that would require and even longer and even deeper discussion. They were asking a simple question and I developed a simple answer for it. “My Dad is black and my mother is Indian,” I would say. “Oh cool,” they would say. A simple question, a simple half-truth and we’d all move on.
As we call our guru, Amma, or mother, it wasn’t a full lie, but was…
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In a recent post, I talked about Swachhata Hi Seva, a cleanliness campaign that was initiated by India’s Prime MInister Narendra Modi. On September 15th, Amma’s Amritapuri ashram residents and visitors, as well as students from Amrita University, participated in Swachhata Hi Seva by cleaning up six kilometers of land in communities near the ashram. More than 1600 people, including Amma herself, participated in the clean-up.
I had never thought about what would be done with the trash that was picked up that day. In the West, we would have either dropped it off at some waste management facility or city employees would have picked it up. A few days after Swachhata Hi Seva, I started seeing notices from the ashram’s recycling depot asking for volunteers to help sort the litter. It was then that I remembered there was no infrastructure in India to deal with garbage (or at least none that I know of) and that all of the trash that had been collected during the ashram work party would have been brought back to the ashram. I decided to help for a while.
There were many processing tables set up on the beach, with approximately eight volunteers at each station. One bag after another was brought to us and the contents were dumped onto the table. This photo shows what the garbage looked like, although the items in many of the bags were dirtier. Some of the bags contained the biggest ants I’ve ever seen.
We sorted the trash and put the items into new bags. There were bags for hard objects, soft plastic, metal, shoes, plastic bottles, glass bottles and fabric. I was impressed by how fast we were able to sort each bag and be ready to move on to the next one.
When the bags of sorted items were full, they were moved to a separate area.
Next, someone sewed the bags shut.
After the bags were sewn, they were moved to another pile.
The sorting had already been going on for days. I don’t know how many bags of litter had been brought back to the ashram after the work party, but this photo shows how many bags still needed to be processed when I left the recycling depot that afternoon. The original pile must have been huge.
When I left the beach, I felt happy that I had participated in the work. A day or so later, I started to think about the situation again. What was going to happen with all of those bags? The ashram has had a recycling program for many years and I knew the recycling companies they sell to wouldn’t take dirty garbage.
Before I go on, let me say something about the ashram’s recycling program. There are recycling stations all over the ashram. Residents and visitors separate their garbage into many different bins- hard items, soft plastic, yard waste, fabric, metal, dirt and hair, sanitary items such as toilet paper, cardboard, paper, food waste, and soiled plastic.
The garbage bins are picked up daily and taken to the recycling depot. Volunteers do a second sorting there. They move any items that were put in the wrong bin and separate recyclables from non-recyclables. After the second sorting is done, the yard and food waste is taken to the composting facility and objects that need to be washed are washed.
Then, an even more detailed sorting process occurs. For example, there are at least 10 types of recyclable paper and many types of plastic and metal.
The day after I worked with the trash, I found myself sitting next to the person who is charge of the recycling depot. She confirmed that the more in depth sorting will need to be done and that the recycled items will have to be cleaned before they can be turned in. The thought of doing that work, in addition to all the regular ashram recycling, has got to be overwhelming; I imagine it will take all year. Maybe the next time I’m in Amritapuri, I will help them again.