Overcoming Myself

Last Thursday morning brought another challenging prompt from Sreejit at The Seeker’s Dungeon. This time the prompt was to answer the following question: “Tell us about your experiences with overcoming yourself.”  I knew immediately what I would write about.

My post will actually contain three different stories. The first two are very different from each other and in the third the two come together, addressing a way I am working to “overcome myself.”

Story #1

Music has always been an important part of my spiritual path. During my teenage years, I loved singing in the church bus when we traveled from place to place.  I don’t remember where we were going, I just remember the singing!  And I first felt connected to Amma because of her music.

Amma’s songs, which are called bhajans, are generally sung in call-response fashion, meaning a leader sings a line and the group repeats it.  I love to lead bhajans in our Seattle Amma group. The problem is I have a MAJOR issue with rhythm.  It is so hard for me to find and/or hold on to the beat. My children have so much musical talent and I know that I have some myself, because it comes out from time to time, but it is buried deep, under a lifetime of negative programing.

I’ve done so many things to help open up that part of me. One of the first remedies I tried was to learn how to play the tabla, a type of Indian drum. I took lessons for some time, but eventually stopped since I just wasn’t getting it.  During the same period, I was also playing the harmonium, an instrument that has a piano type keyboard and bellows. Both of these endeavors helped my rhythm, but not enough to make a significant difference.

Next, I decided to ask my son Sreejit to teach me how to play the instruments. He was a teenager at the time and he got so frustrated with me. His ability comes naturally, so he couldn’t understand why I couldn’t do what he asked me to do. We would both get upset and eventually one of us would leave in a huff. At one point, I remember him  saying “Just do it!” and I responded “If I could just do it, I wouldn’t be asking you to teach me!”

For several years, I participated in rhythm workshops called TaKeTiNa. TaKeTiNa was developed by Reinhard Flatischler in 1970 as a way to help people open up the rhythm that is inside of each of us.  Reinhard and his wife Cornelia, who live in Austria, have conducted workshops and teacher trainings in Europe, Australia, and the US  for more than twenty years. That process helped me tremendously, but after three or four years the couple began to focus primarily on training teachers to teach the process rather than public workshops.

My rhythm problem becomes an even bigger problem when I am stressed. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed significant blood pressure problems. When I’m stressed, my blood pressure spikes. For the last few years, I’ve rarely led bhajans, mainly due to the spikes.

I decided to start leading them again recently, but I’m so out of practice.  As a result, my rhythm is once again a big issue.  During last night’s meeting I completely botched the first third of the song I was leading.

My will is there, but I have so many hurdles to conquer. This challenge has certainly given me a great deal of opportunity over the years to work on letting go of my ego. I’ve even wondered if I’m supposed stop leading bhajans altogether, but I don’t think so. I believe it is a lesson in perseverance and patience.  I know I will need to find a way to let go of the tension I feel in order to let the music within me flow.

Story #2

Each January, millions of Lord Ayyappan devotees take a 41 day pilgrimage to Sabarimala, India. They are going to the Sree Dharma Sastha Temple where on January 14 of each year, a star called Makara Jyoti becomes visible from the temple. The pilgrims believe that the star is Lord Ayyappan, son of Shiva and Vishnu (in the form of Mohini), coming to bless them.

Wikipedia says that during those 41 days, the pilgrims are expected to “refrain from non-vegetarian food of any kind (except dairy), alcohol and tobacco, engaging in sex, using foul language, hair-cut, shaving and even trimming the nails. They are expected to bath twice in a day, visit the local temples regularly and only wear plain black or blue colored traditional clothing. Saffron colored dresses are worn by Sanysis (monks) who have renunciated material life.”

Many of the pilgrims stop by Amma’s Amritapuri ashram on their way to Sabarimala. They generally walk in and out of the ashram in single file, wearing black shirts, black dhoties (the skirt South Indian men often wear), black towels over their shoulders and special packs on their heads.

Even on my first trip to Amritapuri, my eyes had filled with tears whenever I saw these pilgrims. On my third trip, my feelings became even more intense. Whenever I saw an Ayyappa group I would burst into tears. One day on that trip when I heard someone sing an Ayyappa song, I experienced despair so deep I ended up in my room dry heaving.

I have been going to Amma’s ashram in India for more than 25 years. Even to this day, whenever I see an Ayyappa Swami, I feel the pain of longing in my heart and begin to cry. In the early years I wanted to go with them, but couldn’t since females between 10 and 50 years-of-age are not permitted to participate. Now I could go on the pilgrimage, but have no desire to.

I have always assumed my tears were due to some past life experience. What other explanation could there be? I’ve thought about asking Amma, but she doesn’t usually talk about past lives, so I haven’t taken my questions to her.

I make dolls which are sold at Amma’s bookstore during the foreign tours, so I’ve fantasized about making a doll of an Ayyappa pilgrim and taking it to Amma when I go for darshan. (Amma’s form of darshan/blessing is hugging those who come to her)  I can imagine the quizzical look that would probably come across her face if I did that, since clearly this would not be a doll we would sell at the bookstore. I think it would be fun to do, but I haven’t made one yet. I believe I will know when or if the time is right.

There are many songs about the Ayyappa pilgrims. My favorite is Manyukal Mutum. Here is a partial translation:

Mist covers the sky above and the land through which the Pampa River flows below. We come through the forests to see you, and the words “Swamiye Ayyappo” trickle through our lips……… Lord, you who gracefully abide on a mountain far away, we come in search of you, we come in search of you……… A thousand lamps! A thousand lamps shine together on the holy shores of the Pampa River. This is indeed a sacred land, a holy land.

Story #3

Last month, I attended Amma’s programs in Toronto. At one point during the last night of her visit, I was sitting in the back of the room in a meditative state. I was aware that someone sat down beside me. I looked to my left and saw that an Indian man dressed completely in black was sitting there. I knew it was highly unlikely he was an Ayyappa devotee, but it didn’t matter. I burst into tears, my heart exploding with the familiar grief.

As I cried, a whole string of insights came to me. During my early years with Amma, I had written half a dozen songs.  Now, I “knew” that I would be writing a song about the grief I feel when I see the Ayyappa Swamis, that I would teach it to other Amma devotees, and that we would sing it for Amma when she comes to Seattle next May.  I also “knew” I would make the doll I had fantasized about making and would give it to Amma when I went for darshan after singing the song. I still felt the grief that was triggered when I saw the man in black sitting next to me, but I was also excited about my new plan.

A week after leaving Toronto, I took the trip to the Grand Tetons which I have described in an earlier post. We drove back to Seattle after leaving the Tetons.  At one point, I decided to start writing my Ayyappa song. The words came quickly and soon I had a first draft complete. And then the tune “came” into my head. Later in the day, I sang the early version of the song to my daughter.

Less than two weeks later, I attended a Sanskrit intensive in Olympia, Washington. The traffic was horrible and the drive that would normally take one hour, took three. Part way there, I decided to practice the new song.  In the process, it became more and more refined. At one point, I knew the tune was complete, but needed to look up more information about the Ayyappas in order to finish the lyrics.  Later, after a short period of exploration, I had the remaining words!

These are the lyrics:

Amma, why do I cry when I see the Ayyappa Swamis? (Sung by me)

Swamiye Ayyappo, Swamiye Ayyappo (Everyone sings together quietly)

Twenty five years and my heart still breaks when they pass me by. (Sung by me)

Swamiye Ayyappo, Swamiye Ayyappo (Everyone sings together quietly)

Did I once dress in black, with a pack on my head, did I walk to Sabarimala? (Sung by me)

Did I fast and  pray, did I l see the thousand lamps, did I bathe in the Pampa River? (Sung by me)

Amma, why do I cry when I see the Ayyappa Swamis? (Sung by me)

Swamiye Ayyappo, Swamiye Ayyappo (Everyone sings together quietly)

Twenty five years and my heart still breaks when they pass me by (Sung by me)

Swamiye Ayyappo, Swamiye Ayyappo, Swamiye Ayyappoooooooooooo (Everyone sings together quietly)

My song will be used as the introduction to another song.  Once I’ve finished my piece, the whole group will move immediately into singing Manyukal Mutum, the bhajan I mentioned in Story #1 above. It is a fast and boisterous Ayyappa song.  The combination should be fun.

The  process of learning my song and singing it for Amma will be a process of “overcoming myself.”  I will have to learn to stay in rhythm even when I have performance anxiety.  Today I am going to take the risk of sharing it with those of you who are reading my post.  (I don’t know if I will end up singing the song slow or fast, but the version I will share with you is fast.)

Recording it in the quiet of my home, I’m able to get the rhythm reasonably right, but I know it isn’t perfect. With Grace, practice, and the help of other devotees, I will sing it for Amma next May, perfect or not!



44 thoughts on “Overcoming Myself

  1. Beautiful – the blog and your song. And, rhythm is seems just right to me..Can’t wait to see you perform for Amma 🙂


    1. My voice is stronger if I play the harmonium myself but my rhythm is better if I don’t. Plus I usually botch the harmonium if I do both. So generally I have someone else play for me so I can focus on my singing. I’ve never been able to do more than play the melody on the harmonium anyway.


  2. Your song and your singing are lovely. I think your song gets it just right when it asks the questions you don’t have answers to and are joined in response by pilgrims on a journey with you. In overcoming yourself you seem to have moved into accepting your own self.


  3. Thank you for sharing your experience, Karuna. It is so great to watch you express your feelings through your songs. Very inspiring. My life is enriched knowing you…


    1. What wonderful words you’ve said to me. Thanks so much for commenting on my post. And thanks also for supporting me as I work on these rhythm issues year after year.


    1. I look forward to learning more about the parallels. Your Amma hug is certainly one of them.

      Are you going to answer this week’s Dungeon Prompt? That is also a way I learn more about you! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I read all the last two weeks entries, and I just haven’t found the time this week. Right now I am reading the 100 plus blogs I follow, and at present reading your again to comment on the parallels. 😀

        Are you Sreejits mom?


      2. Wow…. I don’t know how you can keep up with that many blogs. I can’t even keep up with the ones I follow and my number is probably less than half of yours!

        Yes, I’m Sreejit’s mom!

        I look forward to hearing about the parallels you’ve identified…….

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Okay I had to get a notepad to note all the parallels.
        Story #1
        The problem is I have a MAJOR issue with rhythm. It is so hard for me to find and/or hold on to the beat.
        Me, I have no rhythm.
        Story #2
        One day on that trip when I heard someone sing an Ayyappa song, I experienced despair so deep I ended up in my room dry heaving.
        I have just written about this sort of same sensation in my last post, memories, music, smells, and films of Indian culture evoke that response in me. Just yesterday I was crying so hard watching The Namesake, I could hardly catch my breath, but sometimes it is shear bliss. I just wrote about it in my last post.
        I have always assumed my tears were due to some past life experience. What other explanation could there be?
        I know mine are, you can explore these lives without asking your beautiful guru. Trust me it’s easy.
        Story #3
        All as applies to the instantaneous emotional response. I think you read my past, and I even write about parallels her.
        Except I do not have children, so no son named Sreejit. 😉


        Liked by 1 person

      4. In my early years with Amma, I experienced deep grief whenever they sang a Krishna bhajan. Sometimes I didn’t know what the songs were about, but when I looked them up, if they made cry, they were almost always related to Krishna.

        I also used to have so much grief whenever it was time for me to leave India (I go every year.)

        Have you been to India yet?

        Liked by 1 person

  4. You song is beautiful and most touching Karuna – delicate and sensitive. I can see why Sreejit said to you ‘just do it!’ all those years ago; had he perhaps intuited that your thinking at that moment had gotten in the way of your rhythmic sense? You appear to have an innate musical sensibility after all.

    Hariod. ❤

    [Footnote: 'did I go to Sabarimala' – you actually sang 'did I walk to Sabarimala’]


    1. Thanks for making such a nice comment. And thanks also for pointing out the discrepancy. The song originally said “did I go to Sabarimala” but I changed it to “did I walk to Sabarimala” since that would be more accurate. I will update the lyrics!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Karuna, I am confident you will overcome the challenges. Thanks you for sharing. Following your blog is a continuous learning experience. And, I am so appreciative for the introduction to a new culture, traditions, spiritual teachings, and music. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for sharing your story. As I read it, I found myself appreciating the idea of having no sense of rhythm. I am so bound to my sense of rhythm, I find that I must use rhythm-less music to help me unwind. Anything percussive is too stimulating. I welcome any suggestions that you might offer for rhythmless music to add to my collection.

    I found rhythm especially hard to overcome when I tried singing a cappella. The melody pauses are filled with the sound of accompaniments in my head, but as an acapella singer, I had to figure out how to keep the attention of my audience during those silences.

    What a treat, that you shared your song with us! Thank you! I greatly enjoyed the softness of your voice. My body gently rocked with your steady rhythm. I felt the passion that you described.


    1. Thanks so much for your words. I am so glad you enjoyed my song and that your body reacted that way….. and that you felt my passion! Reading this was a really nice way to begin my day.

      I don’t know any rhythm-less music so I can’t help there!

      What you describe in your experience with rhythm reminds me of something that happened one year in a TaKeTiNa workshop. There was a man who was upset because Reinhard wouldn’t count the beat. The whole process is about finding the rhythm inside rather than counting or using some other technique so he refuses to do that. He also creates situations that overwhelm the mind and the mind eventually gives up and the rhythm comes naturally.

      In this instance I remember he said, “If you want me to count, I will count.” And with the next exercise he started counting 10, 4, 8, 2, 6 etc.!

      The miracle that happens in the process of the workshop is that EVERYONE gets it. It is a spiritual experience actually, because the mind becomes quiet. You also learn to stop fearing “falling out” of rhythm and being able to get “back in” fairly quickly. It is the fear that is one of our biggest blocks. And we learn no one can do it perfectly no matter how many workshops we’ve gone to, so it is an opportunity to let go of that negative self judgment too.

      I miss TaKeTiNa workshops. I hope to go back someday! I was able to get to such places of peace using that modality. It was like a meditation.


      1. I am laughing at “10, 4, 8, 2, 6 etc.”! That sounds like when someone says random numbers when I’m counting. Great story!

        I love workshops. They are great times to let go of everyday concerns and perspectives, and step outside of ourselves into new “shoes”. I have had trouble worrying about keeping those shoes on my feet, so to speak, at the end of each workshop, but I have gotten better about that.

        I am glad that I contributed to the beginning of your day. I hope you enjoy a time of meditative peace today.


    1. I was happy with this recording. My rhythm was not perfect but it was very close to the way it is supposed to be. The challenge will be to keep it that way when I’m nervous because I’m singing for a lot of people!

      I’m glad you liked my song! Thanks for telling me so.


  7. Karuna,this is beautiful and you have shared so much of “you”. Sreejit has that affect on us all:) The recording is stunning…your voice is moving and made me weep. Brava, Karuna:) I wish we would have had one more day together to talk about our impressions…so much unsaid.


    1. Wow… it made you cry. That means a lot to me.

      I wish we had had more time in Toronto too. Hopefully that will happen in the future. If you ever decide to come to India we will have plenty of time to talk! 🙂


      1. I don`t think I could ever afford to go to India…still working to pay off debts and then find a small studio apartment for when I retire…no pension, no assets…not complaining but I still have to live and eat a little:) so I have to plan to have a place to stay


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