Sunday December 7
Today was a public darshan day. Amma’s form of giving a blessing to those who come to her is to give them a hug. The crowds were larger than normal as she had been gone from the ashram since the beginning of October.
Amma started giving hugs at 11 a.m. and continued until 2:30 a.m. on Monday. Many groups sang bhajans during that time; it is quite a festive occasion. During the public darshan programs, those of us who are staying here have the opportunity to hand Amma prasad for a short period of time. The prasad that Amma gives those who come to her is a packet of sacred ash and a piece of candy. The prasad packets are bundled in groups of three and the prasad giver hands Amma the bundle. It is a good opportunity to practice concentration since Amma may need the prasad at any time; the range is probably between 10 seconds and 2 minutes. I do my best to never take my eyes off of her hand. I love this seva (volunteer work). Several years ago, my inner voice started spontaneously saying “home” every time I handed the prasad to her…..home, home, home. To me serving Amma in this way is home.
I came to the temple early. Just before the morning prayers were to begin, two Swami Ayyappa female devotees entered the hall and walked directly to the inner most part of the temple, where the Kali murti resides. The women pranamed (bowed) to Kali and then turned around, walked back through the temple and out into the courtyard. I have seen the Ayyappa male devotees do that type of “visit” before, but I’ve never even seen Ayyappa female devotees walking alone.
The minute I saw the women, dressed in the black clothes that are standard for Ayyappa devotees, my heart felt the familiar pain of longing that always happens when I see them. My tears began to pour.
For more than twenty-five years, I have cried whenever I see these men and women. Last summer, I decided to write a song to Amma as a way of sharing my experience with her. I look forward to singing it for her the next time she comes to the U.S. It will be a preamble to our satsang group singing a fast paced traditional Swami Ayyappa bhajan.
Needless to say, there is a lot more I could and have said about my experiences with the Swami Ayyappa devotees. To learn more read Overcoming Myself.
I went to the morning prayers at 4:45 a.m. and then at 7:30 headed to the worm composting area. Once we have separated all of the worms from a mound of compost and have put the finished compost in a bag, we create a new mound by dumping another bucket of the worm/compost material onto an upside down trash can lid. Imagine my surprise when this time a big white creature poured out of the bucket too. I had no idea what it was. It looked a bit like a giant caterpillar. I called someone from the food composting area over and asked him what it was. He picked it up and said it was a grub!
I have heard of grubs but I thought they were little. This one was about five inches long and at least an inch in diameter. The man from the food composting center commented that these grubs eat the roots of coconut trees. He took it outside the composting area and set it free.
In the past, at my home in Seattle, I have found big slugs in my indoor worm and outdoor worm bins. They thrive on the food scraps and rich compost. The super-rich compost of the Amritapuri worm beds must have been heaven for that grub. I’m glad they are not a “normal” visitor.
When I returned to my room, I looked up grubs on the internet and found that some do get really big. Here is a picture that portrays it well.
After a bit of time in my room, I went to work on the play costumes. Jani had nearly finished two dresses. They were exquisite.
The play is about St. Francis, so these costumes need to look like the attire from that era. This dress is for a wedding scene. There are about 60 people in the play, and some of them have three costume changes, so we will have to make somewhere between 80 and 90 costumes between now and Christmas Eve. Actually, now that I think about it, they need to be ready before Christmas Eve because there will be a dress rehearsal. Jani and Sumati went to town day before yesterday and bought the material. The costumes are going to be so beautiful, as usual.
On Tuesday’s, Amma serves lunch to the ashram residents and visitors. I could not believe how many people were there. The crowds are huge starting the week before Christmas, but never have been this large so early. I wonder what it will be like by Christmas. I have no idea how many people Amma was serving food to, but my guess, accurate or not, would be 5000.
After the lunch, I was exhausted, so I took a nap, something I haven’t done since the first few days I was here. When I woke up, I heard many people talking in the courtyard below my room and I could hear music coming from somewhere as well. It reminded me of times closer to Christmas when different groups are practicing Christmas music all over the ashram.
I decided to go downstairs and get some coconut water. It is quite an adjustment to change to new time zone, new water (filtered), new food and the heat. I felt like I was getting a cold, so I hoped that the coconut water would help.
One man staffs the coconut stand almost all the time. He is amazing. It takes a lot of strength to open coconuts hour after hour, day after day. He asked the man ahead of me where he was from and the man responded “Sweden.” The coconut man said something in another language but the Swedish man didn’t understand. He then opened a notebook, looked at his notes and tried again. This time the Swedish man understood. The coconut man was asking, in Swedish, “What do you want?” meaning did he want a drinking coconut or an eating one. Both of these people understood and spoke English, but the coconut man was trying to learn more languages. He apparently speaks 15 languages already.
I heard the music again and looked to see if I could find the source. I noticed there was a group of people on the roof of the new building behind the bookstore. As I looked closer, I saw my daughter Chaitanya and realized it was a play practice. (This year’s play is an even bigger production than normal. Play practices are occurring 12 hours a day, although the actors don’t have to go to all of them. This year the practices are being held in four different locations.)
I scurried up the stairs so I could watch. (Since I am sewing for the play I can go to play practices whenever I have time.) This play is about St. Francis of Assisi. There was one scene where Jesus was “speaking” to St. Francis. That scene was so touching and the music was so beautiful. Simultaneously, the birds were singing and light from the setting sun was coming through the trees. The combination touched me so much and tears started pouring down my cheeks.
When I told Chaitanya how much the song and the scene had moved me, she told me I had sent her the music. I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. Turns out that she had heard the tune on a YouTube video I had sent her. Almost all of the music for the plays is original, but occasionally she will use an existing tune and change the words to fit the play. This was one of those occasions. The original song I had sent her is “To Believe” by Jackie Evancho. Here is that amazing video:
1) For the last three years, my blood pressure has been more unstable than normal. It particularly spikes when I am around amplified music. That has been a problem for me at Amma’s programs, and even at our weekly meetings, because the music is amplified. I had a pair of musician’s ear plugs made and that helped a lot, but I still have had to sit some distance from the speakers or out of the area altogether. Amma’s music was how I originally connected to her and it has been a major part of my path. I have talked to Amma about my blood pressure spikes several times but last summer I went to her in tears saying that I felt like the music had been taken away from me. My sensitivity to sound started getting better almost immediately. For the last few months, I have even been able to go to our weekly gatherings and not wear the earplugs. I was still concerned about India though, since everything is louder here. I am happy to report that I have been able to sit in the main hall during the bhajans every day since I arrived, without earplugs, and my blood pressure hasn’t spiked at all. Hallelujah!
2) One of my goals for this trip is to lose some weight, without getting sick. I knew I could accomplish that is to stop eating the sweets I’ve been indulging in all too frequently in Seattle. That is easier said than done though since there is an incredible bakery here and desert options are offered at every meal. I felt drawn to eat breakfast in my room and the ashram rice and vegetable meal for lunch so I did so. Days later, I realized I wasn’t eating any sweets except the once a week cinnamon roll. And even more remarkably, I was not having any craving for sweets. I sure hope that continues!
There are certainly more stories I could tell but I’d say this is enough for one post. I hope you are all well and happy!
Here is a list of all of the posts from my 2014-15 trip to India. The most recent one is at the top.
- Living and Learning in Amritapuri- December 7-9
- Wordless Wednesday
- How I Spend My Days in Amritapuri (मम प्रतिदिनस्य)
- Life Lesson: Acknowledging My Arrogance
- Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India- December 5
- Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India- December 4
- My Journey to India