Almost every year since January 1990, I have visited the Amritapuri ashram of Mata Amritanandamayi (who is more commonly referred to as Amma) in Kerala, India. Amma is an internationally known spiritual leader and humanitarian. My adult son (Sreejit) and daughter (Chaitanya) have lived in her ashram for many years so I am also blessed to be able to spend time with them when I come to India. I know from years of experience that my trip will be packed with learning and experiences. I look forward to sharing them with you.
Journey to India
I left Seattle on Thanksgiving Day this year. I was eager to be at my India “home” but dreaded the long trip. On Emirates flights, I am able to make the journey in 24 hours, but it is still grueling. The flight from Seattle to Dubai takes 14 hours; followed by a two hour layover in Dubai, a four hour flight to Trivandrum, an hour or more to get through immigration, customs and retrieving baggage, and then a two to three hour taxi ride to the ashram.
Last year, I was surprised and ecstatic when the airlines gave me an unexpected upgrade to business class for the 14 hour segment. That gift made my journey so much easier. That was the first time I had been upgraded in the 25 years I’ve been going to India, but for the last few months I found myself hoping it would happen again. I believe the best way to achieve a desire is to let go of it, but seemed unable to do that. I yearned to once again experience the luxury of lying down during an international flight. It was not to be however.
Something I really appreciated happened when I was waiting for my baggage in Trivandrum. My name was announced over the loud speaker and I was directed to come to the baggage counter. Once there, they handed me the Kindle I had left in the airplane. I had planned on reading during the flight but dosed off instead and had completely forgotten I had taken it out of my carry-on suitcase.
This scenario was even more remarkable when I compared it to something that had occurred this past summer in the United States. In that instance, I had also left an item on a plane. When I realized my error, I called the airline’s Lost and Found department and gave them my flight and seat number. I was told that the airlines only had three people to handle Lost and Found for the whole country and that I should keep calling back. They said it often took three months to know whether an item had been found. I called many times and finally gave up. And now, in India, the airport staff had tracked me down before I even left the airport. I left the airport feeling cared for and honored. It was such a good example of the kindness of the Emirates staff and the Indian people.
I’m home! I’m exhausted but content. Normally I get to the ashram before Amma returns from her fall European and U.S. tour, but this year the tour was over earlier than normal so she arrived in Amritapuri before me.
My taxi pulled into the ashram grounds at 7 a.m. After spending a short time visiting with my children, I generally start unpacking and washing the clothes and bedding that has been stored since I left the previous January. This time, when I unlocked my flat, I discovered Chaitanya had cleaned the room and even made the bed. Oh that bed looked so good after no solid sleep for 36 hours. I unpacked for a while and then decided I was too tired to be hand washing all of the laundry in buckets so I took a nap instead! That change in behavior was a first for me. I wonder how many other “firsts” there will be this year.
I always watch for changes that have occurred in the ashram since I was last here. On arrival, I noticed that the ground of the courtyard in front of the temple now is covered by large patio stones with grass separating them. It is quite beautiful and makes it much easier to transport luggage and other items from one place to another. I found the biggest change, however, in the huge auditorium. After a decade or more, there are now fans hanging from the ceiling, 35 of them! My eyes really opened in shock and delight when I saw them. Having the breeze during the evening bhajans (devotional singing) on my first night was wonderful.
One would think that Amma would take time to rest after returning from such a grueling tour, but of course that isn’t what happened. She came out in the afternoon and sang with us and then gave darshan (her form of blessing is a hug) to visitors who were staying only a short time. In the evening she came again for the bhajans. She sang so many of the old, beautiful Malayalam songs. I feel so blessed to be here!