In 2012, several members of our Seattle satsang went to Amma’s programs at the new MA Center Chicago; located in Elburn, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. They came back so excited and inspired that it really caught my attention. I used to go to most of the stops on Amma’s annual tour, but I had never been to the Chicago programs. In summer of 2015, I decided I would make visiting MA Center Chicago my top priority for the 2016 tour. Therefore, last Sunday I was on my way to Chicago for the June 27-29 programs.
The property used to be a Seventh Day Adventist college. When Amma’s organization purchased it, it had been empty for some time and the buildings needed a lot of restoration. The 145-acre property had all of the buildings that one would expect a college to have, as well as a large amount of farm land.
I saw the blue water tower, standing tall above the tree line, before I reached the Center. When I turned onto the property I drove through an area of houses that had originally been used for faculty. It was so beautiful that I became teary. I realized that this was a village of Amma devotees, the first in this country.
I marveled at what had been accomplished since the property was purchased in 2012. The program hall and the grounds were beautiful. They had recently finished restoring a building to use as a dining hall. The first afternoon, Br. Shantamrita offered a tour of the grounds and told us a lot about the land, what projects they have been working on, and their plans for the future. I was so happy to finally be at the Center, and to be there with Amma.
One of my major goals for the trip was to walk the land. The second day, I went to the gardens, the Echinacea field and some of the other places that had been pointed out to us on the tour. I will share information and photographs from that experience in a separate post.
When devotees are around Amma our weaknesses often surface so that we can see and work on them. That process was certainly front and center for me on this trip. While I loved being with Amma and I loved being at the Center, it was a very difficult experience for me. I have had ongoing back problems since February. While I am getting better, I still can’t sit or stand in one place for long. That made it difficult for me to enjoy listening to the music or sitting and watching Amma. It even hurt to stand and talk with friends. I would stay in the program hall for a while and then go outside and lay down under a tree.
Being in nature was calming and the view was beautiful, both during the daytime and at night. I took photographs as I was lying down and looking up.
I enjoyed that experience, but I also felt the pain of feeling restricted; i.e.not being able to do what I wanted to do. While part of my despair was due to not being in the hall with Amma as much as I would have liked, there was an emotional trigger even bigger than that one.
Amma’s programs are all run with volunteer labor. I was tour coordinator for her Pacific Northwest programs for 15 years. I stopped doing that when physical issues made it nearly impossible to continue. For one reason or another, I haven’t been able to work during Amma’s programs for several years. That restriction catapults me into very uncomfortable emotional baggage. Who am I if I can’t help? What are others thinking about me sitting or standing around and not doing anything? I can’t be counted to complete anything I sign up to do; besides what could I do that doesn’t involve sitting or standing? I felt useless.
I have long been aware that “over-doing” is a major issue for me and that learning to “be” is my challenge. But it is a lesson that I obviously still have major resistance to learning. Part of me believes that if I surrender and let go, the physical issues might resolve but instead I stay in resistance and keep myself in emotional pain. This is a big one for me and I hope to learn the lesson soon.
So during the Chicago programs, I vacillated between joy at being there and grief. I had Amma’s darshan (hug) twice. My time in her arms felt so good and it was very clear she wasn’t upset with me for not doing anything!
There were some funny times too. My daughter came to my hotel with me during one afternoon break. There was a Salvation Army store nearby and she asked to me to stop there so she could get some “new” shoes as the pair she was wearing was falling apart. She soon found some sturdy shoes and was very happy with them. As we left the store, she threw her old shoes into the trash. When we returned to the program later, as she got out of the car she looked down and saw that the heel from the new pair of shoes had separated from the sole and was lying on the ground in front of her. She took off the shoe to look at it and the entire sole came off, in three pieces! Her first reaction was shock, quickly followed by laughter. We both laughed and it still gives me a chuckle when I think about the look on her face and the absurdity of the situation. Luckily, she had a pair of sandals in her room.
The second incident occurred when a friend asked me if I would chant back up for archana. The archana is a series of mantras, followed by a response, that takes over an hour. I knew I couldn’t sit that long, and said so. Even though my response was true, it was also a good excuse. The complete truth is that I don’t ever like to sit still that long. Also, many years ago, I was asked to do the archana response at a program in Paris, soon after I got off my international flight. I said no then too, but the person who asked me convinced me to do it. I was so tired that I soon started nodding off. It was all I could do to stay upright. It was a mortifying experience and further increased my resistance to doing that particular job. I shared that story with my friend and she told me that had happened to her too. But in her case, she started dreaming, and in her dream she started to talk. Even though it was a dream, she talked out loud in reality too, right into the microphone! It certainly wasn’t funny to her at the time it occurred, but she had long since seen the humor in the situation. We shared a good laugh and I appreciated knowing that my own embarrassing moment could have been worse.
As the Chicago programs drew to a close, I felt grateful for having had time with Amma and with my family and friends. I also appreciated having realized my dream of being at MA Center Chicago. I felt sad about the things I couldn’t do, but at the same time was thankful that I am given the lessons that I need to learn and hoped I would learn this one sooner rather than later.
I know that I am making progress and that the lesson will be over when it is over.