The Lessons Begin
After checking in at the International Office, I took my suitcases to my flat (apartment). Then, I walked to the café to find my son Sreejit. He wasn’t there, but a friend phoned him to let him know I had arrived. I hadn’t been with him since January so it was so good to see him. We walked to my room and I became Santa Claus for the first time on this trip, by giving him the supplies and treats I had brought for him.
Being around Amma, or in her ashram, guarantees an increase in the frequency of life’s lessons. They often provide the opportunity to practice behaviors such as flexibility, equanimity and letting go. I received my first such challenge right away.
I will give you a little back story first. There is a long shelf that is located above the windows in my flat. Soon after I moved in, Akshay installed a wood door on that shelf so I could lock-up my belongings when I returned to the U.S. (When I am gone, the space is rented out to ashram visitors.) Eight years later, it became obvious that there were termites in the wood. The ashram is in the tropics, so it is not surprising that would occur. Last year, it became obvious that the structure wasn’t going to last much longer, but we thought it had another year. The day before I was to leave for the U.S., as Sreejit was putting my belongings on the shelf, the whole frame collapsed on him. It shocked him, and me, but thankfully he wasn’t hurt.
Not having that storage area meant there was no way for me to lock up my possessions while I was gone. I had two small trunks that could be locked, but my buckets, trash bins, laundry filter, cleaning supplies, and standing desk would be left unprotected. There was nothing I could do other than put everything in an unlocked storage area in the kitchen. While it was a risk, it seemed a reasonable one. The shelf was very high and not very visible. It seemed to me that the items, for the most part, were too bulky to easily take. Also, everything was prominently marked with my room number.
Now back to my present-day story! After I gave Sreejit his supplies, he climbed up to the shelf and handed down the items I had stored. I was shocked to discover that even though the trunks and the standing desk were fine, everything else was gone. I couldn’t believe it. It was certainly an opportunity to practice flexibility, equanimity and letting go.
I spent a good part of the day cleaning my room, putting clothes and supplies on my shelves, replacing some of the missing supplies, and ordering a SIM card for my phone. I was told to come back the next day to fill out the paperwork to renew the MTS Wi-Fi Homespot that will give me internet access.
I was dismayed to be told that since the next day was Sunday and there would be an all country strike (protesting the currency fiasco) on Monday, I would be unable to get my SIM card until Wednesday. The the earliest I would get the Wi-Fi Hotspot would be Friday and even that wasn’t guaranteed. That meant I couldn’t read or send emails, publish or read blog posts, respond to blog comments, or check CNN for the latest political developments for quite a while. I knew being disconnected from media would be good for me, but it wasn’t going to be easy. This was a big, and unwelcome opportunity for me to practice flexibility, equanimity, and letting go.
When I arrived at the ashram, Amma was on her Autumn Tour in the United States. She completed her Michigan programs on Thanksgiving, the day I departed for India, and then went on to San Jose, California for five days of programs there. I think that Amma will return to Amritapuri on December 2nd or 3rd.
I enjoy coming to the ashram before Amma gets here since it is nice to be able to recover from the trip when the ashram is quiet. Once Amma returns, people begin pouring in and the sense of quiet is gone. (I’m laughing. With all the construction, it is never truly quiet. As I am editing this post, someone is hammering rebar in the courtyard below my window!)
It is also fun to be at the ashram when everyone is bustling around cleaning, painting and getting ready for Amma’s return. There is so much anticipation since the residents haven’t seen her since the beginning of October.
I am very excited that I will be seeing Amma soon.
It is not unusual for me to sleep my first night in India, but the second night, and many nights thereafter, are usually a different story. My pattern is to wake up after two hours of sleep and not be able to fall asleep again. This time, I slept well my first two nights at the ashram. It remains to be seen if that will continue, but I feel hopeful that I am not going to have the normal two to three weeks of feeling exhausted. What a difference a daytime flight from the U.S., combined with a layover in Dubai, has made.
One of the benefits of jet lag is that it makes going to the morning prayers (archana) that begin at 4:50 a.m. easier. As I sat in the temple my first morning, it was so wonderful to be amidst the familiar sights, smells and sounds.
Finishing my room set-up and another lesson
I spent a good part of my first two days, cleaning and setting up my room. I also washed the clothes that had been stored for a year in the trunk. I use three buckets, one for washing and two for rinsing. When I’m finished, I take the clothes to the 17th story of the building I live in, and hang them on clothes lines. I love watching the wind whip the laundry around. Between the wind and the hot sun, it doesn’t take long for the laundry to dry here, and there is no need for an iron since most of the wrinkles disappear as the clothes dry. (Irons can’t be used in these flats anyway. They take so much electricity that the fuse for the entire floor would blow out.)
In the afternoon of the second day, I had another opportunity to practice equanimity when construction workers started making concrete in the courtyard below my room. The level of noise was indescribable. I had visions of living with that racket for the next seven weeks; it would have been a nightmare. Luckily, that scenario does not appear likely. The noise lasted about an hour and afterwards the concrete-making machine was taken away.
Changes I’ve noticed so far
There was construction work occurring at the ashram when I first came here in 1990; and it has never stopped. In the old days, the construction noise went throughout the night. Thankfully that stopped years ago.
It is always interesting to see what improvements have been made since my last visit. So far, I have noticed:
There is a new building behind the Amrita Darshan building where I live. The front side of that building will hold the Ayurvedic store and the ashram bookstore. Above it will be new flats. The main supply store (referred to as the Indian store) was moved to the backside of the new building the day before I arrived. It is very nice and has much more room than in the old store.
The new International Office is now open. It is located close to the north gate. The office for renting bedding and other supplies is also in that building. I suspect the top floor contains flats, since that seems to be the pattern for new buildings nowadays.
A few days ago, they changed the big photos of Amma on the sides of the auditorium stage. The new ones are stunning. One is a picture of Amma meditating when she was young and the other is one of her sitting in front of a beautiful forest and next to an intriguing tree trunk. I was mesmerized by both photos.
I haven’t seen it but I’ve heard they are building rooms in the green roof part of the temple. They have been building flats continuously for years, but they never catch up to the demand. I’ve heard that there is still a two to three year wait to purchase a flat.
Last night, I went to fill my water bottle from the water station closest to my flat. I became disoriented when I realized the water station was gone and there was another new building in that area. Originally, a small guest house stood there. I stayed in that guest house for a few days during my first visit to the ashram, in January of 1990. Even in those days, the bottom part of that building housed a print shop. The building had been expanded over the years, but now it is almost an entirely new building. The print shop is still on the first floor but it is huge even in comparison to the one that was there last year.
The devotee in the room next to me takes care of the two ashram dogs. One of them stays in her room most of the time, the other one is generally free to come and go. That dog’s name is Bhakti. I frequently come home to find Bhakti laying in front of my door. (She is doing that in the photo above.) The tile must feel cool on a hot day.
Last year, I was fascinated to watch her wait for the elevator at the bottom floor. When the elevator arrived, she walked onto it, and somehow, she knew exactly when get off.
This year, there is a new twist. In the past, she just walked down the stairs whenever she wanted to wander, and she still does that most of the time. However, she apparently has trained a few people to call the elevator for her. I was told that she would stand in front of them until they asked what she wanted. She refused food they offered her and indicated in some way that she wanted them to follow her. When they did, she guided them to the elevator. In time, they realized she wanted to go down, so they pressed the button. When the elevator door opened, Bhakti got on. Mission accomplished!
To read the rest of the posts in this series click here.