I spent a good part of my first days at the ashram setting up my room. That included unpacking the suitcase I brought from Seattle and the items in the small trunks I keep here year round. I washed the clothes from the trunks in buckets. That task was made considerably harder since I couldn’t wring out the clothes with only one hand, my non-dominant hand at that. I knew I could choose to use a laundry service, but clothes dry so fast here that I prefer to do it myself. Luckily, I was in India not Seattle. I could press the items on the washing stone in my bathroom and get out a lot of the excess water. And in India, the clothes and towels would drip dry in a reasonable amount of time even though they were not rung out properly.
The morning of my first day I ordered a SIM card for my phone. I was surprised to discover I could buy a plan that included the SIM card and 1GB of data a day for 84 days for 450 rupees! Four hundred and fifty rupees is equivalent to $7.14. I sure wish we could get these prices in the U.S.
At the end of my last visit to Amritapuri, I loaned my internet stick to my daughter. She added data to it as necessary during my absence so it stayed active during the year. As a result, I had immediate access to internet, rather than have to go through the application process. Sometimes it takes a week to get the SIM card and activate the internet stick. This time I didn’t have to wait at all for internet access and it took only about 36 hours to get the SIM card. Once I had the SIM card, I discovered that using the Personal Hotspot on my iPhone gave me faster internet speed than the internet stick!
As always there are so many changes to see, even though I was here in January. I probably will have not seen them all by the time I leave. Construction has been endless since I first came here in 1990.
Since January, the Western café has been in a temporary structure while the new café is being constructed. They will be moving into the new café in a few weeks.
There are many changes related to security. I will mention a few of them. New structures are being built in the front of the ashram where visitors will register for the day. Residents, flat owners, and visitors staying more than 30 days will be given photo ID badges. Even the Swamis are wearing them! Visitors who are staying less than 30 days will use the receipt they are given when they check in as their form of ID. The auditorium is still open air in that it doesn’t have walls but now has white railings with some gold colored ornamentation around it.
Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday are public darshan days at the ashram. It is on those days that people come for Amma’s blessing in the form of a motherly hug. She has hugged more than 37 million people worldwide. Darshan days last from 11:00 a.m. until around midnight. At most, Amma takes a ten minute break during that time.
On Saturday night, I eagerly awaited my hug. I was so tired that I was nodding off for hours as I waited for the international token numbers to start but it was of course well worth the wait. I had a fun and meaningful time with Amma.
Earlier that day I had been asked to help with the prasad queue. Amma hands each person that comes to her a packet of blessed ash and a piece of candy. Devotees who want to hand her the packets Amma will give out form a queue. Normally, I love to hand her prasad, but with a broken wrist, I couldn’t do it fast enough, and besides, I would have trouble standing when my time was up, so that seva (volunteer work) wasn’t possible for me. When someone asked me to be the person who makes sure the prasad giver line near Amma stays full by gesturing the people in the area of the auditorium where they wait for their turn, I eagerly said yes. I have felt drawn to that seva in the past but have never done it. It gave me time to be on the stage with Amma, and the experience of being useful. I loved doing it so will find out how to sign up for other shifts.
Monday and Friday evenings Amma comes to the beach to meditate with us and have a question and answer session. I forgot about it on Friday night but went to the question and answer part last night. I love being with Amma near the sights and sounds of the beach.
I picked the dates I would come to the ashram based on the timing of the festivals. I really wanted to be here for Krishna’s birthday, Ganesh’s celebration and Onam, a family festival in Kerala. I knew there were multiple dates that Krishna’s birthday is celebrated in India so I googled Krishna Jayanthi, Kerala and found out it was August 14. As August 14 drew near, there were no signs of the big celebration. As I remembered it, the alternate date was after I would leave India, so I was bummed. Later that night, I was excited to learn that the celebration will occur on September 12, days before I leave. I look forward to sharing all three of those events with you.
When I am in India, I like to work in the gardens and to help Chaitanya in the café. I also work on the GreenFriends newsletter we publish in Seattle each month and write for this blog. Having the broken wrist has really put a dent in my ability to do some of those things. Chaitanya had hoped I could hand out the finished orders in the cafe but I would need to have the ability to move fast, to work with both hands, and to carry items having some weight. I can’t do any of those things so that job was out.
When people finish their meals, they wash and dry their dishes and then put them in a big bucket. The dishes are then dried a second time so no water remains on the plates. I discovered that I could slowly dry dishes for a short time, so have done some of that. Yesterday I tried buttering the bread that would be used for grilled cheese sandwiches and the buns that would be used for vege-burgers and omelet sandwiches. I was able to butter about a dozen buns but was slower than molasses. Those buns would probably be used in less than fifteen minutes. Buttering the bread didn’t work at all.
So far, I have been focusing on healing and getting over jet lag. I slept a lot yesterday so maybe I will be more awake today. I hope to go visit the garden that I worked in last year today. I can at least see it!
Greenbelt restoration work
Under normal circumstances, I would probably be thinking a lot about our Greenbelt restoration work back in Seattle. Part of me would want to be there working to turn that property back into a healthy forest. Since I wouldn’t be able to do that work even if I was there, I notice that it has been easier for me to be fully here.
We will be receiving 400 trees, shrubs and ground covers to plant on that property in the fall so I hope that Ananya, the Forest Steward that is my partner in this project, and I will be able to do some long-distance planning while I am here. The photo above shows an area where a potential design for one segment has been laid out. The ferns in that area have grown after having been buried under blackberry vines for 30-50 years.
As I arrived in the ashram on Friday, it became very windy, and chilly. That seemed unusual to me. Later in the day someone else commented that they had never seen it so windy unless it was raining. It was chilly enough that in the evening I put on my jacket! The next two days were warmer. For me, yesterday qualified as HOT.
The forecast had called for rain every day, but there hasn’t been any rain since I’ve been here, at least not during my waking hours.
To view the previous posts in this series click here.