I started helping my daughter Chaitanya in the Western cafe on August 19, my second day at the ashram. The first four days, I buttered the bread that would be cooked on the grill. On Thursday, August 23, I started doing a 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. shift calling out cafe orders as they are ready. When I am given the plates from the kitchen, I check that what is on the plate matches the ticket. I then call out the ticket number and make sure each person gets the correct order. Some of the time, I work at a leisurely pace, but at other times the orders come out fast and furious and I have a whole crowd of people standing in front of me. The job certainly gives me practice in staying focused.
There are so many more people involved in ordering, cooking and serving the food than when I started working at the cafe in the late 90’s or early 2000’s. In the “old” days people would line up outside the cafe window to order and pay for their food. I would be sitting inside the cafe, taking orders and cashiering through the window. The photo above was probably taken in the early 2000’s. The window where I used to sit is the one on the left. Over the years, much of the process has moved outside with the people who take the orders, the cashiers, and much more being in front of the cafe. The whole building was remodeled and enlarged two years ago.
A funny thing happened on Monday or Tuesday. When I sat down to eat my breakfast, two crows flew over to me and perched on nearby chairs. Sometimes, one was on the chair directly in front of me and sometimes he was one chair over. The other crow was always on the back of the chair to the south of him. I’m used to crows perching on various ledges above me but don’t remember them being at eye level before. These crows rarely looked at me directly, but they were on constant alert, looking one way and then another.
At one point, a friend carried her breakfast plate to the table and set it down in the care of someone not far from me. She had covered her food with another plate. The person who was watching her food stepped away briefly. In an instant, the second crow flew to the plate, knocked the cover off and started pecking at her breakfast. I spontaneously stood up to shoo him away. Without hesitation, the crow that had been sitting in front of me grabbed part of my omelet and flew away with it.
From my perspective, the crows were working as a team and I had been a sucker in a conspiracy! I laughed.
(The photos below are of a 24 hr/day call-in rescue hotline operated by Amrita University’s faculty and students.)
It is estimated that one million people are being housed in flood relief camps. Four hundred and twenty people have died or are missing, Ten thousand kilometers of roads have been destroyed or damaged and 50,000 homes have been “wiped out”.
The flood cleanup has been hampered because when people return to their homes they are finding poisonous snakes (including pythons and cobras), centipedes and scorpions in their cupboards and personal belongings. Some have even found crocodiles in their houses.
The Cochin International Airport is the world’s first solar powered airport. The solar panels, along with the runway, taxi bay, shops as well as other areas of the airport were submerged during the flood. The damage is estimated to be more than three million US dollars. The airport was due to reopen on August 26 but the reopening has since been moved to the 29th.
Safe in Amma’s ashram, I feel separate from the nightmare in which many of the people of Kerala are living. It was good for me to research and write this summary. If you feel inspired to donate to the relief effort you can do that at: Amma.org (US) or Amritapuri.org (India). I’m sure there are many other ways to donate, but those are the two places I am aware of.
Saturday is Onam, Kerala’s biggest festival. It is a harvest festival and a family festival. I’ve heard that this holiday is similar to Christmas in the West, although it is a secular holiday. The government has canceled Onam celebrations this year because of all the flooding in the state. I know that some of Amma’s centers in the other parts of the world will host programs that will include praying for the Kerala people and Kerala relief fundraising dinners. There will be an Onam event of some kind in Amritapuri, but I don’t know the schedule or the content. I will be reporting on it in the next post.
Is a New Day Dawning for Me?
On Tuesdays, Amma serves lunch to the devotees and visitors who are living in the ashram. Amma blesses each plate and then the plates are passed to everyone by long lines of devotees. When it is time to form the lines, I eagerly join in. Once everyone has a plate of food, we eat together.
This past Tuesday, after finishing my lunch, I saw that Kumuda was sitting in one of the first rows of chairs in the middle section of the auditorium. The lunch was over, but Amma hadn’t started giving darshan yet; she was playing with some children.
When I walked over to Kumuda, an old but familiar energy washed over me. I realized being that close to the front of the room felt like being with Amma before the crowds got big. In those days, I spent many hours sitting and watching Amma; I was mesmerized by her. It has been a long time since I have had that experience. I don’t remember when it ended, but the shift probably started around the time I became the tour coordinator for Amma’s Pacific Northwest programs. I was tour coordinator for about 15 years, and it has been at least five years since I gave up that role.
In the last decade, I have developed the habit of sitting in the back or side of the program halls and just watching Amma on the screens. My relationship with Amma has not been affected by my moving to the back of the room, but my relationship to the music is a different story. For years, I have longed for my mind and body to react to Amma’s bhajans (devotional songs) the way it did in my early years with her. At that time, it was as if my body, mind and soul was fully immersed in the music. I remember feeling like the music was feeding my soul.
I resolved to test out sitting closer when I am in Amma’s presence and during any other program that I attend. Tuesday evening, I sat in the fourth row of auditorium chairs during the bhajan program. On Wednesday, I sat cross-legged on the temple floor watching Amma give darshan and later did the same sitting next to the brahmacharinis (female monks) when they sang. Tears ran down my cheeks as I experienced the music, just like they used to in the early days.
[Note: I’m making a big deal about sitting cross-legged because I didn’t know that I could still do that, especially for a whole program. I discovered that my back felt better sitting that way than it does when I sit in a chair. Also, there is a large section for floor sitting in front of the chairs, so if I sit there I will be closer to the front of the room.]
On Thursday, I sat cross-legged on the floor during morning archana and did that again when the women residents sang their series of Sanskrit chants soon after darshan started. That same evening, I sat cross-legged on the floor when Swami Pranavamrita sang during darshan. Once again, I experienced the bhajans in a way that I hadn’t experienced for years. My mind was (relatively) silent and I experienced a combination of joy and peace.
Is a new day dawning for me? It sure feels like it is.
To read the previous posts in this series click here.
7 thoughts on “Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: August 19-23, 2018”
Aum Amriteshwariyai Namaha Karuna! Enjoying your adventures, stories and experiences with bhajans….just reading this made me remember the early days with Amma too!
PS Going to satsang today which will be a time to remember, pray for and donate to the flood victims!
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I wanted to get the update out before that event! I’m glad that my post brought your early experiences with Amma to mind.
This whole report is beautiful, delightful. Of course, I especially like the part about the clever crows!! You may remember, they are my favorite morning visitor. When I call them and put out their daily food, sometimes I watch them double-team the squirrels in similar ways to your description.
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There used to be a legal here that would sit up in the rafters and dive bombing for food. It was even more skilled at getting what it wanted than the crows. It was here for years and then it disappeared.
I’m sure you meant an “eagle” but I got a chuckle out of the image of a dive-bombing lawyer or judge! 😉
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Funny. I remember that I had to edit quite a bit of that reply because of AutoCorrect changes but I didn’t catch the legal.
Yea! Crows are friends of mine 🙂
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