Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 11 to 20, 2018

 

I love doing forest restoration work in the Greenbelt so much that it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to leave Seattle. As the time approached for my December/January visit to Amritapuri, I felt an increased pull to stay in Seattle. In the days before my departure, I wrote two or three people and said I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to India.

An hour before I was to leave the house for the airport, I decided to take some last minute Greenbelt photos for a post I would write when I got to India. I planned to take the pictures from the Hanford Stairs so I wore my sandals. When I arrived at the area I wanted to photograph, I decided to take two steps off of the stairs. It was on a hill but it was a spot where I had walked many times during the previous work party. What I didn’t take into account was that it had rained all week.

The instant I stepped onto the ground, I slipped in the mud and landed on my thumb. I couldn’t believe I had hurt myself again, and this time it was right before I left for India. I could move my thumb without pain so I knew I hadn’t broken anything, but I was definitely hurt… and my pants were covered with mud.

This was clearly another lesson in slowing down, staying conscious, and wearing appropriate footwear, but it also made me abundantly aware that I did want to go to India. I would miss being in the Greenbelt, but I wanted to visit my other home. Now.

asrham-07

Before long, I was at the airport, and at 4:30 p.m. we boarded the airplane. After a 14 hour flight to Dubai, a 2 hour layover, a 4 hour flight to Trivandrum, 1 1/2 hours going through immigration and collecting my baggage, and a 2 hour taxi ride, I was at Amma’s ashram in Amritapuri.

Today is my 8th day in Amritapuri. To say my days have been full is an understatement. When I started listing what I’ve done since I’ve been here, I was surprised at the length of the list. It included projects, seva, self-care activities, classes and keeping up with challenges as they came.

My Activities list

Set up my room and washed the clothes I store in India… and the ones I wore on the trip
Daily seva (volunteer work) in the café from 7:15- 8 a.m. and 4-6 p.m.
Meals, usually with friends
Tai Chi class 8:45-9:45
Recover from jet lag and a 13 1/2 hour time change- slept or rested whenever I needed to
Coordinated the creation of January’s PNW GreenFriends Newsletter and wrote articles for it
Wrote a Pacific Northwest Tree Planting report for the national Amma e-news
Ordered bare root plants for the Greenbelt Restoration Project
Caught up on writing a backlog of blog posts
Kept current with US political events
Attended evening bhajans (devotional singing)

Healing

My hand swelled up significantly on the plane. Thankfully, once I arrived at the ashram, the swelling began to dissipate. Today, my thumb and hand are almost back to normal. My thumb is still a little sore and there are some things I can’t do fully, but the healing process is progressing steadily.

I have been dealing with shoulder, rib and shoulder blade issues for months. The physical therapy I have done recently has helped a lot. I think the Tai Chi classes I have taken at home and in Amritapuri have helped too.

Darshan with Amma

I could have put darshan on the activity list above, but it is so important to me that I decided it belonged in a category of its own. I’ve gone for Amma’s hug twice since I’ve been here. As always, that experience was “home” to me. She was so gentle. The first time was the day I arrived at the ashram. As I melted into her, I could feel the agitation and exhaustion in my body lessen and a sense of well-being spread through me. The second time, Amma held me as she talked and laughed with the people who were standing near her. Having her laugh while she holds me may be my favorite kind of darshan.

Christmas activities

There will be no Christmas Eve play this year; there will be a variety of performances instead. I was asked to be part of a choir. Practice for the song we will be singing started today. I am very excited about being part this activity. I will have a lot to say about it after Christmas, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise so am not going to say any more now.

Leelas

Leela is a Sanskrit word that is often defined as “God’s play”. I also see it as a word that describes challenges that come so frequently that it leaves one shaking their head wondering what is going on. Leelas are common in my life but their frequency increases when I am around Amma. The one that come to my mind now is the frequency at which things in my room seem to disappear. I’m used to having trouble finding things at home, but I’m always surprised about how things can disappear in a room this small. Yesterday, I couldn’t find my shampoo. I searched high and low but eventually gave up and used bar soap. Much later in the day, I found the shampoo under an upside-down bucket in the bathroom. I still haven’t found my tape measure and a variety of other things.

Prasad Giving and Prasad Assist

Two of the activities I enjoy doing here are Prasad Giving (Handing Amma the packet of ash and the piece of candy she gives each person that comes to her for a hug. Prasad Assist is making sure that the people who are giving Amma the prasad know how to do it, keeping  the line of people waiting to hand her the prasad stays full, and letting each individual know when it is time for them to move from the waiting area to the area where Amma is greeting people. I haven’t done either of those activities so far. I plan to join the prasad giving line during the next darshan day. If I do the Prasad Assist seva on this trip it will be sometime after the Christmas play.

Activities of Daily Living

Activities of daily living (laundry, bathing, etc.) usually takes longer than if I was in Seattle. I wash my clothes using three buckets; one for washing the clothes and two for rinsing. I then hang the clothes on clothes lines that are located on a nearby balcony. It always amazes me how fast the clothes dry in India. I love it!

There is a shower in my room but it only has cold water. On hot days that may be fine, but I often take a bucket bath so that I can add a small amount of hot water to the cold water. (I fill a small pan with water and heat the water using a propane burner.)

I walk considerably more when I am in Amritapuri than when I’m in Seattle. Many times a day, I walk down five flights of stairs and the distance between my flat and my destination. I usually use the elevator when I return to my room though. I enjoy tracking the number of steps I take each day on my Fitbit.

I was already having trouble getting dressed and undressed with my upper body issues. Now I’m having to get dressed a with some hand/thumb limitation as well. Luckily, I have been able to figure out how to do it, but it takes me longer than normal.

Weather

It is hotter here this year than it was at the same time last year, but it doesn’t feel as hot as it did the year before. I was with someone when they checked their weather app a few days ago. It said “87 degrees, feels like 97”. I was surprised it was that hot. I have found it quite comfortable, as long as there are fans in the vicinity! It rained the first day I was in Amritapuri but I don’t think it has rained since.

Crowds

As Christmas approaches, more and more people are coming to the ashram. The numbers of both Indian and International visitors will probably be at their highest during the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

Papaya

One of the activities I like to do in India is to buy a papaya and split it between Sreejit, Chaitanya and Akshay, my son, daughter and son-in-law, and myself. I bought a big one yesterday but it didn’t wasn’t ripe enough to eat right away. When I returned from my Tai Chi class today, I  cut up the papaya and distributed it. It was SO good!

To read previous posts in this series click here.

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