I am presently in Amritapuri on my 32nd visit to Amma’s ashram in 30 years. This almost yearly pilgrimage has been an incredible part of my life. I feel blessed to have been able to spend so much time in the place where Amma was born. It seems to me that her energy permeates every grain of sand whether her physical body is present or not.
That does not mean that I’ve always wanted to make the trip. There were several years in the past when I went with the same attitude I might take when I go to a doctor or a dentist– i.e. because I know it is for my own good. I grow so much when I’m here and have always felt like the experience was an important purification process. Almost always, though, I am very eager to come to India. I wish there was a way to teleport here though; the journey there is so long.
When I am in Amritapuri, I am challenged in many of the same ways that I’m challenged by life in the U.S., but here it is like the process is put on fast forward. I may feel like I’m on an emotional roller coaster, but even though the challenges may come one after the other, I usually work through them faster too.
As I write this, I’m thinking about the saying that “growth comes from the challenges not the consolations.” While being consoled feels good and is also important, I think it is true that growth comes from facing the challenges that come my way.
I love being with Sreejit, Chaitanya and Akshay, my son, daughter and son-in-law, who have lived in Amritapuri for many years. I love being with my Amritapuri friends, and, of course, I love being with Amma, who in many ways became the center of my life when I met her in 1989.
I also love the sights, sounds and smells of India. Each time I arrive in the country, part of me wants to bow down and kiss the earth. There were two years that I couldn’t afford to come to the Amritapuri, When I informed Amma of that fact during her North American summer tour, I was crying so hard that someone thought I was telling Amma that one of my kids had died. That incident always reminds me how important this part of my life is to me.
I had no plans to start this post in this manner, but it felt good to reflect on these things. So on with my November 2019 story;
I left Seattle on November 27. It was a 14-hour flight to Dubai, followed by a 3-hour layover. During the connecting flight security check, I was instructed to take off my Fitbit and put it in the bin. I’m not used to doing that so I forgot to take it out of the bin after I went through the security line.
Soon after I entered the main part of the terminal, I realized I had left the Fitbit in the bin. I was instructed by airport staff to go to one place and then another. Eventually, I was able to find it, but by then the layover was almost over. That challenge certainly made the time go by fast, and provided me with a lot of exercise. My normal routine is to buy a cup of ice cream in Dubai, and there was enough time before my next flight for me to do that!
The flight to India was a 4-hour flight. I had decided not to add the 3-hour taxi trip to the ashram to the journey, so stayed in a hotel in Kovalam, a town near the airport, for the day. I planned to get lots of sleep. I did rest a lot, but couldn’t sleep. There is a 13 ½ hour time difference between Seattle and India, and turning day and night around is difficult.
I had many challenges during my time in Kovalam. The one I will mention now is that they were fixing the road between the hotel and the area where the restaurants are located. It is not unusual in India for people to walk through construction sites, but I don’t like to do that. I had to eat, however, and there was no other option.
In some places there was a thin strip of normal ground alongside the new road but that strip was rocky and very uneven ground. I had trouble walking on it. An Indian woman gave me a hand both when I went towards the restaurants and coming back from there. But that was only for a few feet, so most of the time I ended up walking on the hot tar and gravel. My shoes may never recover.
At 5 a.m. the next morning, I was in a taxi and on my way to the Amritapuri ashram. The traffic was much lighter than it would have been even an hour later. In two-and-a-half hours, I was back in my India home. I felt exhausted but happy to be there. After spending a bit of time with Sreejit and Chaitanya, I had some breakfast and then went to my room and started unpacking.
In January 2005, I bought a flat at the ashram. That allows me to have a room to myself which makes life easier for me. I can use it whenever I’m in Amritapuri, and it is rented out to other visitors when I am gone.
I was so exhausted and very wobbly that first day. I got help from Sreejit and Chaitanya, and reminded myself that it was important for me to go slow. I was especially careful when I left my room. It would be so easy for me to trip on something, but as I got some sleep my balance improved tremendously.
There are always so many changes here from one visit to the next. Some of the ones I’ve noticed so far are:
- Those of us who live alone are required to sign in on a Wellness Register each morning. If someone doesn’t sign the register then someone goes to the room to make sure the person is okay. For years, I’ve signed in on a desk that is near the elevator in my building. Now everyone has to go to the International Office to do it. Writing that statement reminds me I need to go sign in for today… soon.
- The Indian store has been remodeled. Now, it is more like a supermarket where you can just take things off the shelf rather than ask someone to get it for you. The hours have been extended; it is now open all day and well into the night.
- The Indian Canteen has been remodeled. There are open air “walls” around it now, as well as numerous other improvements which I can’t figure out how to describe.
- The dishes and containers from the kitchen are now washed in a special little building that is attached to the area where we all wash and dry our dishes when we eat. We started drying our dishes in that area the last time I was here. Moving the kitchen washing space and the drying racks to that spot meant that two of the five circular dining tables are gone. I feel sad about that, but it is certainly understandable.
- The area that I described in #4 is partially fenced off now and there are lots of new plants that surround it. It is very beautiful.
- I was able to recharge my cell phone as soon as I got to the ashram even though I hadn’t used that SIM card since last January. In the past if you didn’t use a SIM card for 3 months, you had to get a new one. That meant I had immediate use of the phone and the Personal Hotspot!
Those are the changes I’ve noticed so far. I’m sure there are many more.
It usually doesn’t rain here much in December but it has rained several times every day since I arrived. I love the sound of rain on the aluminum roof of the auditorium. Actually I love the sound of the rain anywhere. It is quite a deluge and then it is over, for hours. I was actually able to hang out some laundry after a rain on Sunday and it dried it less than three hours. That could never happen in Seattle!
When it works out easily, I time my arrival to be here for a few days before Amma returns to the ashram. That gives me time to rest before crowds of people come. Amma started her yearly European Tour the beginning of October. When it finished in mid November, she conducted programs in Los Angeles and Detroit.
Sometimes parts of the international programs are live streamed to Amritapuri. Residents and visitors come to the auditorium to watch it. That happened on Sunday. They don’t leave the live stream up all the time, or nothing would get done here, but it is very nice to be able to watch it for awhile. That day, it was live streamed three different times during the day, the last time being during our evening bhajan (singing) time. I loved being able to watch Amma.
I often marvel at how much has changed over the years. On my first visit in January of 1990, we had to take a rickshaw to Oachira, which is a town 15 minutes away, to use a telephone. I still remember that it was a red phone on a table in the middle of an alley. People gathered to watch me make the call. Now almost everyone has a cell phone, I get internet connection from a Personal Hotspot, and I can watch Amma when she is halfway across the world.
The rumor I heard a few days ago was that Amma would return to the ashram early Tuesday morning. When I went downstairs this morning someone told me that they thought she had returned around 8:00 a.m. I wonder if she will come sing with us tonight!
My re-entry has been relatively challenge free compared to the past. Normally, I have a lot of trouble with jet lag. This time I slept relatively well on the Seattle to Dubai leg of the trip. That has never happened before. Since I’ve been at the ashram, I’ve slept a lot. This is the first time in all these years that I haven’t been wide awake at 2 a.m. and if I wake up, I’ve been able to go right back to sleep. I hope that continues.
My biggest challenge is that I’ve been unable to find an adapter that allows me to attach a thumb drive to my computer. I remember seeing it when I unpacked but haven’t seen it since. I’ve looked in every inch of this room two or three times to no avail. I know I will find it when the time is right, but haven’t accepted the fact that I can’t have it when I want it, which is NOW!