My friend Nigama showed me a beautiful flower in front of the cafe this morning.
My friend Nigama showed me a beautiful flower in front of the cafe this morning.
I first visited the Nature Sanctuary, which until this year was called Kuzhitura Farm, in 2014. It is located south of the Amritapuri ashram. That was before I had a blog, so I don’t have photos from that year. The photos below are from my 2015 visit.
(Click on any of the galleries to enlarge the photos.)
The gardens have changed so much over the years. The volunteers have overcome so many obstacles. Their persistence was well worth it; entering the property yesterday was like walking into a magical wonderland.
When I turned onto the path that leads to the sanctuary, I noticed that there were plants lining the borders of the path. Many of them were potted roses. I don’t know what the other plants were.
When I reached the entrance, I saw two new signs.
I walked into the lush wonderland.
There were so many beautiful flowers.
Plants grow so fast in the tropics. There were some rudraksha trees in this garden that were planted a year ago. They have grown 4-6 feet since that time. I’ve been excited that some of our Seattle Greenbelt trees grew 6 inches this year.
There are numerous turtles on the property. When I visited these gardens in January of 2018, the volunteers were installing some tubs for baby turtles to live in. The babies would move or be moved to bigger ponds when they got older. This is what the tubs looked like 8 months ago:
I was amazed at how different the tub area looked on this visit. It was so dense with vegetation. I could barely see the blue tubs.
The ponds were not easy to spot either. The photo below shows one of them:
A volunteer asked if I wanted to see some of the turtles that are living in the bigger ponds. Of course, I said yes. Once there, he told me that we could feed them treats; if we called to them, they would come. When he called, a turtle that was about the size of my palm responded right away. It would not take the food from his hand though. He said that the turtle might respond more readily to my voice. He was right. The turtle came to me right away and took the pellet from my hand. Once he ate it, I offered him another one, and he took that one too!
I learned that there are turtle eggs all over the property. When the eggs hatch, the babies find their way to water. So no one carries them to the little tubs, they find them on their own.
Later, I learned that the nature sanctuary does not have any problem with mosquitoes because there are tadpoles that eat the mosquitoes when they are in larva stage.
I saw butterflies that day and in the past and I’ve seen bees and dragonflies in these gardens. If there are tadpoles then there must be frogs! I wonder what other kinds of wildlife are in the sanctuary.
I could have stayed there all day and not have seen everything that there was to see. I look forward to my next visit.
To read the previous posts in this series click here.
On my first day in Amritapuri this year, I noticed a man wearing a t-shirt that said “let go” on the front. Since my blog is named Living, Learning and Letting Go, his shirt caught my eye and my interest. A few days later, he asked me if I was having a good day or a great day. I was startled at first but then realized it was a nice example of how powerful choosing our attitudes can be. If our choice is between a good day or a great day, we are more likely to create one of those two options for ourselves.
I was reminded me of a story that I once heard Jean Illsley Clarke tell. She is a parent educator and was a mentor for me. Her story was about a seven-year-old girl who had been kicked out of a number of foster homes. Jean visited her on a day that she had been acting out. When Jean went outside to talk to her, she asked the child “How did you make your day go today?” The girl was startled for a moment. After thinking about it, she said, “Exactly the way I wanted it to go.”
A quote that is projected on the screens during Amma’s programs in Amritapuri and the U.S. (and probably elsewhere) is also about the importance of choosing ones attitudes.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust. In one of his books, Man’s Search for Meaning, he wrote:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
There is so much power in realizing we can be responsible for our own attitudes.
Towards the end of last week, I realized I hadn’t done many of the activities that were important to me during previous trips.
Instead, I have kept focused on coming to bhajans on time, and sitting in the floor-seating area in the front of the auditorium, as well as attending more of the meditations and Q&A programs.
A few days ago, I walked by the prasad-giving line and saw that it was almost empty. I know what it is like to not have enough people to run the line, so as soon as I could, I joined the line myself. I enjoyed giving Amma the prasad packets as much as I always do.
After I finished doing that, I noticed that there was a lot of empty space in the area on the stage where devotees sit. That is very unusual, so I decided to take advantage of it. I had an incredible view of Amma as she gave darshan. I sat there for about half an hour and then left. I realized this was a good example of the importance of staying aware of opportunities that arise and not holding on to plans in a rigid way. It is important for me to consider each choice that comes my way individually.
This week I also had the opportunity to see that I don’t always make choices that are in my best interests. On Sunday, I got a hug from Amma and then decided to have dinner with friends instead of listening to the Swami bhajans. During that dinner, I heard Swami Pranavamrita singing one of my favorite bhajans after another. Even though I longed to be immersed in the music, I chose to stay with my friends. It was nice to be able to choose between between two good options, but since I am still longing for what I missed that day, I don’t think I made the best choice for me in that moment. I know it was a learning opportunity though and I believe I will have an opportunity to make a different choice many times in the future.
I used to teach a workshop based on Wayne Mueller’s book Legacy of the Heart. I ended the workshop by saying “You will have endless opportunities to choose between Pain or Forgiveness, Fear or Faith, Performance or Belonging, Scarcity or Abundance, Grandiosity or Humility, Drama or Simplicity, Judgement or Mercy, Busyness or Stillness, Disappointment or Nonattachment, Isolation or Intimacy, Habit or Mindfulness and Obligation or Loving Kindness. The choice is up to you.”
I have enjoyed sitting on the floor during bhajans. My legs often get uncomfortable but my back feels better than if I am sitting in a chair. If I go to the earlier meditation and Q&A program, I usually sit in a chair since sitting on the floor for the 1 1/2 -2 hour bhajan program is all I can handle. I’m pleased that I am able to get up and down from the floor, although I’m not very graceful about it.
On Thursday of last week, I faced a new challenge and soon realized I had discovered a new limit. When the program is in the auditorium there is a lot of space in the front area. However, on Thursday, darshan was held in the temple, which is much smaller. I decided to go to the temple for the 6:30 bhajan set. Since Amma would be giving darshan, a swami would lead the singing. It would be like the “old days”.
The situation was very much like the old days. The front area was very crowded and there was no room to walk between people. As more and more people sat down, I began to wonder how I was going to get out. The swami would sing longer than a normal bhajan program and I knew I couldn’t sit that long. As crowded as it was, it would be difficult to get into a standing position and my balance would probably be a problem.
I worried about it for a while. Then the person next to me stood up. By using her space and my own I was able to stand up. That didn’t solve the problem of walking through a crowd of people when there was no space between them though. I slowly made my way past one person and then another, and then reached out my hand for support to go the last distance. One person either didn’t see me or ignored me, but another took my hand. With that extra support I was able to get to the aisle.
I had discovered a new limit. I will not sit on the floor during the 6:30 p.m. bhajans if darshan is in the temple. I can sit there at other times during the day.
I used to tell new devotees to be sure to stay until the end of programs because so many special things happen then. Another limit I have had to accept is that I can’t handle staying up late. If I do, I feel horrible the next day.
One of the events I missed this week was Rosh Hasshana, the Jewish New Year. A group from Israel sang for a while. I was there for part of that. I loved their music. Later in the night, another group of Jewish devotees sang for Amma and then Amma sang with them. I could hear a bit of that song from my room. Part of me wanted to join them, but I knew I needed to respect my limits.
I spent some time in Saraswati Garden a few days ago. It has become so lush. As I wandered through it, I marveled at how big the plants are compared to those that were there in 2016 when the garden was fairly new. Some of the plants that were 18-24 inches in 2016 are now well over 6 feet tall. And there are many new plant varieties.
To read the previous posts in this series click here.
Here is another flower from Saraswati Garden in Amritapuri.
I planned this trip to Amritapuri based on the dates for my favorite Indian holidays- Krishna Jayanthi, Ganesh Chaturthi, and Onam. Many, if not all, of the holidays operate on a lunar calendar. As a result, the dates and order may change from year to year. Onam came first this time. You may remember than Amma wanted that holiday to be less festive than normal in recognition of the pain and suffering experienced by those affected by the Kerala floods. She asked that the event be more focused on praying for peace in the world.
Amma said the same for Krishna Jayanthi. The afternoon procession and games were canceled and there were some other adjustments made throughout the day.
My favorite part of the holiday occurred first thing in the morning. When I took the morning seva shift at the cafe, it was with the agreement that I could have Krishna Jayanthi morning off! Normally a big group of people start to gather in the courtyard in front of the temple around 6:30 a.m. We put on orange headbands and then place sandlewood paste and kum kum on our foreheads, in the space between our eyebrows. By 7:30, everyone is ready and a large procession around the ashram grounds… and beyond… begins. We sing high energy Krishna songs as we walk.
This year, everyone gathered in the courtyard but the group was much smaller. There were no headbands. When we were ready, the procession and songs started but the group only walked to the area in front of the Indian kitchen. We sang a lot of songs though. I particularly enjoy the songs that we sing during that procession, because they are in Sanskrit and easy to follow. And most of them I have sung many times over the years. Before we returned to the temple, we received word that Amma wanted us to chant the peace mantra at the end of the early morning event.
Adults and children dressed as Krishna and Radha joined us when we were singing near the kitchen. They stayed near the front of the procession as we walked back to the temple. Five decorated cows were in front of the temple when we returned. Rituals were performed honoring the cows and we sang more songs. Afterwards, we chanted the peace mantra and the crowd dispersed. As always, I had had a wonderful time.
Normally on Krishna Jayanthi, there is a much larger procession that goes between the ashram and a local Krishna temple in the late afternoon. There is lots of singing and it is a very joyful experience. Last year, the procession started at the temple and ended at the ashram. When we walked into the ashram gate that day, the courtyard was filled with people waiting for the games to begin. The game is similar to hitting a pinata in that the participants use a stick to try to break a vessel filled with candy. One of the differences is that in the Indian game, the participants are not blindfolded. When they run towards the hanging pot, water is thrown at the person who is trying to hit it. As the person gets close to the pot, the rope is pulled up and the pot rises. There many different groups that participate; players vary from young children to the elderly. This activity is particularly popular with the college students.
Neither the big procession nor the games were included in this year’s program. Instead, Amma held a normal darshan day. At one point, when I was sitting on the auditorium floor watching her give hugs, I noticed that a group of children who were in Krishna and Radha costumes had gathered. Some of them were as young as two. They were all so cute. I left the hall soon thereafter. When I returned, the children were on the riser where the singers usually sit, chanting the peace mantra. It was very beautiful. After a while, they stopped chanting and each went to Amma to get a hug.
Amma had another surprise in store for us. Sometime during the afternoon, it was announced that she would be stopping darshan in time to lead bhajans from 6:30-8:30. She doesn’t normally sing on darshan days, so it was a very welcome addition to the program.
The last part of the Krishna Jayanthi celebrations usually start around 11:00 p.m. and go until about 2:00 a.m. During that time, Amma gives a talk, sings bhajans and hands out payasam, a sweet pudding. I was exhausted and knew if I stayed up that late, I would feel horrible the next day, especially since I had a cafe shift at 7:30 a.m. and had my last Ayurvedic appointment at 10. I made the choice to go to bed instead of going to the program. I woke up as Amma started singing bhajans so went outside and listened to them from a balcony that is near my room. It wasn’t as much fun as being at the program but it was a healthy choice for me.
(To read excepts from Amma’s talk click here.)
After the floods, the number of Indian visitors who visited the ashram was greatly reduced and since the Cochin airport was closed for quite a while, Western devotees had trouble getting here. Normally, large groups of students from Amma’s colleges visit, but that also stopped for a while. There were days during that time when the darshan programs finished between 8 and 9 p.m.
The college students started coming again last week. On the first day, there were groups from two schools; each school sent around 250 students. I think there have been even more students on some days. There has also been quite a few weddings since I’ve been here. Some of the weddings have a lot of guests. The wedding itself is short and simple, but I enjoy watching everyone before and after the ceremony. There is so much excitement.
There have been many years when I have gone to darshan to get a hug from Amma at the time I arrived at the ashram and again when I was about to leave. Occasionally, I would go one other time during the stay. For the last three years, we have been able to get a hug from Amma more often. I feel blessed to be the ashram no matter the situation, but it is so nice to be able to be in her arms so frequently.
Tuesday is the day that Amma serves lunch to ashram residents and visitors. Before the lunch, she leads a meditation and answers questions. I found this photo of the September 4th pre-lunch program on Amma’s Facebook Page. There was a quote that accompanied the photo. It was in response to one of the answers asked that day.
Pure love will help us transcend our shortcomings and mental weaknesses. Immeasurable is the power of such love. Its transforming energy serves as a catalyst and serves as a success formula both in our spiritual practices and efforts in the world. Just as a mountaineer has a safety rope tied around his waist to catch him in case he falls, divine love is our true protection. If we have this love and focus, we will be able to overcome all kinds of obstacles”
I have continued to make a priority of sitting in the front section of the hall for bhajans and in addition have gone to the meditation and Q&A sessions more often. I have been experimenting with finding a frequency that is challenging but not exhausting. It is my sense that reconnecting to the bhajans is the most important thing for me to do on this trip, so I always give bhajans priority.
In my last “Living and Learning” post, I talked about leelas being “God’s play.” I experienced a leela on late Monday or Tuesday afternoon that was more of the fun variety. I tend to be very avoidant of meditation unless it is the meditative state that sometimes arises within me during bhajans. On that day, I decided to attend the meditation program even though I didn’t really want to. I ran into a friend on my way to the auditorium and he said that the meditation had been canceled. That had never happened before so I was puzzled. I was also a bit mortified when “Hallelujah” came out of my mouth, loud. But that is how I felt.
I walked back to my room, and just as I was inserting the combination into the lock, a bell rang three times. That is the signal that Amma is coming. Clearly, she was going to do the meditation after all. What could I do other than laugh and head back to the hall!
I have continued to do a morning seva (volunteer) shift in the cafe, calling out the number on a food order when it is ready for the devotee to pick it up. I always enjoy that job, but I enjoy it even more when the students are present. They tend to order in large groups. Years ago, they ordered mainly toast, but that has changed. One day, there was a group of 12 male students waiting for their breakfast. They had ordered 2 Grilled Cheese sandwiches, a regular omelet, a cheese omelet, 2 orders of French Toast, 4 Egg and Cheese sandwiches and 6 Breakfast sandwiches! Needless to say, it takes a little longer for everyone else to get their food when there are orders this big, but the cafe staff do an amazing job of handling it.
An even more interesting thing happened last week, and is still going on. Essentially all of the eggs we have served since we received the last egg delivery have had double yolks. I also saw two that had triple yolks. On the rare occasions there was a single yolk, it was very large. The double yolks are very easy to see when the eggs are fried but there are noticable differences in the omelets as well; they are bigger and are a deeper yellow than is normal.
Since there were so many double yolk eggs, I decided to learn more about them. Several articles I read said that the occurrence rate was 1:1000. (That certainly wasn’t true in this case!) There also seemed to be consensus that double yolks happen when hens are young and that as they age, the hens will start producing one yolk eggs.
Another article said that we don’t usually see double yolk eggs because eggs are scanned to check the contents prior to putting them cartons. When double yolks are found, they are sold to companies that use eggs in the ingredients of a product. (Part of the reason that is done is that double yolk eggs are bigger than eggs with single yolks. The bigger eggs don’t fit in the egg cartons.) Yet another article mentioned that a farmer’s flocks tend to be about the same age, so that if there are a lot of double yolks, it is probably because the farmer’s flock is young. I can’t imagine that the contents of eggs are scanned in India, but the concept that it occurs because a given flock is young seems plausible.
On most days during the first week of this visit to Amritapuri, it rained once or twice a day. I love hearing the rain here. Since most of the roofs are metal, the sound is even louder than it would normally be. Often when I think it couldn’t rain any harder, it does. There have been times in previous years when I have been in the auditorium and the sound of the rain has drowned out the sound of the amplified music.
I took this recording from my room on one of my first days here. By the time I found the voice recorder app, the sound was not at its loudest but I think it will give you an idea of how hard it was raining and how loud the sound was.
It has rained very little since that first week. The temperature has been cooler than normal, which is very nice. If there weren’t fans, though, I’d be sweating; but there are lots of fans. In fact, in the evening, I often get chilled when I am in the auditorium. I generally wear a light-weight jacket for those programs because I know I will get cold. I’m not complaining. We had many, many years without fans in the auditorium and in those days I was SOOOO hot.
The phone rates here as so low that they defy belief. It seems like they go down every year. You can get a phone plan that gives 2 GB of data a day for 84 days. The plan costs 350 rupees ($4.85). In addition to the impressive amount of data, you get free phone calls within India, as well as free texts. At the end of the 84 days, the plan can be renewed.
I have that data plan. In addition, I spent 250 rupees ($3.47) to use on international calls. When, I called the U.S., however, those rupees disappeared quickly. Later in the day, I learned that I could pay an additional 43 rupees and get reduced rates to the U.S. When I asked what the per minute cost would be for that plan, I was told calls to the U.S. would be 1 rupee and 80 paise per minute. I thought I must have misunderstood, but when I made a 2-minute call later, I was charged 3.8 rupees (5 cents)!
These prices make me wonder how much of the $85/month or more I’ve paid to U.S. Phone companies over the years is pure profit. I feel good that I changed to Consumer Cellular last month. When I return to the U.S. I will be paying $33/month… and that includes taxes and fees. The rates aren’t as good as in India but they are certainly better than $85/month.
To read the previous posts in this series click here.
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