Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: January 2-10, 2019

Sunset in Amritapuri

Strikes

Towards the end of December, we were told there would be a transportation strike on January 2nd. During that type of strike there are no rickshaws, taxis and buses on the road. I imagine the trains are also grounded.

On that day, I decided to walk into Vallikavu, the town closest to the ashram. I remembered the strike when I noticed there were no rickshaws near the bridge that joins the peninsula where the ashram is located and the mainland. I had planned to walk to town anyway so the lack of rickshaws was not a problem.

The only forms of transportation on the roads were bicycles, scooters and motorcycles. There weren’t even any private cars. Private cars are probably not driven during strikes either. The businesses I passed were all closed. I noticed that there were no Indian women on the streets. That seemed really strange.

There was a big group of men on the street ahead of me. I’ve heard that transportation strikes can get violent, but happens when someone breaks the strike. I wondered if I should go back to the ashram but this wasn’t a group of angry men. When I got closer, I was able to see that they were buying or selling fish. Since the market was closed, selling it on the roadside was probably their only option.

Once I reached the center of the town, I discovered the only stores that were open were the pharmacies. I was relieved since one of those pharmacies was my destination. I placed my order and then returned to the ashram.

On January 8 and 9 there was a two-day national strike. (I don’t know if the January 2nd one was state wide or just for the district, but it wasn’t national.) It was called a transportation strike on the announcements here but I noticed on one flyer that the word “transportation” was crossed out and “general” was written above it.

When I walked to Vallikavu on January 8 (for reasons that will become evident in a later section of this post), my experience was completely different from the one on January 2. I saw one rickshaw and a couple of cars on the road that day.  I also saw several closed businesses on the way to town, but when I arrived at the center of town, I discovered that almost everything was open, including the market and some of the banks. The number of women on the street seemed normal.

I believe the January 2nd strike was about the current events in Sabarimala. The national strike on January 8 was called by the Central Trade Unions and was against the government. Twenty million people participated in that one. Based on what I saw in Vallikavu on the 8th, my guess is that people here may not be as dissatisfied with the government as people in other parts of India.

Ashram Visitors

The number of Indian visitors was significantly lower during the strikes. The people probably couldn’t get here, but there may have been other factors at play as well. The crowds were large during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day so it would be natural for them to be lower the week after the holidays. Also, the fact that Amma’s South India tour starts on the 18th may have been responsible for some of the decrease too.

All of the darshan programs prior to the holidays were in the auditorium rather than the temple. I assume that was because there has been restoration work occurring in the area above the front stairs of the temple; there was no way for a crowd to enter the temple from the front.

When the number of people at the ashram decreased, Amma began to hold darshan in the temple. Everyone walks up and down the stairs on the east side of the building. That creates an interesting dilemma since the stairs wind and are quite narrow. Two people can’t go up or down two across without turning to the side to squeeze by each other. But it works. It is nice to have programs in the temple from time to time.

Being there always brings to mind these photos from my first visit to the ashram in January of 1990. I was in Amritapuri the week that the temple was used for the first time.

A separate trip to Vallikavu

When I ordered my medications on January 2, I was told to return on Monday, January 7 and I did. That was an interesting journey. I decided to stop by the optometrist to get my glasses adjusted. When I walked into that office, I was told that the technician was not there. Then I went to the pharmacy and was told that my medications had not arrived and to come back the next day. Then I went to Love Sugar bakery to get my first, and only, Chocolate Fantasy sundae on this trip. I was told that the person who makes the sundaes wasn’t there. I had intended to go to the School of Biotechnology to take photos of the plants, but I had forgotten to bring my phone, which meant I didn’t have a camera.

So, I had walked the 15-20 minutes from the ashram to Vallikavu, in the hot sun, and accomplished none of the things I had planned to do. At least I got some exercise. I returned to the ashram and went directly to the Indian store. I purchased and ate a Magnum Triple Chocolate ice cream bar that I had seen in the store earlier in the week. I was in heaven!

Watching the Christmas Eve entertainment

Generally, the people who perform during the Christmas Eve cultural events aren’t able to see all of the performances. Usually, we have a chance to see a video of the event at a later time. This year, we watched that video on January 8.

I had a chance to see the choir performance part of the video ahead of time and was upset when I saw how stiff I looked. My problems with remembering the words and my off beat clapping were also all too visible. I thought about not going to the viewing, but decided not to chicken out. During the viewing, I was relieved to discover that seeing the video on a screen from across the room was very different than seeing it up close on a computer screen. I like to think that no one even noticed me!

As I was writing this section, I discovered that some photos taken during the Christmas Eve entertainment are on amritapuri.org now. I’ve put some of them below:

You can click on the gallery to enlarge the photos.

Letting Go Reflections

Resentment

If you’ve been reading my posts from this trip you will know that I’ve been sharing information and experiences I’ve had regarding letting go. In the last week, I’ve been reflecting on what is NOT letting go. I believe if I’m feeling resigned to an outcome then that is not letting go. In those cases, it might be more accurate to say I am giving up and accepting the fact that I can’t have what I want. I also believe that if I have resentment about not getting something I want, then it is an indication that I haven’t let go.

I imagine Transactional Analysis theory would consider both resignation and resentment to be racket feelings, i.e. something that covers the core feelings of mad, sad, scared and glad. I think resignation could easily cover anger and resentment definitely does. Also, we can be attached to something through our anger and our fear, or to say it a different way, anger and fear may prevent us from truly letting go.

Preparing to return to Seattle

My trip is nearing its end. I’ve started the process of cleaning my room, putting away the things I leave here and packing my suitcases. I have also been doing the administrative work necessary to prepare for future forest restoration work parties once I get back to Seattle. Today, I met with a friend to learn more about Power Point. I’m giving a talk about our restoration project at Seattle University on February 12 and want to put project photos on Power Point slides.

I will probably get my last hug from Amma on this trip tonight.

To read previous posts in this series click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 24-27, 2018

Photo Source: Amma’s Facebook Page

Christmas Eve Program

This was the first time in ten years that we’ve had a Christmas Eve program in Amritapuri that consisted of many different performances instead of a play. It was such a fun and enjoyable night.

One performance was done by a group of about 20 young children dancing to Little Drummer Boy. Most of the children were between four and seven years old. There were little boys with drums, little girls in sparkling white costumes, tiny children in sheep costumes, shepherds with staffs, and some slightly older children who played the roles of Mary and Joseph.

Two Western groups sang or played beautiful Christmas carols.

Two Indian groups, dressed in exquisite costumes, performed high energy Indian dances.

A Chinese dancer did a style of dancing I hadn’t seen before. I was in awe of her dance and want to see more of it.

Another performance was about a man who had given up his heart to worldly things. The dances showed the progression of his life from childhood on. At one point, there was a rewind and all the dancers moved through his life backwards. His life was then replayed showing what would have happened if he hadn’t given away his heart when he was young. It was such a creative and fun enactment. I had a great view of Amma at that time. She had such a big smile, from beginning to end!

The next to the last performance was a reflection on Jesus. Sreejit was a preacher in the piece. He wrote the lyrics, some of which were spoken and some were sung. There were dancers and actors playing Jesus, disciples and villagers. My favorite lines in this performance were:

His greatness was protected
because the Lord’s light
within it was reflected.

And when he looked at you
he didn’t see social status.
When he looked at you
he didn’t see black or white.
He didn’t see man or woman,
good or bad

All he saw was his family
in God’s holy light.
When he looked at you…
When he looked at you…

This is his story
he came to win,
he came to forgive
the world of its sin.

This is his story.

The last performance of the night was our choir’s song.  I will be talking more about the song and my experience in later parts of this post. For now, I will say that I believe we sounded strong and that the audience enjoyed it. I feel privileged to have been part of the group.

All of the performances were outstanding and well received. After they were over, Amma gave her inspiring Christmas talk.

The spirit of Christmas is sharing and caring. Let us not be focused on our lives alone. Let us look around a little and see the needs of others as well. Even if you are able to help just one person, then you have made a difference. If we can do this, that would be the real Christmas celebration. -Amma

If Amma’s talk is posted online, I will give you the link in a future post. Afterwards, Amma sang three bhajans, the last one being the always rousing Mata Rani. Then, Amma, and her helpers, distributed chocolate Christmas cake to everyone present. That is always a highlight of the evening program. The Christmas Eve program was over about 1 a.m. on Christmas morning.

[Note: As I wrote this section, I was aware that I said more about some groups than others. I had seen the groups Sreejit, Chaitanya or I were involved in practice several times so knew more about those performances. Also, since I was in a performing group, I sometimes only got glimpses of a performance.]

Will You Be There?

In my first Living and Learning in Amritapuri post from this trip, I told readers that I would tell you the story behind the choir’s song after the performance was over. I didn’t want to mention it before because I didn’t want to spoil the surprise.

During a Devi Bhava on the 2003 Summer Tour early in the tour, a group of staff members sang Michael Jackson’s song Will You Be There? They moved their outstretched arms back and forth like a wave as they sang. Amma loved it; in fact, she called for the song to be sung every Devi Bhava for the rest of that tour.

Amma’s 50th birthday was on September 27, 20003. As the September day approached, people from all over the world poured into the ashram. Amma called the group to sing Will You Be There every day. All of the westerners joined in. I remember a photo taken of us when we were doing “the wave” in the temple. There was a sea of white, and me who, as always, was dressed in colored clothes. I have such fun memories of those experiences

That song hasn’t been sung here for years, maybe not since that time 15 years ago! So it was fun to think of performing it for Amma again, this time by a choir.

I would love to have a tape of our song to share with you but I don’t. So instead, I will share an amazing YouTube video of Michael Jackson singing it!

Wedding

On December 27, Amma married a couple who have known Amma since they were young children. I have known the parents of the groom for many years. It was a beautiful and heart felt wedding. Towards the end of the ceremony,the bride handed Amma a poster of herself when she was about three years old. It was a picture of her being held by Amma during a Devi Bhava. Amma held up the poster for everyone in the auditorium to see. The moment was so touching to witness, as was the entire wedding. I had been invited to the wedding feast so I enjoyed participating in that as well.

Letting Go Follow-up: Christmas Eve performance

In my last Living and Learning in Amritapuri post, I said I was going to let go of my need to be able to sing the words of our choir’s song perfectly and let the fact that I couldn’t sing, clap and move at the same time be okay. Instead, I would do my best to relax and have a good time.

I had a chance to put that resolve to the test at the practice on the afternoon of the 24th. I was reasonably successful in accomplishing those goals. My endeavor was aided by the fact that during the practices one of the lead singers stood in front of me and when the song started to go fast, the dancers and actors from many of the performances came on stage and stood in front of the choir. That was quite okay with me since it meant I was hidden.

When we performed the song that night though, the lead singer didn’t end up in front of me. I gulped when I realized that since I was in the front row of the choir, I would be in full sight. but let my hesitation go. I was able to get more of the words right than I had the past and most of my movements and claps were okay. At first, I had difficulty clapping on the 2nd and the 4th beat but at those times I didn’t let my incorrect “claps” make sound. I was really glad I had agreed to participate rather than quit. I would have been very upset with myself if I had given up.

Letting Go Follow-up: Tai Chi

In that same post, I had said I was going to let go of my desire to be practicing the Tai Chi 108 form and focus on all that I was getting from the class as it was. I laughed when in class the next day, the teacher taught the first part of the 108 form I had been wanting to do. That happens so often. When I really let go of what I want, I often end up getting it!

Weather

The weather has been very hot for December. This week it has been in the high 80’s and all of next week it is supposed to be 90 degrees. Thankfully, there are so many fans now. I remember all of the years when there were no fans in the auditorium. I’m sure glad those days are gone.

It rained two days this week. Again it was heavy rain. One of them was during and after a choir practice. It was raining so hard that I stayed and watched the next practice to avoid getting drenched. By the time I ventured outside, I had to wade through water that was 3 inches deep in places.

 

To read previous posts in this series click here.

 

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 21-24, 2018

 

Merry Christmas to everyone, whether you live in an area where it is already Christmas or where it soon will be. This post will focus on events that occurred between December 21 and mid-day on the 24th. I will save the rest of my Christmas Eve stories for a later post!

Letting Go Opportunities

I’ve had plenty of opportunities to let go in the last week. However, all too often I’ve chosen to hold on to expectations and desires instead of letting go of them. On Sunday, I remembered the saying resistance=pain. I learned it at a workshop called Leap of Faith decades ago. I think the words are so true. Resisting letting go of expectations and desires certainly brings pain in one form or another into my life.

Since I’ve been in Amritapuri this time, the primary circumstances where I have had the opportunity to let go, or not, were in Tai Chi and during the rehearsals for the Christmas performance.

I love doing the first section of the Yang 108 Tai Chi form.  I was drawn to it even before I started learning how to do it.  I know Section 1 of that process reasonably well and I can do small parts of Section 2 and 3 although if I’m not following someone else I can’t do it at all.

I knew from past experiences here, that the Tai Chi classes would not be focused on the 108 form but I did think we would practice it some. While we did do some of the components that go into the form, we were doing them in isolation.

I know what I’m getting in the class is really good for me, and for healing my various ailments, but I’ve been holding on to expectations and as a result of my resistance have had trouble settling in and accepting “what is.” I do know this is an opportunity for me to walk my talk; to focus on being in the moment, let go and accept situations that are different than my desires. I am making progress in moving through that part of my resistance.

I also have realized that part of my resistance is because my teacher focuses on Tai Chi as a process of meditation. I have been resistant to sitting down meditation for years. However, I love the experience of meditation that comes through movement, so this is a chance for me to go deeper in that area.

I’m now seeing the class, as it is, as a good opportunity for me. I can do Section 1 of the 108 form in my room and when I return to Seattle.

The second area where I’ve been holding on to expectations is in preparing for the Christmas Eve choir performance. My problem started when I realized we had to memorize the words and that I couldn’t see any pattern to them. After considerable effort, I was able to memorize the verses, but I still needed to think about them, so by the time I figured out the words, the opportunity to sing them was long gone. My problem was exacerbated because we also had to clap and move at the same time as we sang. I could do some of it right, but not enough to meet my unrealistic expectations of myself. My increasing agitation during the practice resulted in me believing I couldn’t do any of it. By the end of the December 23rd practice, I decided I was quitting. When Chaitanya got wind of that decision though, she said quitting wasn’t an option; it was too late since the performance was the next day.

I could understand her attitude, although I didn’t like it. It was also obvious from what Chaitanya and Sreejit said, that no one, other than me, was having a problem with what I was doing, or not doing. Worrying about what other people think about me is another of my self defeating behaviors. I was also aware that I wasn’t the only person who couldn’t do it all perfectly. This was clearly an opportunity for me to practice reducing my mental pain by stopping my resistance. I will focus on doing my best to relax and enjoy the experience of the last practice and when we sing for Amma and the rest of the ashram tonight.

.AYUDH India Leaders’ Training Summit

This week there is a four day AYHUD Leaders’ Training Summit being held in Amritapuri. AYUDH is an organization that “seeks to empower young people to integrate universal values into their daily lives. Starting with themselves, AYUDH wants to help establish a future of hope, peace and social engagement while maintaining an awareness of spiritual principles.”

Most of the summit is taking place across the backwaters by the colleges but the opening ceremony was held in the main ashram auditorium. I enjoyed seeing all the young people in their AYUDH t-shirts of various colors. On the second day of the summit, I saw an AYUDH member with a bag that said something like “Be Calm, Spread Peace.” I loved the saying.

The auditorium  had been decorated and was so beautiful during the opening ceremony. I hope that some photos and articles about the summit goes online. If and when it does, I will share them in a future post.

Rain

On Sunday afternoon, there was the sound of thunder in the distance; and then it occurred again, closer. The second roll of thunder was followed by pouring rain. Pouring hard. I had been on my way back to my room at the time that it happened, but as the rain  continued to get heavier, I realized I had no real reason to leave the auditorium and didn’t want to get drenched, so returned to the auditorium. I love the sound of heavy rain when it hits the metal roof of that building.

Bhangra!

Just before I was to leave the auditorium to go to bed on Sunday night, I noticed that there were a group of turbaned men gathering in the front part of the auditorium. Then, I saw that they were brightly dressed and that there were women in the group as well. I realized this was a dancing group that was going to do BHANGRA! I love to watch Bhangra dancing and to listen to Bhangra music, so instead of leaving I moved as close to the front of the auditorium as I could get.

Soon the ashram sound staff began to remove the sound equipment from the stage where the musicians sit during darshan. Then another group of people began to take apart the stage. Once it was removed, there was a lot of room in the front of the auditorium for the big group of dancers to dance. Their performance was as wonderful as I expected it to be.

I sat for awhile afterwards to see if they would dance again but when there was no indication that was going to happen, I headed for my room. By the time I got there, I could tell something else was happening in the auditorium. I thought about going back downstairs, but decided that I had had a full day ahead of me and got ready for bed instead.

The next morning, I learned that part of the dancers had started dancing again and this time they pulled people who were watching in to dance with them. I felt sad about missing that opportunity, both as an observer and as a potential participant, although I doubt that my 70-year-old body could have done much. It was hard enough for me to do bhangra when I was 50!

I hope to be able to share ashram photos of the dancers with you sometime in the future, if they become available, but for now I will just share two Bhangra YouTube videos in case you don’t know what Bhangra is!

I feel sad to have missed the last part of the Bhangra dance last night but so much happens here and I can’t do it all. Since Christmas Eve will go late, it is good that I got some sleep.

 

To read previous posts in this series click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: September 12-14, 2018

Choices

Nonattachment (or not)

I often say that the only joke I remember is Question: Do you know how to make God laugh? Answer: Tell him your plans for your life. Since we don’t even know what’s around the next corner, when we make plans, we have no way of knowing if we will be able to do them. I used to attend a church that added “If the Lord shall say the same” before any announcement. While there is nothing wrong with making life plans, I think it is important to remember that those events may or may not happen. Holding on tightly to plans can send pain and suffering our way.

I got a good reminder of that last week. I had planned the dates for my Amritapuri trip around the Ganesh Chathuri holiday. Last year, I had discovered that there were amazing bhajans held in the Kalari nine nights of that ten-day festival. The bhajans were led by a group of young men. Some played drums or other instruments. The singing got pretty raucous and I loved it. In fact, I think it would be accurate to say that I experienced unbridled joy. I have been waiting to have that experience again ever since last year’s Ganesh Chathuri.

There was a puja scheduled for the morning of September 13, the first day of the holiday. When I saw the area being set up on my way to my cafe shift, I realized I had forgotten what a big deal that puja was. It is held in the auditorium. The ashram elephant is brought in and there are rituals performed … and lots of singing.

When I went into the cafe, I mentioned it to Chaitanya. She hadn’t thought about the fact that I would want to attend the puja either. She offered to find someone to replace me, but it didn’t seem right to back out on her at the last minute, so I said I would stay. After all, I had the night bhajans to look forward to… and those were my priority.

As the sounds from the auditorium intensified, however, I longed to be there. I began to get agitated. Sreejit walked into the kitchen, so I asked him to relieve me for a few minutes so I could go see what was happening. Being at the puja, even for three or four minutes, was just what I needed. After all, I had the night bhajans to look forward to.

When my replacement came at 9:00 a.m., I was able to go to the auditorium for some of the last bhajan and for the Ganesh Aarati. I was also there when the prasad was handed out. It consisted of numerous types of treats in a small banana leaf bowl. I had already committed to myself that I would take that morning off next year if I’m here, but I felt satisfied with the small parts of the ceremony I had attended. After all, I had 9 evenings of wonderful Ganesh bhajans to look forward to.

On my way back to my room, I decided to go look at the Ganesh Chaturi schedule on the bulletin board. I was horrified when I saw what was written on the flyer. There had been a homa earlier in the morning and then the big puja …. and those were to be the only Ganesh Chathuri programs this year.

Amma had canceled the games and big processions associated with Onam and Krishna Jayanthi in recognition of the pain being experienced by the Kerala Flood victims. I hadn’t thought about that being extended to Ganesh Chathuri as well since there were no games or big processions associated with that festival.

I felt devastated. I started crying and I cried all day. It reminded me of a time years ago when I went to Amma crying to the core of me. At that time, a friend standing near Amma was alarmed. She thought one of my children must have died. The event that brought on my tears that year was not the death of one of my children, but rather was due to the fact that I didn’t have enough money to make my yearly trip to Amritapuri. Up to that point, I had come to India every year since 1990.

I believe what I access when I am in that state is my soul crying for God. And it may be have also brought up longing for experiences I have had in past lives. (For most of my years with Amma, I have cried whenever I saw Ayyappo pilgrims. They sing in that same style of music, raucous and tribal. I speculate that I took Ayyappo pilgrimages in some other lifetime. The yearning to do that again is still inside of me even though my conscious part doesn’t really want to go with them!).

Amma has said that crying for God is as powerful as meditation. I believe the longing I experienced when the bhajans were cancelled was good, but it sure was painful. I also believe that part of my pain was due to my holding on to plans instead of living from a place of nonattachment.

Later in the day, it occurred to me that having Amma’s darshan might help. Darshan was being held in the temple that day. I decided to look for the token table and found it in an unexpected place about 30 seconds later. Within the hour, I was in Amma’s arms. And, of course, being with her did help. Even though I remained teary for the rest of the day, they were not the kind of tears that were painful and wouldn’t stop.

Trust My Inner Wisdom (or not)

In the psychotherapy community I practiced in, we used an affirmation that said “Trust Your Inner Wisdom.” I usually added “except when you can’t.” Most of us have so many voices in our head. I believe it is important to make sure that we aren’t listening to a voice that supports our unhealthy belief systems and/or behaviors.

Decades ago, I heard a minister say that the first quiet voice we hear inside is usually the voice of God. The next messages that come into our mind may be a flood of discounting messages that tell us why that first message is wrong and why it won’t work. If we choose to listen to that second stream of messages, the original “voice” will fade away.

The misery I experienced when I found out there would not be Ganesh bhajans in the Kalari for the next nine days was a good example of my not listening to my inner voice. “Go check the schedule” had gone through my mind daily for about a week. I always responded. “I will …. later.” Later didn’t come until late morning on the day of the event.

As I already mentioned, I knew that Amma had cancelled the games and big processions during the two previous holidays because of the floods. While the night Ganesh bhajans weren’t games, they were raucous and high energy. Having them every night for nine days would certainly have fit into the “celebratory” category. While I was aware of this, I had not allowed myself to seriously consider that they might not happen, I believe that was also a discount to the wisdom of my inner voice.

The 20 Step recovery community extensively uses Portia Nelson’s Autobiography in 5 Short Chapters.

I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost...
I am hopeless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I'm in the same place.
But it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in...it's a habit
My eyes are open; I know where I am;
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V

I walk down another street.

I have found her autobiography to be a very powerful and helpful way of looking at life’s lessons. Years ago, I added another chapter to it… for my own use. In my adaptation, the new chapter came before any of the others. It said:

I receive a warning.
I ignore it.

My experience with the Ganesh holiday was a good example of this additional chapter. I had received warnings in the form of advice and intuitions and had ignored them all. And the result was I brought more pain to myself than if I had listened.

Exam Time

I worry too much about what other people think of me and I don’t like to be laughed at. I cringe whenever people tell stories about me that they think are funny and I don’t. I also get upset when I judge that I’ve made a fool of myself.

An incident that happened in the early 70’s stuck with me for decades. I went to a New Year’s Eve work party with Al (my husband). I worked nights at the time, and for some reason got dressed in the dark. At some point during the party, when we were talking to Al’s boss and his wife, someone noticed that I was wearing shoes that were two different colors. (At that time, I owned two pairs of shoes that were the same style, but different colors. When I had slipped them on in the dark, there was no way for me to tell that they didn’t belong together.)

I was mortified. Other people seemed to be fine about it, and said understanding things, but my inner critic flared. My feelings of humiliation were strong even decades later. I ended up doing some EMDR (therapy) on the issue in the mid 90’s. During it, I started to laugh. I had been divorced from Al for many years and here I was still worried about what the person who was his boss in the 70’s thought about me. My energy about the issue reduced tremendously after that, but it wasn’t 100% gone.

Last week I had a chance to see where I stood on those issues. One morning, I took my garbage to the recycling station. When I returned to my building, there was a group of women residents sitting near the elevator listening to the broadcast of a class that was being offered in the temple.  Before the elevator door shut, I saw one of the women smile and lean over to talk to the woman sitting next to her. They were both looking at me. At first, I took their smiles as a greeting but then I realized it didn’t feel that way. I looked down and was dismayed to discover that I was wearing two different kinds of thongs; and these weren’t even similar to each other. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t noticed. Again, I had made a fool of myself and worried about being judged.

The difference between the event in the 70’s and the one that happened last week is that I had so much less energy about it. I still didn’t like that I made the mistake and I didn’t think it was funny, but I had much more of a “whatever” attitude about it.

Long ago, someone taught me the difference between shock and embarrassment. Shock is deadening. We may freeze and turn white as the blood drains from our face. On the other hand, when we are embarrassed about something, it can actually enliven us. We may turn bright red as blood rushes into our face. Some small part of us may even think it is funny.

I realize that the words I chose for these two experiences also show the difference between shock and embarrassment. For the one that occurred in the 70’s I used “mortified” and for the one that happened last week I used “dismayed”. I believe I went into shock during the first event and was embarrassed in the present one.

I’m not happy that I set myself up in this way and know that I still have energy about being laughed at, but I do appreciate seeing that my energy about the issue has lessened so significantly.

[Note: Soon after I wrote this section, I went to work at the cafe. Ziggy, a long term devotee who is also a clown, came up to me and asked permission to put a balloon earring on my ear. I laughed at the synchronicity and said yes. People did indeed laugh at me, and I thought it was fun!]

To read the previous posts in this series click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: August 29-September 1, 2018

Amrita University Graduation

Friday, August 31, was graduation day for 1,325 undergraduate, post graduate and PhD students from the Amritapuri campus of Amrita University. The graduates came from the Schools of Arts & Sciences, Ayurveda, Biotechnology, Business, and Engineering.

This year, the graduates and their families gathered in the Amritapuri auditorium and waited for Amma and the other dignitaries to arrive. The Chief Guests, were Dr. K Sivan, Chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation and Amma who is the Chancellor of the University.

Procession to the hall

Amma and Dr. Shivan

Recession at the end of the ceremony

I was not able to attend the event, but I had been present when the decorating began the night before. The next day, I discovered that the front of the stage had been decorated with beautiful flowers and there were purple curtains that extended from one side of the auditorium to the other. They were so beautiful that they practically took my breath away. The pink lights that were placed behind the curtains made the scene even more striking. As you can see in some of the photos, many banners had been hung around the sides of the auditorium.

I was able to hear the last part of Amma’s speech. You can read some of Amma’s message to the graduating students if you click here.

So much love went into preparing and presenting this ceremony. I have no doubt that the graduates will remember this day for the rest of their lives.

The photos are from Amma’s Facebook Page and Amritapuri.org.

A New Experience

I have had a cyst on my left cheek for about six years. The doctors I have seen during that time have kept an eye on it but the only solution they offered me was to have it surgically removed. I had been told that the surgery would leave a sizable scar. I would have no problem with that if it was a necessary surgery, but since it was cosmetic, I decided to just let it be.

One day last week, a friend asked if I had considered talking to Dr. Sushila about the cyst. Dr. Sushila is the Ayurvedic doctor that runs Amritapuri’s panchakarma program. I’ve known her since my early days in Amritapuri. I thought it was a great idea, so I walked to her office and was able to schedule an appointment for that very day. During the visit, Dr. Sushila suggested I see a doctor who works at the Amrita University School of Ayurveda. The next morning, I took a rickshaw to the Ayurveda hospital/school/clinic.

Since it is a University clinic, there were students who observed the doctor closely. A few of them also assisted her. That first day, the doctor did an examination and then had one of the senior students make a poultice of herbs. I noticed it consisted of some black herbs and something that looked like a small citrus fruit. (I probably didn’t see everything that went into the poultice.) The student used a mortar and pestle to crush up the ingredients. After applying the mixture, she put a bandage over it. (The purpose of the poultice was to see if the cyst would soften overnight.)

That was the first of five daily visits to the clinic. The second morning, the doctor took of the bandage and then removed a scab that had formed on the outside of the cyst years ago. She then began the process of taking out the contents of the cyst. It was important that she also remove the outer sack because if any of the sack remained under my skin, the cyst would regrow. When the doctor finished her work, a different student applied a new bandage.

That day I had heard the doctor tell the students my cyst was a sebaceous cyst. When I looked it up later, I read that the contents of that type of cyst is a “cheese-like matter”. That description matched what I have observed in the past.

There had been some build-up of that matter overnight, so it was clear that not all of the cyst had been removed. The doctor supervised a senior student in removing more of the substance. She instructed me to return to the clinic for next two days. On the fourth and the fifth day there was no indication that the cyst was still producing the matter.

I was told I could remove the bandage at the end of that day. And, at that point, I could also finally wash my hair (I hadn’t been able to wash it because I was supposed to keep the bandages dry). When I took the last bandage off, I was very pleased to discover that there will be almost no scar.

Hopefully, I won’t need to return to the clinic, but if I do, so be it. The procedure caused no pain, so I do not dread the possibility of going back. Since I used to teach nursing students at the University of Washington, I had enjoyed being in the teaching environment.

I feel so grateful, and impressed, that the doctor was willing to give me this level of attention. I can’t imagine being told to come back five days in a row in the U.S. She had so much patience and was so gentle. And she asked repeatedly if I was experiencing pain. The cost was unbelievable. I paid 200 rupees ($3.00) to register at the clinic and 30 rupees (45 cents) for each of the dressings. That’s it!

Leelas Abound

Leela is a Sanskrit word that is often defined as “God’s play.” Even though the word “play” is used, that doesn’t mean all leelas are fun. They often take the form of lessons and challenges coming in rapid succession. Or they may be a whole series of events that leave you thinking “What in the world is going on?

I always experience an increase in leelas when I visit Amritapuri. The leelas that stand out for me on this trip occurred the evening of August 31. You may remember that earlier on the trip, I made a commitment to myself to not sit in the back or far sides of the auditorium and instead to sit in the front of the hall. For several days, I took every opportunity to do that. While I loved being in the front, I also did too much; I can’t sit cross-legged for long periods of time so my legs hurt, and I was getting too tired.

On August 31, I decided I would stay in my room during the evening meditation and the question-and-answer period that followed it; I would just go to the bhajan (devotional singing) program that followed it. During the first program, I would catch up on computer work.

About the time that the meditation started, I received an email saying that someone may have attempted to get into my Comcast account and that I needed to reset the password. After multiple failed attempts at changing the password, I called the U.S. and got help from Comcast directly.

After the call I was able to change the password on both my phone and laptop, but still wasn’t able to get the emails to download. I ended up deleting the Comcast email account on both devices and then reinstalling it. After that I was able to get my emails on the phone, but still couldn’t get them to download onto the laptop. Soon thereafter, I discovered that all of the contacts on my laptop had disappeared. Needless to say, dealing with this took a lot of time and I didn’t get any computer work done during the meditation and Q&A. In fact, I’m still dealing with some of the problems that started that evening.

By then, it was time for me to go to the bhajan program, so I headed to the auditorium. Once there, I discovered  Amma had started singing earlier than normal. As I walked into the hall, she was singing the last verse of Morya Re. I couldn’t believe it. I had heard that song for the first time during the 2017 Amritapuri Ganesh celebrations and fell in love with it. I have been with Amma for 29 years and I’ve never heard her sing the song before. I was happy that I got to hear some of it, but longed for the full experience.

I was still determined to sit in the front of the room but the hall was crowded due to the upcoming Krishna’s birthday celebrations. I decided to get to the front area by coming in from the side. Perhaps I could sit against the wall at the bottom of the stage. The front section of floor-sitting area is primarily occupied by the brahmacharinis (female monks) and long-term western residents. That would be an awesome place to sit for bhajans, although at this point I knew I would likely be sitting so close to the stage wall that I might not be able to see anything.

I did find a place to sit there and I was even able to get a glance of Amma from time to time. I was content. Moments later, an Indian brahmacharini asked if I could see Amma, and when I responded “a little” she motioned for me to come sit next to her. I was hesitant at first, because I didn’t want to block anyone’s vision, but she said it was fine. I moved up and felt very appreciative that she had helped me in this way. Then a Western resident, who was even closer to the front, motioned for me to come sit beside her, and I did. If Amma had been sitting on the floor instead on the high stage, I would have been about 20 feet away from her. Needless to say, I had a wonderful time singing bhajans from that area… and felt very taken care of besides.

My conclusions from these experiences:

Was I bad for skipping the meditation and Q&A : No

Was my choice to skip those programs a mistake: No, I made the choice based on self-care and it still feels right. However, choices may have consequences and these did.

Throughout this experience, I had the opportunity to practice behaviors such as persistence, flexibility, equanimity, and letting go. I was also reminded that what I need will be provided.

What I will do differently in the future because of this experience: I will come early to the bhajan program so if Amma starts the program before I expect her to, I will be ready.

 

To read the previous posts in this series click here.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: July 25, 2018- Practice in Flexibility, Persistence, Letting Go and More

Preparing for and leading the July 25 work party was a perfect opportunity to practice flexibility, letting go, non-attachment, staying in the moment, equanimity, persistence and a host of other values that I haven’t yet identified. At times, the challenges seemed endless.

Perhaps the first challenge occurred two weeks before the event when I fell while working in the Greenbelt. I found myself dealing with bruised ribs… again. I’ve done my best to stay conscious of my feet while walking on the sloped, uneven land but clearly I wasn’t staying conscious enough. As the work party approached, I purchased a walking stick, something I’d considered doing for a long time, and bought a good pair of hiking shoes. I also threw away the very old tennis shoes that I had been wearing the day I fell. I had known they didn’t give my feet enough support but they were so comfortable and easy to slip on. It felt good to take care of myself by discarding them.

Based on past experience, I expected we would have around 15 students from the UW Introduction to Environmental Science class. I felt very grateful when two of our regular volunteers agreed to be team leaders. Then, I was told that someone I had met in the past had moved to Washington. I discovered that he has lots of experience doing this kind of work. When I told him about the event, he was very interested in helping. So, counting me, we had four staff. Hooray!

That changed when one team leader got sick and it became obvious he wasn’t going to be able to come and another let me know she couldn’t participate. Then the third had a conflict and would only be able to come for part of the time. That left me as the only leader that would be present the whole time.

The day before the work party, we only had two students registered. Another registered that evening. I was surprised that we were going to have such a small work party, but with such a limited number of staff I knew it was for the better. Besides it is fun to have a tiny group from time to time.

Another challenge that we would have to deal with was hot weather. I’m used to having work parties planned out in great detail. When I discovered it would be in the high 80’s or low 90’s that day, I realized I would have to be prepared to let go of my “plans” and instead to practice flexibility and letting go. We would have to work wherever there was shade as it would be too hot to work in the sun. (Most of the work I had planned would have been in direct sunlight.)

Since this work party would be from 1 to 4 pm, I waited until the morning of the event to buy food for snack time. When I got into my car, I used the handle to shut the door and it broke off. I went back in the house to ponder the situation. When I returned to the car, I discovered that in addition to the broken handle, the driver’s door was locked and wouldn’t open. Because of my injured ribs, I couldn’t move into the driver’s seat from the back seat or from the passenger seat. I couldn’t believe it. I decided snack time would have to consist of what I already had in the house, uninteresting as it might be.

Several hours before the beginning of the work party, I set out directional signs on 25th Avenue South, on the Hanford Stairs and on Cheasty Boulevard. As I walked down the stairs going towards Cheasty, I noticed there was a police car parked nearby. And to the north of it, there was yellow tape blocking the road.

Since that was the way the students who took the light rail would be arriving, I walked down the stairs to get a closer look. Once there, I learned that a big tree had fallen during the night and it had knocked down power lines. I told the policewoman that people would be coming to a work party in a few hours and would be walking along that road. She told me that the repair work would take most of the day but assured me that the students would be allowed to walk through. I was still concerned. What if the students saw the tape stretched across the road and didn’t know what to do. Would they turn around and go home? I walked back to my house and sent out notices by voicemail and email.

Shortly before the work party was to begin, I walked towards the stairs again. I could hear, and soon could see, that there were  students sitting on the stairs. I thought they might be the UW students I was expecting. As I got closer to them, I could see that they were smoking. When they saw me, they ran away. I realized they were not here for the work party and that they were probably students from a nearby high school who were on their lunch break . They probably ran away because they were caught smoking, but I also laughed to myself when I thought how weird it must have seemed to have an older woman who was wearing a sun hat and an orange safety vest and holding a long walking stick come out of the forest.

Finally, it was almost time for the work party to begin. One of the  students came early, so he helped me bring the rest of the supplies into the site. Then the other team leader and the rest of the students arrived… and then a surprise… a fourth person, who had seen the work party on an event calendar joined us. I had wondered if there would be participants who would decide not to come because of the heat. Not only did everyone who had signed up show up but we had an additional person!

We started working in areas that had already been planted, removing wood chips that were touching the stems of the plants as well as digging out invasive blackberries, ivy and bindweed that was sprouting. (We put wood chips throughout the planting areas to hold in moisture and reduce weed growth. The wood chips are not supposed to touch the plant however, so we attempt to keep the space around the plant cleaned out. We refer to that empty space as a “donut hole”. ) As we finished one area, we moved to another, following the shade as much as possible. Every planting area looked so much better after we finished taking out the invasive blackberries and bindweed, and cleaning out the donut holes.

I didn’t remember to take photos during the first part of the work party, but this is what some of the planting areas looked like after we worked on them.

 

And these photos were taken later.

 

After the break, we all moved to the Greenbelt site that is north of our main site. We started by moving a drying rack that had accidentally been constructed in the place where future wood chip piles would go. I was amazed to see that the blackberry canes and other invasive plant cuttings that had been placed on it were already dry. We used that dried debris in constructing the new rack.

[Note: We place the blackberry canes, blackberry root balls, ivy and bindweed on drying racks so that they don’t touch the ground and re-root. The increased airflow that results from having them off of the ground also speeds up the drying process.]

We will be removing a lot more blackberry vines and root balls from this area. It is good to have a new rack ready to receive them.

There was a truck parked in the area I had planned to clear next, but the sun was also there, so we moved further  into the Greenbelt instead. It was still hot there, but there was a lot of shade, and a slight breeze.

We cleared an area of blackberries so that we could build another rack there. Once that rack was complete, the students continued digging out blackberries. We also started pulling out ivy. All of the cuttings were placed on the new rack.

 

Ten to fifteen years ago, many evergreen trees were planted in this part of the Greenbelt. I have been very eager to start freeing them from the invasive vines that had grown over them since then. We began working on one of those trees at this work party. There is much more to do before the tree is fully free, but we made considerable progress. (If you click the gallery to enlarge the photos…. and look closely…. you may be able to see that there is less ivy under and going up the tree!)

 

Even though the area was shady, we were all tired from working in the heat so stopped a bit sooner than we would have under normal conditions. After putting the tools and other supplies away, we gathered on the stairs to celebrate our achievements and to take a group photo.

Once again, we had accomplished so much in a short period of time. It was another big step in returning this land to the healthy forest it once was.

Not only did I enjoy leading another work party, but I had also survived a myriad of challenges and had had an abundance of opportunity to practice flexibility, letting go, non-attachment, staying in the moment, equanimity, persistence and more. While I know that these experiences will help me grow, I hope the frequency of the challenges will slow down for a while!

Update on Practice in Accepting Change and Letting Go

In my June 8 post, I shared my concern that the stairs near our Greenbelt site were being painted. I had come to the conclusion that it was a good opportunity for me to practice both accepting change and letting go.

When the stairs below ours were finished, I thought the optical illusion was cool but another concern arose. Our stairs are much smaller and closer together than those. I wondered if the bright paint would be overwhelming. I decided to stick with my decision to consider it an opportunity to not worry; to let go and accept whatever change came my way.

The stairs closest to our site were to be painted on Saturday. That afternoon, I decided to check it out. I was delighted with what I saw. The colors are beautiful. Instead of painting the sides of each step, like they did in the area below ours, the painters painted the cement border that goes between the various landings. They also painted the “bench” at the top of the stairs. (I put bench in quotes because it used to be the mount for a bulletin board.)

I’m so glad I decided to see this experience as a “lesson” rather than worrying or fretting about it. I couldn’t be happier with the results.

Practice in Accepting Change and Letting Go

The last week in April, a friend sent me an email that said an artist, working with Seattle Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School project, was painting staircases around Seattle. The notice also said that the next steps to be painted were the Hanford Stairs, the stairs that border our Greenbelt restoration site.

When I saw the photo I was concerned. I couldn’t imagine something so bright going through the forest. I didn’t understand how painting the stairs would make walking to school safer, but thought that anything that accomplished that goal would be a good thing. I liked that she was inviting community members to help paint. In addition, I knew that this unexpected change would be an opportunity for me to practice letting go and suspending judgment.

I took some comfort in the fact that the notice included a photo of the stairs that were to be painted and they were the new set of stairs that are below ours. Maybe ours would stay the same.

Last Saturday was the day the lower stairs were to be painted. Yesterday afternoon, I decided to walk down and check them out. From the top of the stairs they looked like this…. no sign of paint.

But when I walked to the bottom of the stairs and looked up, this is what I saw.

The bright colors still seemed strange to me but I had to admit that there was beauty to it. I loved that the stairs looked clear one way and fancy when you looked at them from the other direction.

This morning, I noticed that there was a lot of sand on the plants on both sides of the stairs near us. It seemed so strange and I couldn’t imagine what could have caused it. When I pointed the sand out to somebody later in the day, she said that the stairs had been pressure washed. In that moment, I realized that our part of stairs must also be part of this project and that they will probably be painted tomorrow!

I still think it will take me time to get used to this change, but I’m glad that I decided that the lower stairs were okay and even kind of pretty. I have no doubt that children will enjoy them a lot and I hope that it does indeed keep them safe.

New Book: Out of the Fog

My son Sreejit has published a new book of his poems. This one is called: Out of the Fog: 30 poetic musings on the world to which I cling. As always, Sreejit’s perspectives on life and living are thought provoking and well worth reading. Sreejit describes his newest publication in this way:

Perspective shapes our truth, our vision, and the way we move throughout this world. Our beliefs are filtered through the experiences that we’ve had and the weight that we allow these experiences to carry in the shaping of our truth. The world becomes illusion when we realize that every creature sees and understands it from different vantage points. Our world is all about perspective. The one written about here is mine.

He has also republished two of his intriguing and captivating novels.

A modern tale, an ancient mysticism, a universal love. Overcome by the weight of his failure to live up to the world’s standards of success, Ballard Davies decides that there is only one solution. He gets in his car and drives. He drives away from everything and everyone that he knows, in an effort to just start over. He doesn’t care where he’s headed; he just wants another chance to get it right. What he finds is beyond his imagination, as he befriends an eccentric cast of characters. From the divinely inspired to the rationalistic blowhards, everyone becomes a part of his journey to begin again. But there is still one problem – he cannot escape himself. What will it take for Ballard to overcome his own self-imposed limitations and live the adventure he feels he deserves? This is the journey he now travels, down a path where truth, love, desperation, honor, the forgiving and the righteous, the mystics and the scientists all battle for the chance to be given the foremost spot in the realm of his mind. Will the pain of loneliness and separation prevail, or will Ballard find something to live for?

 

Traversing a world based on perspective, with the force of our own illusions propping us up, what would you forsake to know the truth? Two families, separated by continents, are wrapped up in the same timeless struggle – to be more than the sum of their parts. Join them as they seek to solve a mystery that goes beyond the limits of our physical reality. With time never on our side, the question arises: what would you give up for freedom?

You can order these three publications and more on his Amazon.com author’s page.

“Karuna, Go with the Flow”

Devotees in the Pacific Northwest decided to celebrate Amma’s birthday this year by planting trees. Our goal was to plant 64 trees over a 7 week period but we far exceeded that number. More than 100 people participated in the project and our final count was 309 trees!

The December issue of our PNW GreenFriends newsletter was devoted to sharing stories and photos from the tree planting. Since Amma did not come to North America this fall, some of us decided to create a booklet from the newsletter and give Amma a copy when we were in Amritapuri.

This week there were fourteen devotees in Amritapuri who had participated in the project either by planting trees or by helping with the organization. Tirtha, who came up with the idea of tree planting for Amma’s birthay, was one of those people. I was so glad she was here.

We planned to present Amma the booklet on Thursday December 21st.  Finding a time when all of us would be available was quite a feat. We settled on 8 p.m.

The first bump in the road came when darshan was changed from the big auditorium to the small temple. The temple stage is very tiny so there would be no way for us to all be in front of Amma at the same time. The second challenge occurred when Western devotees were asked to come for darshan starting at 2:00 p.m. There was no reasonable way to get all of our people together at that time but we did decide to move the presentation from 8 to 7 and trust that the darshan program wouldn’t end before then.

Tirtha and I needed to find everyone to let them know of the time change. Within five minutes of the decision, almost all of the people involved walked in front of me; I didn’t have to look for any of them. Tirtha found two of the Victoria devotees soon thereafter. There was only one more person to locate. I knew he was doing seva (volunteer work) until 6:30 but I didn’t know what kind of seva it was and I didn’t know what building he was living in. The offices were closed by then so I didn’t know what to do. He was someone who had a lot of desire to participate in this presentation, so I became increasingly frantic about finding him.

Lakshmi, a long time Amritapuri resident who also helps organize and run the darshan line, had agreed to translate for us once we reached Amma. When I saw her in front of the temple in my frantic state, she said, “Karuna, Go with the Flow.” I knew she was right and I also knew that my seeing almost all of the people in the first five minutes was a good example of the flow that happens when something is meant to be.

I believe that letting go is not permission to be passive and assume everything will work out without any effort on my part. I knew, though, that I had put in plenty of effort. Instead of continuing with my frantic search, I decided to go to my room and take a cold shower even though it was 6:45. After a quick shower, I looked at my email. In that moment, a new email arrived. It was from the devotee I had been looking for, saying he was heading to the temple. I was so glad I had decided to trust the flow and had taken the shower. That helped me cool off as well as calm down. And what a good example it was of the benefits of “Going with the Flow.”

By 7:15 everyone had arrived, and we joined the darshan line. It moved much faster than I had expected. Lakshmi had suggested that since we couldn’t come in front of Amma as a group, we should go one after another. I would hand her the booklet and then each person in the group that followed would say “I planted trees” to Amma. Lakshmi even told them how to say those words in Malayalam.

Before long, I was in front of Amma. She looked through the booklet and was clearly happy. Then I was in her arms, my favorite place to be! Afterwards, I sat in an area where I could see each member of our group receive their hug.

I loved how our presentation had turned out and also appreciated the reminder of the importance of “going with the flow.”

If you would like to read the GreenFriends newsletter that became Amma’s booklet click here.
To read the previous Amritapuri posts in this series click here.