Contemplating “Lover of Leaving”

I woke up sometime in February with the phrase “lover of leaving” in my mind. I knew those words were from a line in a poem I had read in the past, but I didn’t remember who wrote it. I searched under Kabir and Hafiz to no avail but soon discovered the phrase was part of a Rumi poem I had read, and loved, many years ago.

“Come, come, whoever you are,
wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving,
it doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times.
Come, come again, come.”

Later, I thought about something I once learned from Jean Illsley Clarke, a mentor of mine. She taught me that there are four ways of leaving: come and go, eject, grow up and leave, and stay. None of those ways of leaving are inherently bad or good, and we more than likely do them all. However, the way we leave our family of origin often becomes a life template.

My father was in the Army, so I grew up in a situation where I was surrounded by leaving. Either my family left, or other families left. I believe in third grade we moved three times. And there were only two times where we lived anywhere longer than three years: my first five years, we lived in Sandia Base in New Mexico and we lived in Pirmasens, Germany for four years. Other than those times, I think we moved every year or two.

While my “Army brat” upbringing gave me plenty of experiences with leaving and being left, the style of leaving that became my template was to eject. I was not a happy child or teenager. As a teenager, I counted the days before I could leave home and I unconsciously picked a college that was as far away as I could go and still be in the continental United States. (My family was living in Florida at the time, and I moved to Seattle.) I went home a few times when I was in college, but it was rare. Soon after I graduated, I told my father I was thinking of marrying Al, an African American friend. He made it clear that, by even considering doing that, I was no longer welcome in the house. So, I had not only ejected myself but was also ejected.

The protective mechanisms I developed were to be overly independent and to not bond with people. I tend to separate easily and rarely look back. Over the years, I became much better at bonding, but am still reluctant to give up my independence.

Several years ago, a friend pointed out that I leave events without letting anyone know; people have no idea where I’ve gone. In reflecting on her observation, I realized she was right. But the impulse to leave when I want to leave has been stronger than a desire to do something different so I have continued to do that. I can see that leaving without telling anyone I’m going is a form of ejection.

That doesn’t mean I always choose to eject , sometimes I stay until it is time to leave; sometimes I even stay longer than is in my best interest. I rarely, if ever, come and go.

Al and I married in 1971. I worked at the University of Washington for five years (1974-1979) after I finished my Master of Nursing degree, followed by ten years as a Clinical Nurse Specialist at Swedish Hospital Medical Center (1979-1988). During part of that time I worked in the Maternal-Newborn units. I also helped to organize and run a Satellite Baccalaureate program for the nurses that worked there. Then I became a Psychiatric and Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialist and, along with co-therapists, led psychotherapy groups for the next thirty years (1987- 2017). Even though Al and I divorced when our children were young, he and I raised two wonderful children. I still live in the house he and I bought in 1973. I did not eject in any of those parts of my life. That doesn’t mean I never had the urge to eject, but rather I didn’t do it.

The Rumi poem I talked about at the beginning of this post referred to leaving as part of a spiritual process. At first I was going to say that is not an area where I eject, but as I thought about it, I realized that wasn’t true. I picked a very conservative Christian college in Seattle. I was there during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights era. I became very angry, judging the students and faculty as having their heads buried in their Bibles. By the time I left there, I had labeled myself as being somewhere between an agnostic and an atheist.

I had definitely ejected from the Christian Church. I maintained that position for the next 20 years. I felt nauseous if I even heard someone say the word God. That changed soon after I met Amma in 1989. When the music started that first night, I felt as if I was Home.

Even though she has been my spiritual teacher for 31 years, I occasionally feel the urge to eject. When I get triggered by something she says or does, there are times I think: “I’m not going to do this anymore” …. “I’m leaving.” However, now I don’t take those automatic thoughts seriously. I may go to the back of the room and pout and/or indulge in self-pity, but I know it usually will pass in a day or two. And even if it takes longer, I know I’m unlikely to ever leave. Amma is still Home to me.

(Note: Even though Amma has been the central part of my spiritual journey ever since I met her, I have also been involved with Christian organizations from time to time. I guess that is my example of the coming and going type of leaving!)

So even though my original style of leaving is to eject, it is only something for me to stay conscious of. I can use my discrimination and embrace coming and going, growing up and leaving or staying; saving ejecting as a form of leaving only for when it is necessary for my mental or physical health or survival.

Writing this contemplation post has been helpful to me. Perhaps once the pandemic is over and we are able to meet in groups again, I will begin to let people know when I am leaving. Leaving without saying goodbye is certainly not necessary for my mental or physical health or survival! I do not need to eject.

Finding Peace in Uncertain Times: Amma

There is no doubt in my mind that Amma has helped me the most in finding peace in uncertain times; by her presence, her teachings and the opportunities to apply those teachings, her music, her guidance when I have questions, the example she sets in living a life of service and the community of people I have in my life because of her.

As I am dealing with my own health problems, as well as living in the world during a pandemic, I am grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had to learn persistence, flexibility, letting go, being like a bird perched on a dry twig, and being in the moment. While my mind still goes into overdrive, most of the time I am able to find a centered place within me.

As I am writing this, I am remembering a prayer I wrote in the mid to late 90’s. It is still my prayer.

Mother, may my hands be in service, my mind fill with mantra
May my voice forever sing your praise, my heart dance with joy
May my love shine ever brighter, my faith ever grow
Mother, may each day I become more like you, only for this I pray
Only for this I pray

[Amma means mother]

Sanskrit Writing Practice #5

Not too long after the pandemic began and we were told to stay home, I started writing one of the 108 Names of Amma ten times in Devanagari (the script used to write Sanskrit words) each day. Many of the “names” relate to one of Amma‘s characteristics. The list was written by a devotee decades ago and is frequently used as a chant before meditation or singing.

If you notice differences between the transliteration and the Devanagari script know that more information about that is provided in my last Sanskrit writing post.

Line 76

ॐ त्याग वैराग्य मैत्रयादि सर्व सद्वासना पुषे नमः
om tyaga vairagya maitryadi sarva sadvasana pushe namah
… who encourages the cultivation of good qualities such as renunciation, dispassion, love, etc.

Line 80

ॐ सुभाषित सुधा मुचे नमः
om subhashita sudha muche namah
… whose speech is as sweet as ambrosia

Line 88

प्रोत्सादित ब्रह्मविद्या सम्प्रदाय प्रवृत्ताये नमः
om protsahita brahmavidya sampradaya pravrittaye namah
…who encourages the learning of Brahmavidya, the science of the Absolute through the tradition of the guru-disciple relationship

Sanskrit Writing Practice #4

Not too long after the pandemic began and we were told to stay home, I started writing one of the 108 Names of Amma ten times in Devanagari (the script used to write Sanskrit words) each day. Many of the “names” are events in Amma‘s early life or one of her characteristics. The list was written by a devotee decades ago and is frequently used as a chant before meditation or singing.

I have been having health problems, not related to covid, so it has been a week or more since I last wrote any Sanskrit. I finished line 78 last night. In this post, I will share lines 71 and 78.

I frequently make errors when I write. Usually by the 10th time I write the line, it is correct but not always, I still slip up. I also have discovered there are occasionally discrepancies between the transliteration and the Devanagari versions. Since I don’t know which is right, I just write it the way it is in the various books I am using. I also do not differentiate between the different kinds of “a”s, “i”s, “u”s, “n’s, “sh”s (and a few others) when I write the transliteration in blog posts. And last, there are occasionally times when letter combinations I use when I write the Devanagari script are different than the keyboard I am using for the post.

Line 71
सुप्रसन्न मुख़ाम्भोज वराभयद पाणये नम:
suprasanna mukhambhoja varabhayada panaye namah
… who has a bright, beaming face, as beautiful as a lotus flower, and who holds her hand in the posture of blessing

Line 78
प्रेमभक्ति सूधा सिक्त साधू चित्त गूहजूषे नम:
premabhakti sudha sikta sadhu citta guhajushe namah
… who resides in the cave of the heart of the pious that are drenched with the nectar of devotion

Sanskrit Writing Practice: Post #3

It has been 58 days since I started writing one of the 108 Names of Amma in ten times in Devanagari (the script used to write Sanskrit words) each day. Many of the “names” are events in Amma‘s early life. The list was compiled decades ago and is frequently used as a chant before meditation or singing.

In my last Sanskrit post, the lines related to Amma having had a vision of Lord Krishna. In this post I am using three lines that follow the one about Amma having had a vision of the Divine Mother holding an instrument called the veena. So these three lines are about what happened once her vision disappeared.

Day 48

देवी सद्य: तिरोधान ताप व्यथित चेतसे नम :
devi sadyas tirodhana tapa vyathita chetase namah
…whose heart was burnt in the fire of sorrow on the Divine Mother’s sudden disappearance,

Day 50

त्यक्तान्न पान निद्रदी निद्रादि सर्व दैहिक धर्मणे नम:
tyaktanna pana nidradi sarva daihika dharmane namah
… who gave up all bodily activities like eating, drinking, sleeping, etc.

Note: In doing this post, I see that I didn’t write pana in any of my sentences. Whoops.

Day 51

कुररादि समानीत भक्ष्य पोषित वर्ष्मणे नम:
kuraradi samanita bhakshya poshita varshmane namah
whose body was nourished by the food brought by birds and other animals

Note: I only wanted to use three lines in this post. Day 49 was “… whose sorrowful wailing was rending the ears of the four quarters.”

Day 38 and 39 Sanskrit Writing

In a recent post, I wrote about having decided to use a beautiful chant consisting of 108 characteristics of Amma as a spiritual practice and an opportunity to start writing in Sanskrit again. My plan was to start at the beginning of the chant and write each line 10 times in Devanagari (Sanskrit script) … completing one line per day.

Today is the 40th day of that practice. I decided to share my journal pages from Days 38 and 39 with you. (I choose to write using a pen so you will see numerous corrections.)

Many of the lines in the chant are about events that happened during Amma’s early life. That is true of these two lines.

Day 38
वियोग शोक सम्मूर्व्व्हा मुहु: पतित वर्ष्मने नम:
om viyoga shoka sammurccha muhurpatita varshmane namah
… who often fell down unconscious due to the grief of non-union with Krishna

Day 39
सारमेयादि विहित शुश्रूषा लब्ध बुद्धाये नमः
sarameyadi vihita shushrusha labdha buddhaye namah
… who regained consciousness by the proper nursing given by dogs and other animals

Writing Sanskrit as Spiritual Practice

During the previous decade, I attended Sanskrit classes for about five years. For a while I even attended two classes a week. My goal was to be able to converse in Sanskrit.

I became discouraged, however, when class after class of Indian students zoomed past me. I may have known more Sanskrit when each class began, but many of the Indian students’ native languages were rooted in Sanskrit so they were able to easily able to develop a Sanskrit vocabulary. I couldn’t do that. I progressed in my studies, but the time came when I was no longer willing to dedicate the hours it would take to reach my goal; besides, I was no longer convinced my goal was even possible.

One day during the current pandemic, it occurred to me that I could write in Sanskrit as a form of spiritual practice. It had been a long time since I’d written the Devanagari letters and I knew I would enjoy doing that once again.

Many years ago, a devotee of my spiritual teacher, Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi), wrote a beautiful chant consisting of 108 characteristics of Amma. I realized I could focus on one line of that chant each day by writing it in Devanagari script ten times. I have been doing that exercise for the last 28 days!

In the past, I often wrote about my Sanskrit studies on this blog. I decided a few days ago that I would do that again. But each day, I determined that my writing wasn’t good enough or the line of the chant wasn’t the right one. Today, I decided that since my purpose was to share the process, nothing about it had to be perfect.

I picked the 24th and 25th lines of the chant to share:

om nissabda janani garbha nirgamadbhuta karmane namah (Salutations to Amma who did the miraculous deed of keeping silence when she came out of her mother’s womb.)

om kali sri krishna sangkasha komala shyamala tvishe namah (Salutations to Amma who has the beautiful dark complexion reminiscent of Kali and Krishna.)

I hope the pandemic ends before I reach the 108th day, but even if it does, I may continue this practice until I have finished the last line.

I will end my post with the following prayer:

Om Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu
Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu
Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu
May all beings in the world live in peace

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
Peace, Peace, Peace

A Time of Letting Go

As I mentioned in my posts from India, I have been having trouble with balance. It started about two years ago but has been getting worse. With my doctor’s support, I had dealt with it by working with a personal trainer at a gym and doing physical therapy. Both have been valuable, but it was while I was coping with uneven ground in India that I realized how much worse my balance had gotten in the last year. And I also noticed that the balance problem was often accompanied by a sense of wooziness and exhaustion. The India heat and jet lag made those symptoms even worse. It was towards the end of the trip that it first occurred to me that I should stop leading work parties in the Greenbelt. I let that thought percolate in the back of my mind.

Seeing that the symptoms were getting worse, and that strength building at the gym and physical therapy weren’t sufficient for dealing with the physical problems, once I returned to Seattle, I started getting medical tests to rule out underlying causes. (Some of those tests have been delayed because of the pandemic.)

Around the same time, it occurred to me that my physical problems might also be due to overthinking, overdoing and letting myself get overly stressed. After all, from the time I started working in the Greenbelt, I had thought and even dreamed about the restoration work incessantly.

Overthinking, overdoing and letting myself get overly stressed and exhausted have been life patterns for me. There were times in my life when I felt as if my mind was like a computer that was about to explode. My present-day physical symptoms were eerily similar to those experiences. My old pattern was to keep doing all of those behaviors until I got so sick that I couldn’t do the work anymore. I believe that was why I got Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the mid 80’s and in the 2000’s developed high blood pressure.

Having these insights felt very helpful, but what was to be done with them? Since August of 2016, my life had been primarily focused on the Greenbelt restoration project. I had loved working on the land as well as working with the team leaders and the many hundreds of volunteers who had helped. I had treasured watching the land transform from space overrun with blackberries, ivy and bindweed to land filled with native trees, shrubs and ground covers. But the joy had been accompanied by hardship. The ground is sloped and uneven and I had tripped and fallen many times, once even breaking my wrist. It had taken a tremendous amount of effort to find volunteers to help with the work parties. All of the planning and administrative work had practically turned into a full- time job.  And everything had gotten more difficult for me to do as the balance problems and wooziness worsened.

I realized that almost all of my overthinking, overdoing and stress was related to my Greenbelt restoration work. I knew myself well enough to know that cutting back was not an option; I wouldn’t be able to stop the overthinking with that approach. I knew I needed to stop doing the restoration work as soon as possible. In addition, I needed to accept the fact that I am 71 years old now and have limitations that go with aging.

But I would not make the change immediately. If at all possible, it was important to me to finish Winter Quarter activities since I had University of Washington Service-Learning students as well as Capstone interns from the UW School of the Environment. Even though it was difficult, I was able to complete that commitment!

I have never questioned my decision to stop my involvement in the restoration project, but I knew that I would feel devastated if the land reverted to its 2016 state. I felt relieved when the Green Seattle Partnership staff told me that they were committed to finding another Forest Steward to continue the project.

Several friends and family members told me that my replacement would be revealed. One day, our newest team leader came into my mind. She knows so much and has so much energy. And she had participated in almost all of the student work parties this quarter. I contacted her and asked if she had ever thought about becoming a Forest Steward. I was astounded when she told me she already was one, she had taken the Forest Steward training in 2014. And she was interested in the position!

She prefers to work in a team, so hopefully one or more of our other team leaders will take the training when it is offered in October. But the fact that she is already a Forest Steward means the project can continue now. The saying “what you need will be provided” has certainly come true.

I will miss leading the project but know that I can potentially help in the future. And since the site borders my property, I can still watch the new plants grow and take nature photos. What I am primarily experiencing is a sense of relief.

Just before I sat down to write this post, the title of a book I used to recommend came to mind.

Life is Goodbye,
Life is Hello
Grieving Well Through All Kinds of Loss

I know I am saying both goodbye and hello in my life and realize that I may experience a myriad of feelings as I continue this process of living, learning and letting go.

***

I’m not the only one letting go. While I am feeling a lot of relief about my decision about my own life, I’m much more excited about another person’s transformation. Have any of you wondered why you no longer can find my son’s blog, The Seeker’s Dungeon?

Sreejit deleted The Seeker’s Dungeon when he found out he was going to receive the yellow robes of a brahmachari. (To learn more about brahmacharis and brahmacharya click here.)

The decision to delete his blog was part of letting go of his Sreejit identity as he moves into the next stage of his life.

His name is now Brahmachari (Br.) Sattvamrita Chaitanya. Chaitanya is like a last name for all brahmacharis so would only be said in a formal setting. Most of the time he will be called Sattvamrita. The phonetic spelling is sut VAAM ri tu.  The u’s are like the short u in hut, the aa is long like the a in psalm or alms, and the i is like the i in knit. The capitalized letters are for the syllable that is emphasized. 

I have loved seeing him so excited and happy.

Here are a few photos of Sattvamrita. Cutting off his hair and beard was part of the initiation process.

His sister is so happy for him too. (BTW The sleeves on Sattvamrita’s shirt will be hemmed at a later time! 😁)

A person standing in front of a store

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Question to Readers: What Makes You “Duck” Unnecessarily? (Also… A Guest Post Opportunity)

There is a corridor in Amritapuri that can be taken as a shortcut between the auditorium and the north part of the ashram. That slightly sloped corridor has a low ceiling.

A tall person would have to duck their head to get through any of that area, but for many people bending down isn’t necessary. I have tested it out many times and there is no need for me to duck when I walk through the lower part of the walkway… but I do. For me, there is at least an inch of free space over my head, but I’ve noticed that many people duck even if there is more than a foot of space between their head and the ceiling.

Since I’ve become clear that there is no need for me to duck my head, I have tried to walk through the area standing straight. So far I seem incapable of doing that. In the past two weeks, the closest I have come to my goal is to walk through with my hand on the top of my head or to scrunch my neck as much as I can, as if my neck was a spring. I am hoping to be able to walk through the area without any kind of ducking by the time I leave India.

After I observed my own and others behavior, it occurred to me that the situation could be seen as a metaphor. There must be many times in my life, when I have metaphorically ducked. Then it occurred to me that there might be a wide variety of metaphors or stories that could result from this observation. I decided to find out if readers relate to my experience, as well as to offer a potential guest post opportunity.

I believe one of the times I metaphorically duck is when I worry about what other people think about me. What situations in your life cause you to duck unnecessarily? I would love it if you would share your answer to that question in the comments below.

Or … use your creativity to develop a different metaphor. Or … write a short story, poem, fable, parable, or any other modality, on a topic inspired by my post. Perhaps you will even see something to photograph that you think relates.

Consider coming back to this post later to see the ways other readers responded to my question. And if you decide to accept my challenge to write a story, poem, fable, parable, or any other piece, and want it to be considered for a guest post, sent it to me at livinglearningandlettinggo@gmail.com.