Weekly Photo Challenge: Unlikely

Last week’s photo challenge was to share a photo of something “unlikely”; something that may fit into the category of “never say never”.

I, for the most part, stopped saying “never” decades ago when I realized that many, if not most, of the things that I said “never” to ended up being an important part of my life journey.

I first recognized that pattern in my early 40’s when in a span of 2 years I became a devotee of an Indian guru (and still am), a “groupie” of a rock band named “Tribal Therapy” (for about a year), and started going to an African-American Pentecostal church (for about 15 years.) At the time when these life changes began, I had described myself as being somewhere between an agnostic and an atheist for 20 years. If, at that time, someone had told me these things would become a life focus of mine, I would have adamantly said “never… no way… not a chance”.

The other area where I have moved from “never” to it being a life focus is photography. I took some photos as a teenager, a college student and when my children were young but at some point developed the belief that photography keeps one from being in the moment; that you don’t “live” when you are focused on preserving a past moment.

I started blogging in 2014. I soon decided that my posts looked better when there were photos in them. Since most photos on the internet are copyrighted, I started looking for ones in the public domain. While over the years I have found some good sources, like pixabay.com and Creative Commons, finding free photos was a very time consuming endeavor at first. It occurred to me that I could solve that problem by taking photographs of my own.

As my interest in nature developed, I became interested in nature photography. At that point, a whole new world opened up for me.

I even bought a microscope and began to snap pictures with my iPhone and an adapter.

I suspect photography will be in my life for a long time.

This photo was taken yesterday, 5-9-18

I will continue to make it a practice to (almost) never say never.

 

Unlikely

A New Song from Nimo- Graduation: A Song to Live By

This new song and music video from Nimo of Empty Hands Music was written with graduates in mind but I believe the wisdom it contains is an an important reminder to all of us.  I love it!

Blatant Irony or Planting a Seed?

Today, an Amritapuri friend showed me this photo she took in Fort Kochi.

When she pointed out all of the litter behind the sign, I thought of how many times I have been picking up cigarette butts in Seattle and someone has stood watching me and then dropped the butt from the cigarette they were smoking on the ground right in front of me.

I like to think that if people see the trash bins in Ft. Kochi or watch others pick up cigarette butts in Seattle, it will plant a seed in their minds that will sprout sometime in the future. Perhaps at that time they will stop contributing to the litter problem. Perhaps they will even start picking up litter themselves!

“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.

Practice in Letting Go

This past summer, during Amma’s Chicago programs, ideas for how to design one of the planting areas in our Seattle forest restoration site started coming into my mind. The next day, I walked to the children’s program room, borrowed colored pencils and graph paper, and drew that design.

When I returned to Seattle, I transferred the design onto the ground as best as I could. It took hours and hours to accomplish that task as I was trying to lay it out perfectly. When I finally finished, I started laughing at myself. It had taken me that long to create placement for 12 plants. We had ordered more than 300 shrubs and ground covers. Clearly, that was not how I was going to maketo make planting plans for the whole site.

I enjoyed having “my area” though and dreamed of what it would look like in the future. This fall, I started noticing  how often branches from nearby trees fell into “my area”.  I also noticed that I was only seeing them in “my area”.

A few weeks ago we had a wind storm. In the photo below you can see some of the branches I took out of “my area” after the storm.

On November 15, we had the big planting work party. It was wonderful to finally have the native plants in “my area”. I day-dreamed about what the area would look like in the Spring.

Then I had a horrifying thought: “Those falling branches could kill ‘my plants’!” I’ve been resisting the apparent fact that in forestry 50% of what we plant may not survive. In fact, I haven’t dealt with it at all because I believe “our” plants will be different. And I hadn’t even considered the possibility that any of the plants in “my area” would die.”

At that point, I took a good look at the terrain surrounding “my area”.

The trees are really tall, they are old, and “my area” is closest to them.

As I reflected on this situation, I had many thoughts.

  • These plants, and all of the plants in the restoration site, are not “mine,” they belong to Mother Nature. I can be an instrument and do my best to take care of them, but what lives and what dies is not in my hands.
  • I knew that we would likely lose some plants in the summer since we now have long stretches with no rain, but it hadn’t occurred to me before that some plants are likely to die during the winter.
  • I remembered the Tibetan monks who spend many hours making a sand mandala and then ritualistically take it apart as a way of acknowledging that life is transient, in a constant state of flux.
  • While I will not purposely dismantle the area I have been thinking of it as “my area”, I am clearly getting an opportunity to let go and surrender. My job is to put in the effort and let go of the results.
  • It is time for me to stop thinking about that area as “my area”. I am an instrument, I am not an owner. That area is no more important than any other area.

As I was writing this post, I thought about the title that the Green Seattle Partnership gave those of us whom they trained to lead forest restoration work parties. We are called Forest Stewards. I decided to look up steward to see exactly what the word means. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines steward as “a person hired to perform household or personal services.” It gives these words as synonyms: “domestic, flunky, lackey, menial, retainer, slavey, servant”.  That’s it. I am not an owner, I am a servant of the forest.

I am a Forest Steward.

Creating Light in the Darkness

My contribution to Sreejit’s new event was posted today. I called it Creating Light in the Darkness. You can find it at:

Rage Against the Machine Day 3 by Karuna Poole

I thought the first two articles in his series were excellent.

Rage Against the Machine Day 1 by Rudran

Rage Against the Machine Day 2 by Levantine

I hope you will go to The Seeker’s Dungeon and read my post… and consider reading all three of them… and maybe even those that he posts throughout the month of November!

Some of you may want to write and submit a post of your own. You are welcome to do that. Here is part of the event description:

Your post doesn’t have to be about the United States or even politics, but should be about what is keeping our world in darkness and your own solutions for shedding light. Talk about where your own passions lie, your own causes, and the glass ceilings you are trying to break on through. Your essay should be between 800 and 5000 words.

You can learn more about the event Here. 

Needing Some Inspiration

Sreejit’s directions for this week’s Dungeon Prompt is:

When you’re feeling down or just need a push forward with your day, where do you look for inspiration? What drives you, or keeps you smiling? Or when you’re really down, what keeps you alive, and getting out of bed each morning? You don’t have to write about a major presence or source of inspiration in your life, but can just tell us about one of the little things that elevate you in some way.

I could create a long list of things that inspire me and can’t imagine pairing it down to one. Therefore, I will compromise and settle for sharing two of them with you!  Continue reading “Needing Some Inspiration”

A Bridge Between Worlds

Sreejit’s directions for this week’s Dungeon Prompt were:

If the journey of your life could be boiled down to a particular mission, what would it be?  What has been the primary focus or purpose of your particular birth?  You may believe that all of life is on a big picture path, but I’m asking about your particular journey.  Is there any lesson or goal that has defined the majority of your life?  What is your life’s mission?

I once used the process that Stephen Covey described in his book First Things First to develop a personal mission statement. The document I created that day is as relevant and alive for me now as it was on the day I created it. (My mission statement can be found in this blog post: Living with Purpose.)

For this prompt, I decided to look at my life’s mission from a different angle. Throughout my adolescence and young adult years I believed that I didn’t “belong” anywhere. That belief developed, at least in part, because I grew up as an army brat. I generally moved every three years, and if I wasn’t leaving then my friends were. No place or group felt like “home,” I always believed I was an outsider.  Continue reading “A Bridge Between Worlds”

Where the Wild Things Are

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Frequently, when I reflect on Sreejit’s Dungeon Prompt for the week, I end up writing about something very different than what I had originally intended to write about. This week was no exception. The topic was “Where the Wild Things Are”  and the directions for the prompt were:

Tell us all about one of the more wilder things you’ve done in your life that looks a little out of place when put up next to the rest of your life’s journey.  Or take it in another direction and tell us about your monsters, or demons.

Initially, I intended to write about my early days with Amma. As the deadline approached, however, I realized that there were many other times in my life when I did things that other people might consider “Wild” or perhaps “Strange.” I decided I would share some vignettes of those memories. Continue reading “Where the Wild Things Are”

Exploring Utopia

I have been thinking about Utopia since last Thursday when Sreejit announced it as the topic for this week’s Dungeon Prompts. My reflection took me to some uncomfortable places that expanded beyond the scope of Utopia.

When I think of Utopia, I think of Shangri-La, and when I think of Shangri-La, I think of the 1973 movie The Lost Horizon, one of my favorite musicals of all time. [The movie was panned by critics but it really spoke to my heart.]

As I began to write this post, I looked up The Lost Horizon and found this YouTube recording of the opening theme song. Here are the lyrics and the video. I started to cry as I listened to the song.

Lyrics:

Have you ever dreamed of a place
Far away from it all
Where the air you breathe is soft and clean
And children play in fields of green
And the sound of guns
Doesn’t pound in your ears (anymore)

Have you ever dreamed of a place
Far away from it all
Where the winter winds will never blow
And living things have room to grow
And the sound of guns
Doesn’t pound in your ears anymore.

Many miles from yesterday before you reach tomorrow
where the time is always just today
there’s a lost horizon waiting to be found.
There’s a lost horizon where the sound of guns
doesn’t pound in your ears anymore.

Earlier today, the word nirvana came to my mind. Wikipedia says this about nirvana: “All Indian religions assert it to be a state of perfect quietude, freedom, highest happiness along with it being the liberation from samsara, the repeating cycle of birth, life and death.”

It occurs to me that I may have considered aspects of Utopia, Shangri-La and Nirvana this week. In fact, I think I’ve mixed them all together. I will be presenting some of my processing in a fairly random manner.

***

In my mind, Utopia would be a world without war. It wouldn’t be a world without conflict because humans will always have differences of opinions. It wouldn’t be a world without pain because humans aren’t likely to grow unless there is at least a measure of pain involved. But it would be a world where differences are honored, where people place a high value on seeking win-win solutions, and where love is valued more than hate. It would be a world where we don’t expect each other to be perfect. In my vision of Utopia, everyone would live a life full of adventure, challenge and learning. People would be willing to work on and resolve their issues with each other and would give and receive support.

***

This week I reviewed my life and identified times when I experienced a deep sense of bliss. The times that came to mind, in order of their occurence, were:

  • In 9th grade riding on a bus with Youth For Christ members, singing Christian songs with all of my heart
  • Listening to and singing  bhajans during my early years with Amma, especially when the songs were about Krishna.
  • Spending several hours in a deep meditative state during one of my first trips to India. It occurred when I was sitting in the temple, very close to Amma. I felt like part of me was in another realm, at a party that my conscious mind was not allowed to attend.
  • Singing and “Dancing in the Spirit” at Power House Church of God in Christ (COGIC).
  • Being one of a handful of white people at several COGIC convocations in Memphis, singing gospel music along with 40,000 African-Americans.
  • Listening to Gregorian chanting at Christ in the Desert, a Benedictine monastery in New Mexico.
  • Hearing Taize music for the first time.
  • Singing and dancing to Amrita Vahini, Mata Rani and many other Amma bhajans.
  • Singing Ganesh bhajans in the Kalari last week.

Amma teaches us that bliss comes when the mind is silent. She gives the example of chocolate. If we have been craving chocolate we feel bliss at the moment the chocolate touches our tongue. If the bliss was from the chocolate then we could eat more and more chocolate and become more and more blissful. The reality is, if we eat a lot of chocolate, we will become sick. Amma says we experience bliss at that time because in the instant our tongue tastes the chocolate, our minds are silent and free from desire.

In all of the examples above, my mind was silent. I was focused and living in the moment.

***

So how do I keep myself from experiencing states similar to Utopia/Shangri-la/Nirvana in my life now?

There would be no point in trying to recreate the experiences from the past since bliss is a peak experience that usually comes unannounced. If I look at the list above though, I can see that each instance involved music and community.

Nowadays, I spend too much time alone; watch, read or think too much about current events in my country and in the world; over-think in general; and often don’t ask for what I want or need. I’ve allowed music, singing and dancing to almost disappear from my life except when I am with Amma and even then I don’t take full advantage of those opportunities. I make myself miserable by ruminating about the past or by having expectations and being upset when they don’t come to fruition.

Being around Amma brings our negativities to the surface so that we can work on them. I know that even though the behaviors I mentioned in the paragraph above are areas of weakness for me, they all feel very heightened right now as I’m writing this on a day when I am immersed in my “shit.” Things are not as black and white as I’m feeling in the moment.

At the same time, I also realize that these self-sabotaging behaviors could become more entrenched now that I’m retired. Am I willing to change them? Time will tell.

Thank you Sreejit for creating a prompt that helped me to sort some of this out.