Since Amma was on the North Kerala tour, my last days in the ashram for this year were relatively quiet. As soon as she left, I started cleaning up my room and storing my belongings. I also worked in the cafe, and had some special time with Chaitanya and Sreejit (my daughter and son). In addition, I reflected on my trip as a whole and pondered changes I would make once I returned to Seattle
You might remember that my Tai teachers had returned to their respective countries. Dave departed just before Christmas and Stefanie left soon after New Year’s. Our class had decided to practice on its own, but a man we met just before our instructors left volunteered to teach us. He was a very kind and knowledgeable man, but his style was so different from what I was used to. Among other things, he taught us about 1) chakras, 2) giving gratitude to our organs for serving us year after year and 3) how each of the moves related to either bringing chi into our body or sending it out.
Like Dave and Stefanie, he often showed us how the movements we were doing related to the martial art form of Tai Chi. The information he shared was fascinating and valuable but we stood in one place while listening to him talk for an hour or more each day. My swollen feet didn’t do well with that. I tried sitting on the ground or on a step from time to time but that didn’t work for me either. He used quiet guided imagery a lot. I became agitated, wanting to be doing the beautiful Tai Chi moves. The rest of the class was thoroughly enjoying his class, though, so I began to think about dropping out.
I noticed my body was beginning to get stiff and was reverting to the way it had been before I had started the Tai Chi classes. One day, I decided to go to the beach early and practice the movements I had learned. I enjoyed doing that so much. That practice was followed by another day of standing still for over an hour, so I decided to drop the class.
Each morning until I left the ashram, I took the elevator up to the 15th floor of the building I live in and then walked up to the roof. As I did Tai Chi on the rooftop, majestic eagles flew over me.
(I realize some of you may not be able to access the slide show so I will post one of the photos below.)
During the last two days of my stay in Amritapuri, I purposely left my camera in my room and experienced the eagles for myself. One day there were six of them flying over or near me! That truly felt like heaven.
As my time to leave the ashram approached, I started doing computer searches to look for teachers in Seattle. I plan to take my time in choosing a new instructor. Dave had suggested we look for teachers whose movements flow and who has noticeable chi themselves. I added another criteria to that list. I want a teacher who emphasizes practice over theory.
There is one Tai Chi story I have meant to tell you in past posts but kept forgetting to do so. I have shared many photos of the beautiful beach where we held the class. What was also true about that beach is that we were learning in an area which was used as a parking lot during Amma’s public darshan programs. On those days, there were as many as four large buses and numerous cars parked in “our” area. That space was also the thoroughfare for pick-up trucks and bicycles going to and from the food composting center. We definitely had plenty of practice in staying flexible and patient. The whole scene became funny at times.
Another subject I haven’t mentioned at all is my love for the Seahawks. I have had a life time distaste for football but all that changed in 2013 when I became an avid follower of our Seattle team. I love the sense of community supporting the team brings to Seattle, and our whole region for that matter. Last year I purposely woke up early when I was in India to “watch” some of the games. (I say “watch” but that really means I was watching the score.) This year I was content to just look at the scores when I woke up, but the team was still very much on my mind. I would be returning at the same time the playoff games started. In fact, the first play off game would take place when I staying in a hotel in Dubai, so I planned to “watch” it there. (Photo Credit: Ginny Gensler)
I decided to make a photo gallery that represents many of the highlights of my 2015/16 visit to Amritapuri:
(Hover the cursor over pictures to see the captions; Click the gallery to enlarge the pictures)
There are, of course, many other people with whom I had special times on this trip but have no picture of them to put in the gallery. I will keep the photo below separate from the gallery since I didn’t take it in Amritapuri. It portrays a pancake I made when I returned to Seattle; one that was inspired by the breakfasts my friend Lalita created each morning. I appreciate her positive modeling of healthy eating and all of the wonderful conversations we had during that meal. The pancake I made is topped with yogurt, pomegranate, bananas, chia seeds and hemp seeds. I will eventually look for ragi flour and try to replicate the cafe’s ragi pancakes!
January 17 Epilogue
I left India on January 10. On the way back to Seattle, I stayed 14 hours in the Dubai airport hotel and did indeed follow the first Seahawk playoff game while I was there! When I was still at the airport in India, I was thinking about the game and noticed that Skiddles were being sold there. I’ve never had a Skiddle in my life, but I knew one of our players often talks about them (I think they are one of his sponsors). I decided to buy a package of Skiddles as a symbol of support for my team. When I mentioned I had purchased them to Sreejit and Chaitanya they both told me how bad they were for my teeth! I thought it was funny to get that kind of feedback from my kids.
I arrived in Seattle on Monday morning and on Wednesday morning checked out my first Tai Chi class. I liked the class but I want to experience some other teachers before I make a decision about an ongoing classes. I have picked classes to attend on the 19th and 21st.
I spent this weekend attending a Sanskrit workshop. I love being with the Samskrita Bharati family but in the future I will remind myself not to participate in a workshop so soon after my return. (I’m still only sleeping 2 or 3 hours a night due to jet lag.) My friend Yashas took the workshop with me and he loved it. That really made the weekend extra special for me. Hopefully in time we will be able to speak Sanskrit together. (As an aside, the 2nd Seahawks playoff game was during the workshop. I know I was not the only person in the room who was surreptitiously glancing at their phone to check the score. We lost. Bummer.)
My visit to India was challenging but I learned so much and will be eternally grateful for the opportunities I have been given. Thank you for reading my posts and in so doing taking the journey along with me.
To see the earlier posts in this series go to: https://livinglearningandlettinggo.wordpress.com/india/
After Lalita and I left Amrita Herbal Gardens, we walked to the Vrindavan Tulasi Field, the farm I had originally planned to see that day. This property contains the gardens I have heard about most over the years. The devotees who have worked there have faced so many obstacles. Year after year it has been a process of trial and error. Amma teaches us to put in the effort and let go of the results. Those who have worked at this farm have done such a good job of doing that.
When I walked onto the property, I gasped at what I saw. The place had truly become paradise. The first plants that caught my eye were some that had beautiful flowers, different from any I had ever seen.
After leaving that area, Lalita and I walked from place to place, marveling at everything we saw. There were coconut trees of course, but so much else. We saw many banana circles, each with its own compost pile in the middle. We viewed many different types of plants, all looking healthy and luscious. (Click on the gallery to enlarge the pictures.)
This farm was first known as the Tulasi Field. (Tulasi is also called holy basil and is known for its medicinal and religious properties.) Several years later, they discovered that Rudraksha trees were growing there and throughout the ashram. The devotees started planting Rudraksha trees in all of the gardens. For a while the Tulasi Field became known as the Rudraksha Farm. This year I discovered it has been renamed Amma’s Vrindavan Tulasi Field.
Lalita noticed that the bottom portion of all of the Rudraksha trees had been painted white; I didn’t think to ask one of the workers why that was done. A worker told us that 10,000 rudraksha seeds had been harvested this year. Those were produced by a small number of trees, as the trees that had been planted in the last few years were not mature enough to produce fruit. One thousand seeds had been harvested from the tree in the picture on the right side of the gallery below. It was the most prolific tree on the property.
Rudraksha seeds are considered sacred in India. They symbolize the dissolution of desires and the awakening of truth. A rudraksha seed is divided into 1-21 segments. Those segments are also known as faces or mukhi. While all rudraksha seeds have healing properties, the properties change depending on the number of mukhi. The five mukhi rudraksha seed is the most common form. It can help with regulating blood pressure, heart problems, stress, mental disability, obesity, anger management, diabetes, piles, neurotic and behavioral problems.
Here are some pictures I took the first year they started harvesting the fruit of the rudraksha trees. After the fruit is picked, it is opened and the seed is taken out, soaked and then brushed until it is clean. To read an article I wrote about the rudraksha seeds two years ago go to: Rudraksha Farming at Amritapuri, pages 7-9. That document contains more information and many pictures.
There may have been tulasi plants growing throughout the property, but one of the last areas we came upon before we returned to Amritapuri was a field of tulasi. The plants were so big and so healthy. A woman who had recently come to the ashram was watering them. I had the feeling she didn’t understand why we were so astounded by what we were seeing. She probably didn’t know about all of the years and effort that had been spent trying to get anything to grow in the dry, barren ground.
I found myself teary as I wrote this post. The earth in so many of the pictures looks dark and rich; so different from how it used to be. This property is certainly proof that when you put in the effort and let go of the results, miracles can happen.