To read previous posts in this series click here.
When I picked this title, I wanted something that would grab Al (my ex-husband)’s attention and the attention of everyone who knows him. I think the content will also be of interest to others who read my blog.
When Amma’s Seattle satsang began the PNW Litter Project in 2011, we focused on general litter pick up. Before long, King County Parks Department hired us to pick up cigarette butts in various county parks. At the time the Parks Department was doing research to determine how big a problem cigarette butts were.
The Seattle arm of the Pacific Northwest project kept the cigarette butt focus even after our “job” with the county was over. Cigarette butts are way more toxic than you might think. They are NOT made of cotton, they are made of cellulose acetate tow, which is a form of plastic, and they can take decades to degrade. Investigators in a San Diego State University study once discovered that if you put fathead minnows and top smelt in a liter of water that also contains a single cigarette butt, half of the fish will die.
Our group still does a yearly cigarette butt pick up in the international district in Seattle. Any butts we collect are sent to TerraCycle to be recycled into plastic pallets and other plastic products. Sending them to TerraCycle keeps the butts out of the landfill and the water. It also keeps them out of the stomachs of birds, fish and other animals. Our group has sent 341,224 cigarette butts to TerraCycle.
Al has been part of the Litter Project since it began. In the early days, he and I would meet near his International District apartment and pick up litter on weekends. He would also participate in the bigger work parties.
In the early days, our group counted the butts, but we stopped doing that when we started sending them to TerraCycle. TerraCycle uses a formula based on weight to determine the numbers of butts we sent them. In the first photo below, Al and I were counting the butts at the end of a work party.
Al is also known for feeding the birds in his neighborhood, including the crows. That brings me to the reason for writing this post. I saw this intriguing video the other day and thought this kind of crow training might be a natural fit as a volunteer job for you Al. 😉
These crows were picking up both litter and cigarette butts. A longer version of the video commented that people shouldn’t try it on their own, the crows should be trained by an experienced trainer. So maybe it isn’t your job of the future Al, but it is an intriguing idea!
(In writing this, I wondered if holding the butts in their beaks could harm the crows. I hope not.)
One day last week, I saw a tree in the ashram that had a jackfruit growing on it. I have seen them in markets before but never on a tree. Today, I went back to that area of the ashram to take a closer look.
A friend from Malaysia was standing nearby, so I confirmed that the fruit was indeed a jackfruit. She told me jackfruit trees usually have a lot more fruit on them than this tree and the trees generally don’t grow so tall. Since this tree was near tall buildings, we thought it was probably reaching for sunlight.
The first was taken looking up at the top of the tree. The second was the middle section. If you look closely at that one you will see an area that has a new fruit starting to grow and another place where there is a flower. The third photo is of the two big jackfruit that drew my attention.
I looked up jackfruit on the internet and learned some interesting facts.
1. Jackfruit is the state fruit of Kerala, India, the state I am visiting.
2. They can weight up to 80 pounds and can be 35 inches long and 20 inches in diameter.
3. A mature tree may produce up to 250 jackfruit a year.
4. One site said a jackfruit is made up of many flowers (hundreds to thousands of them) and it is actually the petals that are being eaten. Another site described them as edible bulbs.
5. Ripe jackfruit are eaten as a fruit; unripe jackfruit are used as vegetables.
6. Every part of the tree can be used. The wood is termite resistant.
7. The fruit is high in fiber and a good source of vitamin C and the B vitamin complex. It also is a significant source of other minerals.
I found some interesting jackfruit photos and graphics on pixabay.com. You can click on the gallery to enlarge the photos.
To read more about jackfruit go to:
The last photo I will share is a close-up of the jackfruit I saw on the tree in Amritapuri.
To read previous posts in this series click here.
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!
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!
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.
From Amma’s Christmas Message
Quote posted on Amma’s Facebook Page
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.
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.
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.