Those of you who have read my blog posts for some time might remember that one of Amma’s teachings is to “Be like a bird sitting on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice.” She also encourages us to focus on the present moment, rather than dwell on the past or the future. I have had many opportunities to apply those lessons in my life. Each experience has helped in preparing me for what I am dealing with now, Parkinson’s Disease (PD).
During my years as a psychotherapy client and as a psychotherapist, as well as during my spiritual journey, I have had plenty of opportunities to learn that Resistance=Pain. Leap of Faithwent so far as to say that Resistance=Death. Amma teaches us to accept whatever comes. Byron Katie wrote a book entitled Loving What Is. These teachings and plenty of experiences in learning the value of acceptance and the futility of resistance have also helped me to accept that PD is part of my life now and will probably be for the rest of my life.
My younger brother died at 39. Shortly before his death he wrote an essay, The Truth I Live By. The sections of that essay that impacted me the most were:
Is cancer unfair? Is it fair that we should expect billions of cells in our body to reproduce over and over again, over an entire lifetime, and always get it right?
I can’t walk outside without seeing the beauty of our created world, from the rainbow in a line of earthworm slime, to another visible ring on Jupiter.
Even though I have enough things to interest me another 10 lifetimes, I must take solace in knowing that, at least compared to others, I’ve had much more than my share even in half a life time.
I am now 72 years old. No matter what happens in the future, I believe I was given and have lived a full lifetime.
Right now, every day is filled with puzzles to be solved, whether it is getting dressed, figuring out meals or at times even walking. I’m grateful to Ramana for housesitting when I stayed in Woodinville and for staying on to help me when I returned home. I am grateful for the love and support I get from other friends and my neighbors. I am grateful for my doctors. I am grateful for my physical therapist and for all the zoom exercise classes he and his staff provide. I am grateful for the medicine I am taking to relieve the symptoms of PD. I am grateful for the love and support I receive from my adult children, Satvamrita and Chaitanya, and my ex-husband, Al. I am grateful for Amma’s never-ending love and guidance. I am grateful that I have so many things to be grateful for that I can’t list them all here.
I used to teach a workshop called Lessons on Lessons. When I started this blog, I decided to call it, Living, Learning and Letting Go: Lessons on Lessons. I am realizing that as I learn from Parkinson’s Disease I will have the opportunity to share those life lessons here. Consider this the first in a series! I don’t know how often I will write but I will write. As I wrote those last lines I remembered that the pastor’s wife of a church I used to attend always prefaced her weekly announcements with “If the Lord shall say the same we will……..”
With that in mind and knowing that I don’t even know “what is around the next corner” I will amend one of my last statements to say that it is my intention to write about the lessons I learn from this experience.
I expected our May 4 work party would be the biggest event we would hold in May. It might even be our biggest work party of the spring. After all, it was one of the Rainier Chamber of Commerce’s Bridge to Beach cleanup weekend events. In addition, shortly before the event, we were notified that the work party would be advertised in the Green Seattle Partnership Facebook Page and on their blog.
We had a group of five team leaders, which included me, ready to lead the flood of volunteers who might decide to participate. A neighbor who has worked on this project from the beginning would also be coming. Much to my surprise, the time before and during the work party, ended up being an opportunity for me to practice trusting that the volunteers we’d need would be provided. All of the team leaders also had the opportunity to practice flexibility, persistence, letting go, accepting what is, doing whatever it takes, equanimity and Amma’s teaching that we should be like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice.
For example, a week before the event only two volunteers had pre-registered. Around that time, I received a phone call from a man who had seen our event on the Bridge to Beach listing. He wanted me to know that he and his wife were going to attend our work party. But two days before the event, he called back to say they had found an event closer to their home, so they would not be coming to ours. On the same day they canceled, a young man from a University of Washington fraternity asked if he could bring a group from his fraternity. He believed he could bring 10 volunteers. I, of course, responded with an enthusiastic “Yes.” By then one of the two people who had pre-registered early on canceled.
On the day of the event, the team leaders were assembled and ready. The first person to arrive was a high school student who had worked with us before. She hadn’t pre-registered, but I was delighted to see her. The other person who had originally signed up didn’t show up, nor did any of the fraternity brothers who had pre-registered the day before.
The team leaders “rolled up their sleeves” and started the first task of the day: carrying wood chips from the wood chip pile on 25th Avenue South to the southern planting areas 300+ feet away. Once we reached the planting area, we poured the wood chips in a ring around each of the plants. We then removed chips that had fallen around the stem of the plants, creating an inner circle that was 6-12 inches in diameter. The chips were to help keep the ground moist during the summer months, and the open space was to allow any raindrops direct access to the ground.
Forty-five minutes into the work party, a welcome surprise arrived in the form of six members of the fraternity. I was excited to see them. I had the young men sign up and join the rest of our group in carrying the wood chips and building the rings.
Shortly after the students’ arrival, we broke into three small groups; each led by a team leader. One group removed the weeds in an area we had planted on March 17. We had cleared the invasive weeds from that area prior to the planting work party, but they were returning with a vengeance; the periwinkle vines were especially persistent.
A second group started to clear an area that hadn’t been cleared before, one that bordered our southern planting area. Dense blackberry vines and other weeds were impinging on, or had actually begun to cover, some of our shrubs and ground covers. The third group removed weeds from the north side of the Hanford Stairs.
At 11:30 we stopped for a snack break and a group photo.
After the break, the first and second group went back to work in their respective areas and the third group joined the second group. During this time, Shirley and I helped the other team leaders as needed and also took a few photos.
Clearing the area south of the southern planting area:
Clearing the area on the north side of the Hanford Stairs:
Neither Shirley nor I had taken any photos of the group that had cleared weeds in the planting area near the wood chip pile earlier in the work party but I did get one of what the area looked like after it was cleared. Imagine the area in the photo below with 100+ invasive vines emerging from the ground and you will get a sense of what it looked like at the beginning of the work party.
While we hadn’t had the “flood” of volunteers I’d hoped for, using the experience to trust that what we needed would be provided and taking the reduced numbers as an opportunity to practice flexibility, persistence, letting go, accepting what is, doing whatever it takes, equanimity, and being like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice, meant we’d avoided getting stressed out and had even ended up accomplishing most of the day’s goals. The Bonus: together, we were a mix of people who worked well together and contributed to a satisfying and productive day.
From Spring of 2017 through Autumn of 2018, students from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class worked in our restoration site. The students were required to do three hours of volunteer work during the quarter, so their needs and ours matched very well. In November of 2018, I was dismayed to learn that the instructor was retiring at the end of the quarter and the future of the course was uncertain. That class had been our primary source of volunteers.
Losing those volunteers has been a good chance to practice taking the attitude “What you need will be provided.” I also kept in mind a line adapted from the movie, Field of Dreams– “If you build it, he (they) will come.”
In mid November 2018, DocuSign, a corporate group did our fall planting. On Martin Luther King Day, we had a sizable work party. In February, my neighbor John and I worked together to rescue a shrub that a massive pine tree branch had fallen on. We also had two winter work parties where the participants consisted primarily, or exclusively of team leaders.
As Spring came, I began to get worried. Blackberry shoots, bindweed and other invasives were emerging from the ground. I started working in the site on my own and thoroughly enjoyed the work, but I knew I couldn’t do everything that needed to be done by myself. In addition to trusting that what I needed would be provided, it was an opportunity to practice staying focused on what I was doing in the moment rather than being distracted and/or brought down by obsessing about the enormity of the whole task.
One day in mid-March, Lillie, a woman whom I had seen on the Hanford Stairs numerous times, stopped and talked with me. I invited her to help with the restoration work and she was interested. The first time she came, we cut up debris from the fallen pine tree branch and scattered it on an area where I had removed a drying rack.
The second time we worked together, we cut up debris on another drying rack and took it to The Rack Zone, a place we are beginning to prepare as a planting area.
A week or so after Lillie started working with me, a young man walked up to me as I was working near the stairs. His name is Mycole and he wanted to work with me once or twice a week. The first time he came, we removed wood chips from around the plants in two planting areas. The next time, we started taking apart a large drying rack, cutting up the debris and taking it to the Rack Zone. The last time we finished clearing an area I will describe later in this post.
The debris pile in the photos below is the one that Mycole, Lillie and I worked to dismantle. I don’t have a photo of what it looked like when we started, but my guess is that it was about 14 ft (L) x 10 ft by 5 feet (H). The first photo shows what it looked like after Mycole and I worked on it. A that point it was around 8 x 8 x 2.5. The second photo shows what it looks like now. It is only 12-18 inches high. We will eliminate it fully in the near future.
I had also applied to be a community partner in the Carlson Center’s (University of Washington) service-learning. They help match students who need volunteer opportunities as part of their course work with community partners who need help. This program is very different than the Introduction to Environmental Science students we had worked with between Spring Quarter of 2017 and Autumn Quarter of 2018. As I mentioned earlier, those students had a three-hour volunteer requirement to meet. The service-learning students would work in our Greenbelt site for three-hours a week for seven weeks.
Our application was accepted. This quarter we have four service-learning students. They are part of an English Composition course that is focusing on the Environment. It is fun to work with them and nice to have the continuity from week to week. Shirley, one of our most active team leaders, and I lead their weekly work parties.
During their first two service-learning experiences, the students focused on clearing weeds and grass from an area that is near the entrance to the restoration site. They also moved a big pile of tree and ivy branches from that area to a different part of the site. As each patch of ground was cleared, it was covered with wood chips. The students also cut up a big branch that had fallen on top of a large shrub during a wind or snow storm.
Click on the gallery to enlarge the photos.
When we started the project, the area looked like this:
The transformation in the land after the students worked on it for the two sessions was remarkable. Mycole and I finished that section two days after the second service-learning work party.
What a difference it makes to be greeted by this sight when walking towards the entrance to our Greenbelt site:
I’m thoroughly enjoying working with our new volunteers and with the volunteers who have been committed to this project for a long time. What we need is definitely being provided.
Word Press is switching to a new editing system. It is called Gutenberg. After moving through plenty of resistance, I decided to try it out. I wrote the post about Sreejit’s song using the new system. I think I’m going to like it.
In this post, I’m going to create a few photo galleries to see what they look like.
#1 This gallery has photos from India and from Seattle. Some were vertical and some were horizontal. At first, I had the column setting set to three but decided to change it to four.
(You can click on any of the galleries to enlarge the photos.)
#2 This gallery consists of photos from India that I haven’t posted before. I decided to make it two columns. The first four photos and the last two are purposely paired.
#3 The last gallery uses photos from India that I’ve used before. This is what the three column setting looks like.
I’m liking this new system. I will miss the tiled mosaic setting of the old editor but I like how these galleries look too.
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.
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.
“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”-William Shakespeare