Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 13-20, 2019

Bhajans

This last week I have, for the most part, stopped nodding off during the evening bhajan (singing) program. On December 20, Amma sang two or three new songs. That was fun. The times I enjoy most, though, is when she sings the really old ones. In India, she usually sings more of the old songs than she does during her tours.

Earlier this week, Amma sang many of the really old ones. I am always flooded with memories when she does that. This time when she sang Omkara Mennum, I remembered the early 90’s when Amma only joined us in the temple for evening bhajans two or three times a week. We never knew when she would show up, or how long she would stay.

Temple in January 1990 when it was new.

On the nights she came, the program usually lasted much longer. She would sit with us on the floor of the temple facing the front. There were no microphones. Some of the songs, like the one I just mentioned, were very long. Amma would often go into samadhi. During those times, everyone would sit quietly, until she “came back” to this world.

On Monday or Tuesday of this week, the program ended with Amma singing Mata Rani, which is one of my favorite songs. I don’t remember when she started singing it although I found a YouTube video of it that was posted in 2010. That seems about right.

I remember the ecstasy I experienced when Amma first started singing that bhajan. Below is a video that is a compilation of her singing it in a variety of cities and countries the year she introduced it to us. I have such good memories of that time.

Prasad Giving

I’ve continued to do the prasad giver assistant seva twice a week. The directions I give the people coming through the line are different every time I do it. It is my belief that having the directions change so often is another way that Amma teaches us to “be like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice.”

Being the person who actually hands Amma the prasad, as opposed to facilitating others in doing it, may be my favorite thing to do here. Putting the candy and sacred ash packets in her hand feels like Home to me. In fact, I often say “Home” in my mind every time I hand her a set of the packets.

Because, at this point, I can’t get up and down quickly or be up on my knees, I haven’t been able to hand her the prasad myself this visit. I’ve been okay with that, but last Sunday I learned that having a stool was an option. I got really excited. Maybe I could be a prasad-giver after-all!

I decided to practice with the low stool ahead of time and quickly realized that wasn’t going to work; I couldn’t get up and down from it easily either. All of a sudden, I realized that my days of doing my favorite seva might be over. I felt devastated and cried… a lot.

Fatigue and Balance

In Seattle, when people ask me how I’m doing, I’ve been responding “I’m tired.” I’ve felt so much fatigue, although it has felt like a different type of fatigue than when I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the 80’s. Before I came to India I had blood work done to check for a variety of things but the blood tests all came back “normal”.

During this trip, I’ve felt like I spend most of my time sleeping or resting. I sleep around 5 hours at night and then usually take an hour nap after my café shift and another hour nap in the afternoon. This week, I noticed that when I first wake up, I don’t feel exhausted. That is a change. All the sleep I am getting here must be paying off. I always feel like I rest to my core when I am in Amritapuri and that is true for me this year too.

It’s been a tough trip. I’m realizing how much worse my balance is since I was here last year. I get so wobbly that I decided to buy a cane from the India branch of Amazon. I had no luck ordering it myself because the login would not recognize my computer. When they sent me a verification code, they send it to my U.S. SIM card and I have no access, other than voicemail, to that phone number. (That has been an issue with Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and OptumRX. I’ve done online chats with most of those companies but never have found a lasting way around it. I have felt very frustrated.)

Anyway, I had Sreejit order the cane for me and it was delivered in less than a week. Amazing. How times have changed. Never would I have dreamed I could order from Amazon when I was in India.

When I looked at the box, I realized it was a different cane than the one in the picture on the website, but I love it. (That’s a good thing because the cane was non-refundable!) I can walk a normal pace when I use it. It even has a flashlight, which is immensely helpful for dark corridors or opening the combination lock on my door. I use it when I go to the temple, when I am dealing with stairs and the guard rails aren’t close together, when there are crowds and during the times of the day that I’m most wobbly. (I struggle with thinking people are judging me, wondering why I’m using a cane when I can walk so well when I use it. But I know worrying about what people think is my “stuff”.)

I also recently received a lead on what might be going on with me. On Monday, Chaitanya expressed her concern about me to a friend of hers who is a cardiologist. The friend told Chaitanya, and me, what she suspected was wrong (it had nothing to do with my heart!). I called my doctor’s office in Seattle and made an appointment for the first working day after I get back. If the friend’s theory is right, she said it is a problem that is easy to fix. That gave me hope that this isn’t a permanent condition.

Small thermorest

Decades ago, I brought a small therm-a-rest to India. I don’t remember why I originally brought it, but I think back in the days when I sat on the floor I may sometimes have put it under my asana (mat). There have also been years when I used it to make myself more comfortable in the chairs by placing it between my back and the chair.

This has been one of those years. The problem with that process is that I often forget I brought the therm-a-rest and rush out of the auditorium when the program is over, leaving it sitting in the chair. I have done that 4-6 times this visit. I often don’t realize I have left it in the auditorium until the next morning and each time I have wondered if that would be the time I would lose it for good. The first time I left it in the chair this year, someone handed it to Chaitanya and asked her to give it to me. Every other time, when I returned to the auditorium, my therm-a-rest was sitting on a nearby table. I am very thankful for the honesty of the ashram residents and visitors.

As I looked at the picture, I realized the therm-a-rest is really old. E607 is written on it. The building I live in used to be called E building. That changed about ten years ago; now the building is named Amrita Darshan. The numbering system changed even earlier than that. The floors in the building used to be numbered using a western system with the ground floor being Floor 1. At some point they changed it to the Indian system where the ground floor is Floor 0. At that time, my room number changed from 607 to 507.

Weather

It’s hot.

During most of the years I’ve come here, it has been cool in early morning and during the night. I always left the fan on at night, but that was mostly to keep the mosquitos away. Many years, I wore long-sleeved and long-legged pajamas and used a sheet, a light blanket, a wool shawl and a bedspread to cover myself at night. That stopped four or five years ago. Now, generally, I only use a sheet.

In the past, there were times in the morning and/or evening where the weather was cool enough that I wore a light jacket or wrapped myself in a shawl. Those days are apparently gone.

One day this week, it got REALLY windy. I rushed to bring in my laundry. Then it started thundering. The thunder was louder than I’ve ever heard. After some time, I felt a bit freaked out. I knew Chaitanya was in her room so I called her and asked if this was normal. She told me it is sometimes like this in August but not December. Soon, it stopped thundering and started raining. Before long the rain stopped too.

Crowds

The crowds have been growing. When Amma first returned from the European and North American Fall Tours, many Indians came to the ashram on public darshan days. The number of Western visitors increased then too, but as Christmas approaches the Westerners are pouring in. I don’t know how many are here now, but I would guess there must be close to 2000. The first year I came to Amritapuri there were 30 Western visitors! (There are around 5000 devotees who live at the ashram now; most of them are Indian.)

To read previous posts in this series click here.

Always Looking for Role Models

As I age, I find myself drawn to older people who can serve as role models in the aging process. I met a woman in Amritapuri whom I think of in that way. She lives a life of adventure even though she is well into her 70’s. The woman in this video is a very different kind of role model. I don’t see myself following in her footsteps, but I thoroughly enjoyed the video. I hope you do too.

My Life is in Transition

dehydrator
My new dehydrator.

Over the last few years I have felt myself inching towards retirement. Last month, I set a retirement date of May 31, 2017 but the size of my psychotherapy practice has reduced so much lately that sometimes I feel as if I am already retired. I know that could change, but I don’t know if it will.

This transition time has been very interesting. When my ex-husband had a massive heart attack in 2001, we began to reconnect. Now we are regularly doing things together, such as watching Seahawks games and Dancing with the Stars, and occasionally going together to movies or other events. We have talked about contacting two or three of our friends from our pre-marriage days.

I also have reconnected with Kathie, who was a close friend in the mid-80’s to mid-90’s. I helped her start a blog last year, ChosenPerspectives, so we have that in common in addition to our past history.

I’ve noticed other things that could be related to this transition. Since 2005 or so, I have felt a drive to reduce the number of my belongings. While I have never been much interested in material possessions, I began to give away anything I hadn’t used in the last three years, unless there was some major reason to keep it. Last year, I changed that number to objects that I hadn’t used in the last two years. I also have had an ongoing desire to organize and clean out cupboards, shelves and drawers.

I have had a renewed interest in numerous activities that I enjoyed doing in the past, such as gardening and canning. For about a year, I felt pulled to buy a microscope, an item I loved during my childhood. When I realized that I could add microscopic photos to the nature photography I put on my blog, I bought a microscope and started using it immediately.

I’ve also developed new passions during the last few years. The most important is blogging, which has become a major part of my day-to-day life. As a result of our mutual blogging interest, I have much more contact with my son, who is the person responsible for me starting my blog. (His blog is The Seeker’s Dungeon.) As the result of blogging, I have also developed a passion for photography.

For several years, I have considered learning how to dehydrate vegetables and fruits. Last month, I purchased a dehydrator and started dehydrating bananas, mangoes, plums, tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, cucumbers (probably won’t do that again), and as of yesterday, watermelon. I’ve also felt the urge to start knitting, crocheting, sewing, and possibly folk dancing and going to Dances of Universal Peace, all activities I enjoyed decades ago. These could all be retirement activities.

When I am with Amma, the frequency of the synchronistic events that happen in my life increase dramatically. This summer was no different in that regard. A clear theme emerged in the course of those synchronicities.

The week before Amma arrived in Seattle, I was at my Network Chiropractor’s office when a woman walked out of the treatment room. She looked familiar. I did a quick 20 year age-progression in my mind and then asked if she was the person I thought she was. I was correct. The next week, the same thing happened, in the same place but with a different person. Again, the woman was someone I hadn’t seen since the mid-90’s.

When Amma came to Seattle, I spent the first morning she was here helping a staff member find and go to a dentist. I didn’t walk into the program hall until 1 p.m. As I was walking in, a woman was walking out. She called me by name. When I looked at her, I recognized that she was also someone who had been in my life in the early to mid-90’s. I hadn’t seen her since then and she told me she hadn’t attended one of Amma’s programs during the intervening years. I was amazed by the commonalities between all of these synchronistic experiences.

The most amazing reconnecting events happened just before and during Amma’s Toronto programs. On Father’s Day, I received an email from my brother saying that his son had written a Father’s Day post about our father, i.e. my nephew’s grandfather. Before I tell that story, and the events that followed, let me say that I left home to go to college when I was 17; my brothers were 12 and 14 at that time. I saw them very few times after that. My youngest brother died in 1992. (My children and I did visit him several times between the time he was diagnosed with cancer and the time he died.) I have seen my other brother only three times since 1992, and those visits were brief. We do email each other every now and then.

So back to the story at hand. It was fascinating to read my nephew’s post and to learn about my father from his perspective. Even more fascinating was that I discovered that my nephew and his wife are professional photographers and that my father had also had an interest in photography. My nephew posted some of my father’s photos in his Father’s Day tribute. I knew my father had taken some family pictures but this part of his life was completely unknown to me. It was particularly interesting to me because of my current interest in photography. I was discovering there are things I have in common with my family that I didn’t know anything about.

In his post, my nephew had referred to my father’s military life. Some of what he said was different than my memories. When I checked those things out with my brother, he put together a time line of my father’s career. There was information in it that I didn’t know, and I knew some things that he wasn’t aware of. We wrote back and forth over the next few days. At one point, he added his two sons to the email exchange, so I added my son and daughter. All of us made a comment or two on the joint exchange and then the four cousins wrote each other separately. This was the first conversations they had ever had with each other. I marveled at the miracle that was unfolding.

Over the next week or so, my brother and I continued emailing each other about our childhood memories. He mentioned that he thought our father had gifted us with a love of music, books, education, hard work and the desire to do things right. I believe we also learned the value of hard work and education from our mother and even more important, the value of being in service to others.

I still don’t know my surviving brother well but over the years I have learned that we share some of the same political beliefs. Recently, I learned that we are both introverts and have similar thoughts about some religious issues. Since he is a landscape architect I assume we share a love of nature.

While I was pondering all of these commonalities, I realized that my current passion about nature is something I have in common with my youngest brother, even though we didn’t have that focus at the same time.  His room, both as a teenager and a young adult, was always filled with injured birds and other animals he had rescued and was nursing back to health. I remember visiting him before he married. At that time, he was raising snakes in his room. I will never forget this piece he wrote just prior to his death at age 39:

I am very sad that people seem to see so little of the world around them. 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. We have been given this magnificent world to study and enjoy in limitless detail at any level, microscopic to cosmic. 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..

As I approach retirement, I am grateful that a natural transition seems to be occurring. I am reconnecting with my past in many different ways. I have no doubt that I will have enough activities that I am passionate about to keep me occupied for years to come. The unanswered question that is most up for me now concerns where I will ultimately live: “Will I move to India?” “Will I live in one of Amma’s U.S. Centers?” ” Will I continue to live in my own house in Seattle?” Those answers, and the answers to many other questions, are yet to be revealed. At this moment, there is no need for me to know the future. I know I will know what I need to know when the time is right!

 

cropped-senior-salon  Senior Salon