Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 7-10, 2019

Prasad Assist Seva

For the last few years, I have done a stage seva during darshan, in addition to my café seva. The stage seva I was originally asked to do was a prasad givers assist. That job had many components.

I sat near the door to the stage where Amma sits when she is giving darshan (hugs). I motioned to the prasad givers that were seated in a line in the auditorium when it was time to come up on the stage. I needed to be sure that there were always six prasad givers on the stage; one handing Amma the candy and ash she gives to those who come to her and five in line waiting to do the same. I also had to make sure the line below stayed full and trained anyone who hadn’t given prasad before.

That job also entailed running around looking for people to join the lower line and I knew I wasn’t up for that this year. When I said that, I was offered another prasad assist job and took it. On Sundays and Thursdays from 2-3, I am the person who practices giving prasad with each person as they come through the prasad giving line. I also make sure there are always three people in the prasad giving line closest to Amma. When one person finishes, I have to immediately send another person to join the line. That is easier said than done since the shifts may only be 1-2 minutes and there are plenty of people blocking my view.

The details of both of the prasad givers assist jobs change regularly. Sunday was the first day that I did the new one. In addition to practicing prasad giving with each volunteer, and sending people into the line close to Amma at 1 or 2 minute intervals, I had to ask each person if they were a renunciate or a karma yogi. If they said yes, then I gave them a token and explained that when they gave the token to the person timing, they would be given two-minute shifts instead of one minute. I also had to use a talley counter to count the number of prasad givers going through the line. There were even more components to the job, but I hope I have said enough to give you the impression that I was multitasking.

Changes I didn’t mention before:

  1. The swami rooms are now located in the building behind the auditorium.
  2. In the past, if you didn’t use an Indian SIM card for three months you had to order another one. It could take several days to get it. Vodafone has changed that now. I hadn’t used that SIM card since last January. I discovered that I could recharge my phone if I bought a 28-day package. For about $4, I was able to get 2.5 GB of data a day, as well as unlimited calls and texts in India.. There is no limit for the number of times I can recharge. I was able to get my phone recharged as soon as I got to the ashram and soon afterwards I was able to use my Personal Hot Spot to connect to the internet.


I’m still sleeping a lot. Hopefully I’m catching up from the months of exhaustion I’ve been experiencing.


It stopped raining three days after I arrived. It’s hot. I am so thankful for the fans.


Saturday and Sunday were public darshan days. On those days it is common for groups of women to come for darshan together. They are often teachers at one of Amma’s schools. They are always very striking because they wear the same saris. On Saturday, there was a group that was in red and gold saris. They were beautiful.

Since they live at the ashram, Western visitors usually wait until the end of darshan before they go to Amma for a hug. I waited in a nonmoving line for three hours Saturday evening. Thankfully we were in chairs. It was long and I am not a patient person. But of course, I knew the wait was worth it. When I was in Amma’s arms, I was HOME.

As I thought of what I was going to say in this post I thought of a song I wrote many years ago. I wrote the words in English and then Meera translated them into Malayalam. I sang it for Amma in 1998 or 1999.

amma ende karangal ennum ninne sevikkatte
amma ende manass˘ mantrathāl nirayename
amma ende vākkukal ennum ninne pukazhthette
ende hridayam ānandam kond˘ nrittamādatte

ende sneham prakāshamāyi ennenum thilangatte
amma ende vishvāsam valarnnu kondirikkatte
ennenum ammayepole āyi varename
amma itinnu vendi mātram nyan prārthikkyunnu

Mother, may my hands be in service, my mind fill with mantra
May my voice forever sing your praise, my heart dance with joy
May my love shine ever brighter, my faith ever grow
Mother, may each day I become more like you, only for this I pray
Only for this I pray

I wrote about this song in a December 27, 2014 post. At that time I included a voice recording of the song. I decided to include it in this post as well. Please excuse my pronunciation errors.


There was commotion in the back side of the café on Tuesday morning. There was a monkey sitting there. The building is open to the air so the monkey could have gone inside if it wanted to but it didn’t do that. It was blocking people from going up the outside stairs though.

I saw the monkey when I finished my shift an hour later. It looked so small and cute. I know that monkeys can turn aggressive in an instant, so I stayed away from it.

People were taking pictures of the monkey when I got my own food. I resisted the temptation to do the same, choosing to eat my breakfast instead.

Later, I told Chaitanya, who runs the Western kitchen, that if the monkey had wanted the food I was serving when I worked, I wasn’t going to get in its way. She supported that way of thinking!

In the early years, there were rarely or never monkeys around. However, after the 2004 tsunami Amma built a bridge between the ashram and the town across the backwaters so that people on the peninsula could evacuate easily. (See the photo of the bridge at the top of this post.) Monkeys can cross the bridge too, so they are on the ashram grounds from time to time.

Amma serves lunch

On Tuesday’s Amma comes for meditation and a question and answer session. Afterwards, she serves lunch to all of the residents and visitors. In the past, she handed each person their plate individually but there are now thousands of people. For the last few years, she has handed the plates of food to a brahmacharini at the beginning of a line and the plates are passed down a series of lines until everyone in the auditorium has one. No one eats until everyone has their meal. In fact, no one eats until Amma has had a spoonful of her own food.

I usually participate in one of the plate passing lines but I decided not to do it that day. Maybe I will make a different choice next Tuesday.

To read other posts in this series click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 3-6, 2019

It’s hard to believe this is my eighth day in India and my seventh day in the ashram. I feel like all I have done is rest and sleep but I know that isn’t true. In addition to setting up my room, doing laundry twice (in buckets), eating, being with friends and family, etc., I worked with Kothai remotely to finish the December Pacific Northwest GreenFrends Newsletter, published three posts on this blog (Mother Nature Provides… Again, the December GreenFriends Newsletter, and my first Amritapuri post). I also corresponded with the UW College of the Environment interns we will have next quarter, some of our recent service-learning students and various people regarding our Greenbelt Martin Luther King Day work party.

On Wednesday, I started working in the café from 7:30 – 9 a.m. handing customers their plates of food as the food came from the kitchen. (The orders are numbered and when a customer’s number shows up on a monitor in the café courtyard, the customer comes to the counter and I hand them their plate.)

That process will get intense as the crowds grow but it has been easy so far. The monitor system works so well. I remember all the years that people huddled around the counter as we called out the numbers. It was often difficult for the people whose number had been called to get to the counter. This way, no one is blocking the counter area; customers are focused on the monitor that is 15- 20 feet away.

And as I ponder these changes, I’m remembering that I’ve done this, or a similar, job since the late 90’s. In those days, I sat in the window that is on the far left of the photo below. I took the orders and was the cashier.

I remember writing each person’s name on their order. In the earliest days, I also called out the name when the food was ready. That process was hampered by the fact that even though people from different countries may have similar names to people in the U.S., they may pronounce the names very differently. At some point, the door that was near “my window” was split and customers were handed their food from the counter where Chaitanya and her friend are standing in the photo.

In my first days here, I slept the best I could during the night and then took a nap in the afternoon. I’ve actually slept way better than I usually do during the transition period. There was only one night where I had trouble falling back to sleep when I woke up early. On Thursday and Friday, I didn’t take an afternoon nap, but I nodded off throughout the evening singing program. I hate that feeling.

My biggest challenge has been my balance. I know the ground here so I’ve been okay most of the time, but when I’m tired I get wobbly. My kids and others have suggested I get a cane. I even had an email from someone in Seattle suggesting it. I have been resistant, but on Wednesday I went into the temple to watch Amma giving darshan. The main temple floor was full, so I went upstairs to the next level. That was also very crowded. I soon realized that I was going to need a cane to safely navigate crowds, children, and stairs.

A friend offered me a walking stick. That seemed like it would solve the problem, and it did, when I was walking on dirt. However, when I used it to go up a single stair, the metal tip slid and I fell. Several people helped me get up. One of them knew how to get a cane from the ashram. She even was kind enough to make the arrangements and bring the cane to me. I will use it when I am going into any area that seems unsafe for me.

Amma came for bhajans (singing) the first night she was back in the ashram and has sung every evening since. She also came to the temple around 11 a.m. on Wednesday and Thursday to meditate with the devotees. After the meditation, and a question and answer period, she gave darshan. (Darshan is a blessing. While even being in Amma’s presence is darshan, Amma is known for bestowing her blessing by hugging each person who comes to her.)

Wednesday’s darshan was for people who were leaving and on Thursday it was for part of the brahmacharinis and brahmacharis (female and male monks). I’m thinking, but don’t know, that Saturday and Sunday will be public darshan days. If it is, I’m hoping to go to Amma for a hug one of those days. I need it!

One of the things Amma teaches us is to “be like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice.” She also provides us with an abundance of opportunities to practice that lesson. On Friday afternoon, we had such an opportunity.

On Fridays, Amma usually comes to the auditorium about 5 p.m. to meditate and give darshan to the people who are leaving. I often don’t attend the meditations, but on Friday I decided I would go.

I had a light lunch that day so decided to get something to eat at 4:30. On my way to the canteen, the bell that indicates Amma is coming rang. She had never, in my memory, come that early. What could I do other than laugh and let go of my plans to eat.

I walked to the auditorium to find it nearly empty. People started arriving; the brahmacharinis were running. I usually sit in the back of the hall, but this time I sat towards the front, on the aisle. I soon realized that Amma was going to be walking down that aisle.

As Amma walked down the aisle, she reached out her hands. When her hand touched mine, I felt like I had been given darshan. That passing touch of hands is very familiar to me even though it has been several years since I have had the experience. I am home.

(Photos of Amma I use in these posts come from her Facebook Page.)

To read previous posts in this series click here

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: November 27-December 2, 2019

Pre-post Reflections

I am presently in Amritapuri on my 32nd visit to Amma’s ashram in 30 years. This almost yearly pilgrimage has been an incredible part of my life. I feel blessed to have been able to spend so much time in the place where Amma was born. It seems to me that her energy permeates every grain of sand whether her physical body is present or not.

That does not mean that I’ve always wanted to make the trip. There were several years in the past when I went with the same attitude I might take when I go to a doctor or a dentist– i.e. because I know it is for my own good. I grow so much when I’m here and have always felt like the experience was an important purification process. Almost always, though, I am very eager to come to India. I wish there was a way to teleport here though; the journey there is so long.

When I am in Amritapuri, I am challenged in many of the same ways that I’m challenged by life in the U.S., but here it is like the process is put on fast forward. I may feel like I’m on an emotional roller coaster, but even though the challenges may come one after the other, I usually work through them faster too.

As I write this, I’m thinking about the saying that “growth comes from the challenges not the consolations.” While being consoled feels good and is also important, I think it is true that growth comes from facing the challenges that come my way.

I love being with Sreejit, Chaitanya and Akshay, my son, daughter and son-in-law, who have lived in Amritapuri for many years. I love being with my Amritapuri friends, and, of course, I love being with Amma, who in many ways became the center of my life when I met her in 1989.

I also love the sights, sounds and smells of India. Each time I arrive in the country, part of me wants to bow down and kiss the earth. There were two years that I couldn’t afford to come to the Amritapuri, When I informed Amma of that fact during her North American summer tour, I was crying so hard that someone thought I was telling Amma that one of my kids had died. That incident always reminds me how important this part of my life is to me.

I had no plans to start this post in this manner, but it felt good to reflect on these things. So on with my November 2019 story;

I left Seattle on November 27. It was a 14-hour flight to Dubai, followed by a 3-hour layover. During the connecting flight security check, I was instructed to take off my Fitbit and put it in the bin. I’m not used to doing that so I forgot to take it out of the bin after I went through the security line.

Soon after I entered the main part of the terminal, I realized I had left the Fitbit in the bin. I was instructed by airport staff to go to one place and then another. Eventually, I was able to find it, but by then the layover was almost over. That challenge certainly made the time go by fast, and provided me with a lot of exercise. My normal routine is to buy a cup of ice cream in Dubai, and there was enough time before my next flight for me to do that!

The flight to India was a 4-hour flight. I had decided not to add the 3-hour taxi trip to the ashram to the journey, so stayed in a hotel in Kovalam, a town near the airport, for the day. I planned to get lots of sleep. I did rest a lot, but couldn’t sleep. There is a 13 ½ hour time difference between Seattle and India, and turning day and night around is difficult.

I had many challenges during my time in Kovalam. The one I will mention now is that they were fixing the road between the hotel and the area where the restaurants are located. It is not unusual in India for people to walk through construction sites, but I don’t like to do that. I had to eat, however, and there was no other option.

In some places there was a thin strip of normal ground alongside the new road but that strip was rocky and very uneven ground. I had trouble walking on it. An Indian woman gave me a hand both when I went towards the restaurants and coming back from there. But that was only for a few feet, so most of the time I ended up walking on the hot tar and gravel. My shoes may never recover.

The Beginning

At 5 a.m. the next morning, I was in a taxi and on my way to the Amritapuri ashram. The traffic was much lighter than it would have been even an hour later. In two-and-a-half hours, I was back in my India home. I felt exhausted but happy to be there. After spending a bit of time with Sreejit and Chaitanya, I had some breakfast and then went to my room and started unpacking.

In January 2005, I bought a flat at the ashram. That allows me to have a room to myself which makes life easier for me. I can use it whenever I’m in Amritapuri, and it is rented out to other visitors when I am gone.

I was so exhausted and very wobbly that first day. I got help from Sreejit and Chaitanya, and reminded myself that it was important for me to go slow. I was especially careful when I left my room. It would be so easy for me to trip on something, but as I got some sleep my balance improved tremendously.


There are always so many changes here from one visit to the next. Some of the ones I’ve noticed so far are:

  1. Those of us who live alone are required to sign in on a Wellness Register each morning. If someone doesn’t sign the register then someone goes to the room to make sure the person is okay. For years, I’ve signed in on a desk that is near the elevator in my building. Now everyone has to go to the International Office to do it. Writing that statement reminds me I need to go sign in for today… soon.
  2. The Indian store has been remodeled. Now, it is more like a supermarket where you can just take things off the shelf rather than ask someone to get it for you. The hours have been extended; it is now open all day and well into the night.
  3. The Indian Canteen has been remodeled. There are open air “walls” around it now, as well as numerous other improvements which I can’t figure out how to describe.
  4. The dishes and containers from the kitchen are now washed in a special little building that is attached to the area where we all wash and dry our dishes when we eat. We started drying our dishes in that area the last time I was here. Moving the kitchen washing space and the drying racks to that spot meant that two of the five circular dining tables are gone. I feel sad about that, but it is certainly understandable.
  5. The area that I described in #4 is partially fenced off now and there are lots of new plants that surround it. It is very beautiful.
  6. I was able to recharge my cell phone as soon as I got to the ashram even though I hadn’t used that SIM card since last January. In the past if you didn’t use a SIM card for 3 months, you had to get a new one. That meant I had immediate use of the phone and the Personal Hotspot!

Those are the changes I’ve noticed so far. I’m sure there are many more.


It usually doesn’t rain here much in December but it has rained several times every day since I arrived. I love the sound of rain on the aluminum roof of the auditorium. Actually I love the sound of the rain anywhere. It is quite a deluge and then it is over, for hours. I was actually able to hang out some laundry after a rain on Sunday and it dried it less than three hours. That could never happen in Seattle!


When it works out easily, I time my arrival to be here for a few days before Amma returns to the ashram. That gives me time to rest before crowds of people come. Amma started her yearly European Tour the beginning of October. When it finished in mid November, she conducted programs in Los Angeles and Detroit.

Sometimes parts of the international programs are live streamed to Amritapuri. Residents and visitors come to the auditorium to watch it. That happened on Sunday. They don’t leave the live stream up all the time, or nothing would get done here, but it is very nice to be able to watch it for awhile. That day, it was live streamed three different times during the day, the last time being during our evening bhajan (singing) time. I loved being able to watch Amma.

I often marvel at how much has changed over the years. On my first visit in January of 1990, we had to take a rickshaw to Oachira, which is a town 15 minutes away, to use a telephone. I still remember that it was a red phone on a table in the middle of an alley. People gathered to watch me make the call. Now almost everyone has a cell phone, I get internet connection from a Personal Hotspot, and I can watch Amma when she is halfway across the world.

The rumor I heard a few days ago was that Amma would return to the ashram early Tuesday morning. When I went downstairs this morning someone told me that they thought she had returned around 8:00 a.m. I wonder if she will come sing with us tonight!


My re-entry has been relatively challenge free compared to the past. Normally, I have a lot of trouble with jet lag. This time I slept relatively well on the Seattle to Dubai leg of the trip. That has never happened before. Since I’ve been at the ashram, I’ve slept a lot. This is the first time in all these years that I haven’t been wide awake at 2 a.m. and if I wake up, I’ve been able to go right back to sleep. I hope that continues.

My biggest challenge is that I’ve been unable to find an adapter that allows me to attach a thumb drive to my computer. I remember seeing it when I unpacked but haven’t seen it since. I’ve looked in every inch of this room two or three times to no avail. I know I will find it when the time is right, but haven’t accepted the fact that I can’t have it when I want it, which is NOW!

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: August 11-14 2017

Setting Up

I spent a good part of my first days at the ashram setting up my room. That included unpacking the suitcase I brought from Seattle and the items in the small trunks I keep here year round. I washed the clothes from the trunks in buckets. That task was made considerably harder since I couldn’t wring out the clothes with only one hand, my non-dominant hand at that. I knew I could choose to use a laundry service, but clothes dry so fast here that I prefer to do it myself. Luckily, I was in India not Seattle. I could press the items on the washing stone in my bathroom and get out a lot of the excess water. And in India, the clothes and towels would drip dry in a reasonable amount of time even though they were not rung out properly.

The morning of my first day I ordered a SIM card for my phone. I was surprised to discover I could buy a plan that included the SIM card and 1GB of data a day for 84 days for 450 rupees! Four hundred and fifty rupees is equivalent to $7.14. I sure wish we could get these prices in the U.S.

At the end of my last visit to Amritapuri, I loaned my internet stick to my daughter. She added data to it as  necessary during my absence so it stayed active during the year. As a result, I had immediate access to internet, rather than have to go through the application process. Sometimes it takes a week to get the SIM card and activate the internet stick. This time I didn’t have to wait at all for internet access and it took only about 36 hours  to get the SIM card. Once I had the SIM card, I discovered that using the Personal Hotspot on my iPhone gave me faster internet speed than the internet stick!


As always there are so many changes to see, even though I was here in January. I probably will have not seen them all by the time I leave. Construction has been endless since I first came here in 1990.

Since January, the Western café has been in a temporary structure while the new café is being constructed. They will be moving into the new café in a few weeks.

There are many changes related to security. I will mention a few of them. New structures are being built in the front of the ashram where visitors will register for the day. Residents, flat owners, and visitors staying more than 30 days will be given photo ID badges. Even the Swamis are wearing them! Visitors who are staying less than 30 days will use the receipt they are given when they check in as their form of ID. The auditorium is still open air in that it doesn’t have walls but now has white railings with some gold colored ornamentation around it.


Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday are public darshan days at the ashram. It is on those days that people come for Amma’s blessing in the form of a motherly hug. She has hugged more than 37 million people worldwide. Darshan days last from 11:00 a.m. until around midnight. At most, Amma takes a ten minute break during that time.

On Saturday night, I eagerly awaited my hug. I was so tired that I was nodding off for hours as I waited for the international token numbers to start but it was of course well worth the wait. I had a fun and meaningful time with Amma.

Earlier that day I had been asked to help with the prasad queue. Amma hands each person that comes to her a packet of blessed ash and a piece of candy. Devotees who want to hand her the packets Amma will give out form a queue. Normally, I love to hand her prasad, but with a broken wrist, I couldn’t do it fast enough, and besides, I would have trouble standing when my time was up, so that seva (volunteer work) wasn’t possible for me. When someone asked me to be the person who makes sure the prasad giver line near Amma stays full by gesturing the people in the area of the auditorium where they wait for their turn, I eagerly said yes. I have felt drawn to that seva in the past but have never done it. It gave me time to be on the stage with Amma, and the experience of being useful. I loved doing it so will find out how to sign up for other shifts.

Monday and Friday evenings Amma comes to the beach to meditate with us and have a question and answer session. I forgot about it on Friday night but went to the question and answer part last night. I love being with Amma near the sights and sounds of the beach.


I picked the dates I would come to the ashram based on the timing of the festivals. I really wanted to be here for Krishna’s birthday, Ganesh’s celebration and Onam, a family festival in Kerala. I knew there were multiple dates that Krishna’s birthday is celebrated in India so I googled Krishna Jayanthi, Kerala and found out it was August 14. As August 14 drew near, there were no signs of the big celebration. As I remembered it, the alternate date was after I would leave India, so I was bummed. Later that night, I was excited to learn that the celebration will occur on September 12, days before I leave. I look forward to sharing all three of those events with you.


When I am in India, I like to work in the gardens and to help Chaitanya in the café. I also work on the GreenFriends newsletter we publish in Seattle each month and write for this blog. Having the broken wrist has really put a dent in my ability to do some of those things. Chaitanya had hoped I could hand out the finished orders in the cafe but I would need to have the ability to move fast, to work with both hands, and to carry items having some weight. I can’t do any of those things so that job was out.

When people finish their meals, they wash and dry their dishes and then put them in a big bucket. The dishes are then dried a second time so no water remains on the plates. I discovered that I could slowly dry dishes for a short time, so have done some of that. Yesterday I tried buttering the bread that would be used for grilled cheese sandwiches and the buns that would be used for vege-burgers and omelet sandwiches. I was able to butter about a dozen buns but was slower than molasses. Those buns would probably be used in less than fifteen minutes. Buttering the bread didn’t work at all.

So far, I have been focusing on healing and getting over jet lag. I slept a lot yesterday so maybe I will be more awake today. I hope to go visit the garden that I worked in last year today. I can at least see it!

Greenbelt restoration work

Under normal circumstances, I would probably be thinking a lot about our Greenbelt restoration work back in Seattle. Part of me would want to be there working to turn that property back into a healthy forest. Since I wouldn’t be able to do that work even if I was there, I notice that it has been easier for me to be fully here.

We will be receiving 400 trees, shrubs and ground covers to plant on that property in the fall so I hope that Ananya, the Forest Steward that is my partner in this project, and I will be able to do some long-distance planning while I am here. The photo above shows an area where a potential design for one segment has been laid out. The ferns in that area have grown after having been buried under blackberry vines for 30-50 years.


As I arrived in the ashram on Friday, it became very windy, and chilly. That seemed unusual to me. Later in the day someone else commented that they had never seen it so windy unless it was raining. It was chilly enough that in the evening I put on my jacket! The next two days were warmer. For me, yesterday qualified as HOT.

The forecast had called for rain every day, but there hasn’t been any rain since I’ve been here, at least not during my waking hours.


To view the previous posts in this series click here.


Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: January 2-7, 2017


Grace is Flowing

I have felt graced many times lately. The ones I’m remembering in the moment are:

-I wear a Fitbit that serves both as a pedometer and as a watch. For some unknown reason, the Fitbit hasn’t synced for the last six weeks, so I’ve had to add 1 ½ hours every time I looked at the watch. That has been a nuisance. One day this week, I looked at my watch and the time was correct. It felt surreal.

-Last week I made an appointment for a massage. (Various forms of body work and classes are available here. The proceeds help fund Amma’s humanitarian projects.) When I arrived at the session, the massage therapist asked if I wanted a Swedish massage or Reflexology. I said “Both!” That wasn’t an option so I got the massage.

When I was in Tai Chi class on Thursday, I started feeling the nerve pain I get in my toes when my low back muscles are too tight. Towards the end of the class, a friend who was on a break from the Reflexology class she was teaching, walked up to me and asked if I wanted to have a Reflexology treatment in a half hour. She had an uneven number of people in her class, and needed to have someone receive a treatment when the students paired up and worked on each other. I, of course, was delighted to serve in that way!

-Amma held darshan in the temple again on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. That felt like such a gift. Being in the temple brings back so many memories for me plus it feels more intimate than being in the big auditorium.

-I’d been feeling down for awhile and hadn’t been able to shake it. On Wednesday, the crowd was small so I decided to go for darshan and ask Amma, internally, to help me lighten up. When I entered the darshan line, I learned that the man next to me was from the UK but had been living in a Buddhist monastery for many years. He was on his way back to the UK, where he plans to start an intentional living community focused on mindfulness and sustainability. He had never met Amma before. I loved talking to him while we proceeded through the darshan line. When I reached Amma, she held me for what seemed like a very long time. I feel so blessed to have her in my life.

-Someone asked me a few days ago if I would be willing to be the first person to hand Amma prasad this coming Sunday. They always like to have an experienced person do that job at the beginning. Needless to say, I didn’t have to think twice before I said yes to that!

– Amma comes to the beach for meditation and a question and answer period on Monday and Friday evenings. I didn’t go on Monday, but I heard afterwards that instead of being next to the Ayurvedic building, sandbags had been put on the beach and the meditation was held there. I felt sad that I had missed that experience so I made sure I went yesterday. It was wonderful to be there although I was sitting on the side and much lower than most of the people so I could see Amma but not much else. I had no idea what a big area our group covered until I saw this photo on Amma’s Facebook Page. I will go earlier on Monday!


-Tonight Swami Amritasvarupananda sang a song that used to take me into such a deep state of meditation. I haven’t had that experience for many, many years, but it happened again tonight. I am feeling so much gratitude.

Saraswati Garden and Eco Textile Work Center

I’ve continued to work an hour or two in the Saraswati Garden and Work Center most days. On Wednesday, we harvested the rest of the turmeric. Yesterday it was boiled and today another devotee and I sliced it. It will then be dried and ground into powder for use in dying fabric. After two hours of slicing, my hands were even yellower than when I did it for the first time. I know from experience that I will be yellow for days.

I’ve seen big lizards in the garden several times on this trip, but they always move so fast that a photo is out of the question. Two days ago, one scooted in front of me and then up the side of a wall. It then stayed in one place while I took out my camera. As soon as I snapped the shot, it sped off.


The garden has lots of caterpillars. I turned over a coconut shell yesterday and it was filled with caterpillars. I walked back to the house to get mye camera. There were still a lot of them in the shell when I returned. I associate caterpillars with destroying gardens and trees but I don’t see any evidence that these are hurting the plants in any way. I wonder what they are eating.


Wrapping up

A week from today I will be in Dubai waiting for my flight back to Seattle. I’m starting to sort through my belongings and pack. Before long I will be cleaning my room in preparation for the next person that stays here.

Even though I’m starting my ending process, I know my trip is not over yet. I have almost a week of experiences still ahead of me. On Monday, I’m going to Vrindavan Gardens, the oldest of the tulasi gardens. I’ve heard new things are happening there and I’m eager to find out what they are!

To see all of the posts in this Amritapuri series, click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 1-4, 2016


Surrounded in Beauty

Amma’s ashram is located on a peninsula between the the Arabian Sea and the backwaters. The view from my room is of the backwaters. The photo above is of the Arabian Sea, which is a five minute walk from my flat.

A Fascinating View of Construction

When I returned to my room on Thursday night, I heard an unusual sound, the sound that men sometimes make in unison when they are doing heavy lifting or other repetitive jobs. (There may be a word for it but I don’t know what it is.) I looked out the window to see what was going on.

A structure in the courtyard, which I soon realized was one of two bookstore stalls that had been there for years, had been turned on its side. (I’d say each stall is around 20 feet long and 10 feet wide. The floor may have been made from concrete.) The men were now surrounding the second one and they were trying to push it over as well. Once they had accomplished that goal, the men returned to the first one that had been over-turned.

Some long rails were brought to the courtyard. The men laid two of them down 6-8 feet apart. Somehow, they up-righted the bookstall and got it onto the rail. (I think during the time it had been turned on its side, something had been removed from the roof.) Then one group of men pushed the bookstall, while another group of them pulled it with ropes. In so doing, the bookstall moved along the rails. Each time it reached the end of the rails, more rails were added. That process continued until the bookstalls reached the end of the courtyard. Then they did what it took to turn it 90 degrees so it could move in a different direction.

There is a new building in that area. The backside has a big slab of concrete, with pillars along it. That part of the building looked like a veranda to me. As I continued to watch, the men put the bookstall up onto the veranda. Once it was there, they pushed it to the end of the new building.

I left my room at that point, but when I returned, I discovered that the second bookstall had also been moved to the veranda. When I looked closer, I realized the bookstalls would still open onto the courtyard, they will just be part of  a building now rather than free-standing in the courtyard.

I was thankful to have been given the opportunity to watch that process. (Note: I don’t take photos on the main ashram grounds. I hope you were able to “see” it in your mind’s eye from my description.)


Obtaining Wi-Fi was an opportunity for me to practice flexibility, persistence, equanimity, letting go and patience. While it only took a week to get my personal Wi-Fi system fully functioning, it sure felt like a lot longer than that to me.

I made some helpful discoveries because of the wait though. One day, I used the ashram computer room. There we have a 30 minute limit and the connection is very slow. It was helpful for checking my email but not for blogging. The next day, I walked over the bridge to town and found a travel agency that had computers I could use. The connection was a bit slow, but reasonable, and it only cost me 10 rupees for half an hour. (67 rupees= $1).

As I was walking out of that building, I noticed there were people working on their laptops on the porch outside. I realized the travel agency also had Wi-Fi, which is what I really needed. When I returned the next day, I found out that the speed was very fast. I used it for one hour, for 30 rupees, less than fifty cents.

Then someone suggested I use the  Personal Hotspot on my iPhone. I knew I had one, but I had never checked it out. Once I set it up, I was shocked by how fast the connection was. The only downside was that it used a lot of data.

Waiting for the MTS Hotspot to be activated no longer bothered me. Between the iPhone Hotspot and the travel agency Wi-Fi, I had the ability to do whatever I wanted/needed to do.

As of Saturday morning, the MTS Hotspot process was complete, so I can now do computer work in the comfort of my room without using as much data.



Amma returned to the ashram around 3 a.m. on Saturday morning. I did not see her come but I loved knowing that she was here. As anticipated, the ashram began to fill with people as soon as she returned. Saturday night she led bhajans (devotional songs). She sang two of my favorite songs; Karunalaye Devi and Radhikesa Yadunatha. Needless to say, I was in heaven.

As I was writing this post today (December 4), I heard singing coming from the auditorium. Amma wouldn’t be holding a large public darshan on her second day back from the Europe and U.S. tour would she? Then I heard the bell that sounds when Amma is coming outside. I headed out to see what was happening. The post could wait!

It is now three hours from when I wrote the above comments. I never found out what the music in the auditorium was, because it became abundantly clear as I walked down the stairs from my flat, that Amma was in the temple. She talked with us for awhile and then led a meditation. Afterwards, we were told everyone could come for darshan (hugs).

The instructions kept changing. The first change was that the Indian visitors should go first and Westerner visitors could go afterwards. (That is because many of the Indians visitors come just for the day and the Western visitors are staying here.) When the Western line started, we were told people who were meeting Amma for the first time should go for their hug, and the rest of us should wait. Then it changed to anyone that wasn’t new and will be here on Wednesday should wait to get their hug on Wednesday. I was not surprised by any of this, but the possibility of receiving darshan that day had kept me in the temple with Amma, which is a good thing!

On the way back to my room, I ran into a woman that a man in my Tai Chi class in Seattle had asked me to give a message to. I found out that she is only here for one day and will go back to the U.S. tomorrow. If I hadn’t stayed in the temple all that time, it is unlikely our paths would have crossed this year. That kind of synchronicity is the magic of being in Amritapuri.

Saraswati Gardens

After my first visit to the gardens, I decided I would do short periods of work at the gardens throughout my stay. One day, I helped spread coconut coir in the garden beds; it is being used for mulch. I raked up leaves two other days. I laughed as I raked the small number of leaves, thinking of my yard in Seattle which I know is covered by big Maple and Magnolia leaves. The second day, I helped the other garden workers create a sitting area in the garden.


We constructed this circle for the center of the sitting area. The brick is salvaged from construction site waste. Yesterday, I helped Advait gather pieces of brick for future use.


One of the main purposes of the Saraswati Garden is to grow plants that can be turned into dye. Padma showed me some of the materials she has dyed from flowers in the garden.The dye made from the rose was mixed with alum. It looks mostly silver in the photo but when you handle it you can see tinges of pink.

I haven’t seen the actual plant that indigo dye is made from yet. Padma said the plant substance in the bucket is living and it can last for a long time. When she wants to use it to dye something indigo, she strains it. I watched as she sponged it onto the white part of a fabric, turning it bluish. I believe she said the indigo fabric on the right was silk.

Dye can also be made from avocado peels and pits. You can see both of those in the photo below. I haven’t seen any fabric dyed with avocado dye yet, but I understand from what I have read that the peel will produce a rusty red color and the pit will produce a light to medium pink dye.


Chaitanya is back

My daughter Chaitanya returned from Germany on Wednesday. It is wonderful to now be with both of my adult children. Chaitanya writes and directs the Christmas musical each year. Yesterday, she gave me the script and asked me to edit it. I love having the opportunity to read it ahead of time, and then to watch as the play comes alive once the practices begin. Sreejit and his friends have been working on the music for some time.

Tai Chi

My Amritapuri Tai Chi teacher and her husband arrived several days ago. Yesterday, she talked to the person who organizes classes in the ashram. I should be able to start doing Tai Chi soon. I have seen the wait as a chance to practice patience, but I am excited, and so ready to start!

Jet Lag

As far as I’m concerned, it is a miracle. I have had NO jet lag this year. When I travel to India in the future, I will definitely arrange for a layover in Dubai.

To look at previous posts in this series, click here.

On My Way to Amritapuri: November 24-26, 2016

Photo Credit: Wikimedia
Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Seattle to Dubai

I have been anticipating my 2016 trip to Amma’s ashram in Amritapuri, India for months. Every time I go there my life is filled with adventure, learning and renewal. Not only do I get to spend time with Amma, it is also the only period each year that Sreejit, Chaitanya and I are together. (My son, Sreejit, lived in Amma’s ashram in San Ramon, California from 1994 to 2009 and has lived in Amritapuri since then. Chaitanya moved to Amritapuri in 1998.)

On Thanksgiving morning at 5:30, a friend picked me up and took me to the airport. I checked in, got my boarding passes and went through the security line within 30 minutes. I appreciated the opportunity to begin this year’s journey in such a non-stressful way

Knowing I was going to be sitting in the plane for more than 15 hours, I decided to eat breakfast and then walk around the terminal until it was time to board. Within minutes, I saw a sign that made me do a double take. The words on the sign were: Pet Relief Area. I walked by it, but my curiosity got the better of me, so I turned around and walked back to the sign so I could see what a Pet Relief Area was. This is what I found:

I did not know that this type of service was available in airports; it seemed surreal. The first thought that went through my mind, as I shook my head in disbelief, was that this was one of those “Only in America” things. I also recalled a scene from a science fiction movie when a man traveled from the past to the future. He was shocked to see someone who was walking their dog stop to pick up the dog’s poop, put it in a bag and then take it with him. I don’t remember what year the time traveler came from, but if someone had told me back in the 60’s that in the future we would be picking up dog poop, I would have thought they were crazy. The other thought I had when I saw the Pet Relief Area sign was wondering if these relief areas had been available in the airport for some time and I had just been oblivious to them.

Later, when I looked for information about Pet Relief Area on the internet, I discovered that since 2009, the U.S. Department of Transportation has required airlines to make relief areas available for service animals. I also learned that in August 2016, a federal regulation was enacted that required any U.S. airport that served more than 10,000 passengers a year to provide a place for service animals to relieve themselves. Most airports also provide the service to law enforcement dogs, emotional support animals and airport therapy dogs. I found no evidence that these areas exist in other parts of the world.

My flight from Seattle to Dubai was rough for a variety of reasons. For the first hour or two, there was a lot of air turbulence. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a flight where the plane shook so much, except for the one I was on in the late 90’s where our plane had a decompression problem, probably due to a fire onboard. After the shaking started, that plane had descended 25,000 feet in about a minute’s time. Even though on this 2016 flight the shaking was due to air turbulence, it was still jolting enough to get me chanting my mantra!

The flight was also rough for me because my back pain had been re-stimulated by the process of getting ready for the trip. I walked as much as I could during the flight so that helped, but I was still uncomfortable. I looked forward to arriving in Dubai.

Dubai International Airport

There is a 13 ½ hour time difference between Seattle and India, and as I’ve aged, I have had increasing difficulty with jet lag. Sometimes it seems as if I spend most of my time in India adjusting to the time change. Just as I begin to feel normal, it is time to fly back to Seattle and once I’m there I have to start the whole adjustment process over again.

The last two years, I have stayed at the airport hotel in Dubai on my way home from India. It is expensive, but the chance to lie down and even sleep before the long leg of the trip has been well worth it. It even seemed to decrease the amount of jet lag I experienced after I returned to Seattle.

This year, I decided I would stay in the Dubai hotel for 15 hours on the way to India. I hoped by doing that, I would feel better when I arrived in India and as a result, jet lag would be less of a problem for me.

There is another reason I love to stay at that hotel. The Dubai airport has untold numbers of duty free shops. It is also full of jostling people and bright lights. When you walk out of the elevator that goes to the Dubai International Hotel, you enter a world of complete silence. I find the hotel’s atmosphere to be such a blessed relief from the hustle and bustle that occurs in the rest of the airport.

I practically fell into bed and then slept for five hours. When I got up, I went to the Emirates travel desk to pick up my food voucher. I knew from past experiences that Emirates wouldn’t pay for the hotel but they would pay for meals. This time, however, when I asked for the voucher, I was told that they no longer provided that service. I had never bought anything other than a scoop of ice cream in Dubai. After looking around, I decided I would order some sushi at a food court restaurant that was located next to McDonalds. I was quite surprised to discover, when I checked the exchange rate later, that I had spent $23 for sushi!

After my second nap, I was a bit groggy. I decided to go into the main part of the airport to find out my gate number. When I stepped onto a walking escalator, and started walking, it seemed as if I wasn’t going anywhere. I laughed, a few seconds later, when I realized the escalator was going the opposite direction. Therefore, when I walked on it, it seemed like I was standing still. Dubai must be like India, where the cars drive on the left side of the road. As I thought about it, I remembered noticing that foot traffic in the airport was on the left too. I’ve never made that mistake before, but, like I said, I was groggy.

Dubai to Trivandrum

My flight to India was scheduled to leave at 2:55 a.m. The boarding process went smoothly. Once I was on the airplane, though, I received an unpleasant surprise. My “J” seat turned out to be a middle seat. I need to get up, to walk or use the restroom, frequently, so it is very important to me to have an aisle seat. Since I purchased my plane tickets in March of this year, almost every seat on the plane was available. I had taken care to reserve my all-important aisle seat. When I picked up my boarding passes in Seattle, I double checked with the agent that I had aisle seats on both flights. She reassured me that I did. To say I was displeased with this turn-of-events would be an understatement. Reminding myself that the flight would only be four hours long helped a little.

I grumbled to myself for a while and then noticed the aisle seat in front of me was open. I asked the person in the middle seat if I could sit there. She said, the aisle seat was her seat; she had moved to the middle so she could sit next to her friend. She was unwilling to let me have the aisle seat. Sometime after resuming my inner grumbling, I looked behind me and saw an empty aisle seat. The door to the plane was shut by then but the flight was delayed, so I switched to that seat. I was jubilant. I was so glad that I had been proactive in seeking to make a change rather than getting stuck in feeling victimized.

When we had boarded the plane, I had noticed that the business section of the plane was bigger than any I have ever seen. I was even more surprised to see that there were only two passengers sitting in that area. Later, I discovered that the plane was at least a third empty. In my experience, the planes are always packed at this time of year. I don’t understand why there were so many empty seats, but I felt very graced. Not only did I get the aisle seat I wanted, but the seat next to me was empty for the entire flight.


To read the rest of the posts in this series click here.

Recycling and Composting in Amritapuri

Recycling station

Amma has made recycling and composting a major priority for the ashram. Every resident and visitor sorts their trash into separate bins labeled for paper, soft plastic, hard plastic, yard waste, food waste, sharps, sanitary, cloth, dust and hair. Last year there were 16 recycling stations, such as the one in the photo above, scattered throughout the ashram grounds. Since so many more flats have been built since then, I imagine the number of recycling stations have increased as well.

The yard and food waste from these bins plus the leftover food from the various kitchens and dining areas are taken to the composting center and the rest of the items go to the recycling center. Think about how much waste 5000-15,000 residents and visitors might produce in a day and you will get a sense of the scope of these projects.

Once the bins arrive at the recycling center they are re-sorted by volunteers. Items that were placed in the wrong bin are removed and put in the appropriate bin. Once that process is completed, the items are sorted for a third time, in a much more detailed way. For example, items in the paper bin are divided into 10 different subcategories.

The recycled items are sold and help to fund Amma’s humanitarian projects.

To learn more about the ashram’s recycling program go to: Recycling: A Model for the World


The vermi-composting center is the small building on the left; the food and yard waste composting center is on the right.

The food and yard waste bins are taken to the composting center. The food is put on a metal table and volunteers take out any non-food items such as plastic bags, spoons, etc. Then large food items are cut. Next, items such as fresh cow dung from the ashram cows, egg shells, shredded yard waste as well as wood chips and sawdust from the carpentry shop are added to the food in order to increase the bacterial culture and nitrogen or to make the mix drier. Once the food waste has been processed, it is formed into piles. The piles are covered with more shredded wood and yard waste. As the food composts, the piles can become very hot. You can even see steam rising from them. Volunteers aerate the compost by turning it with pitchforks.  (This year I saw signs asking for volunteers to turn the compost at 2 a.m.!) The piles stay at the composting center for two to three weeks and then go to a farm or to the vermi-composting center to finish the composting process.

The yard waste is being processed at the same time as the food waste. The yard waste consists of materials that are gathered when the ashram grounds are swept each morning, along with other garden waste. The waste is put into a container that has a metal grate on the bottom. The grate allows the sand, pebbles and dust to fall through. Next, rocks, seeds, plastic and other items that shouldn’t be part of the compost are removed. What is left is the usable yard waste. That yard waste is then put into a shredder. Once shredded, it may be added directly into the food waste as described above, or it may be spread on the surface of the compost piles.

To see photos of this process go to: Food and Yard Waste Composting in Amritapuri, Pages 19-21

For years, the composting center has been located on the main ashram grounds. When I arrived at the ashram in November, I discovered it had moved. Now it is near Kuzhitura Farm, a 20 minute walk from the ashram. Pick-up trucks take the food and yard waste to the new center and the volunteers who work there generally ride bicycles.  The new center is about three times the size of the original one.


The Red Worm Composting blog states that “Worm composting (also known as vermi-composting) involves the breakdown of organic wastes via the joint action of worms and microorganisms (although there are often other critters that lend a hand).”  That process creates some of the highest quality fertilizer that exists.  Red worms are the type of worms used for vermi-composting.

In the vermi-composting center, worm beds are formed from the food and yard waste compost.  When the beds are ready, the worms are then added to the piles.  Each day, a “slurpee” made from cow dung and water is poured on the top of the beds.  The worms rise to the surface and feast.  It takes about three months for the worms to turn the compost into fertilizer.

The ashram’s vermi-composting project moved to the Kuzhitura Farm location over a year ago.  When I visited the new center last year, there were eight to ten worm beds.  This year there were only the two shown below.  I asked one of the people in the food composting center about the change and he told me they had discovered they were using way too much bedding material for the number of worms they had.  Taking care of two big beds would certainly decrease the amount of time it took to maintain the beds!

There was another big change this year.  In the past, when the fertilized compost was ready, volunteers separated the worms from the compost by hand.  It took many volunteers and a lot of time to accomplish that process. (That was a job I loved to do!) The worms are now separated from the compost with a machine that is like a sifter.   There was no staff present when I visited so I didn’t have the opportunity to talk to anyone about it, but I did take some pictures of the sifter.

The fertilized compost produced at Amritapuri has always been dark in color and very light weight.  I’ve been jealous because it is so much nicer than what my vermi-composting system in Seattle produces.  One of the people from the food composting center showed me some of the compost that is created using the new shifting process.  It was even darker than it has been in the past…. and was so light-weight.  I hope to learn more about these changes the next time I visit Amritapuri.


Are My Trips to Amritapuri Fulfilling a Need or a Want?

Since I wrote the “Needs vs Wants” prompt, I have been reflecting on my own relationship to that subject.  Sitting here in my flat at Amma’s ashram in Amritapuri, India, it occurred to me that the reason I have been able to come here 26 times since January 1990 is because I have made that trip a major priority in my life. I value experience over material possessions so I have never been pulled into the world of consumerism and accumulation.  There have only been two years when I was not able to save enough money to allow me to make that sojourn.

Is going to India a need or a want? At first I thought it was a want, but then I remembered there were many years I went to India even though I felt a lot of resistance to going. Continue reading “Are My Trips to Amritapuri Fulfilling a Need or a Want?”

Living and Learning in Amritapuri: Jan 3-5, 2016


Swami Ramakrishna

I saw Swami Ramakrishna a few days ago for the first time on this trip. He is the swami that oversees Amma groups in North and South America and in Chennai, India. He may be responsible for other areas of the world too.

The reason I hadn’t seen him in Amritapuri was that he has been in Chennai helping with the flood relief efforts. If I understood him to say that the water had hit as high as 23 feet on the outside of the buildings and that there had been 8 to 9 feet of water inside the houses. Amma sent 500 volunteers to help. They rescued people from their homes, provided medical aid, food, clothes, blankets, cooking stoves, etc. Amma also donated $749,000 to the government for use in their ongoing relief efforts.


Many people in the ashram spent the days after New Year’s getting ready for Amma’s North Kerala tour. The caravan consisted of 11 buses of ashramites as well as numerous supply trucks. The crowds are huge at these programs and there is a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done during them. Take a look at the size of one of the many cooking pots.

Kanji Making

The tour group left the ashram at 4:00 a.m. on the 5th. There are still a lot of people in the ashram but so many fewer than when Amma is here. It is nice to have some days of comparative quiet before I leave India.



I really enjoy seeing sadhus when they come to Amritapuri. Sadhus ascetics/holy people who wear saffron and often wander from place to place. They dress in different ways. The sadhu in this picture reminds me of some of the sadhus I see here, even though he is wearing clothes that are primarily yellow

(Photo Credit: “People of Varanasi 005” by Antoine Taveneaux – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -)


One difference this year is that I have seen two female sadhus. I found them even more intriguing. This picture reminds me of them. The color and type of cloth she is wearing is more typical of what sadhus wear than the man in the picture above.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia.



Seva (volunteer work)

Prior to the Christmas play, I helped sew and iron costumes. On and off throughout the trip, I have also helped Chaitanya in the café by doing some of the prep work for dinner. My job has been to butter stacks of bread and cut buns. I also chop up capsicum for salads and other menu items.

I had worked in the café as a cashier for 15 years, or more. I stopped doing that job three years ago when I was having so much trouble with my blood pressure. This week, I decided I wanted to work at the café once again. Nowadays, people receive a token when they order their food. My job is to get the food from the kitchen window and then call out the token number.  When the person comes to the counter I take their token and give them the food.

Each night, we serve so many people in a short amount of time. It’s fun! I think I will do that job again next year.

A couple of times this week, I also helped with processing the Matruvani magazines. Matruvani is one of the magazines published by the ashram that goes to devotees all over the world. If I remember right, when I first came here in January of 1990, they were sending out 40,000 copies a month. The pages came on big pieces of paper and had to be folded by hand. At some point, each publication would be checked to make sure every page was present and in order. After they were cut and stapled together, we would then fold a piece of paper around them that served as a mailing envelope.  Next we would paste on the address labels, using our finger and some watery paste. There weren’t that many people living here in those days, so a mailing of 40,000 was a major endeavor. I remember working on them past midnight.

Now the ashram publishes about 350,000 Matruvani magazines as well as many other publications each month! The work is still a major endeavor and much of it is still done by hand. In addition to all of the components that had to be done in the past, they now have zip codes (called pin numbers here) to contend with.  My job this week was to paste on checking labels that verified that the zip codes in each packet had been properly sorted.

Flexibility, Ingenuity

There was one story that I debated about sharing. After all, I don’t want you to think I’m crazy. I’ve decided to share it anyway. My hair grows really fast in India. My bangs had been getting longer and longer and were at the point where they were really annoying me. Two days ago, I had just had it. I had forgotten to bring scissors this year so didn’t know what I was going to cut it with, but I was going to find a way.

I could have found someone who had scissors but that would have taken effort and the scissors probably would have been dull anyway. Regardless, I didn’t want to look for scissors, I wanted it fixed NOW. I thought about the items I had in my room that could cut my hair.  I realized the only thing that could cut anything was a pair of nail clippers. That seemed absurd but I used them anyway. While it isn’t a good cut, I have to say it ended up looking way better than when I use scissors! If someone would have told me I would be using nail clippers to cut my hair, I wouldn’t have believed them.


I will end this post with some photos.

(Click gallery to make pictures bigger.)

To read the earlier posts in this series go to: