Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: September 7-11, 2018

Attitude

On my first day in Amritapuri this year, I noticed a man wearing a t-shirt that said “let go” on the front. Since my blog is named Living, Learning and Letting Go, his shirt caught my eye and my interest. A few days later, he asked me if I was having a good day or a great day. I was startled at first but then realized it was a nice example of how powerful choosing our attitudes can be. If our choice is between a good day or a great day, we are more likely to create one of those two options for ourselves.

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I was reminded me of a story that I once heard Jean Illsley Clarke tell. She is a parent educator and was a mentor for me. Her story was about a seven-year-old girl who had been kicked out of a number of foster homes. Jean visited her on a day that she had been acting out. When Jean went outside to talk to her, she asked the child “How did you make your day go today?” The girl was startled for a moment. After thinking about it, she said, “Exactly the way I wanted it to go.”

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A quote that is projected on the screens during Amma’s programs in Amritapuri and the U.S. (and probably elsewhere) is also about the importance of choosing ones attitudes.

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For the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust. In one of his books, Man’s Search for Meaning, he wrote:

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

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There is so much power in realizing we can be responsible for our own attitudes.

Choices

Towards the end of last week, I realized I hadn’t done many of the activities that were important to me during previous trips.

  1. I hadn’t joined the prasad line to hand Amma the packet of ash and candy that she gives each person who comes to her for a hug.
  2. Amma has given western visitors and ashram residents the opportunity to sit on the stage with her each darshan day. Not only had I not taken advantage of that opportunity, I hadn’t even checked to see what my assigned time was.
  3. During my last three trips to Amritapuri, I had enjoyed doing a one-hour shift as a prasad assistant twice a week. That job consists of making sure that there are always people available to hand Amma the prasad and teaching them what to do if it is their first time giving prasad, I had planned to do that seva (volunteer job) again this year, but kept putting it off. I soon realized that it wasn’t going to be a priority for me this year.

Instead, I have kept focused on coming to bhajans on time, and sitting in the floor-seating area in the front of the auditorium, as well as attending more of the meditations and Q&A programs.

A few days ago, I walked by the prasad-giving line and saw that it was almost empty. I know what it is like to not have enough people to run the line, so as soon as I could, I joined the line myself. I enjoyed giving Amma the prasad packets as much as I always do.

After I finished doing that, I noticed that there was a lot of empty space in the area on the stage where devotees sit. That is very unusual, so I decided to take advantage of it. I had an incredible view of Amma as she gave darshan. I sat there for about half an hour and then left. I realized this was a good example of the importance of staying aware of opportunities that arise and not holding on to plans in a rigid way. It is important for me to consider each choice that comes my way individually.

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This week I also had the opportunity to see that I don’t always make choices that are in my best interests. On Sunday, I got a hug from Amma and then decided to have dinner with friends instead of listening to the Swami bhajans. During that dinner, I heard Swami Pranavamrita singing one of my favorite bhajans after another. Even though I longed to be immersed in the music, I chose to stay with my friends. It was nice to be able to choose between between two good options, but since I am still longing for what I missed that day, I don’t think I made the best choice for me in that moment. I know it was a learning opportunity though and I believe I will have an opportunity to make a different choice many times in the future.

***

I used to teach a workshop based on Wayne Mueller’s book Legacy of the Heart.  I ended the workshop by saying “You will have endless opportunities to choose between Pain or Forgiveness, Fear or Faith, Performance or Belonging, Scarcity or Abundance, Grandiosity or Humility, Drama or Simplicity, Judgement or Mercy, Busyness or Stillness, Disappointment or Nonattachment, Isolation or Intimacy, Habit or Mindfulness and Obligation or Loving Kindness. The choice is up to you.”

Discovering My Limits

I have enjoyed sitting on the floor during bhajans. My legs often get uncomfortable but my back feels better than if I am sitting in a chair. If I go to the earlier meditation and Q&A program, I usually sit in a chair since sitting on the floor for the 1 1/2 -2 hour bhajan program is all I can handle. I’m pleased that I am able to get up and down from the floor, although I’m not very graceful about it.

On Thursday of last week, I faced a new challenge and soon realized I had discovered a new limit. When the program is in the auditorium there is a lot of space in the front area. However, on Thursday, darshan was held in the temple, which is much smaller. I decided to go to the temple for the 6:30 bhajan set. Since Amma would be giving darshan,  a swami would lead the singing. It would be like the “old days”.

The situation was very much like the old days. The front area was very crowded and there was no room to walk between people. As more and more people sat down, I began to wonder how I was going to get out. The swami would sing longer than a normal bhajan program and I knew I couldn’t sit that long. As crowded as it was, it would be difficult to get into a standing position and my balance would probably be a problem.

I worried about it for a while. Then the person next to me stood up. By using her space and my own I was able to stand up. That didn’t solve the problem of walking through a crowd of people when there was no space between them though. I slowly made my way past one person and then another, and then reached out my hand for support to go the last distance. One person either didn’t see me or ignored me, but another took my hand. With that extra support I was able to get to the aisle.

I had discovered a new limit. I will not sit on the floor during the 6:30 p.m. bhajans if darshan is in the temple. I can sit there at other times during the day.

***

I used to tell new devotees to be sure to stay until the end of programs because so many special things happen then. Another limit I have had to accept is that I can’t handle staying up late. If I do, I feel horrible the next day.

One of the events I missed this week was Rosh Hasshana, the Jewish New Year. A group from Israel sang for a while. I was there for part of that. I loved their music. Later in the night, another group of Jewish devotees sang for Amma and then Amma sang with them. I could hear a bit of that song from my room.  Part of me wanted to join them, but I knew I needed to respect my limits.

Saraswati Garden

I spent some time in Saraswati Garden a few days ago. It has become so lush. As I wandered through it, I marveled at how big the plants are compared to those that were there in 2016 when the garden was fairly new. Some of the plants that were 18-24 inches in 2016 are now well over 6 feet tall. And there are many new plant varieties.

November 2016

September 2018

Photo credits:

The Amma quote is from Amma’s Facebook Page.
The attitude, choices, and limits photos are from Pixabay.com.

To read the previous posts in this series click here.

Practice in Accepting Change and Letting Go

The last week in April, a friend sent me an email that said an artist, working with Seattle Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School project, was painting staircases around Seattle. The notice also said that the next steps to be painted were the Hanford Stairs, the stairs that border our Greenbelt restoration site.

When I saw the photo I was concerned. I couldn’t imagine something so bright going through the forest. I didn’t understand how painting the stairs would make walking to school safer, but thought that anything that accomplished that goal would be a good thing. I liked that she was inviting community members to help paint. In addition, I knew that this unexpected change would be an opportunity for me to practice letting go and suspending judgment.

I took some comfort in the fact that the notice included a photo of the stairs that were to be painted and they were the new set of stairs that are below ours. Maybe ours would stay the same.

Last Saturday was the day the lower stairs were to be painted. Yesterday afternoon, I decided to walk down and check them out. From the top of the stairs they looked like this…. no sign of paint.

But when I walked to the bottom of the stairs and looked up, this is what I saw.

The bright colors still seemed strange to me but I had to admit that there was beauty to it. I loved that the stairs looked clear one way and fancy when you looked at them from the other direction.

This morning, I noticed that there was a lot of sand on the plants on both sides of the stairs near us. It seemed so strange and I couldn’t imagine what could have caused it. When I pointed the sand out to somebody later in the day, she said that the stairs had been pressure washed. In that moment, I realized that our part of stairs must also be part of this project and that they will probably be painted tomorrow!

I still think it will take me time to get used to this change, but I’m glad that I decided that the lower stairs were okay and even kind of pretty. I have no doubt that children will enjoy them a lot and I hope that it does indeed keep them safe.

We Had a Great Month Thanks to You

Last night, Sreejit posted the summary of his Rage Against the Machine event. He did it in a new way in that for each post he included a quote and one of the comments that a reader made. I think that is a valuable way to help new readers choose which posts to look at, so I’m passing his summary on to those of you who read my blog.

The Seeker's Dungeon

We made it.  30 guest posts in 30 days.

As you may have noticed, the Rage Against the Machine series was not so much about rage as it was about figuring out how we can be productive global citizens, and what we can do as individuals and collectively to make this world a better place.

Everyone brought different perspectives – including the ever present To Rage or Not to Rage question – and different issues to the series.  One of the most pleasant surprises was that not only were the guest posts exceptional, of which I’m grateful, but we had a lot of interesting discussions in the comment section.

So, to recap the articles that you might have missed, or to remind you and encourage a second look, I will share both a snippet from each article and also one comment from the discussion, to give you a taste of…

View original post 5,577 more words

Shocking Revelation

I am still reeling from some information I received today. It just occurred to me to look and see if today’s Daily Prompt would fit for this situation.  Revelation is perfect!

For the last month, I’ve been looking forward to taking a Plant Identification course that was offered to Forest Stewards and other volunteers who work in Seattle’s reforestation projects. When I arrived at the class today, I discovered most of the students had been Forest Stewards for a long time and the others had at least some experience in plant identification. I, on the other hand, only know a few of these native plants.

Last month, Ananya and I had to choose the trees, shrubs and ground covers that we will be planting in our group’s Greenbelt site the end of October. We ordered nearly 400 plants. In the course of today’s class, I learned that those plants will be delivered to us unmarked. Not only that, most will be in their winter state so we may have only a twig to use for identification.

WWWWWWHHHHHHAAAAAAATTTTTTTT?

The need for me to learn to identify our plants has certainly taken on a new intensity. As I sat down to write this post, though, a couple of other thoughts came to my mind. When we ordered the plants, we had to order in quantities of 10. We ordered 10 for some varieties and 20 for others. So even though we will have to identify 400 plants, there will only be 26 different types. That seems doable.  Also, sometime prior to October we will have the opportunity to take a Winter Twig class. I will make taking that class a priority.

I am sure glad that I learned this information today, rather than discovering it when the plants are delivered. I can do it. I can do it. I can do it. I can do it. I can do it. Yes I can. Yes I can. Yes I can. Yes I can. And I don’t have to do it alone! Ananya and I will do it together and if we need help we will get it.

A Treasure for Me

I laughed when I saw that today’s Daily Prompt is Chuckles. I also thought of the old saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” That is exactly how I feel about dandelions this time of year.

Two days ago, I saw this strip of dandelions near my home. It was at least 50 feet long and maybe more. Throughout the winter, I have been going to the grocery store to pick up lettuce that is going to be discarded. I feed it to the worms in my vermicomposting bins. The worms seem to be losing their enthusiasm for the lettuce, but they love the fresh dandelion greens.

The problem with the dandelions in this field is that it is part of light rail property and is completely fenced in. I have no way to access it, so I have to be satisfied with using the dandelions in my yard and the few that are on the street side of the fence.

Even though I know that it is important for me to focus on what I have, rather than what I don’t have, I have no doubt that I will still look longingly at the treasure that is beyond my grasp whenever I pass this field.

Visions of the Wise

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யாதும் ஊரே யாவரும் கேளிர்
தீதும் நன்றும் பிறர்தர வாரா
நோதலும் தணிதலும் அவற்றோ ரன்ன
சாதலும் புதுவது அன்றே, வாழ்தல்

 

To us all towns are one, all men our kin,
Life’s good comes not from others’ gifts, nor ill,
Man’s pains and pain’s relief are from within,
Death’s no new thing, nor do our bosoms thrill
When joyous life seems like a luscious draught.
When grieved, we patient suffer; for, we deem
This much-praised life of ours a fragile raft
Borne down the waters of some mountain stream
That o’er huge boulders roaring seeks the plain
Tho’ storms with lightning’s flash from darkened skies.
Descend, the raft goes on as fates ordain.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !
We marvel not at the greatness of the great;
Still less despise we men of low estate.

 

When do you think this profound poem was written?

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The poem was created by Kaniyan Poongundran, a Tamil philosopher during the Sangam period (3rd century BC to the 4th century AD). It was published in the Purananuru  in 192 A.D.

 

Arrow Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Working on My Attitude

Looks like I had a visitor during the night.

 

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia

 

I’m working on my attitude.

Thank you mole for aerating my garden for free.

Thank you mole for aerating my garden for free.

But the flowers looked so beautiful yesterday.

Thank you mole for aerating my garden for free.

Thank you mole for aerating my garden for free.

But  now some of the seedlings have been destroyed

Thank you mole for aerating my garden for free.

Thank you mole for aerating my garden for free.

That wasn’t supposed to happen.

Obviously it was, because it did.

Thank you mole for aerating my garden for free.

Thank you mole for aerating my garden for free.

Thank you mole for aerating my garden for free.

I will get there.

Eventually.

What a Difference Attitude Can Make!

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Soon after I arrived in Amritapuri, I had the foolish thought that this might be the year that I don’t have any experiences to share. I say foolish because I don’t believe there ever was any remote possibility that could happen.

My first week was full of challenges. In hindsight, I see that I was receiving endless opportunities to choose between two possible attitudes. For example:

  • I could lament that I left my good thongs in Seattle, or instead choose to be grateful that I had felt drawn to pick up and pack a cheap pair of thongs that, for the last two years, had been lying on the floor of an empty room where I work.
  • I could suffer about the fact that my internet stick was not where I believed I had left it last January or instead choose to do what it took to get another one.
  • I could berate myself for not remembering that I needed to bring a water filter or instead choose to look for creative ways to solve the problem.
  • I could bemoan that the seva (volunteer work) I look forward to most in Amritapuri (separating worms from the fertilizer they produce) was no longer an option or instead choose to appreciate that I would have more time to support the development of the Christmas play.
  • I could obsess about the seemingly endless internet and phone problems I was experiencing or instead choose to see those problems as opportunities to practice equanimity while doing what needed to be done to solve them, one step at a time.

I will describe three other examples in more detail:

1) The evening of December 2, I was about to go to my room when someone walked up to me and asked if I would be willing to hand Amma prasad (the candy she gives devotees after she hugs them). That is one of my favorite sevas so I eagerly accepted the invitation and joined the prasad line. As I reached the front of the line and took the position next to Amma, a western man came for his hug. He started speaking to her in beginner’s level Malayalam. Amma and he were having a great time laughing about his speaking attempt.  Afterwards, he handed Amma three malas (prayer bead necklaces). He wanted Amma to put them on him. Once she did that, he pulled out another handful of malas made from a different substance and asked her to put those on him too. He went through that sequence two more times. The last set was a handful of about 15 rosewood malas. It was a rather bizarre scene, especially since he was now wearing around 30 malas. I imagined he had plans to give them away to friends at home but having her put them on him was a rather bizarre change from normal practice of simply asking Amma to bless the malas he would be giving as gifts. Amma and he were laughing and so was everyone who was witnessing the incident. To me it seemed like “no accident” that I was present for that entire encounter.

I had not been able to sleep for more than two or three hours at a time since I arrived in India on November 28, so was hopeful that night would be different. You can imagine how upset I was when, after 2 ½ hours of sleep, there was a huge ruckus between nearby dogs. Once I wake up, sleep is over for the night. How long could I live like this? I had to get some sleep! Would the dogs start barking again? Would they continue to be a problem throughout my stay? It didn’t even occur to me that they hadn’t barked during the previous nights and dogs had never been a problem in the past. I was too sleepy and too lost in fear of the future to think clearly.

It did occur to me that I had been in bliss when I went to bed and now felt like I was in hell. I realized it was a good example of how quickly our minds can change our reality. While I struggled with the fear for the rest of the night, I found it immensely helpful to recall my experience of witnessing the interaction between Amma and the man with the malas. As I smiled with the memory, I let go of some of my tension. What a gift that prasad experience had been for me.  So in a situation like this, I could choose to stay in the fear, or consciously focus on a time when I was happy, reminding myself that this current challenge will pass.

2) With the ongoing lack of sleep, it soon became obvious I was developing a cold. On the afternoon of December 4, I felt strongly pulled into sleep and I slept almost continually for the next 36 hours, getting up only for meals and for meeting bathroom needs. I realized I could focus on how many things I was missing out on while I was sleeping or could instead choose to be grateful that:

  • as I moved in and out of sleep when Amma was leading bhajans (devotional songs) that night, I heard small portions of them from my room.  Each bhajan segment I became aware of was a favorite of mine.  I wasn’t sure whether I was really hearing the songs or if I was dreaming I was hearing them. Regardless of whether it was a dream or reality, I could choose to believe that experience was a gift from Amma to me.
  • during the short time I went downstairs for dinner on Dec. 5, Swami Pranavamrita sang Kalam Kanalu and a Swami Ayyappa song. I have a special history with both of those songs so I could choose to take them as yet another gift to me.
  • since I have been sleeping around the clock the swelling in my feet has gone away.  Perhaps the jet lag will also be gone when this illness has run its course!  I can choose to believe that my sickness has multiple purposes and they are all good ones.

3) I have felt pulled to learn Tai Chi for several years but the pull was not strong enough for me to take action. Before I left Seattle, I knew that this was the year for me to start, so I enrolled in the classes as soon as I arrived in Amritapuri. One lesson was all I needed to take to know that it was so right for me. The process quickly brought my mind and body into a meditative stillness. I could tell some part of me recognized the moves and knew what to do. I could berate myself for taking this long to begin, or I could choose to remember that my life will unfold in its own time and acknowledge that now must be the perfect time for me to start Tai Chi.

 

All in all, during the eight days I have been at the ashram, I think I have done a pretty good job of choosing to not make myself miserable by taking on negative attitudes and instead consciously choosing positive ones.  The time I was least successful in that endeavor was the night the dogs woke me up.  All of these events have reminded me that I can choose my attitude towards the lessons, challenges, and tests that come my way, and that my attitude will make a  significant difference in my experience.