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.

Amma is Coming!

Amma will be starting her 2017 Summer Tour in the Seattle area on Saturday, May 27. She will be holding programs at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue.

Amma is known as a humanitarian and a spiritual leader, teaching and modeling a message of love and service to the poor. She offers a motherly hug to those who come to meet her.

May 27, All Day Program:11 am
May 28 Morning: 10:00am Evening: 7:30pm,
May 29, Morning: 10:00am, Evening 7:00pm (Includes a ceremony for world peace)

(Lines for tokens for Amma’s embrace will start forming 90 minutes before each program. The number of tokens may be limited due to time constraints so it is best to come early if you want a hug.)

All programs are free. For more detailed information about each event click here.

After Amma leaves the Seattle area she will go to San Ramon, Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, New York City, Boston, Washington DC and Toronto. To watch a movie about Amma’s darshan (hugs) and her innumerable humanitarian and charitable activities go to: embracingtheworld.org/news-etw-movie/

 

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

img_0360

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.)

Wi-Fi

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

amma-singing

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.

img_4784

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.

img_4788

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.

img_4820

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.