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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
I have a list of posts waiting to be written. This will be a busy weekend for me but now seems like a good time to start!
I left Amritapuri on the afternoon of January 12, the day before my international flight. If I had stayed in the ashram, I would have probably gone to bed late, slept poorly, arisen at 3 am, finished last minute tasks and then started the two-hour taxi ride to the airport sometime between 4:30 and 5 am. By spending the night in Kovalam, I was able to get a good night’s sleep and leave for the airport at 6:40 am. That trip took about 20 minutes.
Once there, the Emirates agent asked if I would like to have an upgrade to Business Class for $150. I was ecstatic. My excitement was short-lived however. I soon realized that the $150 fee was too good to be true and that he was talking about the leg of the trip between Trivandrum and Dubai. I wasn’t going to spend $150 for a four hour flight, especially since I had spent the previous night in a hotel, and would be spending the night in another hotel once I was in Dubai.
When I arrived in Dubai, I was met by a hotel staff member and taken to the Dubai International Airport Hotel. I was there for 19 hours, which allowed me to rest throughout the day and get another solid night’s sleep before the long journey back to Seattle. I love staying in that hotel. From the time you get into the elevator and the time you leave it, you are immersed in silence.
I can’t sleep on airplanes, so nothing can make the 14-hour leg of the journey easy, but having two nights of restful sleep helps. I watched two good documentaries. I don’t remember the first one at this point, but the second one was called Drowning in Plastic. If I remember right, it was a BBC production. Since I’ve been focusing on the world-wide plastic problem being able to see the documentary seemed synchronistic.
Eventually, I was in Seattle. The immigration and customs process was speedy and I even got my baggage quicker than normal. I ordered a Lyft “taxi” and was soon on my way to Seattle. Before long, I was in my house!
Challenge after challenge
The last time I stayed two nights in hotels on my way home, my reentry was much easier than it has been in the past. Amritapuri is 13 ½ hours ahead of Seattle, so nothing can make the transition easy but the time in the hotels at least helped. If it helped this time, it wasn’t obvious. I’ve been back for 12 days and sleeping has been an ongoing problem. I slept almost 7 hours last night though, so maybe that problem is almost over.
The other thing that has been different this time is that I’ve experienced challenge after challenge. They started almost immediately. The ones I’m remembering now are:
- When I drove my car for the first time, there was a several inch crack in the windshield. It immediately grew to 9 inches.
- When I drove my car for the second time, the crack grew to 5 feet.
- The lights and fan in my bathroom went out soon after I got home. The circuit breaker hadn’t tripped. The electric company I chose had a diagnostic fee that was around $250. When the electrician came, he went to the downstairs bathroom and pushed the reset button. It reset the upstairs system as well. I knew the button would work if the problem was downstairs, but I had no idea that it would work in another room. I was frustrated that the company didn’t troubleshoot with potential customers over the phone.
- I discovered that the 30 buckets we have in our forest restoration site were stolen.
- Someone dumped all of the debris from cutting down a tree into an area of our restoration site that we had cleared. It had to have been a professional company because the debris was sorted and banded.
- Someone dumped disgusting garbage along the street on the edge of the Greenbelt. The garbage was further scattered by rodents or animals. I reported it and then eventually picked it up.
- My bathroom scale doesn’t work.
- The physical therapy appointment I had made before my trip was canceled, and I had to wait a week to get another one.
There were more challenges but that is all I remember at the moment. I would guess my list is complete enough for you to get a sense of what my reentry has been like. Lack of sleep has been the hardest part of it.
Everything hasn’t been a downer though. There has been a lot of good.
- Since the electrician was in my house, I decided to spend a little more money and have him install an outlet in my kitchen that has two USB ports in it. I have wanted to do that for a long time.
- I have been dealing with a carpet problem for about a year; carpet that was put in three years ago unraveled. That type of carpet was no longer available, so the company couldn’t patch it. That meant that they had to replace all of the carpet in the living room and dining room. The carpet was installed three days ago and it’s beautiful.
- I hired a friend to move the furniture out of the area where the carpet was going to be installed. That gave me a chance to sort through the books in the book case and give away any I didn’t really want. He also cleaned and organized the big storage area under the stairs. (I’ve worked on that area from time to time, but wanted to do a deeper level of cleaning.) Many items went to Goodwill or the trash and the storage room looks beautiful.
- There is a big maple tree in my back yard that has grown so big that it was covering part of my back deck. It also covered part of my neighbor’s house. I have worried that if a branch broke off, it would damage my neighbor’s roof. I had not done anything to that tree in the 45+ years I’ve lived here. That tree was pruned two days after my return. I received validation that it is a healthy tree and it now looks even more beautiful than ever.
- We had a wonderful work party on Monday, the Martin Luther King National Day of Service, and many of the volunteers who participated want to come back! It was the first time we had opened one of our work parties up to children and that was a good experience too.
- I’ve had numerous chances to work in the Greenbelt myself. Most of the plants are beginning to bud. I am so eager to see what the land looks like in Spring.
- Replacing the car’s windshield was easy.
- The Seattle Parks Department is going to take away the 10′ x 10’x 6′ pile of tree debris that was dumped into our restoration site. They will also replace the missing buckets.
- I’ve almost finished the part of the February PNW GreenFriends newsletter that I am responsible for.
- I went to Seattle Satsang last Saturday and will be going to satsang activities today and tomorrow. One of my goals for this year is to once again get more involved with this group. I’m off to a good start.
- I had a physical therapy appointment yesterday. While I still am having problems related to shoulder, neck and ribs, I was pleased to discover I had made progress during the time I was in India.
There have been more good experiences too, but that is enough for now. So, to summarize, it has been a difficult reentry, but all is well.
Photo Credits: Pixabay.com
When I planned my trip to Amritapuri this year, I made a priority of being there during Krishna Jayanthi, the day Krishna’s birth is celebrated each year. In my early days with Amma, I found myself crying deeply whenever I sang or listened to some bhajans (devotional songs). When I checked out those bhajans later, I discovered that almost all of them were Krishna songs. I didn’t know anything about Krishna from my conscious mind, but clearly some part of me did.
I have been at Amritapuri on Krishna Jayanthi twice before. An important part of the celebration is a procession that goes from the ashram to a nearby Krishna temple. The group sings all the way to the temple. When I participated in that procession in 2003, I was in bliss the whole time. The second time I was at the ashram on Krishna Jayanthi, my back went out just prior to the celebration and I wasn’t able to walk in the procession.
This year, for me, Krishna’s birthday was a time of bliss, a time of sadness, and a time of challenges. Prior to booking my trip, I had done an internet search for the 2017 date of Krishna Jayanthi in Kerala. August 14 was the date that came up. I booked my trip for August 9 so that I would have time to get over some of the jet lag before the big day. Continue reading “Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: September 12, 2017”
The Lessons Begin
After checking in at the International Office, I took my suitcases to my flat (apartment). Then, I walked to the café to find my son Sreejit. He wasn’t there, but a friend phoned him to let him know I had arrived. I hadn’t been with him since January so it was so good to see him. We walked to my room and I became Santa Claus for the first time on this trip, by giving him the supplies and treats I had brought for him.
Being around Amma, or in her ashram, guarantees an increase in the frequency of life’s lessons. They often provide the opportunity to practice behaviors such as flexibility, equanimity and letting go. I received my first such challenge right away.
I will give you a little back story first. There is a long shelf that is located above the windows in my flat. Soon after I moved in, Akshay installed a wood door on that shelf so I could lock-up my belongings when I returned to the U.S. (When I am gone, the space is rented out to ashram visitors.) Eight years later, it became obvious that there were termites in the wood. The ashram is in the tropics, so it is not surprising that would occur. Last year, it became obvious that the structure wasn’t going to last much longer, but we thought it had another year. The day before I was to leave for the U.S., as Sreejit was putting my belongings on the shelf, the whole frame collapsed on him. It shocked him, and me, but thankfully he wasn’t hurt.
Not having that storage area meant there was no way for me to lock up my possessions while I was gone. I had two small trunks that could be locked, but my buckets, trash bins, laundry filter, cleaning supplies, and standing desk would be left unprotected. There was nothing I could do other than put everything in an unlocked storage area in the kitchen. While it was a risk, it seemed a reasonable one. The shelf was very high and not very visible. It seemed to me that the items, for the most part, were too bulky to easily take. Also, everything was prominently marked with my room number.
Now back to my present-day story! After I gave Sreejit his supplies, he climbed up to the shelf and handed down the items I had stored. I was shocked to discover that even though the trunks and the standing desk were fine, everything else was gone. I couldn’t believe it. It was certainly an opportunity to practice flexibility, equanimity and letting go.
I spent a good part of the day cleaning my room, putting clothes and supplies on my shelves, replacing some of the missing supplies, and ordering a SIM card for my phone. I was told to come back the next day to fill out the paperwork to renew the MTS Wi-Fi Homespot that will give me internet access.
I was dismayed to be told that since the next day was Sunday and there would be an all country strike (protesting the currency fiasco) on Monday, I would be unable to get my SIM card until Wednesday. The the earliest I would get the Wi-Fi Hotspot would be Friday and even that wasn’t guaranteed. That meant I couldn’t read or send emails, publish or read blog posts, respond to blog comments, or check CNN for the latest political developments for quite a while. I knew being disconnected from media would be good for me, but it wasn’t going to be easy. This was a big, and unwelcome opportunity for me to practice flexibility, equanimity, and letting go.
When I arrived at the ashram, Amma was on her Autumn Tour in the United States. She completed her Michigan programs on Thanksgiving, the day I departed for India, and then went on to San Jose, California for five days of programs there. I think that Amma will return to Amritapuri on December 2nd or 3rd.
I enjoy coming to the ashram before Amma gets here since it is nice to be able to recover from the trip when the ashram is quiet. Once Amma returns, people begin pouring in and the sense of quiet is gone. (I’m laughing. With all the construction, it is never truly quiet. As I am editing this post, someone is hammering rebar in the courtyard below my window!)
It is also fun to be at the ashram when everyone is bustling around cleaning, painting and getting ready for Amma’s return. There is so much anticipation since the residents haven’t seen her since the beginning of October.
I am very excited that I will be seeing Amma soon.
It is not unusual for me to sleep my first night in India, but the second night, and many nights thereafter, are usually a different story. My pattern is to wake up after two hours of sleep and not be able to fall asleep again. This time, I slept well my first two nights at the ashram. It remains to be seen if that will continue, but I feel hopeful that I am not going to have the normal two to three weeks of feeling exhausted. What a difference a daytime flight from the U.S., combined with a layover in Dubai, has made.
One of the benefits of jet lag is that it makes going to the morning prayers (archana) that begin at 4:50 a.m. easier. As I sat in the temple my first morning, it was so wonderful to be amidst the familiar sights, smells and sounds.
Finishing my room set-up and another lesson
I spent a good part of my first two days, cleaning and setting up my room. I also washed the clothes that had been stored for a year in the trunk. I use three buckets, one for washing and two for rinsing. When I’m finished, I take the clothes to the 17th story of the building I live in, and hang them on clothes lines. I love watching the wind whip the laundry around. Between the wind and the hot sun, it doesn’t take long for the laundry to dry here, and there is no need for an iron since most of the wrinkles disappear as the clothes dry. (Irons can’t be used in these flats anyway. They take so much electricity that the fuse for the entire floor would blow out.)
In the afternoon of the second day, I had another opportunity to practice equanimity when construction workers started making concrete in the courtyard below my room. The level of noise was indescribable. I had visions of living with that racket for the next seven weeks; it would have been a nightmare. Luckily, that scenario does not appear likely. The noise lasted about an hour and afterwards the concrete-making machine was taken away.
Changes I’ve noticed so far
There was construction work occurring at the ashram when I first came here in 1990; and it has never stopped. In the old days, the construction noise went throughout the night. Thankfully that stopped years ago.
It is always interesting to see what improvements have been made since my last visit. So far, I have noticed:
There is a new building behind the Amrita Darshan building where I live. The front side of that building will hold the Ayurvedic store and the ashram bookstore. Above it will be new flats. The main supply store (referred to as the Indian store) was moved to the backside of the new building the day before I arrived. It is very nice and has much more room than in the old store.
The new International Office is now open. It is located close to the north gate. The office for renting bedding and other supplies is also in that building. I suspect the top floor contains flats, since that seems to be the pattern for new buildings nowadays.
A few days ago, they changed the big photos of Amma on the sides of the auditorium stage. The new ones are stunning. One is a picture of Amma meditating when she was young and the other is one of her sitting in front of a beautiful forest and next to an intriguing tree trunk. I was mesmerized by both photos.
I haven’t seen it but I’ve heard they are building rooms in the green roof part of the temple. They have been building flats continuously for years, but they never catch up to the demand. I’ve heard that there is still a two to three year wait to purchase a flat.
Last night, I went to fill my water bottle from the water station closest to my flat. I became disoriented when I realized the water station was gone and there was another new building in that area. Originally, a small guest house stood there. I stayed in that guest house for a few days during my first visit to the ashram, in January of 1990. Even in those days, the bottom part of that building housed a print shop. The building had been expanded over the years, but now it is almost an entirely new building. The print shop is still on the first floor but it is huge even in comparison to the one that was there last year.
The devotee in the room next to me takes care of the two ashram dogs. One of them stays in her room most of the time, the other one is generally free to come and go. That dog’s name is Bhakti. I frequently come home to find Bhakti laying in front of my door. (She is doing that in the photo above.) The tile must feel cool on a hot day.
Last year, I was fascinated to watch her wait for the elevator at the bottom floor. When the elevator arrived, she walked onto it, and somehow, she knew exactly when get off.
This year, there is a new twist. In the past, she just walked down the stairs whenever she wanted to wander, and she still does that most of the time. However, she apparently has trained a few people to call the elevator for her. I was told that she would stand in front of them until they asked what she wanted. She refused food they offered her and indicated in some way that she wanted them to follow her. When they did, she guided them to the elevator. In time, they realized she wanted to go down, so they pressed the button. When the elevator door opened, Bhakti got on. Mission accomplished!
To read the rest of the posts in this series click here.
The first Challenge for Growth Prompt was published on January 6, 2016. Since then there have been seven more. I realize many of you may not have seen the posts that were written by those who participated, so at the end of each month I publish a summary for the month. I hope you enjoy reading them.
I give thanks to all of you who contributed to some or all of February’s challenges, whether it was by publishing a post, by reading the posts published by others or by thinking about the challenge topics.
Learning to Be
This week’s challenge is:
“Today when there is nothing to be done I will do nothing.”
In our over-doing world, many of us have lost the ability to simply BE. Our days are filled with doing things and our minds are filled with thinking. We may be bombarded with electronic stimulation such as radio, television, emails, texts, video games, internet surfing, Twitters, Facebook, Instagrams, Linked In, etc.
Too often when we are not over-doing, we are over-thinking. We rarely have new thoughts; usually we are just recycling the same thoughts over and over.
It may be that when we are quiet, we are uncomfortable with the feelings and thoughts that surface. We try to shove them down by potentially addictive behaviors like over-doing, substance abuse, obsessive thinking, and over-eating. We can learn to see those uncomfortable feelings and thoughts as indications that there are changes we need to make in our lives.
Most of life’s peak experiences happen when we least expect them. In addition, bliss is unlikely to come when we are thinking or over-doing.
This week, for one, two, three days or longer, focus on being rather than doing. If there is nothing that NEEDS to be done, don’t do anything. Take the time as an opportunity to simply BE. Watch the internal messages and impulses that come up when you do that. Note them, but don’t act on them. Allow yourself to continue being.
Consider making a commitment that during your being time you will not use the phone or computer and will not have any electronic music, television or radio going on in the background. If taking being time sounds impossible to you consider starting with five minutes- or ten minutes- or fifteen minutes a day. You can build up your being time slowly if you need to.
Sometime during the week, write a post about some aspect of this topic or about your being experiences. Feel free to use whatever form you desire: i.e., prose, story, poem, photograph, etc.
I look forward to seeing where this challenge takes you.
The article that you link to this prompt should be a new post written specifically for this challenge.
General Prompt Information:
New prompts will be posted at 5 a.m. (PST) every Wednesday.
Since it is easier to make behavioral changes if we focus on them one day at a time, each of the weekly challenges will start with “Today, I focus on…….” It will be up to you to decide how long you want to focus on a particular challenge— one, two, three days or even longer. At some point during the week, publish a post that relates in some way to the subject of the week.
Link your post back to this prompt post. If the pingback doesn’t work, then leave the link to your post in the comment section of this post. Be sure to include “Challenge for Growth Prompts” as one of your tags.
Throughout the week, I will publish the links for the posts that were created as the result of this prompt. I will also post the links from those who participated the previous week. That way they will be seen by anyone who comes to this page.
If you don’t have a blog, please feel free to submit your contribution to the prompt in the comment section below.
This week’s contributors to Learning to Be:
How about you?
Last week’s contributors to Looking for the Good in Others:
Challenge for Growth Prompt #2- Annette’s Place
“I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.”
― Mother Teresa