A few days ago a neighbor asked if I wanted some rhubarb from her garden. I enthusiastically said “Yes”!
She put the rhubarb on my porch and let me know it was there. I was astounded by how big the leaves were.
I put a nickel on one of the leaves to give you a better sense of its size.
I wonder if the leaves are this big because the air quality in the city is so much better since there is decreased traffic due to the stay at home orders. Everything in nature seems more healthy and more beautiful this year.
I had scheduled six work parties to be held in our Greenbelt Restoration site between September 30 and November 15. The October 14th work party was the third of that series. On that day, 12 students from the UW Introduction to Environmental Science class and four staff participated in the event.
During the first part of the work party, we focused on creating a path that goes from one of the lower parts of the Hanford Stairs to the far side of the site. We had placed cut-up debris (dried blackberry canes, ivy and small branches) along the path during the October 6th work party. At the end of that event, the volunteers had filled 20 buckets with wood chips so we could start spreading chips at the beginning of this work party.
Once we emptied those buckets, everyone walked to the wood chip pile to refill their bucket. And so the bucket brigade began. We spread wood chips three inches high and three feet wide along 285 feet of pathways. These wood chip paths are so much easier to walk on than the uneven paths that were there before and the wood chips will (hopefully) keep the paths from getting muddy and slippery during the winter rains.
(Click on any gallery to enlarge the photos.)
The new paths are beautiful. We even made a roundabout around a large fern!
Once we finished working on the paths for the day, we took a short snack break. Afterwards, we divided into four groups. All of the groups continued projects that volunteers had begun during the previous two work parties.
Group 1 cut up debris (dried blackberry canes, ivy and branches) into 4-8 inch pieces.
cutting up debris
Every week this debris pile gets smaller. When we started on September 30, the pile was 4-5 feet high and you couldn’t see the planting area on the other side of it. Now the western part of the pile has branches that are too big to be cut with hand clippers. The rest of the pile is about 2 feet high and you can easily see what is on the other side of it.
Group 2 continued the process of taking apart the compost pile. They separated small and large branches, placing the big branches on a pile and cutting up the smaller ones. One of the students started spreading the composted dirt.
On the morning of September 30, the area where the compost pile was looked like this:
This is what it looks like at the end of the October 14 work party:
The trees and shrubs that are planted in this area next month will certainly benefit from the rich soil.
During a site visit in May, the Green Seattle Partnership and Seattle Parks Department representatives told us that we had planted one tree too close to power lines. Group 3 transplanted that tree, moving it to a more appropriate area.
Group 4 removed bindweed and blackberries from the area where we will be making paths next weekend.
When the volunteers in the first two groups finished cutting up debris, they brought it to this area. Once there, it was spread on the paths-to-be.
While the student groups were working, my neighbor John, cleared many blackberry shoots from one of the planting areas and then moved a pile of big branches and logs to a new location. He also removed ivy that was scattered throughout that area.
Before we knew it, the work party was over. Week by week, we are getting closer to having the site ready for the winter rains and for planting new trees, shrubs and ground covers.
The students at this work party were a delight to work with. I thank them for their work and also want to thank Shirley, Claire and Dave for being team leaders during this event. I so appreciate them and all of the other volunteers who are helping to turn this land back into a healthy forest.
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.
For many years, Amma has been encouraging us to plant trees as a way of healing the Earth. This year, devotees in the Pacific Northwest decided to honor Amma’s 64th birthday by planting trees. We asked everyone to let us know how many trees they would plant and to complete the planting by November 5th. We were hoping at least 64 trees would be pledged. At the time I am writing this post, the pledge count is up to 211!
Seattle Parks Department gave us 37 trees to plant in our Greenbelt site. That work party was held last Sunday, October 22nd. Thirty-two GreenFriends members participated. Many of them had never seen the site before and others hadn’t been there for a long time. I enjoyed seeing and hearing their reactions to the work we’ve done over the last year.
The work party began with an orientation to the site…
and then Pujarini Meera conducted a series of rituals asking Mother Earth for permission to plant the trees and to nurture and protect them after they are planted. I thought it was a beautiful ceremony. (Click on any of the galleries to enlarge the photos.)
After the rituals were over, Ananya and I gave planting instructions…
and then came the fun of planting the trees.
Amma’s birthday project will be over on November 5, but our work in the restoring this Greenbelt site will, of course, continue. We will finish preparing nine planting areas at a work party on November 11 and then will plant 360 shrubs in those areas on November 15!
In an earlier post, I shared pictures of the actors and scenes from this year’s Amritapuri Christmas play, “Blessed Art Thou.” In this one, I will focus more on the musicians and vocalists. Their work was magnificent.
In many, if not most, of the plays in Amritapuri, the musicians and vocalists are off stage. The actors are actually lip syncing when they appear to be speaking. They do such a good job of lip syncing many who watch the play don’t realize that they aren’t speaking, unless they know that this practice is traditional in Indian dramas.
Sreejit coordinates the group of musicians and vocalists. He and his musician friends start writing tunes as soon as one year’s play is over; long before they know what the next year’s play will be about. They write many tunes during the year but only a small fraction of them become part of the production.
Here are some of my favorite songs from this year’s play. Two of the tunes are original and two aren’t.
Part of this song is in Hebrew. It is traditionally sung in Jewish homes on the Sabbath. I think it is so beautiful.
My favorite song in this play is “Each and Every Night.” Mary, mother of Jesus, is singing about how hard it is for her, as a mother, to wait for Jesus to come home again.
The John the Baptist song was written and sung by Puneet Gabriel McCorrison. He is the person on the right side of the photo at the top of the post.
This music and song is about the 40 days and 40 nights that Satan tempted Jesus. If you listen closely you will hear both the voice of Satan and the voice of Jesus. Sreejit is the voice of Satan! He is also in the photo at the top of the post, sitting on the left side. During the play, Sreejit played the harmonium and was the voice for both Goliath and Satan.
While there were many other songs in the performance, I believe these four will give you a good sense of how much the musicians and vocalists contributed to the play’s success!
New Year’s Eve
I was super busy on December 31. I left my room at 7:30 a.m. and didn’t make it back there, except for a few minutes, until 8:30 p.m. By then, I was so sleepy I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I knew the New Year’s Eve events would last until around 1:30 a.m., so decided to get some rest.
I slept from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. When I woke up, I could tell that the entertainment portion of the evening program had already begun. I arrived at the auditorium in time to see a group led by Sashwat, an Amrita TV camera man. Two or three years ago he had surprised so many ashram residents by doing a rap performance on New Year’s Eve. This year, I sat on a table to the side of the hall and was able to see well. The singers and musicians were all sitting on the floor, as is typical in India. At one point a member of the group stood up and led several rap songs. He was the same man I mentioned in an earlier post, the one who practices Kung Fu moves on the beach! I was so surprised.
That group’s performance turned out to be the end of the entertainment program. Thursday was a darshan day and Amma continued to give hugs until just before midnight. She then led a meditation and a Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu (May all beings in the world be happy) chant. Next came her New Year’s message. Amma talked about a variety of topics. Among them were 1) welcoming the new year with joy and alertness, 2) compassion, 3) facing obstacles and 4) protecting nature’s harmony. You can read excerpts from her speech at: http://www.amritapuri.org/50825/16-newyear.aum.
Afterwards, Amma led several beautiful bhajans (devotional songs) and then did a Badaga dance. The crowd loved it all. The picture below was taken after one of the more rousing songs.
Following the bhajans, Amma served payasam (sweet pudding) to the thousands of people in the hall. She poured the pudding into cups and they were handed down from the stage on trays. Devotees then passed the cups of pudding to the people behind them until everyone had one. (Some of the brahmacharis also helped pour the payasam.)
After that, Amma left the hall and the devotees began to clean up. What a wonderful New Year’s Eve it had been.
New Year’s Day
Each year, about a week after the play, the cast get together to watch the newly created play video. It is always so much fun to watch it as a group. This year the viewing was on New Year’s Day and, as always, there was lots of laughter and applause.
That evening I went to the beach to meditate with Amma. On the way, I noticed one of the devotees who often represents the ashram was escorting a man and woman to the meditation. A young woman was walking nearby and when she saw the male visitor her jaw dropped in amazement. She came up to him and said she was a BIG fan of his. She turned around saying she couldn’t wait to tell her mother he was there.
I had no idea who he was but was definitely intrigued. Later I found out it was Russell Brand. I rarely see movies or watch other kinds of shows so I didn’t know anything about him. When I did an internet search, I discovered he is a British comedian, actor, and activist. I also learned he wrote an article about Amma last year so I looked that up as well. I was impressed with what he wrote. Many of his words were funny, but a lot of the things he wrote about Amma were profound. If you want to read his article you can find it at: https://web.facebook.com/RussellBrand/posts/10152650768708177
Time with Amma
In my last post, I had said I was going to make being with Amma a major priority for myself during the following week since she would be leaving on her North Kerala tour soon. While I did not always keep that commitment, I did make my decisions around use of time carefully. I think that was the life lesson, i.e. to make plans but be willing to let them go when it seems important to do so.
I received my last hug from Amma (for this trip) on December 30. I love it when Amma laughs while she hugs me. This time, it seemed like she held me for a long time while talking and laughing with the people who were nearby! What a great ending for that part of my trip
One of the two elevators in our building has been out of service for a week or so. On New Year’s day there were so many people waiting for the elevator, I decided to walk up the stairs. There are fifteen flights of stairs to climb in order to get to my room on the fifth floor.
As I trudged up the stairs, I remembered I was carrying something for a friend living on the NINETH floor! I would have waited for the next elevator if I had remembered that, but I decided to just keep going. The celebration is that when I reached the eighth floor my pulse was 103 beats per minute (per Fitbit). On the nineth floor it was 105. A few months ago my pulse was 150 when I leisurely walked around a flat track at a park near Seattle. As far as I was concerned, for it to stay that low after climbing up 27 flights of stairs was worthy of a big celebration! I am so much healthier than I was when I arrived in India five weeks ago.
There is more I could say, but I will save it for another post. I hope that you all had a wonderful holiday season and wish you a very happy new year.
Once I started sleeping around the clock, my body healed rapidly. I’m not back to normal but I’m getting there.
I’ve historically done a lot of seva but have never made other forms of spiritual practice a priority. One of my goals for this trip is to really increase the amount, and quality, of time I spend doing spiritual practices. Participating in the morning prayers, is an important part of that endeavor. They start at 4:55 am and last about an hour and fifteen minutes. They consist of chanting the 108 names of Amma, the Sri Lalita Sahasranama Stotram and the Mahishasura Mardini Stotram.
The last stotram is a tribute to Durga, who is considered to be the Mother of the World, responsible for the creation, preservation, and destruction of the world. Last week, the translation of one verse caught my eye and touched my heart.
O Mother! Even a simple sweeper in Your courtyard inherits all heavenly pleasures. Be pleased to accept my humble service and grant to me whatever You consider to be good for me.
I found a YouTube version of the Mahishasura Mardini Stotram that sounds very similar to the way we sing it.
I generally tend to run from one activity to another. I decided one way I would honor my intention to give increased importance to my spiritual practices is to slow down. After the morning prayers, a relatively small group of people stay to brush themselves with the smoke coming from the camphor flame after Arati is offered to the Kali murti. Instead of rushing out of the temple at the end of the morning prayers, I committed to myself to routinely stay and participate in that ritual. I haven’t done that for many, many years.
Another way I am increasing my sadhana (spiritual practice) is by learning Tai Chi. Today was my first day back in that class since I became sick. I loved it as much as I did the first week. The practice leads me into a meditative state, something I really need. I have no doubt I will continue the lessons when I return to Seattle.
Yesterday everyone that is going to be involved in this year’s play met together for an hour. Chaitanya told the story that is the basis for the play. I always enjoy being present for that introduction. As I was writing this portion of my post, there was a practice for the singers going on nearby. I could hear the music from my room. The songs are so beautiful.
When I was getting sick, it was suggested that I go swimming as a way of cooling my body down. That sounded like a good idea to me. I had long ago given away my swimming dress, so I went to the store and bought a new one. I had heard that the style had changed, and it was true. In the early days, it was a simple dress with straps and elastic at the top. When we were in the pool, the dress often billowed up above the water like a balloon! Now the dresses are a bit like pantaloons, without the elastic at the bottom. I hung up my new one so I could take a photo to show you.
As I swam around the pool, I had so many memories. The ashram built the swimming pool sometime in the mid to late 90’s. Amma used to take us to the pool; the women first and later the men. It was such a special time for us to be with her. I remember her pushing us into the pool one by one! During that time, Amma also gave swimming lessons to the brahmacharinis (female monks). In India, at least in the fishing village where the ashram is located, boys play in the sea but girls don’t, so the girls never have any opportunity to learn to swim. Many of the brahmarcharinis were very frighted at even the thought of swimming.
After playing with us, everyone would get out of the pool and Amma would swim by herself. She would lie on her back, in full lotus position, and go into a deep meditative state. Her body would then float around the entire pool without any muscle movement on her part. It was so beautiful to witness.
I also remembered Amma bringing village children to the ashram after the 2004 tsunami. The children were so frightened of the ocean since many of their loved ones had been killed during that event. Amma and the ashramites took the children to the pool, played in the water with them, and taught them how to swim. They learned to once again associate the water with something other than death.
I live in a small flat that has a main room, a small bathroom and a kitchen that consists of a sink, a cupboard, a counter and a propane burner! I eat in the various ashram dining areas but it is nice to make tea in my room occasionally and I love being able to add a cup or two of hot water to the bucket of cold water I use for my morning shower.
I’ve been noticing a new construction area that is located immediately outside of the north gate. I don’t remember what was there before, if anything. When I asked someone if they knew what was being built, I was told the international office is going to be moved there. Everything that is now on the fourth floor of the temple, i.e. seva office, computer room, information office, gift shop, etc. will move into the building the international office currently occupies. All of the rooms on the fourth floor of the temple will then be available to be used for visitors’ sleeping rooms.
The other big change that I discovered yesterday is that there is now a new IAM (meditation) hall and an Amrita Yoga hall. The rooms are located on the second or third story of the same building that housed the old Yoga Shala. They are huge rooms and are so beautiful. Three sides of the rooms are almost completely open to the outside, with netting to keep the birds out.
Amma usually takes us to the beach to meditate on Monday’s, prior to the evening bhajan program. It looked like it was going to rain tonight, so we met in the auditorium instead. When I arrived, Amma was already there and was talking about the flooding in Chennai. She had sent teams of volunteers to Chennai, right from the beginning, to rescue people from their houses and to provide food, clothes and medical care.
At the end of the meditation, Amma showed us a video of the rescuers releasing the water from the houses in order to free the residents. If I find that video, I will post it.
A Message from the World’s Astronauts
For many years, Amma has urged us to do what we can do as individuals and together to heal the earth. As I was reflecting on that topic last night, I remembered hearing about a video that was shown at the Climate Change conference that was held in Paris this week. In the video, the world’s astronauts sent an important message to those attending the conference. I was able to find the video and will use it as a powerful and moving way to end this post.
“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”-William Shakespeare