When I think of the word “Struggle,” my attempt to learn to read, write and speak Sanskrit is what comes to mind. For the last four and a half years it has been a major focus in my life, one I feel very passionate about.
The classes I have been taking recently focus on immersion. The goal is to have no English spoken in the class, although some allowances are made. Almost all of the students are Indian and many of the words in their native languages are rooted in Sanskrit. Therefore, the Indian students tend to learn the Sanskrit vocabulary very fast. Even when they don’t know a word they may have a good idea of what it means.
When I start with a class of new Sanskrit students, I feel on reasonably even ground with them, or even ahead. As I proceed in the course, however, they quickly pull ahead of me and by the end I am not understanding much of the conversation that occurs. Eventually, I hit a brick wall where I feel hopeless.
I am in that place again. I have tried retaking the class and have learned a lot by doing that, but I don’t think I can meet my goal by continuing to retake it. I’m going to take a break from that kind of learning and do some independent study focusing on reading Sanskrit; listening to Sanskrit video conversations; speaking with and writing to friends who are also learning Sanskrit; and on building vocabulary. I intend to stay committed to my goal and hope to come back to a class format sometime in the future.
Another struggle I have been dealing with this year has been lower back problems. My life has been very different since that started in mid-February. Now that the problem is resolving, I can see that it would have been a perfect time for me to focus on my Sanskrit and on doing the spiritual practices I neglect. I feel sad that I didn’t take advantage of the long hours of down time to do those things but at the same time I know I can learn from the experience rather than live in regret. I can have compassion for the choices I made this time, and make different ones in the future.
I appreciate today’s Daily Prompt. It was helpful for me to examine the struggles in my life.
I have written many posts about my spiritual journey with Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi) since I started blogging in 2014. My life changed profoundly when I met her in the summer of 1989. Since then, I have spent time with her yearly, during her North American programs and at her ashram in Amritapuri, India. My son Sreejit has lived in her ashrams in San Ramon and Amritapuri since 1994 and my daughter has lived in Amritapuri since 1998. Our lives are dedicated to supporting Amma’s mission/vision of alleviating suffering in the world. (Amma’s vast network of humanitarian charities is known as Embracing the World )
Just hours from now Amma will begin her first 2016 program in North America. That program will be held at the Edward D Hanson Conference Center in Everett, Washington (near Seattle). Between now and July 14 Amma will hold free programs in San Ramon, Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Dallas, Chicago, New York, Washington D.C., Boston and Toronto. Details of the Seattle area programs can be found at http://amma.org/meeting-amma/north-america/seattle-bellevue. To see her entire North American tour schedule go to: http://amma.org/meeting-amma/north-america.
I think the best way for me to share more about the experience of being with Amma is through three videos.
The first is a video of Amma feeding a fledgling that had fallen out of its nest.
One of the ways Amma offers her blessings is through her hug.
Film director, actor and producer Shekhar Kapur recently launched a beautiful new documentary about Amma titled The Science of Compassion.
It’s time for me to get ready to go to the program. I look forward to discovering what experiences I will have this year!
When I started my psychotherapy practice in 1987, I hung a poster titled “Please Listen to Me” on my group room wall. Even though it is no longer on the wall, I think of the content often. I believe it contains important information for everyone, but might be especially helpful to those of you who are participating in this week’s Challenge for Growth prompt.
Please Listen to Me
When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving advice, you have not done what I asked.
When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings.
When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something to solve my problems, you have failed me, strange as that may seem.
All I ask is that you listen. Not talk or do, just hear me. Advice is cheap: 50 cents will get you both Dorothy Dix and Dr Spock in the same newspaper. And I can do for myself I’m not helpless. Maybe discouraged and faltering, but not helpless.
When you do something for me that I can and need to do for myself you contribute to my fear and weakness. But when you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational, then I quit trying to convince you and can get about the business of understanding what’s behind this irrational feeling.
And when that’s clear, the answers are obvious and I don’t need advice. So, please listen and just hear me, and if you want to talk, wait a minute for your turn; and I’ll listen to you.
When Amma gives darshan (hugs) in India, she sees thousands of people a day, but still takes time to give everyone what they need. Check out this video of her mediating a dispute between children. No translation is needed!
During Amma’s Indian tours, she may give hugs to 30,000 people a day. Below is a picture of one of the pots used to cook the food for those who seek Amma’s blessing.
In the mid 90’s, I read a book that really spoke to me. It was called “The Balkan Express: Fragments from the Other Side of the War”by Slavenka Drakulic. She is a respected journalist and commentator from Croatia. The publication contained a series of essays about the effect the Serbo-Croatian war had on her colleagues and fellow countrymen.
The portion of the book that I remember to this day is her essay “High Heeled Shoes.” In it she described her growing awareness that she had turned citizens of her country, even close friends, into “others.”
First, she saw that instead of seeing refugees as people who had escaped slaughter by the Serbians, she had started stereotyping them. “They are just sitting smoking, doing nothing. Waiting. Waiting for what? For us to feed them. They could work, there are plenty of jobs around, houses to be repaired or working the land.” She heard a woman on a train say “This city stinks of refugees” at a time when there were refugees sitting beside her.
As she continued to examine her own attitudes, she saw that she had reduced individuals to the category of “they” and from there to “second-class citizen” or “non-citizen.” She realized when we do this, they soon become “not-me” or “not-us.” We may feel some sense of responsibility for them, but it is the type of responsibility that we feel towards beggars. “The feeling of human solidarity turns into an issue of my personal ethics.” We help only if we want to.
As her reflection continued, she wondered :
Perhaps what I am also witnessing is a mechanism of self-defence as if there were a limit to how much brutality, pain or suffering one is able to take on board and feel responsible for. Over and above this, we are often confronted with more less abstract entities, numbers, groups, categories of people, facts– but not names, not faces. To deal with pain on such a scale is in a way much easier than to deal with individuals. With a person you know you have to do something, act, give food, shelter, money, take care. On the other hand, one person could certainly not be expected to take care of a whole mass of people. For them, there has to be someone else: the state, a church, the Red Cross, Caritas, an institution.
Out of opportunism and fear we are all becoming collaborators or accomplices in the perpetuation of war. For by closing our eyes, by continuing our shopping, by working our land, by pretending that nothing is happening, by thinking it is not our problem, we are betraying those “others” – and I don’t know if there is a way out of it. What we fail to realize is that by such divisions we deceive ourselves too, exposing ourselves to the same possibility of becoming the “others” in a different situation.
I still resonate with everything Slavenka Drakulic said in that essay. I know I put panhandlers in the “other” category. When I see someone whom I think might be about to ask me for money, a whole litany of judgments erupt within me. While I’ve worked on this issue, it is not gone. While I don’t believe I have the same negative judgments about the victims of war and the natural disasters that are occurring with increasing frequency in the world, I believe I am still seeing them as “others.”
I need to confront my judgments, help more, and remember to think of people as individuals who like me have needs and wants. I need to remind myself that we belong to the same human family. They are a part of me; we are one. No, I can’t fix all of the problems in the world, but I can do more than I am doing and it can be from a place of love, caring and inclusion rather than from some “better than thou” place within myself.
Observe how birth, suffering, illness and death touch each one of us who lives on the earth. This is the pain we all share, in which we all partake, the pain of being human that touches our common bodies, hearts and minds. You may say to yourself as each image arises. “I am your other self.”
Embrace each image with forgiveness, mercy and love, touching the pain your heart, touching all the beings who suffer with your heart. This is the inheritance of the family of creation. This is your family.
Feel the depth of connection to all beings as you allow the pain to be the doorway into community with your greater family. Feel the truth of that belonging. Gradually return to the awareness of your breath as it naturally flows in and out of your body; feel your body as a tiny cell in the larger body we all share.
Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu
May all beings in the world be happy.
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.
This video was taken two years ago when a raven perched on a fence and cawed for an hour. A family came closer to see what was happening. They soon discovered there were three porcupine quills stuck in the raven’s face and one in its wing.