Daily Prompt: Squat

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

I laughed when I saw that the Daily Prompt for today was “Squat.” My laughter was because it reminded me of something that happened in the 90’s.

First I will give some back story. When I first started going to Amma’s Amritapuri, India ashram in January of 1990, all of the toilets were squat toilets. I found them uncomfortable to use. My balance was shaky and as far as I was concerned they were just plain weird. Over the years, I became more used to them but I still didn’t like them, and I internally grumbled about them a lot.

Eventually, I became irritated by my own negativity. By then I had learned Byron Katie’s process for addressing negative judgments. At one point in her process you create “turnarounds” for a negative judgment and then examine the turnarounds to see if there is any truth in them. For example, if my belief is “Susan is angry with me”, the turnarounds would be “I am angry with me” or “I am angry with Susan.” The belief “My boss should listen to me more” could be turned around to say “I should listen to me more” or “I should listen to my boss more.”

One day in the mid-90’s, the familiar thought, “I hate Indian toilets,” ran through my mind. A voice within me said, “Now turn it around.” My immediate response was that the turnaround would be “I love Indian toilets.” That statement was so unacceptable to me that I wouldn’t even entertain the possibility that there could be truth in it. Then another sentence came to mind. “I love to hate Indian toilets!” That turnaround sent me into laughter and my energy shifted completely.

As the the years went by, most of the toilets in the ashram became toilets that combine the two styles, but once I had accepted the belief that “I love to hate Indian toilets,” I no longer had the strong negative reaction to them. Even today, I smile when I recall that long-ago incident.

Letting Go of Suffering- Week Eleven: Stopping the Critical Self Talk


Suffering is created or enhanced by critical self-talk. An important step in ending suffering is to replace the negative critical messages with positive nurturing and/or structuring messages.

Source: Growing Up Again: Parenting Ourselves, Parenting Our Children.
Source: Growing Up Again: Parenting Ourselves, Parenting Our Children.

Creating nurturing and structuring messages is a skill that takes practice. This lesson will focus on helping you to learn that skill by walking you through a multi-step process. At the end of the lesson you find a worksheet you can copy for future use.


State the problem in one sentence:

I forgot to bring my children’s sack lunches when I drove them to the bus that would take them to summer camp.

What critical messages are you telling yourself?

1) Stupid! There were 300 children there and you were the ONLY parent who forgot her children’s lunches.
2) You are a terrible parent.
3) Why are you making such a big deal out of nothing? They won’t be allowed to go hungry.

Identify nurturing messages you can use to counteract the critical messages (messages that are gentle, caring, supportive, and unconditional).

1) You do care for your children and they know it.
2) You are a good parent even though you make mistakes.
3) It is highly unlikely that you were the only parent who forgot their child’s lunch.
4) It is important for your children to know that you make mistakes. When they see you make a mistake, they learn that it is okay for them to make mistakes.
5) You were feeling very sad because your friend Jean was leaving today and you won’t see her for a very long time. It is understandable that you didn’t remember everything.

Identify structuring messages you can use to counteract the critical messages (messages that set limits, show how and give options. 

1) Talk to the camp counselors. Tell them what happened and ask if they have arrangements for children who come without lunches.
2) Tell your children that you forgot the food and have them help brainstorm solutions.
3) Check and see if there is time for you to go to a convenience store and buy them some lunch. Continue reading “Letting Go of Suffering- Week Eleven: Stopping the Critical Self Talk”

With Amma in Toronto


amma children


This past week I traveled to Toronto to attend the last of Amma’s 2016 North America programs. Every day with Amma is always filled with learning and experiences. There is no way I could detail everything that happened while I was there but I will share some of the events that were most important to me.

The Weight was Lifted

In the post I wrote from Amma’s Programs in Chicago (My Dream is Realized), I shared about the increasing emotional distress I have been feeling because, due to a variety of physical issues, I have been unable to participate in seva (volunteer work) at Amma’s programs for some time. For fifteen years I was the coordinator for Amma’s Pacific Northwest programs. I stopped doing that volunteer job about six years ago. While I still do various forms of seva in Seattle, I haven’t committed to any seva shifts during Amma’s programs for at least three years.  I was beginning to feel useless.

Amma clearly was not upset that I wasn’t working, nor was anyone else. Regardless, I found myself becoming more and more critical of myself. I realized how much my distress was taking away my ability to really “be” at the program. All too often my mind was on what I wasn’t doing instead of being present. Prior to coming to Toronto, I decided I needed to ask Amma for help.

[Before I relate what happened when I talked to Amma, let me say that she gives very individualized responses. Two people may ask her the same question and get two completely different answers. It is important that people talk with Amma directly rather than assuming an answer given to someone else is the same answer she would give to them.]

On the first day of the Toronto program, I arrived early so that I could join the question line. (I will share more of that process in the next section.)  As Amma answered the questions of the people in front of me, I eagerly anticipated my own experience. Finally, I reached the front of the line. As Amma listened to the translator while he shared my concern, her eyes gazed at me with love. Her response was immediate. With firmness, yet at the same time with great tenderness, she told me not to ever think like that. She said I have done so many years of seva and that I shouldn’t feel any guilt or any worry about not doing seva now. I felt seen, heard, loved and respected. It seemed like a heavy weight was removed from my mind and my heart instantaneously. Even though I heard Amma’s answer  through the translator, I will be able to see the way she looked at me, feel her touch on my cheek and hear her words in my mind forever more.


I imagine most of us have the experience of synchronous things happening from time to time. When around Amma, though, they seem to happen with much more frequency.

One of those events occurred on the day I asked Amma my question. I hadn’t asked her a question for a long time, but I knew the general practice was to meet on the left side of the stage before the program started and a question line monitor would come with a sign up sheet. If there were a lot of people waiting, then the organizer might do some prioritizing based on the severity of the issue.

I waited on the side of the stage for a long time and only one other person joined me. When the question line monitor arrived later, I was very surprised to discover that 8 of the 10 slots were already full.  I assumed other people must have known who she was and stopped her as she walked through the crowd. I ended up with slot #10.

I was delighted that I was going to be able to ask my question, but a disgruntled part inside of me harrumphed from time to time, “I should have been FIRST not LAST.” I didn’t give the complaint much weight since I knew I could have lost out altogether and was ecstatic that my time would come.

As I was going through the line, a friend of mine who had recently suffered a major loss walked by. When she saw me, she asked if she could sit with me. Because I was last, and the line was moving forward leaving empty seats as each person’s question was answered, there was now an empty seat next to me. I put my arm around her shoulders as she cried. There was no doubt in my mind that the reason I was last person in the question line, instead of first, was so that I would be available to support her. The event also served as a reminder to me that I help in ways other than signing up for seva shifts.

Another synchronous event that occurred was one that was fun, but of no major significance. I was walking with Chaitanya and Akshay headed for a restaurant. I mentioned to them that I have become practically obsessed with eating sushi. Seconds after I made that statement, we turned a corner a block from the hotel where we were staying. On my left, there was a building with a big sign on it, “Grand Opening Coming Soon….. All You Can Eat Sushi.” I will look forward to going there when I go to the 2017 programs in Toronto!


There is always an entertainment program on the second night of Amma’s retreats. Devotees sing, dance or entertain in other ways. For many years, the Tour Staff has created a big dance to be performed during the last retreat of the tour.  As has happened numerous times in the past, they invited me to join them. That left me in a dilemma. I REALLY, REALLY wanted to do it, but could my back take it? (I’ve had back problems since February.) My pain had reduced tremendously over the past month, but would I hurt myself if I danced a fairly high energy Indian dance? I knew that I could do it in a low impact way, but I still had doubts.

I decided to participate in the practices and take one day at a time. I could change my mind at any moment. After the first practice I was a bit sore, but the next day I felt better than I had in a long time. The same thing happened after the second practice. It looked like I was going to be able to participate in the dance!

During special events, like festivals, Amma frequently encourages the devotees to dance, and sometimes dances herself. The staff members that created the dance at the Toronto retreat decided that they wanted to surprise Amma by inviting the retreat participants to join in the staff dance. About three hundred staff and retreatants came to one or both practices. Right before the dance was to be performed, most of the chairs in the room were stacked on the sides of the room and everyone was invited to join in. People who knew the dance were scattered throughout the room and the dance was easy enough that people could participate whether or not they had been at a practice. As a result, at one o’clock in the morning, about 500 devotees danced for Amma. And at 2:30 a.m., just before the program ended for the night, Amma danced for us! It was a magical night, never to be forgotten.

These are only a few of the many experiences I had during the Toronto programs. I could write so much more, but hopefully I have said enough to give a sense of how profound the four-day program was for me. I have so many new memories to savor between now and when I go to India in November!

Photo Credit: Amma’s Facebook Page


I Can Do Anything Good

Those of you who have followed me for awhile probably know that I believe affirmations can be a powerful tool in creating change.  I recommend that my psychotherapy clients use affirmations to change negative belief patterns by picking one and saying it (internally) a minimum of 1000 times a day for 21 days.

A friend showed me this video yesterday.  I loved it and hope you do to!

Watch, Wait, and Wonder


Photo Credit: Steve Shattuck

Some of you may remember that towards the end of last month, a swarm of tiny black ants formed on the sidewalk in front of my garden.  I, of course, didn’t know how many there were but in my shock it looked like millions! I didn’t want to kill them but I also didn’t want that many ants, and potentially more, in my garden. I also didn’t want anyone to accidentally stand in them. After pondering the dilemma for a short time, I decided to wash them away with water from a hose. That solution worked and the ants never came back.

When I wrote about that event in Discrimination Opportunity, a blogging friend responded that he understood black ants to be harmless.  In pondering his words, I realized that I had moved to action very quickly.  I had been stung by red ants in the past after I unwittingly stood on or near their hills. Even one bite from a red ant can be very painful, and being bit by a large number of them is something I will never forget. Did that memory cause me to act too fast?

As I continued to reflect on my action, I realized that a child would be terrified if that many ants were crawling on them, even if they weren’t being stung.  I concluded that my washing the ants away was a reasonable response, but I wasn’t sure that I was right.

Prior to that event, I had seen a few big black ants in my living room.  After the incident with the tiny ants in the garden, more of those big ants showed up, both inside and outside of the house.  Two ant events in a short period of time made me wonder what was going on.

When I become conscious of an animal, bird or other living being repetitively showing up in my life, I sometimes look to see what that creature symbolizes in Native American traditions.  I googled “native american medicine ant” and found Dr. Loretta Standley’s website.  She says this about ant medicine:

When Ant Medicine grabs your attention it is asking you to cooperate with your tribe (co-workers, family, projects, etc.,) in unity and patience. Ants are resolute and unwearied little creatures. Although they are tiny, they are indeed mighty. They have a strong skeleton on the “outside” of their body (exoskeleton) with specialized muscles that give them their strength. Ants can carry 30 times their weight, which would be equal to a 150 lb. person carrying a bulldozer on their back at 19,500 lbs.

The typical way to stop ant medicine is to literally stomp on it or fumigate it. If an ant is stomped on, it will emit pheromones that will draw more ants to the area. In short, ant medicine is unstoppable, tireless, patient and unified.

Ant’s message is about working non-stop toward your goals and forging ahead for the Good of the whole. Are you working on a project that benefits a larger audience? Have you been ignoring your tribe? Ant medicine cooperates with the tribe in harmony and wisdom toward a common goal, knowing that patience will be rewarded. Have you been cooperating with yourself on your own personal projects?

I was intrigued. Just the day before, I had met with two colleagues to clear up some long standing issues between us and was going to do the same with another friend the next day.  I thought the “ant medicine” perspective was valuable and would ponder the questions Dr. Standley put forth.  Now that I had this information would the ants go away?

Nope!  If anything, the number of ants increased.  I did more research and discovered the ants were carpenter ants.  Everything I read indicated that I would probably have to call a professional pest control company to keep them from damaging my house.  While there were still not that many ants, over the next few days their numbers continued to increase.  Their favorite location seemed to be on my front porch.

I decided to take the time to observe them and see where they came from, where they were going and what they were doing.  As I watched, I noticed that there were some small holes, or perhaps just indentations, in the caulking near the front door.  The ants went to those holes over and over again.  Even though the ants never went inside of them, it seemed like the holes were getting bigger.  Maybe the ants were breaking down the caulking.  They also went to a place next to the bottom corners of the door where some wires, probably old wires from broadband television hook ups, were located.

The following day there were even more ants on the porch.  Anytime I left the door open even for a minute, the ants tried to get into the house.  I decided I couldn’t continue doing this so called pest control.  I made an appointment for them to do an assessment the following week.

I remembered hearing that spreading cinnamon powder could repel ants.  It hadn’t worked very well in India when I tried it there, but I didn’t want to kill these ants unless it was absolutely necessary, so I spread some cinnamon in front of the door and in the areas where the wires were located.  The number of ants decreased immediately but some still made their way through the cinnamon.

The next morning, I looked outside to see what was happening.  There were three dead ants on the porch.  Two were by themselves; the third was being pulled away by a live ant.  The dead ant had a little different coloring than the rest of the ants. When I had looked up carpenter ants on the internet, I had noticed that the queen ant had different coloring than the workers so I wondered if the one being pulled away was a queen. I questioned whether a queen would be on the porch with a worker, but it seemed like a possible explanation as to why the black ant was trying to carry her away.

The live ant spent the whole day trying to drag the dead one from the porch.  He seemed disoriented so I believed that he was probably also under the influence of the cinnamon.

I had thought the cinnamon would repel the ants, not kill them.  My heart felt heavy as I watched his efforts.  As I felt my feelings, I was struck by how much I have changed.  I was raised in an era when we killed bugs, flies, spiders, and beetles, with swatters and insect spray, and here I was mourning the death of three ants and feeling compassion for the one who was taking such care to move the dead one.

I watched that process throughout the day, and noticed that no other ants ever came onto the porch.  It has been almost two weeks since all of this happened and I have only seen two or three carpenter ants in or outside of my house during that time. They appear to be gone.

But my story doesn’t end there.  There are two more related events!

During one of the psychotherapy groups I led the first week in June, an ant walked through the room. One of my clients immediately smashed it.  As I thought about his action during the following week, I realized it was a good teaching opportunity.  In the next group, I asked him if I could do a regression piece with him (a role play where he acted as if he was an eight year old and I was a healthy parent).  He said yes so I talked to his eight year old about ants and what he thought should happen to them if they were in the house. We also talked about spiders. After we discussed his belief that they should be killed, I asked if he wanted to try something different.  He was interested.  I offered him the opportunity to be in charge of catching and releasing all bugs, spiders, and ants that might wander into the group room.  He liked that idea and accepted the challenge.  This past week an ant came into the room and he had his first experience of catching an ant and taking it outside!

The second incident occurred yesterday, the day I started writing this post. That morning, a friend phoned and said she wanted to talk to me about the morality of killing carpenter ants!  Her situation was very different than mine in that there were a huge number of ants involved, but the timing amazed me. How interconnected we all are as we learn what we need to learn on our life journeys.

Am I done with the ant lesson?  I don’t know; only time will tell. What I do know is that I have gained much from these occurrences. I see that I had an opportunity to:

  • Be thoughtful before taking an action that effects one of Mother Nature’s creatures.
  • Feel compassion for a creature as small as an ant.
  • Consider ways of thinking that are outside my normal experience, e.g. the Native American perspective.
  • Hear feedback and reflect on it.
  • Not criticize myself when I took action not knowing for sure what was right.
  • Learn from a previous experience, e.g. the ant swarm event prepared me for the carpenter ants
  • Share my experience with others, e.g. talking with my friend and to those who read this post.
  • Teach a new way to respect nature to a regressed 8 year old.
  • Be reminded that if I take my time, the answers will come.
  • See how all beings are interconnected.
  • Reflect on how much my attitudes towards live creatures have changed throughout my lifetime.

I feel very grateful for all I have experienced and learned as the result of this ant “lesson.”