Navaratri Altars

Navatratri is a nine day Hindu festival that celebrates three forms of the Goddess, Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. The tenth day is called Vijaya Dasham, the festival of victory. In 2016 Navaratri was October 1-10.

Friends of mine built a beautiful altar for Navaratri that year. Every item on it had meaning and many of the statues were handmade. I will never forget seeing this altar for the first time; it practically took my breath away. Oh how it sparkled.

You can see pictures of that Navaratri altar at From Darkness to Light.

This year, 2021, Navaratri was October 6-15. One of the friends who built the altar I had seen in 2016, constructed a Navaratri altar at the Woodinville property this year … with the help of two of her friends.

(Click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

Continue reading “Navaratri Altars”

Laughing is Good for Me- Part 4

I saw a new doctor a few months ago. At one point during the appointment, he saw that I had something in my mouth and probably figured that it was gum or candy. He stuck out his hand and said “Spit it out.” I was shocked but I’ve been laughing about it ever since. I am 72 years old. I wondered if he had children and how old they were. At the time, I simply mumbled “It’s for dry mouth and it is gone now.“

I kept waiting for something else funny to happen. One day last week, my phone provided me with that experience. I dictate almost everything nowadays. What I dictate and what the phone writes is often drastically different. That day, I wrote a friend who is out of the country and said I hoped that she and her husband were having a good time. What the phone wrote was “I hope that it was everything that you want and that you were in the freezer having a good time as well.” I have laughed about that change ever since it happened. Where does the phone come up with these things? At least this time it was not cussing.

Two friends visited me a few days ago. I was telling them about something that I wrote about in the first post of this series. The husband’s response was funny. I wanted to use it and to quote him correctly so asked him to write it down for me. When I received it in the written form, I discovered he had added to it. This was his response:

The way I figure is if you are old enough to be passing by a window, and you haven’t seen a naked body — now is as good as time as any! Not that I would give them much to see, and quite likely could scare the aliens away from the human race if they were seeking a probe-able body. In reality, I would likely be a little embarrassed, but not enough to think twice about the matter. 😊

If you don’t know what this is referring to I suggest you go back and read or reread the first post. I still am uncomfortable with the thought somebody might walk by my window and see my butt but I always laugh when I think of these responses.

Stay Alert: What We Need to Learn Will Be Revealed

I have learned during my life that the answers to our questions are often nearby; Likewise, if we keep our eyes open and stay alert, we will be able to see ways we have been prepared for what is to come. The knowledge that an event was preparation may not be evident until sometime in the future.

Amma has taught me a lot about those things and has given me lots of opportunities to practice them but I also learned from other writers and experiences.

I remember reading that often where there are poisonous plants, the antidote to the poison is a plant that is nearby. I also read that whenever our path crosses someone else’s, we have something to teach them or something to learn from them.

I used to teach a workshop called Lessons on Lessons. There was one exercise where I asked participants to go outside and ask questions of inanimate objects such as rocks, fences, or light poles as well as plants, trees, and animals. And after asking their question, participants “listened” for a response. What amazing wisdom we can gather that way. If you haven’t already tried it, then do!

I learned the benefit of accepting lessons as they come as opposed to resisting them which often results in prolonging the lesson and any pain that comes along with it.

In addition to teaching content related to some of the areas above, Amma also taught and gave opportunities to practice lessons such as: “Be like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice”; discrimination between right and wrong; detachment; the importance of staying alert and putting in effort; and the importance of love and compassion.

Now that I am dealing with major health problems, I can see ways that I have been prepared for that experience by Spirit , the Universe, God, Guru, or whatever we call our higher power.

Most of these occurrences happened before I knew that there was anything wrong in my body. But each has been invaluable since I have known.

Some examples that I am aware of:

In the mid 1980s, a friend of mine took a workshop with Virginia Satir that lasted a month. I wanted to do that too. But I had young children and a job so I rationalized that I couldn’t do it then, I would do it later. She died before I took the training. Having lost that opportunity, I reacted very differently when I met Amma.

I met Amma in June 1989. That weekend I spent a day at her Orcas Island retreat, six weeks later I was at her East Coast retreat and six months later I was with her in India. I continued spending time with her each summer on the US tour and each winter in India for the next 30+ years. I had learned an important lesson from my Virginia Satir experience. I no longer put off doing what was important to me.

In 1997, I was on a plane headed for India when it had a decompression problem and dropped 25,000 feet in about a minute. Amma was aware of our plight at the time that it happened. Part of me believes that I was meant to die that day and that every day I have been alive since then has been a gift. So if I died tomorrow, I still would have lived a full life

In the early 2000’s, I had another experience that impacted my life. I read what I think was the last book that somebody I respected wrote before her death. She was asked if she still thought God was a loving God. She responded “No”. I thought she sounded very bitter and had the distinct impression that it was due to her not accepting help when it was offered. I vowed that I would learn to accept help so that when I needed it, I could let go and gratefully accept what was being offered rather than push it away saying “I can do that for myself.”

Now that I am having physical problems, I am receiving lots of opportunities for doing that and experiencing the benefits of following through. I really appreciate all the help I am getting.

In 1973, I broke my right wrist just before I started graduate school. In 2017 or 2018, I broke it again. Again, I had to learn how to do many things with my non-dominant hand. I don’t remember much about the earlier experience, but in the more recent one I remember having considerable difficulty figuring out how to put on a bra and fasten it.

Because that incident happened then, when my left arm and hand became weak with my current illness, I knew how to put on a bra. That may seem to be a minor thing, but it meant a lot to me.

In 2018 or 19, I started noticing a man in my Seattle neighborhood who I believed had had a stroke. I did not know him but I watched as he walked for long periods every day without fail. He even walked up and down big hills seemingly unafraid. I was so impressed. He was an inspiration to me and gave me hope when I started having trouble walking.

Because of my years as a psychotherapist and a nurse I am prepared to speak up and advocate for myself when I think that’s in order.

I have many friends, colleagues and family members who have dealt with cancer or serious chronic illnesses. All of them have modeled courage in the face of adversity. I hope I can be like them.

When I came back from my last trip to India in January 2020, I had an intuition that I would not be going back to India the next year as had been my practice. In fact, I wasn’t sure I would ever be going back. By then I knew I had a physical problem, but I didn’t know about Covid. I didn’t realize essentially the whole world would be on lockdown and I wouldn’t be the only one not going where they wanted to go.

A recent example of the value of staying alert and of the answers to problems being nearby occurred when I decided to put together another issue of the Pacific Northwest GreenFriends newsletter. I completed it but it was much too hard for me to do, I needed to put this in my past.

Then it occurred to me, that I had gotten direction for the next step in two emails that came while I was doing that project. Both emails said something like “Why is this newsletter still a PDF, why is it not a blog or a website?”

I realized that in the 11 years I had been organizing our newsletter, GreenFriends- North America had started a website and a newsletter. Our newsletter could end and I could encourage our writers and photographers to contribute to that publication. I got support for that plan from the appropriate people and then announced it.

So in summary, remember that if you stay alert that you will be more likely to find the answers to problems nearby. And you might also discover ways in which you have received preparation for some of the problems that you have faced in life.

There is value in keeping your eyes open and making these observations. Perhaps the greatest value is feeling you are not doing this life journey alone. There is help all around you.

Sadhana: Chanting the Meal Prayer

I am resistant to doing spiritual practices (sadhana) other than bhajans (singing) and since sound is bothering my nervous system I can’t even do that.

I decided four or five months ago that I would start praying before meals. That is a practice that I am very lazy about doing. And I would like to change that. I made a new rule- if any food touched my mouth before I chanted the meal prayer, I had to do the chant three times instead of once.

Amma has us chant Bhagavad Gita 4:24 as the meal prayer:

Sanskrit Prayer: 
brahmaarpanam brahma havir brahmaagnau brahmanaa hutam brahmaiva tena gantavyam brahmaa karma samaadhina
Translation: 
Om, the ladle is Brahman. The offering is Brahman.It is offered into the fire of Brahman by Brahman. Brahman alone is to be reached by him who sees Brahman in each and every action

I started that practice sometime before my daughter arrived from india. When she got here, she decided to join me in the endeavor. At that point, she would remind me to pray, since she didn’t want to chant it three times.

After some time, she realized that we frequently weren’t eating at the same time. She changed her mind about participating at all. At that point, she also quit reminding me.

As time went by, I found myself often chanting it 9 times at night! I obviously haven’t integrated this practice yet. At least this week, there have been several times I have remembered to chant the prayer at mealtime… before I ate. Today, I had visitors during lunch so I had them pray with me even though they weren’t eating!

Stand Up

A friend sent me this video this morning. It is SO powerful. I’ve heard the song sung by Cynthia Erivo many times and get chills every time I listen to it. The kids who are singing in this video do an excellent job and the added video clips add another level of power.

Our Family Crest

Towards the end of January or early in February my son Sreejit (who is now called Sattvamrita) designed a family crest for us. Once he finished the design, he asked a friend to draw it.

I think it is beautiful. His dad is a black bear; I am a polar bear; his sister Chaitanya is a black panther and her husband Akshay is a lion; and Sattvamrita is a wolf. We are all on Devi’s (Goddess) lotus with her weapons (for protection) behind us.

I will enjoy looking at this crest for years to come. Great idea Sattvamrita!

Only in America?

When I went to my blog’s stats page yesterday, I noticed that six people had read a post I had written in July of 2015. How had they found it? The “referrers” and “search engine terms” sections of the stats page didn’t give me a clue.

It was interesting for me to read the post again. In the last two weeks there have been many stories on the news about the run on toilet paper. Since then, the store shelves where the toilet paper once resided have been empty every time I’ve been to the grocery store. Some stores are putting a limit on how much toilet paper people can buy as a way to prevent the hoarding.

I’m thankful that I had bought some toilet paper just before the run on it began. I’m even more thankful for the 30+ years I’ve been going to India. Especially in the early years, there was generally no toilet paper available. I know I would survive even if I had to live without it.

It seems a fitting time for me to repost this 2015 article.

***

When I went to the supermarket yesterday, these displays caught my eye.

The three displays were next to each other and all were devoted to the sale of toilet paper!

A few minutes later I found another display directly across from the check out counter:

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Yes, it was more toilet paper!  I wonder if any other country in the world would devote this much supermarket space to toilet paper.  I doubt it.

This morning, I decided to go back to the store and take a look at the packaging.  I thought it might be interesting to read the advertising comments and it was! These words and phrases were used:

  • Clean Care
  • Ultra Soft
  • Mega Roll
  • A Soft Clean
  • Septic Safe
  • Ultra Strong
  • Cleans Better
  • More Absorbing
  • Plus Absorbent
  • Soft and Strong
  • Silky Comfort
  • Soft Layers
  • Strong and Absorbent
  • Gentle Care
  • Removes More
  • Angel Soft
  • Extra Soft
  • Quilting
  • Clean Stretch
  • Confident Clean
  • Softness and Strength
  • Long Lasting Value
  • 3x Stronger plus Resistant
  • Soft and Affordable
  • Soft on Nature, Soft on You
  • Soft and Absorbent

I have to wonder how toilet paper can have clean stretch or long lasting value!

I wish I had counted how many different types of toilet paper there were.  I know one company made three or four types, on a scale from Basic to Ultra!

I don’t know what kind of summary statement to make about this post.  I think I will let the information speak for itself and look forward to hearing your reactions.  Does toilet paper receive this much attention where you live?

Two Amazing … Astounding… and Inspiring Videos

My friend Kathie from Chosenperspectives sent me a video link yesterday for a performance on Georgia’s Got Talent. I watched it this morning and was astounded. I can’t even imagine having the level of concentration and balance that this woman has.

I suggest you watch the whole video, from beginning to end. I think every part of it is important. This video is just over 12 minutes in length.

The video that came up after the one above was amazing for a completely different reason. I decided to share it with you too. Again, watch it from beginning to end. The second one is about 6 1/2 minutes.

Both videos left me speechless and in awe. They also both brought tears to my eyes, running down my cheeks type tears.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 21-26, 2019

University of Arizona – Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham Partnership

I have learned more about the event that took place in the ashram auditorium early in my stay. At that time, a Letter of Intent was signed by University of Arizona and Amrita University (Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham) representatives. The agreement marked the beginning of dual degree programs at both the baccalaureate and master’s levels.

Two hundred students will participate in the study abroad program for at least one semester each year. An 11-member delegation came from the University of Arizona for the signing. To learn more about the partnership go to: https://www.amritapuri.org/76232/19arizona.aum

A group of people standing in front of a crowd posing for the camera

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Other groups

One of the first times I went to Amma for darshan, a group of about 60 young Indian men and women were brought to the stage. They looked like they might be college students, but were not in the uniforms that students at her colleges usually wear. When they first came on the stage, most sat and watched Amma give darshan (hugs). After some of the group had received their hugs, other members joined the darshan line. Amma talked to several of them for a long time. I never found out who they were but wondered if they had been working in one of her humanitarian projects.

One day last week, about 20 members of an Israeli group were led to the stage during darshan. Later, I learned they were from Tel Aviv University and had been doing something with Ammachi Labs. I found this description of Ammachi Labs on amritapuri.org.

AMMACHI Labs is an academic and research center at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham that brings an interdisciplinary approach to addressing societal challenges. We create innovative educational tools and skill development solutions to help uplift entire communities. In our commitment to rural villages of India – the very communities that stand to benefit the most from skill development – we are as excited about our continuing development of community outreach solutions as we are about our focused R&D for CHI, robotics and automation, haptic technologies and applied robotics.

To read more about Ammachi Labs go to: https://www.amrita.edu/center/ammachi

Br. Dayamrita Chaitanya

Br. Dayamrita Chaitanya is the brahmachari (male monk) who is responsible for Amma’s North American satsangs. He has been with Amma for about 35 years. He and I have been in Amritapuri at the same time before but it generally has only been for a day or two. This time our visits overlapped for much longer.

On December 23, Dayamrita held a question and answer session for residents and visitors. The program was held in a building called Shanti Mandiram. I had never heard of that building. I was astounded to find out it is a huge building next to the place where the brahmacharinis (female monks) live. The building had apparently been under construction for years and has been in use for about three years. All of the silent retreats are being held there.

How could a building have been built so close to the main ashram and I had never seen it? I’m still having trouble believing it.

On the 23rd, I found the building and walked up to the third floor. The room was big; but so was the attendance. There were Amma devotees from many different countries as well as both Indian and Western ashram residents.

Br. Dayamrita answered many questions. He also told many stories. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was so glad that I attended the session.

Christmas Eve program

In Amritapuri, the big Christmas celebrations are held on Christmas Eve. They consist of cultural performances, Amma’s Christmas message, singing and distribution of Christmas cake. They usually start late and aren’t over until around 2 a.m. Since I work in the cafe at 7:30 a.m. I knew I couldn’t stay the whole time. I had decided to leave after the first three cultural performances.

The program starts when Amma comes. She led the evening bhajan (singing) program from 6:30 to 8:15 p.m. and we had dinner after that. Amma was expected to arrive for the Christmas program around 10 p.m. but came just before 9:30!

I was very happy about her early arrival because it meant I would be able to watch more of the performances. I ended up staying for all of them; they were wonderful. There was a shadow puppet show, a choir, a salsa dance, Indian traditional and non-traditional dances, a flamenco dancer, a dance called Mother’s Prayer and more. There was also a beautiful performance centered around Hanukkah. One of my favorite parts of the program was the finale. The singing and dancing that occurs when all of the groups come on stage together is always so joyous.

I went back to my room after the performances but wasn’t able to get to sleep. I could hear the sounds of fun coming from the hall. It was all I could do to keep myself from getting dressed and going back to the auditorium. I feel sad about what I missed but know I made the correct decision for me.

I don’t have Christmas program photos to share with you but you can read more about the evening and see photos at: https://www.amritapuri.org/76453/19xmas.aum

Eclipse

On Thursday morning there was an eclipse of the sun between 8 and 11 a.m. When an eclipse happens here, everyone stays inside. The café was closed for the morning, but the canteen was open from 7-8. I had some breakfast and then went to the temple to participate in the Vedic chanting that was taking place throughout the 3-hour period.

The hall was packed. I didn’t know the chants and didn’t have the books, so just listened. The woman seated next to me was looking at the chants on her phone. About halfway through I noticed that she was looking at one that had a font that was big enough for me to read it. When she noticed I was doing that she held her phone between us. She shared her phone with me for the rest of the session.

Throughout the experience, I kept expecting it to get dark. Every time I looked outside, though, it was sunny. I was puzzled. Had the eclipse not happened? I was even more puzzled when I later looked at an online newspaper and saw photos taken in Kerala of the full eclipse. I talked to someone who had stayed in her room throughout the morning and she told me it HAD gotten dark. How could I have missed it? During the first half of the chanting I had often closed my eyes. Had I also fallen asleep?

The chants were beautiful. Maybe someday I will put in the time and effort needed to learn some of them.

Monkey

The monkey I mentioned in an earlier post is still visiting frequently. It probably has learned that if it comes to the café kitchen area it might be able to steal some food. I saw it once last week and it was there again on Thursday afternoon.

New additions to café menu

Over the years, the café and canteen have certainly changed. I was at the ashram on the day in 1990 when the Western food service began. At that point, Western food was only available for dinner. I remember it as consisting of a bowl of soup but the photo below shows bread and possibly something else.

On most nights, the dinner was served on a balcony in the temple. On Devi Bhava nights, it was served on a staircase on a higher floor. We felt so excited to have something other than the kanji (watery rice) with a small serving of vegetables that was served in the Indian lines for breakfast and dinner in those days. (Lunch was regular rice and some vegetables.)

A group of people in a room

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In 1990, we never would we have imagined the time would come when the ashram would offer a wide variety of Western foods at every meal and there would even be gluten free options available…. and a bakery.

A few years ago, the café staff started making almond milk. Earlier this month, they added sides of quinoa, hummus, and broccoli (when they can get it) to their already abundant menu options. Three days ago, they started offering a new drink. Some of the ingredients are spirulina, wheat grass, aloe vera, and lemon!

To read previous posts in this series click here.

Connecting Across the Rio Grand

When I woke up yesterday morning, there was an email from a blogging friend (Kathie chosenperspectives) in my inbox. She shared the link to an article about a Canadian artist who had created a light installation that opens a 2-way audio connection that allows people to talk across the Mexico-US border.

The article was SO moving. I wish I could copy the it all here but at least I can give you the links.

Article: The article includes an interview, a video and photos https://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-friday-edition-1.5369737/a-canadian-artist-s-light-installation-lets-people-talk-across-the-mexico-u-s-border-1.5369748

Video of a woman and child talking: http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1647181891569/ . (It is a 2 minutes 20 second video. If it opens up to the end of the talk, just move the bar at the bottom back to the beginning. I imagine it is doing that on my laptop because I have listened to it before.)

What a great way it was to start my day.