Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 13-20, 2019

Bhajans

This last week I have, for the most part, stopped nodding off during the evening bhajan (singing) program. On December 20, Amma sang two or three new songs. That was fun. The times I enjoy most, though, is when she sings the really old ones. In India, she usually sings more of the old songs than she does during her tours.

Earlier this week, Amma sang many of the really old ones. I am always flooded with memories when she does that. This time when she sang Omkara Mennum, I remembered the early 90’s when Amma only joined us in the temple for evening bhajans two or three times a week. We never knew when she would show up, or how long she would stay.

Temple in January 1990 when it was new.

On the nights she came, the program usually lasted much longer. She would sit with us on the floor of the temple facing the front. There were no microphones. Some of the songs, like the one I just mentioned, were very long. Amma would often go into samadhi. During those times, everyone would sit quietly, until she “came back” to this world.

On Monday or Tuesday of this week, the program ended with Amma singing Mata Rani, which is one of my favorite songs. I don’t remember when she started singing it although I found a YouTube video of it that was posted in 2010. That seems about right.

I remember the ecstasy I experienced when Amma first started singing that bhajan. Below is a video that is a compilation of her singing it in a variety of cities and countries the year she introduced it to us. I have such good memories of that time.

Prasad Giving

I’ve continued to do the prasad giver assistant seva twice a week. The directions I give the people coming through the line are different every time I do it. It is my belief that having the directions change so often is another way that Amma teaches us to “be like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice.”

Being the person who actually hands Amma the prasad, as opposed to facilitating others in doing it, may be my favorite thing to do here. Putting the candy and sacred ash packets in her hand feels like Home to me. In fact, I often say “Home” in my mind every time I hand her a set of the packets.

Because, at this point, I can’t get up and down quickly or be up on my knees, I haven’t been able to hand her the prasad myself this visit. I’ve been okay with that, but last Sunday I learned that having a stool was an option. I got really excited. Maybe I could be a prasad-giver after-all!

I decided to practice with the low stool ahead of time and quickly realized that wasn’t going to work; I couldn’t get up and down from it easily either. All of a sudden, I realized that my days of doing my favorite seva might be over. I felt devastated and cried… a lot.

Fatigue and Balance

In Seattle, when people ask me how I’m doing, I’ve been responding “I’m tired.” I’ve felt so much fatigue, although it has felt like a different type of fatigue than when I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the 80’s. Before I came to India I had blood work done to check for a variety of things but the blood tests all came back “normal”.

During this trip, I’ve felt like I spend most of my time sleeping or resting. I sleep around 5 hours at night and then usually take an hour nap after my café shift and another hour nap in the afternoon. This week, I noticed that when I first wake up, I don’t feel exhausted. That is a change. All the sleep I am getting here must be paying off. I always feel like I rest to my core when I am in Amritapuri and that is true for me this year too.

It’s been a tough trip. I’m realizing how much worse my balance is since I was here last year. I get so wobbly that I decided to buy a cane from the India branch of Amazon. I had no luck ordering it myself because the login would not recognize my computer. When they sent me a verification code, they send it to my U.S. SIM card and I have no access, other than voicemail, to that phone number. (That has been an issue with Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and OptumRX. I’ve done online chats with most of those companies but never have found a lasting way around it. I have felt very frustrated.)

Anyway, I had Sreejit order the cane for me and it was delivered in less than a week. Amazing. How times have changed. Never would I have dreamed I could order from Amazon when I was in India.

When I looked at the box, I realized it was a different cane than the one in the picture on the website, but I love it. (That’s a good thing because the cane was non-refundable!) I can walk a normal pace when I use it. It even has a flashlight, which is immensely helpful for dark corridors or opening the combination lock on my door. I use it when I go to the temple, when I am dealing with stairs and the guard rails aren’t close together, when there are crowds and during the times of the day that I’m most wobbly. (I struggle with thinking people are judging me, wondering why I’m using a cane when I can walk so well when I use it. But I know worrying about what people think is my “stuff”.)

I also recently received a lead on what might be going on with me. On Monday, Chaitanya expressed her concern about me to a friend of hers who is a cardiologist. The friend told Chaitanya, and me, what she suspected was wrong (it had nothing to do with my heart!). I called my doctor’s office in Seattle and made an appointment for the first working day after I get back. If the friend’s theory is right, she said it is a problem that is easy to fix. That gave me hope that this isn’t a permanent condition.

Small thermorest

Decades ago, I brought a small therm-a-rest to India. I don’t remember why I originally brought it, but I think back in the days when I sat on the floor I may sometimes have put it under my asana (mat). There have also been years when I used it to make myself more comfortable in the chairs by placing it between my back and the chair.

This has been one of those years. The problem with that process is that I often forget I brought the therm-a-rest and rush out of the auditorium when the program is over, leaving it sitting in the chair. I have done that 4-6 times this visit. I often don’t realize I have left it in the auditorium until the next morning and each time I have wondered if that would be the time I would lose it for good. The first time I left it in the chair this year, someone handed it to Chaitanya and asked her to give it to me. Every other time, when I returned to the auditorium, my therm-a-rest was sitting on a nearby table. I am very thankful for the honesty of the ashram residents and visitors.

As I looked at the picture, I realized the therm-a-rest is really old. E607 is written on it. The building I live in used to be called E building. That changed about ten years ago; now the building is named Amrita Darshan. The numbering system changed even earlier than that. The floors in the building used to be numbered using a western system with the ground floor being Floor 1. At some point they changed it to the Indian system where the ground floor is Floor 0. At that time, my room number changed from 607 to 507.

Weather

It’s hot.

During most of the years I’ve come here, it has been cool in early morning and during the night. I always left the fan on at night, but that was mostly to keep the mosquitos away. Many years, I wore long-sleeved and long-legged pajamas and used a sheet, a light blanket, a wool shawl and a bedspread to cover myself at night. That stopped four or five years ago. Now, generally, I only use a sheet.

In the past, there were times in the morning and/or evening where the weather was cool enough that I wore a light jacket or wrapped myself in a shawl. Those days are apparently gone.

One day this week, it got REALLY windy. I rushed to bring in my laundry. Then it started thundering. The thunder was louder than I’ve ever heard. After some time, I felt a bit freaked out. I knew Chaitanya was in her room so I called her and asked if this was normal. She told me it is sometimes like this in August but not December. Soon, it stopped thundering and started raining. Before long the rain stopped too.

Crowds

The crowds have been growing. When Amma first returned from the European and North American Fall Tours, many Indians came to the ashram on public darshan days. The number of Western visitors increased then too, but as Christmas approaches the Westerners are pouring in. I don’t know how many are here now, but I would guess there must be close to 2000. The first year I came to Amritapuri there were 30 Western visitors! (There are around 5000 devotees who live at the ashram now; most of them are Indian.)

To read previous posts in this series click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 3-6, 2019

It’s hard to believe this is my eighth day in India and my seventh day in the ashram. I feel like all I have done is rest and sleep but I know that isn’t true. In addition to setting up my room, doing laundry twice (in buckets), eating, being with friends and family, etc., I worked with Kothai remotely to finish the December Pacific Northwest GreenFrends Newsletter, published three posts on this blog (Mother Nature Provides… Again, the December GreenFriends Newsletter, and my first Amritapuri post). I also corresponded with the UW College of the Environment interns we will have next quarter, some of our recent service-learning students and various people regarding our Greenbelt Martin Luther King Day work party.

On Wednesday, I started working in the café from 7:30 – 9 a.m. handing customers their plates of food as the food came from the kitchen. (The orders are numbered and when a customer’s number shows up on a monitor in the café courtyard, the customer comes to the counter and I hand them their plate.)

That process will get intense as the crowds grow but it has been easy so far. The monitor system works so well. I remember all the years that people huddled around the counter as we called out the numbers. It was often difficult for the people whose number had been called to get to the counter. This way, no one is blocking the counter area; customers are focused on the monitor that is 15- 20 feet away.

And as I ponder these changes, I’m remembering that I’ve done this, or a similar, job since the late 90’s. In those days, I sat in the window that is on the far left of the photo below. I took the orders and was the cashier.

I remember writing each person’s name on their order. In the earliest days, I also called out the name when the food was ready. That process was hampered by the fact that even though people from different countries may have similar names to people in the U.S., they may pronounce the names very differently. At some point, the door that was near “my window” was split and customers were handed their food from the counter where Chaitanya and her friend are standing in the photo.

In my first days here, I slept the best I could during the night and then took a nap in the afternoon. I’ve actually slept way better than I usually do during the transition period. There was only one night where I had trouble falling back to sleep when I woke up early. On Thursday and Friday, I didn’t take an afternoon nap, but I nodded off throughout the evening singing program. I hate that feeling.

My biggest challenge has been my balance. I know the ground here so I’ve been okay most of the time, but when I’m tired I get wobbly. My kids and others have suggested I get a cane. I even had an email from someone in Seattle suggesting it. I have been resistant, but on Wednesday I went into the temple to watch Amma giving darshan. The main temple floor was full, so I went upstairs to the next level. That was also very crowded. I soon realized that I was going to need a cane to safely navigate crowds, children, and stairs.

A friend offered me a walking stick. That seemed like it would solve the problem, and it did, when I was walking on dirt. However, when I used it to go up a single stair, the metal tip slid and I fell. Several people helped me get up. One of them knew how to get a cane from the ashram. She even was kind enough to make the arrangements and bring the cane to me. I will use it when I am going into any area that seems unsafe for me.

Amma came for bhajans (singing) the first night she was back in the ashram and has sung every evening since. She also came to the temple around 11 a.m. on Wednesday and Thursday to meditate with the devotees. After the meditation, and a question and answer period, she gave darshan. (Darshan is a blessing. While even being in Amma’s presence is darshan, Amma is known for bestowing her blessing by hugging each person who comes to her.)

Wednesday’s darshan was for people who were leaving and on Thursday it was for part of the brahmacharinis and brahmacharis (female and male monks). I’m thinking, but don’t know, that Saturday and Sunday will be public darshan days. If it is, I’m hoping to go to Amma for a hug one of those days. I need it!

One of the things Amma teaches us is to “be like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice.” She also provides us with an abundance of opportunities to practice that lesson. On Friday afternoon, we had such an opportunity.

On Fridays, Amma usually comes to the auditorium about 5 p.m. to meditate and give darshan to the people who are leaving. I often don’t attend the meditations, but on Friday I decided I would go.

I had a light lunch that day so decided to get something to eat at 4:30. On my way to the canteen, the bell that indicates Amma is coming rang. She had never, in my memory, come that early. What could I do other than laugh and let go of my plans to eat.

I walked to the auditorium to find it nearly empty. People started arriving; the brahmacharinis were running. I usually sit in the back of the hall, but this time I sat towards the front, on the aisle. I soon realized that Amma was going to be walking down that aisle.

As Amma walked down the aisle, she reached out her hands. When her hand touched mine, I felt like I had been given darshan. That passing touch of hands is very familiar to me even though it has been several years since I have had the experience. I am home.

(Photos of Amma I use in these posts come from her Facebook Page.)

To read previous posts in this series click here

Amma is Coming!

Amma will be starting her 2017 Summer Tour in the Seattle area on Saturday, May 27. She will be holding programs at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue.

Amma is known as a humanitarian and a spiritual leader, teaching and modeling a message of love and service to the poor. She offers a motherly hug to those who come to meet her.

May 27, All Day Program:11 am
May 28 Morning: 10:00am Evening: 7:30pm,
May 29, Morning: 10:00am, Evening 7:00pm (Includes a ceremony for world peace)

(Lines for tokens for Amma’s embrace will start forming 90 minutes before each program. The number of tokens may be limited due to time constraints so it is best to come early if you want a hug.)

All programs are free. For more detailed information about each event click here.

After Amma leaves the Seattle area she will go to San Ramon, Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, New York City, Boston, Washington DC and Toronto. To watch a movie about Amma’s darshan (hugs) and her innumerable humanitarian and charitable activities go to: embracingtheworld.org/news-etw-movie/

 

Nothing is Insignificant

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.

Photo Credit: Sreejit Poole
Photo Credit: Sreejit Poole

Weekly Photo Challenge: Warmth

Warmth for me is being in Amma’s arms, any place, any time, for as long as possible!  I feel especially warm inside if I am being held when she is laughing.

Amma's hug
Amma’s hug

 

 

Submitted for Weekly Photo Challenge: Warmth

Instructions: Whether you live on my side of the planet or in the Southern Hemisphere, enjoying real heat on the beach or in your yard, show us your take on warmth. You can go from the literal (saunas! scarves! steaming cups of tea!) to the figurative (the embrace of family members coming together for the holidays, the look of affection on your pet’s face, or even just a photo with a particularly warm color palette, no matter its subject matter).

Clarification:  I am Graced to have this photo but it is not one I personally took.  I happened to be in Amma’s arms when she was watching a play during her Boston programs many years ago.