Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: January 10-13, 2017

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Nearing the end of my trip

In an attempt to prevent a last minute rush, I started sorting through my belonging early in the week. I put anything I wanted to keep, but didn’t want to take with me, into two small trunks, washed clothes and towels, and began to clean. My flat is used by ashram guests throughout the year, so it is important that the room is prepared for them.

I spent as much time as I could with Chaitanya and Sreejit, which isn’t easy since they are both working in their respective jobs most of the time. I could tell that they were going out of their way to be with me too, which was very nice.

Lunch with Amma

Tuesday was the day that Amma serves lunch to everyone. I love the new process that has been implemented this year. Instead of thousands of people getting their plate directly from Amma, she passes the food to some people near her and then the food is distributed to everyone through a series of human chains that weave throughout the room. I have really enjoyed being part of one of those chains each week.

Stage sevas

I made sure that I joined the prasad-giver line on the last two darshan days, and on Thursday I also signed up for a prasad passing shift. I am so grateful that I have realized that I need to increase the amount of time I spend near Amma. I plan to start doing more of the stage sevas next year.

Darshan

The public darshan programs on Wednesday and Thursday were both in the temple. That has happened so many times on this trip. I love, love, love it. It not only brings back good memories from the past, but, for me, creates an increased sense of intimacy. My last darshan (hug) was wonderful. I felt like she held me forever. A wonderful ending for that part of my trip.

Canoe

I have continued to use the canoe to cross the backwaters. It has been such a good gift to myself. I feel so peaceful as we glide across the water.

An unexpected ending

It was a good thing I had been getting ready to go all week because my last day had an ending that was far different from the one I had “planned.”

In one of my last posts, I mentioned that I was going to meet with someone review and ask questions about the Amrita Serve Garden photos. When I did that, I learned that I had not been at the correct garden, instead I had apparently stopped at a private farm where tapioca, bananas and coconuts were grown! When I described the route I had taken, he said if I had gone a little further on the second path, I would have seen it. I decided I would go there on my last day.

So Friday morning, I went to see the Amrita Serve garden. It is a demonstration garden that will be used to show Indian visitors ways they can raise food in small spaces. I saw avocados, sweet potatoes, tapioca, papayas and many other plants and trees. I took lots of photos.

Adjacent to that garden is a seed producing farm. I learned so much there and saw so many fascinating things. It is going to take me more time to put that experience into words. I took lots of photos there too.

Those two experiences took most of the morning. In the afternoon, I decided to go to a garden that is close to the ashram. I was stunned to see how much everything had grown during the last year. I could barely recognize the place. When the sevite who is in charge took me around, she showed me an area where they are not doing any watering. There are compost piles throughout and those piles produce enough water to sustain the water-less garden. She said the plants in that area grow slower than the others, but they remain green and healthy. I took pictures there as well.

I then walked back to the ashram, picked up my passport from the International Office and went to Saraswati garden to say goodbye to the staff. It was there that I discovered my phone was missing, and with it, all of the photos I had taken that day and the three preceding days. I was in shock. I had just used it. I retraced my steps to no avail; I couldn’t find it anywhere. It was like it had disappeared into thin air.

When Amma was at the beach that night, she talked about detachment as a process of being able to deal with anything that comes our way in the process of life. (That is my understanding of her words, not an exact translation.) I was certainly receiving a BIG lesson in detachment.

I probably had dropped it somewhere between the water-less garden and the ashram. That path wound through many different areas of the village. Before and after bhajans, I walked to all the places in the ashram where the phone could have been turned in, but no one had seen it.

It is probably safe to say that the phone is gone, although I haven’t accepted that as fact yet. I’m still hoping for a miracle. In addition to the lesson in detachment, my Fitbit showed I had walked 18,000 steps during the day.

Since the phone is missing, I won’t be able to share any pictures of the most recent gardens/farms I visited. That will have to wait until next year. When I write more about the seed saving garden I will see if I can find some online photos that show some of the interesting plants I saw.

It was 10 p.m. before I returned to my room to complete the packing and cleaning. Soon I was ready for my last night of sleep in Amritapuri.

Be Like a Bird Perched on a Dry Twig

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Amma tells us to be like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice. That doesn’t mean that we should live from a fear based hyper-vigilance but rather we need to learn to live consciously, adapting to each change that comes our way.

Amma gives us a plenty of opportunities to learn that lesson, some directly, and some indirectly. I am going to share two recent experiences that were, in my mind, chances to practice that teaching.

Giving Prasad

In an earlier post, I mentioned that we are able to hand Amma the prasad that she gives each person who comes to her for a hug. For as long as I can remember, the type of prasad she has given in India has been a piece of hard candy wrapped in a packet of sacred ash. We have handed her those packets three at a time.

When I received the instructions for giving prasad on Wednesday, I was told we would be giving Amma chocolate Hershey’s kisses wrapped in an ash packet instead of the hard candy packets. Those would be given to her two at a time since the Hershey’s kisses are so much bigger than the hard candies.

When I joined the prasad line on Thursday, I was told that we would be alternating what we would give Amma. The first time we handed her prasad, we would give her three packets with the hard candy and ash. The next time, we would give her two packets with the Hershey’s kisses and ash.

When I reached Amma, however, I discovered that the devotees were handing her two packets, one with a Hershey’s kiss and ash, and one with the hard candy and ash. Amma had changed the instructions yet again!

I laughed at the leela. I laughed even more when I received my own hug that night and Amma handed me a flower petal and a Hershey’s kiss. That is the type of prasad we receive during the North American tour, but to my knowledge it has never been the custom in Amritapuri.

To me, this was a good example of being the bird perched on the dry twig. We had to be ready for the type of prasad to change at any moment and adjust accordingly.

Tai Chi

The second example occurred during my Tai Chi class. Soon after I arrived at the ashram this year, I visited the beach area we had used for the class last year. I found it full of construction debris. A few days later, it had been cleaned up so it seemed like we would be able to meet there after all.

Even in the best of times, the class is interrupted by an occasional truck, bicycle, or bus that wants to go through that area. Today was one of those days when so much came our way that it got funny. It was another darshan day, but this time the crowd was huge. When we arrived for the class, there were already two parked buses in the area. They bordered the space we were planning to use. Once the class started, two more buses drove onto the grounds and parked nearby.

About half way through the class, a truck with some construction supplies tried to go through our area to the building beyond. There was no room for them to do that, because of the parked buses, so the driver just parked in the space we were using and started carrying the supplies to the construction area. Clearly, we had no priority.

There are two other areas on the beach that could potentially work, but there seems to be a new routine at the ashram. When the ashram cows are walked in the morning, they are taken to the beach and tied to trees, where they “hang out” for hours.  Today there were eight cows in that area of the beach.

What could we do? We would have to hold our class a few feet from the cows.  So we did just that. And I loved it!

When we become like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moments notice, we are able to adapt what comes our way. Each challenge is an opportunity to practice detachment, surrender, equanimity, patience, persistence and flexibility.

To look at previous posts in this Amritapuri series, click here.

Burning Down the House

One of the first things I saw this morning was the Word Press Daily Prompt entitled Burning Down the House.

The writing directions were:

Your home is on fire. Grab five items (assume all people and animals are safe). What did you grab?

 

Five items instantly popped into my head.  I’ve continued to ponder that question throughout the day and my answer has not changed.  Even though I believe I could walk away from any of my belongings, these are the five that came to mind.

#1

20140918_154756New Laptop

*****

#2

355px-Samsung_Galaxy_S3_(GT-I9300)_16GB_Pebble_bluePhoto Credit: Wikimedia

Samsung Galaxy S3

I couldn’t take my own picture of this since my camera is on the phone!

*****

#3 and #4

Sreejit2

chai

Years ago I made each of my children an album containing pictures from throughout their life. They both live in India now and the albums would not fare well in the heat there so I am storing them at my house in Seattle.

*****

#5

20140628_083124Headband from my hippie days!

*****

Lessons are for Learning

I was debating whether I would title this post “Lessons are for Learning” or “Look for the Good in Everything.” Both statements are true and they both fit the situation that I am about to describe. My thought was to use the first one that came to me, i.e. “Lessons are for Learning” but I decided instead to accept that “I Will Know When I Know.” I would decide on the title after I write the post!

As many of you know, I had been really looking forward to last Sunday’s divisional championship game between the Seahawks and the Packers. I was planning to watch it with my ex-husband Al. Due to jet lag, I only slept two hours Saturday night and attended a Sanskrit class Sunday morning. The game was at noon so I was going from the class to Al’s, with no time for a nap.

A variety of things had happened that day that triggered me and being so exhausted I was not at my best, to say the least. To top it off, on the way to Al’s apartment, I realized that he lived so close to the stadium that there was no way in the world I was going to be able to find a parking place. By then I was in a really bad mood, especially since it was raining and I did not have an umbrella or an appropriate coat in the car.

After dropping food off at Al’s apartment, I drove to a light rail station located about 4 miles from the International District where he lives. I parked the car and boarded the train. As I was walking back to the apartment, after having disembarked from the train, I noticed the strangest sound. It was loud and it sounded a bit like freeway traffic, but that wasn’t right either. What was it?  Could the sound be the crowd cheering in the stadium? Unbelievably, it was!

By the time I made it back to the apartment, my bad mood had shifted and I was eager to watch the game with him. As the Seahawks made error after error, however, my excitement withered.

I knew that taking the light rail home was going to be a very overwhelming experience. Tens of thousands of fans descending on that station when I was so exhausted would be incredibly difficult. Al and I agreed that if the game ever got to the point where it couldn’t be salvaged, I would leave. When the Seahawk’s pass was intercepted with less than four minutes on the game clock, and a score of Packers 19 – Seahawks 7, l decided that time had come.

I left feeling fine about my decision. When a few minutes later I had the opportunity to give money to a panhandler, which is something that has been difficult for me in the past (Judgment or Compassion), I was even more confident that my choice had been correct.

Seconds later, there was loud cheering from the stadium followed by fireworks. What was going on?  Al called me and Whats App texts started flying between my son Sreejit, who lives in India, and me. The Seahawks had scored a touchdown!

Soon I reached the light rail tunnel. In less than a minute’s time, the Seahawks recovered an onside kick and scored another touchdown, followed by a two point conversion, the combination of which put them ahead by a field goal.  (I can’t believe I’m saying all of this, and even have a bit of a clue what I am talking about.  Me, who until last year had NO interest in football!)

The tunnel was filled with fans who, like me, had left early. They were following the game on their phones and when the news that we were winning came through, the whole place erupted with cheers. I felt so much a part of this community experience.

With 14 seconds left, the Packers kicked a field goal that tied the game and sent it into overtime. The game was still going on when I reached my station. The elevator that took me from the tunnel to the surface street was full of people who had left the stadium early. One man said “I’m not here. If anyone asks, I’m still at the game. What happens in this elevator stays in this elevator.” Everyone laughed, and once again I had an experience of community.

I walked to my car and listened to the game as I drove home. Between the time I got out of my car and the time I turned on the television, the Seahawks had scored yet another touchdown and we had won. We were going to the Super Bowl for the second year in a row!  And instead of facing tens of thousands of people in the light rail station, I was already in the quiet of my home. All was well.

Over the next few days there were times when I felt sad that I had missed all the excitement, but at the same time I knew I hadn’t; I had just experienced it in a different form. And I watched the game highlights that day, and in the days that followed, so that I could actually see what had happened.

 

I felt a nick of sadness again when I received pictures from friends who had been together when the big moments came.

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But while I hadn’t been with Al, Sreejit or friends in those moments, I was definitely not alone. I was with Al and Sreejit via media and had had Seahawks fans all around me. I had felt connected and a part of all the excitement. It was just in a different way than I had expected.

I feel thankful for all that I experienced. As I reviewed the day in writing this post, I saw that I had an opportunity to work on the following lessons:

  • Lessons are for Learning
  • Look for the good in all situations
  • Be here now
  • Be willing to let go of plans
  • Let go of expectations
  • Lighten Up
  • There are no accidents
  • Don’t overthink
  • Learn from my mistakes.
  • What I (or others) think are mistakes may not be
  • Community comes in many forms
  • I belong
  • Choices are not good or bad.
  • I can learn from any choice I make
  • I will know when I know
  • What is right for one person may not be right for everyone else
  • Be compassionate and kind with yourself and others.
  • Never say never

So what will the name of this post be? I will go with “Lessons are for Learning.” And while I know it is important to never say never, I think it is safe to say I will never intentionally leave a Seahawks game less than four minutes before it is over, no matter how far behind they are!