My daughter Chaitanya and my son Sreejit (now Br. Sattvamrita Chaitanya) live at Amma’s Amritapuri ashram in Kerala, India. People from all religions come to Amma, and all religions are respected.
For ten years, my son and daughter were very instrumental in creating the Christmas play that was performed on Christmas Eve. My daughter wrote and directed the plays and Sattvamrita and his friends composed most of the tunes. The plays were performed in the style of Broadway musicals.
One of my favorite musicals was the one in December, 2012. It was titled God is Able. The setting was a Southern style Gospel church. Sattvamrita was the preacher! The story line included the stories of Moses leading the Jews to the promised land, Rachael being healed by touching Jesus’ garment, and a fictional account of the heart of an angry store keeper being healed.
I will never forget the moment in the play when the stage doors opened and the sparkling “Gospel Choir” became visible. It seemed like everyone in the auditorium did a collective gasp. Part of the reason I remember the gasp and the thunderous applause and shouts that followed the song so well is that I was part of the choir!!!
Two or three days ago, I noticed that someone had visited my blog and found a post I had written about that play. The post contained the song our choir had sung; it was titled Dear God. The tune was written by Sattvamrita and the lyrics by Chaitanya.
I found the post and pressed the Dear God play button. As soon as the song began, I burst into tears; the deepest tears I have felt in many years. I think the tears were particularly sparked by hearing my son’s voice. It is stressful being on the other side of the world from my “kids” during the pandemic even though all of us are doing fine.
I’m still crying each time I play the song. In addition to hearing Sattvamrita’s voice, my tears may be from the message that the song holds, from the beauty of the music, and/or from reliving the memories of that magical night.
The mp3 recording and the lyrics are below. I hope you enjoy it.
When you feel like darkness has you bound And you can’t see any way to get out There’s a power which surrounds us all Through God anything is possible
Never fear Never let your doubts draw near With courage face all that comes Put your trust into God’s arms He’ll protect you from all harm His love will carry you on through
Dear God, hold us tight never let us leave thy sight Dear God, fill our soul with your love make us whole
Sattvamrita singing above the choir:
God is able to calm the wild storm God is able to make the weak strong God is able to bring change within God is able to do all things
This video was posted in October of last year but I just saw it for the first time. I decided to share it with you while the tears are still rolling down my cheeks. May I come from love in all areas of my life.
From Spring of 2017 through Autumn of 2018, students from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class worked in our restoration site. The students were required to do three hours of volunteer work during the quarter, so their needs and ours matched very well. In November of 2018, I was dismayed to learn that the instructor was retiring at the end of the quarter and the future of the course was uncertain. That class had been our primary source of volunteers.
Losing those volunteers has been a good chance to practice taking the attitude “What you need will be provided.” I also kept in mind a line adapted from the movie, Field of Dreams– “If you build it, he (they) will come.”
In mid November 2018, DocuSign, a corporate group did our fall planting. On Martin Luther King Day, we had a sizable work party. In February, my neighbor John and I worked together to rescue a shrub that a massive pine tree branch had fallen on. We also had two winter work parties where the participants consisted primarily, or exclusively of team leaders.
As Spring came, I began to get worried. Blackberry shoots, bindweed and other invasives were emerging from the ground. I started working in the site on my own and thoroughly enjoyed the work, but I knew I couldn’t do everything that needed to be done by myself. In addition to trusting that what I needed would be provided, it was an opportunity to practice staying focused on what I was doing in the moment rather than being distracted and/or brought down by obsessing about the enormity of the whole task.
One day in mid-March, Lillie, a woman whom I had seen on the Hanford Stairs numerous times, stopped and talked with me. I invited her to help with the restoration work and she was interested. The first time she came, we cut up debris from the fallen pine tree branch and scattered it on an area where I had removed a drying rack.
The second time we worked together, we cut up debris on another drying rack and took it to The Rack Zone, a place we are beginning to prepare as a planting area.
A week or so after Lillie started working with me, a young man walked up to me as I was working near the stairs. His name is Mycole and he wanted to work with me once or twice a week. The first time he came, we removed wood chips from around the plants in two planting areas. The next time, we started taking apart a large drying rack, cutting up the debris and taking it to the Rack Zone. The last time we finished clearing an area I will describe later in this post.
The debris pile in the photos below is the one that Mycole, Lillie and I worked to dismantle. I don’t have a photo of what it looked like when we started, but my guess is that it was about 14 ft (L) x 10 ft by 5 feet (H). The first photo shows what it looked like after Mycole and I worked on it. A that point it was around 8 x 8 x 2.5. The second photo shows what it looks like now. It is only 12-18 inches high. We will eliminate it fully in the near future.
I had also applied to be a community partner in the Carlson Center’s (University of Washington) service-learning. They help match students who need volunteer opportunities as part of their course work with community partners who need help. This program is very different than the Introduction to Environmental Science students we had worked with between Spring Quarter of 2017 and Autumn Quarter of 2018. As I mentioned earlier, those students had a three-hour volunteer requirement to meet. The service-learning students would work in our Greenbelt site for three-hours a week for seven weeks.
Our application was accepted. This quarter we have four service-learning students. They are part of an English Composition course that is focusing on the Environment. It is fun to work with them and nice to have the continuity from week to week. Shirley, one of our most active team leaders, and I lead their weekly work parties.
During their first two service-learning experiences, the students focused on clearing weeds and grass from an area that is near the entrance to the restoration site. They also moved a big pile of tree and ivy branches from that area to a different part of the site. As each patch of ground was cleared, it was covered with wood chips. The students also cut up a big branch that had fallen on top of a large shrub during a wind or snow storm.
Click on the gallery to enlarge the photos.
When we started the project, the area looked like this:
The transformation in the land after the students worked on it for the two sessions was remarkable. Mycole and I finished that section two days after the second service-learning work party.
What a difference it makes to be greeted by this sight when walking towards the entrance to our Greenbelt site:
I’m thoroughly enjoying working with our new volunteers and with the volunteers who have been committed to this project for a long time. What we need is definitely being provided.
In 1989 or 1990, a friend wrote a poem for me. It was written soon after I met Amma, but prior to the time I asked Amma for a name. So at that time my name was Carol. That name seems so unfamiliar to me now.
Her poem came into my mind the other day; for the first time in decades. I was able to find the booklet it was published in.
THE COURAGE TO BELIEVE, FOR CAROL POOLE
The pot looked empty. It was a clay pot, orange and cracked from the rain. On Mondays people came to fill it and the water, somewhat yellowed, seeped out at the bottom.
At first I wondered why they didn’t patch it. But looking closely, I saw their need to bend slightly to the right. Some called it agility, but really they were trying to keep their hands on the hole.
Now you choose a jug, and songs arise from its clay. And in the rhythms of drums from inside, the moon-roundness of it takes on the form of a woman with the courage to believe.
The jug is round and smooth, and the water is always full.
Thank you Shelley. Your poem means as much to me today as it did the first time I read it. I hope our paths cross again some time in the future.
Last Thursday, I received notice that Sreejit from The Seekers Dungeon was re-starting his Dungeon Prompt series. I was intrigued by the topic for the week, Moral Authority.I began to think about what moral authority meant to me.
The next day, I read that the Trump Administration had 1) stopped a study of the health effects of a mining practice in Appalachia, 2) disbanded the federal advisory committee on climate change, and 3) decided that the Environmental Protection Agency would work on building partnerships rather than focusing on regulations and enforcement. I felt despair when I read that information. It occurred to me that I was seeing examples of what moral authority is NOT, at least in my world view.
I accept that President Trump has some authority over me because of the power of his position, but due to the things he says and does on nearly a daily basis, I do not believe that he has moral authority, or it least none that I will accept.
Since those were thoughts I had on the spot, I decided it was time for me to learn more about moral authority.
Moral authority is authority premised on principles, or fundamental truths, which are independent of written, or positive, laws. As such, moral authority necessitates the existence of and adherence to truth. Because truth does not change, the principles of moral authority are immutable or unchangeable, although as applied to individual circumstances the dictates of moral authority for action may vary due to the exigencies of human life. These principles, which can be of metaphysical and/or religious nature, are considered normative for behavior, whether they are or are not also embodied in written laws, and even if the community is ignoring or violating them. Therefore, the authoritativeness or force of moral authority is applied to the conscience of each individual, who is free to act according to or against its dictates.
Moral authority has thus also been defined as the “fundamental assumptions that guide our perceptions of the world”.
Put the phrase “moral authority” into a Google search, and you will get back something over 670,000 hits. Clearly the expression gets used a lot. But what do people mean when they use it? Many people seem to think that it means the right to weigh in on discussions involving what to do about some tough issue. Other uses suggest that it is a measure of virtue; those who live exemplary lives have moral authority. Or, that one can gain moral authority by having been put through a trial: the John McCain effect. One simple definition is that moral authority is the capacity to convince others of how the world should be. This distinguishes it from expert or epistemic authority, which could be defined as the capacity to convince others of how the world is.
When I found the diagram at the top of this post, it occurred to me that reflecting on those positive and negative behaviors might help me identify those people who I think have moral authority. From that exploration, I came up with a list of behaviors that I think those who have moral authority have in common. In my mind, people with moral authority:
love all beings in the world
love and are committed to nature
live lives of service
speak the truth
teach others to live in integrity
teach others healthy principles of living
teach others to love and respect one another
value unity over division
live lives that are true to their teachings, i.e. they walk their talk
As I pondered who the people were that I think have moral authority, Jesus, Amma, Martin Luther King, and Pope Francis came instantly to my mind. Amma is clearly the person whose moral authority has impacted my life the most.
I believe blind faith may come in an instant, but mature faith develops from experience. I have been in Amma’s presence for 28 years- watching her, learning from her and seeing the impact she has had on my life and the lives of my friends, family, and other devotees. I have no doubt that she has made a massive difference in the lives of millions of people the world over.
Many years ago, I wrote a song, and had a friend translate it into Malayalam, that in a way reflects my decision to accept Amma’s moral authority. I titled the song, Only for This I Pray.
This is an audiotape and lyrics of that song. Please pardon any pronunciation errors.
amma ende karangal ennum ninne sevikkatte amma ende manass˘ mantrathāl nirayename amma ende vākkukal ennum ninne pukazhthette ende hridayam ānandam kond˘ nrittamādatte
ende sneham prakāshamāyi ennenum thilangatte amma ende vishvāsam valarnnu kondirikkatte ennenum ammayepole āyi varename amma itinnu vendi mātram nyan prārthikkyunnu
Mother, may my hands be in service, my mind fill with mantra May my voice forever sing your praise, my heart dance with joy May my love shine ever brighter, my faith ever grow Mother, may each day I become more like you, only for this I pray Only for this I pray
That prayer is as true for me today as it was the day I wrote it.
A friend sent me the link to this video a few days ago, but I didn’t look at it until now. Tears are streaming down my face as I am writing this post. I hope it is as much a gift to you as it was to me.
The Following Morning Addendum:
When I woke up this morning (I’m in India), I realized I wanted to share this post with my Song Lyric Sunday family. I think the video fits the intent behind this week’s prompt even though it doesn’t fit the structure.
I wasn’t able to find out the name of the background song in part because I can’t understand all of the words. But to me the message is not in the song, it is in the video. I am very disturbed by what is unfolding in our country right now and it was so good for me to watch this video before I went to sleep last night. It allowed me to see light amidst the darkness.
For several years in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, I wrote articles about my experiences with Amma for “The New Times,” a free newspaper that was, at that time, available in Washington and Oregon. I have started sharing some of those articles on my blog. I am choosing the articles to post based on their topic, therefore they are not being shared chronologically. The article below was published in March of 1998.
The day after Christmas, while eating brunch with friends, I half-jokingly said that next year I thought I would ask my guru, Amma, if I should come for my annual visit to her ashram in South India. (Normally I just go; I don’t ask.) On my way to the ashram last year (1996), my plane had decompression problems and fell 25,000 feet. This year (1997), less than a week before I was to leave on the trip, I discovered that I needed surgery, now. There for I had to cancel, or at least postpone, my pilgrimage.
While I am abundantly aware of the lessons I had the opportunity to learn from these two experiences, a part of me is a bit tentative about planning another trip to India. What else might happen? After making this statement, one of my friends snapped, “Why don’t you just check in with yourself?” I responded with some ineffective statement, and then kept my mouth shut.
Then, when I received my January 1998 issue of The New Times, my eye fell on statements written by Sobonfu Somé:
“People in the West tend to live unbalanced lives… so they search for a guru of some form to take care of their spiritual needs. The idea of a guru doing everything and all we have to do is show up and tell the guru, “this is what I need, fix everything and I can get out of here” does not work. The guru takes the individual’s involvement away and once the individual’s involvement is not there, nothing can really happen.” [Note: This quote is from 1998. I don’t know if Sobonfu still holds the same belief.]
After dealing with my initial desire to defend, justify, rationalize, explain, and judge, I decided that it is time for me to respond to this way of thinking.
What I have discovered in nine years of being a devotee of a guru [Note: I have now been a devotee for more than 27 years!] is that discipleship is anything but mindless pursuit. I have needed to learn to become – and stay – exceedingly conscious and attuned to what is happening both within and around me, to be impeccable in my actions, and to be fully in integrity. I have needed to learn when to ask my teacher for help and when to find the answer within. I have certainly not “given away my power,” but rather have been learning about what surrender means.
That is not to say that I have not observed people using gurus in the way that Sobonfu described. Several years ago, I asked for time with one of Amma’s swamis in order to share my concern over what I perceived as devotees “following” in ways I judged to be mindless, acting from what appeared to me to be blind faith.
He explained the difference between mature and immature discipleship. He said that the surrender that comes from a mature disciple results from years of testing and observing the guru as well as from watching the growth of both oneself and of other disciples. As a disciple has experience after experience with his or her guru, faith grows naturally. Surrender to the guru and to Spirit/God comes as faith grows.
I find I have judgments similar to Sobonfu’s of the ways I perceive some people using astrology. It seems to me that when individuals make most or all of their decisions based solely on astrological readings, they create self-fulfilling prophesy, give away their personal power, stay stuck in self defeating behaviors and as a result limit their personal growth. I notice that others use astrology as a guide or as a way of helping them to understand what they are experiencing, rather than a tool that has every answer. I guess any tool used in an obsessive and mindless manner is likely to undermine the purposes for which it was created. That is not the fault of the tool nor of the system, but rather problems created by misuse of the tool.
My years with Amma have been filled with an almost unbelievable level of challenge and growth. My personal spiritual process has amazed me. I believe that asking Amma to be my guide and teacher has resulted in speeding up the rate in which the universal “lessons” come and has provided me with the support I need as I move through each challenge. I am thankful that I have someone to help guide me as I find my way through unknown territory. I am also very thankful, and quite certain, that she does not “do it for me.” As far as I am concerned, meeting and going through each challenge is what creates the joy of living. I would not want anyone to do it for me. That does not mean, however, that I must learn all I need to learn without help.
Perhaps instead of criticizing each others chosen spiritual paths, we can instead be thankful that there are so many ways to connect with Spirit/God. With this attitude we will be better able to support each other as we learn the lessons we are here to learn.
“The New Times” articles that I’ve already shared:
Pain is a part of the human experience. Since we are imperfect beings, we all do things (intentionally and unintentionally) that cause pain for ourselves and others. As nothing is permanent, relationships come and go, ending either through separation or death. Each loss makes the way for a new beginning.
Pain creates discomfort that provides us with the opportunity and the motivation to learn and grow. As our resistance to pain decreases, our ability to experience joy increases. While pain is inevitable, the support we receive from others can make it more bearable.
I am very aware of the ongoing emotional support that I have received from Amma during painful life events. While I could give a multitude of examples, perhaps the most remarkable ones occurred in the time frames surrounding the deaths of my mother, brother and father.
In 1992, within days of returning from a visit to Amma’s ashram in southern India, I received a phone call from one of my brothers saying that my mother was in a coma and near death. Every time the coma lifted, however, she would call for me. This was a surprise as she had instructed me years before that when she reached the end of her life, I was not to come to the hospital, nor was I to attend her funeral. My father had disowned me in 1971 when I married a black man and had not spoken to me since. My mother gave me those instructions because she knew my presence would upset my father.
Now her death was imminent and she was calling for me. When I arrived at her bedside a day or two later, my mother wept with joy and relief. During the next week, I visited her daily at times when my father would not be present. I knew that if he found I had been there, he would refuse to visit her again.
I wondered what I could do to help my mother’s passing. I felt drawn to buy her a cassette player and two tapes, Alleluia and Om Namah Shivaya, both by Robert Gass and the Wings of Song. [There are many meanings for Om Namah Shivaya. The translation I like includes three of the meanings: “I bow to the God within me,” “I bow to the universal God,”and “I bow to the aspect of God that is Shiva.”] When I played Alleluia for my mother, she began to cry. When I played the Om Namah Shivaya tape her immediate response was, “I have heard that before.” I knew enough about my mother and her life to think it was highly unlikely that she had heard that song before. I sensed that Amma was nearby, helping prepare my mother for her journey Home.
I felt very grateful that these events were happening during a time I felt filled with Amma’s love. I also sensed that my recent vision to her Indian ashram allowed me to be more open to the direction of Spirit than I might be otherwise.
My mother died a month later, after I had returned to Seattle. When I attended her funeral, my brothers’ invitation having overpowered my father’s disapproval, I was told that my mother had listened to the Om Namah Shivaya tape constantly from the time I gave it to her until her death. The nurses would wheel her into the atrium of the hospice with the cassette player and headphones accompanying her. She and my brothers listed to the song together in her room. I was told that one of the nurses would sit with her, and together they would sing along with the tape. I was exceedingly grateful to have been able to participate in my mother’s dying process in that way.
My brother Bill had been diagnosed with cancer five years earlier. After my mother died, his health began a rapid decline. I expected that he would die prior to the time Amma arrived in the U.S. for her yearly tour. (She conducts programs in North America in June and July of each year.) As the time for the tour came closer, it became obvious to me that he would pass while Amma was in our country.
That year I traveled to Vancouver, BC to attend the first of Amma’s North American programs. Next came the Seattle retreat. (In those days the retreat occurred before the public programs.) On the last day of the retreat, as I was sitting out in an open field listening to a tape, my son approached me and said that my brother had died. He put his arm around me and I cried.
I was aware of how Amma/Spirit/God had taken care of me once again. My brother had passed when I was at a retreat where I could be in Amma’s arms receiving the massive love she bestows. Most of my friends were present and available for support as well.
Later, when I made plane reservations to attend my brothers funeral, I felt even more cared for. Unbelievable as it might seem, my plane would return to Seattle at the same time Amma would be in the airport waiting for the plane that she would take to continue her tour. I was able to walk off of my plane and moments later, once again be in her arms.
The third example happened in January 1999. I was in Amma’s ashram in Amritapuri, India when I received a phone call that my father had unexpectedly died. Once again, I was able to go directly to Amma after having received the news. When I had attended my mother and brother’s funerals, my father had been unwilling to speak to me. In both instances, he had left immediately after the services to avoid any possible contact. Clearly, he would not have wanted me at his funeral, so leaving India was unnecessary. I felt grateful to be in a place where I could have Amma’s support and the support of many friends as I grieved the loss of the fantasy that he would eventually be willing to engage with me. I was in awe that once again I had been with her when a member of my family died.
So frequently the painful life events I have experienced since I met Amma have occurred just before, during or immediately after I have spent time with her. Having her physical or spiritual presence during those times has increased my faith, allowing me to trust at ever deeper levels that she will be there for me when I need her. As my faith has increased, my ability to surrender to the will of guru and Spirit has grown.
I love this adventure called life. I so appreciate the love and support that is available within a guru-disciple relationship and I am exceedingly grateful that this is the spiritual path I have chosen.
Adapted from article written for The New Times: May 1999