There is no doubt in my mind that Amma has helped me the most in finding peace in uncertain times; by her presence, her teachings and the opportunities to apply those teachings, her music, her guidance when I have questions, the example she sets in living a life of service and the community of people I have in my life because of her.
As I am dealing with my own health problems, as well as living in the world during a pandemic, I am grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had to learn persistence, flexibility, letting go, being like a bird perched on a dry twig, and being in the moment. While my mind still goes into overdrive, most of the time I am able to find a centered place within me.
As I am writing this, I am remembering a prayer I wrote in the mid to late 90’s. It is still my prayer.
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
I expected our May 4 work party would be the biggest event we would hold in May. It might even be our biggest work party of the spring. After all, it was one of the Rainier Chamber of Commerce’s Bridge to Beach cleanup weekend events. In addition, shortly before the event, we were notified that the work party would be advertised in the Green Seattle Partnership Facebook Page and on their blog.
We had a group of five team leaders, which included me, ready to lead the flood of volunteers who might decide to participate. A neighbor who has worked on this project from the beginning would also be coming. Much to my surprise, the time before and during the work party, ended up being an opportunity for me to practice trusting that the volunteers we’d need would be provided. All of the team leaders also had the opportunity to practice flexibility, persistence, letting go, accepting what is, doing whatever it takes, equanimity and Amma’s teaching that we should be like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice.
For example, a week before the event only two volunteers had pre-registered. Around that time, I received a phone call from a man who had seen our event on the Bridge to Beach listing. He wanted me to know that he and his wife were going to attend our work party. But two days before the event, he called back to say they had found an event closer to their home, so they would not be coming to ours. On the same day they canceled, a young man from a University of Washington fraternity asked if he could bring a group from his fraternity. He believed he could bring 10 volunteers. I, of course, responded with an enthusiastic “Yes.” By then one of the two people who had pre-registered early on canceled.
On the day of the event, the team leaders were assembled and ready. The first person to arrive was a high school student who had worked with us before. She hadn’t pre-registered, but I was delighted to see her. The other person who had originally signed up didn’t show up, nor did any of the fraternity brothers who had pre-registered the day before.
The team leaders “rolled up their sleeves” and started the first task of the day: carrying wood chips from the wood chip pile on 25th Avenue South to the southern planting areas 300+ feet away. Once we reached the planting area, we poured the wood chips in a ring around each of the plants. We then removed chips that had fallen around the stem of the plants, creating an inner circle that was 6-12 inches in diameter. The chips were to help keep the ground moist during the summer months, and the open space was to allow any raindrops direct access to the ground.
Forty-five minutes into the work party, a welcome surprise arrived in the form of six members of the fraternity. I was excited to see them. I had the young men sign up and join the rest of our group in carrying the wood chips and building the rings.
Shortly after the students’ arrival, we broke into three small groups; each led by a team leader. One group removed the weeds in an area we had planted on March 17. We had cleared the invasive weeds from that area prior to the planting work party, but they were returning with a vengeance; the periwinkle vines were especially persistent.
A second group started to clear an area that hadn’t been cleared before, one that bordered our southern planting area. Dense blackberry vines and other weeds were impinging on, or had actually begun to cover, some of our shrubs and ground covers. The third group removed weeds from the north side of the Hanford Stairs.
At 11:30 we stopped for a snack break and a group photo.
After the break, the first and second group went back to work in their respective areas and the third group joined the second group. During this time, Shirley and I helped the other team leaders as needed and also took a few photos.
Clearing the area south of the southern planting area:
Clearing the area on the north side of the Hanford Stairs:
Neither Shirley nor I had taken any photos of the group that had cleared weeds in the planting area near the wood chip pile earlier in the work party but I did get one of what the area looked like after it was cleared. Imagine the area in the photo below with 100+ invasive vines emerging from the ground and you will get a sense of what it looked like at the beginning of the work party.
While we hadn’t had the “flood” of volunteers I’d hoped for, using the experience to trust that what we needed would be provided and taking the reduced numbers as an opportunity to practice flexibility, persistence, letting go, accepting what is, doing whatever it takes, equanimity, and being like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice, meant we’d avoided getting stressed out and had even ended up accomplishing most of the day’s goals. The Bonus: together, we were a mix of people who worked well together and contributed to a satisfying and productive day.
Amma teaches us to be like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice. We certainly had an opportunity to practice that teaching during our March 17 work party.
At the beginning of the work party, there were five team leaders present and ready for action. The plan for the day took an unexpected turn when no one from the group who was going to do the March planting showed up.
The native shrubs and ground covers we were planting that day were bare root plants or plugs, so we didn’t have the luxury of planting them over time; they had to be planted that day. When it became clear that the group wasn’t going to come, the team leaders “rolled up their sleeves” and started planting the 65 plants themselves.
I called John (neighbor) and asked if he would carry the wood chips we use for mulch to the various planting areas. Thankfully, he was available and came right away. With his help, we were able to finish the project by 2:00 pm!
I was too busy planting and carrying wood chips to take any photos during this work party, but took pictures of some of the plants and planting areas later.
(You can enlarge the photos by clicking on any picture in the gallery below.)
If we were being “tested” on flexibility, persistence, letting go, accepting what is, doing whatever it takes, equanimity and/or being like a bird perched on a dry twig, I’d say we passed the test!
Word Press is switching to a new editing system. It is called Gutenberg. After moving through plenty of resistance, I decided to try it out. I wrote the post about Sreejit’s song using the new system. I think I’m going to like it.
In this post, I’m going to create a few photo galleries to see what they look like.
#1 This gallery has photos from India and from Seattle. Some were vertical and some were horizontal. At first, I had the column setting set to three but decided to change it to four.
(You can click on any of the galleries to enlarge the photos.)
#2 This gallery consists of photos from India that I haven’t posted before. I decided to make it two columns. The first four photos and the last two are purposely paired.
#3 The last gallery uses photos from India that I’ve used before. This is what the three column setting looks like.
I’m liking this new system. I will miss the tiled mosaic setting of the old editor but I like how these galleries look too.
Friday, August 31, was graduation day for 1,325 undergraduate, post graduate and PhD students from the Amritapuri campus of Amrita University. The graduates came from the Schools of Arts & Sciences, Ayurveda, Biotechnology, Business, and Engineering.
This year, the graduates and their families gathered in the Amritapuri auditorium and waited for Amma and the other dignitaries to arrive. The Chief Guests, were Dr. K Sivan, Chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation and Amma who is the Chancellor of the University.
Student receiving his diploma
Student receiving her diploma
I was not able to attend the event, but I had been present when the decorating began the night before. The next day, I discovered that the front of the stage had been decorated with beautiful flowers and there were purple curtains that extended from one side of the auditorium to the other. They were so beautiful that they practically took my breath away. The pink lights that were placed behind the curtains made the scene even more striking. As you can see in some of the photos, many banners had been hung around the sides of the auditorium.
I was able to hear the last part of Amma’s speech. You can read some of Amma’s message to the graduating students if you click here.
So much love went into preparing and presenting this ceremony. I have no doubt that the graduates will remember this day for the rest of their lives.
I have had a cyst on my left cheek for about six years. The doctors I have seen during that time have kept an eye on it but the only solution they offered me was to have it surgically removed. I had been told that the surgery would leave a sizable scar. I would have no problem with that if it was a necessary surgery, but since it was cosmetic, I decided to just let it be.
One day last week, a friend asked if I had considered talking to Dr. Sushila about the cyst. Dr. Sushila is the Ayurvedic doctor that runs Amritapuri’s panchakarma program. I’ve known her since my early days in Amritapuri. I thought it was a great idea, so I walked to her office and was able to schedule an appointment for that very day. During the visit, Dr. Sushila suggested I see a doctor who works at the Amrita University School of Ayurveda. The next morning, I took a rickshaw to the Ayurveda hospital/school/clinic.
Since it is a University clinic, there were students who observed the doctor closely. A few of them also assisted her. That first day, the doctor did an examination and then had one of the senior students make a poultice of herbs. I noticed it consisted of some black herbs and something that looked like a small citrus fruit. (I probably didn’t see everything that went into the poultice.) The student used a mortar and pestle to crush up the ingredients. After applying the mixture, she put a bandage over it. (The purpose of the poultice was to see if the cyst would soften overnight.)
That was the first of five daily visits to the clinic. The second morning, the doctor took of the bandage and then removed a scab that had formed on the outside of the cyst years ago. She then began the process of taking out the contents of the cyst. It was important that she also remove the outer sack because if any of the sack remained under my skin, the cyst would regrow. When the doctor finished her work, a different student applied a new bandage.
That day I had heard the doctor tell the students my cyst was a sebaceous cyst. When I looked it up later, I read that the contents of that type of cyst is a “cheese-like matter”. That description matched what I have observed in the past.
There had been some build-up of that matter overnight, so it was clear that not all of the cyst had been removed. The doctor supervised a senior student in removing more of the substance. She instructed me to return to the clinic for next two days. On the fourth and the fifth day there was no indication that the cyst was still producing the matter.
I was told I could remove the bandage at the end of that day. And, at that point, I could also finally wash my hair (I hadn’t been able to wash it because I was supposed to keep the bandages dry). When I took the last bandage off, I was very pleased to discover that there will be almost no scar.
Hopefully, I won’t need to return to the clinic, but if I do, so be it. The procedure caused no pain, so I do not dread the possibility of going back. Since I used to teach nursing students at the University of Washington, I had enjoyed being in the teaching environment.
I feel so grateful, and impressed, that the doctor was willing to give me this level of attention. I can’t imagine being told to come back five days in a row in the U.S. She had so much patience and was so gentle. And she asked repeatedly if I was experiencing pain. The cost was unbelievable. I paid 200 rupees ($3.00) to register at the clinic and 30 rupees (45 cents) for each of the dressings. That’s it!
Leela is a Sanskrit word that is often defined as “God’s play.” Even though the word “play” is used, that doesn’t mean all leelas are fun. They often take the form of lessons and challenges coming in rapid succession. Or they may be a whole series of events that leave you thinking “What in the worldis going on?”
I always experience an increase in leelas when I visit Amritapuri. The leelas that stand out for me on this trip occurred the evening of August 31. You may remember that earlier on the trip, I made a commitment to myself to not sit in the back or far sides of the auditorium and instead to sit in the front of the hall. For several days, I took every opportunity to do that. While I loved being in the front, I also did too much; I can’t sit cross-legged for long periods of time so my legs hurt, and I was getting too tired.
On August 31, I decided I would stay in my room during the evening meditation and the question-and-answer period that followed it; I would just go to the bhajan (devotional singing) program that followed it. During the first program, I would catch up on computer work.
About the time that the meditation started, I received an email saying that someone may have attempted to get into my Comcast account and that I needed to reset the password. After multiple failed attempts at changing the password, I called the U.S. and got help from Comcast directly.
After the call I was able to change the password on both my phone and laptop, but still wasn’t able to get the emails to download. I ended up deleting the Comcast email account on both devices and then reinstalling it. After that I was able to get my emails on the phone, but still couldn’t get them to download onto the laptop. Soon thereafter, I discovered that all of the contacts on my laptop had disappeared. Needless to say, dealing with this took a lot of time and I didn’t get any computer work done during the meditation and Q&A. In fact, I’m still dealing with some of the problems that started that evening.
By then, it was time for me to go to the bhajan program, so I headed to the auditorium. Once there, I discovered Amma had started singing earlier than normal. As I walked into the hall, she was singing the last verse of Morya Re. I couldn’t believe it. I had heard that song for the first time during the 2017 Amritapuri Ganesh celebrations and fell in love with it. I have been with Amma for 29 years and I’ve never heard her sing the song before. I was happy that I got to hear some of it, but longed for the full experience.
I was still determined to sit in the front of the room but the hall was crowded due to the upcoming Krishna’s birthday celebrations. I decided to get to the front area by coming in from the side. Perhaps I could sit against the wall at the bottom of the stage. The front section of floor-sitting area is primarily occupied by the brahmacharinis (female monks) and long-term western residents. That would be an awesome place to sit for bhajans, although at this point I knew I would likely be sitting so close to the stage wall that I might not be able to see anything.
I did find a place to sit there and I was even able to get a glance of Amma from time to time. I was content. Moments later, an Indian brahmacharini asked if I could see Amma, and when I responded “a little” she motioned for me to come sit next to her. I was hesitant at first, because I didn’t want to block anyone’s vision, but she said it was fine. I moved up and felt very appreciative that she had helped me in this way. Then a Western resident, who was even closer to the front, motioned for me to come sit beside her, and I did. If Amma had been sitting on the floor instead on the high stage, I would have been about 20 feet away from her. Needless to say, I had a wonderful time singing bhajans from that area… and felt very taken care of besides.
My conclusions from these experiences:
Was I bad for skipping the meditation and Q&A : No
Was my choice to skip those programs a mistake: No, I made the choice based on self-care and it still feels right. However, choices may have consequences and these did.
Throughout this experience, I had the opportunity to practice behaviors such as persistence, flexibility, equanimity, and letting go. I was also reminded that what I need will be provided.
What I will do differently in the future because of this experience: I will come early to the bhajan program so if Amma starts the program before I expect her to, I will be ready.
To read the previous posts in this series click here.
Preparing for and leading the July 25 work party was a perfect opportunity to practice flexibility, letting go, non-attachment, staying in the moment, equanimity, persistence and a host of other values that I haven’t yet identified. At times, the challenges seemed endless.
Perhaps the first challenge occurred two weeks before the event when I fell while working in the Greenbelt. I found myself dealing with bruised ribs… again. I’ve done my best to stay conscious of my feet while walking on the sloped, uneven land but clearly I wasn’t staying conscious enough. As the work party approached, I purchased a walking stick, something I’d considered doing for a long time, and bought a good pair of hiking shoes. I also threw away the very old tennis shoes that I had been wearing the day I fell. I had known they didn’t give my feet enough support but they were so comfortable and easy to slip on. It felt good to take care of myself by discarding them.
Based on past experience, I expected we would have around 15 students from the UW Introduction to Environmental Science class. I felt very grateful when two of our regular volunteers agreed to be team leaders. Then, I was told that someone I had met in the past had moved to Washington. I discovered that he has lots of experience doing this kind of work. When I told him about the event, he was very interested in helping. So, counting me, we had four staff. Hooray!
That changed when one team leader got sick and it became obvious he wasn’t going to be able to come and another let me know she couldn’t participate. Then the third had a conflict and would only be able to come for part of the time. That left me as the only leader that would be present the whole time.
The day before the work party, we only had two students registered. Another registered that evening. I was surprised that we were going to have such a small work party, but with such a limited number of staff I knew it was for the better. Besides it is fun to have a tiny group from time to time.
Another challenge that we would have to deal with was hot weather. I’m used to having work parties planned out in great detail. When I discovered it would be in the high 80’s or low 90’s that day, I realized I would have to be prepared to let go of my “plans” and instead to practice flexibility and letting go. We would have to work wherever there was shade as it would be too hot to work in the sun. (Most of the work I had planned would have been in direct sunlight.)
Since this work party would be from 1 to 4 pm, I waited until the morning of the event to buy food for snack time. When I got into my car, I used the handle to shut the door and it broke off. I went back in the house to ponder the situation. When I returned to the car, I discovered that in addition to the broken handle, the driver’s door was locked and wouldn’t open. Because of my injured ribs, I couldn’t move into the driver’s seat from the back seat or from the passenger seat. I couldn’t believe it. I decided snack time would have to consist of what I already had in the house, uninteresting as it might be.
Several hours before the beginning of the work party, I set out directional signs on 25th Avenue South, on the Hanford Stairs and on Cheasty Boulevard. As I walked down the stairs going towards Cheasty, I noticed there was a police car parked nearby. And to the north of it, there was yellow tape blocking the road.
Since that was the way the students who took the light rail would be arriving, I walked down the stairs to get a closer look. Once there, I learned that a big tree had fallen during the night and it had knocked down power lines. I told the policewoman that people would be coming to a work party in a few hours and would be walking along that road. She told me that the repair work would take most of the day but assured me that the students would be allowed to walk through. I was still concerned. What if the students saw the tape stretched across the road and didn’t know what to do. Would they turn around and go home? I walked back to my house and sent out notices by voicemail and email.
Shortly before the work party was to begin, I walked towards the stairs again. I could hear, and soon could see, that there were students sitting on the stairs. I thought they might be the UW students I was expecting. As I got closer to them, I could see that they were smoking. When they saw me, they ran away. I realized they were not here for the work party and that they were probably students from a nearby high school who were on their lunch break . They probably ran away because they were caught smoking, but I also laughed to myself when I thought how weird it must have seemed to have an older woman who was wearing a sun hat and an orange safety vest and holding a long walking stick come out of the forest.
Finally, it was almost time for the work party to begin. One of the students came early, so he helped me bring the rest of the supplies into the site. Then the other team leader and the rest of the students arrived… and then a surprise… a fourth person, who had seen the work party on an event calendar joined us. I had wondered if there would be participants who would decide not to come because of the heat. Not only did everyone who had signed up show up but we had an additional person!
We started working in areas that had already been planted, removing wood chips that were touching the stems of the plants as well as digging out invasive blackberries, ivy and bindweed that was sprouting. (We put wood chips throughout the planting areas to hold in moisture and reduce weed growth. The wood chips are not supposed to touch the plant however, so we attempt to keep the space around the plant cleaned out. We refer to that empty space as a “donut hole”. ) As we finished one area, we moved to another, following the shade as much as possible. Every planting area looked so much better after we finished taking out the invasive blackberries and bindweed, and cleaning out the donut holes.
I didn’t remember to take photos during the first part of the work party, but this is what some of the planting areas looked like after we worked on them.
And these photos were taken later.
Removing blackberries from the ferns
Looking at one of the new plants
Removing blackberries from the ferns
After the break, we all moved to the Greenbelt site that is north of our main site. We started by moving a drying rack that had accidentally been constructed in the place where future wood chip piles would go. I was amazed to see that the blackberry canes and other invasive plant cuttings that had been placed on it were already dry. We used that dried debris in constructing the new rack.
[Note: We place the blackberry canes, blackberry root balls, ivy and bindweed on drying racks so that they don’t touch the ground and re-root. The increased airflow that results from having them off of the ground also speeds up the drying process.]
We will be removing a lot more blackberry vines and root balls from this area. It is good to have a new rack ready to receive them.
There was a truck parked in the area I had planned to clear next, but the sun was also there, so we moved further into the Greenbelt instead. It was still hot there, but there was a lot of shade, and a slight breeze.
We cleared an area of blackberries so that we could build another rack there. Once that rack was complete, the students continued digging out blackberries. We also started pulling out ivy. All of the cuttings were placed on the new rack.
Ten to fifteen years ago, many evergreen trees were planted in this part of the Greenbelt. I have been very eager to start freeing them from the invasive vines that had grown over them since then. We began working on one of those trees at this work party. There is much more to do before the tree is fully free, but we made considerable progress. (If you click the gallery to enlarge the photos…. and look closely…. you may be able to see that there is less ivy under and going up the tree!)
Even though the area was shady, we were all tired from working in the heat so stopped a bit sooner than we would have under normal conditions. After putting the tools and other supplies away, we gathered on the stairs to celebrate our achievements and to take a group photo.
Once again, we had accomplished so much in a short period of time. It was another big step in returning this land to the healthy forest it once was.
Not only did I enjoy leading another work party, but I had also survived a myriad of challenges and had had an abundance of opportunity to practice flexibility, letting go, non-attachment, staying in the moment, equanimity, persistence and more. While I know that these experiences will help me grow, I hope the frequency of the challenges will slow down for a while!
Suffering patterns often become rigid. Simply thinking about a topic that has brought you pain in the past, might trigger you into suffery behavior. One technique that may be helpful in breaking those patterns is to change your suffering profile.
In Week 2 of this series, each participant identified their personal suffering profile. They did that by examining the following areas:
The time of day I usually suffer (e.g. morning, afternoon, evening).
Where I usually suffer (e.g. home, work, bedroom, basement).
The people with whom I usually suffer (e.g. husband, friend, employer).
The day of the week I usually suffer (e.g. Saturday, Monday).
The messages I usually give myself when I suffer (e.g. Nobody loves me, I can’t do anything right).
Where in my body I usually feel my suffering (e.g. head, stomach, chest).
Time of year I usually suffer (e.g. holidays, birthday).
What I usually suffer about (e.g. my children, my family, work).
If you completed that original assignment, go back and look at your answers. If you did not write down you responses, or if this is the first time you have learned about a suffering profile, then create it now. You can either use the list above, or go back to the original assignment and use the diagram.
Once you have identified, or reviewed, your suffering profile, you are ready to start this week’s assignment.
Each day this week, whenever you are tempted to suffer, go ahead and suffer! But this time, be sure you are suffering in different ways than those you identified in your profile. For example, if your profile is to suffer about work, at home, during the evening, with your husband, an alternative could be to choose to suffer about your yard, with a supportive friend, during the day, on a walk.
If nothing is bothering you, then intentionally find something to suffer about, so that you have multiple experiences of changing your profile.
Take a few minutes each day to journal about your experience.
See you next Monday for the sixteenth lesson.
To find the lessons in this series that have already been published, click here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On New Year’s Eve, I decided to go to bed just before midnight rather than stay up for the end of the Amritapuri, New Year’s celebrations. When I heard the next day about the things I had missed because of that decision, I felt a bit sad.
The entertainment continued for a while after I went to my room. When it was finished, a video of Amma’s Christmas message was shown. The translation of her talk was projected onto many different screens. I know it was shown in English, French, German, Russian, and Malayalam. There may have been other languages as well. If you would like to see a transcript of Amma’s talk, you can find it here.
By the time the entertainment program and the talk were done, Amma had finished giving darshan. (Darshan lasted until 1:00 a.m. That meant she had given hugs for 14 hours with only a ten-minute break.) Amma then led a meditation and sang three songs. I know two of them were favorites of mine; I haven’t heard what the third one was.
The name of the first song starts with Kushiyom. Amma introduced it a few days before the 2004 tsunami. The song ends with the Lokah Samastha peace chant. I couldn’t find a recording of the whole bhajan, but I did find one of Amma singing the Lokah Samastha part. The video was recorded days after the tsunami hit the village where the ashram is located. It was a time of so much destruction and grief.
The last song Amma sang is the bhajan I find to be the most celebratory of all of them, Mata Rani. This video is a favorite of mine.
Amma returned to her room at 2 a.m. Sweet pudding was distributed to the devotees afterwards. If I had stayed for the entire program, I wouldn’t have gone to bed before 2:30 or 3:00 a.m.
While I felt sad, particularly about having missed those two songs, I knew I had made the right choice. I had been so tired that night and was also feeling very chilled. I had gone to my room to get a long sleeve shirt earlier in the evening and, as weird as it may sound, I also wrapped myself in a double layer fleece blanket.
While it was a bit windy and the fans in the auditorium were blowing, I could tell the the temperature didn’t justify the level of cold that I was feeling. I had the same experience before I got sick last week and also one week here last year.
I fell asleep the moment I laid down and didn’t even hear the sound of the loud firecrackers from the village across the backwaters.
So yes, choices have consequences. In this case I felt sad about what I missed, but when I woke up on Sunday morning, I was awake and healthy, and able to enjoy New Years Day. I was very glad I had chosen to sleep.
So many lessons
Since I knew I would be missing time with Amma by going to bed early on New Year’s Eve, I made sure I had time with her during the day.
Several years ago, Amma created a plan that gave all of the Western visitors and residents the opportunity to sit on the stage with her for 30 minutes on each darshan day. (The Indian residents have a similar opportunity but I don’t know much about their structure.)
Soon after I arrived in Amritapuri on this visit, Amma changed the length of the sitting shift to 45 minutes. On New Years Eve, I made sitting on the stage a priority. I didn’t think I could sit cross-legged for 45 minutes and was prepared to leave early, but I ended up staying for the whole time!
Later in the day, I joined the prasad line. As I went through that process, it occurred to me I have mentioned in past posts that the prasad-giver hands Amma the candy and ash that she gives to each person who comes to her for a hug, but I haven’t said anything about what that experience is like, other than I love doing it.
It took two hours for me to make it to the front of the line. Once there, I began handing Amma the prasad. We give her a group of three packets at a time, each containing ash and a piece of candy. It is essential that we keep our eyes focused only on Amma’s hand at all times, because if we start watching her, we would be very likely to miss the cue that she is ready to receive more packets from us.
When Amma is ready for the packets, she opens her hand a certain way. Sometimes, she may want even more of them. In that case she opens her hand a little wider and we give her three more, i.e. six packets in total. Occasionally, Amma’s hand is an easy reach and sometimes it is further away.
The process is further complicated by the fact that Amma often moves her hands when she talks with people, so you may think it is time to hand her the packets when in fact she is just gesturing to make a point. She may also reach to a nearby plate to pick up extra candy, a banana, an extra ash packet or a variety of other things.
This time, there were a few other factors to take into account. Whenever Amma is on stage there are many people around her. The prasad-givers have some designated space but it is small. When I was next to Amma, there was a boy around 10 years old who came to her crying. She held and talked to him a bit and then asked him to sit behind her. He took half of the space of the person who times the prasad-givers’ two minute shifts. When the timer moved to make room for him, she had no choice but to take part of my limited space!
Then, a woman in a white sari stood over me talking with Amma. The end of her sari flapped in front of me. That meant I couldn’t even see Amma’s hand. So I was trying to hold the woman’s sari away from me, ducking low to get some kind of view of Amma’s hand, and attempting to get the packets into her hand in the correct way and at the correct time. (Sometimes I think Amma is setting all of this up to play with me!)
When my two minutes were up, the timer tapped me. It is always hard to exit quickly so the next person can get into place before Amma wants more prasad. Once I get out of that person’s way I have to navigate around a fan and a whole lot of people who are sitting on the stage, without stepping on someone. I left laughing at the leelas and celebrating that I had been able to stay focused throughout all of these challenges.
I believe everything happens for a reason and that we can learn from every experience. In the two hours I was in line, and in the two minutes I had handed Amma prasad, I could see that I had been given lessons in patience, focus, flexibility, letting go, equanimity and no doubt many other things. Amma teaches us through her every action.
To see all of the posts in this Amritapuri series, click here.
My favorite joke, and the only one I ever remember, is: Q: Do you know how to make God laugh? A: Tell him your plans for your life.
I think that is so true. There have been many turns in my life that I would have never predicted. If someone had told me those changes were coming, I would have said they were crazy. The most notable example is my relationship with Amma
At the time I met her, I had described myself as being somewhere between an agnostic and an atheist for 20 years. In those days, even hearing the word God made me feel sick to my stomach. I was a very logical, head based person and had no interest in spirituality or spiritually minded people.
In 1989, a new friend told me there was a woman saint coming to Seattle soon and invited me to attend her programs. My mind said NO but what came out of my mouth was OK.
My whole life changed the night I met Amma. Six weeks later, I was at her New Hampshire retreat and six months later I was in India. I have gone to India 26 times since that first visit. I have had other life plans change in unexpected ways since then, but none were as remarkable as that one.
On May 31 of 2017, I “plan” to retire. That is the time of year that Amma begins her annual North American tour so I have “planned” to attend some of those programs and then go to Amritapuri from mid-August until mid-January. I don’t remember when I developed this “plan”, but I think it has been firmly ingrained in my mind since I was in India this time last year.
One day in August of this year, though, I woke up thinking that I wasn’t going to watch another tree in the lot behind my house die. Al, my former husband, and I had bought that property in 1973. I sold it in the mid-80’s and it changed hands again about ten years later. When Seattle formed the Cheasty Greenbelt, that owner sold it to the city.
The property was originally beautiful but none of the subsequent owners did anything with it, so blackberries, ivy, morning glories and bamboo took over. Smothered by the invasive plants, many trees died.
After I had that early morning thought, I grabbed my shears and started to work. I enlisted my friend, Ramana, to help clear some of the land. While Ramana worked on the major clearing, I focused on freeing specific trees.
I found so many beautiful and fascinating things on the land and know that there are many more buried under the remaining blackberries.
One day, it occurred to me that we could make this project a GreenFriends project. (GreenFriends is the environmental arm of Embracing the World, Amma’s network of humanitarian projects.) I called the people in our satsang who have coordinated our tree planting and habitat restoration work in the past. They were very interested in being involved. In October and November, they spent some time working on the lot with me.
We also talked with the Green Seattle Partnership about becoming one of their volunteer groups. In March, we will take the Green Seattle Partnership Forest Steward orientation. Once we do that, we will be able to host larger work parties.
Our project will be supervised by the Seattle Parks Department and the city will provide the saplings and other greenery that we will eventually plant there. The Park Department will do any work that requires power tools. If there is enough interest in the project, we may decide to clear all four lots that are in that strip of Greenbelt!
I feel a great deal of passion about this work and it has been on my mind since I’ve been in Amritapuri. Even before I left Seattle, it occurred to me that August and September would be prime time for working on that land and if I was in Amritapuri, I wouldn’t be available to organize the work.
I have an ever growing sense that I won’t be going to Amritapuri in August and that my path is taking a turn that gives working with nature more priority than spending extra time in India.
Starting last week, I found another thought creeping into my mind. I have kept close track of world events via CNN throughout this trip. I’m beginning to wonder if I will even make it to India next year. It seems like there is so much potential for war.
My years with Amma have taught me a lot about staying in the moment and not holding on to plans. They have also taught me that Amma will hold me close to her no matter what comes my way. I trust that my life will unfold as it is supposed to and acknowledge that I have no idea what that will look like. What I do expect is that I will be participating in at least part of the Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu chant for world peace that will be held in the Amritapuri temple from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on January 1.
Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu
May all beings in the world be happy.
Peace, Peace, Peace
“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”-William Shakespeare