With Amma in Atlanta

Amma’s Chicago programs were over at 8 a.m. on June 23. Later that morning, I was on my way to Atlanta. I had attended her programs there two years before and was eager to go back. This year, Atlanta would be my last stop on Amma’s North American tour.

My friend Yashas was flying standby and was able to get a seat on my flight. He had investigated Atlanta’s public transportation and had learned that we could board the subway at the airport and it would take us to a stop in the same complex where our hotel was located.

After spending much of the Chicago area program walking in rural fields, I was unprepared for the jolt that came at being in a big city. It started when we got off of the subway and I found myself standing at the bottom of an immense escalator.

The escalator ended near a food court that was the biggest I had ever seen. As we looked for the way to the hotel where Amma’s program would be held, a man stopped us and asked if we needed help. He offered to take us to our destination. He led us one direction and then another; I felt as if I was in a maze. I couldn’t imagine doing this on my own and was grateful for his help. When we arrived in the hotel, he asked if we would buy him a sandwich. I was surprised, but was fine with it. He had definitely provided us with an invaluable service.

The maze ended on a floor of the hotel that contained a cocktail lounge. Many people were partying there (at least that was my perception) and it was loud.

The hotel was beautiful, but what a contrast it was to the Chicago fields. I read later that it has 51 floors although I never saw an elevator that went higher than 41.

The lobby was on the floor below the cocktail lounge. I checked in and then went to my room. When I shut the door, all of the sound from the hotel stopped. My room felt like an oasis. Even though the hotel was impressive and the staff were very nice, I longed to be walking in the fields.

The main part of the hotel had four sets of elevators, each going to a different series of floors. There were many conferences going on, some even on the same floor as ours. I continued to feel as if I was in a maze and had trouble finding what I needed to find. As I get older, when I am frustrated, I am more likely to get rattled, confused and overwhelmed. The next morning, even the sensory stimulation of Amma’s program (crowds, music, etc.) felt like too much for me.

Amma helps us learn to be calm in the middle of chaos. I was certainly getting the opportunity to work on that issue. Because of my overwhelm, I totally forgot that Chaitanya, Sreejit and I had plans to go to the Martin Luther King Historic Site during the afternoon break on the first day of the program. Chaitanya and I had gone there when we came to Amma’s Atlanta programs two years before and had both been profoundly moved. The afternoon break is short so we didn’t stay as long as we wanted to stay that year. We had resolved to return to the site the next time Amma came to Atlanta.

This year Sreejit went with us, as did four other friends. I loved being at there again. I was once again flooded with feelings and memories, since I lived through that era, and appreciated that this site gave younger people  the opportunity to learn about that time in our country’s history. I only took a few photos this year since I had taken so many during my first visit. The first picture below is of Sreejit joining the civil rights marchers in an interactive exhibit at the visitors’ center. The other three photos are squares of a quilt found in a Freedom Hall room dedicated to Rosa Parks.

Prior to my last visit, I did not know that Martin Luther King had been so inspired by Gandhi that he had traveled to India to learn about Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence. I saw this quote by Gandhi in Freedom Hall’s Gandhi room. I wasn’t able to photograph it without the reflection, but decided to share it with you anyway.

As I was writing this post, a Gandhi quote I have treasured for many years came to my mind.

I claim to be no more than the average person with less than average ability. I have not the shadow of a doubt that any man or woman can achieve what I have, if he or she would make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith.

Even though Martin Luther King and Gandhi never met in person, I love that Dr. King respected him so much. What incredible role models they both continue to be.

The photos below are of the place where Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta Scott King’s bodies are interred. I felt privileged to be able to stand there once again.

My time at the Martin Luther King Historic Site helped ground me and I was able to return to the hotel and enjoy the evening program with Amma.

It is my experience that when I am with Amma, life lessons come at a rate that is faster than in normal living. I often feel like I am on an emotional roller coaster but I know the challenges are also an opportunity for healing. During those times, synchronicities abound, and I never know what is waiting for me around the corner.

Perhaps the most important event that occurred during my time in Atlanta began the previous year. I left home at 17 (I’m now 68) and I have had very little contact with my biological family since I was 21. My parents and younger brother are no longer living. My other brother and I email occasionally. My children spent some time with my younger brother during the years he was sick. They also attended my mother’s funeral and have had a few experiences with their remaining uncle but don’t know their cousins or extended family.

Just prior to last year’s Chicago programs, my brother wrote me and told me that his youngest son had written a blog post on Father’s Day; one that was about our father. I found it fascinating to read about my father from his grandson’s perspective. There was some information in the post that surprised me, so I wrote my brother about it. That began a process of us sharing memories with each other. At one point, he added his two sons to the email chain and I added Chaitanya and Sreejit. As a result, our adult children started communicating with each other for the first time. Much of this conversation happened during Amma’s Chicago programs. I did not believe that was a coincidence.

As this year’s tour approached, my nephew and Chaitanya corresponded again. He decided he and his family would drive from Florida to Atlanta so we could meet each other. We were all excited about that opportunity. They arrived late in the afternoon. Our time together was limited but we used it well. We talked and talked…. and talked. I felt very drawn and connected to them and very much look forward to future contact. Who would have thought that family healing would come after all of these years.

Geetha is a friend who used to live in Seattle, but moved to Amma’s Amritapuri ashram many years ago. During the foreign tours, she stands next to Amma and helps facilitate the thousands of people who come  for Amma’s hug. (Amma’s form of blessing is to give each person who comes to her a motherly hug. At this point, she has hugged 37 million people.) That night, when I arrived at Amma’s chair for my own hug, Geetha asked me how the family reunion had gone. She then told Amma about it. Amma smiled broadly and asked me a couple of questions. I occasionally bring questions to Amma but rarely have discussions with her aside from that. It was such a wonderful way to end my 2017 Summer tour.

I left Atlanta the next day feeling tired, but happy and full …. and ready to return to my work in the Greenbelt.

Quote: Howard Thurman

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“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs;

ask yourself what makes you come alive.

And then go and do that.  Because what the world

needs is people who have come alive.”

 

~ Howard Thurman

 

 

Howard Thurman (1899-1981) was raised in the segregated South by his grandmother, who had once been a slave. In 1925 he became an ordained Baptist minister, his first church assignment being Mt Zion Baptist Church in Oberlin, Ohio.  After serving as a Professor of Religion at Morehouse and Spelman colleges, Thurman studied with Rufus Jones, head of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.  In 1935-36 he took a group of African Americans to India to meet with Mahatma Gandhi.  Gandhi encouraged them to take the principle of non-violence to the world.

A PBS article on People of Faith stated “In 1944 Thurman left his position as dean at Howard University to co-found the first fully integrated, multi-cultural church in the U.S. in San Francisco, CA. The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples was a revolutionary idea. Founded on the ideal of diverse community with a focus on a common faith in God, Thurman brought people of every ethnic background together to worship and work for peace. ‘Do not be silent; there is no limit to the power that may be released through you.’ “

Howard Thurman was the author of 21 books.

Self-Care or Selflessness?

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have a long history of overdoing. At one point in my life, I was holding three jobs at the same time. When I have become involved with organizations, I have often done more than is reasonable for one person to do. My overdoing has led to serious illnesses that have been breaking points, where slowing down became a necessity rather than a choice. I believe it was this pattern of overdoing that led to me to having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for five or more years in the mid to late eighties, and to the high blood pressure I am dealing with today.

To some degree, the types of overdoing I am referring to were caused by a pattern of rescuing.  In his Drama Triangle construct, Stephen Karpman describes the Rescuer in this way:

“The rescuer’s line is ‘Let me help you.’ A classic enabler, the Rescuer feels guilty if he/she doesn’t go to the rescue. Yet his/her rescuing has negative effects: It keeps the Victim dependent and gives the Victim permission to fail. The rewards derived from this rescue role are that the focus is taken off of the rescuer. When he/she focuses their energy on someone else, it enables them to ignore their own anxiety and issues. This rescue role is also very pivotal, because their actual primary interest is really an avoidance of their own problems disguised as concern for the victim’s needs.”

Jean Illsley Clarke once taught me five questions to ask myself when I think I might be rescuing.

  • Was I asked to do what I am doing?
  • Do I want to do it?
  • Am I doing more than my share?
  • Do others appreciate me for what I am doing? (Rescuers are often not appreciated.)
  • Am I doing something for someone that they can do for themselves?

Answering yes to one of those questions does not mean that I am rescuing, but if yes is the answer to many of them, the chances are that I am. So shifting my pattern of rescuing was an important part of my healing journey.

From a therapy perspective, focusing on self-care by stopping rescuing makes sense.  Even though I valued being in service, it was still my job to keep myself healthy.  When I began to look at self-care and selflessness from a spiritual perspective though, I started to have doubts. There are many who have forsaken their health, their comforts and sometimes even their lives, to live a life of service.  They have shown us what is possible for one person to accomplish in a life time.  They have been, or will be, a source of inspiration long after they are gone from this world.

To me, Amma, my spiritual teacher and mentor, is one of those people. Her form of blessing is through a hug. Amma has hugged more than 34,000,000 people in her lifetime. She needs almost no food or sleep. If she is not giving darshan (hugs) she is serving humanity in some other way, including her massive network of humanitarian projects known as Embracing the World. Her life is a model of selflessness.

When I thought about people present and the past who have inspired others through their selflessness, the following individuals came to mind.  All have taught the importance of serving humanity.

Jesus:

John 13:34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

Acts 20:35 “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Matthew 25:35-40: ”For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

Mahatma Gandhi :

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Martin Luther King Jr.:

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

St: Francis of Assisi:

“O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand, to be loved, as to love.”

Mother Theresa:

Prayer in action is love, and love in action is service.” 

As I pondered the importance of self-care versus selflessness, I could rationalize that I am not Amma, Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, St. Francis or Mother Theresa and therefore could not expect myself to serve at that level.

My thoughts on this topic took another turn, though, in the late 90’s when I read a book, A Promise is a Promise, by Wayne Dyer. It was an account of a teenager who in 1970 asked her mother to promise that she would never leave her. Soon thereafter the 17 year old slipped into a diabetic coma, one she never came out of. The mother kept her word and, with help, cared for her daughter until she herself died 25 years later. (A Promise is a Promise was written while the mother was still alive.) Then others cared for the daughter until she died on November 21, 2012, forty-two years after she became comatose.

Reading that book had a profound impact on me. I still remember Dr. Dyer saying that walking into their home felt like being in the holiest of temples.

When I first started reading A Promise is a Promise, I made the judgment that the mother was not taking care of herself appropriately. But as I continued to read, my attitude began to change. Her actions seemed like unconditional love, perhaps the highest form of spiritual practice. While I wasn’t aware of it at the time, I now see that her actions actually conformed to the guiding questions I had learned from Jean Clarke:

  • The mother had been asked and had agreed to what she was doing
  • She wanted to do it
  • Even though she devoted her life to caring for her daughter, she had help.
  • Her daughter would have undoubtedly appreciated her efforts
  • She was clearly doing something for her daughter that the girl could not do for herself

Reading about a “regular” person who was so selfless, presented me with another dilemma. When I lived a life of uncontrolled doing, even if when it was in the spirit of service, I became sick to the point I couldn’t function.  How do I know when to focus on self-care and when to make service the priority?

I continue to ponder that question to this day. I believe for me it has to be about balance. I must practice good self-care by nourishing my body, mind and soul and at the same time make sure that I am not over-committing or over-stressing myself.  I must also continue to watch out for my tendency to rescue.  I can be in service to others and still do my best to keep myself healthy.

Written for Dungeon Prompts: Breaking Point

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

On June 29 and 30, Amma conducted programs in Atlanta for the first time.  At one point, my daughter Chaitanya asked if I wanted to visit Martin Luther King, Jr.’s church and the other buildings at the MLK National Historical Site.  I jumped at the opportunity. We went during the short break between Amma’s morning and evening programs.  Our plan was to see as much as we could this year, and view the rest the next time we go to Atlanta. The first place we visited was Ebenezer Baptist church.  Starting in 1960, Martin Luther King, Jr. co-pastored that church, along with his father.  As we sat in the pews, a recording of one of Dr. King’s speeches filled the air.  I closed my eyes and imagined myself being present at the time the speech was first given.  I would have been content to stay sitting there for hours. When I looked around, I noticed many people were taking photographs.  I resisted doing the same, but in time changed my mind; I wanted to be able to share this memorable experience with others.

At King Hall there were many exhibits about the lives of Dr. King and his wife Coretta Scott King.  In addition, the hall contined rooms that were tributes to Rosa Parks and Mahatma Gandhi.

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia

In Rosa Parks’ room, there were many pictures and mementos.  I was particularly drawn to a quilt that was hanging on the wall.

Among the items in Mahatma Gandhi’s room were one of his walking sticks, a pair of sandals, a portable spinning wheel, and framed quotes.  I was not aware that Dr. King had so much respect for Mahatma Gandhi.  I also didn’t know he had traveled to India.  Dr.  King once said: “To other countries I may go as a tourist, to India I come as a pilgrim.”

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Next we went to the place where Dr. and Coretta King’s bodies are interred.  It was beautiful and felt like very sacred space to me.

We had planned to visit the home where Dr. King was born, but once there we discovered they only let visitors in twice a day and you have to get tickets ahead of time.  We did appreciate having the opportunity to see his house and stand on his porch, but will have to wait for a future visit to go inside. 20150629_162706 We spent the last half hour of our visit at the National Park Visitor Center.  Below you will see parts of the huge mural that is across from the entrance to that building.  I wish I had had time to look carefully at all that was contained in that artwork. Inside the Center there were enough exhibits to keep us busy for most of a day.  Several of the displays were interactive.  An example is in the picture below, where visitors were able to walk alongside statues of the civil rights marchers.  We will definitely spend more time at this Center in the future.

The night before our visit, I read about the National Historical Site in the tourist book in my hotel.  I found a story that really surprised me.  In preparation for writing this post, I learned more about it. When Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, not everyone supported the decision.  The first ever integrated dinner in Atlanta was planned to celebrate it.  Black business owners signed up to attend but the white business establishment wanted nothing to do with it.  J. Paul Austin, chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola, and Mayor Ivan Allen brought some of the prominent white business leaders together.  The message Paul Austin gave them was:

“It is embarrassing for Coca-Cola to be located in a city that refuses to honor its Nobel Prize winner.  We are an international business.  The Coca-Cola Co. does not need Atlanta.  You all need to decide whether Atlanta needs the Coca-Cola Co.”

The event sold out within two hours! 20150629_165301 During our time at the Site, I experienced deep emotions and many memories.  That era had affected me and my life decisions profoundly.  There is no doubt that Martin Luther King, Jr. contributed significantly to making me the person I am today. I feel blessed to have visited Dr. King’s memorial site and look forward to returning to it in the future.

Quote of the Week: Mahatma Gandhi

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia

 

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.

— Mahatma Gandhi

 

 

 

 

 

Source: Pyarelal, Mahatma Gandhi, Volume X: The Last Phase, Part II (Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1958), page 552

 

Quote of the Week: Mahatma Gandhi

 

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Photo credit: Wikimedia

 

 

“I claim to be no more than the average person with less than average ability. I have not the shadow of a doubt that any man or woman can achieve what I have, if he or she would make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith.” 

— Mahatma Gandhi