Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 11-12, 2019


I’m doing pretty well with balance. I mainly have problems when I stand up after being seated and when I’m tired. I walk slowly and carefully at all times. I’ve used a cane once for going up to the 7th floor of the temple; I imagine I will use it more as the crowds increase. I decided to order a folding cane from Amazon India, so I have one for the trip home. It is amazing that Amazon is so accessible in a fishing village in India!

Most of the times I have fallen in the past have been when I’ve turned abruptly. Part of my café job entails standing in a space that is about three feet in depth, picking up one plate after another and putting it on a shelf directly across from the kitchen counter. The space is narrow enough that there is no danger of falling but I am doing 180 degree turns constantly. One day this week, it occurred to me that this experience might be providing me with an opportunity for some neurological reprogramming.

Sometime during the last few days, I remembered that whenever I had Chronic Fatique Syndrome relapses in the early 90’s, I listened to a recording by Robert Gass and the Wings of Song called Om Namah Shivaya throughout the night. The recording was 45 minutes long but I set it to “repeat.” My relapses were much shorter when I played the recording in that way.

I decided to see if playing it might help me with balance. I was able to locate the same recording on Amazon Prime Music and downloaded it to my phone. I listened to Om Namah Shivaya as I went to sleep the last two nights. I disconnected it when I woke up briefly 2-3 hours later. I don’t know if it will do anything for my balance but my Fitbit says my deep sleep+REM sleep was over 50% both nights. I have rarely to never had readings like that. And the first night I slept more than 7 hours!

[Shiva is the male aspect of God that is the destroyer. I think of him as destroying disease, illusion, delusion and other negativities. I once read that Om Namah Shivaya is the most commonly used mantra in the world. It has many meanings, but I like one that is actually a combination of three definitions: “I bow to Shiva. I bow to the universal God. I bow to the God that is within me.“]

Café and stage sevas

International devotees are pouring into the ashram for Christmas. The café is getting busier and busier. I knew that there would be a point when another person would be assigned to help me during part of my shift, because the work load would be too much for me to handle. As far as I’m concerned we reached that point on or about 8:40 a.m. on Thursday. There were so many plates waiting to be given out that there was no room on the counter for the kitchen staff to add new ones. That deluge only lasted about 10 minutes, but I was totally overwhelmed during that time. As soon as my shift was over, I told Chaitanya that I needed help, but I find it very interesting that it never occurred to me to ask for help at the time. My brain felt scrambled.

My brain is getting a workout during the stage seva too. Amma is continuing to set the prasad-giving shifts for one minute, so I’m constantly giving people the chance to practice handing prasad, watching for people to finish their minute so I can send another person, passing along orientation information that is regularly being added to, tracking the number of prasad-givers who have gone through the line and occasionally calling people to the stage from the auditorium line (when the person responsible for doing that is out finding people to join that line).

I hope to one day have the experience of concisely and coherently orienting the person who replaces me after my hour shift. Right now I am quite flustered as I try to relay that information at the same time I’m doing all the other things. Amma certainly is giving me plenty of opportunities to practice focusing and maintaining equanimity.

Confronting my know-it-all

On Wednesday I saw a notice near the Western Canteen that said a big event would be held in the auditorium on Thursday morning. As the area was being set up, I could see it was an event involving the Amrita University students. I assumed it was their graduation ceremony since graduation has taken place in the auditorium around this time of year the last two years.

When I was eating my breakfast on Thursday, a visitor asked me why there was an American flag in the auditorium. I was surprised and said he must be mistaken. I was curious though, so went to look for myself. On one side of the stage there was what appeared to be a U.S. flag and on the other side was the flag of India. I was a long way away from the U.S. flag though, so it looked like the stars were curved rather than in a straight line. I assumed it flag was something other than the U.S. flag, and went back to the table to tell the visitor my new information.

I was still intrigued though and wanted to check it out further, so after I finished eating I went to look at the flag up close. It indeed was a U.S. flag. That made no sense to me at all. I went over to a swami and asked him about it. I don’t remember his exact words, but I had the impression it was there because of U.S. and Amrita University cooperation. I knew that Amrita University had joint projects with several U.S. universities, and I still was thinking this was a graduation ceremony, so figured the graduating class must have had involvement with one or more of these U.S. universities. But it still seemed strange to me to have a U.S. flag there. Regardless, I went back to the table once again to relay the additional information.

It wasn’t until later in the day that I discovered it had not been a graduation ceremony at all. It had been an event where a partnership agreement between the University of Arizona and Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham was signed.

When I looked on the internet for more information, it appeared to me that Amrita University is now called Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham. I wonder how many years ago that change occurred. I also found this statement:

Over the years Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham has developed working relations with many of the best universities in the world. Amrita Center for International Programs plays a developmental, strategic and co-coordinating role in the institution’s International work, seeking to provide quality support both internally and externally. Strong collaboration with national and international organizations is the hallmark of all research carried out at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham and to this extent we have developed a broad range of international partnerships around the world.

That webpage also had a list of the partners. I would assume, but don’t know, that the University of Arizona will soon be added to this list.

I am aware of how many times during this “investigation,” I had assumed that I knew what was going on even though I didn’t have a clue. And in the process I had passed along incorrect information. Once again, my know-it-all part had been exposed, to myself and others.

To read previous posts in this series click here.

Exposing the “Know-It-All”



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. The article below was published in March of 2000.


One of my major enjoyments in life is to watch and experience the ways in which Life/God/Spirit/Guru reveals the lessons I need to learn. I see each lesson as a potential adventure, an opportunity to participate in one detective mystery after another.

Many lessons become evident when a situation results in exposure of a self-defeating behavior. Once unmasked, we have the opportunity to examine the behavior and then look for new ways to act, ways that will be more nourishing to ourselves and others.

While I know that I will have lessons to learn throughout my entire life, I find that when I am in the presence of my guru, Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma), the lessons are considerably less subtle and seem to come at a faster rate. Luckily, when I am with her, I am usually able to work through the lessons faster.

Earlier this year, while visiting Amma’s ashram in South India, I experienced a series of events that made the theme of a new lesson quite obvious. I was so fascinated by witnessing this process unfold that I decided to write about it.

The new series began when I informed my daughter that Kollam, a city north of the ashram, would be a good place for her to buy new glasses. When others told her the Kollam shop produced poor quality glasses, I insisted they were wrong.  I KNEW that the shop’s glasses were of EXCEPTIONAL quality. After experiencing some of the events that followed, I reflected on this incident once again. I realized that my strong pronouncement had been based on a sample of one, i.e. I knew of ONE person who had purchased glasses in Kollam and SHE had been very satisfied. I could see that I had no basis for having drawn such a strong conclusion.

Next, while waiting for Amma to arrive at the temple for the nightly music program, a woman sitting beside me remarked that it was too bad that the number of Indian visitors coming to the ashram had decreased. I was shocked because there had actually been a HUGE increase in the number of Indians coming to see Amma. In fact,  now there were frequently more visitors than the temple could hold.

I said, “You mean during the last day or two, now that the holidays are over?”  “No,” she said, “I mean all of the time.” She went on to say, “In fact, fewer people are attending the programs she leads throughout India.” As I readied myself to tell her how thoroughly wrong she was, Amma arrived, ending the possibility of further discussion. I agitated throughout the evening program, filled with the desire to correct her misinformation.

I hoped I would see her later, but I never had the opportunity to rectify the situation. I remained agitated for some time, uncomfortable that someone was passing on such mistaken information.

The next day, I observed an interaction between a young Indian girl and a Western man. He said “Om Namah Shivaya” as she approached. This is a mantra that is frequently used as a greeting at the ashram. “What does that mean?” the girl asked. He responded in a shocked and rather demeaning manner, “You don’t know what that means? It is a greeting used all over Kerala (the state in which the ashram is located). Where are you from?”  “Kerala,” she replied. He shook his head, unable to believe that she did not know something so fundamental.

I, without invitation,  inserted myself into their conversation, informing him that “Om Namah Shivaya” was NOT the primary form of greeting used in Kerala. While some Hindus may use it, it was not even that common.   “Namaste” or “Namaskar” was a much more common greeting. He insisted that I was wrong, restating that “Om Namah Shivaya” was the proper greeting. He walked away, totally ignoring the girl’s request for a definition of the phrase.

That same day, I told my daughter the story of a brahmacharini  (female monk) who at one point had chosen to abstain from Amma’s darshan (time when Amma hugs each person who comes to her) for two years. Later in the day, I told the brahmacharini I had shared her story. She informed me that the period of time had actually been six months, not two years. I was shocked. I was SURE it had been two years. Again I saw my urge to be right, but I could not ignore the fact that her recall of the subject matter was more likely to be correct than mine.

As I reflected on these four incidents, I saw how they exposed my tendency to insist that something is fact when I don’t have enough information to warrant that certainty. The woman in the temple and the man who had been talking to the Indian girl had mirrored that behavior. In all four instances I could see my strong desire to “be right” as well as my ongoing urge to “set people straight.”

This know-it-all attitude can be considered a personality trait. Luckily, all personality-based behaviors can be placed on a continuum, having both healthy and unhealthy elements. At the healthy end of the continuum, this trait allows an individual to be efficient, responsible, insightful, helpful, and productive. At the unhealthy end of the continuum, however, the individual becomes arrogant, judgmental, suspicious, pushy, and obsessive.

I appreciated having been presented such a clear picture of ways I sometimes operate from the unhealthy end. In the days and weeks that followed I was repeatedly given opportunities to choose to indulge in those behaviors or to “do it different.”

Since I have returned to the U.S., the same lesson has come again and again, growing in magnitude each time. Even now, while still feeling the pain from the most recent incident, I can see my mind working in ways that makes it obvious I have not fully learned what I need to learn. While I regret the pain I cause myself and others, I am grateful that Life/God/Spirit/Guru is committed to revealing the work I need to do as I continue on my journey Home.

(Above article written in March 2000)


“The New Times” articles that I’ve already shared:

Support in Times of Trouble

A Multitude of Lessons


Photo Credit for the Know It All: Clip Art Panda