Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: September 12, 2017

When I planned my trip to Amritapuri this year, I made a priority of being there during Krishna Jayanthi, the day Krishna’s birth is celebrated each year. In my early days with Amma, I found myself crying deeply whenever I sang or listened to some bhajans (devotional songs). When I checked out those bhajans later, I discovered that almost all of them were Krishna songs. I didn’t know anything about Krishna from my conscious mind, but clearly some part of me did.

I have been at Amritapuri on Krishna Jayanthi twice before. An important part of the celebration is a procession that goes from the ashram to a nearby Krishna temple. The group sings all the way to the temple. When I participated in that procession in 2003, I was in bliss the whole time. The second time I was at the ashram on Krishna Jayanthi, my back went out just prior to the celebration and I wasn’t able to walk in the procession.

This year, for me, Krishna’s birthday was a time of bliss, a time of sadness, and a time of challenges. Prior to booking my trip, I had done an internet search for the 2017 date of Krishna Jayanthi in Kerala. August 14 was the date that came up. I booked my trip for August 9 so that I would have time to get over some of the jet lag before the big day. Continue reading “Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: September 12, 2017”

My Dream is Realized- Part 1 (June 2016)

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In 2012, several members of our Seattle satsang went to Amma’s programs at the new MA Center Chicago; located in Elburn, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. They came back so excited and inspired that it really caught my attention. I used to go to most of the stops on Amma’s annual tour, but I had never been to the Chicago programs. In summer of 2015, I decided I would make visiting MA Center Chicago my top priority for the 2016 tour. Therefore, last Sunday I was on my way to Chicago for the June 27-29 programs.

The property used to be a Seventh Day Adventist college. When Amma’s organization purchased it, it had been empty for some time and the buildings needed a lot of restoration. The 145-acre property had all of the buildings that one would expect a college to have, as well as a large amount of farm land.

I saw the blue water tower, standing tall above the tree line, before I reached the Center. When I turned onto the property I drove through an area of houses that had originally been used for faculty. It was so beautiful that I became teary. I realized that this was a village of Amma devotees, the first in this country.

I marveled at what had been accomplished since the property was purchased in 2012. The program hall and the grounds were beautiful. They had recently finished restoring a building to use as a dining hall. The first afternoon, Br. Shantamrita offered a tour of the grounds and told us a lot about the land, what projects they have been working on, and their plans for the future. I was so happy to finally be at the Center, and to be there with Amma.

One of my major goals for the trip was to walk the land. The second day, I went to the gardens, the Echinacea field and some of the other places that had been pointed out to us on the tour. I will share information and photographs from that experience in a separate post.

When devotees are around Amma our weaknesses often surface so that we can see and work on them. That process was certainly front and center for me on this trip. While I loved being with Amma and I loved being at the Center, it was a very difficult experience for me. I have had ongoing back problems since February. While I am getting better, I still can’t sit or stand in one place for long. That made it difficult for me to enjoy listening to the music or sitting and watching Amma. It even hurt to stand and talk with friends. I would stay in the program hall for a while and then go outside and lay down under a tree.

Being in nature was calming and the view was beautiful, both during the daytime and at night. I took photographs as I was lying down and looking up.

I enjoyed that experience, but I also felt the pain of feeling restricted; i.e.not being able to do what I wanted to do. While part of my despair was due to not being in the hall with Amma as much as I would have liked, there was an emotional trigger even bigger than that one.

Amma’s programs are all run with volunteer labor.  I was tour coordinator for her Pacific Northwest programs for 15 years. I stopped doing that when physical issues made it nearly impossible to continue. For one reason or another, I haven’t been able to work during Amma’s programs for several years. That restriction catapults me into very uncomfortable emotional baggage.  Who am I if I can’t help? What are others thinking about me sitting or standing around and not doing anything?  I can’t be counted to complete anything I sign up to do; besides what could I do that doesn’t involve sitting or standing? I felt useless.

I have long been aware that “over-doing” is a major issue for me and that learning to “be” is my challenge. But it is a lesson that I obviously still have major resistance to learning. Part of me believes that if I surrender and let go, the physical issues might resolve but instead I stay in resistance and keep myself in emotional pain. This is a big one for me and I hope to learn the lesson soon.

So during the Chicago programs, I vacillated between joy at being there and grief. I had Amma’s darshan (hug) twice. My time in her arms felt so good and it was very clear she wasn’t upset with me for not doing anything!

There were some funny times too. My daughter came to my hotel with me during one afternoon break.  There was a Salvation Army store nearby and she asked to me to stop there so she could get some “new” shoes as the pair she was wearing was falling apart. She soon found some sturdy shoes and was very happy with them.  As we left the store, she threw her old shoes into the trash. When we returned to the program later, as she got out of the car she looked down and saw that the heel from the new pair of shoes had separated from the sole and was lying on the ground in front of her. She took off the shoe to look at it and the entire sole came off, in three pieces! Her first reaction was shock, quickly followed by laughter. We both laughed and it still gives me a chuckle when I think about the look on her face and the absurdity of the situation. Luckily, she had a pair of sandals in her room.

The second incident occurred when a friend asked me if I would chant back up for archana. The archana is a series of mantras, followed by a response, that takes over an hour.  I knew I couldn’t sit that long, and said so. Even though my response was true, it was also a good excuse.  The complete truth is that I don’t ever like to sit still that long. Also, many years ago, I was asked to do the archana response at a program in Paris, soon after I got off my international flight. I said no then too, but the person who asked me convinced me to do it. I was so tired that I soon started nodding off. It was all I could do to stay upright.  It was a mortifying experience and further increased my resistance to doing that particular job. I shared that story with my friend and she told me that had happened to her too. But in her case, she started dreaming, and in her dream she started to talk. Even though it was a dream, she talked out loud in reality too, right into the microphone! It certainly wasn’t funny to her at the time it occurred, but she had long since seen the humor in the situation. We shared a good laugh and I appreciated knowing that my own embarrassing moment could have been worse.

As the Chicago programs drew to a close, I felt grateful for having had time with Amma and with my family and friends. I also appreciated having realized my dream of being at MA Center Chicago. I felt sad about the things I couldn’t do, but at the same time was thankful that I am given the lessons that I need to learn and hoped I would learn this one sooner rather than later.

I know that I am making progress and that the lesson will be over when it is over.

A Multitude of Lessons

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(Because of the opening content, I will say at the beginning of this post, instead of at the end, that I originally published this article in the September 1998 volume of  The New Times newspaper. The first experience I describe in the article happened in the fall of 1997.)

 

As I sit here, only days away from undergoing surgery to remove an ovarian tumor, I find myself in a very reflective mood.  I read yesterday that the Chinese word for “crisis” is a combination of “danger” and “opportunity.” I can certainly see the potential for both in my current situation.  Since I do not yet know whether the tumor is benign or malignant, I am uncertain if I will simply experience a variation in the color of my day for a few weeks, or if this heralds the beginning of a major life change. The danger is obvious. So is opportunity, as lessons already abound.

The tumor was detected days before I was to leave for my annual visit to Amma’s ashram in South India.  This trip has been a major part of my life for the last eight years [Note: Remember this event occurred in 1997. I can now say I have been going to India for 26 years!] The discovery of the tumor and the abrupt change in plans has provided me with the opportunity to face my fears of pain, disability and death, as well as providing lessons in letting go of expectations, letting go of desires, and trusting Amma to guide me.  I am also getting practice in maintaining the attitude that all lessons I am given are for my own good.

I have to laugh when I remember that this is occurring as I am planning a workshop focused on staying in the present moment. I continue to chuckle as I recall that I am also in the midst of writing an article about how God can teach a multitude of lessons through a single event.  This is so much the way Amma tends to teach me, i.e. through experience rather than words.

In a guru-disciple relationship the guru sets up a variety of experiences so that the disciple can see weaknesses that need to be addressed or lessons that need to be learned. I have no way of knowing how many of the lessons Amma consciously sends my way.  Some might say that God, Spirit or the universe sends the lesson.  Generally, I find it helpful to simply attribute lessons to Amma.

~

The first time I became aware of how many lessons can be learned from a single event was in 1995. I had decided to create a workshop entitled “Lessons on Lessons.” This workshop would give me the opportunity to teach much of what I had learned about the process of receiving, recognizing, and working through universal lessons. I planned to develop the workshop during that year’s pilgrimage to India. It didn’t occur to me that going to India with an intention like that was like holding up a sign saying, “Amma, please send me lots of extra lessons.”

Within minutes of my arrival at the ashram that year, two devotees enthusiastically said, “I can’t wait until you hear the new song.”  One added, “Actually, some of us are concerned that when you hear it, you will leave your body and not come back.”  (Often when I hear bhajans, i.e., devotional songs, I experience ecstatic bliss.  Sometimes I feel like only my body is in the room, while the rest of me is in some unknown, unseen, wonderful place.)  Leaving my body and not coming back seemed totally out of the question, however, so I was not at all worried.  I was intrigued, though, and eager to hear the song.  Some time was to pass before I would have that opportunity, since the senior disciple who wrote the song,  was in Mumbai (Bombay).

Several weeks later, I traveled to Kozhikode (Calicut), a city in North Kerala, where Amma was conducting a seven-day temple re-dedication.  I was assigned to stay on the roof of the temple. There were several places on the roof where mounds of rough concrete rose awkwardly two to three inches above the surface.  Numerous times, when I passed a particular mound, my inner voice said, “Be careful, that concrete is dangerous.”  My response was, “I see it.  I AM being careful.”  I would then continue blithely on my way.  One day, as I was walking across the roof-top to my sleeping mat, not paying a bit of conscious attention to what I was doing, I tripped over the mound of concrete and tore a big piece of flesh from the top of my toe.

The injury was very painful but that was the least of my concerns.  Having an open foot wound in India seemed very dangerous.  Most of the time I go barefoot and the ground was undoubtedly filled with untold numbers and varieties of bacteria.  My nursing background told me that the extreme heat and humidity created a perfect breeding ground for bacteria.

I cleaned the wound as best I could and went on with my life.  I found I needed to stay very conscious of my surroundings because any time I would lose concentration, I would hit my toe on something, sending waves of pain coursing through my body.

That same day the swami who wrote the song my friends were so eager for me to hear arrived in Kozhikode.  He sang it that very night. My friends were right, the song profoundly affected me.  Massive amounts of energy soared through my body and with it came waves of deep grief.  As I cried and cried, another part of me noted that my experience was somewhat muted due to the pain I was experiencing in my toe.  I thought, “Well, Amma, THAT was an interesting way to keep me in my body!”

I was aware that this incident had already served three functions. It reminded me of the importance of paying attention to the instructions given by my inner voice and showed me that I could trust Amma to help me during altered-state experiences, i.e. the pain had kept me from going “too far” out during the song. I also recognized that the injury had provided me with practice in mindfulness in that I needed to stay very conscious of my environment so that I didn’t hit my injured foot, not to mention that if I had been mindful, I would not have injured my foot in the first place. During the next few days, I discovered other learning opportunities.

First, I stayed focused on the re-dedication program.  A number of devotees had decided to explore the city.  The fact that my foot hurt when I walked made it easy to say “No” to diversions and to stay focused on my spiritual goals.

Before I left the U.S., I had attended a workshop led by Steven Levine, who is considered by many to be a master teacher in the realm of living and dying consciously.  He commented that if we want to pursue a spiritual path, we have to be willing to feel fear.  I was certainly having the opportunity to face my fear of infection and pain.

A minister once taught me that you have to use the faith you have before you will be given more.  I was being given the opportunity to trust that I would be taken care of and, at the same time, trust that whatever happens is for my own good.

My toe healed at an amazing speed.  I would not have expected it to heal so quickly even in the United States where cooler temperatures and a cleaner environment would have made it easier to protect and take care of the injury.  The speed of the healing tremendously increased my faith in the power of the spiritual energy flowing through me.

I recognized that I had learned at least seven lessons from this one incident.  I wondered how many more I had learned at an unconscious level.  In addition, the friends that were supporting me had the opportunity to learn many of the same lessons by watching and participating in my experience.  Also, I had a new segment for my workshop, i.e., I could teach that by staying conscious one can learn many things from a single event.

~

As I bring my mind back to my current health problems, I am thankful for all I have learned in the past.  I am very aware that those lessons prepared me for what I am experiencing now.  I know there is much to be gained from this unexpected turn of events.  While I grieve not being able to go to India,  I also feel a sense of adventure as I anticipate what is to come.  I thank God for the adventure that is Life.

(Note:  The ovarian tumor turned out to be benign.  I recovered rapidly from my 1997 surgical experience and a month later traveled to India for a short visit.)

Discrimination Opportunity?

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Last week in Attitude is the Key, I shared that I am attempting to be thankful for the moles in my yard by taking the attitude that they are providing free aeration services.  Two or three days ago, I had another chance to work on attitude… and discrimination.

When I arrived home that day, I noticed that there was a small mound of dirt on the top of one section of my new brick-lined planting beds.  There was also some dirt on the sidewalk in front of that section. I was puzzled. Had children been playing in the garden?  I walked over to the dirt expecting to brush it back into the bed, but was horrified to discover that it wasn’t dirt… it was millions (or so it seemed) of ants!  The video below is only five seconds long, but it gives you a glimpse of what I saw.

Moles I can live with, but what was I going to do about this?  I don’t like to kill anything but I couldn’t leave the ants there.  In India, if a trail of ants enter my room, I use a few drops of water on the wall or floor to divert them. There was no way a little bit of water was going to work in this situation; there were too many ants and no trails.  And if a child, or anyone else, walked into this area they could be hurt.  I knew I needed to do something about it, right away.

I thought for a few minutes and decided I did not want to use poison; I would wash them away with a water hose.  I sprayed water along the brick wall several times and then checked the area repeatedly that day and the next.  I don’t know how many ants I killed and how many just moved on.  Regardless, I feel relieved that the ants are gone.

Where did those ants come from?  There was nothing that I know of in the dirt that should have drawn them there; it was as if they manifested out of nowhere.  I like to see life as a series of lessons and tests, sent to help me learn something.  This seemed like one of those lessons. I believe I used discrimination and took appropriate action.  I hope I learned what I was supposed to learn.

 

Lessons are for Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Living in Awareness

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Last Saturday, I decided to do the morning prayers as a walking meditation instead of sitting like I normally do.  Fairly quickly, I discovered I was “receiving” a series of “tests” or “lessons” in the midst of the prayers.  I stayed in the moment and worked through them without missing a word of the chants! I enjoy these types of challenges and decided to share what I learned.  Continue reading “Living in Awareness”

A Look Into My Personal “Propaganda”

Every week Sreejit, from “The Seeker’s Dungeon,” presents a writing challenge. I eagerly await Thursday morning, the day the prompt will arrive in my inbox. When I discovered that this week’s prompt was about propaganda and how our blogs could be seen as a form of propaganda, I was stumped. Did I agree with him?  If he was right, how could I identify my own propaganda?  How was I going to write about it? Where would I even begin? And how would my post be any different than my recent Lessons on Lessons post? Continue reading “A Look Into My Personal “Propaganda””