Letting Go of Suffering Course: Table of Contents

Even though the Letting Go of Suffering course is over, you will still be able to access the lessons any time you want to. Before long there will also be an icon on the right sidebar of my blog that will lead to this list.

 

Table of Contents

Introduction

Lesson 1 The Beginning

Lesson 2 The Beginning (continued)

Lesson 3 What Would Your World be Like If You Didn’t Suffer?

Lesson 4  Why Do I Suffer?

Lesson 5  Why Do I Suffer (continued)

Lesson 6  Using Affirmations To Heal

Lesson 7  Stopping Passive Behavior

Lesson 8  Getting Off the Drama Triangle

Lesson 9  Mistakes

Lesson 10  Failure

Lesson 11  Stopping The Critical Self Talk

Lesson 12  Using Contracts To Heal

Lesson 13  Holding Yourself Accountable

Lesson 14  Making It Bigger

Lesson 15  Changing Your Suffering Profile

Lesson 16  More Tools!

Lesson 17  Lighten Up!

Recovering from Over-Doing

Two years ago, in a The Seeker’s Dungeon prompt, Sreejit asked us to fill in the blank in this sentence: “I am a Recovering _________.” There was no doubt in my mind what my behavior would be. If I was at a 12 Step meeting, I would say: “Hi! I am Karuna, and I am a recovering over-doer.”

As I thought about how I would present this topic, I decided to create a new mental health disorder. My fictitious disorder is called “Being versus Doing Disorder.”

The “Being vs Doing disorder” is on a continuum where the center, a balance between being and doing, is the healthy portion of the continuum. The more someone moves to either end of the continuum, the more likely it is they will have dysfunction in their lives.

When I think of the over-being end of the continuum I think of non-productivity, passivity, and lack of motivation. I don’t know as much about that part of the spectrum since I have almost no personal experience there. I have seen it at work in some of my psychotherapy clients and friends though.

Over-doing has many facets. It commonly begins in childhood when the only or main way to get positive attention from parents is to do impressive things. It also develops when parents criticize their children anytime they are relaxing or are doing things the parents consider nonproductive.

As a result, adults with an over-doing disorder may be seeking validation and praise for what they accomplish. An over-doer is also likely to be a rescuer. As such, they do things they aren’t asked to do and are likely to do things they don’t want to do. In addition, they do more than their share of the work that needs to be done and do things for other people that they could do for themselves. Those with this “disorder’ are likely to over-commit and seem incapable of being still.

Over-doing has been a major characteristic of my adult life. At one point, I was raising two children, working three jobs, doing my personal therapy and studying for a PhD. During my therapy, I realized I didn’t want a PhD, I was just seeking attention from the father, who had disowned me. I stopped my schooling but was still overdoing. Before long, I began to experience extreme exhaustion and was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

With CFS, I was in survival mode and it was impossible for me to do as much as I had been doing, although I still tried to. When it began dissipating after five years, I went back to over doing. There is no doubt that a part of me believed it was only acceptable for me to stop if I was sick. Eventually I developed high blood pressure and other physical problems.

I reached a point where I had to cut back on all of my commitments. Nowadays, I am putting my emphasis on doing the things I want to do, and am saying no to many requests. I still have trouble with “simply being” but I no longer am into major over-doing. I hope some day I will be much closer to the center of the being-doing continuum.

At one point, I realized a behavior that really fueled my over-doing disorder was the desire to be “in the know.” That put me in the place of being asked for information that I didn’t want to share, which then created stress, whether I shared it or not. As I continue to slow down, I am finding myself holder of less information. I am loving responding to requests with “I’m not in that loop anymore. You will have to ask someone else.”

I learned many skills during my over-doing years. When friends of mine were in a life and death crises, I stepped in to help immediately. There is a time and place for those skills, but it takes discrimination to use them correctly. In that instance, I have no doubt that my choices were appropriate.

I am very committed to my recovery from over-doing. While I may find myself immersed in the old behaviors from time to time, I don’t think I will ever be drawn so deep into them again. I see what I am doing much sooner and and change course when needed.

In evaluating myself on the scale found in Portia Nelson’s Autobiography in 5 Short Chapters, I find I am in generally in Chapter 4 or 5.

Chapter IV

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

Chapter V

I walk down another street.

Every time I walk around an invitation to over-do or avoid putting myself in the situation where I know I am going to be tempted, I consider my choice worthy of celebration! I am truly moving towards a life of balance.

Do you have a “Being vs Doing” disorder? Where do you fall on the continuum? How does it disrupt your life?

Photo Credit: Pixabay

This post was originally published on April 12, 2015

Letting Go of Suffering- Week Seventeen: Lighten Up!

The more we become immersed in suffering, the more difficult it may be to get out of it. Sometimes it may feel as if we are being pulled down into muck. In this course, you have learned many techniques for letting go of suffering. This last lesson will be about consciously working to “Lighten Up!”

One of the ways to lighten up is to do things that will make you laugh. Decades ago, I gave one of my psychotherapy clients a toy frog and encouraged her to carry it around with her when she was suffering. She was irritated with me at the time, but soon thereafter brought clown noses to group and distributed them. She wore hers whenever she realized she was suffering and found that it helped her to lighten her mood. I imagine seeing her also helped lighten the mood of a lot of other people!

Many years ago, I learned a technique from a therapist named Mary Goulding. She instructed us to push our tongues into our cheeks and then talk nonstop about all of the things we were suffering about. When we say those statements that way, they may lead to laughter instead of suffering.

Another way to lighten up is to talk about the problems that are bringing us down in a dramatic and highly exaggerated way. This past December, I was at Amma’s ashram in Amritapuri, India when the the Western residents performed their annual Christmas play. There was a point in that play when an actor portrayed his suffering in a way that resulted in the audience bursting into laughter. To me, the scene and the song that went with it, are a perfect example of this type of lightening up. Listen to the song and see if it might be a useful tool for you to use in the future!

You may also help yourself to lighten by going for a walk, immersing yourself in  nature, going to a movie, reading a book, watching a funny movie, or listening to music.  In the balloons below, write your favorite ways of lightening up.

Every day this week, spend some time practicing ways to lighten your mood. At the end of the day, journal about your experience.

Day 1

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Day 2

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Day 3

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Day 4

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Day 5

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Day 6

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Day 7

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As I mentioned in the beginning, this is the last lesson in the Letting Go of Suffering series. Thanks so much for participating in all or part of it. I hope you find the tools you have learned during the last seventeen weeks helpful in your life journey.

Sometime this week, I will be publishing a post that will provide links to all of the lessons, and will put a widget on the sidebar that will link to that list. I will also be publishing a poll asking some feedback questions.

 

To find all of the lessons in this series click here.

Photo Credits: Pixabay.

Guest Post: Sitting with the Wolves by Wayne Carter

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July 2000: On my way to a Sundance in southern Alberta, I see a red building on my right. Something about the building grabs my attention so intensely that I U-turn on the highway. I must explore what is there. The place is a wolf haven, and I spend time petting wolves through a chain link fence.

July 2000: I am giving a new friend from Alberta a ride back to Seattle. I talk about the place and the wolves. Wolf Haven was closed when we got there.  I am disappointed.

April 2008: I am on spring break from college and meeting a friend in Jackson Hole, Wyoming for a week. One day it is snowing, and we decide to drive out to the country, to watch the snow, share our stories from the past year, and sit in silence staring at the mountains across the way. On our left, we both see a lone wolf, trotting across the snow covered field. As we continue to watch, the wolf stops and stares at us for what seems like 20 minutes. We sit in silence watching back..

April 2015: I am in Yellowstone National Park. Along with lots of snow from a fresh spring storm, I see wolves ‘being’ themselves in their environment. I watch, mouth open catching flies… Well if a fly could live in that temperature, I would have caught multiple. I am in awe of how natural the wolves seem.

June 2016:. I see a Facebook post from a friend and text her, saying  her radiance was showing in the picture and asking where the photo was taken. She responded with a location and shared a bit of the impact of her experience.

November 2016: I booked an hour at Colorado Wolf & Wildlife Center, the place my friend had named.

December 31, 2016: It was 5 degrees when I arrived in the mountains, snow and ice on the ground, a clear blue sky and the sun was just starting to make its way over the nearest of the eastern mountains. As I walked up, I did not see any wolves, but could hear them howling in the distance and then the echo of the howl on the hills around me. Somewhat surreal to my experience, my mind started thinking of safety, along with flashes of horror movies and bloody bodies laying in the woods while being torn to shreds by wild animals.

Luckily for me, the walk was a short distance and a nice person greeted me, taking me out of the next Stephen King thriller my mind was creating. Of course there was the paperwork; just in case I was attacked. There were ferrets and a rooster running around greeting people; the building was warm and full of wolf items.

I listened to the staff say to me: the wolves are not dogs, do not hug them, grab their face and kiss them, or rough-house with them; they will react as if you are their size and power and that could be dangerous.

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The first pack: Once I sat down on the ground, face level with the first pack, everything disappeared that did not need to be in my world at that moment. I was fully present to every breath, movement, posture, nudge, or growl from each wolf and each gesture had its meaning. I was not cold or concerned for my safety.

I have to be honest. One thing concerned me, and that was how they greet each other, and that greeting would also include me. The process is the equivalent of a human handshake; the wolves greet each other by sticking their tongues into each others mouths, and trying to touch the tonsils.

It took me three tries before I would let a partially wild animal get that close, i.e tongue in the mouth close. First try, the Alpha male comes over, sniffs my hand and arm, then goes for the tongue action. I keep my lips together and kiss him on the cheek like I would a friend.

The wolf walked off. Being the kind wolf that he is, and with some luck, he came back about 5 minutes later and tried it again. Still, I could only part my lips a tiny bit, and did not let his tongue in. I then notice the wolf seem to make a sigh and sit just far enough away from me that I could not physically connect with him. A few minutes went by, and the same wolf gave me another chance. No other wolves had come close to me.

Internally, I agreed to go for it. I told myself, how bad could it be… maybe just some small raw animal parts, a piece of stick or bone stuck to his tongue, and the possibility of having part of my face taken off by sharp and giant teeth.

Luckily for me, none of that happened. In fact, the wolf’s tongue was not slimy, not gross, no after taste, and he was very gentle so as not to bang teeth. I thought to myself, I have kissed a few women with worse tasting tongues. Somewhere in the faraway distance, I could hear one of the two staff giving instructions, although I somewhat failed to follow them and was guided by intuition.

(Click galleries to enlarge photos.)

When meeting the second pack, I was told not to get down to the level of the alpha male, as he is known for trying to top everyone.

Remember the rules I spoke about earlier, I broke them all. The first thing I did was grab the alpha wolf by the face and kiss him. Then, when he pushed against me, I gave him a big hug and kissed him again. I played with him like I would a regular dog. Sometime after the hug, I could hear the staff telling me, ‘apparently you guys know each other’ and not to worry about being topped.

We, the alpha male and I, rubbed, nudged, and pushed a bit back and forth. Later he allowed me to rub his belly and front legs. That is when I about pissed my pants. The alpha male started growling at me and showing his teeth. I yanked my hands away from him so fast. Even if it were a rattlesnake, I would not have been bitten.

The Wolf and Wildlife Center staff chuckled and informed me, the wolf was letting me know he liked what I was doing. Still shaken a bit, I informed them, that when someone growls and shows their teeth, I typically stop the behavior and move away. I was then encouraged to start rubbing him again in the same way, and he growled and snarled the entire time. Once I understood his communication style, I felt less nervous. Still, it took me a few minutes to relax. Wolves have big teeth and deep growls…. Just saying!

For my last 25 minutes, I had the option of seeing wolf puppies or another pack of adults. Of course I chose puppies. I mean come on, who doesn’t want to see puppies. When we arrived, I found out these were 80-90 pound sister and brother puppies who were eight months old!

The moment I sat down with them, I had two playful wolf puppies kissing me in their traditional way, then stealing my Seahawks hat; by the way, stealing my hat means means the wolves are Seahawks fans…(wink). They then stole my hair tie by gently pulling it out of my hair with their teeth. They tried to try to take anything that was loose on my clothing.

The staff started to get nervous that they might tear my coat, or ruin something. I wasn’t nervous, I was laughing and loving the playfulness of youth, the exploration of boundaries and their trust of me. Here are two kids wanting to play. I chose to wear what I wore, and be involved with them. How could I then get upset? I couldn’t.

Sadly it was time to leave, and my time with these wonderfully loving creatures would be over for now. Once I exited the area and returned to my truck, I started the motor, put the truck in gear and noticed something. I had no energy to leave, to drive, or to converse with others. My mind and body were silent. I had no want. There was no internal voice on either shoulder talking to me. My experience was “I am”.

Once I returned to the world of fast moving cars, Starbucks, and snowy Colorado mountain roads, I realized how similar my experience was to the many times I have received Amma’s darshan (hug).

 

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Shared on Senior Salon and Lets Create a Fine Chain…

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 31, 2016- January 1, 2017

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Choices Have Consequences

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.

Is My Path Taking a Turn?

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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.

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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.

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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

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Path

To see all of the posts in this Amritapuri series, click here.

Finding Peace in the Middle of Chaos

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It is not uncommon for my mind to be chaotic even when I am in a peaceful setting. I long to get to the point where my mind is at peace regardless of how much chaos is around me. I have a long way to go to meet that goal.

I am getting plenty of opportunity to work on that issue in my Amritapuri Tai Chi class. Tai Chi, by its nature, is meditative. It slows down my mind and body more than anything else I have ever done.

I would guess that most Tai Chi classes are held in peaceful settings with soft music playing or silence in the background. The place where our class meets in Amritapuri is gorgeous. There are palm trees, views of the beach and the Arabian Sea, eagles flying overhead, etc. As I’ve mentioned before, though, there are also trucks, bicycles, buses and cars that occasionally go through the space where we meet.

With most of life’s lessons, it seems like once you have adjusted to one level, another dimension is added. This year has definitely demonstrated that process. During my first class, I was stung by a red ant. It is amazing how much a bite by a tiny ant can hurt. In fact, the bite was still stinging hours after the class finished.

Soon thereafter, a red ant hill showed up at the perimeter of the space we use for the class, so it has been important for me to stay conscious of that danger, and to make sure new students are made aware of it. (I have stepped on a red ant nest twice in the 27 years I’ve been coming to India, once in the daylight and once at night. It is an unforgettable experience; one I hope never to repeat.)

Starting with our second class, students taking a silent meditation retreat have done a walking meditation in front of us during part of our class. They don’t disturb us but I’m tempted to watch them instead of staying focused on my own work.

In last week’s post Be Like a Bird Perched on a Dry Twig, I talked about the third class when there were even more vehicles in the area than normal. Midway through the class, a truck pulled into “our” space and parked. The workers got out of the truck and started carrying their supplies to the nearby construction site. Since their work had priority, we had  to move to a smaller area, one that was bordered by 8 ashram cows lounging in the shade!

Tai Chi is so powerful that it was reasonably easy for me to find that place of peace and contentment even in these circumstances, although I certainly didn’t have single minded focus.

On my fourth class, another set of challenges were added to those that I have already described. (BTW, the cows have not returned to the beach, at least a that time of day, since the third class.) The fourth class was held on a weekend, the first weekend since Amma returned from her European and U.S. tour. The crowds coming for darshan (hugs) were very big that day. At one point, there were 14 vehicles parked on the beach.

Then something new happened. At first, one or two village men started removing carts of sand from the beach to somewhere in the village. Next, two women started a chain. One woman would carry a big pan of sand on her head and walk to a spot next to our class. She would then shift the pan to the head of a second woman who would carry it out to the main road. We often had to divert our path to stay out of their way.

Fifteen minutes before that class was over, a cement mixer started making its piercing noise in the construction area near to us. By that time, the whole situation had become funny.

During the fifth class, a third woman was added to the chain of sand carriers. On the sixth, there were all of the previous challenges, except the cows. In addition, a new layer of sand had been added to our area 0f the beach. The sand was beautiful and felt good on my feet, but it hadn’t been compacted yet, so there was no smooth or level ground to walk on. That made doing the Tai Chi moves much more difficult.

As you can see, doing Tai Chi on the beach in Amritapuri is definitely an opportunity for me to find peace in the midst of chaos. It is also an opportunity to see the humor in the situations that arise in life.

To look at previous posts in this Amritapuri series, click here.

 

Living and Learning in Amritapuri: November 26-28, 2016

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The Lessons Begin

After checking in at the International Office, I took my suitcases to my flat (apartment). Then, I walked to the café to find my son Sreejit. He wasn’t there, but a friend phoned him to let him know I had arrived. I hadn’t been with him since January so it was so good to see him. We walked to my room and I became Santa Claus for the first time on this trip, by giving him the supplies and treats I had brought for him.

Being around Amma, or in her ashram, guarantees an increase in the frequency of life’s lessons. They often provide the opportunity to practice behaviors such as flexibility, equanimity and letting go. I received my first such challenge right away.

I will give you a little back story first. There is a long shelf that is located above the windows in my flat. Soon after I moved in, Akshay installed a wood door on that shelf so I could lock-up my belongings when I returned to the U.S. (When I am gone, the space is rented out to ashram visitors.) Eight years later, it became obvious that there were termites in the wood. The ashram is in the tropics, so it is not surprising that would occur. Last year, it became obvious that the structure wasn’t going to last much longer, but we thought it had another year. The day before I was to leave for the U.S., as Sreejit was putting my belongings on the shelf, the whole frame collapsed on him. It shocked him, and me, but thankfully he wasn’t hurt.

Not having that storage area meant there was no way for me to lock up my possessions while I was gone. I had two small trunks that could be locked, but my buckets, trash bins, laundry filter, cleaning supplies, and standing desk would be left unprotected. There was nothing I could do other than put everything in an unlocked storage area in the kitchen. While it was a risk, it seemed a reasonable one. The shelf was very high and not very visible. It seemed to me that the items, for the most part, were too bulky to easily take. Also, everything was prominently marked with my room number.

Now back to my present-day story! After I gave Sreejit his supplies, he climbed up to the shelf and handed down the items I had stored. I was shocked to discover that even though the trunks and the standing desk were fine, everything else was gone. I couldn’t believe it. It was certainly an opportunity to practice flexibility, equanimity and letting go.

I spent a good part of the day cleaning my room, putting clothes and supplies on my shelves, replacing some of the missing supplies, and ordering a SIM card for my phone. I was told to come back the next day to fill out the paperwork to renew the MTS Wi-Fi Homespot that will give me internet access.

I was dismayed to be told that since the next day was Sunday and there would be an all country strike (protesting the currency fiasco) on Monday, I would be unable to get my SIM card until Wednesday. The the earliest I would get the Wi-Fi Hotspot would be Friday and even that wasn’t guaranteed. That meant I couldn’t read or send emails, publish or read blog posts, respond to blog comments, or check CNN for the latest political developments for quite a while. I knew being disconnected from media would be good for me, but it wasn’t going to be easy. This was a big, and unwelcome opportunity for me to practice flexibility, equanimity, and letting go.

Amma

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When I arrived at the ashram, Amma was on her Autumn Tour in the United States. She completed her Michigan programs on Thanksgiving, the day I departed for India, and then went on to San Jose, California for five days of programs there. I think that Amma will return to Amritapuri on December 2nd or 3rd.

I enjoy coming to the ashram before Amma gets here since it is nice to be able to recover from the trip when the ashram is quiet. Once Amma returns, people begin pouring in and the sense of quiet is gone. (I’m laughing. With all the construction, it is never truly quiet. As I am editing this post, someone is hammering rebar in the courtyard below my window!)

It is also fun to be at the ashram when everyone is bustling around cleaning, painting and getting ready for Amma’s return. There is so much anticipation since the residents haven’t seen her since the beginning of October.

I am very excited that I will be seeing Amma soon.

Jet lag

It is not unusual for me to sleep my first night in India, but the second night, and many nights thereafter, are usually a different story. My pattern is to wake up after two hours of sleep and not be able to fall asleep again. This time, I slept well my first two nights at the ashram. It remains to be seen if that will continue, but I feel hopeful that I am not going to have the normal two to three weeks of feeling exhausted. What a difference a daytime flight from the U.S., combined with a layover in Dubai, has made.

One of the benefits of jet lag is that it makes going to the morning prayers (archana) that begin at 4:50 a.m. easier. As I sat in the temple my first morning, it was so wonderful to be amidst the familiar sights, smells and sounds.

Finishing my room set-up and another lesson

I spent a good part of my first two days, cleaning and setting up my room. I also washed the clothes that had been stored for a year in the trunk. I use three buckets, one for washing and two for rinsing. When I’m finished, I take the clothes to the 17th story of the building I live in, and hang them on clothes lines. I love watching the wind whip the laundry around. Between the wind and the hot sun, it doesn’t take long for the laundry to dry here, and there is no need for an iron since most of the wrinkles disappear as the clothes dry. (Irons can’t be used in these flats anyway. They take so much electricity that the fuse for the entire floor would blow out.)

In the afternoon of the second day, I had another opportunity to practice equanimity when construction workers started making concrete in the courtyard below my room. The level of noise was indescribable. I had visions of living with that racket for the next seven weeks; it would have been a nightmare. Luckily, that scenario does not appear likely. The noise lasted about an hour and afterwards the concrete-making machine was taken away.

Changes I’ve noticed so far

There was construction work occurring at the ashram when I first came here in 1990; and it has never stopped. In the old days, the construction noise went throughout the night. Thankfully that stopped years ago.

It is always interesting to see what improvements have been made since my last visit. So far, I have noticed:

There is a new building behind the Amrita Darshan building where I live. The front side of that building will hold the Ayurvedic store and the ashram bookstore. Above it will be new flats. The main supply store (referred to as the Indian store) was moved to the backside of the new building the day before I arrived. It is very nice and has much more room than in the old store.

The new International Office is now open. It is located close to the north gate. The office for renting bedding and other supplies is also in that building. I suspect the top floor contains flats, since that seems to be the pattern for new buildings nowadays.

A few days ago, they changed the big photos of Amma on the sides of the auditorium stage. The new ones are stunning. One is a picture of Amma meditating when she was young and the other is one of her sitting in front of a beautiful forest and next to an intriguing tree trunk. I was mesmerized by both photos.

I haven’t seen it but I’ve heard they are building rooms in the green roof part of the temple. They have been building flats continuously for years, but they never catch up to the demand. I’ve heard that there is still a two to three year wait to purchase a flat.

Last night, I went to fill my water bottle from the water station closest to my flat. I became disoriented when I realized the water station was gone and there was another new building in that area. Originally, a small guest house stood there. I stayed in that guest house for a few days during my first visit to the ashram, in January of 1990. Even in those days, the bottom part of that building housed a print shop. The building had been expanded over the years, but now it is almost an entirely new building. The print shop is still on the first floor but it is huge even in comparison to the one that was there last year.

Bhakti

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The devotee in the room next to me takes care of the two ashram dogs. One of them stays in her room most of the time, the other one is generally free to come and go. That dog’s name is Bhakti. I frequently come home to find Bhakti laying in front of my door. (She is doing that in the photo above.) The tile must feel cool on a hot day.

Last year, I was fascinated to watch her wait for the elevator at the bottom floor. When the elevator arrived, she walked onto it, and somehow, she knew exactly when get off.

This year, there is a new twist. In the past, she just walked down the stairs whenever she wanted to wander, and she still does that most of the time. However, she apparently has trained a few people to call the elevator for her. I was told that she would stand in front of them until they asked what she wanted. She refused food they offered her and indicated in some way that she wanted them to follow her. When they did, she guided them to the elevator. In time, they realized she wanted to go down, so they pressed the button. When the elevator door opened, Bhakti got on. Mission accomplished!

To read the rest of the posts in this series click here.

On My Way to Amritapuri: November 24-26, 2016

Photo Credit: Wikimedia
Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Seattle to Dubai

I have been anticipating my 2016 trip to Amma’s ashram in Amritapuri, India for months. Every time I go there my life is filled with adventure, learning and renewal. Not only do I get to spend time with Amma, it is also the only period each year that Sreejit, Chaitanya and I are together. (My son, Sreejit, lived in Amma’s ashram in San Ramon, California from 1994 to 2009 and has lived in Amritapuri since then. Chaitanya moved to Amritapuri in 1998.)

On Thanksgiving morning at 5:30, a friend picked me up and took me to the airport. I checked in, got my boarding passes and went through the security line within 30 minutes. I appreciated the opportunity to begin this year’s journey in such a non-stressful way

Knowing I was going to be sitting in the plane for more than 15 hours, I decided to eat breakfast and then walk around the terminal until it was time to board. Within minutes, I saw a sign that made me do a double take. The words on the sign were: Pet Relief Area. I walked by it, but my curiosity got the better of me, so I turned around and walked back to the sign so I could see what a Pet Relief Area was. This is what I found:

I did not know that this type of service was available in airports; it seemed surreal. The first thought that went through my mind, as I shook my head in disbelief, was that this was one of those “Only in America” things. I also recalled a scene from a science fiction movie when a man traveled from the past to the future. He was shocked to see someone who was walking their dog stop to pick up the dog’s poop, put it in a bag and then take it with him. I don’t remember what year the time traveler came from, but if someone had told me back in the 60’s that in the future we would be picking up dog poop, I would have thought they were crazy. The other thought I had when I saw the Pet Relief Area sign was wondering if these relief areas had been available in the airport for some time and I had just been oblivious to them.

Later, when I looked for information about Pet Relief Area on the internet, I discovered that since 2009, the U.S. Department of Transportation has required airlines to make relief areas available for service animals. I also learned that in August 2016, a federal regulation was enacted that required any U.S. airport that served more than 10,000 passengers a year to provide a place for service animals to relieve themselves. Most airports also provide the service to law enforcement dogs, emotional support animals and airport therapy dogs. I found no evidence that these areas exist in other parts of the world.

My flight from Seattle to Dubai was rough for a variety of reasons. For the first hour or two, there was a lot of air turbulence. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a flight where the plane shook so much, except for the one I was on in the late 90’s where our plane had a decompression problem, probably due to a fire onboard. After the shaking started, that plane had descended 25,000 feet in about a minute’s time. Even though on this 2016 flight the shaking was due to air turbulence, it was still jolting enough to get me chanting my mantra!

The flight was also rough for me because my back pain had been re-stimulated by the process of getting ready for the trip. I walked as much as I could during the flight so that helped, but I was still uncomfortable. I looked forward to arriving in Dubai.

Dubai International Airport

There is a 13 ½ hour time difference between Seattle and India, and as I’ve aged, I have had increasing difficulty with jet lag. Sometimes it seems as if I spend most of my time in India adjusting to the time change. Just as I begin to feel normal, it is time to fly back to Seattle and once I’m there I have to start the whole adjustment process over again.

The last two years, I have stayed at the airport hotel in Dubai on my way home from India. It is expensive, but the chance to lie down and even sleep before the long leg of the trip has been well worth it. It even seemed to decrease the amount of jet lag I experienced after I returned to Seattle.

This year, I decided I would stay in the Dubai hotel for 15 hours on the way to India. I hoped by doing that, I would feel better when I arrived in India and as a result, jet lag would be less of a problem for me.

There is another reason I love to stay at that hotel. The Dubai airport has untold numbers of duty free shops. It is also full of jostling people and bright lights. When you walk out of the elevator that goes to the Dubai International Hotel, you enter a world of complete silence. I find the hotel’s atmosphere to be such a blessed relief from the hustle and bustle that occurs in the rest of the airport.

I practically fell into bed and then slept for five hours. When I got up, I went to the Emirates travel desk to pick up my food voucher. I knew from past experiences that Emirates wouldn’t pay for the hotel but they would pay for meals. This time, however, when I asked for the voucher, I was told that they no longer provided that service. I had never bought anything other than a scoop of ice cream in Dubai. After looking around, I decided I would order some sushi at a food court restaurant that was located next to McDonalds. I was quite surprised to discover, when I checked the exchange rate later, that I had spent $23 for sushi!

After my second nap, I was a bit groggy. I decided to go into the main part of the airport to find out my gate number. When I stepped onto a walking escalator, and started walking, it seemed as if I wasn’t going anywhere. I laughed, a few seconds later, when I realized the escalator was going the opposite direction. Therefore, when I walked on it, it seemed like I was standing still. Dubai must be like India, where the cars drive on the left side of the road. As I thought about it, I remembered noticing that foot traffic in the airport was on the left too. I’ve never made that mistake before, but, like I said, I was groggy.

Dubai to Trivandrum

My flight to India was scheduled to leave at 2:55 a.m. The boarding process went smoothly. Once I was on the airplane, though, I received an unpleasant surprise. My “J” seat turned out to be a middle seat. I need to get up, to walk or use the restroom, frequently, so it is very important to me to have an aisle seat. Since I purchased my plane tickets in March of this year, almost every seat on the plane was available. I had taken care to reserve my all-important aisle seat. When I picked up my boarding passes in Seattle, I double checked with the agent that I had aisle seats on both flights. She reassured me that I did. To say I was displeased with this turn-of-events would be an understatement. Reminding myself that the flight would only be four hours long helped a little.

I grumbled to myself for a while and then noticed the aisle seat in front of me was open. I asked the person in the middle seat if I could sit there. She said, the aisle seat was her seat; she had moved to the middle so she could sit next to her friend. She was unwilling to let me have the aisle seat. Sometime after resuming my inner grumbling, I looked behind me and saw an empty aisle seat. The door to the plane was shut by then but the flight was delayed, so I switched to that seat. I was jubilant. I was so glad that I had been proactive in seeking to make a change rather than getting stuck in feeling victimized.

When we had boarded the plane, I had noticed that the business section of the plane was bigger than any I have ever seen. I was even more surprised to see that there were only two passengers sitting in that area. Later, I discovered that the plane was at least a third empty. In my experience, the planes are always packed at this time of year. I don’t understand why there were so many empty seats, but I felt very graced. Not only did I get the aisle seat I wanted, but the seat next to me was empty for the entire flight.

 

To read the rest of the posts in this series click here.

Letting Go of Suffering: Week 2- The Beginning Continued

Exercise 1:

An important step in letting go of suffering is identifying the many ways we contribute to our suffering. I make myself suffer when I eat too much chocolate, when I agree to do things I don’t want to do, and when I over-think or over-do. What are the unhealthy behaviors  you do that bring suffering into your life?

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Exercise 2

In the psychotherapy model I use, therapists differentiate between core feelings and racket feelings. Child words, i.e. mad, sad, scared and glad, are used to designate the core feelings. Rackets are substitute emotions that are used to cover (hide) the core-level feelings.  Racket feelings are much more likely to lead to suffering than experiencing and addressing the core feelings.

In our families of origin, some emotions might have been more acceptable than others. In my family it was okay to feel scared but not mad, so I learned to cover my mad with scare. The pattern became so pervasive in my life that there was a period of time when I needed to assume that I was mad whenever I felt scared. When I examined my scare, I usually discovered there was no danger present and that I was actually mad. So in this example, scare was the racket and mad was the core. Other people may cover their scare with mad.

While core feelings can become rackets, there are also many other kinds of racket feelings. Some common examples are disappointment, confusion, sarcasm, and guilt. Using the chart below, identify the racket feelings that you use as substitute emotions. If you identify any that are not on the chart, add them. This week, whenever you experience a racket feeling, see if you can identify the core feeling that lies underneath it.

racket

Exercise 3

The more we can learn about our own suffering tendencies, the easier it will be to stay out of them. For example, if we tend to be miserable on holidays, then it is important to be proactive in making plans for those days, ones that will give us satisfaction and prevent suffering. In the chart below, identify factors that are part of your suffering profile. If you become aware of other factors during the week, or in the future, add them.

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See you next Monday for the third lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published click here.