Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 21-24, 2018

 

Merry Christmas to everyone, whether you live in an area where it is already Christmas or where it soon will be. This post will focus on events that occurred between December 21 and mid-day on the 24th. I will save the rest of my Christmas Eve stories for a later post!

Letting Go Opportunities

I’ve had plenty of opportunities to let go in the last week. However, all too often I’ve chosen to hold on to expectations and desires instead of letting go of them. On Sunday, I remembered the saying resistance=pain. I learned it at a workshop called Leap of Faith decades ago. I think the words are so true. Resisting letting go of expectations and desires certainly brings pain in one form or another into my life.

Since I’ve been in Amritapuri this time, the primary circumstances where I have had the opportunity to let go, or not, were in Tai Chi and during the rehearsals for the Christmas performance.

I love doing the first section of the Yang 108 Tai Chi form.  I was drawn to it even before I started learning how to do it.  I know Section 1 of that process reasonably well and I can do small parts of Section 2 and 3 although if I’m not following someone else I can’t do it at all.

I knew from past experiences here, that the Tai Chi classes would not be focused on the 108 form but I did think we would practice it some. While we did do some of the components that go into the form, we were doing them in isolation.

I know what I’m getting in the class is really good for me, and for healing my various ailments, but I’ve been holding on to expectations and as a result of my resistance have had trouble settling in and accepting “what is.” I do know this is an opportunity for me to walk my talk; to focus on being in the moment, let go and accept situations that are different than my desires. I am making progress in moving through that part of my resistance.

I also have realized that part of my resistance is because my teacher focuses on Tai Chi as a process of meditation. I have been resistant to sitting down meditation for years. However, I love the experience of meditation that comes through movement, so this is a chance for me to go deeper in that area.

I’m now seeing the class, as it is, as a good opportunity for me. I can do Section 1 of the 108 form in my room and when I return to Seattle.

The second area where I’ve been holding on to expectations is in preparing for the Christmas Eve choir performance. My problem started when I realized we had to memorize the words and that I couldn’t see any pattern to them. After considerable effort, I was able to memorize the verses, but I still needed to think about them, so by the time I figured out the words, the opportunity to sing them was long gone. My problem was exacerbated because we also had to clap and move at the same time as we sang. I could do some of it right, but not enough to meet my unrealistic expectations of myself. My increasing agitation during the practice resulted in me believing I couldn’t do any of it. By the end of the December 23rd practice, I decided I was quitting. When Chaitanya got wind of that decision though, she said quitting wasn’t an option; it was too late since the performance was the next day.

I could understand her attitude, although I didn’t like it. It was also obvious from what Chaitanya and Sreejit said, that no one, other than me, was having a problem with what I was doing, or not doing. Worrying about what other people think about me is another of my self defeating behaviors. I was also aware that I wasn’t the only person who couldn’t do it all perfectly. This was clearly an opportunity for me to practice reducing my mental pain by stopping my resistance. I will focus on doing my best to relax and enjoy the experience of the last practice and when we sing for Amma and the rest of the ashram tonight.

.AYUDH India Leaders’ Training Summit

This week there is a four day AYHUD Leaders’ Training Summit being held in Amritapuri. AYUDH is an organization that “seeks to empower young people to integrate universal values into their daily lives. Starting with themselves, AYUDH wants to help establish a future of hope, peace and social engagement while maintaining an awareness of spiritual principles.”

Most of the summit is taking place across the backwaters by the colleges but the opening ceremony was held in the main ashram auditorium. I enjoyed seeing all the young people in their AYUDH t-shirts of various colors. On the second day of the summit, I saw an AYUDH member with a bag that said something like “Be Calm, Spread Peace.” I loved the saying.

The auditorium  had been decorated and was so beautiful during the opening ceremony. I hope that some photos and articles about the summit goes online. If and when it does, I will share them in a future post.

Rain

On Sunday afternoon, there was the sound of thunder in the distance; and then it occurred again, closer. The second roll of thunder was followed by pouring rain. Pouring hard. I had been on my way back to my room at the time that it happened, but as the rain  continued to get heavier, I realized I had no real reason to leave the auditorium and didn’t want to get drenched, so returned to the auditorium. I love the sound of heavy rain when it hits the metal roof of that building.

Bhangra!

Just before I was to leave the auditorium to go to bed on Sunday night, I noticed that there were a group of turbaned men gathering in the front part of the auditorium. Then, I saw that they were brightly dressed and that there were women in the group as well. I realized this was a dancing group that was going to do BHANGRA! I love to watch Bhangra dancing and to listen to Bhangra music, so instead of leaving I moved as close to the front of the auditorium as I could get.

Soon the ashram sound staff began to remove the sound equipment from the stage where the musicians sit during darshan. Then another group of people began to take apart the stage. Once it was removed, there was a lot of room in the front of the auditorium for the big group of dancers to dance. Their performance was as wonderful as I expected it to be.

I sat for awhile afterwards to see if they would dance again but when there was no indication that was going to happen, I headed for my room. By the time I got there, I could tell something else was happening in the auditorium. I thought about going back downstairs, but decided that I had had a full day ahead of me and got ready for bed instead.

The next morning, I learned that part of the dancers had started dancing again and this time they pulled people who were watching in to dance with them. I felt sad about missing that opportunity, both as an observer and as a potential participant, although I doubt that my 70-year-old body could have done much. It was hard enough for me to do bhangra when I was 50!

I hope to be able to share ashram photos of the dancers with you sometime in the future, if they become available, but for now I will just share two Bhangra YouTube videos in case you don’t know what Bhangra is!

I feel sad to have missed the last part of the Bhangra dance last night but so much happens here and I can’t do it all. Since Christmas Eve will go late, it is good that I got some sleep.

 

To read previous posts in this series click here.

Letting Go of Suffering

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For several years in the mid to 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. I am choosing the articles to post based on their topic, therefore they are not being shared chronologically. The article below was published in August of 1995.

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The experience of grief is inherent in living. As we live, events will happen that we don’t want to happen. We will undergo violations, endings, disappointments and betrayals. If we allow ourselves to fully feel the pain that comes with these events, we will most likely learn the important lessons that are there for us to learn and move on. If we suppress the painful feelings and mask them with self pity, guilt, blame, suspicion, sarcasm, indifference, and/or worry, we are likely to move into suffering.

One day last year (1994), during my annual visit with my spiritual teacher, Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma), whose ashram is located in Amritapuri, India, I had the opportunity to experience and move through two episodes of emotional pain. That year, I had come to the ashram bringing with me 60 handmade skirts and blouses. This clothing had been made by friends and myself for children living in the orphanage operated by Amma.

One day I told Amma that I was going to deliver the clothes to the orphanage. As you might imagine, I was totally shocked when she responded that since I had not brought 600 sets of clothes, enough for each child at the orphanage to have a set, none of the children could have them!

My mind immediately started operating on three tracks. The first track was filled with rage, fear and self pity. Among the internal messages were:

  • What do you mean I can’t take them? Don’t you know how hard we worked? 
  • You betrayed me! 
  • You made me betray my friends. 
  • You aren’t fair. 
  • You made me waste a whole year. 
  • Now everyone is gong to be mad at me and it’s YOUR fault. 

The second track both recognized the lessons I was receiving and attempted to de-escalate the parts of me that were angry and afraid. Those messages, which came in a clear matter of fact, non-critical tone included:

  • Of course she said that. She does not want to set up competition between the children. That is totally reasonable and consistent with what you know of her. 
  • If a gift is an offering that has no strings attached, then the clothes were not a gift. Look at your level of attachment. 
  • This was supposed to be seva (selfless service). Seva, by definition, means that there should be no expectation of the fruit of one’s actions. Examine the process that is happening. How can you learn to give freely? 
  • The work parties were very valuable for the people who participated. They experienced working in community. They experienced giving. They had fun. You have not hurt anyone. 
  • Your friends will have an opportunity to learn lessons such as those you are now learning. 

The third track in my mind was busy contemplating how to sell the clothes so the proceeds could be donated to the orphanage. In that way some of the intention behind the gift would be met. Within minutes I had formulated a tentative plan.

The second and third tracks obviously were supportive and needed no help from me. The first was a different story. I sat close to Amma and let the fury rage inside of me. I could have said something directly to her but there was no need. Ultimately, I believed her response to be correct. The energy I was now experiencing was primarily old betrayal energy of mine, rooted in my childhood. I first tried to move the energy through by imagining myself yelling at Amma. Then I imagined doing various anger release techniques I would do if I were in a therapy setting. These inner processes moved some of my negative energy, but not enough.

I decided to leave the temple and talk to some friends. I asked them if I could have a few minutes to vent, complain, suffer. They agreed and I allowed all that was inside of me to come pouring out. Afterwards, I discovered that the messages on the first track had lost their power. I returned to the temple to sit near Amma feeling successful and complete with the issue. (Brief episodes of anger and fear occurred occasionally over the next few weeks but I was able to easily release the negative energy.)

On the same day as all of this occurred, I experienced another powerful and important event as I was walking back from a local tea shop with a friend. As we passed one of the swamis (monks), he smiled at me. For no apparent reason my whole being exploded with an unnamed grief. The grief was so deep and so intense I could barely walk. I sat in a private place and let the feelings come. I knew it didn’t matter what the grief was about, I simply needed to feel and release it. After about fifteen minutes I felt done; exhausted yet lighter. (One of the ways to differentiate true grief from suffering is to notice what you feel like after you express the emotion. After expressing deep grief, even though you may be tired, you are also likely to feel relieved, lighter, and cleaned out. After immersing yourself in suffering you will probably feel even worse than you did before!)

I ended that day feeling very grateful. Grateful that I had accessed and let go of such core level grief. Grateful that I had experienced the difference between the pain of grief and the pain of suffering. Grateful that I had done my therapy and had the skills to move through the pain. Grateful that I had moved through so much of the pain in my therapy process that what was left was manageable. Grateful that when I am near Amma, I usually move through pain faster than in normal living. Grateful that the process of living has and will continue to bring up any residual pain so I can release it and thereby live my life more and more in the present moment.

As I said in the beginning, grief is inherent in living. We cannot totally avoid pain but we can learn to stop holding on to it. I hope my stories will be of value to you as a model for dealing with your own grief.

~

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

Support in Times of Trouble

A Multitude of Lessons

Exposing the “Know-It-All”

Many Paths, Same Destination

Putting Pain in Perspective

Putting Pain Into Perspective

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For several years in the mid to 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. I am choosing the articles to post based on their topic, therefore they are not being shared chronologically. The article below was published in May of 1995.

~

As a psychotherapist and a consciously evolving human being, I have a strong interest in examining the emotional pain in my own and others’ lives. This year (1995), during my annual visit to the ashram of my spiritual teacher, Mata Amritanandamayi, also known as Amma, I had an experience that helped me put my own pain into perspective.

This year’s trip was different from my previous trips in that most of my two month visit was spent traveling with Amma as she conducted programs throughout India. (Amma’s public programs include lectures, devotional singing, and darshan, which means to be in the company of a great soul. Amma’s style of darshan is to hug each individual who comes to her.) My time in India was to end with a program in Pune, a city southeast of Mumbai.

Four days before I was to leave India, I found myself filled with grief. While I was excited to be returning to Caesar salads, Western toilets, hot showers, and American efficiency, I felt enormous grief about leaving my teacher, the devotional singing and the bliss of the divine energy that I access so easily when in Amma’s presence. I noticed that my sadness was mixed with a measure of rage which I knew was rooted in my childhood. I sat close to Amma and allowed the sadness and rage to wash away and the peace and stillness to come.

Two days later, during an evening program, I was watching Amma give darshan to the large crowd who had assembled. While I was watching, a man came to her carrying a large teenage boy who had no use of his arms or legs. His legs appeared to be no larger than the diameter of a fifty-cent coin. I thought he might also suffer from cerebral palsy. Moments later, another man carried in a boy who was in a similar condition. Then another pair presented themselves to Amma, and then another, and another.

Soon it became obvious that a bus load of severely handicapped teenagers had been brought to receive Amma’s touch. As the children kept coming, my body flooded with grief. Other images then started coming into my mind’s eye, images of the pain and suffering I had witnessed during the last few weeks.

  • Miles and miles of shanty-town shacks built mostly of corrugated tin; tin in a country where the temperatures may be 90 degrees in the winter and 120 degrees in the summer. I had seen people preparing food in the huts over open fires. I had imagined the nightmare those huts would be at night when the rats roamed.
  • In the middle of busy railroad yards, wherever there was 20 feet between the crisscrossed tracks, families had erected tents. Children were growing up on the tracks. The tracks served as their playgrounds and their toilets.
  • A tall blind man had stepped into the railroad car in which I was traveling. The pupils of his eyes were shiny, bright silver. He was carrying a six-month-old baby. Once he had come to the center of the car, he started singing. People came forward and put money in his hand. When everyone had donated, he stepped down and found his way to the next car.
  • A woman, legs totally useless and crossed stiffly in front of her, inched her way down the sidewalk on her buttocks, moving so slowly that you couldn’t even tell she was moving unless you watched her intently.

Each of these scenes had moved me to tears. As the memories flickered through my mind’s eye, I imagined what it would be like to be trapped inside a body that I had no ability to operate; a body that even robbed me of my ability to communicate. I also imagined what it would be like to be born into extreme poverty, where I had little or no way to improve my situation. As I compared what I believed I would feel in those circumstances to the pain I was now feeling about leaving India, I was able to put my own pain into perspective.

I saw that the pain I was experiencing was temporary. Even though I hurt, I knew the grief would pass. Amma would be coming to the U.S. in a few months. In addition, I knew how to connect with divine energy whether I was in India or in Seattle, I just needed to be willing to make the effort.

I remembered that a portion of my pain was energy I was still holding onto from my childhood. I knew that as I continued to access and release this old rage, I would experience more and more peace and freedom from pain.

Next, I reminded myself that I had consciously chosen to put myself into a situation that would cause me pain. I know it is difficult for me to leave India. Going to India is a choice I make freely and willingly understanding that pain will be one of the many feelings I will experience on the journey.

I wondered briefly if I should feel ashamed of myself for feeling grief about my situation. I let that go, realizing that self-criticism was not the purpose of the lesson I was receiving. My grief and pain were real. My job was not to deny the pain or to judge it but rather to be active in releasing it.

As I pondered this newest thought, yet another came. I noted that as I progress in my own healing, I experience my heart opening more and more to those around me. It is as if my eyes are opening and I can more clearly see the needs of others from a place of deep compassion as opposed to guilt-ridden caretaking. I then thought of the others in my life who are equally committed to their personal growth. I recognized they are undergoing a similar progression.

As these insights flooded into my mind, I experienced a renewal of my commitment to continue this process. In my mind’s eye I could see the ripple effect that will occur as each one of us, completing our own healing, create a world where there is enough food, shelter and love for everyone. A world where no one is left alone in their pain.

We cannot eliminate pain from the earth; that is part of the human experience. We can, however, significantly change the way we relate to pain. I hope that my experiences will give you insights that help you to put your own pain into perspective.

~

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

Support in Times of Trouble

A Multitude of Lessons

Exposing the “Know-It-All”

Many Paths, Same Destination

How Free Would We Be If We Cared This Deeply?

A friend shared the link to this beautiful piece by Chani Nicholas with me. Chani has given me permission to reprint her words on my blog.

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“I want to live in a world where old ladies can afford to buy a cup of coffee.

And healthcare, because it’s free.

A world where folks are allowed to dress as they desire to and call themselves as they need to be called. Love who they love. Live how they live.

I want to live in a world where folks are allowed to live.

With dignity. In diversity. In a world that honors our differences and celebrate our connections.

I want to live in a world that apologizes when it’s wrong. A world that makes amends and reparations for what it has taken. A world that does not look away from its own horror. A world that builds monuments to resilience and resistance. A world that listens to the stories of the survivors. And believes them. A world that seeks to understand rather than to be understood. A world that listens to the stories of the past and a world that refuses to repeat its mistakes.

I want to live in a world where pain is transformed in the present, not passed down to future generations. A world that is organized around protecting the rights of each being, including every creature on the earth and the earth itself. A world where the hungry get fed first, the wounded receive remedies right away and the heart-broken know where to go to get a hug.

I want to live in a world where everyone is afforded the ability to take care of their own needs. And the needs of their loved ones. A world where The System prioritizes self-care. A world where self-determination is possible. A world where feeling competent, autonomous and related to folks that love you is the measure of a good life.

I want to live in a world that knows that hurt people hurt people and healed people heal people so we focus on helping folks heal. A world where mean-spirited violence and intolerance are not an option so they get interrupted immediately before they are allowed to take root. I want to live in a world full of self-correcting communities. A world full of folks that hold themselves and each other accountable. And close. A world where no pain goes unprocessed, no fear gets to fester, no greed goes unchecked. A world that understands its own imperfection. A world full of grown folks that know how to get down and children that feel safe enough to discover who they are. A world where creativity is the currency, where prisons are replaced with healing centers and no human potential is pissed away.

I want to live in a world where it is known that to go against any life would be to go against our own. Where it is known that to cause harm to another is to harm ourselves.

How free would we be if we cared that deeply?”

Thank you Chani for putting your prayer/vision/desires into words that we can all benefit from.

Quote of the Week: Pir Vilayat Khan


Sufi teacher Pir Vilayat Khan asks us to view pain in this way:

220px-Vilayat_Inayat_KhanOvercome any bitterness that may have come because you were not up to the magnitude of pain that was entrusted to you.  Like the mother of the world who carries the pain of the world in her heart, each one of us is part of her heart, and therefore endowed with a certain measure of cosmic pain.  You are sharing in the totality of that pain.  You are called upon to meet it in joy instead of self-pity.

What is your reaction to his suggestion?

From:  Pir Vilayat, Khan, Introducing Spirituality in Counseling and Therapy (New York: Omega Press, 1982).