A Heartfelt Message from a Child

A friend sent me this video a few days ago. It is tough to watch but it has a VERY important message. I hope the time comes when the world has changed so much that this 6 year old’s words are no longer needed, other than for a history lesson.

I also found this follow up video:

It would be nice to see a follow up of the follow up.

The Wonders of Nature

Sreejit’s direction for this week’s Dungeon Prompt is to “pick a quote from a famous person that best describes your life’s journey. The quote can be about the person that you’ve been up until now or the person that you are trying to become. Tell us about it. Use the quote as a springboard for letting us get a better glimpse of who you are.”

While my brother Bill would not have considered himself to be a famous person, nor would he be considered a famous person by the world, it was in a section of his journal that I found the quote that fits the most for me. Bill died at the age of 39. His words reflect some of the values that I held early in my life and during the last five to eight years have again become a major focus. The quote:

I am very sad that people seem to see so little of the world around them. I can’t walk outside without seeing the beauty of our created world, from the rainbow in a line of earthworm slime, to another visible ring on Jupiter. We have been given this magnificent world to study and enjoy in limitless detail at any level, microscopic to cosmic. Even though I have enough things to interest me another 10 lifetimes, I must take solace in knowing that, at least compared to others, I’ve had much more than my share even in half a life time.   (William John Smith 1953-1992)

When I was a child, I was fascinated by butterflies. I am mortified now to think of the butterfly collection I had then. I caught butterflies with a net, used some chloroform type liquid to kill them and then mounted them on a display board. At the same time I feel grief about that, I recognize that we had a different way of thinking in the 50’s and that I had made the display out of my love and appreciation for butterflies.

I have memories of making forts in the forest when I was young, although I don’t remember where that was. It is possible that the “forest” was just my back yard, but I don’t think so. Being an army brat, we moved every three years. I have almost no memory of the places I lived or events that happened there.

I do remember an incident from the 4th grade when we were living in Germany. I had crawled under the schoolyard fence during recess so that I could collect snails in a box. When I came back into the schoolyard at the end of recess, I looked up the hill only to see my teacher and my mother, who also taught at the school, standing behind a railing watching me. I have no memory of what came next but I do remember getting “caught in the act”.

I know there was also a time during my school years when I had a microscope and loved using it. I enjoyed studying the biological sciences when I was working on my Bachelors of Science in Nursing degree from 1966 to 1970.

When Al and I first married, we bought a house three miles south of the center of Seattle. To me, it it felt like having a farm in the middle of the city. There was a pantry in the basement where I could store canned fruits and the house had an outdoor clothesline that operated by a pulley, going from the porch to a nearby tree. There were concord grape vines growing in the yard and I made grape jelly from the grapes. We purchased the lot behind our house and made a garden there.

Over the years, I stopped gardening. There were a few times I planted some vegetables but the trees grew so high that the backyard got very little sunlight. Besides, my life was filled with child-rearing, going to school and working multiple jobs. I didn’t start gardening again until Amma began to encourage us to grow organic vegetables at home. That was probably around 2010.

Over the next few years, I removed part of the grass from my front yard, so I could build a garden that would get some sun. I took out all of the grass three years ago. It is a small area, but now the whole front yard is a garden.

Next, I developed an interest in vermi-composting, a process by which red wiggler worms transform food scraps into high quality compost. The worms became my pets. I still love my worms. Other people have to find dog and cat sitters. When I go to India I have to find a worm sitter!

In March of 2014, I started blogging. The primary focus of my writing was about the process of learning life’s lessons. I wrote from both psychological and spiritual perspectives. Over the years, I started to use photographs on my blog and in time I started to focus on nature and nature photography… in addition to writing about learning life’s lessons.

I shared photos of flowers…

…  wrote posts about experiences with snails (Photo Journal of a Snail’s Adventure), moles (Attitude is the Key), slugs (Seeking to Live in Harmony with Slugs) and ants (Wait, Watch and Wonder).

Soon I wanted to know more about these garden “pests.” I started reading about them and was amazed by what I learned. I shared that information in my blog posts. (The Symbiotic Relationship Between Ants and Aphids) (Slugs Underground) (The Fascinating Fruit Fly)

Several years ago, I remembered my fascination with my childhood microscope. I decided I would buy another one “someday.” One morning it occurred to me that I could add microscopic photography to my nature posts. I immediately purchased a microscope and adapter that connected  it to my iPhone camera. I started taking and sharing microscopic photos.

In September of 2016, I woke up one morning thinking that I was not willing to watch one more tree die in the area of Seattle’s Greenbelt that is near my house. I took my shears and started cutting down the blackberry and ivy vines that had covered that land for 30-50 years. That day was the impetus for starting the GreenFriends Greenbelt Restoration Project that is now my passion.

Our GreenFriends group, aided by a neighbor and students from the Introduction to Environmental Science class at the University, the Green Seattle Partnership and the Seattle Parks Department began to clear the land. Once the invasive vines were removed, we dug out blackberry root balls, covered the cleared land with burlap to hold back weed growth and then put dried blackberry canes and other debris on top of the burlap. The debris and the burlap will disintegrate and enrich the soil. This fall we will plant 400 trees, shrubs and ground covers and will continue to plant until the land is once again a healthy forest.

Every day I work in the Greenbelt is filled with seeing wonders of nature, whether it be a fern, flower or tree whose will to live has been so strong that it has defied being buried under invasive plants for decades or whether it is watching the birds, butterflies and other creatures that are returning to the land. One day, a mole stuck its head out of the ground and looked at my friend Ananya who was sitting nearby.

My passion for nature that began as a child, went into the recesses of my mind for decades, is now back in full force. I feel grateful and blessed. I so appreciate that Bill’s words helped keep that part of me alive during the intervening  years.

Written for Dungeon Prompts: Defined by a Quote

To read more of Bill’s life philosophy go to The Truth I Live By.

The photo at the top of this post is from pixabay.com.

Shared with Senior Salon

Greenbelt Restoration Project Update

So much has happened since I woke up one morning in late August 2016 realizing that I wasn’t willing to watch another tree die in the Greenbelt lot behind my house. That lot was filled with blackberries which had been growing for decades. I gathered my trusty hedge shears and lopper and started chopping them down.

Soon, a friend started working with me. A month or two after that, three other friends,  members of our GreenFriends group, joined me in clearing the land of invasive plants. We decided we would make restoring this lot a GreenFriends project.

In October, we linked our project to the Green Seattle Partnership, a collaborative group that includes the City of Seattle, Forest Stewards and many other non profit groups, all of whom are dedicated to restoring Seattle’s 2500 acres of forested parks. One of the city botanists came to see the work we had already done, answer our questions and give direction.

We were told that it was necessary for least one member of our group to take the Forest Steward training. That training would teach us what needed to be done on the lot and how to lead restoration work parties. Ananya and I decided to become Forest Stewards. The training wouldn’t be held in March and April of 2017 but we would be able to continue to remove the invasive plants in the meantime. We wouldn’t hold big work parties until we took the training.

Each restoration project has four phases: 1) Remove invasive plants, 2) Plant trees, shrubs and ground covers, 3) Plant establishment- watering, weeding, mulching and 4) Long term maintenance. Our project is in Phase 1. Once the invasive plants are gone, Seattle Parks Department will provide all of the trees, shrubs and ground covers for volunteers to plant.

We decided we would not only restore the one lot, we would restore the whole four lot strip of Greenbelt that it is a part of. The lot behind my house is Lot 3 and  has been covered by invasive plants for around 30 years; Lot 2 and 4  have been covered for fifty or more years. There has been quite a bit of restoration work done in Lot 1 during the last three or four years. It needs maintenance work, but when we look at the many new trees, shrubs and ferns that run through it, we are able to visualize what the whole strip will become.

As we continued to remove the invasive plants, we found so much trash. In addition to the big garbage, there were tiny pieces of plastic everywhere. I found a bird’s nest that was full of plastic.

On Saturday, February 25, six children and their leader came from Redmond Satsang’s Bala Kendra program to pick up litter. This was their haul after an hour of work.

We have been cutting down invasive bamboo since the project began. Last month, Yashas and I cut off the leaves and branches from the stalks. Those stalks which were suitable for stakes were given away. [Note: When the project began, we were told we could give the bamboo to the zoo for the elephants to eat. That person, and the rest of us, had forgotten that the Seattle zoo no longer has elephants!]

We continued to remove the invasive hemlock plants, blackberries and ivy.

Yashas and I took a one day course to learn how to make live stakes. Live stakes are cuttings from shrubs that are used to make new shrubs. I brought 75 of them home (Twin Berry, 9 Bark and Indian Plum) and planted them in pots. In the fall, we will see how many of them rooted, and will plant the ones that did in the Greenbelt.

Volunteer groups are not allowed to use power tools, so when they are needed, city workers come to do the work. In March, eight workers from the Seattle Park Department cut down most of the invasive vines and bamboo on this four lot strip of Greenbelt. That will make it much easier for volunteers to dig out the blackberry root balls and ivy. It also opened up a view of the whole property that no one has seen for 50 years or more.

When they cut down the blackberries in the second lot, the workers found something that surprised all of us. There was a foundation of a house! I have lived here since 1973 and didn’t know there used to be a house there, and neither did my neighbors. Interesting objects were found in or near the “house.”

In the weeks after the city workers came, I spent a lot of time pulling out building racks we will put the blackberry vines and ivy on so they can dry out, digging out blackberry rootballs and covering the cleared land with burlap.

On March 4, Ananya and I took the first half of the Green Seattle Partnership Forest Steward training. We took the second part on April 1. We will attend ongoing training courses but are now qualified to lead bigger work parties.

On April 8, we held the first “official” work party. Nine volunteers met to build racks for the debris, rake debris, dig out ivy and blackberry root balls and find and mark ferns. We accomplished so much in our three hour work party. (You can click on any of the galleries in this post to see a bigger version of the photos.)

My update is now complete. This project has become my passion so you will definitely read more about it in the future!

 

(Previous posts about my experiences in the Greenbelt: Is My Path Taking a Turn?, The Will to Live, and Another Greenbelt Adventure.)

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.

My Life is in Transition

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My new dehydrator.

Over the last few years I have felt myself inching towards retirement. Last month, I set a retirement date of May 31, 2017 but the size of my psychotherapy practice has reduced so much lately that sometimes I feel as if I am already retired. I know that could change, but I don’t know if it will.

This transition time has been very interesting. When my ex-husband had a massive heart attack in 2001, we began to reconnect. Now we are regularly doing things together, such as watching Seahawks games and Dancing with the Stars, and occasionally going together to movies or other events. We have talked about contacting two or three of our friends from our pre-marriage days.

I also have reconnected with Kathie, who was a close friend in the mid-80’s to mid-90’s. I helped her start a blog last year, ChosenPerspectives, so we have that in common in addition to our past history.

I’ve noticed other things that could be related to this transition. Since 2005 or so, I have felt a drive to reduce the number of my belongings. While I have never been much interested in material possessions, I began to give away anything I hadn’t used in the last three years, unless there was some major reason to keep it. Last year, I changed that number to objects that I hadn’t used in the last two years. I also have had an ongoing desire to organize and clean out cupboards, shelves and drawers.

I have had a renewed interest in numerous activities that I enjoyed doing in the past, such as gardening and canning. For about a year, I felt pulled to buy a microscope, an item I loved during my childhood. When I realized that I could add microscopic photos to the nature photography I put on my blog, I bought a microscope and started using it immediately.

I’ve also developed new passions during the last few years. The most important is blogging, which has become a major part of my day-to-day life. As a result of our mutual blogging interest, I have much more contact with my son, who is the person responsible for me starting my blog. (His blog is The Seeker’s Dungeon.) As the result of blogging, I have also developed a passion for photography.

For several years, I have considered learning how to dehydrate vegetables and fruits. Last month, I purchased a dehydrator and started dehydrating bananas, mangoes, plums, tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, cucumbers (probably won’t do that again), and as of yesterday, watermelon. I’ve also felt the urge to start knitting, crocheting, sewing, and possibly folk dancing and going to Dances of Universal Peace, all activities I enjoyed decades ago. These could all be retirement activities.

When I am with Amma, the frequency of the synchronistic events that happen in my life increase dramatically. This summer was no different in that regard. A clear theme emerged in the course of those synchronicities.

The week before Amma arrived in Seattle, I was at my Network Chiropractor’s office when a woman walked out of the treatment room. She looked familiar. I did a quick 20 year age-progression in my mind and then asked if she was the person I thought she was. I was correct. The next week, the same thing happened, in the same place but with a different person. Again, the woman was someone I hadn’t seen since the mid-90’s.

When Amma came to Seattle, I spent the first morning she was here helping a staff member find and go to a dentist. I didn’t walk into the program hall until 1 p.m. As I was walking in, a woman was walking out. She called me by name. When I looked at her, I recognized that she was also someone who had been in my life in the early to mid-90’s. I hadn’t seen her since then and she told me she hadn’t attended one of Amma’s programs during the intervening years. I was amazed by the commonalities between all of these synchronistic experiences.

The most amazing reconnecting events happened just before and during Amma’s Toronto programs. On Father’s Day, I received an email from my brother saying that his son had written a Father’s Day post about our father, i.e. my nephew’s grandfather. Before I tell that story, and the events that followed, let me say that I left home to go to college when I was 17; my brothers were 12 and 14 at that time. I saw them very few times after that. My youngest brother died in 1992. (My children and I did visit him several times between the time he was diagnosed with cancer and the time he died.) I have seen my other brother only three times since 1992, and those visits were brief. We do email each other every now and then.

So back to the story at hand. It was fascinating to read my nephew’s post and to learn about my father from his perspective. Even more fascinating was that I discovered that my nephew and his wife are professional photographers and that my father had also had an interest in photography. My nephew posted some of my father’s photos in his Father’s Day tribute. I knew my father had taken some family pictures but this part of his life was completely unknown to me. It was particularly interesting to me because of my current interest in photography. I was discovering there are things I have in common with my family that I didn’t know anything about.

In his post, my nephew had referred to my father’s military life. Some of what he said was different than my memories. When I checked those things out with my brother, he put together a time line of my father’s career. There was information in it that I didn’t know, and I knew some things that he wasn’t aware of. We wrote back and forth over the next few days. At one point, he added his two sons to the email exchange, so I added my son and daughter. All of us made a comment or two on the joint exchange and then the four cousins wrote each other separately. This was the first conversations they had ever had with each other. I marveled at the miracle that was unfolding.

Over the next week or so, my brother and I continued emailing each other about our childhood memories. He mentioned that he thought our father had gifted us with a love of music, books, education, hard work and the desire to do things right. I believe we also learned the value of hard work and education from our mother and even more important, the value of being in service to others.

I still don’t know my surviving brother well but over the years I have learned that we share some of the same political beliefs. Recently, I learned that we are both introverts and have similar thoughts about some religious issues. Since he is a landscape architect I assume we share a love of nature.

While I was pondering all of these commonalities, I realized that my current passion about nature is something I have in common with my youngest brother, even though we didn’t have that focus at the same time.  His room, both as a teenager and a young adult, was always filled with injured birds and other animals he had rescued and was nursing back to health. I remember visiting him before he married. At that time, he was raising snakes in his room. I will never forget this piece he wrote just prior to his death at age 39:

I am very sad that people seem to see so little of the world around them. I can’t walk outside without seeing the beauty of our created world, from the rainbow in a line of earthworm slime, to another visible ring on Jupiter. We have been given this magnificent world to study and enjoy in limitless detail at any level, microscopic to cosmic. Even though I have enough things to interest me another 10 lifetimes, I must take solace in knowing that, at least compared to others, I’ve had much more than my share even in half a life time..

As I approach retirement, I am grateful that a natural transition seems to be occurring. I am reconnecting with my past in many different ways. I have no doubt that I will have enough activities that I am passionate about to keep me occupied for years to come. The unanswered question that is most up for me now concerns where I will ultimately live: “Will I move to India?” “Will I live in one of Amma’s U.S. Centers?” ” Will I continue to live in my own house in Seattle?” Those answers, and the answers to many other questions, are yet to be revealed. At this moment, there is no need for me to know the future. I know I will know what I need to know when the time is right!

 

cropped-senior-salon  Senior Salon

That “Now I Get It” Moment

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I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in 1970, followed by a Master of Nursing in 1974. After receiving my Master’s degree, I taught undergraduate nursing students at the University of Washington for five years. I enjoyed teaching, conducting research and writing for publication, all requirements of my Assistant Professor position. After teaching there for five years, I decided to take a job as a Maternal-Newborn Clinical Specialist at Swedish Hospital Medical Center in Seattle.

To progress along a tenure track at the University of Washington, I would have had to earn a PhD. At some point in the early 80’s, I decided to start working on the PhD. I don’t remember what my reasoning was at the time, but I imagine it was to keep my options open.  Afterall, I might want to teach at the University again someday. I continued to work at Swedish Hospital part time as I started the PhD program coursework. I don’t remember what the degree was called in those days but I know that it focused on nursing research and that I chose a track that had a special emphasis in statistics.

At some point during those years, I also started my personal therapy. I loved that process. It helped me move through the pain of my early years and I was able to make good friends and connect in a way I hadn’t in the past. One day, I had an insight that hit me like a sledge hammer. Even though I was doing very well in my studies, I realized I didn’t want a PhD and I didn’t want nursing research to be my life’s work.

In that moment, I realized I was studying for the degree in hopes that my father would acknowledge my existence if I had a PhD. My education had always been important to him and some of my earliest memories were of me asking him to make up math problems I could work on.

While I don’t think we were ever close, our relationship became even more strained as I moved into my teen and young adult years.  We had battles when I came home from college during summer vacations, usually over civil rights issues. During one of those altercations, he told me to get out of the house.  My mother intervened so I didn’t actually move out. The last straw came in 1971 when I told him I was going to marry Al, an African-American man I had met in Seattle.  Simply by my having made that statement, he declared that he would not speak to me again, and he didn’t. My father died in 1999 without ever having said a word to me or my children.

Realizing that my PhD study was so tied to a child-like yearning for my father’s approval ended my interest in the degree. I was loving my psychotherapy experience and in time it became my passion. I did what it took to get the credentialing to become a nurse psychotherapist (Clinical Nurse Specialist in Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing) and I’ve been doing that work ever since.

I see the moment when I recognized the tie between my PhD program and the unfinished business from my past as one of those life changing moments, one that propelled me into work that I felt passionate about and believe I was born to do.

 

Written for Dungeon Prompts: That Now I Get It Moment

My Sanskrit Journey

Photo Credit: Wikimedia
Photo Credit: Wikimedia

 

When I met Amma in 1989, I didn’t know anything about Eastern spirituality and I had never heard of Sanskrit. Months later, I attended a one or two day workshop focused on learning the sounds of the Sanskrit letters. I have no memory of where I heard about the workshop or why I went. I do remember one other Amma devotee there, so maybe he invited me to go, or perhaps a group of devotees attended. Many of the bhajans (devotional songs)  Amma sings are in Sanskrit so it may be I wanted to learn to pronounce the words of the songs correctly.

Sanskrit Alphabet
Sanskrit Alphabet

The workshop leader, Vyaas Houston, taught us the sounds of the letters through music; i.e. we sang the alphabet! He told us that by the end of the workshop few, if any, of us would be able to sing the whole piece by ourselves, but as a group we would sing it well. He was right. I thought it was a powerful display of the power of group process.

My writing the first two paragraphs of this post brought back another memory of that time. In the first weeks after I met Amma, I bought a cassette tape at East-West Bookstore. It was called Jai Ma. When I played the tape the first time, I had an experience that astounded me. As I listened to one song, I burst into tears. During the next song, my body flooded with joy. Yet another tune filled me with peace. How could that be? After all, the songs were in Sanskrit and I had no idea what the words meant.

Later, when I told one of my co-therapists what had happened he responded, “Of course, in Sanskrit the feelings are imbedded in the sounds.” This therapist was very logical and science oriented, as opposed to being interested in spirituality, yet he said this in such a matter-of-fact way. I was intrigued, but not enough to start in-depth study of Sanskrit.

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After the weekend workshop, I made flashcards to teach myself the meaning of some of the Sanskrit bhajans.  I also wanted to learn Malayalam, Amma’s language, so even though the word on the flashcard above is Sanskrit, the letters are in Malayalam script. (The meaning of the word is on the other side of the card.) Over the years, I attempted to learn Malayalam several times but without a teacher it seemed impossible. I didn’t make any significant progress so eventually gave up the endeavor.

Amma has always worked to bring back India’s traditions, e.g. traditional dances, traditional music, traditional values. There was a period when Amma started encouraging the ashram residents to learn Sanskrit. I remember a time about five years ago when Amma asked some of the brahmacharinis (female monks) to stand up and speak to everyone present in Sanskrit. Amma looked so happy as she listened to them talk.

Watching Amma’s joy piqued my interest in Sanskrit again, but I knew learning on my own wouldn’t work well. In 2011 my desire began to grow.  When I went to Amritapuri in November of 2011 for my annual visit to Amma’s main ashram in India, one of the first things I saw was a friend of mine, Meenamba, sitting by herself studying Sanskrit! I sat down beside her and told her I also wanted to learn. She offered to give me the books she used when she first started learning the language.

Soon thereafter, I received a group email from a devotee in Seattle named Madhavi. She was offering to teach our satsang (a group of Amma devotees) how to say and understand the Sri Lalitha Sahasranama Strotram, a spiritual text Amma asks us to chant daily. I had met Madhavi before but she was new to our satsang so I didn’t know anything about her.

Her email certainly caught my attention. I responded, commenting that learning to read the chant was not my goal; I wanted to learn spoken Sanskrit! I asked if she would be willing to correct my homework as I worked my way through the books I had been given.

Madhavi replied that she had been teaching spoken Sanskrit for seven years! She said I could learn the letters and their sounds in the class she had advertised, and that she was willing to expand the curriculum so that those of us who were interested in learning spoken Sanskrit could do so. I marveled at the synchronicity of all that was occurring. This was certainly a major turning point in my Sanskrit journey

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Declension chart for name Rama

Madhavi’s class started in February of 2012 and I have been studying Sanskrit with her ever since. That first summer I also took a Samskrita Bharati three-day intensive, and did that again in 2013 and 2014. While Madhavi’s classes focused on reading, writing, and grammar, Samsrkita Bharati’s classes focused exclusively on spoken Sanskrit. In fact, that group resists speaking any English during the summer camp and they also discourage students from taking written notes. Luckily, they were willing to relax the rules a little with me since I need some things clarified in English. But each year I attend the camp I can see my progress.

When I went India in November of 2012, I studied with Meenamba for a month. During Amma’s Seattle programs in the summer of 2013, members of Madhavi’s Sanskrit class went together to receive Amma’s blessing. In November 2013, I attended Meenamba’s Sanskrit class during my visit to Amritapuri and just before I returned to Seattle we also went as a group to be blessed by Amma. That time each of the students said a sentence in Sanskrit to her! Amma beamed.

In May of 2014, our Seattle Sanskrit class organized and performed a skit in Sanskrit for Amma.  That autumn, I started attending a weekly Samskrita Bharati class as well as Madhavi’s class. All but two students in the new class were Indian. The Indian students learn so much faster than I can. That is largely due to the fact that their native languages contain a lot of Sanskrit words so vocabulary isn’t as much a problem for them as it is for me. I found that I had learned enough of the fundamentals of Sanskrit in Madhavi’s class though, so that even if I still couldn’t understand conversations in Sanskrit, I could usually understand what was being taught. I’ve had to learn to be patient with myself and be okay with what I can and cannot do. But I do see myself moving forward and that is what is most important.

Last winter, a brahmachari (male monk) was teaching a Sanskrit class when I came to Amritapuri so I attended his class.  I appreciate how each of my instructors have used a different style of teaching.  I have learned so much by experiencing the various styles.

As Amma’s 2015 summer tour approached, I decided I wanted to again speak to Amma in Sanskrit, but this time I wanted to say more than a solitary sentence! I had the opportunity to do that last Thursday when I attended her programs in Dallas. Speaking Sanskrit, I thanked Amma for the new satsang that recently formed in the Seattle area. I told her I was very happy there and that I was leading bhajans every week. I added that I loved studying Sanskrit and asked her to help me learn to speak it. Her smile got bigger with every sentence I uttered, which of course filled me with joy!

I believe this week has been yet another turning point on my Sanskrit journey. I think this will be the year that I will be able to build my vocabulary enough to finally be able to participate, at least to a limited degree, in Sanskrit conversations. I am excited and ready to do whatever it takes to make that happen!

 

Written for Dungeon Prompts: The Turning Point