Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: July 25, 2018- Practice in Flexibility, Persistence, Letting Go and More

Preparing for and leading the July 25 work party was a perfect opportunity to practice flexibility, letting go, non-attachment, staying in the moment, equanimity, persistence and a host of other values that I haven’t yet identified. At times, the challenges seemed endless.

Perhaps the first challenge occurred two weeks before the event when I fell while working in the Greenbelt. I found myself dealing with bruised ribs… again. I’ve done my best to stay conscious of my feet while walking on the sloped, uneven land but clearly I wasn’t staying conscious enough. As the work party approached, I purchased a walking stick, something I’d considered doing for a long time, and bought a good pair of hiking shoes. I also threw away the very old tennis shoes that I had been wearing the day I fell. I had known they didn’t give my feet enough support but they were so comfortable and easy to slip on. It felt good to take care of myself by discarding them.

Based on past experience, I expected we would have around 15 students from the UW Introduction to Environmental Science class. I felt very grateful when two of our regular volunteers agreed to be team leaders. Then, I was told that someone I had met in the past had moved to Washington. I discovered that he has lots of experience doing this kind of work. When I told him about the event, he was very interested in helping. So, counting me, we had four staff. Hooray!

That changed when one team leader got sick and it became obvious he wasn’t going to be able to come and another let me know she couldn’t participate. Then the third had a conflict and would only be able to come for part of the time. That left me as the only leader that would be present the whole time.

The day before the work party, we only had two students registered. Another registered that evening. I was surprised that we were going to have such a small work party, but with such a limited number of staff I knew it was for the better. Besides it is fun to have a tiny group from time to time.

Another challenge that we would have to deal with was hot weather. I’m used to having work parties planned out in great detail. When I discovered it would be in the high 80’s or low 90’s that day, I realized I would have to be prepared to let go of my “plans” and instead to practice flexibility and letting go. We would have to work wherever there was shade as it would be too hot to work in the sun. (Most of the work I had planned would have been in direct sunlight.)

Since this work party would be from 1 to 4 pm, I waited until the morning of the event to buy food for snack time. When I got into my car, I used the handle to shut the door and it broke off. I went back in the house to ponder the situation. When I returned to the car, I discovered that in addition to the broken handle, the driver’s door was locked and wouldn’t open. Because of my injured ribs, I couldn’t move into the driver’s seat from the back seat or from the passenger seat. I couldn’t believe it. I decided snack time would have to consist of what I already had in the house, uninteresting as it might be.

Several hours before the beginning of the work party, I set out directional signs on 25th Avenue South, on the Hanford Stairs and on Cheasty Boulevard. As I walked down the stairs going towards Cheasty, I noticed there was a police car parked nearby. And to the north of it, there was yellow tape blocking the road.

Since that was the way the students who took the light rail would be arriving, I walked down the stairs to get a closer look. Once there, I learned that a big tree had fallen during the night and it had knocked down power lines. I told the policewoman that people would be coming to a work party in a few hours and would be walking along that road. She told me that the repair work would take most of the day but assured me that the students would be allowed to walk through. I was still concerned. What if the students saw the tape stretched across the road and didn’t know what to do. Would they turn around and go home? I walked back to my house and sent out notices by voicemail and email.

Shortly before the work party was to begin, I walked towards the stairs again. I could hear, and soon could see, that there were  students sitting on the stairs. I thought they might be the UW students I was expecting. As I got closer to them, I could see that they were smoking. When they saw me, they ran away. I realized they were not here for the work party and that they were probably students from a nearby high school who were on their lunch break . They probably ran away because they were caught smoking, but I also laughed to myself when I thought how weird it must have seemed to have an older woman who was wearing a sun hat and an orange safety vest and holding a long walking stick come out of the forest.

Finally, it was almost time for the work party to begin. One of the  students came early, so he helped me bring the rest of the supplies into the site. Then the other team leader and the rest of the students arrived… and then a surprise… a fourth person, who had seen the work party on an event calendar joined us. I had wondered if there would be participants who would decide not to come because of the heat. Not only did everyone who had signed up show up but we had an additional person!

We started working in areas that had already been planted, removing wood chips that were touching the stems of the plants as well as digging out invasive blackberries, ivy and bindweed that was sprouting. (We put wood chips throughout the planting areas to hold in moisture and reduce weed growth. The wood chips are not supposed to touch the plant however, so we attempt to keep the space around the plant cleaned out. We refer to that empty space as a “donut hole”. ) As we finished one area, we moved to another, following the shade as much as possible. Every planting area looked so much better after we finished taking out the invasive blackberries and bindweed, and cleaning out the donut holes.

I didn’t remember to take photos during the first part of the work party, but this is what some of the planting areas looked like after we worked on them.

 

And these photos were taken later.

 

After the break, we all moved to the Greenbelt site that is north of our main site. We started by moving a drying rack that had accidentally been constructed in the place where future wood chip piles would go. I was amazed to see that the blackberry canes and other invasive plant cuttings that had been placed on it were already dry. We used that dried debris in constructing the new rack.

[Note: We place the blackberry canes, blackberry root balls, ivy and bindweed on drying racks so that they don’t touch the ground and re-root. The increased airflow that results from having them off of the ground also speeds up the drying process.]

We will be removing a lot more blackberry vines and root balls from this area. It is good to have a new rack ready to receive them.

There was a truck parked in the area I had planned to clear next, but the sun was also there, so we moved further  into the Greenbelt instead. It was still hot there, but there was a lot of shade, and a slight breeze.

We cleared an area of blackberries so that we could build another rack there. Once that rack was complete, the students continued digging out blackberries. We also started pulling out ivy. All of the cuttings were placed on the new rack.

 

Ten to fifteen years ago, many evergreen trees were planted in this part of the Greenbelt. I have been very eager to start freeing them from the invasive vines that had grown over them since then. We began working on one of those trees at this work party. There is much more to do before the tree is fully free, but we made considerable progress. (If you click the gallery to enlarge the photos…. and look closely…. you may be able to see that there is less ivy under and going up the tree!)

 

Even though the area was shady, we were all tired from working in the heat so stopped a bit sooner than we would have under normal conditions. After putting the tools and other supplies away, we gathered on the stairs to celebrate our achievements and to take a group photo.

Once again, we had accomplished so much in a short period of time. It was another big step in returning this land to the healthy forest it once was.

Not only did I enjoy leading another work party, but I had also survived a myriad of challenges and had had an abundance of opportunity to practice flexibility, letting go, non-attachment, staying in the moment, equanimity, persistence and more. While I know that these experiences will help me grow, I hope the frequency of the challenges will slow down for a while!

Update on Practice in Accepting Change and Letting Go

In my June 8 post, I shared my concern that the stairs near our Greenbelt site were being painted. I had come to the conclusion that it was a good opportunity for me to practice both accepting change and letting go.

When the stairs below ours were finished, I thought the optical illusion was cool but another concern arose. Our stairs are much smaller and closer together than those. I wondered if the bright paint would be overwhelming. I decided to stick with my decision to consider it an opportunity to not worry; to let go and accept whatever change came my way.

The stairs closest to our site were to be painted on Saturday. That afternoon, I decided to check it out. I was delighted with what I saw. The colors are beautiful. Instead of painting the sides of each step, like they did in the area below ours, the painters painted the cement border that goes between the various landings. They also painted the “bench” at the top of the stairs. (I put bench in quotes because it used to be the mount for a bulletin board.)

I’m so glad I decided to see this experience as a “lesson” rather than worrying or fretting about it. I couldn’t be happier with the results.

I Will Pass It On!

Friday morning, when I was pulling weeds in the Greenbelt, I noticed that there was a coin on the ground next to a sign I had placed under an Indian plum shrub during the spring of 2017.

I was curious what it was, so I picked it up. These messages were on the two sides of the coin:

Over the year, a few people have told me that they appreciated the signs but I have no idea who put the coin there or when they did it. I felt very grateful for the expression of gratitude and will definitely pass the coin on!

Practice in Accepting Change and Letting Go

The last week in April, a friend sent me an email that said an artist, working with Seattle Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School project, was painting staircases around Seattle. The notice also said that the next steps to be painted were the Hanford Stairs, the stairs that border our Greenbelt restoration site.

When I saw the photo I was concerned. I couldn’t imagine something so bright going through the forest. I didn’t understand how painting the stairs would make walking to school safer, but thought that anything that accomplished that goal would be a good thing. I liked that she was inviting community members to help paint. In addition, I knew that this unexpected change would be an opportunity for me to practice letting go and suspending judgment.

I took some comfort in the fact that the notice included a photo of the stairs that were to be painted and they were the new set of stairs that are below ours. Maybe ours would stay the same.

Last Saturday was the day the lower stairs were to be painted. Yesterday afternoon, I decided to walk down and check them out. From the top of the stairs they looked like this…. no sign of paint.

But when I walked to the bottom of the stairs and looked up, this is what I saw.

The bright colors still seemed strange to me but I had to admit that there was beauty to it. I loved that the stairs looked clear one way and fancy when you looked at them from the other direction.

This morning, I noticed that there was a lot of sand on the plants on both sides of the stairs near us. It seemed so strange and I couldn’t imagine what could have caused it. When I pointed the sand out to somebody later in the day, she said that the stairs had been pressure washed. In that moment, I realized that our part of stairs must also be part of this project and that they will probably be painted tomorrow!

I still think it will take me time to get used to this change, but I’m glad that I decided that the lower stairs were okay and even kind of pretty. I have no doubt that children will enjoy them a lot and I hope that it does indeed keep them safe.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unlikely

Last week’s photo challenge was to share a photo of something “unlikely”; something that may fit into the category of “never say never”.

I, for the most part, stopped saying “never” decades ago when I realized that many, if not most, of the things that I said “never” to ended up being an important part of my life journey.

I first recognized that pattern in my early 40’s when in a span of 2 years I became a devotee of an Indian guru (and still am), a “groupie” of a rock band named “Tribal Therapy” (for about a year), and started going to an African-American Pentecostal church (for about 15 years.) At the time when these life changes began, I had described myself as being somewhere between an agnostic and an atheist for 20 years. If, at that time, someone had told me these things would become a life focus of mine, I would have adamantly said “never… no way… not a chance”.

The other area where I have moved from “never” to it being a life focus is photography. I took some photos as a teenager, a college student and when my children were young but at some point developed the belief that photography keeps one from being in the moment; that you don’t “live” when you are focused on preserving a past moment.

I started blogging in 2014. I soon decided that my posts looked better when there were photos in them. Since most photos on the internet are copyrighted, I started looking for ones in the public domain. While over the years I have found some good sources, like pixabay.com and Creative Commons, finding free photos was a very time consuming endeavor at first. It occurred to me that I could solve that problem by taking photographs of my own.

As my interest in nature developed, I became interested in nature photography. At that point, a whole new world opened up for me.

I even bought a microscope and began to snap pictures with my iPhone and an adapter.

I suspect photography will be in my life for a long time.

This photo was taken yesterday, 5-9-18

I will continue to make it a practice to (almost) never say never.

 

Unlikely

Nimo Patel: Beautiful

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while may remember that I am a big fan of Nimo Patel from Empty Hands Music. Nimo has recently offered another music video to the world. This one is called Beautiful. The email message from Empty Hands Music introducing the new video stated:

We have officially released our latest music video called “Beautiful“, a song and video sharing a message of letting go of our technology once in a while, to see the beauty that is constantly surrounding us. If you enjoy it, do share with your friends and family.

The introduction on the YouTube page gave even more information:

Ellie Walton and Nimo release another Empty Hands Music Video, this time featuring Nimo in collaboration with soul singer Jason Joseph. The message of the song is simple: that beauty exists every where we go. We just have to open our hearts and eyes, to actually see it moment to moment.

You can download the album that contains these songs and more- for free- at the Empty Hands site but I decided to put the links to some of my previous Nimo posts below. The first one includes introductory information as well as one of the songs he sang when I first heard him sing.

Introduction and Planting Seeds

Ode to Women

Grateful: A Love Song to the World

Keep Loving

Being Kind

Enjoy!

 

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: January 4-13, 2017

Even though I’m back in Seattle now, it is important to me that I tell you stories about the last part of this visit to Amritapuri.

Baby Feeding Photos

In Hinduism, it is traditional for a baby to be fed its first solid food as part of a sacred ceremony. When a parent asks Amma to perform that ritual, she holds the baby on her lap and feeds him or her some payasam, a sweet pudding. An ashram photographer takes a photo of Amma feeding the baby; thus, providing the parents a memento of the experience.

Soon after I arrived at Amma’s Amritapuri ashram this year, I noticed that there were five big photos of Amma under the windows of the outside portion of the west wall of the auditorium stage.  I had never noticed them there before.

The pictures were visible to every person who walked up the ramp that goes from the auditorium floor to the stage. From a distance, the photos looked identical. They were each about 40 inches high and 24 inches wide. When I saw the photos up close, and read the sign that was next to them, I learned that the big photos of Amma were actually comprised of tiny photos of Amma feeding babies. Each big photo contained pictures of 6000 different baby feedings. I remember believing they were tile mosaics but now that I think about it, I’m having doubts about that.

Since each of the baby feeding photos were of a different baby, and there were five large pictures of Amma, 30,000 babies feedings were part of that exhibit. I was intrigued and astounded by that display throughout my trip; astounded by the display itself and by the fact that Amma has performed that many baby feedings.

 

Friends

Many of my friends were participating in a nine-day silent retreat (meditation, yoga, silence) during the end of my trip. It was over the evening of the 11th and I was on the road to the airport by 5:00 a.m. on the 12th. It felt strange to leave not having seen so many friends for nine days. A highlight though was that my friend Ramana arrived from Seattle on the 9th. He and I hadn’t been in Amritapuri at the same time for several years. It was fun to spend some time with him during the last days of my visit.

Synchronicities

I was trying to get some information for friends who were coming to India a few days after my departure. I was walking to an ATM when my friend Do walked up to me and asked if I had been able to get the information I was needing. When I said no, he told me that Prabha could probably help. I proceeded to the ATM. As I was returning to my building, I had a momentary glimpse of someone who looked like Prabha. I wasn’t sure since I was seeing her from behind. After a moment’s thought, I decided to check it out. It was her, and she did give me the information I needed. I found out that Do had seen her right after I talked to him, and told her that I was looking for her and why, so by the time I talked to her, she already knew what information I was looking for. This whole scenario seemed so synchronistic to me and it was all the more amazing because there were around 5000 people living in the ashram. There are always some people I don’t see during my whole visit, and all of these connections were made within a five minute period.

***

I never know what Amma’s schedule will be when I plan a trip. Her India tour dates are often not announced until a week or two before the event occurs. As it turned out, Amma started her South India tour hours after I boarded the plane for Seattle. Sreejit and Chaitanya were both going on that tour. So, we all left the ashram on the same day. Perfect timing!

Lessons

Many experiences and lessons were contained within this trip. I visited gardens, farms and fields. Through those experiences, I came to some sense of peace around the fact that not all of the trees, shrubs and ground covers in our Seattle forest restoration project will live. This kind of work is trial and error and will also be affected by weather, soil conditions and many other factors. Whether or not a plant survives is not in my hands. My job is to put in the effort and let go of the results.

My experience with the ants was a challenge that reminded me to “wait, watch and wonder” rather than immediately react. It also gave me the opportunity to practice equanimity. Sometimes I was able to get there and sometimes not.

Being able to witness and participate in the production of the Christmas play, as always, gave me joy. It also reminded me that when we work together great things can be accomplished. I could see how far the cast have come in learning to take whatever comes. No matter the challenge, the participants do what needs to be done and hold on to a positive attitude throughout. Their growth is obvious and their work inspires many.

One of our Seattle satsang members died while I was in Amritapuri. I still can’t believe that is true; it feels surreal. His death reminds me to make every day count.

My respect for the importance of “going with the flow” rather than trying to force things to happen has grown. When I try to force my will, I am likely to exhaust myself and cause myself pain. During the month I was in Amritapuri, there were so many times that a person I needed to talk to walked in front of me moments after I became aware of the need.

Here are some of my favorite memories from this trip. There are so many others that I don’t have photos of, such as my darshans with Amma and time with my family and friends.

Traveling back to Seattle

My trip home would be as long as it always is: a 2 1/2 hour taxi from the ashram to the airport, a 4 hour flight from Trivandrum to Dubai, followed by a 14 1/2 hour flight from Dubai to Seattle. This time I planned to take a LYFT taxi from SeaTac airport to my house.

For several years, I have made the trip more tolerable by taking a long layover in Dubai. During that time, I have stayed at the Dubai International Airport Hotel. It is expensive but the opportunity to sleep, or at least have my feet up, in a quiet room for 15-19 hours has been well worth it.

Sometime during this last year, I heard that Emirates would give me a free hotel and food if I asked for it. They provided the accommodation without question. Having the free hotel turned out to be a mixed blessing though. I hadn’t realized I would have to go through immigration and that took well over an hour. Also, I didn’t know where to go when I got to the baggage claim area. Everyone I asked told me to go to exit 1. When I finally found that exit, and the hotel bus, I was told I  should have checked in with someone in the terminal. Luckily, that person brought a group of people to the bus at that moment and I was able to get on the bus.

Once I was at the hotel, there was a very long check in line. The hotel was also very noisy. While I was waiting in the check in line, I decided it was unlikely I would make this choice again.  That thought was followed by another; if the hotel room had a bathtub I would consider returning. After a month of cold showers, taking a tub bath would be heavenly. (At Dubai International airport hotel there was  only a shower.) One of the first things I saw when I entered the room was the bathtub!

There were more challenges at the hotel than the ones I mentioned above, but the hotel staff were very friendly and the food was excellent. Another challenge occurred when I returned to the airport for my flight to Seattle. After going through immigration again, I looked for a restroom. I was in the old wing of the airport and every restroom had a very long line. I finally found one with a somewhat shorter line at the end of the wing, so joined the line. That restroom ended up having only two stalls. If I had been staying in the airport hotel, I would have been able to stay in my room until it was time to board the plane.

Was the bathtub and the free room and food worth it to me or will I choose to pay more and stay in the airport? Only time will tell.

Greenbelt restoration project

Within five minutes of walking into my house, I changed shoes and went outside to look at the plants in the Greenbelt. They seem to be surviving well. None had been broken by falling branches and the snow didn’t seem to have affected them. I was so excited and eager to start the restoration work again. Our first work party will be on Sunday, January 21.

Jet lag

Even now, I am in the throws of jet lag. I really dislike the experience of turning my night and day around (there is a 13 1/2 hour time difference between India and Seattle). Sometimes I can’t sleep for more than 2-3 hours at a time for many weeks. While my sleep is still disrupted, I think it is going to be shorter this time. I returned to Seattle a week ago today, and last night I slept 5 hours. May that shift continue!

The end and the next beginning

While I could write so much more about this trip, I hope that my posts have given you an idea what it is like to be in Amritapuri. Every trip is filled with adventure, challenge and learning. Even though I’ve only been back in Seattle a week and I’ve been hampered by jet lag, I have had so many experiences since I’ve returned. I look forward to posting about them in the next few days.

To read the previous Amritapuri posts in this series click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: January 3, 2018

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January 3 was a particularly good day for me, full of so many things I love about my visits to Amritapuri. I decided to give the day a post of its own.

That morning, I woke up at 5:50 a.m. I showered and dressed, read and answered email, looked at the news on cnn.com, and then, at 7:15,  headed to the cafe.  Once there, I assisted with breakfast preparation and handed out meals to customers until the first rush was over. Then I ordered breakfast for myself and visited with friends while I ate.

At 9:00 a.m., I left the ashram for my next adventure. This time I was going to the seed-saving farm. I had visited that site for the first time the year before. Before I tell you about going to see it this year, let me give you some back story.

January 2017

Last January, a devotee told me about the seed-saving farm and gave me directions for getting there. He said I should walk to end of the main road in Vallikavu and turn left. After I passed the temple, I should turn right. That sounded easy but I soon discovered there were two paths north of the temple, paths that were quite close together.

I took the first path and walked a long way. After some time, I decided I must have taken the wrong one so went back to the temple and took the second  path. I walked a long way on that one too but still couldn’t find the farm. I returned to the road and decided to take the first path again; I would walk further along it this time.

I had been told the farm would be next to a blue house. Before long, I came to a blue house where tapioca, banana palms and some other plants were growing. It was a smaller farm than I had expected, but it was very nice. No one was there, so I wandered around taking photos.

After exploring that farm, I returned to the ashram feeling very successful. When I showed my photos to the person who had given me the directions, however, he said that I had not been at the seed-saving farm; I had been on private property! He told me that the farm was further down that path.

The next day, I headed out to find the seed-saving farm and this time I found it. Lokesh, who manages that farm, showed me around and told me many fascinating things. I took lots of photos and looked forward to writing a post about the farm.

After visiting the seed-saving farm that day, I went to the tulasi farm that is closest to the ashram and took photos there as well. Then I stopped by Saraswati garden.  At some point between my visit to the tulasi farm and the time I returned to the ashram, I lost my iPhone.  I retraced my steps numerous times that day and went to various Lost and Found stations in the ashram as well, but I never found the phone. I had downloaded the photos of the private farm the same day I took them, but losing the phone meant I had lost all of the photos I had taken at the seed-saving farm and the tulasi farm. I was leaving India the next day, so there would be no way to replace them until my next trip to Amritapuri.

January 3, 2018

Back to my story about this year. I left the ashram at 9:00 a.m. on January 3rd, heading for the seed-saving farm. I took the first turn to the right after passing the temple. In time, I passed the private farm I mentioned above. I kept walking but never found the seed-saving farm.

When I realized this path wasn’t working, it occurred to me that maybe the second path had been the correct one and my memory was wrong. On my way back to Vallikavu, I came to a small road. I decided to go north on that one rather than return to town and start over. I walked a short way on the small road, stopping when an Indian man who didn’t speak English, indicated I should go the other direction. I turned around just in time to see a Western woman crossing the road not far from where I was standing. I asked if she was going to the garden and she said yes.

The gate to the farm was a short distance from the road. That was not how I entered the farm last year, but that was irrelevant. I was where I wanted to be thanks to the man turning me around and the woman crossing the road.

The area looked completely different than I remembered it. Part of the reason for that was that it is a 13 acre farm and the volunteers were focusing on a different part of the property than they were last year.

Lokesh was a bit dismayed when he saw me. He told me there are four growing seasons in Kerala and one had just ended. Everything had recently been harvested. They were just beginning to prepare for the next season, so there wasn’t much to show me. He gave me a tour anyway, and in my mind showed and taught me a lot. I will write a separate post about that garden but will share some photos below as a preview and perhaps as a teaser.

There was another reason that this farm was an important part of my day. Last year, there had been a rickety bridge that went from one section of the farm to another section. As I remember it, the bridge swayed and it was scary to walk across it. Sometime during the year, that bridge had been replaced by a new one. It is hard to call it a bridge, though,  because it was only a coconut tree that had been cut down or fallen. There was something I could hold on to as I crossed but it wasn’t as close to the tree trunk as I would have liked. I made my way across the bridge tentatively and carefully. I believed that the the water underneath the bridge was shallow but I sure didn’t want to fall into it!

As I walked back to Vallikavu, I realized I was taking a different path than when I had come. It ended up being the second path from the temple. I think I will remember how to find it when I come back later in the year.

When I arrived in Vallikavu, I decided to visit this bakery. Seeing or thinking about the name of it always brings a smile to my face.

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Once there, I bought my favorite treat. (It isn’t as big as it looks!)

I returned to the ashram sometime between noon and 12:30. Lunch begins at 12:30 but I wasn’t ready to eat since I had just had a treat. I checked my phone and saw a text from Chaitanya asking if I wanted to join her for lunch at 1:30. That was a surprise, and a very welcome one. I usually only get time with my kids if I go to where they are working. I, of course, said yes!

From 4:00-5:00 p.m., I did the prasad assistant job I’ve mentioned in previous  posts. It is one of my favorite sevas. When I did it in August I was overwhelmed, partially because the job was new to me, but also because I was dealing with the stress from living with a broken wrist. This time, for the most part, it was stress-free.

When I left the stage, I decided to join the prasad-giving line so I could be the person handing Amma the ash and candy packets that she gives to those who come to her for a hug. So from 5-6 p.m. I made my way through the prasad line and ultimately had the joy of being so close to Amma and serving her in that way.

The canteen dinner doesn’t start until 7:00 p.m. and I would be working in the cafe from 7:00 to 9:00 so after giving prasad, I went to my room and made some oatmeal. After my shift, I sat in the auditorium and listened to the bhajans (devotional singing) for a while and then went back to my room.

I no doubt checked email and the news again and perhaps worked on an article I was writing for another publication. I went to bed around 11 p.m.

What an enjoyable and full day it had been.

To read the previous posts in this series click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 20-January 2, 2017

I have been writing individual posts about many of the things I have experienced over the last two weeks but decided it is time for me to update you on some of the other parts of my day-to-day life in Amritapuri.

Temple Music

The loud music from a temple in town played from 5 or 6 a.m. until 5 or 6 p.m. my first weeks here. I learned that the music came from a Narayana temple that was in the midst of a 41-day festival. I had no idea when the festival started or when it would end. One day last week, the music began as usual but it was MUCH louder than it had been the other days. It reminded me of the time in the early 90’s when the music coming from that side of the water started at 5 a.m. and lasted until 2 a.m. the next day, day in and day out. While the music had been loud this year, it was nowhere near as loud as it had been back then. I had even enjoyed listening to it when I was in my room. But I did not enjoy the blasting music that came into my room on that early morning last week.

The following morning, I slept later than I had slept since I’d been here. It wasn’t until someone else mentioned it that I realized there was no music coming from town. The 41-day festival was over! They must have played the music louder on that last day to mark the ending.

Equanimity

When I started this section I labeled it construction. Soon it became obvious that I should change the heading to equanimity. Amma teaches us to strive for equanimity in all situations. I have had plenty of opportunities to practice that lesson on this trip.

This has been the first time in the 28 years I have been coming here when there was no construction noise. That quiet ended a few days ago when workers started making the stair railings in my building higher. The railings had already been raised on the first four floors so they started this time on the 5th floor, my floor. So for the last few days I’ve been dealing with the sound of an electric saw cutting through metal pipe. I have NOT been feeling equanimity.

Notes:

1) After I finished writing this part of my post, it occurred to me that they had finished my 5th floor railing in one day and the pipes have still been being cut on my floor. Is it possible that they are using the 5th floor as their staging ground and the racket will continue until they finish all 16 floors?

2) I went to lunch shortly after writing Note 1. While I was there, I was griping about the noise and the possibility that it might not end for days. When I returned to my room, the saw, the workers and most of the pipe was gone. I don’t know if they’ve already finished the job, moved higher up in the building, or just stopped for the day. Regardless, if this was a test, I flunked it.

The other area where I have struggled to maintain a sense of peace has centered around having ants in my flat. For the most part they are not a big problem now, but when they come back in large numbers, I have no equanimity.

Christmas play

I promised I would publish one more post about the Christmas play but that is not to be. In the past, I have been able to get play photos and audio recordings of some of the songs but that is not possible this year. I will put some of my photos from the rehearsals in this post instead. As you look at the pictures, keep in mind that the cast had only 15 days to make the costumes, backdrops and props; learn the acting roles, dances, songs and musical accompaniment; make power point slides in English and Malayalam; and figure out the sound and lighting and much more.

When I meet people by watching them rehearse for a play, I tend to think of them in relation to that role forever. This year, I find myself doing that with the actors who played the gorilla and the giraffe. I saw the person who played the giraffe on the bridge to Vallikavu yesterday and asked him if he missed being a giraffe. I told him I’m likely to continue thinking of him in that way. He laughed.

Seva

I have been handing prasad to Amma on most darshan days and doing the prasad assistant seva twice a week. I love those sevas. In addition, I have cleaned rudraksha seeds twice and plan to do it again. I’ve also been helping Chaitanya in the cafe in the morning, making the pancake batter and helping getting everything needed for the orders, such as putting honey, butter or peanut butter on toast or adding oatmeal, ragi porridge or hash browns to orders. I then pass the plates to the person who gives them to the customers. Sometimes I cut up tomatoes, wiping down counters or do other tasks. Last night, I helped keep the bakery and the cold drink counters stocked. I’ve been enjoying participating in this way.

Rudraksha seeds

In the past, devotees climbed the rudraksha trees to harvest the fruit. During that period, I remember seeing volunteers separating the fruit from the seeds and then brushing the seeds clean. I learned this year that, at some point, they realized they were harvesting the fruit before it was ripe. Now they wait until the fruit ripens and falls from the trees. After the fruit falls, the animals and other critters eat the fruit. Then the garden staff can just pick-up the seeds from the ground.

Once the majority of the fruit has been removed, the seed is soaked. After soaking, any remaining fruit is much  easier to remove and the seed can be brushed clean. It is still a painstaking and slow process but much less so than when they were dealing with unripened fruit.

Funeral

I attended a funeral last week. I always feel honored to participate in that experience. It is unlikely I will be in Amritapuri when I die, but every time I see a funeral, I think of how wonderful it would be to have Amma at mine. While I love that image, I fully believe that she will be there to meet me when I pass no matter where I am in the world.

Synchronicity

I love the increased level of synchronities that happen whenever I am in Amritapuri. I remember two from last week.

The first one occurred on Thursday. In the early evening, Amma told the person in charge of Western tokens he should hand out more darshan (hug) tokens. He gave one to the person sitting next to me, but didn’t say anything to me. I wasn’t feeling the need for a hug so I didn’t think twice about it. As I watched more and more people I knew lining up for a hug I began to feel the familiar longing… but I also felt tired. I started to walk towards the cafe but decided to not go that direction because I might run into the person handing out tokens and if I did, I would have to make a choice. I turned instead to go to my room and instantly walked into him. So much for avoiding putting myself in that position. He offered me a token. I laughed and took it… and had a wonderful darshan.

On Saturday evening, I was passing out plates of food in the cafe when Chaitanya told me I could leave early. I was surprised that someone was taking over for me and wondered if I had done something wrong. That didn’t seem at all likely, but it went through my mind.

As I walked out of the cafe, Swami Amritasvarupananda was singing Manyukal Mutum, my favorite Swami Ayyappa bhajan. There was no doubt in my mind that this was one of the synchronicities that are so common for me here. I sat and listened to the rest of the song. When it was over, I walked out of the auditorium only to find three Ayyappa devotees standing in front of me. They were the first I had seen on this trip. I believed this was no accident. (To learn more about my Ayyappa experiences from the past, read Story 2 and 3 in Overcoming Myself.)

To read the previous posts in this series click here.

An Evening Surprise

Yesterday was the first day since I’ve been here that I didn’t take a nap. As I walked back to my room around 9:30 p.m. I noticed something on the wall ahead of me. I had no idea what it was so walked closer to it. In that moment, it flew off, drawn by a nearby light. I realized it was a gigantic moth. It must have had a four inch wing span, or at least that was what it seemed like in the short time I had to observe it. I walked away so I could look at it from a distance. In a minute or so, the moth flew back to the wall. I walked back to take a photo of it.

While I’m curious, I hope to never meet one of these again. I suppose this is one of those situations that I should learn to accept with equanimity but I’m not there!

To read the previous posts in this series click here.