The Truth I Live By

I shared this piece written by my younger brother on this blog in May of 2014. He wrote it before he died of cancer at the age of 39. This seems like a good time to share it again.

The Truth I Live By

(William John Smith 1953-1992)

 Everything makes sense. This can be paraphrased many different ways, although many attempts are less accurate. One of Voltaire’s characters stated, “All is for the best, in the best of all possible worlds.” This is unnecessarily optimistic. My phrasing doesn’t imply that everything that happens to us is good either in the short or the long term. Everyone experiences moments or long periods of unpleasantness. One can hope that over the long period of a lifetime these sad times may not add up to much overall, but most persons with a little thought can think of individuals whom “fate has treated unkindly,” i.e. who have received more than their share of agonies. I think this is one of the hardest things for you, C., that what has happened is just not fair. I’m not sure how long ago I came to believe (or realize) that fairness isn’t the issue. There is nothing fair about life, either in distribution of rewards or unhappiness. And what’s to say that it should be fair. If each of us had an opportunity to create a world, then maybe that’s an attribute that we would build in. But this world is not of our making, and all of the mental checklists that we might make comparing who’s gotten more breaks than we have, etc., will never change the fact that we have to make the best of what we’ve got, not despair over what we perceive as inequities. So life isn’t fair. How do we cope with that? One way might be to remind ourselves that no matter how bad things seem to be at any one time, a little time spent flipping around the TV channel or reading a news magazine will serve as a reminder that we should be embarrassed to be heard complaining about the vast majority of things that concern us. I don’t doubt for a second that I have lived a very privileged existence compared to 90% of the world’s people.

I’m not sure that that is the best way to approach a new tragedy, though (i.e., making ourselves feel better by thinking of others doing worse). I would appreciate a more optimistic approach. The best way to greet each unpleasant event is to grab it by the throat and make the best of it. C. and I have both had our share of suffering, almost all of it, I’m happy to say proceeding our first date. There is no doubt that led to a degree of maturity that made our time together (pre-diagnosis and post-diagnosis) much more meaningful than the lives of those growing up “with the silver spoons.”

Is cancer unfair? Is it fair that we should expect billions of cells in our body to reproduce over and over again, over an entire lifetime, and always get it right? Doesn’t it make more sense to recognize the initial miracle of our birth, the magnificence of our growth into feeling, loving, praising adults, the privilege of experiencing enough of life that we can despair over not having the time to spend longer doing the same? One of the things I am most grateful for is that many, many years ago I learned to be grateful for what I’ve been given. I didn’t, as occurs with many, only get shocked into this realization by a terminal tragedy. This type of appreciation often does begin in the midst of despair, and for that reason I am actually glad that I had enough hard times as a young man, to allow me to think hard about what things are and are not important. Accordingly, for the past 15 or 20 years, I’ve been able to ignore aspects of 20 th century American living that are of no consequence to me (parties, cars, frivolous chatter, clubs, etc.) and concentrate on things that touch me personally. I am forever grateful for what it was that dropped the blinders from my eyes so many years ago.

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..

I am blessed to have had a brother who could embody these attitudes.  I hope those of you who read this find his words meaningful in your lives as well.

A Time of Letting Go

As I mentioned in my posts from India, I have been having trouble with balance. It started about two years ago but has been getting worse. With my doctor’s support, I had dealt with it by working with a personal trainer at a gym and doing physical therapy. Both have been valuable, but it was while I was coping with uneven ground in India that I realized how much worse my balance had gotten in the last year. And I also noticed that the balance problem was often accompanied by a sense of wooziness and exhaustion. The India heat and jet lag made those symptoms even worse. It was towards the end of the trip that it first occurred to me that I should stop leading work parties in the Greenbelt. I let that thought percolate in the back of my mind.

Seeing that the symptoms were getting worse, and that strength building at the gym and physical therapy weren’t sufficient for dealing with the physical problems, once I returned to Seattle, I started getting medical tests to rule out underlying causes. (Some of those tests have been delayed because of the pandemic.)

Around the same time, it occurred to me that my physical problems might also be due to overthinking, overdoing and letting myself get overly stressed. After all, from the time I started working in the Greenbelt, I had thought and even dreamed about the restoration work incessantly.

Overthinking, overdoing and letting myself get overly stressed and exhausted have been life patterns for me. There were times in my life when I felt as if my mind was like a computer that was about to explode. My present-day physical symptoms were eerily similar to those experiences. My old pattern was to keep doing all of those behaviors until I got so sick that I couldn’t do the work anymore. I believe that was why I got Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the mid 80’s and in the 2000’s developed high blood pressure.

Having these insights felt very helpful, but what was to be done with them? Since August of 2016, my life had been primarily focused on the Greenbelt restoration project. I had loved working on the land as well as working with the team leaders and the many hundreds of volunteers who had helped. I had treasured watching the land transform from space overrun with blackberries, ivy and bindweed to land filled with native trees, shrubs and ground covers. But the joy had been accompanied by hardship. The ground is sloped and uneven and I had tripped and fallen many times, once even breaking my wrist. It had taken a tremendous amount of effort to find volunteers to help with the work parties. All of the planning and administrative work had practically turned into a full- time job.  And everything had gotten more difficult for me to do as the balance problems and wooziness worsened.

I realized that almost all of my overthinking, overdoing and stress was related to my Greenbelt restoration work. I knew myself well enough to know that cutting back was not an option; I wouldn’t be able to stop the overthinking with that approach. I knew I needed to stop doing the restoration work as soon as possible. In addition, I needed to accept the fact that I am 71 years old now and have limitations that go with aging.

But I would not make the change immediately. If at all possible, it was important to me to finish Winter Quarter activities since I had University of Washington Service-Learning students as well as Capstone interns from the UW School of the Environment. Even though it was difficult, I was able to complete that commitment!

I have never questioned my decision to stop my involvement in the restoration project, but I knew that I would feel devastated if the land reverted to its 2016 state. I felt relieved when the Green Seattle Partnership staff told me that they were committed to finding another Forest Steward to continue the project.

Several friends and family members told me that my replacement would be revealed. One day, our newest team leader came into my mind. She knows so much and has so much energy. And she had participated in almost all of the student work parties this quarter. I contacted her and asked if she had ever thought about becoming a Forest Steward. I was astounded when she told me she already was one, she had taken the Forest Steward training in 2014. And she was interested in the position!

She prefers to work in a team, so hopefully one or more of our other team leaders will take the training when it is offered in October. But the fact that she is already a Forest Steward means the project can continue now. The saying “what you need will be provided” has certainly come true.

I will miss leading the project but know that I can potentially help in the future. And since the site borders my property, I can still watch the new plants grow and take nature photos. What I am primarily experiencing is a sense of relief.

Just before I sat down to write this post, the title of a book I used to recommend came to mind.

Life is Goodbye,
Life is Hello
Grieving Well Through All Kinds of Loss

I know I am saying both goodbye and hello in my life and realize that I may experience a myriad of feelings as I continue this process of living, learning and letting go.

***

I’m not the only one letting go. While I am feeling a lot of relief about my decision about my own life, I’m much more excited about another person’s transformation. Have any of you wondered why you no longer can find my son’s blog, The Seeker’s Dungeon?

Sreejit deleted The Seeker’s Dungeon when he found out he was going to receive the yellow robes of a brahmachari. (To learn more about brahmacharis and brahmacharya click here.)

The decision to delete his blog was part of letting go of his Sreejit identity as he moves into the next stage of his life.

His name is now Brahmachari (Br.) Sattvamrita Chaitanya. Chaitanya is like a last name for all brahmacharis so would only be said in a formal setting. Most of the time he will be called Sattvamrita. The phonetic spelling is sut VAAM ri tu.  The u’s are like the short u in hut, the aa is long like the a in psalm or alms, and the i is like the i in knit. The capitalized letters are for the syllable that is emphasized. 

I have loved seeing him so excited and happy.

Here are a few photos of Sattvamrita. Cutting off his hair and beard was part of the initiation process.

His sister is so happy for him too. (BTW The sleeves on Sattvamrita’s shirt will be hemmed at a later time! 😁)

A person standing in front of a store

Description automatically generated

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 11-12, 2019

Balance

I’m doing pretty well with balance. I mainly have problems when I stand up after being seated and when I’m tired. I walk slowly and carefully at all times. I’ve used a cane once for going up to the 7th floor of the temple; I imagine I will use it more as the crowds increase. I decided to order a folding cane from Amazon India, so I have one for the trip home. It is amazing that Amazon is so accessible in a fishing village in India!

Most of the times I have fallen in the past have been when I’ve turned abruptly. Part of my café job entails standing in a space that is about three feet in depth, picking up one plate after another and putting it on a shelf directly across from the kitchen counter. The space is narrow enough that there is no danger of falling but I am doing 180 degree turns constantly. One day this week, it occurred to me that this experience might be providing me with an opportunity for some neurological reprogramming.

Sometime during the last few days, I remembered that whenever I had Chronic Fatique Syndrome relapses in the early 90’s, I listened to a recording by Robert Gass and the Wings of Song called Om Namah Shivaya throughout the night. The recording was 45 minutes long but I set it to “repeat.” My relapses were much shorter when I played the recording in that way.

I decided to see if playing it might help me with balance. I was able to locate the same recording on Amazon Prime Music and downloaded it to my phone. I listened to Om Namah Shivaya as I went to sleep the last two nights. I disconnected it when I woke up briefly 2-3 hours later. I don’t know if it will do anything for my balance but my Fitbit says my deep sleep+REM sleep was over 50% both nights. I have rarely to never had readings like that. And the first night I slept more than 7 hours!

[Shiva is the male aspect of God that is the destroyer. I think of him as destroying disease, illusion, delusion and other negativities. I once read that Om Namah Shivaya is the most commonly used mantra in the world. It has many meanings, but I like one that is actually a combination of three definitions: “I bow to Shiva. I bow to the universal God. I bow to the God that is within me.“]

Café and stage sevas

International devotees are pouring into the ashram for Christmas. The café is getting busier and busier. I knew that there would be a point when another person would be assigned to help me during part of my shift, because the work load would be too much for me to handle. As far as I’m concerned we reached that point on or about 8:40 a.m. on Thursday. There were so many plates waiting to be given out that there was no room on the counter for the kitchen staff to add new ones. That deluge only lasted about 10 minutes, but I was totally overwhelmed during that time. As soon as my shift was over, I told Chaitanya that I needed help, but I find it very interesting that it never occurred to me to ask for help at the time. My brain felt scrambled.

My brain is getting a workout during the stage seva too. Amma is continuing to set the prasad-giving shifts for one minute, so I’m constantly giving people the chance to practice handing prasad, watching for people to finish their minute so I can send another person, passing along orientation information that is regularly being added to, tracking the number of prasad-givers who have gone through the line and occasionally calling people to the stage from the auditorium line (when the person responsible for doing that is out finding people to join that line).

I hope to one day have the experience of concisely and coherently orienting the person who replaces me after my hour shift. Right now I am quite flustered as I try to relay that information at the same time I’m doing all the other things. Amma certainly is giving me plenty of opportunities to practice focusing and maintaining equanimity.

Confronting my know-it-all

On Wednesday I saw a notice near the Western Canteen that said a big event would be held in the auditorium on Thursday morning. As the area was being set up, I could see it was an event involving the Amrita University students. I assumed it was their graduation ceremony since graduation has taken place in the auditorium around this time of year the last two years.

When I was eating my breakfast on Thursday, a visitor asked me why there was an American flag in the auditorium. I was surprised and said he must be mistaken. I was curious though, so went to look for myself. On one side of the stage there was what appeared to be a U.S. flag and on the other side was the flag of India. I was a long way away from the U.S. flag though, so it looked like the stars were curved rather than in a straight line. I assumed it flag was something other than the U.S. flag, and went back to the table to tell the visitor my new information.

I was still intrigued though and wanted to check it out further, so after I finished eating I went to look at the flag up close. It indeed was a U.S. flag. That made no sense to me at all. I went over to a swami and asked him about it. I don’t remember his exact words, but I had the impression it was there because of U.S. and Amrita University cooperation. I knew that Amrita University had joint projects with several U.S. universities, and I still was thinking this was a graduation ceremony, so figured the graduating class must have had involvement with one or more of these U.S. universities. But it still seemed strange to me to have a U.S. flag there. Regardless, I went back to the table once again to relay the additional information.

It wasn’t until later in the day that I discovered it had not been a graduation ceremony at all. It had been an event where a partnership agreement between the University of Arizona and Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham was signed.

When I looked on the internet for more information, it appeared to me that Amrita University is now called Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham. I wonder how many years ago that change occurred. I also found this statement:

Over the years Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham has developed working relations with many of the best universities in the world. Amrita Center for International Programs plays a developmental, strategic and co-coordinating role in the institution’s International work, seeking to provide quality support both internally and externally. Strong collaboration with national and international organizations is the hallmark of all research carried out at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham and to this extent we have developed a broad range of international partnerships around the world.

That webpage also had a list of the partners. I would assume, but don’t know, that the University of Arizona will soon be added to this list.

I am aware of how many times during this “investigation,” I had assumed that I knew what was going on even though I didn’t have a clue. And in the process I had passed along incorrect information. Once again, my know-it-all part had been exposed, to myself and others.

To read previous posts in this series click here.

Living Life My Way

My contribution to The Seeker’s Dungeon “From Darkness to Light” event went live today. You can read it at:

Guest Posting Opportunity for Everyone

Now that he is back from working on Amma’s North India tour, Sreejit from The Seeker’s Dungeon is starting a new Guest Posting event. It is called From Darkness to Light. Everyone who reads this post is welcome to write for it. Feel free to tell your friends, family, colleagues and anyone else in your life about it! They are also welcome to participate.

Sreejit said: “It is about sharing your darkest times and how you were able to use it to find purpose in your life.  Your words might be just what someone else needs to hear.  And in sharing we can all remember that we are not alone in our struggles.”

You can find the details here: https://theseekersdungeon.com/from-darkness-to-light/

More Greenbelt Mysteries- this time of the Grrrrrr variety

Last week, I wrote a post about an intriguing mystery that happened after a recent Greenbelt work party. While I experienced a myriad of emotions at that time, it was primarily a positive experience.

There were several other mysteries in process at that time. They were different than the one I had written about in that I was very irritated by each of them.

Soon after I came home from India in mid-January, I found that someone had cut down a large tree somewhere and then dumped it in a part of the Greenbelt that we had cleared. I believed it was done by a “professional” company because all the debris had been sorted by size and much of it had been banded before it was dumped.

(Click on the gallery to enlarge the photos.)

A week later, I noticed that someone had pruned a cedar tree and dumped the branches in front of the first stack. The new debris was neither sorted nor banded, so I assumed that this illegal dump was done by a different person than the previous one.

Shortly before our January 21 work party, I noticed that all of our buckets were missing from the site. Most of them were 5 gallon buckets. Many were bright orange or bright blue. How in the world had someone taken 30 buckets without being noticed? And why? We had used the buckets to hold wood chips, trash, glass and weeds.

Some of the buckets in use at a previous work party

Seattle Parks Department removed most of the dump and replaced most of the buckets. The buckets are now chained to the job box that holds our tools. I also placed three Another Future Healthy Forest signs in hopes that it would prevent people from dumping in the reforestation space.

Instead of going out into the snow to take a new photo for this post, I decided to use one that was taken in February of 2017!

The roads were finally clear and dry yesterday so I drove for the first time since the snow began last Sunday. When I passed the area where I put the three signs, I noticed that one of them was gone.

Grrrr. I guess these are all opportunities to practice equanimity and “putting in the effort and letting go of the results”, but I’m not there.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is face-1683128_1280.png

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: January 2-10, 2019

Sunset in Amritapuri

Strikes

Towards the end of December, we were told there would be a transportation strike on January 2nd. During that type of strike there are no rickshaws, taxis and buses on the road. I imagine the trains are also grounded.

On that day, I decided to walk into Vallikavu, the town closest to the ashram. I remembered the strike when I noticed there were no rickshaws near the bridge that joins the peninsula where the ashram is located and the mainland. I had planned to walk to town anyway so the lack of rickshaws was not a problem.

The only forms of transportation on the roads were bicycles, scooters and motorcycles. There weren’t even any private cars. Private cars are probably not driven during strikes either. The businesses I passed were all closed. I noticed that there were no Indian women on the streets. That seemed really strange.

There was a big group of men on the street ahead of me. I’ve heard that transportation strikes can get violent, but happens when someone breaks the strike. I wondered if I should go back to the ashram but this wasn’t a group of angry men. When I got closer, I was able to see that they were buying or selling fish. Since the market was closed, selling it on the roadside was probably their only option.

Once I reached the center of the town, I discovered the only stores that were open were the pharmacies. I was relieved since one of those pharmacies was my destination. I placed my order and then returned to the ashram.

On January 8 and 9 there was a two-day national strike. (I don’t know if the January 2nd one was state wide or just for the district, but it wasn’t national.) It was called a transportation strike on the announcements here but I noticed on one flyer that the word “transportation” was crossed out and “general” was written above it.

When I walked to Vallikavu on January 8 (for reasons that will become evident in a later section of this post), my experience was completely different from the one on January 2. I saw one rickshaw and a couple of cars on the road that day.  I also saw several closed businesses on the way to town, but when I arrived at the center of town, I discovered that almost everything was open, including the market and some of the banks. The number of women on the street seemed normal.

I believe the January 2nd strike was about the current events in Sabarimala. The national strike on January 8 was called by the Central Trade Unions and was against the government. Twenty million people participated in that one. Based on what I saw in Vallikavu on the 8th, my guess is that people here may not be as dissatisfied with the government as people in other parts of India.

Ashram Visitors

The number of Indian visitors was significantly lower during the strikes. The people probably couldn’t get here, but there may have been other factors at play as well. The crowds were large during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day so it would be natural for them to be lower the week after the holidays. Also, the fact that Amma’s South India tour starts on the 18th may have been responsible for some of the decrease too.

All of the darshan programs prior to the holidays were in the auditorium rather than the temple. I assume that was because there has been restoration work occurring in the area above the front stairs of the temple; there was no way for a crowd to enter the temple from the front.

When the number of people at the ashram decreased, Amma began to hold darshan in the temple. Everyone walks up and down the stairs on the east side of the building. That creates an interesting dilemma since the stairs wind and are quite narrow. Two people can’t go up or down two across without turning to the side to squeeze by each other. But it works. It is nice to have programs in the temple from time to time.

Being there always brings to mind these photos from my first visit to the ashram in January of 1990. I was in Amritapuri the week that the temple was used for the first time.

A separate trip to Vallikavu

When I ordered my medications on January 2, I was told to return on Monday, January 7 and I did. That was an interesting journey. I decided to stop by the optometrist to get my glasses adjusted. When I walked into that office, I was told that the technician was not there. Then I went to the pharmacy and was told that my medications had not arrived and to come back the next day. Then I went to Love Sugar bakery to get my first, and only, Chocolate Fantasy sundae on this trip. I was told that the person who makes the sundaes wasn’t there. I had intended to go to the School of Biotechnology to take photos of the plants, but I had forgotten to bring my phone, which meant I didn’t have a camera.

So, I had walked the 15-20 minutes from the ashram to Vallikavu, in the hot sun, and accomplished none of the things I had planned to do. At least I got some exercise. I returned to the ashram and went directly to the Indian store. I purchased and ate a Magnum Triple Chocolate ice cream bar that I had seen in the store earlier in the week. I was in heaven!

Watching the Christmas Eve entertainment

Generally, the people who perform during the Christmas Eve cultural events aren’t able to see all of the performances. Usually, we have a chance to see a video of the event at a later time. This year, we watched that video on January 8.

I had a chance to see the choir performance part of the video ahead of time and was upset when I saw how stiff I looked. My problems with remembering the words and my off beat clapping were also all too visible. I thought about not going to the viewing, but decided not to chicken out. During the viewing, I was relieved to discover that seeing the video on a screen from across the room was very different than seeing it up close on a computer screen. I like to think that no one even noticed me!

As I was writing this section, I discovered that some photos taken during the Christmas Eve entertainment are on amritapuri.org now. I’ve put some of them below:

You can click on the gallery to enlarge the photos.

Letting Go Reflections

Resentment

If you’ve been reading my posts from this trip you will know that I’ve been sharing information and experiences I’ve had regarding letting go. In the last week, I’ve been reflecting on what is NOT letting go. I believe if I’m feeling resigned to an outcome then that is not letting go. In those cases, it might be more accurate to say I am giving up and accepting the fact that I can’t have what I want. I also believe that if I have resentment about not getting something I want, then it is an indication that I haven’t let go.

I imagine Transactional Analysis theory would consider both resignation and resentment to be racket feelings, i.e. something that covers the core feelings of mad, sad, scared and glad. I think resignation could easily cover anger and resentment definitely does. Also, we can be attached to something through our anger and our fear, or to say it a different way, anger and fear may prevent us from truly letting go.

Preparing to return to Seattle

My trip is nearing its end. I’ve started the process of cleaning my room, putting away the things I leave here and packing my suitcases. I have also been doing the administrative work necessary to prepare for future forest restoration work parties once I get back to Seattle. Today, I met with a friend to learn more about Power Point. I’m giving a talk about our restoration project at Seattle University on February 12 and want to put project photos on Power Point slides.

I will probably get my last hug from Amma on this trip tonight.

To read previous posts in this series click here.

Experimenting with Gutenberg: Photo Galleries

Word Press is switching to a new editing system. It is called Gutenberg. After moving through plenty of resistance, I decided to try it out. I wrote the post about Sreejit’s song using the new system. I think I’m going to like it.

In this post, I’m going to create a few photo galleries to see what they look like.

#1 This gallery has photos from India and from Seattle. Some were vertical and some were horizontal. At first, I had the column setting set to three but decided to change it to four.

(You can click on any of the galleries to enlarge the photos.)

#2 This gallery consists of photos from India that I haven’t posted before. I decided to make it two columns. The first four photos and the last two are purposely paired.

#3 The last gallery uses photos from India that I’ve used before. This is what the three column setting looks like.

I’m liking this new system. I will miss the tiled mosaic setting of the old editor but I like how these galleries look too.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 28-January 3, 2019

Sunrise in Amritapuri

Even though New Year’s Eve wasn’t the first day of this time period, it seems like the best place to start!

New Year’s Eve

Photo Credit: Amma’s Facebook Page 2016

Amma meets with the residents and visitors for meditation and a question and answer session on Mondays and Fridays. The program would occasionally be in the auditorium, but for the most part they were held at the beach. About a year ago, they started being held in the auditorium exclusively.

One day, towards the end of December, I was surprised when it became obvious that the devotees didn’t know whether the event was going to be at the beach or in the auditorium. Both places were being prepared for her.

That day, and the following Friday, Amma went to the beach. On both days, by the time I cleaned up the area where I was doing my seva shift, I was too tired to go anywhere but my room. After missing the second beach meditation though, I decided I was going to go to the next one no matter what.

The crowds were big on New Year’s Eve. Just before 5:00 p.m., a new person walked up to me while I was working in the cafe and asked if Amma would be coming for meditation. I said, yes, and seeing that the auditorium was nearly full, added that it would probably be held in the auditorium due to the size of the crowd. And then I added, “I don’t really know anything.” That statement proved accurate moments later, when the people in the auditorium started running to the beach. My shift was over at that point, so I grabbed a chair and went there myself.

It was so nice to be sitting with Amma at the beach again.

After the meditation and the question and answer period, Amma gave darshan to the devotees who had arrived that day and were leaving that night. Then she walked to the auditorium to lead the bhajans (devotional singing) from 6:30-8:10 p.m. After bhajans, she left the auditorium and we all had dinner.

Amma came back to the auditorium around 10:00 p.m. Like Christmas Eve, there were a series of performances. The first act was an instrumental group comprised of musicians from all over the world. Their music was referred to as fusion music. All of the musicians were excellent but I enjoyed hearing the saxophone the most.

Then came a dance by a group of very young, mostly Indian, children. I would guess their ages ranged from 4-7 although I don’t know. There was a young boy who was jumping up and down with so much enthusiasm throughout the piece. He was so funny. The room erupted with appreciative laughter. All of the dancers were fun to see. And I also enjoyed watching the people as they watched the dancers.

At one point in the evening,  a single Indian dancer performed. She came on stage and stood in her beginning pose. When the sound didn’t start, she held the pose as if this was a normal event. Eventually the sound problem was figured out and the music began. She did a beautiful dance. I was impressed that she was able to maintain her composure and pose during the awkward beginning.

I don’t remember all of the performances that occurred that night but I remember the last two. I was present the evening before the when an Indian woman was asked if she would arrange to have the Indian women householders (married women living in the ashram) dance. When the curtain opened that night, I was amazed at the number of women in her group; there had to be at least 14 of them. Their dance was so nice. I was very impressed that she had been able to gather so many people, and create a dance, in such a short time.

The last act was a group of the ashram children singing Heal the World. By the end of the song, many people in the audience were singing and clapping along with them. I don’t have a tape of their performance, but I found a video of Michael Jackson singing the song.

After  the performances, Amma gave her New Year’s message. Most of it was published on amritapuri.org. (To read it click here.) I decided to highlight one part of Amma’s talk. Picking that part wasn’t easy. This was my final choice:

True celebration is not something that can be gained by fulfilling a desire. It is the final stage of a continuous preparation. When we see a blooming flower, swaying in the wind, spreading fragrance, we fail to recognise that it represents the last stage of the transition of the flower bud from darkness into light. Inside the flower bud, there was darkness. From that darkness, it slowly bloomed into the light. Similarly, this is our journey of blossoming from the darkness of lower emotions into the light of pure love. It is only when we reach that final destination that we experience real celebration and joy.

I generally do not go to New Year’s Eve programs. Sometimes I don’t get to bed until 2 or 3 a.m. after the Christmas Eve programs, so I usually don’t feel up to another late night. This year, though, I was wide awake when the program began around 10:00 p.m., so I decided to stay up for part of it. After the performances, a taped version of Amma’s New Year’s speech was played. The English translation was projected onto other screens in the auditorium.

After the talk, Amma began to sing bhajans. While I enjoyed singing with her, by the end of the second song it was midnight and I was really tired. I decided to leave and go bed. I know there were at least two more songs and a peace chant after I left. but I don’t know when the program ended.

What a day it had been.

New Year’s Day

There is also a meditation followed by a question and answer session on Tuesdays. This one starts at 11 a.m. I came to the program in time to hear the questions and answers section. The form was different than normal that day. After Amma answered a devotee’s question she asked for others to add to her answer. Two people gave answers.

Then, Brahmacharini Karunamrita stood up and said that she wasn’t going to answer the question but she had something she wanted to say. (She spoke in Malayalam but what she said was translated into English when she was done.) She told us that she had been on the spiritual path for 50 years. She left home when she was 16 years old and joined a convent. She was at the convent for 14 years. At that point, she felt called to be with Amma and has been with her ever since. She expressed her gratitude to Amma. She was wiping away tears from her eyes throughout her talk. And Amma was wiping tears away from her own eyes at the same time. I felt honored to be able to witness that event.

I have a special memory of Bri. Karunamrita. In the early 90’s I was helping to take care of a woman who had had a psychotic break. I felt outside of my comfort zone even though I was a psychotherapist. Bri. Karunamrita came into the room and talked with her. She was so kind and so gentle and the woman responded to her caring ways. I wanted to be like Bri. Karunamrita!

After the question and answer session, Amma passed out lunch  to the big crowd. I joined the plate passing line, which is one of my favorite things to do.

That afternoon I attended a children’s puppet show. Seetala, the devotee who organizes them, has been asking me to come. I loved it. The little kids were so excited and joined in with the interactive performance. I enjoyed seeing the marionettes she had made as well.  After the performance, the children were told they could go to the right of the stage to see the puppets. Several children headed that direction. Then she added that everyone who wanted a cookie should go to the left of the stage. The children who were walking to the right of the stage quickly turned around and headed for the cookies. It was really funny.

After eating their cookie, the children were able to see how the marionettes worked. Then it was game time. I left at that time, but I was so glad I had gone to the show.

***

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day seems to have been a turning point for me. I was more awake and started attending more of the programs. On Monday and Tuesday, I sat on the floor in the front of the auditorium during bhajans. That was one of my goals during my last Amritapuri visit. I enjoyed sitting there again.

***

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I decided to start with some of the New Year’s Eve and the New Year’s Day activities. The rest of the post will be experiences that happened throughout the whole time period. Some happened after New Years and some before.

Time with Amma
I have handed Amma prasad three or four times since I’ve been here. I so love doing that and will do it some more. I am not planning to be a Prasad Assistant this trip. My time here has been challenging for a variety of reasons and I can’t do everything.

I went for Amma’s darshan again on January 3. Westerners usually go for darshan after the Indian visitors have had their hug. The darshan line was looped around three times by the time I entered it; my guess was there were about 150 people in line at that point. I was up much later than I had intended to be, but I knew I needed to be with Amma. Her acknowledging look and smile when I was a person away from her was so special to me.

Tai Chi

I’ve continued to go to the Tai Chi class whenever it is offered. (The class is held five days a week.) We’ve been doing the first section of the Yang 108 form every day. I enjoy the class and look forward to returning to my Seattle Tai Chi class when I go home.

Mental and Emotional Turmoil
Part of what happens when I, and others, are around Amma is that the personal things we need to work on come up. It’s similar to what happens when you stir a pond; the sediment rises to the surface. In this case, the purpose is so that we can see our negativities and self-defeating behaviors and work on them. So, to put it in a blunt and different way, I could say that I’ve “been in my shit” for the last week. That manifested in the form of loneliness, worrying about the future and five or six nights of nightmares. In several of the nightmares I did something wrong and was so glad to wake up and find out I hadn’t really done the action. One of the dreams was very violent. I don’t remember the content of any of the dreams beyond that.

One day this week, I was able to sort out some of the puzzle pieces that went into creating this pain and took action on them. I also recognized changes I need to make when I return to Seattle. Clearly, it was all for the good, no matter how miserable I felt. I have had no nightmares since the day I was able to separate some of the components that went into my misery.

Kiran Bedi

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

This event actually occurred on Christmas day but I forgot to put it in my last post. Kiran Bedi was the keynote speaker for the closing ceremonies of the AYUDH summit.

I was working in the bakery part of the café during that time, so I wasn’t able to go to her presentation, but since my job takes place in the area outside of the café, it is across from the open aired auditorium. I was close enough to get a sense of what was happening, and even see some of it, although I couldn’t hear the words of her speech.

I had been told that she was Lt. Governor of Punducherry, but that “she was more than that”. The excitement when she entered the auditorium was electric. I was intrigued. I noticed that when she handed out certificates to some of the attendees, they would often reach down to touch her feet (a sign of respect). When that happened, she would reach down and touch their feet.

I looked her up on the internet later and was very impressed. She is 69 years old and was the first woman to join the Indian Police Service. She served there, in many different roles, for 35 years. She is also known as a social activist, an advocate for the poor and a politician. Her list of accomplishments is extensive.

A story that I liked is that during the Asian Games that were held in Delhi in 1982, she was tasked with traffic control. She became known as Crane Bedi because she brought in cranes to tow away illegally parked vehicles.. Some reports say that she towed away Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s car, although apparently it was actually a sub-inspector that had the car removed. Bedi stood up for the controversial action though, saying that the officer was doing his duty.

I found a video about the incident; it is one that is used to teach children English. I really enjoyed watching it.

There is a sizeable report on Kiran Bedi’s life in Wikimedia.

Soon after the AYUDH event, I had lunch with a friend who said she had read books about Bedi years ago. The one she liked best was called May You Be the Mother of a Hundred Sons: A Journey Among the Women of India. When I looked it up, I discovered it was published in 1991. Kiran Bedi has also written many books of her own.

Weather

Normally it is comparatively cool in December. There have been times in the past when I was actually cold unless I wore a light weight jacket. That was not the case this visit. It was hot all of December. On January 2, that changed. When I came down the stairs that morning, I was greeted by a wind that chilled me. It has been cool every morning since. I love it.

***

I just remembered some other things that happened during this time period, but this post is long enough. I will share them in the future!

To read previous posts in this series click here.