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.

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.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 24-27, 2018

Photo Source: Amma’s Facebook Page

Christmas Eve Program

This was the first time in ten years that we’ve had a Christmas Eve program in Amritapuri that consisted of many different performances instead of a play. It was such a fun and enjoyable night.

One performance was done by a group of about 20 young children dancing to Little Drummer Boy. Most of the children were between four and seven years old. There were little boys with drums, little girls in sparkling white costumes, tiny children in sheep costumes, shepherds with staffs, and some slightly older children who played the roles of Mary and Joseph.

Two Western groups sang or played beautiful Christmas carols.

Two Indian groups, dressed in exquisite costumes, performed high energy Indian dances.

A Chinese dancer did a style of dancing I hadn’t seen before. I was in awe of her dance and want to see more of it.

Another performance was about a man who had given up his heart to worldly things. The dances showed the progression of his life from childhood on. At one point, there was a rewind and all the dancers moved through his life backwards. His life was then replayed showing what would have happened if he hadn’t given away his heart when he was young. It was such a creative and fun enactment. I had a great view of Amma at that time. She had such a big smile, from beginning to end!

The next to the last performance was a reflection on Jesus. Sreejit was a preacher in the piece. He wrote the lyrics, some of which were spoken and some were sung. There were dancers and actors playing Jesus, disciples and villagers. My favorite lines in this performance were:

His greatness was protected
because the Lord’s light
within it was reflected.

And when he looked at you
he didn’t see social status.
When he looked at you
he didn’t see black or white.
He didn’t see man or woman,
good or bad

All he saw was his family
in God’s holy light.
When he looked at you…
When he looked at you…

This is his story
he came to win,
he came to forgive
the world of its sin.

This is his story.

The last performance of the night was our choir’s song.  I will be talking more about the song and my experience in later parts of this post. For now, I will say that I believe we sounded strong and that the audience enjoyed it. I feel privileged to have been part of the group.

All of the performances were outstanding and well received. After they were over, Amma gave her inspiring Christmas talk.

The spirit of Christmas is sharing and caring. Let us not be focused on our lives alone. Let us look around a little and see the needs of others as well. Even if you are able to help just one person, then you have made a difference. If we can do this, that would be the real Christmas celebration. -Amma

If Amma’s talk is posted online, I will give you the link in a future post. Afterwards, Amma sang three bhajans, the last one being the always rousing Mata Rani. Then, Amma, and her helpers, distributed chocolate Christmas cake to everyone present. That is always a highlight of the evening program. The Christmas Eve program was over about 1 a.m. on Christmas morning.

[Note: As I wrote this section, I was aware that I said more about some groups than others. I had seen the groups Sreejit, Chaitanya or I were involved in practice several times so knew more about those performances. Also, since I was in a performing group, I sometimes only got glimpses of a performance.]

Will You Be There?

In my first Living and Learning in Amritapuri post from this trip, I told readers that I would tell you the story behind the choir’s song after the performance was over. I didn’t want to mention it before because I didn’t want to spoil the surprise.

During a Devi Bhava on the 2003 Summer Tour early in the tour, a group of staff members sang Michael Jackson’s song Will You Be There? They moved their outstretched arms back and forth like a wave as they sang. Amma loved it; in fact, she called for the song to be sung every Devi Bhava for the rest of that tour.

Amma’s 50th birthday was on September 27, 20003. As the September day approached, people from all over the world poured into the ashram. Amma called the group to sing Will You Be There every day. All of the westerners joined in. I remember a photo taken of us when we were doing “the wave” in the temple. There was a sea of white, and me who, as always, was dressed in colored clothes. I have such fun memories of those experiences

That song hasn’t been sung here for years, maybe not since that time 15 years ago! So it was fun to think of performing it for Amma again, this time by a choir.

I would love to have a tape of our song to share with you but I don’t. So instead, I will share an amazing YouTube video of Michael Jackson singing it!

Wedding

On December 27, Amma married a couple who have known Amma since they were young children. I have known the parents of the groom for many years. It was a beautiful and heart felt wedding. Towards the end of the ceremony,the bride handed Amma a poster of herself when she was about three years old. It was a picture of her being held by Amma during a Devi Bhava. Amma held up the poster for everyone in the auditorium to see. The moment was so touching to witness, as was the entire wedding. I had been invited to the wedding feast so I enjoyed participating in that as well.

Letting Go Follow-up: Christmas Eve performance

In my last Living and Learning in Amritapuri post, I said I was going to let go of my need to be able to sing the words of our choir’s song perfectly and let the fact that I couldn’t sing, clap and move at the same time be okay. Instead, I would do my best to relax and have a good time.

I had a chance to put that resolve to the test at the practice on the afternoon of the 24th. I was reasonably successful in accomplishing those goals. My endeavor was aided by the fact that during the practices one of the lead singers stood in front of me and when the song started to go fast, the dancers and actors from many of the performances came on stage and stood in front of the choir. That was quite okay with me since it meant I was hidden.

When we performed the song that night though, the lead singer didn’t end up in front of me. I gulped when I realized that since I was in the front row of the choir, I would be in full sight. but let my hesitation go. I was able to get more of the words right than I had the past and most of my movements and claps were okay. At first, I had difficulty clapping on the 2nd and the 4th beat but at those times I didn’t let my incorrect “claps” make sound. I was really glad I had agreed to participate rather than quit. I would have been very upset with myself if I had given up.

Letting Go Follow-up: Tai Chi

In that same post, I had said I was going to let go of my desire to be practicing the Tai Chi 108 form and focus on all that I was getting from the class as it was. I laughed when in class the next day, the teacher taught the first part of the 108 form I had been wanting to do. That happens so often. When I really let go of what I want, I often end up getting it!

Weather

The weather has been very hot for December. This week it has been in the high 80’s and all of next week it is supposed to be 90 degrees. Thankfully, there are so many fans now. I remember all of the years when there were no fans in the auditorium. I’m sure glad those days are gone.

It rained two days this week. Again it was heavy rain. One of them was during and after a choir practice. It was raining so hard that I stayed and watched the next practice to avoid getting drenched. By the time I ventured outside, I had to wade through water that was 3 inches deep in places.

 

To read previous posts in this series click here.

 

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

 

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

Letting Go Opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.AYUDH India Leaders’ Training Summit

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

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

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

Rain

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

Bhangra!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

To read previous posts in this series click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 11 to 20, 2018

 

I love doing forest restoration work in the Greenbelt so much that it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to leave Seattle. As the time approached for my December/January visit to Amritapuri, I felt an increased pull to stay in Seattle. In the days before my departure, I wrote two or three people and said I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to India.

An hour before I was to leave the house for the airport, I decided to take some last minute Greenbelt photos for a post I would write when I got to India. I planned to take the pictures from the Hanford Stairs so I wore my sandals. When I arrived at the area I wanted to photograph, I decided to take two steps off of the stairs. It was on a hill but it was a spot where I had walked many times during the previous work party. What I didn’t take into account was that it had rained all week.

The instant I stepped onto the ground, I slipped in the mud and landed on my thumb. I couldn’t believe I had hurt myself again, and this time it was right before I left for India. I could move my thumb without pain so I knew I hadn’t broken anything, but I was definitely hurt… and my pants were covered with mud.

This was clearly another lesson in slowing down, staying conscious, and wearing appropriate footwear, but it also made me abundantly aware that I did want to go to India. I would miss being in the Greenbelt, but I wanted to visit my other home. Now.

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Before long, I was at the airport, and at 4:30 p.m. we boarded the airplane. After a 14 hour flight to Dubai, a 2 hour layover, a 4 hour flight to Trivandrum, 1 1/2 hours going through immigration and collecting my baggage, and a 2 hour taxi ride, I was at Amma’s ashram in Amritapuri.

Today is my 8th day in Amritapuri. To say my days have been full is an understatement. When I started listing what I’ve done since I’ve been here, I was surprised at the length of the list. It included projects, seva, self-care activities, classes and keeping up with challenges as they came.

My Activities list

Set up my room and washed the clothes I store in India… and the ones I wore on the trip
Daily seva (volunteer work) in the café from 7:15- 8 a.m. and 4-6 p.m.
Meals, usually with friends
Tai Chi class 8:45-9:45
Recover from jet lag and a 13 1/2 hour time change- slept or rested whenever I needed to
Coordinated the creation of January’s PNW GreenFriends Newsletter and wrote articles for it
Wrote a Pacific Northwest Tree Planting report for the national Amma e-news
Ordered bare root plants for the Greenbelt Restoration Project
Caught up on writing a backlog of blog posts
Kept current with US political events
Attended evening bhajans (devotional singing)

Healing

My hand swelled up significantly on the plane. Thankfully, once I arrived at the ashram, the swelling began to dissipate. Today, my thumb and hand are almost back to normal. My thumb is still a little sore and there are some things I can’t do fully, but the healing process is progressing steadily.

I have been dealing with shoulder, rib and shoulder blade issues for months. The physical therapy I have done recently has helped a lot. I think the Tai Chi classes I have taken at home and in Amritapuri have helped too.

Darshan with Amma

I could have put darshan on the activity list above, but it is so important to me that I decided it belonged in a category of its own. I’ve gone for Amma’s hug twice since I’ve been here. As always, that experience was “home” to me. She was so gentle. The first time was the day I arrived at the ashram. As I melted into her, I could feel the agitation and exhaustion in my body lessen and a sense of well-being spread through me. The second time, Amma held me as she talked and laughed with the people who were standing near her. Having her laugh while she holds me may be my favorite kind of darshan.

Christmas activities

There will be no Christmas Eve play this year; there will be a variety of performances instead. I was asked to be part of a choir. Practice for the song we will be singing started today. I am very excited about being part this activity. I will have a lot to say about it after Christmas, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise so am not going to say any more now.

Leelas

Leela is a Sanskrit word that is often defined as “God’s play”. I also see it as a word that describes challenges that come so frequently that it leaves one shaking their head wondering what is going on. Leelas are common in my life but their frequency increases when I am around Amma. The one that come to my mind now is the frequency at which things in my room seem to disappear. I’m used to having trouble finding things at home, but I’m always surprised about how things can disappear in a room this small. Yesterday, I couldn’t find my shampoo. I searched high and low but eventually gave up and used bar soap. Much later in the day, I found the shampoo under an upside-down bucket in the bathroom. I still haven’t found my tape measure and a variety of other things.

Prasad Giving and Prasad Assist

Two of the activities I enjoy doing here are Prasad Giving (Handing Amma the packet of ash and the piece of candy she gives each person that comes to her for a hug. Prasad Assist is making sure that the people who are giving Amma the prasad know how to do it, keeping  the line of people waiting to hand her the prasad stays full, and letting each individual know when it is time for them to move from the waiting area to the area where Amma is greeting people. I haven’t done either of those activities so far. I plan to join the prasad giving line during the next darshan day. If I do the Prasad Assist seva on this trip it will be sometime after the Christmas play.

Activities of Daily Living

Activities of daily living (laundry, bathing, etc.) usually takes longer than if I was in Seattle. I wash my clothes using three buckets; one for washing the clothes and two for rinsing. I then hang the clothes on clothes lines that are located on a nearby balcony. It always amazes me how fast the clothes dry in India. I love it!

There is a shower in my room but it only has cold water. On hot days that may be fine, but I often take a bucket bath so that I can add a small amount of hot water to the cold water. (I fill a small pan with water and heat the water using a propane burner.)

I walk considerably more when I am in Amritapuri than when I’m in Seattle. Many times a day, I walk down five flights of stairs and the distance between my flat and my destination. I usually use the elevator when I return to my room though. I enjoy tracking the number of steps I take each day on my Fitbit.

I was already having trouble getting dressed and undressed with my upper body issues. Now I’m having to get dressed a with some hand/thumb limitation as well. Luckily, I have been able to figure out how to do it, but it takes me longer than normal.

Weather

It is hotter here this year than it was at the same time last year, but it doesn’t feel as hot as it did the year before. I was with someone when they checked their weather app a few days ago. It said “87 degrees, feels like 97”. I was surprised it was that hot. I have found it quite comfortable, as long as there are fans in the vicinity! It rained the first day I was in Amritapuri but I don’t think it has rained since.

Crowds

As Christmas approaches, more and more people are coming to the ashram. The numbers of both Indian and International visitors will probably be at their highest during the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

Papaya

One of the activities I like to do in India is to buy a papaya and split it between Sreejit, Chaitanya and Akshay, my son, daughter and son-in-law, and myself. I bought a big one yesterday but it didn’t wasn’t ripe enough to eat right away. When I returned from my Tai Chi class today, I  cut up the papaya and distributed it. It was SO good!

To read previous posts in this series click here.

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.

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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.

Return to Kuzhitura Farm: January 10, 2018

My friend Ramana had asked if I would take him to some of the ashram gardens when he arrived in Amritapuri. Since he didn’t come to India until the 9th and I was returning to the U.S. at 5 a.m. on the 12th, I decided it was only reasonable for me to take him to one of them. I chose Kuzhitura.

You may remember when I visited this farm on December 27, 2017, I saw some tubs that I thought might be a new way to catch water.

Later, I learned that the structures that were originally built for water catchment had become homes for turtles.  I found a picture of one of those structures that I took in January 2016. I can see why turtles would want to live there!

One of the problems with the turtles living in that “pond” is that the water dries up during the dry season. It is not a safe place for the turtles to live. The new tubs are meant to be homes for the turtles.

When I returned to Kuzhitura on January 10, I enjoyed seeing how much homier the tubs looked than when I had been there two weeks before.

Sarvaga, a friend who works in this farm, introduced Ramana and me to some of the turtles living in the current “pond.” She talks to them as she offers them treats and they come right up to her!

 

 

The staff are not going to move the turtles into their new homes. Sarvaga said they will find their own way there. I look forward to seeing where the turtles are living when I return to Amritapuri later in the year.

 

To read the previous 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.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 15-19, 2017

Sick or jet lag or both?

On my second day in Amritapuri, I developed a sore throat and the beginnings of a cold. I was concerned that I was getting sick but that wasn’t the case. I think it was due to a combination of jet lag and natural adjustment to being in a place that is 13 1/2 hours ahead of Seattle, with a different schedule, different climate, different water, different food and all the other differences. I slept a lot the next few days but am beginning to come out of it. I also had an acupuncture appointment on Monday and have felt considerably better since then.

Construction or lack thereof

On my third day, I noticed that something was missing. In all the years I have been coming to Amritapuri, the sound of construction has been constant. There were times in my early years when it lasted all night, although that hasn’t happened for decades.

When I was in Amritapuri in August, it seemed like there was more building construction going on than ever before. What was missing this time was that I hadn’t heard anything but a few minutes of hammering since I had arrived. No sound of rebar being cut. No cement mixer operating. No welding sparks. No construction sites to walk around or through.

I imagine there are probably new buildings going up not far from here but inside the main part of the ashram, the only type of construction I’ve seen so far is decorative, and that is a quiet process. Amazing!

Amma’s Birthday Tree Planting Project

This year the Pacific Northwest devotees planted trees as a birthday gift for Amma. We had planned to plant 64 trees since Amma was turning 64, but ended up planting 309! We devoted the December PNW GreenFriends newsletter to the project. Prior to my trip, I had a copy of the newsletter turned into a booklet. There are 12 devotees who participated in the project in Amritapuri right now. Some of us plan to give Amma the booklet on Thursday the 21st. If you would like to look at the stories and photos in that newsletter click here.

Play practice

Amma and the tour staff didn’t come back from the Europe tour until December 8th. The script and the music for the play had been completed prior to then but by the time everyone had returned to the ashram, there were only two weeks left to gather a cast and for the actors, musicians, dancers, and singers to learn their parts. Also the costumes, backdrops, props, power point slides that show the words in English and the Malayalam, and the sound and lighting plans had to be created. Everything has to happen so fast; it is always like watching a miracle unfold. The performance will take place on Christmas Eve.

I’ve continued going to at least one of the play practices each day. Prior to Tuesday, the cast was rehearsing individual scenes. On Tuesday, they practiced all of Act 1 for the first time.  I had seen the adult parts of that Act before but I’d never seen the children’s scenes. I was amazed by their performance.

Saraswati Garden

For part of the time that I was in Amritapuri last December and January, I worked at Saraswati Garden. On the 18th, I decided to visit the garden. As I came close to the entrance, I passed a  line of banana palms that I have photographed on my last three trips to the ashram.

December 2016:

August 2017:

December 2017:

I knew that banana palms last only one season, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when I walked through the palms this time. The main palm in these photos was at least 15 feet tall and approaching the end of its life cycle.

(Click on any of the galleries below to enlarge the photos.)

After passing the palms, I entered the garden. One of the first things I saw was a very unusual butterfly. I used a cropped version and three different camera effects in a mostly unsuccessful attempt to give you a better view of it. I looked up both Kerala butterflies and moths on the internet but didn’t see any that resembled this one.

(The photo from the top of this post is also from Saraswati Garden, as is the Wordless Wednesday post I put up earlier today.)

Prasad giving and prasad door monitor

One of my favorite activities when I am with Amma is to hand her prasad, the packets of sacred ash wrapped around a piece of candy that she gives to each person who comes to her for a hug. I wasn’t able to do that when I came here in August because I had broken my wrist in July. I felt sad about that loss but was pleased when I was asked to be one of the people to help facilitate the prasad line.

Each prasad giver hands Amma prasad for 3 minutes so it takes a lot of people to keep the line going for the 12 or more hours that Amma gives hugs in a day. The line starts in the auditorium as only six prasad givers are on the stage at a time. My job was to call people from the auditorium line every three minutes so the onstage line stayed full. In addition, I had to train anyone who hadn’t done it before. And, if there were not enough people in the auditorium line, I had to find people to join the line. Managing all of these tasks was challenging and I dealt with feeling incompetent. I felt relieved when, just before I flew back to Seattle, one of my supervisors said they all liked working with me and hoped I would join them again when I returned.

Soon after I arrived at the ashram on the 13th, I was asked if I was willing to be scheduled for the position. I certainly was. I was given a shift on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I missed the first one because I was feeling sick, but very much looked forward to serving in that way.

Not only can I help with the prasad line this time, but now that my splint is gone and my wrist is working I’m also able to hand Amma prasad myself. I did that on my second morning at the ashram. As is usual for me,  I had the sense of “home” “home” “home” going through my mind and body as I handed each packet to her.

 

To read the previous posts in this series click here.