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.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unlikely

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This photo was taken yesterday, 5-9-18

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

 

Unlikely

My Dream is Realized

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In 2012, several members of our Seattle satsang went to Amma’s programs at the new MA Center Chicago; located in Elburn, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. They came back so excited and inspired that it really caught my attention. I used to go to most of the stops on Amma’s annual tour, but I had never been to the Chicago programs. In summer of 2015, I decided I would make visiting MA Center Chicago my top priority for the 2016 tour. Therefore, last Sunday I was on my way to Chicago for the June 27-29 programs.

The property used to be a Seventh Day Adventist college. When Amma’s organization purchased it, it had been empty for some time and the buildings needed a lot of restoration. The 145-acre property had all of the buildings that one would expect a college to have, as well as a large amount of farm land.

I saw the blue water tower, standing tall above the tree line, before I reached the Center. When I turned onto the property I drove through an area of houses that had originally been used for faculty. It was so beautiful that I became teary. I realized that this was a village of Amma devotees, the first in this country.

I marveled at what had been accomplished since the property was purchased in 2012. The program hall and the grounds were beautiful. They had recently finished restoring a building to use as a dining hall. The first afternoon, Br. Shantamrita offered a tour of the grounds and told us a lot about the land, what projects they have been working on, and their plans for the future. I was so happy to finally be at the Center, and to be there with Amma.

One of my major goals for the trip was to walk the land. The second day, I went to the gardens, the Echinacea field and some of the other places that had been pointed out to us on the tour. I will share information and photographs from that experience in a separate post.

When devotees are around Amma our weaknesses often surface so that we can see and work on them. That process was certainly front and center for me on this trip. While I loved being with Amma and I loved being at the Center, it was a very difficult experience for me. I have had ongoing back problems since February. While I am getting better, I still can’t sit or stand in one place for long. That made it difficult for me to enjoy listening to the music or sitting and watching Amma. It even hurt to stand and talk with friends. I would stay in the program hall for a while and then go outside and lay down under a tree.

Being in nature was calming and the view was beautiful, both during the daytime and at night. I took photographs as I was lying down and looking up.

I enjoyed that experience, but I also felt the pain of feeling restricted; i.e.not being able to do what I wanted to do. While part of my despair was due to not being in the hall with Amma as much as I would have liked, there was an emotional trigger even bigger than that one.

Amma’s programs are all run with volunteer labor.  I was tour coordinator for her Pacific Northwest programs for 15 years. I stopped doing that when physical issues made it nearly impossible to continue. For one reason or another, I haven’t been able to work during Amma’s programs for several years. That restriction catapults me into very uncomfortable emotional baggage.  Who am I if I can’t help? What are others thinking about me sitting or standing around and not doing anything?  I can’t be counted to complete anything I sign up to do; besides what could I do that doesn’t involve sitting or standing? I felt useless.

I have long been aware that “over-doing” is a major issue for me and that learning to “be” is my challenge. But it is a lesson that I obviously still have major resistance to learning. Part of me believes that if I surrender and let go, the physical issues might resolve but instead I stay in resistance and keep myself in emotional pain. This is a big one for me and I hope to learn the lesson soon.

So during the Chicago programs, I vacillated between joy at being there and grief. I had Amma’s darshan (hug) twice. My time in her arms felt so good and it was very clear she wasn’t upset with me for not doing anything!

There were some funny times too. My daughter came to my hotel with me during one afternoon break.  There was a Salvation Army store nearby and she asked to me to stop there so she could get some “new” shoes as the pair she was wearing was falling apart. She soon found some sturdy shoes and was very happy with them.  As we left the store, she threw her old shoes into the trash. When we returned to the program later, as she got out of the car she looked down and saw that the heel from the new pair of shoes had separated from the sole and was lying on the ground in front of her. She took off the shoe to look at it and the entire sole came off, in three pieces! Her first reaction was shock, quickly followed by laughter. We both laughed and it still gives me a chuckle when I think about the look on her face and the absurdity of the situation. Luckily, she had a pair of sandals in her room.

The second incident occurred when a friend asked me if I would chant back up for archana. The archana is a series of mantras, followed by a response, that takes over an hour.  I knew I couldn’t sit that long, and said so. Even though my response was true, it was also a good excuse.  The complete truth is that I don’t ever like to sit still that long. Also, many years ago, I was asked to do the archana response at a program in Paris, soon after I got off my international flight. I said no then too, but the person who asked me convinced me to do it. I was so tired that I soon started nodding off. It was all I could do to stay upright.  It was a mortifying experience and further increased my resistance to doing that particular job. I shared that story with my friend and she told me that had happened to her too. But in her case, she started dreaming, and in her dream she started to talk. Even though it was a dream, she talked out loud in reality too, right into the microphone! It certainly wasn’t funny to her at the time it occurred, but she had long since seen the humor in the situation. We shared a good laugh and I appreciated knowing that my own embarrassing moment could have been worse.

As the Chicago programs drew to a close, I felt grateful for having had time with Amma and with my family and friends. I also appreciated having realized my dream of being at MA Center Chicago. I felt sad about the things I couldn’t do, but at the same time was thankful that I am given the lessons that I need to learn and hoped I would learn this one sooner rather than later.

I know that I am making progress and that the lesson will be over when it is over.

Challenges for Growth Prompt #11: Overcoming Resistance

20150726_193656 Overcoming Resistance

This week’s challenge is:

“Today I do something I’ve been resisting.”

A co-therapist I used to work with often told clients that it may take 75% of the time one is in therapy to do 25% of the work that needs to be done. The remaining work is likely to be completed much faster. I also remember hearing Amma, my spiritual teacher, say that we ask her to clean us up, but then we won’t hold still for the bath. The common factor in these two circumstances is resistance.

Resistance isn’t all bad.  It would be unhealthy to walk into a new situation and turn ourselves over to the whim of other people.  Blind faith can be dangerous.  It also takes time to determine a correct course of action.  However, when we know that there are changes we need to make, holding on to resistance often results in us holding on to, or creating, pain for ourselves.  It may also stifle our growth.

This week, for 1, 2, 3 days or longer do something you’ve been resisting doing.

Sometime during the week, write a post about some aspect of this topic or about experiences you had when you focused on overcoming something you’ve been resisting. Feel free to use whatever form you desire: i.e., prose, story, poem, photograph, etc.  (If you don’t have a blog, please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below.)

 

General Prompt Information:

New prompts will be posted at 5 a.m. (PST) every Wednesday.

Since it is easier to make behavioral changes if we focus on them one day at a time, each of the weekly challenges will start with “Today, I focus on…….” It will be up to you to decide how long you want to focus on a particular challenge— one, two, three days or even longer. At some point during the week, publish a post that relates in some way to the subject of the week.

Link your post back to this prompt post. If the pingback doesn’t work, then leave the link to your post in the comment section below.  Be sure to include “Challenge for Growth Prompts” as one of your tags.

Throughout the week, I will publish the links for the posts that were created as the result of this prompt.  I will also post the links from those who participated the previous week. That way they will be seen by anyone who comes to this page.

 

This week’s contributors to: Overcoming Resistance

A Little Bit of Clarity- Where Love Meets War

Dealing with My Resistance- The Seeker’s Dungeon

Challenge for growth prompt/resistance- Annette’s Place

Laughing with God- Living, Learning and Letting Go

As He Wishes- Nik’s Place

How about you?

 

Last week’s contributors to: Preventing Food Waste

Challenge for growth/food waste- Annette’s Place

Food Waste: More Information to Ponder- Living, Learning and Letting Go

 

 

Dealing with My Resistance

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I just published a post “Dealing with My Resistance” at The Seeker’s Dungeon.  I hope you head over there to read it! http://theseekersdungeon.com/2016/03/11/dealing-with-my-resistance/

 

 

Living in Gratitude

I spent a lot of time during my childhood sitting in my room pouting.  Decades later, during my personal therapy journey, I was able to move beyond much of the negativity and pain of those early years.  It was in my therapy community that I first had a strong sense of belonging.  I felt content and happy.  One day, though, I heard a friend talking about feeling joy.  Happiness versus joy….. hummm.  That was something to contemplate.  I felt happy, but I certainly did not feel joy. Continue reading “Living in Gratitude”