Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: September 7-11, 2018

Attitude

On my first day in Amritapuri this year, I noticed a man wearing a t-shirt that said “let go” on the front. Since my blog is named Living, Learning and Letting Go, his shirt caught my eye and my interest. A few days later, he asked me if I was having a good day or a great day. I was startled at first but then realized it was a nice example of how powerful choosing our attitudes can be. If our choice is between a good day or a great day, we are more likely to create one of those two options for ourselves.

***

I was reminded me of a story that I once heard Jean Illsley Clarke tell. She is a parent educator and was a mentor for me. Her story was about a seven-year-old girl who had been kicked out of a number of foster homes. Jean visited her on a day that she had been acting out. When Jean went outside to talk to her, she asked the child “How did you make your day go today?” The girl was startled for a moment. After thinking about it, she said, “Exactly the way I wanted it to go.”

***

A quote that is projected on the screens during Amma’s programs in Amritapuri and the U.S. (and probably elsewhere) is also about the importance of choosing ones attitudes.

***

For the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust. In one of his books, Man’s Search for Meaning, he wrote:

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

***

There is so much power in realizing we can be responsible for our own attitudes.

Choices

Towards the end of last week, I realized I hadn’t done many of the activities that were important to me during previous trips.

  1. I hadn’t joined the prasad line to hand Amma the packet of ash and candy that she gives each person who comes to her for a hug.
  2. Amma has given western visitors and ashram residents the opportunity to sit on the stage with her each darshan day. Not only had I not taken advantage of that opportunity, I hadn’t even checked to see what my assigned time was.
  3. During my last three trips to Amritapuri, I had enjoyed doing a one-hour shift as a prasad assistant twice a week. That job consists of making sure that there are always people available to hand Amma the prasad and teaching them what to do if it is their first time giving prasad, I had planned to do that seva (volunteer job) again this year, but kept putting it off. I soon realized that it wasn’t going to be a priority for me this year.

Instead, I have kept focused on coming to bhajans on time, and sitting in the floor-seating area in the front of the auditorium, as well as attending more of the meditations and Q&A programs.

A few days ago, I walked by the prasad-giving line and saw that it was almost empty. I know what it is like to not have enough people to run the line, so as soon as I could, I joined the line myself. I enjoyed giving Amma the prasad packets as much as I always do.

After I finished doing that, I noticed that there was a lot of empty space in the area on the stage where devotees sit. That is very unusual, so I decided to take advantage of it. I had an incredible view of Amma as she gave darshan. I sat there for about half an hour and then left. I realized this was a good example of the importance of staying aware of opportunities that arise and not holding on to plans in a rigid way. It is important for me to consider each choice that comes my way individually.

***

This week I also had the opportunity to see that I don’t always make choices that are in my best interests. On Sunday, I got a hug from Amma and then decided to have dinner with friends instead of listening to the Swami bhajans. During that dinner, I heard Swami Pranavamrita singing one of my favorite bhajans after another. Even though I longed to be immersed in the music, I chose to stay with my friends. It was nice to be able to choose between between two good options, but since I am still longing for what I missed that day, I don’t think I made the best choice for me in that moment. I know it was a learning opportunity though and I believe I will have an opportunity to make a different choice many times in the future.

***

I used to teach a workshop based on Wayne Mueller’s book Legacy of the Heart.  I ended the workshop by saying “You will have endless opportunities to choose between Pain or Forgiveness, Fear or Faith, Performance or Belonging, Scarcity or Abundance, Grandiosity or Humility, Drama or Simplicity, Judgement or Mercy, Busyness or Stillness, Disappointment or Nonattachment, Isolation or Intimacy, Habit or Mindfulness and Obligation or Loving Kindness. The choice is up to you.”

Discovering My Limits

I have enjoyed sitting on the floor during bhajans. My legs often get uncomfortable but my back feels better than if I am sitting in a chair. If I go to the earlier meditation and Q&A program, I usually sit in a chair since sitting on the floor for the 1 1/2 -2 hour bhajan program is all I can handle. I’m pleased that I am able to get up and down from the floor, although I’m not very graceful about it.

On Thursday of last week, I faced a new challenge and soon realized I had discovered a new limit. When the program is in the auditorium there is a lot of space in the front area. However, on Thursday, darshan was held in the temple, which is much smaller. I decided to go to the temple for the 6:30 bhajan set. Since Amma would be giving darshan,  a swami would lead the singing. It would be like the “old days”.

The situation was very much like the old days. The front area was very crowded and there was no room to walk between people. As more and more people sat down, I began to wonder how I was going to get out. The swami would sing longer than a normal bhajan program and I knew I couldn’t sit that long. As crowded as it was, it would be difficult to get into a standing position and my balance would probably be a problem.

I worried about it for a while. Then the person next to me stood up. By using her space and my own I was able to stand up. That didn’t solve the problem of walking through a crowd of people when there was no space between them though. I slowly made my way past one person and then another, and then reached out my hand for support to go the last distance. One person either didn’t see me or ignored me, but another took my hand. With that extra support I was able to get to the aisle.

I had discovered a new limit. I will not sit on the floor during the 6:30 p.m. bhajans if darshan is in the temple. I can sit there at other times during the day.

***

I used to tell new devotees to be sure to stay until the end of programs because so many special things happen then. Another limit I have had to accept is that I can’t handle staying up late. If I do, I feel horrible the next day.

One of the events I missed this week was Rosh Hasshana, the Jewish New Year. A group from Israel sang for a while. I was there for part of that. I loved their music. Later in the night, another group of Jewish devotees sang for Amma and then Amma sang with them. I could hear a bit of that song from my room.  Part of me wanted to join them, but I knew I needed to respect my limits.

Saraswati Garden

I spent some time in Saraswati Garden a few days ago. It has become so lush. As I wandered through it, I marveled at how big the plants are compared to those that were there in 2016 when the garden was fairly new. Some of the plants that were 18-24 inches in 2016 are now well over 6 feet tall. And there are many new plant varieties.

November 2016

September 2018

Photo credits:

The Amma quote is from Amma’s Facebook Page.
The attitude, choices, and limits photos are from Pixabay.com.

To read the previous posts in this series click here.

Update on Practice in Accepting Change and Letting Go

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

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

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

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

I Will Pass It On!

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

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

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

Practice in Accepting Change and Letting Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unlikely

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This photo was taken yesterday, 5-9-18

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

 

Unlikely

Exploring Utopia

I have been thinking about Utopia since last Thursday when Sreejit announced it as the topic for this week’s Dungeon Prompts. My reflection took me to some uncomfortable places that expanded beyond the scope of Utopia.

When I think of Utopia, I think of Shangri-La, and when I think of Shangri-La, I think of the 1973 movie The Lost Horizon, one of my favorite musicals of all time. [The movie was panned by critics but it really spoke to my heart.]

As I began to write this post, I looked up The Lost Horizon and found this YouTube recording of the opening theme song. Here are the lyrics and the video. I started to cry as I listened to the song.

Lyrics:

Have you ever dreamed of a place
Far away from it all
Where the air you breathe is soft and clean
And children play in fields of green
And the sound of guns
Doesn’t pound in your ears (anymore)

Have you ever dreamed of a place
Far away from it all
Where the winter winds will never blow
And living things have room to grow
And the sound of guns
Doesn’t pound in your ears anymore.

Many miles from yesterday before you reach tomorrow
where the time is always just today
there’s a lost horizon waiting to be found.
There’s a lost horizon where the sound of guns
doesn’t pound in your ears anymore.

Earlier today, the word nirvana came to my mind. Wikipedia says this about nirvana: “All Indian religions assert it to be a state of perfect quietude, freedom, highest happiness along with it being the liberation from samsara, the repeating cycle of birth, life and death.”

It occurs to me that I may have considered aspects of Utopia, Shangri-La and Nirvana this week. In fact, I think I’ve mixed them all together. I will be presenting some of my processing in a fairly random manner.

***

In my mind, Utopia would be a world without war. It wouldn’t be a world without conflict because humans will always have differences of opinions. It wouldn’t be a world without pain because humans aren’t likely to grow unless there is at least a measure of pain involved. But it would be a world where differences are honored, where people place a high value on seeking win-win solutions, and where love is valued more than hate. It would be a world where we don’t expect each other to be perfect. In my vision of Utopia, everyone would live a life full of adventure, challenge and learning. People would be willing to work on and resolve their issues with each other and would give and receive support.

***

This week I reviewed my life and identified times when I experienced a deep sense of bliss. The times that came to mind, in order of their occurence, were:

  • In 9th grade riding on a bus with Youth For Christ members, singing Christian songs with all of my heart
  • Listening to and singing  bhajans during my early years with Amma, especially when the songs were about Krishna.
  • Spending several hours in a deep meditative state during one of my first trips to India. It occurred when I was sitting in the temple, very close to Amma. I felt like part of me was in another realm, at a party that my conscious mind was not allowed to attend.
  • Singing and “Dancing in the Spirit” at Power House Church of God in Christ (COGIC).
  • Being one of a handful of white people at several COGIC convocations in Memphis, singing gospel music along with 40,000 African-Americans.
  • Listening to Gregorian chanting at Christ in the Desert, a Benedictine monastery in New Mexico.
  • Hearing Taize music for the first time.
  • Singing and dancing to Amrita Vahini, Mata Rani and many other Amma bhajans.
  • Singing Ganesh bhajans in the Kalari last week.

Amma teaches us that bliss comes when the mind is silent. She gives the example of chocolate. If we have been craving chocolate we feel bliss at the moment the chocolate touches our tongue. If the bliss was from the chocolate then we could eat more and more chocolate and become more and more blissful. The reality is, if we eat a lot of chocolate, we will become sick. Amma says we experience bliss at that time because in the instant our tongue tastes the chocolate, our minds are silent and free from desire.

In all of the examples above, my mind was silent. I was focused and living in the moment.

***

So how do I keep myself from experiencing states similar to Utopia/Shangri-la/Nirvana in my life now?

There would be no point in trying to recreate the experiences from the past since bliss is a peak experience that usually comes unannounced. If I look at the list above though, I can see that each instance involved music and community.

Nowadays, I spend too much time alone; watch, read or think too much about current events in my country and in the world; over-think in general; and often don’t ask for what I want or need. I’ve allowed music, singing and dancing to almost disappear from my life except when I am with Amma and even then I don’t take full advantage of those opportunities. I make myself miserable by ruminating about the past or by having expectations and being upset when they don’t come to fruition.

Being around Amma brings our negativities to the surface so that we can work on them. I know that even though the behaviors I mentioned in the paragraph above are areas of weakness for me, they all feel very heightened right now as I’m writing this on a day when I am immersed in my “shit.” Things are not as black and white as I’m feeling in the moment.

At the same time, I also realize that these self-sabotaging behaviors could become more entrenched now that I’m retired. Am I willing to change them? Time will tell.

Thank you Sreejit for creating a prompt that helped me to sort some of this out.

 

Will I Choose to be Independent or Interdependent?

Decades ago, I participated in an experiential exercise that the facilitator called The Relationship Dance. That exercise gave participants the opportunity to feel the difference between dependent relationships, independent relationships, and interdependent relationships.

First, we each picked a partner. During the Dependent section of the exercise, one person in each dyad leaned against their partner and they walked around the room in that state. One person had the experience of being completely dependent on their partner to hold them up, and the other person had the experience of being totally responsible for their partner’s well-being. In the Independent section, partners wandered through the room having essentially no contact with each other or with the people in the other dyads. Interdependence was demonstrated by having the pairs separate to do some individual activities and at other times walking shoulder to shoulder.

I’ve never forgotten that exercise. The experience of being Dependent was not familiar to me, and was not at all inviting. I was more familiar with having people be dependent on me. Being Interdependent was inviting but not familiar. When I experienced Independent, I felt lonely and it was all too familiar. Since this post isn’t about my relationship with a partner, I’m going to broaden the definition of interdependent so that it includes being in give-and-take, supportive relationships with many people.

I grew up as an army brat. It was very hard for me to make friends since we moved at least every three years. If I wasn’t leaving, then my friends were. Also, my mother once told me that I would make one friend at a time, and then was devastated when that person became friends with someone else. To compound the problem, in my opinion, our family had a very low level of connection with each other.

As a child I became very independent. Over the years, I have made significant changes in that part of my life and now have many friends who could potentially be a large support system. While I have moved a significant distance along the continuum that goes between independence and interdependence, I still have a way to travel before Interdependent becomes my primary way of being.

I have had an abundance of opportunity to watch my struggle in this area as I heal from breaking my wrist. My recovery was made harder than it would normally have been because I also had considerable pain from bruised ribs caused by a fall two weeks earlier. The rib problem made it painful for me to get up and lie down, and the fact that I needed to overuse my left side when I couldn’t use my right hand, prolonged that pain. (Be assured that I am looking at, and committed to changing,  the factors that caused me to get hurt twice in two weeks.)

I have long marveled at how people who live with physical limitations are able to overcome them. I decided to use this experience to see what I was able to do on my own. One of the accomplishments that I am most proud of occurred on the second day after I broke my wrist. On that day, I was able to pry open tight hooks on a bra and put on the bra using only my non-dominant hand. I soon discovered I could do my own laundry, get dressed in carefully selected clothes, cook using the food I had in the refrigerator and freezer, and crack an egg open. I also felt proud the day I changed the cloth waist ties on two pairs of Indian pants to elastic. With the cloth ties, I would have had to tie a bow, an impossible feat at that time.

While I was able to figure out how to do almost everything on my own, I did ask for help when it was impossible for me to do something that needed to be done. The best example of that was being unable to lock my deck door at night since I had to pull it towards me with one hand and turn the key with the other. I tried but I couldn’t do it. The temperature was in the 80’s and 90’s in Seattle that week and I couldn’t open any of the windows in my living and dining rooms with one hand. Leaving the deck door shut as well would have been unbearable.

I wouldn’t have felt safe leaving the door open at night so that was not an option. I asked one neighbor to lock the door each night before she left town. After she left, I knocked on different neighbors doors each night, asking them to lock the door for me. I rationalized that asking a number of people would cause them less of an inconvenience. Another example is that I asked a friend to bring my vacuum cleaner up the steep stairs from my basement since I knew it wouldn’t have been safe for me to carry it, but I didn’t ask for help vacuuming even though it was difficult for me to do with bruised ribs. And instead of asking for help to bring it back downstairs, I eventually took the vacuum cleaner outside and rolled it around the house and in the back door.

I did accept help from two friends who wanted to bring a meal and from another who offered to come cook some meals that would last for a few days. I also accepted help from a friend who offered to go grocery shopping for me and asked another to take me to the places I needed to go to get ready for my trip to India.

For the most part, however, I told the friends and neighbors who offered help that I was fine, but would let them know if I needed anything, and then for the most part didn’t ask.

While I did accomplish many things on my own, I was also abundantly aware how different my experience would have been if I had been living with someone or if I had taken full advantage of my support system. I was aware of the message in my head that said Don’t bother anyone,  an adult version of Children are to be seen and not heard. I also heard You should only bother someone if you really, really need it; You may need surgery for your arm or you might get sick sometime in the future, so don’t ask for help now, you might need it more later; and You choose to live alone and that decision has consequences, which was short for “You made your bed, now lie in it. As I write these messages down, I realize how immersed in old unhealthy ways of thinking I have been. I knew these messages were still alive in me to some degree, but the injury brought them out full force.

Just before I left for India, I attended a potluck in the Seattle area. I witnessed my reaction when the friend who drove me there offered to help me put food on my plate. I told her I could do it. I even resisted when she gave me reasons why I should let her help. Seeing such a blatant example of my resistance stuck with me. On my second day in India, a man offered to help me wash my dishes after a meal. I told him I could do it. He watched me struggle with that for a minute, and then took the dishes away from me and washed them. The incident made me aware once again of how I push help away. It also gave me the experience of how good it felt to get it. The next day another man asked if I wanted help washing my dishes. I said thank you and handed them to him. Since then, I have accepted help when it is offered and have been more willing to ask for it in the first place.

I dread the thought of ever being completely dependent on anyone. I hope that is not in my future, but I have no control over that. What I do have control over is whether I live my life alone now or instead create a life style that includes a mutually supportive community.

Even though this injury has highlighted my tendency to be overly independent, I know I have come a long way in this area. I also know I will have an abundance of opportunities, perhaps on a daily basis, to choose between an action that would support my tendency to be overly independent and one that would lead to an experience of interdependence.  It is my intention to increase the number of times I choose the road that leads to interdependence.

 

To view the previous posts in this series click here.

Daily Prompt: Grit

Twelve days ago, I fell doing Greenbelt restoration work. I fell hard. The result: bruised ribs. When I first read today’s Daily Prompt: Grit, I took grit to mean the quality of doing whatever it takes to accomplish a goal, not letting any roadblock stand in the way. When I looked up the word in Wikipedia, I found this definition:

Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or end state, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective. This perseverance of effort promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie within a gritty individual’s path to accomplishment, and serves as a driving force in achievement realization.

Since I fell, the amount of time I work in the Greenbelt has reduced dramatically, and what I do there has shifted. I may slowly place a few burlap bags over a cleared area; spend time laying out a design for a cluster of trees, shrubs and ground covers that will be planted the end of October; or I may wander around looking at the squirrels, birds and the occasional butterfly. Thankfully, I can still use my organizational abilities to lead work parties so the work is advancing; it just isn’t me holding the shovel.

Yesterday, I read that it takes bruised ribs 4-12 weeks to heal, and that the older you are, the longer it may take. I can tell that I am getting better. There is evidence of that daily. Healing just isn’t occurring on my preferred time table.

While I am frustrated by not being able to do what I want to do, when I want to do it, I know that I am being given lessons in patience and accepting what is. It doesn’t mean I have to stop advancing towards my goal, but it does mean that I can’t do the level of physical labor that I want to be doing. It is important for me to realize that developing patience and learning to accept what is are also lessons in my life’s curriculum and that those qualities are as important as grit in achieving my life goals.

I have grit, and I am learning behaviors that will support that grit.