For several years in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, I wrote articles about my experiences with Amma for “The New Times,” a free newspaper that was, at that time, available in Washington and Oregon. I have started sharing some of those articles on my blog. The article below was published in March of 2000.
One of my major enjoyments in life is to watch and experience the ways in which Life/God/Spirit/Guru reveals the lessons I need to learn. I see each lesson as a potential adventure, an opportunity to participate in one detective mystery after another.
Many lessons become evident when a situation results in exposure of a self-defeating behavior. Once unmasked, we have the opportunity to examine the behavior and then look for new ways to act, ways that will be more nourishing to ourselves and others.
While I know that I will have lessons to learn throughout my entire life, I find that when I am in the presence of my guru, Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma), the lessons are considerably less subtle and seem to come at a faster rate. Luckily, when I am with her, I am usually able to work through the lessons faster.
Earlier this year, while visiting Amma’s ashram in South India, I experienced a series of events that made the theme of a new lesson quite obvious. I was so fascinated by witnessing this process unfold that I decided to write about it.
The new series began when I informed my daughter that Kollam, a city north of the ashram, would be a good place for her to buy new glasses. When others told her the Kollam shop produced poor quality glasses, I insisted they were wrong. I KNEW that the shop’s glasses were of EXCEPTIONAL quality. After experiencing some of the events that followed, I reflected on this incident once again. I realized that my strong pronouncement had been based on a sample of one, i.e. I knew of ONE person who had purchased glasses in Kollam and SHE had been very satisfied. I could see that I had no basis for having drawn such a strong conclusion.
Next, while waiting for Amma to arrive at the temple for the nightly music program, a woman sitting beside me remarked that it was too bad that the number of Indian visitors coming to the ashram had decreased. I was shocked because there had actually been a HUGE increase in the number of Indians coming to see Amma. In fact, now there were frequently more visitors than the temple could hold.
I said, “You mean during the last day or two, now that the holidays are over?” “No,” she said, “I mean all of the time.” She went on to say, “In fact, fewer people are attending the programs she leads throughout India.” As I readied myself to tell her how thoroughly wrong she was, Amma arrived, ending the possibility of further discussion. I agitated throughout the evening program, filled with the desire to correct her misinformation.
I hoped I would see her later, but I never had the opportunity to rectify the situation. I remained agitated for some time, uncomfortable that someone was passing on such mistaken information.
The next day, I observed an interaction between a young Indian girl and a Western man. He said “Om Namah Shivaya” as she approached. This is a mantra that is frequently used as a greeting at the ashram. “What does that mean?” the girl asked. He responded in a shocked and rather demeaning manner, “You don’t know what that means? It is a greeting used all over Kerala (the state in which the ashram is located). Where are you from?” “Kerala,” she replied. He shook his head, unable to believe that she did not know something so fundamental.
I, without invitation, inserted myself into their conversation, informing him that “Om Namah Shivaya” was NOT the primary form of greeting used in Kerala. While some Hindus may use it, it was not even that common. “Namaste” or “Namaskar” was a much more common greeting. He insisted that I was wrong, restating that “Om Namah Shivaya” was the proper greeting. He walked away, totally ignoring the girl’s request for a definition of the phrase.
That same day, I told my daughter the story of a brahmacharini (female monk) who at one point had chosen to abstain from Amma’s darshan (time when Amma hugs each person who comes to her) for two years. Later in the day, I told the brahmacharini I had shared her story. She informed me that the period of time had actually been six months, not two years. I was shocked. I was SURE it had been two years. Again I saw my urge to be right, but I could not ignore the fact that her recall of the subject matter was more likely to be correct than mine.
As I reflected on these four incidents, I saw how they exposed my tendency to insist that something is fact when I don’t have enough information to warrant that certainty. The woman in the temple and the man who had been talking to the Indian girl had mirrored that behavior. In all four instances I could see my strong desire to “be right” as well as my ongoing urge to “set people straight.”
This know-it-all attitude can be considered a personality trait. Luckily, all personality-based behaviors can be placed on a continuum, having both healthy and unhealthy elements. At the healthy end of the continuum, this trait allows an individual to be efficient, responsible, insightful, helpful, and productive. At the unhealthy end of the continuum, however, the individual becomes arrogant, judgmental, suspicious, pushy, and obsessive.
I appreciated having been presented such a clear picture of ways I sometimes operate from the unhealthy end. In the days and weeks that followed I was repeatedly given opportunities to choose to indulge in those behaviors or to “do it different.”
Since I have returned to the U.S., the same lesson has come again and again, growing in magnitude each time. Even now, while still feeling the pain from the most recent incident, I can see my mind working in ways that makes it obvious I have not fully learned what I need to learn. While I regret the pain I cause myself and others, I am grateful that Life/God/Spirit/Guru is committed to revealing the work I need to do as I continue on my journey Home.
(Above article written in March 2000)
“The New Times” articles that I’ve already shared:
Support in Times of Trouble
A Multitude of Lessons
Photo Credit for the Know It All: Clip Art Panda