The Truth I Live By

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

The Truth I Live By

(William John Smith 1953-1992)

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

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

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

I am very sad that people seem to see so little of the world around them. I can’t walk outside without seeing the beauty of our created world, from the rainbow in a line of earthworm slime, to another visible ring on Jupiter. We have been given this magnificent world to study and enjoy in limitless detail at any level, microscopic to cosmic. Even though I have enough things to interest me another 10 lifetimes, I must take solace in knowing that, at least compared to others, I’ve had much more than my share even in half a life time..

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

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

Balance

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

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

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

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

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

Café and stage sevas

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

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

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

Confronting my know-it-all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read previous posts in this series click here.

Living Life My Way

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

Amma’s 2019 North American Tour Dates

Amma will be holding programs in the following metropolitan areas this summer. Details will be posted on Amma.org as they become available.

Seattle, WA: June 6-7

San Ramon, CA: June 9-14

Los Angeles, CA: June 16-18

Santa Fe, NM: June 20-23

Dallas, TX: June 25-26

Atlanta, GA: June 28-29

Washington, DC: July 1-2

New York, NY: July 4-6

Boston, MA: July 8-9

Chicago, IL: July 11-13

Toronto, ON: July, 15-18

The photo of Amma at the top of the post is from her Facebook Page.

Guest Posting Opportunity for Everyone

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

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

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

Grateful and Blessed

I woke up during the night with the song How Great Thou Art reverberating throughout my body and soul. It was one of those dreams that was so much more than a dream, or maybe it wasn’t a dream at all. I felt grateful and blessed.

I heard that song for the first time in 1962 when George Beverly Shea sang it during a Billy Graham crusade my mother and I attended. I was in 10th grade at the time and we were living at Ft. Shafter Army Base in Honolulu, Hawaii. That experience was a major turning point in my life. While it wasn’t the beginning of my spiritual life, it certainly was the beginning of a new chapter.

I woke up several times during the night with that “dream” in the forefront of my mind. Again, I felt grateful and blessed. My sleep ended at 4 a.m. when I started thinking of events that had occurred early in my life. I remembered being really young (5 years old?) and loving the Christian music my father’s mother sang to me when my family visited her in New Jersey. As I thought about those times, the words “church in the vale” and later “little brown church in the vale” came into my mind. I don’t remember if that was a song my grandmother introduced me to, but it certainly could have been.

I decided to write a post about my dream and the reflections that followed it so I got up. I looked for YouTube videos of both songs. The video I chose for How Great Thou Art was recorded in 1957, several years before I heard the magnificent song for the first time. It was probably recorded during a Billy Graham crusade. Wikipedia says the song “is a Christian hymn based on a Swedish traditional melody and a poem written by Carl Boberg in Mönsterås, Sweden in 1885.”

The other song is called the Church in the Wildwood or The Little Brown Church. The video I’m sharing for that one is of Andy Griffith, Don Knotts and Robert Emhardt singing it in a 1963 show. That song was written by Dr. William S. Pitts in 1857.

***

The image at the top of the post was taken by Kevin Phillips from Pixabay.

More Greenbelt Mysteries- this time of the Grrrrrr variety

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

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

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

(Click on the gallery to enlarge the photos.)

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

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

Some of the buckets in use at a previous work party

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

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

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

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

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Mystery in the Greenbelt

The day after our January 21 work party, I was taking photos of our work and was shocked to see a shovel propped up against the foundation of an old house that is in the middle of the site. I was particularly surprised to see the shovel there because all of the team leaders had been standing close-by that area at the end of the work party. If the shovel was present at that time, one of us would certainly have seen it and put it in the job box where our tools are stored.

The fact that the team leader who had gone through the site looking for tools later hadn’t seen it either added to the mystery. Where did it come from? Who had put it there?

On January 23, I was shocked to see an un-potted plant sitting on the ledge not far from where the shovel had been. I hadn’t seen it the day before. Had it been sitting there when I found the shovel? I didn’t think so but I will never know.

I assumed someone had removed a plant from one of the planting areas. The mystery deepened when I couldn’t find any holes that had missing plants. Inside that foundation is the area we call The Rack Zone. Until the January 21 work party, it had contained drying racks for most of the invasive plants we had cut down or dug out since the project began. During the work party, some of the volunteers had taken apart the drying racks and spread the dried debris. We have planned to plant beautiful shrubs and ground covers in that area at some point in the future.

Had this shrub been in one of the racks that had been taken apart? That seemed unlikely, but I called the team leader who had been working on that project. He said, “NO” and that if he had seen it, he would have shown it to me.

It occurred to me that since there was no rational explanation for how the shovel and the plant got there, I should look for a non-rational explanation. The thought that came to my mind was that this was to be the first shrub to be planted in The Rack Zone.

I walked into The Rack Zone and looked for an area where the new “ground” looked higher than the rest of it. Once I found a suitable place, I pulled back the surface debris that hadn’t fully decomposed to see whether there was composted dirt under it. There was, and it was deep enough to plant the shrub. I made the hole bigger and then inserted the shrub. I also made sure that there were no inter-twined ivy vines that would strangle it as it grew.

I needed more dirt to fill in the hole. After thinking about it for a moment, I remembered that I had seen mole mounds nearby. I also remembered a friend once helping me re-frame how I saw the moles in my own yard. She told me that the moles were providing me with free aeration for my soil. I decided to use the dirt from mole mounds for completing the planting process.

Another memory resurfaced when I was thinking about moles. Soon after we started this Greenbelt project, the person who was co-leading the project with me at the time, was sitting on the ledge of the foundation. A mole came out of the ground and looked up at her. While the photo below comes from pixabay.com, seeing it reminds me of that incident.

That shrub is now securely planted in its new home. It remains to be seen whether or not it is alive. There are no buds on it that look alive, but the branches are not brittle. Even though many of the Greenbelt plants are budding, it is only January. Maybe this is a plant that buds later. If it is living, our first shrub has been planted in The Rack Zone!

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.