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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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
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
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.
Word Press is switching to a new editing system. It is called Gutenberg. After moving through plenty of resistance, I decided to try it out. I wrote the post about Sreejit’s song using the new system. I think I’m going to like it.
In this post, I’m going to create a few photo galleries to see what they look like.
#1 This gallery has photos from India and from Seattle. Some were vertical and some were horizontal. At first, I had the column setting set to three but decided to change it to four.
(You can click on any of the galleries to enlarge the photos.)
#2 This gallery consists of photos from India that I haven’t posted before. I decided to make it two columns. The first four photos and the last two are purposely paired.
#3 The last gallery uses photos from India that I’ve used before. This is what the three column setting looks like.
I’m liking this new system. I will miss the tiled mosaic setting of the old editor but I like how these galleries look too.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!