I’ve been back in Seattle for 9 days, so it is high time that I finish the last post about most recent visit to Amritapuri, Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: September 15 to 24, 2018. I have previously published three posts that focused on individual events that occurred during those dates.
Much of my last week in Amritapuri was spent packing, cleaning and doing the other things I needed to do to get ready to leave. I felt a sense of heaviness throughout the week. I had noticed that sensation towards the end of my last trip and have begun to realize that it is caused by an underlying sadness. Even though I felt ready to go back to Seattle, I felt sad to leave my family (Sreejit, Chaitanya and Akshay), Amma, and my Amritapuri friends.
Western Cafe and Western Canteen
People from so many western countries come to Amritapuri. I find it interesting to see how our food habits differ from each other. One of the things that has always seemed strange to me is that some people spread peanut butter and/or chocolate on their pancakes. They may also put peanut butter or chocolate in their ragi porridge. This year, a friend from Australia joked that peanut butter belongs ONLY on toast. I responded that peanut butter is good on bananas too, but she didn’t agree, restating that it only belongs on toast.
As I thought about it, it occurred to me that I like chocolate on everything else, so that I’d probably like it on a pancake too. And chocolate and peanut butter go together great. So, on one of my last days in Amritapuri, I tried chocolate on a pancake. I don’t think I’d do it again but it definitely was tasty. I just don’t need more reasons to eat chocolate.
People from some western countries only eat fried eggs that are cooked “sunny side up”. They don’t call them that though. I remember someone laughing at me years ago when I referred to their eggs in that way.
My favorite Western cafe items are cinnamon rolls, pesto omelets, lemon bars, chocolate bread, and pasta with cheese, soya, and tomato sauce. My favorite Western canteen items are all of the soups, mashed potatoes, Mexican rice and beans, and coconut beets. I’m sure there are some items I’m forgetting but those are the ones that come to my mind now.
Prasad Giving and Prasad Assistant
As I mentioned in an earlier post, during the last part of my visit, I started taking the opportunity to hand Amma the prasad she gives to each person who comes to her for a hug. (In this case, the prasad is a packet of ash and a piece of candy.) I loved doing this seva as much as I usually do.
Prasad-giving is also a good way to practice staying focused. I’ve learned from experience that if I don’t keep my eyes on Amma’s hand, I will miss the gesture she makes when she is ready to be handed the prasad.
There are often extra challenges to this seemingly easy job. One of the first times I handed the prasad to Amma on this trip, a woman dressed in a white sari was whispering something into Amma’s ear. Part of her sari was draped in-between Amma’s hand and me; I couldn’t see a thing. I had to find a way to move the sari so I could see at least part of Amma’s hand as well as get the prasad into Amma’s hand when it was time. It was a tricky situation but I did it.
At the beginning of my visit, I had said no to taking on a prasad assistant job. I declined the opportunity because I wanted to stay focused on my decision to attend more of Amma’s meditation, Q and A and bhajan programs and to sit in the front of the room rather than in the back or sides of the large auditorium. While it was possible for me to do all of these things, I didn’t want to overload myself with commitments; I was already working in the cafe every morning.
One of the prasad coordinators came to me about a week before I left Amritapuri and told me that she had lost one of her prasad assistants. She asked again if I would do it. This time I said yes. I served as a prasad assistant on September 16 and 21. That job required me to make sure that the prasad-giving line was always full of volunteers and that they were trained. I also was responsible for calling prasad-givers up to the stage in 2 minute intervals.
My shift was during a time of day when it is hard to find volunteers so it was an intense job. And as it turned out, I not only did my own hour long shift but also forty minutes of the person’s shift that did the job before me. Keeping the line filled was a challenge. Luckily, my supervisor helped find people too. The reason finding volunteers was difficult at that time of day was that many of the devotees were chanting the Sri Lalita Sahasranama and a variety of other chants during that time, and once that program was over, many of them went to lunch.
I have mentioned many times that an important focus for me during this trip was to sit in the front of the auditorium so I would be closer to Amma and could be more attentive than when I sat in the back or far sides of the hall. I also promised myself that would go to more of the programs. While I did not attend all of the meditations or Q&A sessions, I did go to more of them than I have in many years.
I was present for all of the bhajan programs. I routinely sat on the floor in the front section of the auditorium at that time. That was a major accomplishment for me. Being up front helped me stay focused. I loved singing so many of the older bhajans and looked forward to singing some of them at satsang once I returned to Seattle.
I have also mentioned that this year devotees have been able to go for Amma’s darshan (hug) more often than “normal”. I’m so used to going only when I arrive and when I leave, or when I feel a strong need. Going frequently often feels wrong to me.
Generally, darshan tokens are given out in the morning. Sometimes, later in the day, Amma tells the token coordinators to hand out more tokens. On the evening of September 16 or 17, I was offered a darshan token and accepted it. I started to question that decision as I was going through the darshan line.
As I neared the front of the line, Swami Amritaswarupananda started singing a slow version of Hare Rama, Hare Krishna. That is one of my favorite bhajans. When I was directly in front of Amma, and was next in line to be hugged, she started talking to someone. They talked for quite a while, so I was close to Amma much longer than I would normally be. My consciousness became so altered (i.e. I was going into a meditative state) that I wondered if I was going to be able to kneel down and stand up easily. Then I was in Amma’s arms. I no longer had any doubt that I had made the right decision when I chose to go for darshan.
I wonder how much stress I put on myself unnecessarily. Maybe I should just trust that if Amma asks the darshan token coordinators to hand out more tokens, I should just take one.
There are often one or two small geckos in my flat. In December, the geckos that are living there are bigger than the ones that are present when I come to the ashram in August. Early on in this trip, I saw a little gecko in my room. A few days before I was to leave, I saw a really tiny one; it wasn’t much bigger than an inch. I enjoy having the geckos as roommates.
Returning to Seattle
As I age, I have had a harder time getting over jet lag. There is a 12 1/2 hour time difference between India and Seattle and switching day and night is not easy. Several years ago, I started spending a night in the Dubai airport hotel and that has helped. I added another “make it easier” step this time. My practice has been to take a taxi from Amritapuri to Trivandrum starting at 4:45 a.m. on the morning of my flight. That means that I need to get up around 3 a.m. This schedule has been stressful for me and I have had a hard time sleeping that last night.
I decided I would take a taxi to Kovalam, a town near Trivandrum, the night before I was to leave India. I left the ashram at 3 p.m. on the 22nd and arrived in Kovalam around 6. I was able to get a good night’s sleep in the Kovalam hotel before leaving for the airport at 6:30 the next morning. It really did make my leaving easier and I was rested when I boarded the plane. I plan to follow that schedule in the future.
Getting a good night’s sleep the night before I left India, and another one in Dubai helped a lot. The 14 1/2 hour flight between Dubai and Seattle still seemed endless and since I couldn’t sleep on the plane, I was exhausted when I got to Seattle. I hoped that my decisions would help the jet lag. And it did. For many years, it has taken 6 weeks to regain a normal sleep pattern. When I first return to Seattle, I don’t sleep for more than two hours at a time. As I am writing this (on October 3rd), I’m not back to “normal”, but I’ve slept five hours several times!
I was out in my beloved Greenbelt within an hour of returning to Seattle. I discovered that all of the trees and most of the shrubs we had planted had survived the drought.
I noticed that some of the vine maple leaves were already turning red. We have planted MANY vine maples throughout the site. I am eager to see what the planting areas look like as all of them start to turn red. I imagine they will be even more beautiful as they grow. I wonder what they will look like at this time next year.
To read the previous posts in this series click here.