When you feel like darkness has you bound…

My daughter Chaitanya and my son Sreejit (now Br. Sattvamrita Chaitanya) live at Amma’s Amritapuri ashram in Kerala, India. People from all religions come to Amma, and all religions are respected.

For ten years, my son and daughter were very instrumental in creating the Christmas play that was performed on Christmas Eve. My daughter wrote and directed the plays and Sattvamrita and his friends composed most of the tunes. The plays were performed in the style of Broadway musicals.

One of my favorite musicals was the one in December, 2012. It was titled God is Able. The setting was a Southern style Gospel church. Sattvamrita was the preacher! The story line included the stories of Moses leading the Jews to the promised land, Rachael being healed by touching Jesus’ garment, and a fictional account of the heart of an angry store keeper being healed.

I will never forget the moment in the play when the stage doors opened and the sparkling “Gospel Choir” became visible. It seemed like everyone in the auditorium did a collective gasp. Part of the reason I remember the gasp and the thunderous applause and shouts that followed the song so well is that I was part of the choir!!!

Choir

Two or three days ago, I noticed that someone had visited my blog and found a post I had written about that play. The post contained the song our choir had sung; it was titled Dear God. The tune was written by Sattvamrita and the lyrics by Chaitanya. 

I found the post and pressed the Dear God play button. As soon as the song began, I burst into tears; the deepest tears I have felt in many years. I think the tears were particularly sparked by hearing my son’s voice. It is stressful being on the other side of the world from my “kids” during the pandemic even though all of us are doing fine.

I’m still crying each time I play the song. In addition to hearing Sattvamrita’s voice, my tears may be from the message that the song holds, from the beauty of the music, and/or from reliving the memories of that magical night.

The mp3 recording and the lyrics are below.  I hope you enjoy it.

When you feel like darkness has you bound
And you can’t see any way to get out
There’s a power which surrounds us all
Through God anything is possible

Never fear
Never let your doubts draw near
With courage face all that comes
Put your trust into God’s arms
He’ll protect you from all harm
His love will carry you on through

Dear God, hold us tight never let us leave thy sight
Dear God, fill our soul with your love make us whole

Sattvamrita singing above the choir:

God is able to calm the wild storm
God is able to make the weak strong
God is able to bring change within
God is able to do all things

A Time of Letting Go

As I mentioned in my posts from India, I have been having trouble with balance. It started about two years ago but has been getting worse. With my doctor’s support, I had dealt with it by working with a personal trainer at a gym and doing physical therapy. Both have been valuable, but it was while I was coping with uneven ground in India that I realized how much worse my balance had gotten in the last year. And I also noticed that the balance problem was often accompanied by a sense of wooziness and exhaustion. The India heat and jet lag made those symptoms even worse. It was towards the end of the trip that it first occurred to me that I should stop leading work parties in the Greenbelt. I let that thought percolate in the back of my mind.

Seeing that the symptoms were getting worse, and that strength building at the gym and physical therapy weren’t sufficient for dealing with the physical problems, once I returned to Seattle, I started getting medical tests to rule out underlying causes. (Some of those tests have been delayed because of the pandemic.)

Around the same time, it occurred to me that my physical problems might also be due to overthinking, overdoing and letting myself get overly stressed. After all, from the time I started working in the Greenbelt, I had thought and even dreamed about the restoration work incessantly.

Overthinking, overdoing and letting myself get overly stressed and exhausted have been life patterns for me. There were times in my life when I felt as if my mind was like a computer that was about to explode. My present-day physical symptoms were eerily similar to those experiences. My old pattern was to keep doing all of those behaviors until I got so sick that I couldn’t do the work anymore. I believe that was why I got Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the mid 80’s and in the 2000’s developed high blood pressure.

Having these insights felt very helpful, but what was to be done with them? Since August of 2016, my life had been primarily focused on the Greenbelt restoration project. I had loved working on the land as well as working with the team leaders and the many hundreds of volunteers who had helped. I had treasured watching the land transform from space overrun with blackberries, ivy and bindweed to land filled with native trees, shrubs and ground covers. But the joy had been accompanied by hardship. The ground is sloped and uneven and I had tripped and fallen many times, once even breaking my wrist. It had taken a tremendous amount of effort to find volunteers to help with the work parties. All of the planning and administrative work had practically turned into a full- time job.  And everything had gotten more difficult for me to do as the balance problems and wooziness worsened.

I realized that almost all of my overthinking, overdoing and stress was related to my Greenbelt restoration work. I knew myself well enough to know that cutting back was not an option; I wouldn’t be able to stop the overthinking with that approach. I knew I needed to stop doing the restoration work as soon as possible. In addition, I needed to accept the fact that I am 71 years old now and have limitations that go with aging.

But I would not make the change immediately. If at all possible, it was important to me to finish Winter Quarter activities since I had University of Washington Service-Learning students as well as Capstone interns from the UW School of the Environment. Even though it was difficult, I was able to complete that commitment!

I have never questioned my decision to stop my involvement in the restoration project, but I knew that I would feel devastated if the land reverted to its 2016 state. I felt relieved when the Green Seattle Partnership staff told me that they were committed to finding another Forest Steward to continue the project.

Several friends and family members told me that my replacement would be revealed. One day, our newest team leader came into my mind. She knows so much and has so much energy. And she had participated in almost all of the student work parties this quarter. I contacted her and asked if she had ever thought about becoming a Forest Steward. I was astounded when she told me she already was one, she had taken the Forest Steward training in 2014. And she was interested in the position!

She prefers to work in a team, so hopefully one or more of our other team leaders will take the training when it is offered in October. But the fact that she is already a Forest Steward means the project can continue now. The saying “what you need will be provided” has certainly come true.

I will miss leading the project but know that I can potentially help in the future. And since the site borders my property, I can still watch the new plants grow and take nature photos. What I am primarily experiencing is a sense of relief.

Just before I sat down to write this post, the title of a book I used to recommend came to mind.

Life is Goodbye,
Life is Hello
Grieving Well Through All Kinds of Loss

I know I am saying both goodbye and hello in my life and realize that I may experience a myriad of feelings as I continue this process of living, learning and letting go.

***

I’m not the only one letting go. While I am feeling a lot of relief about my decision about my own life, I’m much more excited about another person’s transformation. Have any of you wondered why you no longer can find my son’s blog, The Seeker’s Dungeon?

Sreejit deleted The Seeker’s Dungeon when he found out he was going to receive the yellow robes of a brahmachari. (To learn more about brahmacharis and brahmacharya click here.)

The decision to delete his blog was part of letting go of his Sreejit identity as he moves into the next stage of his life.

His name is now Brahmachari (Br.) Sattvamrita Chaitanya. Chaitanya is like a last name for all brahmacharis so would only be said in a formal setting. Most of the time he will be called Sattvamrita. The phonetic spelling is sut VAAM ri tu.  The u’s are like the short u in hut, the aa is long like the a in psalm or alms, and the i is like the i in knit. The capitalized letters are for the syllable that is emphasized. 

I have loved seeing him so excited and happy.

Here are a few photos of Sattvamrita. Cutting off his hair and beard was part of the initiation process.

His sister is so happy for him too. (BTW The sleeves on Sattvamrita’s shirt will be hemmed at a later time! 😁)

A person standing in front of a store

Description automatically generated

Two Amazing … Astounding… and Inspiring Videos

My friend Kathie from Chosenperspectives sent me a video link yesterday for a performance on Georgia’s Got Talent. I watched it this morning and was astounded. I can’t even imagine having the level of concentration and balance that this woman has.

I suggest you watch the whole video, from beginning to end. I think every part of it is important. This video is just over 12 minutes in length.

The video that came up after the one above was amazing for a completely different reason. I decided to share it with you too. Again, watch it from beginning to end. The second one is about 6 1/2 minutes.

Both videos left me speechless and in awe. They also both brought tears to my eyes, running down my cheeks type tears.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 27, 2019 – January 4, 2020

Sunrise and Sunset Photos

The sunrises and sunsets in Amritapuri are spectacular. I’ve been frustrated, both here and in Seattle, that my sunrise and sunset photos never come close to the view I see with my eyes. One day on this visit, I did an internet search to see if I could find tips for improving those photos.

One of the tips I read was to turn on the HDR setting. I took the photos below soon after I did that. The HDR photo looks crisper and I like it better. I look forward to experimenting with HDR and trying some of the other sunrise and sunset photo tips after I return to Seattle.

Normal

HDR

Amma’s Paripally Orphanage

Generally, during December, groups of children from Amma’s orphanage in Paripally come to Amritapuri to receive Amma’s darshan (blessing in the form of a hug). This year, I noticed that there were no such groups and wondered why. I got my answer Christmas week when it was announced that Amma was going to the orphanage to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Everyone was invited to attend. I heard there would be cultural performances followed by Amma giving darshan to each of the children.

I decided not to go, but I did reflect on the past. My first trip to Amritapuri was in January 1990, a few months after Amma had taken on responsibility for the orphanage. I have been there several times. The visit that I remember best was when Amma stopped at the orphanage after she held programs in Trivandrum. Those of us who had attended the Trivandrum programs went with her.

Oh how it has changed over the years. The children who lived at the orphanage when Amma had taken responsibility for it were starving. Under Amma’s care, the orphanage and the generations of children who have lived there have thrived.

I had assumed that several busloads of ashramites and visitors had gone to the orphanage celebration, but during bhajans at the ashram that night it became obvious that most of the ashram had gone. There was no sound system in the auditorium and none of the normal bhajan leaders were present. The number of people in the normally packed auditorium was tremendously reduced.

I had expected the orphanage visit to be a half a day experience but it turned out to be an all day one. The buses started returning to Amritapuri twelve hours after they had departed that morning.

I learned later that many previous alumni and teachers attended the event, in addition to the current orphanage residents. They had also received Amma’s darshan that day. To read more about the festivities… and to see photos… go to: https://www.amritapuri.org/76883/19parippally.aum.

New Year’s Eve

Some visitors left the ashram after Christmas, but many more arrived. In fact, I think the New Year crowds were bigger than at any other time during my visit.

New Year’s Eve was similar to Christmas Eve in that after dinner Amma came back to the auditorium. There were performances, Amma’s New Year’s talk, singing and other activities. One of those activities was a chant for peace in the world.

Like Christmas Eve, I knew it would be unhealthy for me to stay up late and I had a 7:30 a.m. cafe shift, so I watched three or four of the performances and went to bed. Unlike Christmas Eve, I went to sleep immediately and slept through the night.

Again, I feel sad about all that I missed, but know I made the right decision. I also believed I had Amma’s support in that decision because there were several times on the U.S. tour last summer, after I talked to her about my balance problems, that during late night programs she told me to go to bed!

To read about and see photos from the New Year’s Eve programs, go to: https://www.amritapuri.org/77089/20newyear.aum

Prasad Assist Seva

Amma continued changing the directions for the prasad-givers every time I did the assistant job. I got a bit cocky about being able to go with the flow. That cockiness ended the day that darshan was held in the temple.

I wasn’t worried about the change since I had done another prasad assist job in the past and I knew the system that had been used when darshan was held in that location. As strange as it may seem, I didn’t consider the possibility that anything could have changed.

I panicked when I came to my shift only to discover that the chairs had been removed from the area and everyone, except for a few people in the darshan line, was sitting on the floor. I didn’t know how I would get down and I was even more concerned about how I was going to get up. That would not have been a problem in the past but that day it seemed like a BIG PROBLEM!

I also discovered that there were other changes. There was no longer a small line of people waiting on the balcony to give prasad and I didn’t know where the other prasad assistant was. There was no way I could be repeatedly getting up and down as the job often requires. I was near tears and felt desperate.

I was able to get down and had no trouble sitting on the floor throughout the shift. I talked to my supervisor about not being able to get up and down and she let the other prasad assistant know that I would not be available in that way. When it was time, two people helped me get up. Even though I had been shaken, I had survived the challenge and done well.

Shoes/Thongs

In India, people take off their shoes/thongs when they enter a temple or a house. In Amritapuri, we wear shoes/thongs in the auditorium now but still take them off when we are in the temple and when we go up on the auditorium stage for darshan. As a result, there is always a hodgepodge of thongs going every direction not far from those areas.

One day during this time period, I watched as one of the darshan line monitors meticulously picked up pairs of thongs with her toes and one after another placed them in straight lines. It was like a work of art. No one took the hint though. People kept taking them off and leaving them wherever they fell. The line monitor soon gave up.

This scene reminded me of a time when Swami Paramatmanda, one of Amma’s senior Swamis, remarked that how we place our footwear when we take them off, is representative of the state of our minds. That felt true to me then and it still does, or at least it is representative of MY “monkey” mind. I usually take off my shoes in the entry way when I enter my house, but there are times when I take them off in the hallway, or the kitchen, or the bathroom, and occasionally even in the living or dining room. And I certainly don’t take care to see that they are placed side-by-side neatly.

Monkeys

On Tuesday, December 31, there were FOUR monkeys in the café courtyard, two big ones high up in a tree, the small one that I’ve seen many times during this visit and one that is considerably smaller than the one I consider small. They apparently had been chased away from the back of the café earlier because they were stealing food.

One monkey had been hard enough to deal with but now there appeared to be a whole family. I watched as the small one started opening trash can lids and attempted to turn over the bins. Luckily, the trash cans the monkey looked into didn’t have food in them and it was unsuccessful in turning any of them over. I can imagine the mess it would have made if it had found the trash cans that held the food waste. (In Amritapuri the recycling stations have separate bins for hard items, soft plastic, paper, food waste, etc.)

Weather

Two years ago, it was hotter than normal when I came to Amritapuri in December. Last year it was back to “normal.” I got fooled into thinking the weather might not be shifting. But this year it’s been even hotter than it was two years ago. As I write this, it is 90 degrees and very humid. I’m sweating even though I am in my room with a large fan nearby.

I am so ready to be back in Pacific Northwest weather which this week is in the upper to mid 40’s for a high and high 30’s to low 40’s for a low. Hummmmm. I see the forecast for the Sunday after I get back is for snow. Oh, well that could change by then, or it could just be a little bit of snow that goes away fast.

To read previous posts in this series click here.

Question to Readers: What Makes You “Duck” Unnecessarily? (Also… A Guest Post Opportunity)

There is a corridor in Amritapuri that can be taken as a shortcut between the auditorium and the north part of the ashram. That slightly sloped corridor has a low ceiling.

A tall person would have to duck their head to get through any of that area, but for many people bending down isn’t necessary. I have tested it out many times and there is no need for me to duck when I walk through the lower part of the walkway… but I do. For me, there is at least an inch of free space over my head, but I’ve noticed that many people duck even if there is more than a foot of space between their head and the ceiling.

Since I’ve become clear that there is no need for me to duck my head, I have tried to walk through the area standing straight. So far I seem incapable of doing that. In the past two weeks, the closest I have come to my goal is to walk through with my hand on the top of my head or to scrunch my neck as much as I can, as if my neck was a spring. I am hoping to be able to walk through the area without any kind of ducking by the time I leave India.

After I observed my own and others behavior, it occurred to me that the situation could be seen as a metaphor. There must be many times in my life, when I have metaphorically ducked. Then it occurred to me that there might be a wide variety of metaphors or stories that could result from this observation. I decided to find out if readers relate to my experience, as well as to offer a potential guest post opportunity.

I believe one of the times I metaphorically duck is when I worry about what other people think about me. What situations in your life cause you to duck unnecessarily? I would love it if you would share your answer to that question in the comments below.

Or … use your creativity to develop a different metaphor. Or … write a short story, poem, fable, parable, or any other modality, on a topic inspired by my post. Perhaps you will even see something to photograph that you think relates.

Consider coming back to this post later to see the ways other readers responded to my question. And if you decide to accept my challenge to write a story, poem, fable, parable, or any other piece, and want it to be considered for a guest post, sent it to me at livinglearningandlettinggo@gmail.com.

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 and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 3-6, 2019

It’s hard to believe this is my eighth day in India and my seventh day in the ashram. I feel like all I have done is rest and sleep but I know that isn’t true. In addition to setting up my room, doing laundry twice (in buckets), eating, being with friends and family, etc., I worked with Kothai remotely to finish the December Pacific Northwest GreenFrends Newsletter, published three posts on this blog (Mother Nature Provides… Again, the December GreenFriends Newsletter, and my first Amritapuri post). I also corresponded with the UW College of the Environment interns we will have next quarter, some of our recent service-learning students and various people regarding our Greenbelt Martin Luther King Day work party.

On Wednesday, I started working in the café from 7:30 – 9 a.m. handing customers their plates of food as the food came from the kitchen. (The orders are numbered and when a customer’s number shows up on a monitor in the café courtyard, the customer comes to the counter and I hand them their plate.)

That process will get intense as the crowds grow but it has been easy so far. The monitor system works so well. I remember all the years that people huddled around the counter as we called out the numbers. It was often difficult for the people whose number had been called to get to the counter. This way, no one is blocking the counter area; customers are focused on the monitor that is 15- 20 feet away.

And as I ponder these changes, I’m remembering that I’ve done this, or a similar, job since the late 90’s. In those days, I sat in the window that is on the far left of the photo below. I took the orders and was the cashier.

I remember writing each person’s name on their order. In the earliest days, I also called out the name when the food was ready. That process was hampered by the fact that even though people from different countries may have similar names to people in the U.S., they may pronounce the names very differently. At some point, the door that was near “my window” was split and customers were handed their food from the counter where Chaitanya and her friend are standing in the photo.

In my first days here, I slept the best I could during the night and then took a nap in the afternoon. I’ve actually slept way better than I usually do during the transition period. There was only one night where I had trouble falling back to sleep when I woke up early. On Thursday and Friday, I didn’t take an afternoon nap, but I nodded off throughout the evening singing program. I hate that feeling.

My biggest challenge has been my balance. I know the ground here so I’ve been okay most of the time, but when I’m tired I get wobbly. My kids and others have suggested I get a cane. I even had an email from someone in Seattle suggesting it. I have been resistant, but on Wednesday I went into the temple to watch Amma giving darshan. The main temple floor was full, so I went upstairs to the next level. That was also very crowded. I soon realized that I was going to need a cane to safely navigate crowds, children, and stairs.

A friend offered me a walking stick. That seemed like it would solve the problem, and it did, when I was walking on dirt. However, when I used it to go up a single stair, the metal tip slid and I fell. Several people helped me get up. One of them knew how to get a cane from the ashram. She even was kind enough to make the arrangements and bring the cane to me. I will use it when I am going into any area that seems unsafe for me.

Amma came for bhajans (singing) the first night she was back in the ashram and has sung every evening since. She also came to the temple around 11 a.m. on Wednesday and Thursday to meditate with the devotees. After the meditation, and a question and answer period, she gave darshan. (Darshan is a blessing. While even being in Amma’s presence is darshan, Amma is known for bestowing her blessing by hugging each person who comes to her.)

Wednesday’s darshan was for people who were leaving and on Thursday it was for part of the brahmacharinis and brahmacharis (female and male monks). I’m thinking, but don’t know, that Saturday and Sunday will be public darshan days. If it is, I’m hoping to go to Amma for a hug one of those days. I need it!

One of the things Amma teaches us is to “be like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice.” She also provides us with an abundance of opportunities to practice that lesson. On Friday afternoon, we had such an opportunity.

On Fridays, Amma usually comes to the auditorium about 5 p.m. to meditate and give darshan to the people who are leaving. I often don’t attend the meditations, but on Friday I decided I would go.

I had a light lunch that day so decided to get something to eat at 4:30. On my way to the canteen, the bell that indicates Amma is coming rang. She had never, in my memory, come that early. What could I do other than laugh and let go of my plans to eat.

I walked to the auditorium to find it nearly empty. People started arriving; the brahmacharinis were running. I usually sit in the back of the hall, but this time I sat towards the front, on the aisle. I soon realized that Amma was going to be walking down that aisle.

As Amma walked down the aisle, she reached out her hands. When her hand touched mine, I felt like I had been given darshan. That passing touch of hands is very familiar to me even though it has been several years since I have had the experience. I am home.

(Photos of Amma I use in these posts come from her Facebook Page.)

To read previous posts in this series click here

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: November 27-December 2, 2019

Pre-post Reflections

I am presently in Amritapuri on my 32nd visit to Amma’s ashram in 30 years. This almost yearly pilgrimage has been an incredible part of my life. I feel blessed to have been able to spend so much time in the place where Amma was born. It seems to me that her energy permeates every grain of sand whether her physical body is present or not.

That does not mean that I’ve always wanted to make the trip. There were several years in the past when I went with the same attitude I might take when I go to a doctor or a dentist– i.e. because I know it is for my own good. I grow so much when I’m here and have always felt like the experience was an important purification process. Almost always, though, I am very eager to come to India. I wish there was a way to teleport here though; the journey there is so long.

When I am in Amritapuri, I am challenged in many of the same ways that I’m challenged by life in the U.S., but here it is like the process is put on fast forward. I may feel like I’m on an emotional roller coaster, but even though the challenges may come one after the other, I usually work through them faster too.

As I write this, I’m thinking about the saying that “growth comes from the challenges not the consolations.” While being consoled feels good and is also important, I think it is true that growth comes from facing the challenges that come my way.

I love being with Sreejit, Chaitanya and Akshay, my son, daughter and son-in-law, who have lived in Amritapuri for many years. I love being with my Amritapuri friends, and, of course, I love being with Amma, who in many ways became the center of my life when I met her in 1989.

I also love the sights, sounds and smells of India. Each time I arrive in the country, part of me wants to bow down and kiss the earth. There were two years that I couldn’t afford to come to the Amritapuri, When I informed Amma of that fact during her North American summer tour, I was crying so hard that someone thought I was telling Amma that one of my kids had died. That incident always reminds me how important this part of my life is to me.

I had no plans to start this post in this manner, but it felt good to reflect on these things. So on with my November 2019 story;

I left Seattle on November 27. It was a 14-hour flight to Dubai, followed by a 3-hour layover. During the connecting flight security check, I was instructed to take off my Fitbit and put it in the bin. I’m not used to doing that so I forgot to take it out of the bin after I went through the security line.

Soon after I entered the main part of the terminal, I realized I had left the Fitbit in the bin. I was instructed by airport staff to go to one place and then another. Eventually, I was able to find it, but by then the layover was almost over. That challenge certainly made the time go by fast, and provided me with a lot of exercise. My normal routine is to buy a cup of ice cream in Dubai, and there was enough time before my next flight for me to do that!

The flight to India was a 4-hour flight. I had decided not to add the 3-hour taxi trip to the ashram to the journey, so stayed in a hotel in Kovalam, a town near the airport, for the day. I planned to get lots of sleep. I did rest a lot, but couldn’t sleep. There is a 13 ½ hour time difference between Seattle and India, and turning day and night around is difficult.

I had many challenges during my time in Kovalam. The one I will mention now is that they were fixing the road between the hotel and the area where the restaurants are located. It is not unusual in India for people to walk through construction sites, but I don’t like to do that. I had to eat, however, and there was no other option.

In some places there was a thin strip of normal ground alongside the new road but that strip was rocky and very uneven ground. I had trouble walking on it. An Indian woman gave me a hand both when I went towards the restaurants and coming back from there. But that was only for a few feet, so most of the time I ended up walking on the hot tar and gravel. My shoes may never recover.

The Beginning

At 5 a.m. the next morning, I was in a taxi and on my way to the Amritapuri ashram. The traffic was much lighter than it would have been even an hour later. In two-and-a-half hours, I was back in my India home. I felt exhausted but happy to be there. After spending a bit of time with Sreejit and Chaitanya, I had some breakfast and then went to my room and started unpacking.

In January 2005, I bought a flat at the ashram. That allows me to have a room to myself which makes life easier for me. I can use it whenever I’m in Amritapuri, and it is rented out to other visitors when I am gone.

I was so exhausted and very wobbly that first day. I got help from Sreejit and Chaitanya, and reminded myself that it was important for me to go slow. I was especially careful when I left my room. It would be so easy for me to trip on something, but as I got some sleep my balance improved tremendously.

Changes

There are always so many changes here from one visit to the next. Some of the ones I’ve noticed so far are:

  1. Those of us who live alone are required to sign in on a Wellness Register each morning. If someone doesn’t sign the register then someone goes to the room to make sure the person is okay. For years, I’ve signed in on a desk that is near the elevator in my building. Now everyone has to go to the International Office to do it. Writing that statement reminds me I need to go sign in for today… soon.
  2. The Indian store has been remodeled. Now, it is more like a supermarket where you can just take things off the shelf rather than ask someone to get it for you. The hours have been extended; it is now open all day and well into the night.
  3. The Indian Canteen has been remodeled. There are open air “walls” around it now, as well as numerous other improvements which I can’t figure out how to describe.
  4. The dishes and containers from the kitchen are now washed in a special little building that is attached to the area where we all wash and dry our dishes when we eat. We started drying our dishes in that area the last time I was here. Moving the kitchen washing space and the drying racks to that spot meant that two of the five circular dining tables are gone. I feel sad about that, but it is certainly understandable.
  5. The area that I described in #4 is partially fenced off now and there are lots of new plants that surround it. It is very beautiful.
  6. I was able to recharge my cell phone as soon as I got to the ashram even though I hadn’t used that SIM card since last January. In the past if you didn’t use a SIM card for 3 months, you had to get a new one. That meant I had immediate use of the phone and the Personal Hotspot!

Those are the changes I’ve noticed so far. I’m sure there are many more.

Weather

It usually doesn’t rain here much in December but it has rained several times every day since I arrived. I love the sound of rain on the aluminum roof of the auditorium. Actually I love the sound of the rain anywhere. It is quite a deluge and then it is over, for hours. I was actually able to hang out some laundry after a rain on Sunday and it dried it less than three hours. That could never happen in Seattle!

Amma

When it works out easily, I time my arrival to be here for a few days before Amma returns to the ashram. That gives me time to rest before crowds of people come. Amma started her yearly European Tour the beginning of October. When it finished in mid November, she conducted programs in Los Angeles and Detroit.

Sometimes parts of the international programs are live streamed to Amritapuri. Residents and visitors come to the auditorium to watch it. That happened on Sunday. They don’t leave the live stream up all the time, or nothing would get done here, but it is very nice to be able to watch it for awhile. That day, it was live streamed three different times during the day, the last time being during our evening bhajan (singing) time. I loved being able to watch Amma.

I often marvel at how much has changed over the years. On my first visit in January of 1990, we had to take a rickshaw to Oachira, which is a town 15 minutes away, to use a telephone. I still remember that it was a red phone on a table in the middle of an alley. People gathered to watch me make the call. Now almost everyone has a cell phone, I get internet connection from a Personal Hotspot, and I can watch Amma when she is halfway across the world.

The rumor I heard a few days ago was that Amma would return to the ashram early Tuesday morning. When I went downstairs this morning someone told me that they thought she had returned around 8:00 a.m. I wonder if she will come sing with us tonight!

Challenges

My re-entry has been relatively challenge free compared to the past. Normally, I have a lot of trouble with jet lag. This time I slept relatively well on the Seattle to Dubai leg of the trip. That has never happened before. Since I’ve been at the ashram, I’ve slept a lot. This is the first time in all these years that I haven’t been wide awake at 2 a.m. and if I wake up, I’ve been able to go right back to sleep. I hope that continues.

My biggest challenge is that I’ve been unable to find an adapter that allows me to attach a thumb drive to my computer. I remember seeing it when I unpacked but haven’t seen it since. I’ve looked in every inch of this room two or three times to no avail. I know I will find it when the time is right, but haven’t accepted the fact that I can’t have it when I want it, which is NOW!