Stay Alert: What We Need to Learn Will Be Revealed

I have learned during my life that the answers to our questions are often nearby; Likewise, if we keep our eyes open and stay alert, we will be able to see ways we have been prepared for what is to come. The knowledge that an event was preparation may not be evident until sometime in the future.

Amma has taught me a lot about those things and has given me lots of opportunities to practice them but I also learned from other writers and experiences.

I remember reading that often where there are poisonous plants, the antidote to the poison is a plant that is nearby. I also read that whenever our path crosses someone else’s, we have something to teach them or something to learn from them.

I used to teach a workshop called Lessons on Lessons. There was one exercise where I asked participants to go outside and ask questions of inanimate objects such as rocks, fences, or light poles as well as plants, trees, and animals. And after asking their question, participants “listened” for a response. What amazing wisdom we can gather that way. If you haven’t already tried it, then do!

I learned the benefit of accepting lessons as they come as opposed to resisting them which often results in prolonging the lesson and any pain that comes along with it.

In addition to teaching content related to some of the areas above, Amma also taught and gave opportunities to practice lessons such as: “Be like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice”; discrimination between right and wrong; detachment; the importance of staying alert and putting in effort; and the importance of love and compassion.

Now that I am dealing with major health problems, I can see ways that I have been prepared for that experience by Spirit , the Universe, God, Guru, or whatever we call our higher power.

Most of these occurrences happened before I knew that there was anything wrong in my body. But each has been invaluable since I have known.

Some examples that I am aware of:

In the mid 1980s, a friend of mine took a workshop with Virginia Satir that lasted a month. I wanted to do that too. But I had young children and a job so I rationalized that I couldn’t do it then, I would do it later. She died before I took the training. Having lost that opportunity, I reacted very differently when I met Amma.

I met Amma in June 1989. That weekend I spent a day at her Orcas Island retreat, six weeks later I was at her East Coast retreat and six months later I was with her in India. I continued spending time with her each summer on the US tour and each winter in India for the next 30+ years. I had learned an important lesson from my Virginia Satir experience. I no longer put off doing what was important to me.

In 1997, I was on a plane headed for India when it had a decompression problem and dropped 25,000 feet in about a minute. Amma was aware of our plight at the time that it happened. Part of me believes that I was meant to die that day and that every day I have been alive since then has been a gift. So if I died tomorrow, I still would have lived a full life

In the early 2000’s, I had another experience that impacted my life. I read what I think was the last book that somebody I respected wrote before her death. She was asked if she still thought God was a loving God. She responded “No”. I thought she sounded very bitter and had the distinct impression that it was due to her not accepting help when it was offered. I vowed that I would learn to accept help so that when I needed it, I could let go and gratefully accept what was being offered rather than push it away saying “I can do that for myself.”

Now that I am having physical problems, I am receiving lots of opportunities for doing that and experiencing the benefits of following through. I really appreciate all the help I am getting.

In 1973, I broke my right wrist just before I started graduate school. In 2017 or 2018, I broke it again. Again, I had to learn how to do many things with my non-dominant hand. I don’t remember much about the earlier experience, but in the more recent one I remember having considerable difficulty figuring out how to put on a bra and fasten it.

Because that incident happened then, when my left arm and hand became weak with my current illness, I knew how to put on a bra. That may seem to be a minor thing, but it meant a lot to me.

In 2018 or 19, I started noticing a man in my Seattle neighborhood who I believed had had a stroke. I did not know him but I watched as he walked for long periods every day without fail. He even walked up and down big hills seemingly unafraid. I was so impressed. He was an inspiration to me and gave me hope when I started having trouble walking.

Because of my years as a psychotherapist and a nurse I am prepared to speak up and advocate for myself when I think that’s in order.

I have many friends, colleagues and family members who have dealt with cancer or serious chronic illnesses. All of them have modeled courage in the face of adversity. I hope I can be like them.

When I came back from my last trip to India in January 2020, I had an intuition that I would not be going back to India the next year as had been my practice. In fact, I wasn’t sure I would ever be going back. By then I knew I had a physical problem, but I didn’t know about Covid. I didn’t realize essentially the whole world would be on lockdown and I wouldn’t be the only one not going where they wanted to go.

A recent example of the value of staying alert and of the answers to problems being nearby occurred when I decided to put together another issue of the Pacific Northwest GreenFriends newsletter. I completed it but it was much too hard for me to do, I needed to put this in my past.

Then it occurred to me, that I had gotten direction for the next step in two emails that came while I was doing that project. Both emails said something like “Why is this newsletter still a PDF, why is it not a blog or a website?”

I realized that in the 11 years I had been organizing our newsletter, GreenFriends- North America had started a website and a newsletter. Our newsletter could end and I could encourage our writers and photographers to contribute to that publication. I got support for that plan from the appropriate people and then announced it.

So in summary, remember that if you stay alert that you will be more likely to find the answers to problems nearby. And you might also discover ways in which you have received preparation for some of the problems that you have faced in life.

There is value in keeping your eyes open and making these observations. Perhaps the greatest value is feeling you are not doing this life journey alone. There is help all around you.

Sadhana: Chanting the Meal Prayer

I am resistant to doing spiritual practices (sadhana) other than bhajans (singing) and since sound is bothering my nervous system I can’t even do that.

I decided four or five months ago that I would start praying before meals. That is a practice that I am very lazy about doing. And I would like to change that. I made a new rule- if any food touched my mouth before I chanted the meal prayer, I had to do the chant three times instead of once.

Amma has us chant Bhagavad Gita 4:24 as the meal prayer:

Sanskrit Prayer: 
brahmaarpanam brahma havir brahmaagnau brahmanaa hutam brahmaiva tena gantavyam brahmaa karma samaadhina
Translation: 
Om, the ladle is Brahman. The offering is Brahman.It is offered into the fire of Brahman by Brahman. Brahman alone is to be reached by him who sees Brahman in each and every action

I started that practice sometime before my daughter arrived from india. When she got here, she decided to join me in the endeavor. At that point, she would remind me to pray, since she didn’t want to chant it three times.

After some time, she realized that we frequently weren’t eating at the same time. She changed her mind about participating at all. At that point, she also quit reminding me.

As time went by, I found myself often chanting it 9 times at night! I obviously haven’t integrated this practice yet. At least this week, there have been several times I have remembered to chant the prayer at mealtime… before I ate. Today, I had visitors during lunch so I had them pray with me even though they weren’t eating!

Laughing is Good for Me- Part 2

I am staying, temporarily, in a senior living facility in Woodinville. I really like it here and it is wonderful to only have to navigate one room instead of a multi-story house. (I’m in a studio apartment now.)

***

More than twenty people live in my wing of the facility. Most I have never seen. But there is one couple that I have passed in the hall so many times. I see them when I’m going to pick up my to-go dinner and they are coming back from their dinner in the dining room. (Both options, and more, are available to everyone.) We often come out of our rooms and enter the hallway at the same time. Now, we laugh whenever that happens.

It reminds me of being in Amritapuri. There are many people there I never see. And there are others that it feels like are around every corner I turn. Those people often become major parts of my trip.

I wonder what the frequent meetings mean in this case, in addition to giving us something to laugh about.

***

This morning when I went to the bathroom a mosquito caught my eye. It was in the toilet. I felt a dilemma. I didn’t want to sit down and have it sting me. but I wanted to use the toilet! I decided to flush the toilet and see if it would leave. It did. But did it come right back? I would have to take my chances.

Soon thereafter, there was a mosquito on the window screen of the main part of the studio. Was it the same one or a new one? To be determined. Maybe. This is a new experience but is one I will laugh about.

***

Probably the person that has caused me to laugh the most is a staff member named Pat. He is quite a jokester and to me is committed to seeing beauty and joy all around, and adding to it whenever possible.

Whether it is by wearing mismatched or playful socks or forwarding a file to my daughter and adding a note saying that I am behaving myself, he brings light into the world. And he always waves and calls me by name when I walk by his office.

My earliest memories of him happened on my first days here. The first thing I remember him saying is that at one time he had been a priest for 15 years. That certainly peaked my interest.

He came to see how I was doing for the first three days. The first time he asked me where I got my spiritual guidance and I gestured to a picture of Amma. “The hugger!” he exclaimed. (Amma is known for having given 39 million hugs. So far.) I was amazed that he even recognized her picture because it was a really old one. During that visit, a mother duck followed by seven ducklings walked by my window.

Since then when people visit me, if he knows that they are coming to see me, he asks them if they are huggers. If they look at him like he’s crazy then he asks if they’re devotees. Most are. This process has brought much needed laughter into my life.

***

I think there was one other thing I was going to write about but I don’t remember what it was. The mosquito incident drove everything else from my mind. I guess there will be a part three to this series at some point!

Amma Quotes

Amma is an internationally known humanitarian and spiritual leader. I met her in June of 1989 and have spent time with her every year since then. (I was going to add except in 2020 but then I remembered I was with her in India in January 2020!) From time to time, I share Amma quotes on my blog. This is one of those times.

Traveling by bus, we see many things on the way and just let them pass by. Watch the thoughts of your minds in the same way.

Never forget God. Never forget your real Source. Never move away from the real center within you.

In times of tragedies, our duty is to lend a helping hand to those in grief and thus light lamps of kindness and compassion.

Grace is the factor that brings the right result to your actions, at the right time and in the right proportion.

Lessen the quantity of unnecessary thoughts and allow more space for the energy of love to flow within you.

Photo Source: Amma’s Facebook Page

Accepting Parkinson’s

Those of you who have read my blog posts for some time might remember that one of Amma’s teachings is to “Be like a bird sitting on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice.” She also encourages us to focus on the present moment, rather than dwell on the past or the future. I have had many opportunities to apply those lessons in my life. Each experience has helped in preparing me for what I am dealing with now, Parkinson’s Disease (PD).

During my years as a psychotherapy client and as a psychotherapist, as well as during my spiritual journey, I have had plenty of opportunities to learn that Resistance=Pain. Leap of Faith went so far as to say that Resistance=Death. Amma teaches us to accept whatever comes. Byron Katie wrote a book entitled Loving What Is. These teachings and plenty of experiences in learning the value of acceptance and the futility of resistance have also helped me to accept that PD is part of my life now and will probably be for the rest of my life.

My younger brother died at 39. Shortly before his death he wrote an essay, The Truth I Live By. The sections of that essay that impacted me the most were:

Is cancer unfair? Is it fair that we should expect billions of cells in our body to reproduce over and over again, over an entire lifetime, and always get it right?

 I can’t walk outside without seeing the beauty of our created world, from the rainbow in a line of earthworm slime, to another visible ring on Jupiter. 

Even though I have enough things to interest me another 10 lifetimes, I must take solace in knowing that, at least compared to others, I’ve had much more than my share even in half a life time.

I am now 72 years old. No matter what happens in the future, I believe I was given and have lived a full lifetime.

Right now, every day is filled with puzzles to be solved, whether it is getting dressed, figuring out meals or at times even walking. I’m grateful to Ramana for housesitting when I stayed in Woodinville and for staying on to help me when I returned home. I am grateful for the love and support I get from other friends and my neighbors. I am grateful for my doctors. I am grateful for my physical therapist and for all the zoom exercise classes he and his staff provide. I am grateful for the medicine I am taking to relieve the symptoms of PD. I am grateful for the love and support I receive from my adult children, Satvamrita and Chaitanya, and my ex-husband, Al. I am grateful for Amma’s never-ending love and guidance. I am grateful that I have so many things to be grateful for that I can’t list them all here.

I used to teach a workshop called Lessons on Lessons. When I started this blog, I decided to call it, Living, Learning and Letting Go: Lessons on Lessons. I am realizing that as I learn from Parkinson’s Disease I will have the opportunity to share those life lessons here. Consider this the first in a series! I don’t know how often I will write but I will write. As I wrote those last lines I remembered that the pastor’s wife of a church I used to attend always prefaced her weekly announcements with “If the Lord shall say the same we will……..”

With that in mind and knowing that I don’t even know “what is around the next corner” I will amend one of my last statements to say that it is my intention to write about the lessons I learn from this experience.

Only Love

When I was looking for something else on YouTube a few minutes ago, it occurred to me that a group video which had been made as a gift for Amma might be on it. And it was! The video was posted in August of 2020. Ten thousand participants from 360 cities and 39 countries were involved in making it.

Amma Quotes

I’ve seen quite a few Amma quotes recently that I have wanted to share. I decided I would put them all in one post!

Having the freedom to decide how to act, we should exercise the faculty of discrimination to choose the right actions and attitude.

Pray: Let the music of peace and harmony be heard everywhere.

It is pure love and selfless service that sustains this universe.  

We must cultivate a spiritual culture that respects and worships the sanctity of all beings.

Patience, constant enthusiasm and firm determination are necessary factors for success.

Finding Peace in Uncertain Times: Amma

There is no doubt in my mind that Amma has helped me the most in finding peace in uncertain times; by her presence, her teachings and the opportunities to apply those teachings, her music, her guidance when I have questions, the example she sets in living a life of service and the community of people I have in my life because of her.

As I am dealing with my own health problems, as well as living in the world during a pandemic, I am grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had to learn persistence, flexibility, letting go, being like a bird perched on a dry twig, and being in the moment. While my mind still goes into overdrive, most of the time I am able to find a centered place within me.

As I am writing this, I am remembering a prayer I wrote in the mid to late 90’s. It is still my prayer.

Mother, may my hands be in service, my mind fill with mantra
May my voice forever sing your praise, my heart dance with joy
May my love shine ever brighter, my faith ever grow
Mother, may each day I become more like you, only for this I pray
Only for this I pray

[Amma means mother]

Sanskrit Writing Practice #5

Not too long after the pandemic began and we were told to stay home, I started writing one of the 108 Names of Amma ten times in Devanagari (the script used to write Sanskrit words) each day. Many of the “names” relate to one of Amma‘s characteristics. The list was written by a devotee decades ago and is frequently used as a chant before meditation or singing.

If you notice differences between the transliteration and the Devanagari script know that more information about that is provided in my last Sanskrit writing post.

Line 76

ॐ त्याग वैराग्य मैत्रयादि सर्व सद्वासना पुषे नमः
om tyaga vairagya maitryadi sarva sadvasana pushe namah
… who encourages the cultivation of good qualities such as renunciation, dispassion, love, etc.

Line 80

ॐ सुभाषित सुधा मुचे नमः
om subhashita sudha muche namah
… whose speech is as sweet as ambrosia

Line 88

प्रोत्सादित ब्रह्मविद्या सम्प्रदाय प्रवृत्ताये नमः
om protsahita brahmavidya sampradaya pravrittaye namah
…who encourages the learning of Brahmavidya, the science of the Absolute through the tradition of the guru-disciple relationship

Sanskrit Writing Practice #4

Not too long after the pandemic began and we were told to stay home, I started writing one of the 108 Names of Amma ten times in Devanagari (the script used to write Sanskrit words) each day. Many of the “names” are events in Amma‘s early life or one of her characteristics. The list was written by a devotee decades ago and is frequently used as a chant before meditation or singing.

I have been having health problems, not related to covid, so it has been a week or more since I last wrote any Sanskrit. I finished line 78 last night. In this post, I will share lines 71 and 78.

I frequently make errors when I write. Usually by the 10th time I write the line, it is correct but not always, I still slip up. I also have discovered there are occasionally discrepancies between the transliteration and the Devanagari versions. Since I don’t know which is right, I just write it the way it is in the various books I am using. I also do not differentiate between the different kinds of “a”s, “i”s, “u”s, “n’s, “sh”s (and a few others) when I write the transliteration in blog posts. And last, there are occasionally times when letter combinations I use when I write the Devanagari script are different than the keyboard I am using for the post.

Line 71
सुप्रसन्न मुख़ाम्भोज वराभयद पाणये नम:
suprasanna mukhambhoja varabhayada panaye namah
… who has a bright, beaming face, as beautiful as a lotus flower, and who holds her hand in the posture of blessing

Line 78
प्रेमभक्ति सूधा सिक्त साधू चित्त गूहजूषे नम:
premabhakti sudha sikta sadhu citta guhajushe namah
… who resides in the cave of the heart of the pious that are drenched with the nectar of devotion