During the first quarter of 2016, I created a series of 12 Challenge for Growth prompts. At that time, the challenges were published one week at a time.
Yesterday, it occurred to me that many readers were not following my blog back then. I have decided to publish a post that includes a list of all 12 of the personal growth prompts.
Since it is easier to make behavioral changes if we focus on them one day at a time, each of the weekly challenges start with “Today, I focus on…….” While I believe you will get the most benefit from a challenge if you focus on it for an entire week…. or longer…. it will be up to you to decide how long you want to focus on a particular challenge— even one or two days during a week will have value.
If you decide to take on these challenges, consider sharing your experiences in the comment section of this post. I’d love to hear about them.
You can, of course, begin or stop the challenge process at any time.
Challenge for Growth Prompts
Week 1: “Today I focus on my needs rather than my wants.”
The nature of the mind is that as soon as one desire is met, it is off to the next one, often without taking any time to appreciate the desire that was just realized. An endless stream of wants leads to the experience of scarcity; we never feel full, we never think we have or are enough.
One way to create a sense of abundance in our lives is to decrease the number of our desires. We can do that by putting our primary focus on meeting our needs and then prioritizing our wants.
The first step for many people is to learn to differentiate their needs from their wants. Some examples: We need water – We want a soda; We need food – We want a big restaurant meal; We need shelter – We want a new house.
This week practice identifying which of your desires are needs and which are wants. When looking at your list of wants, decide which are the most important to you. This week give priority to meeting your needs. If you put energy into obtaining any of your wants, be sure they are ones you have identified as priority wants.
Week 2: “Today I look for the good qualities in others.”
When we are in a bad mood, we may find ourselves focusing on someone else’s faults. When we focus on the negative, we are likely to see negativity all around us. Remember that even a broken clock is right twice a day.
People often get triggered into negative thinking when they are with someone who reminds them of a person who hurt them in the past. In the psychotherapy model I use, we refer to that as “putting someone else’s face” on the present day person. That process is also referred to as projection.
Clients in therapy frequently project their parents’ faces on their therapists. I remember a time in the mid 90’s when a client was always angry with the male co-therapist in one of my therapy groups. He knew that the therapist reminded him of his father, but he was having a hard time “getting his dad’s face” off of the therapist.
This therapist had some unusual characteristics so I said to the client, “Did your dad ever wear an earring?” and “Did your dad sometimes wear red toenail polish?” The client started laughing. His father would NEVER have considered doing either of those things. Seeing the differences really helped him separate the therapist from his father.
This week focus on looking for the good in others. If you have trouble finding anything positive about a person, consider whose face you might have on them. If you decide it is a parent, or a boss, or someone else from your past, identify ways the current day person is different from the one in your past. Then “de-role” the present day person by saying to yourself, “You are not (insert the name or role of person from the past), you are (insert the name or role of the person in the present).” After you de-role the current day person, you may be better able to identify some of their good qualities.
Also consider making lists of the positive qualities of anyone you have negative thoughts about, whether they be from your past or present.
Week 3: “Today when there is nothing to be done I will do nothing.”
In our over-doing world, many of us have lost the ability to simply BE. Our days are filled with doing things and our minds are filled with thinking. We may be bombarded with electronic stimulation such as radio, television, emails, texts, video games, internet surfing, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Linked In, etc.
Too often when we are not over-doing, we are over-thinking. We rarely have new thoughts; usually we are just recycling the same thoughts over and over.
It may be that when we are quiet, we are uncomfortable with the feelings and thoughts that surface. We try to shove them down by potentially addictive behaviors like over-doing, substance abuse, obsessive thinking, and over-eating. We can learn to see those uncomfortable feelings and thoughts as indications that there are changes we need to make in our lives.
Most of life’s peak experiences happen when we least expect them. In addition, bliss is unlikely to come when we are thinking or over-doing.
This week take some time to focus on being rather than doing. If there is nothing that NEEDS to be done, don’t do anything. Take the time as an opportunity to simply BE. Watch the internal messages and impulses that come up when you do that. Note them, but don’t act on them. Allow yourself to continue being.
Consider making a commitment that during your being time you will not use the phone or computer and will not have any electronic music, television or radio going on in the background. If taking being time sounds impossible to you consider starting with five minutes- or ten minutes- or fifteen minutes a day. You can build up your being time slowly if you need to.
Week 4: “Today I take time to think before I say Yes or No.”
While some people have trouble saying Yes and others say No to every request, I believe it is much more common for people to struggle with saying No. This struggle often stems from childhood experiences. It may not have been okay, or even safe, to say No in our families of origin. Many of us were taught/programmed to please others by doing what others wanted them to do. As an adult, we may say Yes to things we don’t want to do; say Yes but then not follow through on our commitments; or say Yes reflexively without taking any time to think about the request.
I once heard a joke that addresses this issue. “What happens when a codependent dies?” Answer: Someone else’s life flashes before his eyes.” While it is a funny joke, it is also a sad situation and it may be true. You cannot live your own life and do everything everyone else wants you to do.
The first step in looking at this issue may be to observe struggles you have in saying either Yes or No. At the same time, start pausing to think before you reply to a request. You may need 15 seconds or you may need 48 hours or more to get clear. It is perfectly appropriate to respond, “I will think about it and get back to you.”
This week focus on thinking before you say Yes or No.
Week 5: “Today I repeat the affirmation ‘I am Love’.”
Occasionally I ask my psychotherapy clients what they would think if they overheard someone talking to a child the way they talk to themselves. They often respond that they would think the child was being abused. I believe when we direct endless criticism towards ourselves, it is as if we are abusing a child, but in this case it is the child within us.
One of the tools I have found helpful in stopping negative self-talk is to flood one’s mind with a single affirmation. I’m not talking about saying the affirmation 10 times in the morning while looking in the mirror. I ask clients to say their affirmations a minimum of 1,000 times a day for 21 days. Actually, I prefer that they say it 10,000 times a day or more, or better yet, anytime their minds aren’t being used for something else!
When we flood our minds with an affirmation over a period of time, it may start flowing automatically during the day, and sometimes during the night as well. Imagine what it would be like to have something positive going through your mind day and night, instead of all of the negative messages.
This week internally repeat the affirmation “I Am Love.” I suggest you say it at least 1,000 times a day. (It takes 15-20 minutes to say it 1,000 times.) It will help you to stay focused if you use a tally counter from an office supply store or an app such as Counter +. If you find yourself engaged in negative thinking during the day, start saying the affirmation again. Be gentle with yourself no matter how many times you repeat it. There is no right or wrong way to do this challenge.
Week 6: “Today I listen attentively.”
Sometimes when we are listening to another person, we may find our minds wandering to problems at work or home, or to future plans. At other times, rather than paying close attention to the person’s words, we may start thinking about how we are going to respond to them. Or we may reflect on advice we want to give them when they stop talking. If the person is angry, instead of listening to them, we may start planning our defense. These communication patterns often leave people feeling unheard, discounted and/or disrespected.
This week practice giving people your full attention when they are talking to you.
Week 7: “Today I unplug.”
Don’t panic. I’m not talking about totally unplugging. But think of how much time during the day you spend engaged with emails, texting, instant messages, Facebook, Instagram, Linked-In, Twitter, Snapshot, surfing the Internet, playing video games, watching television, online shopping, talking on the phone, etc. What would you think and feel if you no longer had access to a phone, computer, television or any other electronic device? Does the thought of not having those things bring you a sense of relief, panic or something else?
This week commit to unplugging for some period of time each day. Pick a time of day when you normally use those devices and then set an amount of time to unplug that would challenge you, but not set you up for failure.
Week 8: “Today I stop my repetitive thinking.”
So few of our thoughts are actually new; we recycle most of them again and again as we ruminate about past traumas, feel indignant over ways we were slighted, or obsess about possible future problems. Overthinking keeps us trapped in our heads, rather than living from our hearts. It also leads to depression and anxiety.
We may believe if we think about a problem long enough, we will figure out what to do about it. The reality is that inspiration is much more likely to come when our minds are silent than when we are in a never-ending cycle of analyzing.
This week commit to stopping your repetitive thoughts. One way to do that is to say “Stop…..Be here now” to yourself and then focus solely on the present moment whenever you find yourself in unhelpful thinking processes. Distracting activities such as working in the garden, exercising, reading, writing, walking, etc. may also be helpful. If there is a problem you actually need to think about, set a beginning and ending time for doing that, rather than letting it take over your day.
Week 9: “Today I say something to a child that I wish had been said to me when I was young.”
Did you hear the things that you needed to hear during your formative years? Were you given enough guidance, enough love, enough validation? Are there words that you wish you had heard from your parents or other adults during your childhood or teenage years?
This week give children or teenagers messages that you wish had been said to you when you were young.
Week 10: “Today I do not waste food.”
In 2012, the National Resources Defense Council of the U.S. concluded that Americans waste 40% of their food. Food is wasted at the farm level, between harvest and sale, during processing, during distribution, in grocery stores, in restaurants and in our homes. The study also reported that American’s throw out 25% of the food and beverages they buy. You can learn more about these statistics at: Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill. As I searched for more recent statistics for this post, I read that American households throw out 150,000 tons of food each day.
Many children in my generation grew up with parents who demanded that they eat their food because of the starving kids in China. As a result, many of us learned to tune out that message and disregard the fact that there is some truth to that way of thinking. I believe it is important for us to become responsible citizens of the world.
That does not mean we should force ourselves or our children to eat when we/they aren’t hungry. It is also not about shaming people into cleaning their plates. Instead, I think we should focus on how much food we buy, how much we cook, and how much we put on our plates. Children will be more likely to finish eating their food if they are given small portions. They can always ask for more if they are still hungry after they finish the original serving. That is true for adults as well.
While these are U.S. statistics and may be higher than those in other countries, I doubt we are the only country with the problem. This week focus on not wasting food.
Week 11: “Today I do something I’ve been resisting.”
A co-therapist I used to work with often told clients that it may take 75% of the time one is in therapy to do 25% of the work that needs to be done. The remaining work is likely to be completed much faster. I also remember hearing Amma, my spiritual teacher, say that we ask her to clean us up, but then we won’t hold still for the bath. The common factor in these two circumstances is resistance.
Resistance isn’t all bad. It would be unhealthy to walk into a new situation and turn ourselves over to the whim of other people. Blind faith can be dangerous. It also takes time to determine a correct course of action. However, when we know that there are changes we need to make, holding on to resistance often results in us holding on to, or creating, pain for ourselves. It may also stifle our growth.
This week do things you’ve been resisting doing.
Week 12: “Today I eat and drink food and beverages that honor my body.”
Most of us know which foods and beverages are healthy for us to eat and drink. However, when fast food restaurants, sodas, desserts and junk snacks call out to us, we succumb, much like an alcoholic giving in to the call of alcohol.
As alcoholics in recovery know, unhealthy habits are changed one day at a time. This week eat and drink only food and beverages that honor your body. Treat your body as if it is a temple, a temple worthy of great respect.
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.
Sreejit’s Friday reflections are getting more profound every week. This is my favorite of them all.
When I was 16, my guru gave me the name Sreejit and I immediately went to the courthouse to change it legally. Everyone in my school knew the reason for the change, so I didn’t have to explain it. When I joined the workforce, people would constantly ask me where my name came from and I wouldn’t want to go into the details because that would require a longer, deeper discussion. I hated the presumptuous question of, what is my real name, because that would require and even longer and even deeper discussion. They were asking a simple question and I developed a simple answer for it. “My Dad is black and my mother is Indian,” I would say. “Oh cool,” they would say. A simple question, a simple half-truth and we’d all move on.
As we call our guru, Amma, or mother, it wasn’t a full lie, but was…
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Nonattachment (or not)
I often say that the only joke I remember is Question: Do you know how to make God laugh? Answer: Tell him your plans for your life. Since we don’t even know what’s around the next corner, when we make plans, we have no way of knowing if we will be able to do them. I used to attend a church that added “If the Lord shall say the same” before any announcement. While there is nothing wrong with making life plans, I think it is important to remember that those events may or may not happen. Holding on tightly to plans can send pain and suffering our way.
I got a good reminder of that last week. I had planned the dates for my Amritapuri trip around the Ganesh Chathuri holiday. Last year, I had discovered that there were amazing bhajans held in the Kalari nine nights of that ten-day festival. The bhajans were led by a group of young men. Some played drums or other instruments. The singing got pretty raucous and I loved it. In fact, I think it would be accurate to say that I experienced unbridled joy. I have been waiting to have that experience again ever since last year’s Ganesh Chathuri.
There was a puja scheduled for the morning of September 13, the first day of the holiday. When I saw the area being set up on my way to my cafe shift, I realized I had forgotten what a big deal that puja was. It is held in the auditorium. The ashram elephant is brought in and there are rituals performed … and lots of singing.
When I went into the cafe, I mentioned it to Chaitanya. She hadn’t thought about the fact that I would want to attend the puja either. She offered to find someone to replace me, but it didn’t seem right to back out on her at the last minute, so I said I would stay. After all, I had the night bhajans to look forward to… and those were my priority.
As the sounds from the auditorium intensified, however, I longed to be there. I began to get agitated. Sreejit walked into the kitchen, so I asked him to relieve me for a few minutes so I could go see what was happening. Being at the puja, even for three or four minutes, was just what I needed. After all, I had the night bhajans to look forward to.
When my replacement came at 9:00 a.m., I was able to go to the auditorium for some of the last bhajan and for the Ganesh Aarati. I was also there when the prasad was handed out. It consisted of numerous types of treats in a small banana leaf bowl. I had already committed to myself that I would take that morning off next year if I’m here, but I felt satisfied with the small parts of the ceremony I had attended. After all, I had 9 evenings of wonderful Ganesh bhajans to look forward to.
On my way back to my room, I decided to go look at the Ganesh Chaturi schedule on the bulletin board. I was horrified when I saw what was written on the flyer. There had been a homa earlier in the morning and then the big puja …. and those were to be the only Ganesh Chathuri programs this year.
Amma had canceled the games and big processions associated with Onam and Krishna Jayanthi in recognition of the pain being experienced by the Kerala Flood victims. I hadn’t thought about that being extended to Ganesh Chathuri as well since there were no games or big processions associated with that festival.
I felt devastated. I started crying and I cried all day. It reminded me of a time years ago when I went to Amma crying to the core of me. At that time, a friend standing near Amma was alarmed. She thought one of my children must have died. The event that brought on my tears that year was not the death of one of my children, but rather was due to the fact that I didn’t have enough money to make my yearly trip to Amritapuri. Up to that point, I had come to India every year since 1990.
I believe what I access when I am in that state is my soul crying for God. And it may be have also brought up longing for experiences I have had in past lives. (For most of my years with Amma, I have cried whenever I saw Ayyappo pilgrims. They sing in that same style of music, raucous and tribal. I speculate that I took Ayyappo pilgrimages in some other lifetime. The yearning to do that again is still inside of me even though my conscious part doesn’t really want to go with them!).
Amma has said that crying for God is as powerful as meditation. I believe the longing I experienced when the bhajans were cancelled was good, but it sure was painful. I also believe that part of my pain was due to my holding on to plans instead of living from a place of nonattachment.
Later in the day, it occurred to me that having Amma’s darshan might help. Darshan was being held in the temple that day. I decided to look for the token table and found it in an unexpected place about 30 seconds later. Within the hour, I was in Amma’s arms. And, of course, being with her did help. Even though I remained teary for the rest of the day, they were not the kind of tears that were painful and wouldn’t stop.
Trust My Inner Wisdom (or not)
In the psychotherapy community I practiced in, we used an affirmation that said “Trust Your Inner Wisdom.” I usually added “except when you can’t.” Most of us have so many voices in our head. I believe it is important to make sure that we aren’t listening to a voice that supports our unhealthy belief systems and/or behaviors.
Decades ago, I heard a minister say that the first quiet voice we hear inside is usually the voice of God. The next messages that come into our mind may be a flood of discounting messages that tell us why that first message is wrong and why it won’t work. If we choose to listen to that second stream of messages, the original “voice” will fade away.
The misery I experienced when I found out there would not be Ganesh bhajans in the Kalari for the next nine days was a good example of my not listening to my inner voice. “Go check the schedule” had gone through my mind daily for about a week. I always responded. “I will …. later.” Later didn’t come until late morning on the day of the event.
As I already mentioned, I knew that Amma had cancelled the games and big processions during the two previous holidays because of the floods. While the night Ganesh bhajans weren’t games, they were raucous and high energy. Having them every night for nine days would certainly have fit into the “celebratory” category. While I was aware of this, I had not allowed myself to seriously consider that they might not happen, I believe that was also a discount to the wisdom of my inner voice.
The 20 Step recovery community extensively uses Portia Nelson’s Autobiography in 5 Short Chapters.
I I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk I fall in. I am lost... I am hopeless. It isn't my fault. It takes forever to find a way out. II I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don't see it. I fall in again. I can't believe I'm in the same place. But it isn't my fault. It still takes a long time to get out. III I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in...it's a habit My eyes are open; I know where I am; It is my fault. I get out immediately. IV I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it. V I walk down another street.
I have found her autobiography to be a very powerful and helpful way of looking at life’s lessons. Years ago, I added another chapter to it… for my own use. In my adaptation, the new chapter came before any of the others. It said:
I receive a warning.
I ignore it.
My experience with the Ganesh holiday was a good example of this additional chapter. I had received warnings in the form of advice and intuitions and had ignored them all. And the result was I brought more pain to myself than if I had listened.
I worry too much about what other people think of me and I don’t like to be laughed at. I cringe whenever people tell stories about me that they think are funny and I don’t. I also get upset when I judge that I’ve made a fool of myself.
An incident that happened in the early 70’s stuck with me for decades. I went to a New Year’s Eve work party with Al (my husband). I worked nights at the time, and for some reason got dressed in the dark. At some point during the party, when we were talking to Al’s boss and his wife, someone noticed that I was wearing shoes that were two different colors. (At that time, I owned two pairs of shoes that were the same style, but different colors. When I had slipped them on in the dark, there was no way for me to tell that they didn’t belong together.)
I was mortified. Other people seemed to be fine about it, and said understanding things, but my inner critic flared. My feelings of humiliation were strong even decades later. I ended up doing some EMDR (therapy) on the issue in the mid 90’s. During it, I started to laugh. I had been divorced from Al for many years and here I was still worried about what the person who was his boss in the 70’s thought about me. My energy about the issue reduced tremendously after that, but it wasn’t 100% gone.
Last week I had a chance to see where I stood on those issues. One morning, I took my garbage to the recycling station. When I returned to my building, there was a group of women residents sitting near the elevator listening to the broadcast of a class that was being offered in the temple. Before the elevator door shut, I saw one of the women smile and lean over to talk to the woman sitting next to her. They were both looking at me. At first, I took their smiles as a greeting but then I realized it didn’t feel that way. I looked down and was dismayed to discover that I was wearing two different kinds of thongs; and these weren’t even similar to each other. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t noticed. Again, I had made a fool of myself and worried about being judged.
The difference between the event in the 70’s and the one that happened last week is that I had so much less energy about it. I still didn’t like that I made the mistake and I didn’t think it was funny, but I had much more of a “whatever” attitude about it.
Long ago, someone taught me the difference between shock and embarrassment. Shock is deadening. We may freeze and turn white as the blood drains from our face. On the other hand, when we are embarrassed about something, it can actually enliven us. We may turn bright red as blood rushes into our face. Some small part of us may even think it is funny.
I realize that the words I chose for these two experiences also show the difference between shock and embarrassment. For the one that occurred in the 70’s I used “mortified” and for the one that happened last week I used “dismayed”. I believe I went into shock during the first event and was embarrassed in the present one.
I’m not happy that I set myself up in this way and know that I still have energy about being laughed at, but I do appreciate seeing that my energy about the issue has lessened so significantly.
[Note: Soon after I wrote this section, I went to work at the cafe. Ziggy, a long term devotee who is also a clown, came up to me and asked permission to put a balloon earring on my ear. I laughed at the synchronicity and said yes. People did indeed laugh at me, and I thought it was fun!]
To read the previous posts in this series click here.
Every time I come to Amritapuri, I have so many memories of my first visit. I met Amma in June of 1989. Six weeks later, I was at her New Hampshire retreat and 6 months after that I was at her ashram in India. I don’t remember when the ashram started to be called Amritapuri, but I think it was many years later. At that time, we just referred to it as being near Oachira or Vallikavu.
In those days, the beach road was not paved and was full of potholes. The taxi drivers were not willing to drive on it so they would take us to Vallikavu. From there, we took a canoe to the ashram. This was our first view of the ashram:
I arrived days after the temple was able to be used. The top floors had not been completed yet, and it would be years before the construction was done. I don’t have a photo of the temple from that time but the first photo below was taken within the last decade. The second two are from January 1990. You can click on the photo gallery to enlarge the pictures.
In those days, Amma would hold Devi Bhava programs three days a week. Those would be held in the temple. She gave darshan (hugs) in a small darshan hut.
The evening bhajan program was held in the temple. My memory is that there were so few people that we only filled the front third of the temple. I remember wondering why Amma had built a temple that was so big.
A photo from later in the 90’s shows the answer to that question.
When I came to the ashram in 1990, we never knew if Amma would attend the evening bhajans. My memory is that she would participate at least two times a week, and that when she came the program would last longer.
That first year, Amma sat with us on the floor of the temple, all of us facing the Kali murti. She would lead the singing without a microphone. A year or two later Amma, as well as the swamis and other back up singers, moved to the side of the room. At that point, everyone was still sitting on the floor of the temple. I remember Amma scolding us for facing her instead of the front of the temple. Amma started using a microphone at that time.
I don’t remember what year Amma and the other singers started singing from elevated area at the front of the hall, near the Kali murti. I also don’t remember when the darshan programs moved to the temple.
During my first visit to the ashram, there were 30 western guests (now during the Christmas season there are close to 2000). The Western Canteen opened at that time. It offered only one meal a day, and that meal, as I remember it, consisted of a bowl of soup. (When I look at the photo below, it looks like the meal was bigger than that.) We were so grateful to have western food once a day.
Four days a week, the Canteen food was served on the fourth floor temple balcony. During the three Devi Bhavas, we gathered on the stairs going up to the sixth floor. Maybe those were the times we only had soup. There wouldn’t have been room on the stairs to serve much more than that.
Amma was 35 years old when I met her, and 36 years old when I visited the ashram for the first time. These are some photos of Amma from the early days.
I have been blessed to be able to consistently spend time with Amma in the United States and India during the last 29 years. I have so many memories of those experiences, and I am exceedingly grateful for that. Millions and millions of thanks to you Amma.
To read the previous posts in this series click here.
I started helping my daughter Chaitanya in the Western cafe on August 19, my second day at the ashram. The first four days, I buttered the bread that would be cooked on the grill. On Thursday, August 23, I started doing a 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. shift calling out cafe orders as they are ready. When I am given the plates from the kitchen, I check that what is on the plate matches the ticket. I then call out the ticket number and make sure each person gets the correct order. Some of the time, I work at a leisurely pace, but at other times the orders come out fast and furious and I have a whole crowd of people standing in front of me. The job certainly gives me practice in staying focused.
There are so many more people involved in ordering, cooking and serving the food than when I started working at the cafe in the late 90’s or early 2000’s. In the “old” days people would line up outside the cafe window to order and pay for their food. I would be sitting inside the cafe, taking orders and cashiering through the window. The photo above was probably taken in the early 2000’s. The window where I used to sit is the one on the left. Over the years, much of the process has moved outside with the people who take the orders, the cashiers, and much more being in front of the cafe. The whole building was remodeled and enlarged two years ago.
A funny thing happened on Monday or Tuesday. When I sat down to eat my breakfast, two crows flew over to me and perched on nearby chairs. Sometimes, one was on the chair directly in front of me and sometimes he was one chair over. The other crow was always on the back of the chair to the south of him. I’m used to crows perching on various ledges above me but don’t remember them being at eye level before. These crows rarely looked at me directly, but they were on constant alert, looking one way and then another.
At one point, a friend carried her breakfast plate to the table and set it down in the care of someone not far from me. She had covered her food with another plate. The person who was watching her food stepped away briefly. In an instant, the second crow flew to the plate, knocked the cover off and started pecking at her breakfast. I spontaneously stood up to shoo him away. Without hesitation, the crow that had been sitting in front of me grabbed part of my omelet and flew away with it.
From my perspective, the crows were working as a team and I had been a sucker in a conspiracy! I laughed.
(The photos below are of a 24 hr/day call-in rescue hotline operated by Amrita University’s faculty and students.)
It is estimated that one million people are being housed in flood relief camps. Four hundred and twenty people have died or are missing, Ten thousand kilometers of roads have been destroyed or damaged and 50,000 homes have been “wiped out”.
The flood cleanup has been hampered because when people return to their homes they are finding poisonous snakes (including pythons and cobras), centipedes and scorpions in their cupboards and personal belongings. Some have even found crocodiles in their houses.
The Cochin International Airport is the world’s first solar powered airport. The solar panels, along with the runway, taxi bay, shops as well as other areas of the airport were submerged during the flood. The damage is estimated to be more than three million US dollars. The airport was due to reopen on August 26 but the reopening has since been moved to the 29th.
Safe in Amma’s ashram, I feel separate from the nightmare in which many of the people of Kerala are living. It was good for me to research and write this summary. If you feel inspired to donate to the relief effort you can do that at: Amma.org (US) or Amritapuri.org (India). I’m sure there are many other ways to donate, but those are the two places I am aware of.
Saturday is Onam, Kerala’s biggest festival. It is a harvest festival and a family festival. I’ve heard that this holiday is similar to Christmas in the West, although it is a secular holiday. The government has canceled Onam celebrations this year because of all the flooding in the state. I know that some of Amma’s centers in the other parts of the world will host programs that will include praying for the Kerala people and Kerala relief fundraising dinners. There will be an Onam event of some kind in Amritapuri, but I don’t know the schedule or the content. I will be reporting on it in the next post.
Is a New Day Dawning for Me?
On Tuesdays, Amma serves lunch to the devotees and visitors who are living in the ashram. Amma blesses each plate and then the plates are passed to everyone by long lines of devotees. When it is time to form the lines, I eagerly join in. Once everyone has a plate of food, we eat together.
This past Tuesday, after finishing my lunch, I saw that Kumuda was sitting in one of the first rows of chairs in the middle section of the auditorium. The lunch was over, but Amma hadn’t started giving darshan yet; she was playing with some children.
When I walked over to Kumuda, an old but familiar energy washed over me. I realized being that close to the front of the room felt like being with Amma before the crowds got big. In those days, I spent many hours sitting and watching Amma; I was mesmerized by her. It has been a long time since I have had that experience. I don’t remember when it ended, but the shift probably started around the time I became the tour coordinator for Amma’s Pacific Northwest programs. I was tour coordinator for about 15 years, and it has been at least five years since I gave up that role.
In the last decade, I have developed the habit of sitting in the back or side of the program halls and just watching Amma on the screens. My relationship with Amma has not been affected by my moving to the back of the room, but my relationship to the music is a different story. For years, I have longed for my mind and body to react to Amma’s bhajans (devotional songs) the way it did in my early years with her. At that time, it was as if my body, mind and soul was fully immersed in the music. I remember feeling like the music was feeding my soul.
I resolved to test out sitting closer when I am in Amma’s presence and during any other program that I attend. Tuesday evening, I sat in the fourth row of auditorium chairs during the bhajan program. On Wednesday, I sat cross-legged on the temple floor watching Amma give darshan and later did the same sitting next to the brahmacharinis (female monks) when they sang. Tears ran down my cheeks as I experienced the music, just like they used to in the early days.
[Note: I’m making a big deal about sitting cross-legged because I didn’t know that I could still do that, especially for a whole program. I discovered that my back felt better sitting that way than it does when I sit in a chair. Also, there is a large section for floor sitting in front of the chairs, so if I sit there I will be closer to the front of the room.]
On Thursday, I sat cross-legged on the floor during morning archana and did that again when the women residents sang their series of Sanskrit chants soon after darshan started. That same evening, I sat cross-legged on the floor when Swami Pranavamrita sang during darshan. Once again, I experienced the bhajans in a way that I hadn’t experienced for years. My mind was (relatively) silent and I experienced a combination of joy and peace.
Is a new day dawning for me? It sure feels like it is.
To read the previous posts in this series click here.
In my June 8 post, I shared my concern that the stairs near our Greenbelt site were being painted. I had come to the conclusion that it was a good opportunity for me to practice both accepting change and letting go.
When the stairs below ours were finished, I thought the optical illusion was cool but another concern arose. Our stairs are much smaller and closer together than those. I wondered if the bright paint would be overwhelming. I decided to stick with my decision to consider it an opportunity to not worry; to let go and accept whatever change came my way.
The stairs closest to our site were to be painted on Saturday. That afternoon, I decided to check it out. I was delighted with what I saw. The colors are beautiful. Instead of painting the sides of each step, like they did in the area below ours, the painters painted the cement border that goes between the various landings. They also painted the “bench” at the top of the stairs. (I put bench in quotes because it used to be the mount for a bulletin board.)
I’m so glad I decided to see this experience as a “lesson” rather than worrying or fretting about it. I couldn’t be happier with the results.
The last week in April, a friend sent me an email that said an artist, working with Seattle Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School project, was painting staircases around Seattle. The notice also said that the next steps to be painted were the Hanford Stairs, the stairs that border our Greenbelt restoration site.
When I saw the photo I was concerned. I couldn’t imagine something so bright going through the forest. I didn’t understand how painting the stairs would make walking to school safer, but thought that anything that accomplished that goal would be a good thing. I liked that she was inviting community members to help paint. In addition, I knew that this unexpected change would be an opportunity for me to practice letting go and suspending judgment.
I took some comfort in the fact that the notice included a photo of the stairs that were to be painted and they were the new set of stairs that are below ours. Maybe ours would stay the same.
Last Saturday was the day the lower stairs were to be painted. Yesterday afternoon, I decided to walk down and check them out. From the top of the stairs they looked like this…. no sign of paint.
But when I walked to the bottom of the stairs and looked up, this is what I saw.
The bright colors still seemed strange to me but I had to admit that there was beauty to it. I loved that the stairs looked clear one way and fancy when you looked at them from the other direction.
This morning, I noticed that there was a lot of sand on the plants on both sides of the stairs near us. It seemed so strange and I couldn’t imagine what could have caused it. When I pointed the sand out to somebody later in the day, she said that the stairs had been pressure washed. In that moment, I realized that our part of stairs must also be part of this project and that they will probably be painted tomorrow!
I still think it will take me time to get used to this change, but I’m glad that I decided that the lower stairs were okay and even kind of pretty. I have no doubt that children will enjoy them a lot and I hope that it does indeed keep them safe.
My son Sreejit has published a new book of his poems. This one is called: Out of the Fog: 30 poetic musings on the world to which I cling. As always, Sreejit’s perspectives on life and living are thought provoking and well worth reading. Sreejit describes his newest publication in this way:
Perspective shapes our truth, our vision, and the way we move throughout this world. Our beliefs are filtered through the experiences that we’ve had and the weight that we allow these experiences to carry in the shaping of our truth. The world becomes illusion when we realize that every creature sees and understands it from different vantage points. Our world is all about perspective. The one written about here is mine.
He has also republished two of his intriguing and captivating novels.
A modern tale, an ancient mysticism, a universal love. Overcome by the weight of his failure to live up to the world’s standards of success, Ballard Davies decides that there is only one solution. He gets in his car and drives. He drives away from everything and everyone that he knows, in an effort to just start over. He doesn’t care where he’s headed; he just wants another chance to get it right. What he finds is beyond his imagination, as he befriends an eccentric cast of characters. From the divinely inspired to the rationalistic blowhards, everyone becomes a part of his journey to begin again. But there is still one problem – he cannot escape himself. What will it take for Ballard to overcome his own self-imposed limitations and live the adventure he feels he deserves? This is the journey he now travels, down a path where truth, love, desperation, honor, the forgiving and the righteous, the mystics and the scientists all battle for the chance to be given the foremost spot in the realm of his mind. Will the pain of loneliness and separation prevail, or will Ballard find something to live for?
Traversing a world based on perspective, with the force of our own illusions propping us up, what would you forsake to know the truth? Two families, separated by continents, are wrapped up in the same timeless struggle – to be more than the sum of their parts. Join them as they seek to solve a mystery that goes beyond the limits of our physical reality. With time never on our side, the question arises: what would you give up for freedom?
You can order these three publications and more on his Amazon.com author’s page.