Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: August 19-23, 2018

Western Cafe

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.

Crow

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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.

Kerala Floods

(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.

Onam

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.

Update on Practice in Accepting Change and Letting Go

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.

Practice in Accepting Change and Letting Go

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.

New Book: Out of the Fog

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.

Amma’s Summer Tour Starts Today

June 2 – July 11

Amma’s arms are open to everyone. Most people come to experience her embrace, her unique way of spreading comfort to the world. Some are drawn to her charitable works. Or to learn more from one of the preeminent spiritual teachers of our time. However they come, most end up being moved and inspired by one of the world’s most accessible humanitarian leaders.

Seattle, WA June 2-3
Bay Area, CA (MA Center) June 5-10 (Retreat – June 8-10)
Los Angeles, CA June 12-14
Santa Fe, NM June 16-19 (Retreat – June 17-19)
Denton, TX June 21-22
Chicago area (MA Center Chicago) June 24-26 
Marlborough, MA June 28-29
Washington, DC July 1-2
New York, NY July 4 – 6
Toronto, Canada July 8-11 (Retreat – July 9-11)

For more details and for retreat registration, visit Amma’s North America Tour

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unlikely

Last week’s photo challenge was to share a photo of something “unlikely”; something that may fit into the category of “never say never”.

I, for the most part, stopped saying “never” decades ago when I realized that many, if not most, of the things that I said “never” to ended up being an important part of my life journey.

I first recognized that pattern in my early 40’s when in a span of 2 years I became a devotee of an Indian guru (and still am), a “groupie” of a rock band named “Tribal Therapy” (for about a year), and started going to an African-American Pentecostal church (for about 15 years.) At the time when these life changes began, I had described myself as being somewhere between an agnostic and an atheist for 20 years. If, at that time, someone had told me these things would become a life focus of mine, I would have adamantly said “never… no way… not a chance”.

The other area where I have moved from “never” to it being a life focus is photography. I took some photos as a teenager, a college student and when my children were young but at some point developed the belief that photography keeps one from being in the moment; that you don’t “live” when you are focused on preserving a past moment.

I started blogging in 2014. I soon decided that my posts looked better when there were photos in them. Since most photos on the internet are copyrighted, I started looking for ones in the public domain. While over the years I have found some good sources, like pixabay.com and Creative Commons, finding free photos was a very time consuming endeavor at first. It occurred to me that I could solve that problem by taking photographs of my own.

As my interest in nature developed, I became interested in nature photography. At that point, a whole new world opened up for me.

I even bought a microscope and began to snap pictures with my iPhone and an adapter.

I suspect photography will be in my life for a long time.

This photo was taken yesterday, 5-9-18

I will continue to make it a practice to (almost) never say never.

 

Unlikely

Nimo Patel: Beautiful

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while may remember that I am a big fan of Nimo Patel from Empty Hands Music. Nimo has recently offered another music video to the world. This one is called Beautiful. The email message from Empty Hands Music introducing the new video stated:

We have officially released our latest music video called “Beautiful“, a song and video sharing a message of letting go of our technology once in a while, to see the beauty that is constantly surrounding us. If you enjoy it, do share with your friends and family.

The introduction on the YouTube page gave even more information:

Ellie Walton and Nimo release another Empty Hands Music Video, this time featuring Nimo in collaboration with soul singer Jason Joseph. The message of the song is simple: that beauty exists every where we go. We just have to open our hearts and eyes, to actually see it moment to moment.

You can download the album that contains these songs and more- for free- at the Empty Hands site but I decided to put the links to some of my previous Nimo posts below. The first one includes introductory information as well as one of the songs he sang when I first heard him sing.

Introduction and Planting Seeds

Ode to Women

Grateful: A Love Song to the World

Keep Loving

Being Kind

Enjoy!

 

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: September 12, 2017

When I planned my trip to Amritapuri this year, I made a priority of being there during Krishna Jayanthi, the day Krishna’s birth is celebrated each year. In my early days with Amma, I found myself crying deeply whenever I sang or listened to some bhajans (devotional songs). When I checked out those bhajans later, I discovered that almost all of them were Krishna songs. I didn’t know anything about Krishna from my conscious mind, but clearly some part of me did.

I have been at Amritapuri on Krishna Jayanthi twice before. An important part of the celebration is a procession that goes from the ashram to a nearby Krishna temple. The group sings all the way to the temple. When I participated in that procession in 2003, I was in bliss the whole time. The second time I was at the ashram on Krishna Jayanthi, my back went out just prior to the celebration and I wasn’t able to walk in the procession.

This year, for me, Krishna’s birthday was a time of bliss, a time of sadness, and a time of challenges. Prior to booking my trip, I had done an internet search for the 2017 date of Krishna Jayanthi in Kerala. August 14 was the date that came up. I booked my trip for August 9 so that I would have time to get over some of the jet lag before the big day. Continue reading “Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: September 12, 2017”

Living and Learning in Amritapuri: September 1-10, 2017

For various reasons, I got behind in sharing the experiences I was having in Amritapuri. I am still going to do that even though I’ve been back in Seattle for almost a month.

Karthika

There are special programs each month on Karthika, Amma’s birth star. In September, Karthika was on September 9. What I like best about Karthika  is the sight below.

This time, I attended the chanting and singing that was occurring that evening in the Kalari. I really enjoyed doing that and the sweets that were handed out at the end of the program were a nice treat too.

Challenges

I’ve mentioned before that when we are around Amma, it is common for our weaknesses and negative tendencies to come up so that we can see them and work on them. A negativity that was in my face numerous times on this trip was feeling incompetent. One of the times I felt that way was when I attempted to take orders in the cafe. At that time, I was still having difficulty writing because my broken wrist wasn’t completely healed. Even more of a problem was the fact that I hadn’t done that job for years. I didn’t know the current prices and as a result I was really slow.

Another place I felt incompetent when I was doing the prasad line seva. My job was to see that the two lines of people who were going to hand Amma prasad (the packets of ash and candy that she gives people who come to her for a hug) was always full and that all prasad givers had been trained to do the job. One of those lines is on the stage, the other is down on the auditorium floor. Doing all components of the job became even more complicated if there were times I had to wander the auditorium, and even outside the auditorium, looking for people to fill the line.

About the time I was beginning to feel reasonably competent in doing the job, there was a day when the darshan location was changed to the temple. That building is much smaller than the auditorium and had a different system for the prasad lines. Some things went badly and I couldn’t figure out why. Back to feeling incompetent. I was relieved that my next shift would be in the big auditorium. WRONG. The day before my next shift, I learned that the auditorium was going to be used for Amrita University’s graduation ceremony and darshan would once again be in the temple. Continue reading “Living and Learning in Amritapuri: September 1-10, 2017”

A Bridge Between Worlds

Sreejit’s directions for this week’s Dungeon Prompt were:

If the journey of your life could be boiled down to a particular mission, what would it be?  What has been the primary focus or purpose of your particular birth?  You may believe that all of life is on a big picture path, but I’m asking about your particular journey.  Is there any lesson or goal that has defined the majority of your life?  What is your life’s mission?

I once used the process that Stephen Covey described in his book First Things First to develop a personal mission statement. The document I created that day is as relevant and alive for me now as it was on the day I created it. (My mission statement can be found in this blog post: Living with Purpose.)

For this prompt, I decided to look at my life’s mission from a different angle. Throughout my adolescence and young adult years I believed that I didn’t “belong” anywhere. That belief developed, at least in part, because I grew up as an army brat. I generally moved every three years, and if I wasn’t leaving then my friends were. No place or group felt like “home,” I always believed I was an outsider.  Continue reading “A Bridge Between Worlds”