My Life is in Transition

dehydrator
My new dehydrator.

Over the last few years I have felt myself inching towards retirement. Last month, I set a retirement date of May 31, 2017 but the size of my psychotherapy practice has reduced so much lately that sometimes I feel as if I am already retired. I know that could change, but I don’t know if it will.

This transition time has been very interesting. When my ex-husband had a massive heart attack in 2001, we began to reconnect. Now we are regularly doing things together, such as watching Seahawks games and Dancing with the Stars, and occasionally going together to movies or other events. We have talked about contacting two or three of our friends from our pre-marriage days.

I also have reconnected with Kathie, who was a close friend in the mid-80’s to mid-90’s. I helped her start a blog last year, ChosenPerspectives, so we have that in common in addition to our past history.

I’ve noticed other things that could be related to this transition. Since 2005 or so, I have felt a drive to reduce the number of my belongings. While I have never been much interested in material possessions, I began to give away anything I hadn’t used in the last three years, unless there was some major reason to keep it. Last year, I changed that number to objects that I hadn’t used in the last two years. I also have had an ongoing desire to organize and clean out cupboards, shelves and drawers.

I have had a renewed interest in numerous activities that I enjoyed doing in the past, such as gardening and canning. For about a year, I felt pulled to buy a microscope, an item I loved during my childhood. When I realized that I could add microscopic photos to the nature photography I put on my blog, I bought a microscope and started using it immediately.

I’ve also developed new passions during the last few years. The most important is blogging, which has become a major part of my day-to-day life. As a result of our mutual blogging interest, I have much more contact with my son, who is the person responsible for me starting my blog. (His blog is The Seeker’s Dungeon.) As the result of blogging, I have also developed a passion for photography.

For several years, I have considered learning how to dehydrate vegetables and fruits. Last month, I purchased a dehydrator and started dehydrating bananas, mangoes, plums, tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, cucumbers (probably won’t do that again), and as of yesterday, watermelon. I’ve also felt the urge to start knitting, crocheting, sewing, and possibly folk dancing and going to Dances of Universal Peace, all activities I enjoyed decades ago. These could all be retirement activities.

When I am with Amma, the frequency of the synchronistic events that happen in my life increase dramatically. This summer was no different in that regard. A clear theme emerged in the course of those synchronicities.

The week before Amma arrived in Seattle, I was at my Network Chiropractor’s office when a woman walked out of the treatment room. She looked familiar. I did a quick 20 year age-progression in my mind and then asked if she was the person I thought she was. I was correct. The next week, the same thing happened, in the same place but with a different person. Again, the woman was someone I hadn’t seen since the mid-90’s.

When Amma came to Seattle, I spent the first morning she was here helping a staff member find and go to a dentist. I didn’t walk into the program hall until 1 p.m. As I was walking in, a woman was walking out. She called me by name. When I looked at her, I recognized that she was also someone who had been in my life in the early to mid-90’s. I hadn’t seen her since then and she told me she hadn’t attended one of Amma’s programs during the intervening years. I was amazed by the commonalities between all of these synchronistic experiences.

The most amazing reconnecting events happened just before and during Amma’s Toronto programs. On Father’s Day, I received an email from my brother saying that his son had written a Father’s Day post about our father, i.e. my nephew’s grandfather. Before I tell that story, and the events that followed, let me say that I left home to go to college when I was 17; my brothers were 12 and 14 at that time. I saw them very few times after that. My youngest brother died in 1992. (My children and I did visit him several times between the time he was diagnosed with cancer and the time he died.) I have seen my other brother only three times since 1992, and those visits were brief. We do email each other every now and then.

So back to the story at hand. It was fascinating to read my nephew’s post and to learn about my father from his perspective. Even more fascinating was that I discovered that my nephew and his wife are professional photographers and that my father had also had an interest in photography. My nephew posted some of my father’s photos in his Father’s Day tribute. I knew my father had taken some family pictures but this part of his life was completely unknown to me. It was particularly interesting to me because of my current interest in photography. I was discovering there are things I have in common with my family that I didn’t know anything about.

In his post, my nephew had referred to my father’s military life. Some of what he said was different than my memories. When I checked those things out with my brother, he put together a time line of my father’s career. There was information in it that I didn’t know, and I knew some things that he wasn’t aware of. We wrote back and forth over the next few days. At one point, he added his two sons to the email exchange, so I added my son and daughter. All of us made a comment or two on the joint exchange and then the four cousins wrote each other separately. This was the first conversations they had ever had with each other. I marveled at the miracle that was unfolding.

Over the next week or so, my brother and I continued emailing each other about our childhood memories. He mentioned that he thought our father had gifted us with a love of music, books, education, hard work and the desire to do things right. I believe we also learned the value of hard work and education from our mother and even more important, the value of being in service to others.

I still don’t know my surviving brother well but over the years I have learned that we share some of the same political beliefs. Recently, I learned that we are both introverts and have similar thoughts about some religious issues. Since he is a landscape architect I assume we share a love of nature.

While I was pondering all of these commonalities, I realized that my current passion about nature is something I have in common with my youngest brother, even though we didn’t have that focus at the same time.  His room, both as a teenager and a young adult, was always filled with injured birds and other animals he had rescued and was nursing back to health. I remember visiting him before he married. At that time, he was raising snakes in his room. I will never forget this piece he wrote just prior to his death at age 39:

I am very sad that people seem to see so little of the world around them. 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. We have been given this magnificent world to study and enjoy in limitless detail at any level, microscopic to cosmic. 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..

As I approach retirement, I am grateful that a natural transition seems to be occurring. I am reconnecting with my past in many different ways. I have no doubt that I will have enough activities that I am passionate about to keep me occupied for years to come. The unanswered question that is most up for me now concerns where I will ultimately live: “Will I move to India?” “Will I live in one of Amma’s U.S. Centers?” ” Will I continue to live in my own house in Seattle?” Those answers, and the answers to many other questions, are yet to be revealed. At this moment, there is no need for me to know the future. I know I will know what I need to know when the time is right!

 

cropped-senior-salon  Senior Salon

With Amma in Toronto

 

amma children

 

This past week I traveled to Toronto to attend the last of Amma’s 2016 North America programs. Every day with Amma is always filled with learning and experiences. There is no way I could detail everything that happened while I was there but I will share some of the events that were most important to me.

The Weight was Lifted

In the post I wrote from Amma’s Programs in Chicago (My Dream is Realized), I shared about the increasing emotional distress I have been feeling because, due to a variety of physical issues, I have been unable to participate in seva (volunteer work) at Amma’s programs for some time. For fifteen years I was the coordinator for Amma’s Pacific Northwest programs. I stopped doing that volunteer job about six years ago. While I still do various forms of seva in Seattle, I haven’t committed to any seva shifts during Amma’s programs for at least three years.  I was beginning to feel useless.

Amma clearly was not upset that I wasn’t working, nor was anyone else. Regardless, I found myself becoming more and more critical of myself. I realized how much my distress was taking away my ability to really “be” at the program. All too often my mind was on what I wasn’t doing instead of being present. Prior to coming to Toronto, I decided I needed to ask Amma for help.

[Before I relate what happened when I talked to Amma, let me say that she gives very individualized responses. Two people may ask her the same question and get two completely different answers. It is important that people talk with Amma directly rather than assuming an answer given to someone else is the same answer she would give to them.]

On the first day of the Toronto program, I arrived early so that I could join the question line. (I will share more of that process in the next section.)  As Amma answered the questions of the people in front of me, I eagerly anticipated my own experience. Finally, I reached the front of the line. As Amma listened to the translator while he shared my concern, her eyes gazed at me with love. Her response was immediate. With firmness, yet at the same time with great tenderness, she told me not to ever think like that. She said I have done so many years of seva and that I shouldn’t feel any guilt or any worry about not doing seva now. I felt seen, heard, loved and respected. It seemed like a heavy weight was removed from my mind and my heart instantaneously. Even though I heard Amma’s answer  through the translator, I will be able to see the way she looked at me, feel her touch on my cheek and hear her words in my mind forever more.

Synchronicities

I imagine most of us have the experience of synchronous things happening from time to time. When around Amma, though, they seem to happen with much more frequency.

One of those events occurred on the day I asked Amma my question. I hadn’t asked her a question for a long time, but I knew the general practice was to meet on the left side of the stage before the program started and a question line monitor would come with a sign up sheet. If there were a lot of people waiting, then the organizer might do some prioritizing based on the severity of the issue.

I waited on the side of the stage for a long time and only one other person joined me. When the question line monitor arrived later, I was very surprised to discover that 8 of the 10 slots were already full.  I assumed other people must have known who she was and stopped her as she walked through the crowd. I ended up with slot #10.

I was delighted that I was going to be able to ask my question, but a disgruntled part inside of me harrumphed from time to time, “I should have been FIRST not LAST.” I didn’t give the complaint much weight since I knew I could have lost out altogether and was ecstatic that my time would come.

As I was going through the line, a friend of mine who had recently suffered a major loss walked by. When she saw me, she asked if she could sit with me. Because I was last, and the line was moving forward leaving empty seats as each person’s question was answered, there was now an empty seat next to me. I put my arm around her shoulders as she cried. There was no doubt in my mind that the reason I was last person in the question line, instead of first, was so that I would be available to support her. The event also served as a reminder to me that I help in ways other than signing up for seva shifts.

Another synchronous event that occurred was one that was fun, but of no major significance. I was walking with Chaitanya and Akshay headed for a restaurant. I mentioned to them that I have become practically obsessed with eating sushi. Seconds after I made that statement, we turned a corner a block from the hotel where we were staying. On my left, there was a building with a big sign on it, “Grand Opening Coming Soon….. All You Can Eat Sushi.” I will look forward to going there when I go to the 2017 programs in Toronto!

Dance

There is always an entertainment program on the second night of Amma’s retreats. Devotees sing, dance or entertain in other ways. For many years, the Tour Staff has created a big dance to be performed during the last retreat of the tour.  As has happened numerous times in the past, they invited me to join them. That left me in a dilemma. I REALLY, REALLY wanted to do it, but could my back take it? (I’ve had back problems since February.) My pain had reduced tremendously over the past month, but would I hurt myself if I danced a fairly high energy Indian dance? I knew that I could do it in a low impact way, but I still had doubts.

I decided to participate in the practices and take one day at a time. I could change my mind at any moment. After the first practice I was a bit sore, but the next day I felt better than I had in a long time. The same thing happened after the second practice. It looked like I was going to be able to participate in the dance!

During special events, like festivals, Amma frequently encourages the devotees to dance, and sometimes dances herself. The staff members that created the dance at the Toronto retreat decided that they wanted to surprise Amma by inviting the retreat participants to join in the staff dance. About three hundred staff and retreatants came to one or both practices. Right before the dance was to be performed, most of the chairs in the room were stacked on the sides of the room and everyone was invited to join in. People who knew the dance were scattered throughout the room and the dance was easy enough that people could participate whether or not they had been at a practice. As a result, at one o’clock in the morning, about 500 devotees danced for Amma. And at 2:30 a.m., just before the program ended for the night, Amma danced for us! It was a magical night, never to be forgotten.

These are only a few of the many experiences I had during the Toronto programs. I could write so much more, but hopefully I have said enough to give a sense of how profound the four-day program was for me. I have so many new memories to savor between now and when I go to India in November!

Photo Credit: Amma’s Facebook Page