Finding Peace in the Middle of Chaos


It is not uncommon for my mind to be chaotic even when I am in a peaceful setting. I long to get to the point where my mind is at peace regardless of how much chaos is around me. I have a long way to go to meet that goal.

I am getting plenty of opportunity to work on that issue in my Amritapuri Tai Chi class. Tai Chi, by its nature, is meditative. It slows down my mind and body more than anything else I have ever done.

I would guess that most Tai Chi classes are held in peaceful settings with soft music playing or silence in the background. The place where our class meets in Amritapuri is gorgeous. There are palm trees, views of the beach and the Arabian Sea, eagles flying overhead, etc. As I’ve mentioned before, though, there are also trucks, bicycles, buses and cars that occasionally go through the space where we meet.

With most of life’s lessons, it seems like once you have adjusted to one level, another dimension is added. This year has definitely demonstrated that process. During my first class, I was stung by a red ant. It is amazing how much a bite by a tiny ant can hurt. In fact, the bite was still stinging hours after the class finished.

Soon thereafter, a red ant hill showed up at the perimeter of the space we use for the class, so it has been important for me to stay conscious of that danger, and to make sure new students are made aware of it. (I have stepped on a red ant nest twice in the 27 years I’ve been coming to India, once in the daylight and once at night. It is an unforgettable experience; one I hope never to repeat.)

Starting with our second class, students taking a silent meditation retreat have done a walking meditation in front of us during part of our class. They don’t disturb us but I’m tempted to watch them instead of staying focused on my own work.

In last week’s post Be Like a Bird Perched on a Dry Twig, I talked about the third class when there were even more vehicles in the area than normal. Midway through the class, a truck pulled into “our” space and parked. The workers got out of the truck and started carrying their supplies to the nearby construction site. Since their work had priority, we had  to move to a smaller area, one that was bordered by 8 ashram cows lounging in the shade!

Tai Chi is so powerful that it was reasonably easy for me to find that place of peace and contentment even in these circumstances, although I certainly didn’t have single minded focus.

On my fourth class, another set of challenges were added to those that I have already described. (BTW, the cows have not returned to the beach, at least a that time of day, since the third class.) The fourth class was held on a weekend, the first weekend since Amma returned from her European and U.S. tour. The crowds coming for darshan (hugs) were very big that day. At one point, there were 14 vehicles parked on the beach.

Then something new happened. At first, one or two village men started removing carts of sand from the beach to somewhere in the village. Next, two women started a chain. One woman would carry a big pan of sand on her head and walk to a spot next to our class. She would then shift the pan to the head of a second woman who would carry it out to the main road. We often had to divert our path to stay out of their way.

Fifteen minutes before that class was over, a cement mixer started making its piercing noise in the construction area near to us. By that time, the whole situation had become funny.

During the fifth class, a third woman was added to the chain of sand carriers. On the sixth, there were all of the previous challenges, except the cows. In addition, a new layer of sand had been added to our area 0f the beach. The sand was beautiful and felt good on my feet, but it hadn’t been compacted yet, so there was no smooth or level ground to walk on. That made doing the Tai Chi moves much more difficult.

As you can see, doing Tai Chi on the beach in Amritapuri is definitely an opportunity for me to find peace in the midst of chaos. It is also an opportunity to see the humor in the situations that arise in life.

To look at previous posts in this Amritapuri series, click here.


Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 5-7, 2016


Time with Amma

Amma has been coming to the hall for bhajans ever392459_424932434197260_100000415226106_1515768_2126126191_ny night since she returned from the Europe and U.S. tour. On Monday evening, we thought she would also be coming to the beach to meditate with us. Traditionally that gathering occurs at 5:00.

I left my flat late, so expected that Amma would have already started the meditation. When I walked by her house, though, I noticed quite a few people were standing at the bottom of her stairs. That meant she was still there.

When I arrived at the beach it was 5:30. About 15 minutes later, someone either heard or made up that Amma wasn’t going to come and got up to leave. That rumor (if it was a rumor) spread quickly and many people headed back to the ashram. I decided to leave as well.

As I was stacking my chair on the others, I heard someone say, “Amma is coming.” Everyone started running back to the beach creating a lot of chaos. Amma arrived soon thereafter, laughing. There is Sanskrit word that means God’s play. That word is leela. This whole thing felt like a leela to me.

Once Amma arrived at the beach, she led a short meditation and sang one bhajan. She then gave darshan (hugs) to the people who were leaving that evening. Afterwards, she walked to the auditorium for evening bhajans. (Note: Amma has given hugs to 36 million people!)

On Tuesday, Amma came to the auditorium around 11:00 a.m. for meditation and questions and answers. She then served lunch to all of the residents and visitors. This happens every Tuesday that Amma is in the ashram.

Normally, everyone comes to Amma to pick up their plate. This time she passed the plates to the people in front of her and they handed them back until everyone in the auditorium had a plate of food. There were at least two thousand people there, and probably more. It took a lot of time to do it that way, but probably less than the time it takes for everyone to walk to the front. No one eats until everyone is served the the meal prayers are sung.

Today (Wednesday) was the day I planned to get my hug. It seemed like a comparatively small crowd so I thought it might happen. I knew from experience though, that there was a good chance it would be another leela.

In the morning, I waited in the long Westerner’s token line. We were told that anyone who hadn’t gone on the autumn tour could go for darshan today. Just as I got to the front of the token line, the directions changed. At that point, we were told that we should wait to have darshan tomorrow unless we were leaving the ashram today. This was definitely a familiar leela for me and a chance to practice letting go, equanimity, and seeing the humor in the situation.

During the afternoon, I walked by the area where Amma was giving darshan and noticed the prasad line. I had forgotten all about prasad giving even though that is one of my favorite things to do. Prasad is a gift to or from a spiritual being. Amma’s form of prasad is the sacred ash and piece of candy she gives each person who comes to her. The prasad giver is the person who hands Amma that prasad.

Before long, it was my turn. As always, I enjoyed being that close to Amma. Often the word “home” goes through my mind each time I hand the prasad to her. I love that experience.

Tonight, Swami Pranavamrita, who is one of my favorite singers, sang Amme Yi Jivende, which used to be one of my favorite bhajans. I still remember a time in the early 90’s when I was sleeping on a devotee’s roof during a program in Trivandrum. As I lay there, I heard a Swami singing that song in the nearby ashram and it felt like he was singing a lullaby to the infant part of me.  Tears rolled down my cheeks as I listened to the song and recalled that long ago incident.

As I am finishing this post, Amma has been giving darshan for 10 1/2 hours with no end in sight. I am likely to be asleep long before she finishes.

Saraswati Garden

I’ve spent some time in the garden almost every day. One day, I watered most of it. I really enjoyed giving attention to every plant. An edible plant was pointed out to me. I ate two of its leaves and loved it. Do any of you know anything about the plant in the photo below? I want to grow it in Seattle!


In one of my last posts, I mentioned salvaging bricks from the construction waste. They will be used for projects in the garden. Here is a photo of one of those waste piles:


Yesterday, the garden staff planned to dig up the root of a turmeric plant so that they could make dye from it. They checked two plants and decided that the roots weren’t ready for harvesting yet. I was able to take a photo of the root before they covered it up again. There is a lot of turmeric growing throughout the garden.

Tai Chi

My Tai Chi class will begin tomorrow. I am SOOOOOOOOOOOO happy. I was given a special gift yesterday. The teacher was going to check out the room we will use and asked if I wanted to go there with her. She said we could do some Tai Chi together while we were there. Needless to say I jumped at the chance.

The room was in the Ayurvedic building which is located near the beach. It would an okay room, but the car traffic was VERY loud. (Everyone incessantly honks in India as the drivers weave in and out of traffic. That happens even on the small beach road.)

We practiced the full 108 moves of the Yang Tai Chi form. I was in heaven. She does the moves a little different than we do in my Seattle class, but the Tai Chi I learned in Amritapuri last year came back to me so fast. My body definitely has memory of its own. My mind just has to catch up. I suspect I’ve been doing Tai Chi for many lifetimes.

As we left the building, we saw a place outdoors where we will probably hold the class. I am excited for tomorrow to come.

Play preparations

The preparations for this year’s play are underway. When I was walking back to my flat two days ago, I heard Sreejit singing. I followed the sound and found the musicians practicing. I listened awhile. The music was so beautiful.

This afternoon was the first time everyone participating in the play met. Chaitanya went over some logistical information and then talked about the play. She told the story, scene by scene. If you haven’t seen the photos from last year’s play that I posted during my layover in Dubai, take a look.

There are some pigs in the play and this morning Jani and I went to the kitchen to see Chaitanya with pig noses on. She started laughing when she spotted us. (Jani designs and sews most of the costumes. I help with the sewing.)


I was asked to give an update on the money situation. It is difficult to get the 2000 rupee bills cashed and the banks and ATMs only give out 2000 rupee bills. I have found a few ways to get small change so I’m okay, but it isn’t easy. Everyone certainly has to think twice before spending money. This problem has to be hurting the merchants so much.


Last year, the weather at the ashram was hotter than I had ever experienced in December. When I reached the ashram this year, it was hot again. Over the next two days it got considerably cooler. One night, I even put on a long sleeve shirt when I went out. That night I didn’t turn on the fan in my room for the first time in memory. The next night during bhajans, the fans in the auditorium were all on and I got really cold. I didn’t want to walk out, but towards the end I went to the back of the room. I eventually returned to my room and put on a flannel shirt. That’s a first!

One afternoon, it rained hard. After ten minutes, it was over and the sun came out. The last few days it has been back to hot.


I’ve noticed more and more people are exercising by circumambulating the auditorium. Each round is about 1/5 of a mile. Some people walk casually, some jog. A few days ago, I saw a woman around my age power walk around it for at least half an hour. I tried circumambulating it one day but stopped after four rounds. It was too hot for me!

Yesterday, I heard that Amma had told the brahmacharinis (female monks) that they should circumamulate the temple and the auditorium 9 times a day. That would double the length of the walk. I wonder what directions she gave the men. They can’t walk the same route the women are taking because it goes through the brahmacharinis’ living area.

I don’t concern myself about exercise here. I walk more than double the distance I walk in Seattle just in the normal course of living. Once the holidays come, the crowds will get big. At that point, I will start walking up the stairs rather than waiting for the elevator ,so that will add even more exercise to my day.

This post is long enough, and it is time for me to go to bed so I will stop for now. I hope all is well for you and yours.

To look at previous posts in this Amritapuri series, click here.

Following My Intuition


When I was at Amma’s Amritapuri ashram in India last fall, I took a Tai Chi class for the first time. I fell totally in love with it. My top priority on returning to Seattle was to find a Tai Chi teacher. Within a short period of time, I found Viola Brumbaugh. She was exactly the type of teacher I was looking for. I immediately enrolled in her classes, and started attending them two times a week.

My joy was short-lived though. I had returned to Seattle in mid-January and in mid-February I hurt my back doing litter pick-up without using a litter pick-up tool. I have congenital spondylolithesis and scoliosis and have had problems with my back throughout my life.

In the past when my back pain has flared, it has only lasted two or three weeks at the most. This time, month after month went by and I was still unable to stand in one place or sit for very long. Driving was and is particularly uncomfortable. There has also been more nerve involvement than I have had during previous flare ups.

About a week ago, I sensed that I had reached a point where I could start doing Tai Chi again. It seemed like the classes might even promote my healing. So on Tuesday, even though I was still have problem standing in place, sitting and driving, I returned to class!

My intuition seems to be right. I’ve been to two classes now and have had no negative side effects. If anything, I feel better! And I am so happy to be learning Tai Chi once again.

One of the fantastic things about attending the class at this time of year, is that it is held in Lincoln Park, a large beautiful park in West Seattle. In addition to the joy of participating in this blessed practice under the huge trees, being there has given me the opportunity to take more tree photos. I took close ups of the tree below on Tuesday.

After taking the pictures, I ran my hand along the trunk to see if there were any loose pieces of bark. I took home a small piece of bark and something I am calling “orange plant debris” that was hanging on the tree. If you know what it is, please tell me!

Today I looked at those items under the microscope and took more photos!


Orange plant debris


Living and Learning in Amritapuri: Wrapping Up My Nov 28, 2015 to Jan 11, 2016 Visit


Since Amma was on the North Kerala tour, my last days in the ashram for this year were relatively quiet.  As soon as she left, I started cleaning up my room and storing my belongings.  I also worked in the cafe, and had some special time with Chaitanya and Sreejit (my daughter and son). In addition, I reflected on my trip as a whole and pondered changes I would make once I returned to Seattle

Tai Chi

You might remember that my Tai teachers had returned to their respective countries. Dave departed just before Christmas and Stefanie left soon after New Year’s. Our class had decided to practice on its own, but a man we met just before our instructors left volunteered to teach us. He was a very kind and knowledgeable man, but his style was so different from what I was used to. Among other things, he taught us about 1) chakras, 2) giving gratitude to our organs for serving us year after year and 3) how each of the moves related to either bringing chi into our body or sending it out.

Like Dave and Stefanie, he often showed us how the movements we were doing related to the martial art form of Tai Chi. The information he shared was fascinating and valuable but we stood in one place while listening to him talk for an hour or more each day. My swollen feet didn’t do well with that. I tried sitting on the ground or on a step from time to time but that didn’t work for me either. He used quiet guided imagery a lot. I became agitated, wanting to be doing the beautiful Tai Chi moves. The rest of the class was thoroughly enjoying his class, though, so I began to think about dropping out.

I noticed my body was beginning to get stiff and was reverting to the way it had been before I had started the Tai Chi classes. One day, I decided to go to the beach early and practice the movements I had learned. I enjoyed doing that so much. That practice was followed by another day of standing still for over an hour, so I decided to drop the class.

Each morning until I left the ashram, I took the elevator up to the 15th floor of the building I live in and then walked up to the roof. As I did Tai Chi on the rooftop, majestic eagles flew over me.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(I realize some of you may not be able to access the slide show so I will post one of the photos below.)


During the last two days of my stay in Amritapuri, I purposely left my camera in my room and experienced the eagles for myself. One day there were six of them flying over or near me! That truly felt like heaven.

As my time to leave the ashram approached, I started doing computer searches to look for teachers in Seattle. I plan to take my time in choosing a new instructor. Dave had suggested we look for teachers whose movements flow and who has noticeable chi themselves. I added another criteria to that list. I want a teacher who emphasizes practice over theory.

There is one Tai Chi story I have meant to tell you in past posts but kept forgetting to do so.  I have shared many photos of the beautiful beach where we held the class. What was also true about that beach is that we were learning in an area which was used as a parking lot during Amma’s public darshan programs.  On those days, there were as many as four large buses and numerous cars parked in “our” area.  That space was also the thoroughfare for pick-up trucks and bicycles going to and from the food composting center. We definitely had plenty of practice in staying flexible and patient.  The whole scene became funny at times.

Seahawks subject I haven’t mentioned at all is my love for the Seahawks.  I have had a life time distaste for football but all that changed in 2013 when I became an avid follower of our Seattle team.  I love the sense of community supporting the team brings to Seattle, and our whole region for that matter.  Last year I purposely woke up early when I was in India to “watch” some of the games.  (I say “watch” but that really means I was watching the score.) This year I was content to just look at the scores when I woke up, but the team was still very much on my mind.  I would be returning at the same time the playoff games started. In fact, the first play off game would take place when I staying in a hotel in Dubai, so I planned to “watch” it there.  (Photo Credit: Ginny Gensler)

Trip summary

I decided to make a photo gallery that represents many of the highlights of my 2015/16 visit to Amritapuri:


(Hover the cursor over pictures to see the captions; Click the gallery to enlarge the pictures)

There are, of course, many other people with whom I had special times on this trip but have no picture of them to put in the gallery. I will keep the photo below separate from the gallery since I didn’t take it in Amritapuri.  It portrays a pancake I made when I returned to Seattle; one that was inspired by the breakfasts my friend Lalita created each morning.  I appreciate her positive modeling of healthy eating and all of the wonderful conversations we had during that meal. The pancake I made is topped with yogurt, pomegranate, bananas, chia seeds and hemp seeds.  I will eventually look for ragi flour and try to replicate the cafe’s ragi pancakes!



January 17 Epilogue

I left India on January 10.  On the way back to Seattle, I stayed 14 hours in the Dubai airport hotel and did indeed follow the first Seahawk playoff game while I was there! When I was still at the airport in India, I was thinking about the game and noticed that Skiddles were being sold there.  I’ve never had a Skiddle in my life, but I knew one of our players often talks about them (I think they are one of his sponsors). I decided to buy a package of Skiddles as a symbol of support for my team. When I mentioned  I had purchased them to Sreejit and Chaitanya they both told me how bad they were for my teeth! I thought it was funny to get that kind of feedback from my kids.

I arrived in Seattle on Monday morning and on Wednesday morning checked out my first Tai Chi class. I liked the class but I want to experience some other teachers before I make a decision about an ongoing classes.  I have picked classes to attend on the 19th and 21st.

I spent this weekend attending a Sanskrit workshop. I love being with the Samskrita Bharati family but in the future I will remind myself not to participate in a workshop so soon after my return. (I’m still only sleeping 2 or 3 hours a night due to jet lag.)  My friend Yashas took the workshop with me and he loved it.  That really made the weekend extra special for me.  Hopefully in time we will be able to speak Sanskrit together.  (As an aside, the 2nd Seahawks playoff game was during the workshop.  I know I was not the only person in the room who was surreptitiously glancing at their phone to check the score.  We lost.  Bummer.)

My visit to India was challenging but I learned so much and will be eternally grateful for the opportunities I have been given.  Thank you for reading my posts and in so doing taking the journey along with me.


To see the earlier posts in this series go to:

Early Morning Beauty

Each morning when I take the Tai Chi class this is what I see:

Beauty in front of me


Those are fishing boats on the horizon.
Those are fishing boats on the horizon.

And beauty above me




Notice the solitary flower in the tree.
Notice the solitary flower in the tree.

Yesterday there were also eagles flying overhead most of the class!  I will watch and see if they are there every day.


Living and Learning in Amritapuri (Dec 8-13, 2015)


Tai Chi

I’m still dragging. I know part of it is from the heat and part is from having a cold, but I’ve realized that the Tai Chi I am doing is probably the main culprit. I believe, and my Tai Chi teacher confirmed, that the process is releasing toxins that need to move through and out of my body. My body is softening and I can move in ways that I couldn’t do two weeks ago. Tai Chi is meditative and it is allowing me to find that part of myself again.  The last two times I’ve gone to meditations with Amma, I have slipped into a meditative state.  My mind is so active that I haven’t had that experience for many years.  I am so excited!


Amma sent rescue workers to Chennai when the flooding first happened. Yesterday there were signs around the ashram asking western residents and visitors to  go to Chennai to help with the clean-up effort. Forty left for Chennai last night and I heard that more may go today.


I share my room with this friend  (Hold cursor over pictures to see captions; click on photos to enlarge them.)

One day I saw this creature cross the path in front of me. I couldn’t believe the speed it was moving. It certainly wasn’t a worm and I didn’t think a centipede could move that fast. Turns out it was a millipede, or at least that is what I was told.


Among the things I’ve been dealing with this year are termites. That’s not surprising since this is the tropics. Actually, I’m a bit surprised that I’ve had wood furniture for this long without them. Last week, Akshay removed the wood in the shelves above my window. That stopped the droppings that were forming below the shelves so I’m hoping it solved the problem.

Earlier this year I researched and posted information about a variety of ‘pests’, e.g. slugs, ants, and aphids. I learned so much through that process and my respect for those creatures really increased. I think I will write one on termites.  I’m very eager to learn more about them.

Play Preparation

I’ve been to several of the play rehearsals. I love it as much as I always do. Chaitanya asks me to edit the script once she finishes it so I  know what the story is about but to see it move from words on paper to a play that comes alive always feels miraculous. The music, acting, props, costumes, etc. are so good.

Jani and Sumati have been working on the costumes night and day. I’m beginning to help but am not doing nearly as much as they are.  As I feel better I hope to help more.

Jani and her High Priest costumes


Patience or lack thereof

I had very poor internet connection for the last four days. It has been very frustrating and I haven’t been very patient about it. Yesterday I started the process of getting a new internet stick.  (To get cell phone SIM cards and internet sticks you have to have copies of passports, visas, passport photos, fill out applications, and wait through many lines.  It is a test of patience in and of itself.) I was able to pick up the new stick and activate it a few minutes ago.  So far it feels like SUCCESS.  If so, you will more probably hear from me more often!


This morning I bought cinnamon rolls and took them to the place where Sreejit cooks.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY SREEJIT!


To see the earlier posts in this series go to: