An Unexpected Visitor

The plant order for our Greenbelt restoration site arrived today. As I was sorting them out, a shiny object caught my eye. When I looked closer, I discovered that it was the shell of a snail.

The snail was moving along the top of a pot. By the time I grabbed my iPhone camera, it looked to me like it was planning to go down the side of the pot.

I was wrong. That was not what the snail had in mind.

I loved watching the snail’s amazing journey. However, I didn’t want it eating the new Greenbelt plants, so I carried it to a place where it could munch on something else.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: August 11-14 2017

Setting Up

I spent a good part of my first days at the ashram setting up my room. That included unpacking the suitcase I brought from Seattle and the items in the small trunks I keep here year round. I washed the clothes from the trunks in buckets. That task was made considerably harder since I couldn’t wring out the clothes with only one hand, my non-dominant hand at that. I knew I could choose to use a laundry service, but clothes dry so fast here that I prefer to do it myself. Luckily, I was in India not Seattle. I could press the items on the washing stone in my bathroom and get out a lot of the excess water. And in India, the clothes and towels would drip dry in a reasonable amount of time even though they were not rung out properly.

The morning of my first day I ordered a SIM card for my phone. I was surprised to discover I could buy a plan that included the SIM card and 1GB of data a day for 84 days for 450 rupees! Four hundred and fifty rupees is equivalent to $7.14. I sure wish we could get these prices in the U.S.

At the end of my last visit to Amritapuri, I loaned my internet stick to my daughter. She added data to it as  necessary during my absence so it stayed active during the year. As a result, I had immediate access to internet, rather than have to go through the application process. Sometimes it takes a week to get the SIM card and activate the internet stick. This time I didn’t have to wait at all for internet access and it took only about 36 hours  to get the SIM card. Once I had the SIM card, I discovered that using the Personal Hotspot on my iPhone gave me faster internet speed than the internet stick!


As always there are so many changes to see, even though I was here in January. I probably will have not seen them all by the time I leave. Construction has been endless since I first came here in 1990.

Since January, the Western café has been in a temporary structure while the new café is being constructed. They will be moving into the new café in a few weeks.

There are many changes related to security. I will mention a few of them. New structures are being built in the front of the ashram where visitors will register for the day. Residents, flat owners, and visitors staying more than 30 days will be given photo ID badges. Even the Swamis are wearing them! Visitors who are staying less than 30 days will use the receipt they are given when they check in as their form of ID. The auditorium is still open air in that it doesn’t have walls but now has white railings with some gold colored ornamentation around it.


Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday are public darshan days at the ashram. It is on those days that people come for Amma’s blessing in the form of a motherly hug. She has hugged more than 37 million people worldwide. Darshan days last from 11:00 a.m. until around midnight. At most, Amma takes a ten minute break during that time.

On Saturday night, I eagerly awaited my hug. I was so tired that I was nodding off for hours as I waited for the international token numbers to start but it was of course well worth the wait. I had a fun and meaningful time with Amma.

Earlier that day I had been asked to help with the prasad queue. Amma hands each person that comes to her a packet of blessed ash and a piece of candy. Devotees who want to hand her the packets Amma will give out form a queue. Normally, I love to hand her prasad, but with a broken wrist, I couldn’t do it fast enough, and besides, I would have trouble standing when my time was up, so that seva (volunteer work) wasn’t possible for me. When someone asked me to be the person who makes sure the prasad giver line near Amma stays full by gesturing the people in the area of the auditorium where they wait for their turn, I eagerly said yes. I have felt drawn to that seva in the past but have never done it. It gave me time to be on the stage with Amma, and the experience of being useful. I loved doing it so will find out how to sign up for other shifts.

Monday and Friday evenings Amma comes to the beach to meditate with us and have a question and answer session. I forgot about it on Friday night but went to the question and answer part last night. I love being with Amma near the sights and sounds of the beach.


I picked the dates I would come to the ashram based on the timing of the festivals. I really wanted to be here for Krishna’s birthday, Ganesh’s celebration and Onam, a family festival in Kerala. I knew there were multiple dates that Krishna’s birthday is celebrated in India so I googled Krishna Jayanthi, Kerala and found out it was August 14. As August 14 drew near, there were no signs of the big celebration. As I remembered it, the alternate date was after I would leave India, so I was bummed. Later that night, I was excited to learn that the celebration will occur on September 12, days before I leave. I look forward to sharing all three of those events with you.


When I am in India, I like to work in the gardens and to help Chaitanya in the café. I also work on the GreenFriends newsletter we publish in Seattle each month and write for this blog. Having the broken wrist has really put a dent in my ability to do some of those things. Chaitanya had hoped I could hand out the finished orders in the cafe but I would need to have the ability to move fast, to work with both hands, and to carry items having some weight. I can’t do any of those things so that job was out.

When people finish their meals, they wash and dry their dishes and then put them in a big bucket. The dishes are then dried a second time so no water remains on the plates. I discovered that I could slowly dry dishes for a short time, so have done some of that. Yesterday I tried buttering the bread that would be used for grilled cheese sandwiches and the buns that would be used for vege-burgers and omelet sandwiches. I was able to butter about a dozen buns but was slower than molasses. Those buns would probably be used in less than fifteen minutes. Buttering the bread didn’t work at all.

So far, I have been focusing on healing and getting over jet lag. I slept a lot yesterday so maybe I will be more awake today. I hope to go visit the garden that I worked in last year today. I can at least see it!

Greenbelt restoration work

Under normal circumstances, I would probably be thinking a lot about our Greenbelt restoration work back in Seattle. Part of me would want to be there working to turn that property back into a healthy forest. Since I wouldn’t be able to do that work even if I was there, I notice that it has been easier for me to be fully here.

We will be receiving 400 trees, shrubs and ground covers to plant on that property in the fall so I hope that Ananya, the Forest Steward that is my partner in this project, and I will be able to do some long-distance planning while I am here. The photo above shows an area where a potential design for one segment has been laid out. The ferns in that area have grown after having been buried under blackberry vines for 30-50 years.


As I arrived in the ashram on Friday, it became very windy, and chilly. That seemed unusual to me. Later in the day someone else commented that they had never seen it so windy unless it was raining. It was chilly enough that in the evening I put on my jacket! The next two days were warmer. For me, yesterday qualified as HOT.

The forecast had called for rain every day, but there hasn’t been any rain since I’ve been here, at least not during my waking hours.


To view the previous posts in this series click here.


My 2017 Journey Begins

(Note: In my first post in this series, My Dream Becomes Reality, I shared a story of an event that spanned a period that started months before my trip and ended with what happened when I arrived at the ashram. In this post, I’m going to go back to the beginning of the journey itself. I encourage you to read the first post as preparation for this one if you haven’t already read it.)

My friend Ramana, who is also housesitting for me, took me to the airport early in the afternoon of August 11. This was the beginning of my 28th trip to Amma’s ashram in Amritapuri, India. The trip entails a fourteen-hour flight to Dubai, and after a two-hour layover, another four-hour flight to Trivandrum, India. Once there, I take a two to three-hour taxi ride to Amritapuri. The trip to India is grueling in any circumstance, but this time I would be doing it three weeks after having broken my wrist. Even the thought of going when I was essentially one-handed was overwhelming.

Normally I take two suitcases, mostly filled with supplies for other people, but this time I brought the bare minimum, one small suitcase plus my purse and  laptop. Once on board, I discovered that the flight attendants and even the passengers were more than willing to help me if I needed help. Before long, we were in the sky heading for India.

The last three years, Emirates has offered me the opportunity to purchase an upgrade to business class for the Seattle to Dubai segment of the journey. I had not done it in the past, but decided to take them up on their offer this time. It was still a tough journey but the upgrade made a huge difference in my experience.


My friend Prarthana traveled to Amritapuri a week before I started my trip. I had not told her I was coming to India. It was fun to know that I would be surprising her when I showed up there. When I was on a two-hour layover in Dubai I received an email from her. In it she shared some of her travel experiences. When I answered the email, I didn’t mention that I was in sitting in the Dubai airport at the time I was reading it.

One of the things she shared was that the water in the toilets in the airport was heated. I found that strange, especially since I had just used one and it wasn’t heated, and I had never experienced heated toilet water there during previous layovers. Before I boarded, I used another restroom and it was abundantly obvious that the water in the toilet was very hot. Later, I learned that the heat that emanated from the toilet wasn’t because the water was heated, but rather because the weather in Dubai was so hot that the water coming through the pipes was hotter than water that would come from a hot water heater. I had noticed that the temperature in Dubai was 105 F first thing in the morning and it apparently can get to 120 F during the day. This was my first time traveling through Dubai in August.

Taxi to the ashram

It took me at least an hour to get my baggage after we landed in India. When I finally had my suitcase, I located the driver who would take me to the ashram. I am always amazed at the skill of the drivers, and their rock-solid steadiness. In India, the roads are usually filled with bicycles, motorcycles, buses, rickshaws, taxis, trucks, private cars and pedestrians. Drivers are constantly honking as they pass each other, swerving back into their own lane just before colliding with oncoming traffic. Speed limits are ignored whether it be on a highway or a village road.

I always remember my daughter’s first trip to India. She sat in the front seat and I was struck that she didn’t seem to have any reaction to this kind of driving. When I talked to her about it later, she said she had her eyes closed the whole time. She commented that it was like one big game of “Chicken.”

Two hours later, we reached Karunagappalli. We turned onto the small road that led to the beach road; the beach road goes all the way to the ashram. A few minutes later, the driver turned the car around. I didn’t understand whether the road was washed out due to the monsoons or if there was construction on the road ahead. I was glad he knew other ways to get to the ashram.

Soon, we were on the beach road. I was shocked to see how big the waves in the Arabian Sea were. I’ve been going to the ashram yearly since January 1990 and I had never seen the Sea so stormy. This was the first time I’d been to Amritapuri in August since 2003. Maybe I had forgotten what the waves were like during the rainy season.

Fifteen minutes later, we drove onto the ashram grounds. I was home.

To view the previous posts in this series click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India (Nov 29 – Dec 2, 2015)



I decided to make this post a random list of some of the things that have happened during the last few days!


As we were driving from the airport to the ashram on Saturday morning, I noticed at times there were huge puddles covering a good part of the street. There were also big potholes in the roads. The rainfall must have been tremendous. That monsoon type of rain is usually over by this time of year, so I was surprised.

After evening bhajans (devotional songs) on Sunday, it began to rain again. You could hear the rain pounding on the metal roof of the auditorium. It started raining harder, and harder. When the rain seemed like it couldn’t possibly get any heavier, it did; time and time again. The sound became so loud it was hard to hear what people were saying.

Tuesday night there was thunder and lightning and more rain. I love the array of dramatic sights and sounds that occur when that happens in India.  (I later heard that Chennai is “under water.”  That certainly puts a different slant on my story. All is not beautiful about torrential rains.)

It has been hotter and more humid in the last few days than I can remember in any past December.


On Monday, Amma gave darshan (hugs, which are her form of blessing) to all of the brahmacharis (male monks) and brahmacharinis (female monks) as well as to the ashram residents who stayed at the ashram during the months she had traveled in Europe and North America. I enjoyed watching them get their hugs. They are so devoted to Amma and love her so much.


On Tuesdays, Amma comes to meditate with the ashram residents and visitors. Afterwards, she either asks or answers questions and then leads a song before serving lunch to everyone. That may sound simple but keep in mind that 3,000-5,000 people are living in the ashram. She hands each person their plate of food. Over the years, that process has been refined so that it happens with amazing speed. After everyone has received their food, we sing the meal prayer together and then eat. Afterwards Amma gives darshan to the visitors who arrived that day.


Three friends and I have been eating together at least one meal a day.  We all met Amma in 1988 or 1989. Three of us took our first trip to Amritapuri in January 1990. This is my twenty-sixth trip to Amritapuri and they have come here many times as well. Sometimes we reminisce about the “old days.” Very few of the “oldtimers” we know come to India anymore; many seem to be content with seeing Amma when she comes to the U.S.  I can’t imagine being with her only once a year, and if I had to pick between the U.S. programs and India, my choice would be India!


I’ve been going to the beach each day for a Tai Chi class. (There will be more about that in future posts.) This morning I went to the beach early and watched the waves. I remembered a tragic incident that happened last year. A young village boy was swimming in the water and was pulled into the sea by the undertow. I will never forget the blood curdling scream his mother made when she was notified that her son was gone. So many villagers, ashramites and the local coast guard looked for him, to no avail. His body washed up on the beach the next day. Such a sad situation.


I get much more exercise when I am here than I do in Seattle. I wear a Fitbit that counts my steps. In the U.S. I average  3,000 – 4,000 steps in a day. On my first day in Amritapuri, I walked 13,000 steps. Most days are between 8,000 – 10,000.  In addition to walking from building to building, I also walk down five large flights of stairs eight to ten times a day. I walk up them two or three times. One of the two elevators in our building hasn’t worked since I’ve been here. I don’t know if it is broken or if they are saving electricity. Regardless, I am thankful my room is on the 6th floor instead of the 15th. If I don’t want to wait in an elevator line I just climb the stairs.


Every year, on Christmas Eve the ashram residents put on a Broadway style musical. Chaitanya (my daughter) writes and directs the play. Sreejit (my son) and his friends compose many tunes for her to select from as she creates the songs and lyrics. While Chaitanya and the musicians work on the script and the music throughout the year, the bulk of the play preparation starts after Amma and the tour staff get back from the Europe and U.S. programs. That means there are only three weeks for the cast to be picked and the dances to be choreographed.  The musicians have to work on the instrumentation and the actors and actresses have to learn the scripts, songs and dances. Simultaneously, props, costumes, backdrops, sound, lights, subtitles and much more have to be made. The play work goes on night and day.  The cast also do their normal ashram jobs during that time. The energy in the ashram becomes electric as the big night gets closer!

I won’t give any hints about the content of this year’s play, but I will mention that last year’s was about the life of St. Francis, St. Sebastian, St. Claire. I will share a few of the pictures so you can get a sense of the intricacy of the work.


There is more that I plan to share in a future post, but as I was coming to a close on this one, I had an experience that is a perfect ending.

Several years back, Amma decided she wanted everyone who is staying at the ashram to have the opportunity to sit near her for 30 minutes every public program day. Sometimes I go for my shift and sometimes I don’t. When I do, I often slide in just as my shift begins. Today, I decided to go early. I ended up being the first person in line for that opportunity. I was led to a seat about six feet from Amma in a position where I had completely unblocked vision the whole time! What a gift that was for me. Thank you Amma.


Previous Amritapuri post:

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India (Nov. 26-28, 2015)


Almost every year since January 1990, I have visited the Amritapuri ashram of Mata Amritanandamayi (who is more commonly referred to as Amma) in Kerala, India. Amma is an internationally known spiritual leader and humanitarian. My adult son (Sreejit) and daughter (Chaitanya) have lived in her ashram for many years so I am also blessed to be able to spend time with them when I come to India. I know from years of experience that my trip will be packed with learning and experiences. I look forward to sharing them with you.

Journey to India

I left Seattle on Thanksgiving Day this year. I was eager to be at my India “home” but dreaded the long trip. On Emirates flights, I am able to make the journey in 24 hours, but it is still grueling. The flight from Seattle to Dubai takes 14 hours; followed by a two hour layover in Dubai, a four hour flight to Trivandrum, an hour or more to get through immigration, customs and retrieving baggage, and then a two to three hour taxi ride to the ashram.

Last year, I was surprised and ecstatic when the airlines gave me an unexpected upgrade to business class for the 14 hour segment. That gift made my journey so much easier. That was the first time I had been upgraded in the 25 years I’ve been going to India, but for the last few months I found myself hoping it would happen again. I believe the best way to achieve a desire is to let go of it, but seemed unable to do that. I yearned to once again experience the luxury of lying down during an international flight. It was not to be however.

Something I really appreciated happened when I was waiting for my baggage in Trivandrum. My name was announced over the loud speaker and I was directed to come to the baggage counter. Once there, they handed me the Kindle I had left in the airplane. I had planned on reading during the flight but dosed off instead and had completely forgotten I had taken it out of my carry-on suitcase.

This scenario was even more remarkable when I compared it to something that had occurred this past summer in the United States. In that instance, I had also left an item on a plane. When I realized my error, I called the airline’s Lost and Found department and gave them my flight and seat number.  I was told that the airlines only had three people to handle Lost and Found for the whole country and that I should keep calling back. They said it often took three months to know whether an item had been found. I called many times and finally gave up. And now, in India, the airport staff had tracked me down before I even left the airport. I left the airport feeling cared for and honored.  It was such a good example of the kindness of the Emirates staff and the Indian people.

November 28

I’m home! I’m exhausted but content. Normally I get to the ashram before Amma returns from her fall European and U.S. tour, but this year the tour was over earlier than normal so she arrived in Amritapuri before me.

My taxi pulled into the ashram grounds at 7 a.m.  After spending a short time visiting with my children, I generally start unpacking and washing the clothes and bedding that has been stored since I left the previous January. This time, when I unlocked my flat, I discovered Chaitanya had cleaned the room and even made the bed. Oh that bed looked so good after no solid sleep for 36 hours. I unpacked for a while and then decided I was too tired to be hand washing all of the laundry in buckets so I took a nap instead!  That change in behavior was a first for me.  I wonder how many other “firsts” there will be this year.

I always watch for changes that have occurred in the ashram since I was last here. On arrival, I noticed that the ground of the courtyard in front of the temple now is covered by large patio stones with grass separating them. It is quite beautiful and makes it much easier to transport luggage and other items from one place to another. I found the biggest change, however, in the huge auditorium. After a decade or more, there are now fans hanging from the ceiling, 35 of them! My eyes really opened in shock and delight when I saw them. Having the breeze during the evening bhajans (devotional singing) on my first night was wonderful.

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One would think that Amma would take time to rest after returning from such a grueling tour, but of course that isn’t what happened. She came out in the afternoon and sang with us and then gave darshan (her form of blessing is a hug) to visitors who were staying only a short time. In the evening she came again for the bhajans. She sang so many of the old, beautiful Malayalam songs. I feel so blessed to be here!


Adventures in Amritapuri, India 2014-2015 : Index


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Each year, I spend six weeks in Amma’s ashram in South Kerala, India.  Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi), who is sometimes referred to as The Hugging Saint since she has hugged 33 million people worldwide, is also known for her extensive networks of humanitarian projects called Embracing the World.

My last trip to Amritapuri was from November 30, 2014 to January 9, 2015.  For the first time, I shared my experiences there through this blog. Afterwards, numerous people told me that the posts made them feel like they were taking the journey with me.

I decided to create this index of posts in case anyone else wants to accompany me vicariously on that journey.  Enjoy!


Al’s Bucket List Trip

Sreejit (my son), Chaitanya (my daughter) and Akshay (Chaitanya’s husband) came to the U.S. this summer to visit family, work and be part of Amma’s North American tour staff.  Usually, they return to India immediately after the tour but this year their dad (my ex-husband) asked them to take him on a trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.  It was a trip that Al, Sreejit and I had taken in 1976.  Sreejit was still in a backpack at that time.  This particular trip was an important part of Al’s “Bucket List” and he wanted all of us, including me, to participate.

Sreejit, Chaitanya and Akshay picked up their dad the day after they returned from Amma’s tour and they headed to Yellowstone.  I joined them in the Tetons two days later.

The Grand Tetons were exquisite.  Their beauty was muted by smoke from the fires in Washington, Oregon and California but they were still majestic. It was easy to imagine what they would look like in their full glory.

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We had a wonderful trip and many experiences.  Most important to me though was the time we spent together.!

As we drove through Yellowstone on our way back to Seattle, we had two last surprises.  After we passed this particular deer, we discovered there was another adult deer and three youngsters behind the trees.  The young deer were playing; running away from their parents, through the forest and then back to their parents again, all at top speed!  It was so much fun to watch them.  And clearly being that close to the bison was amazing.

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I’m so glad that Al brought us all together in this way.  It is a memory that will last a lifetime for each of us.