Sreejit, as always, picked an interesting Dungeon Prompt for this week; one worthy of considerable contemplation. His instructions:
Which truth do you hold no matter the time or place? This isn’t a prompt about whether you believe in God or not, or in science or not. This is a morality question. For example, most of us can say that we believe in the commandment, thou shalt not kill, regardless of religion, but would you be able to stick with that even while witnessing your mother or sister being raped? Would you feel that it was wrong if another person, in that kind of situation, killed an attacker to save someone else? So the question here is, which of your values do you hold so strongly that it wouldn’t matter the time or place? Explain.
I did my personal therapy with therapists who used a process known as corrective parenting psychotherapy. When I finished my therapy, I decided I wanted to become a therapist. After obtaining the necessary education, I chose to do the same kind of therapy with my clients.
All corrective parenting therapists and their clients use a set of six self-care contracts as guiding principles in their lives. The contracts are:
- I will not hurt myself or others nor provoke/allow others to harm me. I will stay safe and honor the safety of others
- I will not run away. I will stay and work through my problems.
- I will not be sneaky or lie. I will be honest with myself and others.
- I will not make myself sick or go crazy. I will stay sane and healthy.
- I will not be passive. I will be proactive.
- I am responsible for my feelings, thoughts, actions and attitudes.
There is no expectation that anyone will keep these contracts perfectly. In fact, if we look closely, we probably break one or more of them every day. By using them as guiding principles, however, we learn to become conscious of our actions. When we break one of the contracts, we look at how and why we broke it and determine what we will do to prevent ourselves from breaking it again.
I still place great value on these principles, but since I have no expectation that I will keep them perfectly it would not fit into the “no matter time nor place” criteria.
Since Sreejit mentioned the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses, I decided to take a look at those. They are:
- Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
- Thou shalt not make any graven idols.
- Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
- Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
- Honor your father and your mother.
- Thou shalt not kill.
- Thou shalt not commit adultery.
- Thou shalt not steal.
- Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor
- Thou shalt not covet.
I found it interesting to reflect on the list. Some I have broken at some point in my life either overtly or subtly, intentionally or unintentionally (3, 5, 8, 9, 10). I know there are people who would believe I have broken two others, although I would disagree with that opinion (1,2). One of the ten I have broken because it is not part of my belief system (4). There are two I have not broken and can’t imagine ever breaking (6, 7). When I ask myself if I would I kill in self defense or to save someone else, I conclude that I can’t answer the question without being in the situation. I don’t see myself as someone who would ever commit adultery, but I am always leary of saying “never” about anything. All in all, I see that I cannot give “no matter time nor place” status to the ten commandments either.
I place very high value on my path with my spiritual teacher Amma. However, I don’t do many of the spiritual practices that she instructs us to do and even though I may ask her questions about my individual practice or my life, I don’t ask her for advice unless I am willing to do what she suggests I do. I clearly am not committed at the level of “no matter time nor place” even though my process with Amma, in many ways, is the center of my life.
I place great value on my relationship with my children, Sreejit and Chaitanya. For the purposes of this prompt, I reflected on whether I would give my life if it would save theirs. I would like to think so, and I think in almost any circumstance I would, but after recently rereading the book 1984, I recognize that when tortured, a person can be made to betray even those whom they love the most. So, while I think that this would be the value I would most likely hold on to “no matter time nor place” I cannot even be sure of that.
So after much consideration, I have come to the conclusion that there is no value I hold that I can say, without a shred of doubt, that I would be 100% committed to regardless of the time or place. I wonder if it is possible for any human being to stay that committed to anything.
To view the previous posts in this series click here.
Sreejit’s direction for this week’s Dungeon Prompt is to “pick a quote from a famous person that best describes your life’s journey. The quote can be about the person that you’ve been up until now or the person that you are trying to become. Tell us about it. Use the quote as a springboard for letting us get a better glimpse of who you are.”
While my brother Bill would not have considered himself to be a famous person, nor would he be considered a famous person by the world, it was in a section of his journal that I found the quote that fits the most for me. Bill died at the age of 39. His words reflect some of the values that I held early in my life and during the last five to eight years have again become a major focus. The quote:
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. (William John Smith 1953-1992)
When I was a child, I was fascinated by butterflies. I am mortified now to think of the butterfly collection I had then. I caught butterflies with a net, used some chloroform type liquid to kill them and then mounted them on a display board. At the same time I feel grief about that, I recognize that we had a different way of thinking in the 50’s and that I had made the display out of my love and appreciation for butterflies.
I have memories of making forts in the forest when I was young, although I don’t remember where that was. It is possible that the “forest” was just my back yard, but I don’t think so. Being an army brat, we moved every three years. I have almost no memory of the places I lived or events that happened there.
I do remember an incident from the 4th grade when we were living in Germany. I had crawled under the schoolyard fence during recess so that I could collect snails in a box. When I came back into the schoolyard at the end of recess, I looked up the hill only to see my teacher and my mother, who also taught at the school, standing behind a railing watching me. I have no memory of what came next but I do remember getting “caught in the act”.
I know there was also a time during my school years when I had a microscope and loved using it. I enjoyed studying the biological sciences when I was working on my Bachelors of Science in Nursing degree from 1966 to 1970.
When Al and I first married, we bought a house three miles south of the center of Seattle. To me, it it felt like having a farm in the middle of the city. There was a pantry in the basement where I could store canned fruits and the house had an outdoor clothesline that operated by a pulley, going from the porch to a nearby tree. There were concord grape vines growing in the yard and I made grape jelly from the grapes. We purchased the lot behind our house and made a garden there.
Over the years, I stopped gardening. There were a few times I planted some vegetables but the trees grew so high that the backyard got very little sunlight. Besides, my life was filled with child-rearing, going to school and working multiple jobs. I didn’t start gardening again until Amma began to encourage us to grow organic vegetables at home. That was probably around 2010.
Over the next few years, I removed part of the grass from my front yard, so I could build a garden that would get some sun. I took out all of the grass three years ago. It is a small area, but now the whole front yard is a garden.
Next, I developed an interest in vermi-composting, a process by which red wiggler worms transform food scraps into high quality compost. The worms became my pets. I still love my worms. Other people have to find dog and cat sitters. When I go to India I have to find a worm sitter!
In March of 2014, I started blogging. The primary focus of my writing was about the process of learning life’s lessons. I wrote from both psychological and spiritual perspectives. Over the years, I started to use photographs on my blog and in time I started to focus on nature and nature photography… in addition to writing about learning life’s lessons.
I shared photos of flowers…
Soon I wanted to know more about these garden “pests.” I started reading about them and was amazed by what I learned. I shared that information in my blog posts. (The Symbiotic Relationship Between Ants and Aphids) (Slugs Underground) (The Fascinating Fruit Fly)
Several years ago, I remembered my fascination with my childhood microscope. I decided I would buy another one “someday.” One morning it occurred to me that I could add microscopic photography to my nature posts. I immediately purchased a microscope and adapter that connected it to my iPhone camera. I started taking and sharing microscopic photos.
In September of 2016, I woke up one morning thinking that I was not willing to watch one more tree die in the area of Seattle’s Greenbelt that is near my house. I took my shears and started cutting down the blackberry and ivy vines that had covered that land for 30-50 years. That day was the impetus for starting the GreenFriends Greenbelt Restoration Project that is now my passion.
Our GreenFriends group, aided by a neighbor and students from the Introduction to Environmental Science class at the University, the Green Seattle Partnership and the Seattle Parks Department began to clear the land. Once the invasive vines were removed, we dug out blackberry root balls, covered the cleared land with burlap to hold back weed growth and then put dried blackberry canes and other debris on top of the burlap. The debris and the burlap will disintegrate and enrich the soil. This fall we will plant 400 trees, shrubs and ground covers and will continue to plant until the land is once again a healthy forest.
Every day I work in the Greenbelt is filled with seeing wonders of nature, whether it be a fern, flower or tree whose will to live has been so strong that it has defied being buried under invasive plants for decades or whether it is watching the birds, butterflies and other creatures that are returning to the land. One day, a mole stuck its head out of the ground and looked at my friend Ananya who was sitting nearby.
My passion for nature that began as a child, went into the recesses of my mind for decades, is now back in full force. I feel grateful and blessed. I so appreciate that Bill’s words helped keep that part of me alive during the intervening years.
To read more of Bill’s life philosophy go to The Truth I Live By.
The photo at the top of this post is from pixabay.com.
Shared with Senior Salon
There have been very few geckos in my room (in India) this year. I have missed them. The ones I have seen have been very small, about a third of the size of the ones I see in December. Maybe this is the time of year they are born.
A few days ago, when I was lounging on my bed, I looked up and saw a baby gecko. It was less than two inches from its head to the bottom of its tail. My photo didn’t turn out very clear so I decided to share it using a PicMonkey effect called Edge. That effect allows only the outline of the object being photographed to be visible. Do you see the outline of the little gecko? I really like how the photo turned out.
The gecko was located just below the place where the ceiling meets the wall. I watched it for some time. I was struck by how long it stayed in one place. I knew geckos eat insects so I decided it was waiting for one to come near. The only insects I’ve seen in the room are mosquitoes so it was probably waiting to eat one of those. The gecko was more patient than I was, so in time I stopped waiting for it to move and left the room.
When I returned an hour later, the gecko was in the same part of the room, but it had turned the other direction; it was facing south instead of north. The gecko continued to wait. I continued to watch it periodically. I didn’t have the patience to be waiting quietly to see what happened next.
About an hour later, I noticed the gecko start to walk down the wall. My half-hearted attempt at waiting was over! I decided I would video the gecko’s descent. The problem was, I had to get closer to do that. And when I moved in, the gecko stopped. It looked like it was watching me, waiting for me to go away. I waited for some time but once again, the gecko had more patience than I did. Eventually, I stopped waiting for the opportunity to take a video and took a still photo instead. I decided to use the PicMonkey Frost effect on this one.
I could learn a lot about patience from a gecko, if I was willing to wait long enough to learn it! But I guess that is a learning in and of itself.
Each week CREDO Mobile sends its customers Action Headlines for the week. This morning there was a link to CREDO’s Facebook Page where they had posted a photo of artwork by a street artist known as JR. This art is being installed on the Mexican side of the US Border wall. I think the photo speaks for itself and there is no need for me to say more.
You can learn more about JR’s artwork here.
I have been thinking about Utopia since last Thursday when Sreejit announced it as the topic for this week’s Dungeon Prompts. My reflection took me to some uncomfortable places that expanded beyond the scope of Utopia.
When I think of Utopia, I think of Shangri-La, and when I think of Shangri-La, I think of the 1973 movie The Lost Horizon, one of my favorite musicals of all time. [The movie was panned by critics but it really spoke to my heart.]
As I began to write this post, I looked up The Lost Horizon and found this YouTube recording of the opening theme song. Here are the lyrics and the video. I started to cry as I listened to the song.
Have you ever dreamed of a place
Far away from it all
Where the air you breathe is soft and clean
And children play in fields of green
And the sound of guns
Doesn’t pound in your ears (anymore)
Have you ever dreamed of a place
Far away from it all
Where the winter winds will never blow
And living things have room to grow
And the sound of guns
Doesn’t pound in your ears anymore.
Many miles from yesterday before you reach tomorrow
where the time is always just today
there’s a lost horizon waiting to be found.
There’s a lost horizon where the sound of guns
doesn’t pound in your ears anymore.
Earlier today, the word nirvana came to my mind. Wikipedia says this about nirvana: “All Indian religions assert it to be a state of perfect quietude, freedom, highest happiness along with it being the liberation from samsara, the repeating cycle of birth, life and death.”
It occurs to me that I may have considered aspects of Utopia, Shangri-La and Nirvana this week. In fact, I think I’ve mixed them all together. I will be presenting some of my processing in a fairly random manner.
In my mind, Utopia would be a world without war. It wouldn’t be a world without conflict because humans will always have differences of opinions. It wouldn’t be a world without pain because humans aren’t likely to grow unless there is at least a measure of pain involved. But it would be a world where differences are honored, where people place a high value on seeking win-win solutions, and where love is valued more than hate. It would be a world where we don’t expect each other to be perfect. In my vision of Utopia, everyone would live a life full of adventure, challenge and learning. People would be willing to work on and resolve their issues with each other and would give and receive support.
This week I reviewed my life and identified times when I experienced a deep sense of bliss. The times that came to mind, in order of their occurence, were:
- In 9th grade riding on a bus with Youth For Christ members, singing Christian songs with all of my heart
- Listening to and singing bhajans during my early years with Amma, especially when the songs were about Krishna.
- Spending several hours in a deep meditative state during one of my first trips to India. It occurred when I was sitting in the temple, very close to Amma. I felt like part of me was in another realm, at a party that my conscious mind was not allowed to attend.
- Singing and “Dancing in the Spirit” at Power House Church of God in Christ (COGIC).
- Being one of a handful of white people at several COGIC convocations in Memphis, singing gospel music along with 40,000 African-Americans.
- Listening to Gregorian chanting at Christ in the Desert, a Benedictine monastery in New Mexico.
- Hearing Taize music for the first time.
- Singing and dancing to Amrita Vahini, Mata Rani and many other Amma bhajans.
- Singing Ganesh bhajans in the Kalari last week.
Amma teaches us that bliss comes when the mind is silent. She gives the example of chocolate. If we have been craving chocolate we feel bliss at the moment the chocolate touches our tongue. If the bliss was from the chocolate then we could eat more and more chocolate and become more and more blissful. The reality is, if we eat a lot of chocolate, we will become sick. Amma says we experience bliss at that time because in the instant our tongue tastes the chocolate, our minds are silent and free from desire.
In all of the examples above, my mind was silent. I was focused and living in the moment.
So how do I keep myself from experiencing states similar to Utopia/Shangri-la/Nirvana in my life now?
There would be no point in trying to recreate the experiences from the past since bliss is a peak experience that usually comes unannounced. If I look at the list above though, I can see that each instance involved music and community.
Nowadays, I spend too much time alone; watch, read or think too much about current events in my country and in the world; over-think in general; and often don’t ask for what I want or need. I’ve allowed music, singing and dancing to almost disappear from my life except when I am with Amma and even then I don’t take full advantage of those opportunities. I make myself miserable by ruminating about the past or by having expectations and being upset when they don’t come to fruition.
Being around Amma brings our negativities to the surface so that we can work on them. I know that even though the behaviors I mentioned in the paragraph above are areas of weakness for me, they all feel very heightened right now as I’m writing this on a day when I am immersed in my “shit.” Things are not as black and white as I’m feeling in the moment.
At the same time, I also realize that these self-sabotaging behaviors could become more entrenched now that I’m retired. Am I willing to change them? Time will tell.
Thank you Sreejit for creating a prompt that helped me to sort some of this out.
To view the previous posts in this series click here.
In recent posts, I have shared the pookkallams, artwork made from flower petals, that were constructed in front of Amma’s house each day leading up to Onam. Here are the most recent ones.
This was the pookkallam on Onam morning, September 4.
I hadn’t seen it at the time it occurred, but when I looked for the pookkallam photos on the Amritapuri Facebook page, I learned that on Sunday a display of organic produce from the ashram gardens (which would be used in cooking the Onam dinner) had been created so that Amma could see the harvest.
Onam is a harvest festival that is similar to our New Year’s Day combined with Thanksgiving Day. This year, it took place on the day after Ganesh’s birthday. I woke up that morning exhausted and grouchy. My high of the day before had crashed.
The Onam crowd was enormous and the auditorium was packed to capacity. Awnings had been set up on three sides of the auditorium so that people who couldn’t get in could stay out of the sun. Seats had been added to those areas and they were all filled with devotees.
When I arrived at the program, a swami was giving a talk in Malayalam. I found a seat and sat for awhile but realized I was too tired to be there. I went back to my room and lay down. I didn’t sleep but it still felt like the right thing to do. I couldn’t even make myself get up when Amma started her talk. Eventually, I decided to go downstairs for the last part of it. Just before I arrived at the auditorium, Amma started to sing a bhajan. Yay!
[I read Amma’s talk later. If you would like to read it too, you can find it here.]
I enjoyed that song, and hoped for more of them, but Amma started a meditation when it was over. I knew that even if I could find a place to sit, I would just nod off so I stayed standing. When the meditation was finished, I noticed people standing up and moving towards the front of the room.
I soon realized Amma was going to sing again and had asked the devotees to dance. That perked me up and I came closer to the front of the auditorium. I perked up even more when I realized she was going to sing Amrita Vahini, one of my favorite bhajans. In fact, that song is one that I can count on to transform my mood.
I still remember a time in the early 2000’s when I walked into the temple on a day that Amma was passing out lunch. I was feeling down and was wondering why I was in India. I wanted to go home. Amma started singing Amrita Vahini while she was serving us lunch. By the time we had finished the song, my bad mood was gone and I was wondering why I wasn’t making plans to live there permanently. I couldn’t even remember why I had been so down the hour before.
The song worked its magic this time too. By the end of it, my exhaustion and negativity were gone.
Next, Amma started giving darshan (i.e. hugs) to part of the crowd. I knew that the darshan segment was going to be quick that day but I was still surprised when I looked up at a nearby screen soon thereafter and saw that she had already started serving lunch. Since on Tuesday’s, Amma now serves lunch to each resident by passing the plates to everyone via a series of human chains, I had assumed that would be the procedure for Onam too. But I was wrong; Amma individually handed a plate of food to everyone in that huge crowd.
I’m hoping I will be able to show you a photo of Amma serving the food in a future post, but here is one of some children enjoying their lunch. The cups have a sweet pudding in them. [In Kerala people usually eat with their hands rather than utensils.]
Another difference between the weekly Tuesday lunch and this holiday meal was that people ate it when they received it rather than waiting until everyone was served. I was sitting with my friends Eswar, Vandya and Manaswini. Once we had our plates, we were directed to eat in the student dining hall. That was a very nice experience and further elevated my mood.
As soon as Amma fed those thousands of people, she walked down to the floor of the auditorium. Lakshmi, the ashram elephant, had already been brought into the auditorium. Amma fed her handful after handful of fruit and a lot of leftovers from the meal. She does that by putting everything directly into Lakshmi’s mouth. That was an easy task when Lakshmi was young. Now the elephant is so big, Amma has to stretch to get the food in.
One of the fun things that happens when Amma feeds Lakshmi is that she plays with her. Sometimes Amma hides bananas behind her back and before long you can see the elephant’s trunk start to search behind Amma. She eventually finds the bunch of bananas. Amma also directs Lakshmi to pick up all of the crumbs from the floor, i.e. clean up her mess. It is amazing to see her do a pretty good job of completing that chore.
Another fun thing that happened after Lakshmi finished her meal was that a tub of water was brought into the area. Lakshmi drank some of it and then started spraying people in the crowd. She did that over and over again. Once she finished spraying the water in one tub, another tub of water was brought to her. The amount of water Lakshmi can spray has certainly increased with her growth. The people she chose really got a shower.
After the time with Lakshmi was over, Amma returned to the stage. I wondered if she was going to start to give darshan again but soon discovered I was in store for another treat. Part of the room was cleared and a series of tug-of-wars started. I’d never seen that here before.
The first of many tug-of-wars were between groups of men. They kept trying to even up sides by sending part of the men over to the losing side and/or by adding more men. At least 50 men participated and probably more. It was fun and funny to watch. After some time, the brahmacharinis (women monks) did it. That was also fun and even more funny. During the entertainment program that happened later that night, slides were shown from the tug-of-wars. Everyone laughed again. I sure wish I could show you some of those photos but I doubt I will ever have that opportunity.
The morning/afternoon festivities were over about 4 and Amma went back to her room. I also returned to my room and laid down. The next thing I knew, it was 7:30 p.m. and Amma had already been singing evening bhajans for an hour. I couldn’t believe I had slept that long or that deeply.
I walked to the auditorium and participated in singing the last bhajans of the night. During the Arati that followed something happened that I had never seen before. [During Arati, a brahmachari or swami circles a camphor flame in front of Amma.] At one point, I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, I saw Amma circling her arm as if she was circling an Arati flame in front of us! She had a beautific smile on her face. Whenever Amma arrives at a program, she bows to us. I think she was doing the same thing when she was circling her arm as if she was performing the Arati to us.
Amma returned to her room after the program. She had given darshan until after midnight on Sunday night and then come to the Onam program around 10 on Monday morning. She had been with us all day, took less than a two hour break and then come back for two hours of devotional singing. You might think that she would call it a day, but not so. About an hour later, she came to watch the Onam entertainment with us and stayed until 11:15 p.m.
I went back to my room soon after Amma left. What a full day it had been. And such a good example how emotions are transitory. A day that had started with me being tired and grouchy had been full of fun. I went to sleep happy and content.
Most of the photos in this post came from the Amritapuri Facebook page. Many photos were taken that day so I suspect there will be more available on amritapuri.org in the next few days. If that happens, I will provide links to them in future posts on my blog.
To view the previous posts in this series click here.