Letting Go of Suffering: Week 3- What Would Your World Be Like If You Didn’t Suffer?

Walt Disney once said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Many years ago, Pam Levin taught me that the first step in manifesting your vision is to have one.

The exercises for this week are devoted to imagining what your life would be like if you didn’t ruminate about the past, worry about the future or do the unhealthy behaviors that you know make you miserable.

Exercise 1

Identifying Your Vision

Take a few deep breaths. Focus on “breathing in relaxation” and “breathing out tension.” Let your body settle into the chair you are sitting on, or the bed or floor on which you are lying. As you begin to relax, let yourself imagine what your life would be if you were no longer immersed in suffering.

Let the images come and your new world develop. When you are ready, bring yourself back into the present and then answer the questions in this exercise. If you need to, close your eyes and go back into your new world to get the answer to a question.

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Exercise 2

To make your vision become a part of your life, spend 10-30 minutes a day for the next five days putting yourself into a meditative state (through breathing slowly and allowing yourself to relax) and then experiencing your new world. Feel what it feels like to live there. Experience whatever you experience. Let your new life develop in your mind’s eye. Jot down some notes in the spaces below.

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As you identify other components you would like to have in your new world, add them to your vision. Periodically, throughout your life, refer to the two exercises in this lesson to see where you are in creating that vision. Each time, see if there are areas you want to add, or parts you want to let go of. Decide which part of your vision you want to work on next. Don’t feed suffering by expecting your life to change all at once. You will create you vision one day, or even one step, at a time.

See you next Monday for the fourth lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published click here.

 

The Amazing Kapok Tree

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One of the trees in Amritapuri’s Saraswati Garden is a Kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra) I have learned that these trees can reach 200 feet in heigth. My guess is that the one in the Saraswati Garden is 125-150 feet high. It is the tallest tree in the garden.

When I looked for photos of Kapok trees on Wikimedia Commons and Google Images, I saw that the trunk of the trees can be gigantic, such as the one in this photo:

Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

They can also be small like this one in Amritapuri.

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I stood by the Kapok tree in the Saraswati Garden and looked up. Notice how building’s metal roof had been cut away so that it doesn’t impact the tree.

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I looked for a place to get a photo that showed both the bottom part of the tree and the part that was above the house.

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I still couldn’t see the top of the tree from where I was standing so I found a different vantage point.

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Seed pods, like the one at the top of this post, drop from the tree when they are ready. Inside there is a substance that is very silky. It also bears resemblance to cotton and wool. Notice the seeds that are scattered throughout the silky material.

A Rainforest Alliance article said this about the Kapok tree:

The majestic kapok tree has many uses for humans. Its wood is lightweight and porous; good for making carvings, coffins and dugout canoes. The silky fibers that disperse the seeds are too small for weaving but make great stuffing for bedding and life preservers. Soaps can be made from the oils in the seeds. Other parts of the giant tree are used as medicines. In ancient times, the Maya believed that the kapok tree stood at the center of the earth.

In Amritapuri, the pod contents are being used to stuff meditation pillows. I look forward to telling the devotees who are working in this garden that the oil in the seeds can be used for making soap.

 

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

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 1-4, 2016

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Surrounded in Beauty

Amma’s ashram is located on a peninsula between the the Arabian Sea and the backwaters. The view from my room is of the backwaters. The photo above is of the Arabian Sea, which is a five minute walk from my flat.

A Fascinating View of Construction

When I returned to my room on Thursday night, I heard an unusual sound, the sound that men sometimes make in unison when they are doing heavy lifting or other repetitive jobs. (There may be a word for it but I don’t know what it is.) I looked out the window to see what was going on.

A structure in the courtyard, which I soon realized was one of two bookstore stalls that had been there for years, had been turned on its side. (I’d say each stall is around 20 feet long and 10 feet wide. The floor may have been made from concrete.) The men were now surrounding the second one and they were trying to push it over as well. Once they had accomplished that goal, the men returned to the first one that had been over-turned.

Some long rails were brought to the courtyard. The men laid two of them down 6-8 feet apart. Somehow, they up-righted the bookstall and got it onto the rail. (I think during the time it had been turned on its side, something had been removed from the roof.) Then one group of men pushed the bookstall, while another group of them pulled it with ropes. In so doing, the bookstall moved along the rails. Each time it reached the end of the rails, more rails were added. That process continued until the bookstalls reached the end of the courtyard. Then they did what it took to turn it 90 degrees so it could move in a different direction.

There is a new building in that area. The backside has a big slab of concrete, with pillars along it. That part of the building looked like a veranda to me. As I continued to watch, the men put the bookstall up onto the veranda. Once it was there, they pushed it to the end of the new building.

I left my room at that point, but when I returned, I discovered that the second bookstall had also been moved to the veranda. When I looked closer, I realized the bookstalls would still open onto the courtyard, they will just be part of  a building now rather than free-standing in the courtyard.

I was thankful to have been given the opportunity to watch that process. (Note: I don’t take photos on the main ashram grounds. I hope you were able to “see” it in your mind’s eye from my description.)

Wi-Fi

Obtaining Wi-Fi was an opportunity for me to practice flexibility, persistence, equanimity, letting go and patience. While it only took a week to get my personal Wi-Fi system fully functioning, it sure felt like a lot longer than that to me.

I made some helpful discoveries because of the wait though. One day, I used the ashram computer room. There we have a 30 minute limit and the connection is very slow. It was helpful for checking my email but not for blogging. The next day, I walked over the bridge to town and found a travel agency that had computers I could use. The connection was a bit slow, but reasonable, and it only cost me 10 rupees for half an hour. (67 rupees= $1).

As I was walking out of that building, I noticed there were people working on their laptops on the porch outside. I realized the travel agency also had Wi-Fi, which is what I really needed. When I returned the next day, I found out that the speed was very fast. I used it for one hour, for 30 rupees, less than fifty cents.

Then someone suggested I use the  Personal Hotspot on my iPhone. I knew I had one, but I had never checked it out. Once I set it up, I was shocked by how fast the connection was. The only downside was that it used a lot of data.

Waiting for the MTS Hotspot to be activated no longer bothered me. Between the iPhone Hotspot and the travel agency Wi-Fi, I had the ability to do whatever I wanted/needed to do.

As of Saturday morning, the MTS Hotspot process was complete, so I can now do computer work in the comfort of my room without using as much data.

Amma

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Amma returned to the ashram around 3 a.m. on Saturday morning. I did not see her come but I loved knowing that she was here. As anticipated, the ashram began to fill with people as soon as she returned. Saturday night she led bhajans (devotional songs). She sang two of my favorite songs; Karunalaye Devi and Radhikesa Yadunatha. Needless to say, I was in heaven.

As I was writing this post today (December 4), I heard singing coming from the auditorium. Amma wouldn’t be holding a large public darshan on her second day back from the Europe and U.S. tour would she? Then I heard the bell that sounds when Amma is coming outside. I headed out to see what was happening. The post could wait!

It is now three hours from when I wrote the above comments. I never found out what the music in the auditorium was, because it became abundantly clear as I walked down the stairs from my flat, that Amma was in the temple. She talked with us for awhile and then led a meditation. Afterwards, we were told everyone could come for darshan (hugs).

The instructions kept changing. The first change was that the Indian visitors should go first and Westerner visitors could go afterwards. (That is because many of the Indians visitors come just for the day and the Western visitors are staying here.) When the Western line started, we were told people who were meeting Amma for the first time should go for their hug, and the rest of us should wait. Then it changed to anyone that wasn’t new and will be here on Wednesday should wait to get their hug on Wednesday. I was not surprised by any of this, but the possibility of receiving darshan that day had kept me in the temple with Amma, which is a good thing!

On the way back to my room, I ran into a woman that a man in my Tai Chi class in Seattle had asked me to give a message to. I found out that she is only here for one day and will go back to the U.S. tomorrow. If I hadn’t stayed in the temple all that time, it is unlikely our paths would have crossed this year. That kind of synchronicity is the magic of being in Amritapuri.

Saraswati Gardens

After my first visit to the gardens, I decided I would do short periods of work at the gardens throughout my stay. One day, I helped spread coconut coir in the garden beds; it is being used for mulch. I raked up leaves two other days. I laughed as I raked the small number of leaves, thinking of my yard in Seattle which I know is covered by big Maple and Magnolia leaves. The second day, I helped the other garden workers create a sitting area in the garden.

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We constructed this circle for the center of the sitting area. The brick is salvaged from construction site waste. Yesterday, I helped Advait gather pieces of brick for future use.

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One of the main purposes of the Saraswati Garden is to grow plants that can be turned into dye. Padma showed me some of the materials she has dyed from flowers in the garden.The dye made from the rose was mixed with alum. It looks mostly silver in the photo but when you handle it you can see tinges of pink.

I haven’t seen the actual plant that indigo dye is made from yet. Padma said the plant substance in the bucket is living and it can last for a long time. When she wants to use it to dye something indigo, she strains it. I watched as she sponged it onto the white part of a fabric, turning it bluish. I believe she said the indigo fabric on the right was silk.

Dye can also be made from avocado peels and pits. You can see both of those in the photo below. I haven’t seen any fabric dyed with avocado dye yet, but I understand from what I have read that the peel will produce a rusty red color and the pit will produce a light to medium pink dye.

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Chaitanya is back

My daughter Chaitanya returned from Germany on Wednesday. It is wonderful to now be with both of my adult children. Chaitanya writes and directs the Christmas musical each year. Yesterday, she gave me the script and asked me to edit it. I love having the opportunity to read it ahead of time, and then to watch as the play comes alive once the practices begin. Sreejit and his friends have been working on the music for some time.

Tai Chi

My Amritapuri Tai Chi teacher and her husband arrived several days ago. Yesterday, she talked to the person who organizes classes in the ashram. I should be able to start doing Tai Chi soon. I have seen the wait as a chance to practice patience, but I am excited, and so ready to start!

Jet Lag

As far as I’m concerned, it is a miracle. I have had NO jet lag this year. When I travel to India in the future, I will definitely arrange for a layover in Dubai.

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

Early Morning Mystery

When I looked out of my flat’s window in Amritapuri, India this morning, this was my view:

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Then I looked to the left and saw this:

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Three suns, one to the right and two to the left. That was a bit disconcerting until I realized when I looked to the left, I was seeing the reflection of the sun in two different windows.

I looked back to the right and this time I saw:

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What was going on?

I decided to go outside to see what it looked like. That way I would be away from all windows.

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But when I took a close up shot, I saw:

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So is that an orb to the right? It certainly isn’t due to a window. I’m done with guessing but I sure would be interested in knowing your theories. This was a fun way to begin my day!

 

To view the rest of the posts in this series click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri: November 29-30, 2016

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Even though I’ve been coming to Amritapuri for 27 years, every day is still filled with new experiences and learnings.

Saraswati Gardens

On the evening of Nov. 28, a friend told me that she had found a garden in the ashram that she thought I would want to see. It is on the north side of the ashram, but is only a five-minute walk from the ashram’s center. The next day, I went to look. When I walked into the gate, I gasped. For me, it was like walking into heaven. (The photo on the top of this post is from that garden.) I will be writing many posts on this topic but here are some photos to wet your interest! (You can click on the gallery to see an enlarged version of the photos.)

I also saw the projects that are being done inside the Saraswati house. They have looms for weaving, a room for dying fabric, and a room for block painting. So many items are being produced here and then sold in the ashram stores and on Amma’s tours. All proceeds go towards Amma’s humanitarian projects.

I look forward to sharing more about the handmade items with you later.

Synchronicities

One of the things that I enjoy most about being in Amritapuri is how many synchronous events occur. So often when you need to find someone, your path crosses theirs a moment later.

Every year, there are people who I see constantly. Sometimes it feels like they are on the other side of every corner. Around 5,000 devotees live at Amma’s ashram and there usually hundreds to thousands of other people visiting each day, so constantly seeing the same people must be more than chance.

The people I have the “around every corner” experience with are usually individuals who end up becoing a major part of my trip. Starting on the first day of this visit, I’ve had that experience with three people. Two of them were in my Tai Chi class last year.  I have since discovered that the third person is responsible for organizing work in the Saraswati gardens!

I’m seeing a different person “around every corner ” now. She is a long-term friend, but I’ve never passed by her so often. It’s gotten to the point that we laugh every time we see each other.

Bhajans

At 6:30 each evening, we sing bhajans (devotional songs) for 1 ½ hours. Whenever Amma is away from the ashram, the women sing in the temple and the men sing in the auditorium. I have always felt drawn to the men’s music, but have stayed in the temple. Last year I observed there were increasing numbers of women sitting on the side of the auditorium during the evening bhajans. This year, I saw considerably more women sitting in the auditorium. In fact, I think there were as many women in the auditorium as men. Next, I noticed that most of the ashram’s elderly women were sitting in the auditorium. That is all I needed to see. I have joined them!

Fox Bat

One night on my way to bhajans, I saw a group of people looking up into a tree. It was dusk, but there was a man with a huge camera taking pictures. When I was close enough, I asked the photographer what was going on. He told me a fox bat was in the tree. He said that these bats are only seen seven days a year, during the short period that the figs are ripe.

When I researched “fox bat” on Wikipedia, I learned they are the largest bats in the world. They are also known as flying foxes or fruit bats. I didn’t take any photos but I found one on Pixabay.com.

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Recycling Center

I stopped by the recycling center the day after the floor had been changed from concrete to tile. I imagine the devotee’s feet will be very happy to no longer be sorting garbage standing on concrete.

I noticed that the cages of sick birds being nursed back to health are no longer located in that room. I wonder if they are in a different part of the center or have been moved to another location.

Behind the recycling center, I saw many nets full of recently washed milk bags drying in the sun.

Gardens in the central part of the ashram

I know I will be showing you photos of these gardens throughout the trip, but here are some pictures to start you off!

San Jose programs

We were able to see Amma conducting the Atma Puja on the last day of the San Jose programs via live feed. It was 7 p.m. in the evening there time, and 8:30 a.m. our time. That evening, we listened to Swamiji chanting the archana that occurs towards the end of each program. After the archana we watched as Amma gave darshan until the program ended. (Darshan- Amma gives her blessing through hugging each person that comes to her. At this point she has hugged 36 million people worldwide. We call that hugging process darshan.)

(When I first came to India I had to take a rickshaw to a town twenty minutes away to use a telephone. It sat on a table in the middle of an alley. A crowd gathered around to watch and listen as I made the call. I never would have dreamed that 27 years later, I would be watching Amma live from halfway across the world.

Lessons in patience

In my last post, I talked about receiving lessons in flexibility, equanimity and letting go. I will add patience to that list.

One of my favorite activities last year was doing Tai Chi. I have been very eager to start taking the daily Tai Chi classes again this year. Before I came, I knew that the main teacher, Dave, would probably not be coming this year, but I hoped that Stephanie, who is in teacher training with him, would be here. She was very instrumental in teaching our class last year so I know she is very skilled and dedicated.

Two days ago, I talked to a devotee who had seen Stephanie’s husband at the end of the European tour, so I knew she was indeed coming. Then yesterday, I was told she had arrived at the ashram, but I have not seen her yet. It is certainly an opportunity for me to practice patience.

I’m also having to try to find some patience within me in regards to the Wi-Fi hook up. It is so frustrating to have posts ready but not be able to publish them! There is no way to know when the company will send me a text saying I can activate it.

(You can tell by the fact I’m publishing now that I found another way to do it. That story will be in the next post!)

To read the rest of the posts in this series click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri: November 26-28, 2016

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The Lessons Begin

After checking in at the International Office, I took my suitcases to my flat (apartment). Then, I walked to the café to find my son Sreejit. He wasn’t there, but a friend phoned him to let him know I had arrived. I hadn’t been with him since January so it was so good to see him. We walked to my room and I became Santa Claus for the first time on this trip, by giving him the supplies and treats I had brought for him.

Being around Amma, or in her ashram, guarantees an increase in the frequency of life’s lessons. They often provide the opportunity to practice behaviors such as flexibility, equanimity and letting go. I received my first such challenge right away.

I will give you a little back story first. There is a long shelf that is located above the windows in my flat. Soon after I moved in, Akshay installed a wood door on that shelf so I could lock-up my belongings when I returned to the U.S. (When I am gone, the space is rented out to ashram visitors.) Eight years later, it became obvious that there were termites in the wood. The ashram is in the tropics, so it is not surprising that would occur. Last year, it became obvious that the structure wasn’t going to last much longer, but we thought it had another year. The day before I was to leave for the U.S., as Sreejit was putting my belongings on the shelf, the whole frame collapsed on him. It shocked him, and me, but thankfully he wasn’t hurt.

Not having that storage area meant there was no way for me to lock up my possessions while I was gone. I had two small trunks that could be locked, but my buckets, trash bins, laundry filter, cleaning supplies, and standing desk would be left unprotected. There was nothing I could do other than put everything in an unlocked storage area in the kitchen. While it was a risk, it seemed a reasonable one. The shelf was very high and not very visible. It seemed to me that the items, for the most part, were too bulky to easily take. Also, everything was prominently marked with my room number.

Now back to my present-day story! After I gave Sreejit his supplies, he climbed up to the shelf and handed down the items I had stored. I was shocked to discover that even though the trunks and the standing desk were fine, everything else was gone. I couldn’t believe it. It was certainly an opportunity to practice flexibility, equanimity and letting go.

I spent a good part of the day cleaning my room, putting clothes and supplies on my shelves, replacing some of the missing supplies, and ordering a SIM card for my phone. I was told to come back the next day to fill out the paperwork to renew the MTS Wi-Fi Homespot that will give me internet access.

I was dismayed to be told that since the next day was Sunday and there would be an all country strike (protesting the currency fiasco) on Monday, I would be unable to get my SIM card until Wednesday. The the earliest I would get the Wi-Fi Hotspot would be Friday and even that wasn’t guaranteed. That meant I couldn’t read or send emails, publish or read blog posts, respond to blog comments, or check CNN for the latest political developments for quite a while. I knew being disconnected from media would be good for me, but it wasn’t going to be easy. This was a big, and unwelcome opportunity for me to practice flexibility, equanimity, and letting go.

Amma

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When I arrived at the ashram, Amma was on her Autumn Tour in the United States. She completed her Michigan programs on Thanksgiving, the day I departed for India, and then went on to San Jose, California for five days of programs there. I think that Amma will return to Amritapuri on December 2nd or 3rd.

I enjoy coming to the ashram before Amma gets here since it is nice to be able to recover from the trip when the ashram is quiet. Once Amma returns, people begin pouring in and the sense of quiet is gone. (I’m laughing. With all the construction, it is never truly quiet. As I am editing this post, someone is hammering rebar in the courtyard below my window!)

It is also fun to be at the ashram when everyone is bustling around cleaning, painting and getting ready for Amma’s return. There is so much anticipation since the residents haven’t seen her since the beginning of October.

I am very excited that I will be seeing Amma soon.

Jet lag

It is not unusual for me to sleep my first night in India, but the second night, and many nights thereafter, are usually a different story. My pattern is to wake up after two hours of sleep and not be able to fall asleep again. This time, I slept well my first two nights at the ashram. It remains to be seen if that will continue, but I feel hopeful that I am not going to have the normal two to three weeks of feeling exhausted. What a difference a daytime flight from the U.S., combined with a layover in Dubai, has made.

One of the benefits of jet lag is that it makes going to the morning prayers (archana) that begin at 4:50 a.m. easier. As I sat in the temple my first morning, it was so wonderful to be amidst the familiar sights, smells and sounds.

Finishing my room set-up and another lesson

I spent a good part of my first two days, cleaning and setting up my room. I also washed the clothes that had been stored for a year in the trunk. I use three buckets, one for washing and two for rinsing. When I’m finished, I take the clothes to the 17th story of the building I live in, and hang them on clothes lines. I love watching the wind whip the laundry around. Between the wind and the hot sun, it doesn’t take long for the laundry to dry here, and there is no need for an iron since most of the wrinkles disappear as the clothes dry. (Irons can’t be used in these flats anyway. They take so much electricity that the fuse for the entire floor would blow out.)

In the afternoon of the second day, I had another opportunity to practice equanimity when construction workers started making concrete in the courtyard below my room. The level of noise was indescribable. I had visions of living with that racket for the next seven weeks; it would have been a nightmare. Luckily, that scenario does not appear likely. The noise lasted about an hour and afterwards the concrete-making machine was taken away.

Changes I’ve noticed so far

There was construction work occurring at the ashram when I first came here in 1990; and it has never stopped. In the old days, the construction noise went throughout the night. Thankfully that stopped years ago.

It is always interesting to see what improvements have been made since my last visit. So far, I have noticed:

There is a new building behind the Amrita Darshan building where I live. The front side of that building will hold the Ayurvedic store and the ashram bookstore. Above it will be new flats. The main supply store (referred to as the Indian store) was moved to the backside of the new building the day before I arrived. It is very nice and has much more room than in the old store.

The new International Office is now open. It is located close to the north gate. The office for renting bedding and other supplies is also in that building. I suspect the top floor contains flats, since that seems to be the pattern for new buildings nowadays.

A few days ago, they changed the big photos of Amma on the sides of the auditorium stage. The new ones are stunning. One is a picture of Amma meditating when she was young and the other is one of her sitting in front of a beautiful forest and next to an intriguing tree trunk. I was mesmerized by both photos.

I haven’t seen it but I’ve heard they are building rooms in the green roof part of the temple. They have been building flats continuously for years, but they never catch up to the demand. I’ve heard that there is still a two to three year wait to purchase a flat.

Last night, I went to fill my water bottle from the water station closest to my flat. I became disoriented when I realized the water station was gone and there was another new building in that area. Originally, a small guest house stood there. I stayed in that guest house for a few days during my first visit to the ashram, in January of 1990. Even in those days, the bottom part of that building housed a print shop. The building had been expanded over the years, but now it is almost an entirely new building. The print shop is still on the first floor but it is huge even in comparison to the one that was there last year.

Bhakti

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The devotee in the room next to me takes care of the two ashram dogs. One of them stays in her room most of the time, the other one is generally free to come and go. That dog’s name is Bhakti. I frequently come home to find Bhakti laying in front of my door. (She is doing that in the photo above.) The tile must feel cool on a hot day.

Last year, I was fascinated to watch her wait for the elevator at the bottom floor. When the elevator arrived, she walked onto it, and somehow, she knew exactly when get off.

This year, there is a new twist. In the past, she just walked down the stairs whenever she wanted to wander, and she still does that most of the time. However, she apparently has trained a few people to call the elevator for her. I was told that she would stand in front of them until they asked what she wanted. She refused food they offered her and indicated in some way that she wanted them to follow her. When they did, she guided them to the elevator. In time, they realized she wanted to go down, so they pressed the button. When the elevator door opened, Bhakti got on. Mission accomplished!

To read the rest of the posts in this series click here.

Arriving in India: November 26, 2016

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I love those moments when my plane lands in India and I first take in the fragrance of the country. When I mentioned that to a fellow traveler a few years ago, he told me I was smelling diesel. I have no idea what diesel smells like but I knew that was not the fragrance I was talking about. Part of it may be incense, and at times smoke from cooking fires, but I know the odor is much more than that. This country is steeped in spirituality and I believe the distinct fragrance is the result of that. I often have the urge to bow down and kiss the earth when I get off the plane. While I don’t do that physically, I have no doubt that some subtle part of me doing just that.

This is the first time I have taken a layover in Dubai on my way to India and it sure made a big difference. While I was tired when I arrived in India, I didn’t feel overwhelming exhaustion.

I knew I was going to have to deal with something that has never been an issue in the past. On November 8, with no notice, the Indian government discontinued the use of 500 and 1000 rupee bills. (As I understand it, they did that because of the amount of black market money that was in the system and also because the money was being used by terrorists.) Having those bills become useless overnight has caused chaos in the country and a huge problem for many of India’s residents. I had read that people had been standing in long lines attempting to turn in the old bills. Sometimes they with success, sometimes not. Also, the country’s ATMs ran out of money, or would only give tiny sums of money. Many Indians don’t have bank accounts and before long the rule was made that the bills could only be exchanged if you found someone willing to put them into their bank account for you.

A few days before I left for India, I heard that the bills had to be exchanged by November 24. That left those of us who weren’t already in India with potentially worthless bills. I was advised to go directly to the bank in the airport as soon as I passed through immigration, before I picked up my luggage. As I looked at people walking up to the bank counter and leaving empty handed, I knew it wasn’t going to work. I still asked if I could exchange the bills, but received the same answer.

It took a long time for the baggage to come, but I eventually left with two heavy suitcases, loaded mostly with treats and/or supplies for other people. I always feel like Santa Claus when I distribute the items I bring. I enjoy that part of the trip. I also enjoy having nearly empty suitcases once everything is passed out.

From baggage claim, I walked to the currency exchange. That process went well, but they would only give us the new 2000 rupee notes. Even in normal circumstances, India’s small shops ask for payment in small bills, because they usually don’t have enough cash to make change for 500 and 1000 bills. These 2000 rupee bills were bound to cause a problem. I heard other people asking the currency exchange to give them smaller bills with no luck, so I didn’t even bother to try.

Soon I was in a taxi on my way to Amritapuri. I still marvel that taking a taxi to the ashram costs less than $40 even though the drive is 2 ½ to 3 hours. Since I was arriving at a time when there would be a lot of traffic, I expected that it would take the full three hours, if not more. I knew it was going to be an intense three hours when the driver started driving 130 km/hour in a 40 km/hour zone the minute he left the airport. This is not unusual for India but it has been a long time since I have had a driver who drove so aggressively.

In India, traffic seems to have rules of its own. The roads are filled with bicycles, scooters, motorcycles, rickshaws, lorries, trucks, taxis, buses, private cars and an occasional elephant. Pedestrians seem to have no right of way, so they get along as best as they can. The vehicles weave in and out with a precision that is mind boggling. The drivers pass each other by going into oncoming traffic, swerving back into their own lane just before impact. I’ve always said they seem to have incredible skill and nerves of steel.

I remembered the first time I took my daughter to India. I think she was 16 at the time. She sat in the front seat of the taxi and didn’t seem to react to any of this. Afterwards, I told her I was surprised she didn’t have a reaction. She responded that she had kept her eyes closed the whole time; that it seemed like one big game of “Chicken.”

Coming back to my current trip, I was happy there was so much traffic since it caused the driver to slow down. Still, he had more close calls than any other time I’ve taken this drive. I felt very relieved when, three hours later, we turned into the ashram gate.

I was (and am) home!

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To read the rest of the posts in this series click here.