Life is a school.
Since I neither created nor do I run the universe, I don’t know if that statement is true or not, but that is the way it seems to me. Regardless of whether or not it is THE TRUTH, I think it is a useful concept. It helps me see life as a challenge; a series of lessons to be learned with tests coming every now and then, to see if I’ve learned what I need to learn. That attitude helps me see my growth and gives me direction for my life.
There are many different types of lessons. In my blog, I’ve chosen to divide them into lessons on living, lessons on learning and lessons on letting go. I know there are many other categories and even these have many subcategories. Bottom line, I focus my attention on watching for and learning the lessons life sends my way. In my blog, I will share stories from my learning, both past and present. My hope is that you, the reader, will also share experiences from the lessons in your life.
In this post, I’m going to share three lessons from my last trip to Amma’s ashram in India (www.amritapuri.org).
Lesson 1: Perspectives change (December 5, 2013)
I arrived at the ashram on December 1. While India is always noisy, this year there were so many new buildings being constructed at the ashram. I felt very overwhelmed by the noise. Even though I knew I wouldn’t do it, I really wanted to go home. After some sleep, the noise didn’t seem so bad. And over the next few days, it bothered me less and less.
This experience reminded me of a story that Amma used to tell.
A man went to his guru to complain that he couldn’t take it anymore. He lived in one room with his wife, his children, his mother in law and some other family members . He complained that it was so noisy, dirty and chaotic.
The guru asked him if he had any chickens and he responded that he did. The guru told him to bring the chickens into the house. A week later the man came back to the guru complaining about the noise and the smell of the chickens.
The guru asked the man if he had a cow and he said yes. The guru told the man to bring the cow into the house. Over time other animals were added as well. The man eventually came back to the guru, really upset. He said, “The noise, the stench, the filth. I can’t stand it any longer!”
The guru told him to move all of the animals back outside. After some time, the guru asked the man how he was doing. The man responded, “My life is wonderful”. The house is SO quiet and peaceful with only my wife, children, mother in law, her family and me in it!
Perspectives change with time. Even if you are uncomfortable now, know that is likely to change in the future.
As you can see, something as simple as getting used to ashram construction noise can be seen as a lesson given and a lesson learned.
Lesson 2: Tomorrow’s not promised, live fully today- December 28 and 29, 2013
As I returned to the ashram, after running an errand, I noticed a big group of people coming onto the ashram property, probably 150 or more. I soon discovered there were going to be two big weddings! The mood was festive and everyone was wearing brightly colored clothes. It was fun just walking through the group.
It is fine for us to watch the weddings that occur in the temple, but I decided to stick to my original plan of working with the vermi-compost, i.e. separating worms from the compost they had created. That work is done near the beach. Soon after I started working with the vermi-compost, a large number of villagers started flowing onto the beach.
I couldn’t tell what was going on. Everyone was looking out into the water. Then some of the young men went into the water and spread out. I walked to the beach and watched for a while but I just couldn’t tell what was happening. People were excited and it seemed almost festive but not exactly.
I went back to my work with the worms. Shortly thereafter, I began to hear a woman scream. I returned to the beach and saw her in the distance. Her arms were outstretched and people were holding her back. She screamed and screamed and screamed. I knew that scream. I’ve heard it before. So much grief and so much pain. What had happened, soon became clear. Her 12 year old child had gone swimming and had been pulled under the water by the undertow.
All day that day and the next, Kerala Coast Guard boats and the boats of the villagers patrolled the waters and the beaches, hoping the boy’s body would wash ashore. And about 36 hours later, it did. It amazed me that after a day and a half, his body returned almost to the same place where he had been pulled into the water. I felt so grateful that the family was going to be able to have that piece of closure. But his death was tragic.
I was very aware that at one moment I was amidst the joy of the wedding parties, and less than an hour later, I was amidst people in the grief of having lost a child. Such a reminder that tomorrow isn’t promised. Live fully today.
Lesson 3: Focus on the positive- December 30, 2014
I was sick quite a bit this trip and had lots of tough lessons besides. As I neared the end of my stay, I decided to make a list of things that had given me joy during this visit. My list of joys:
- Being with my son and daughter
- Watching the Christmas play practices, and the live play, especially the camel scene!
- Watching Amma playing with the “camels” and “donkey” after the play.
- Sitting near Amma
- Working with the worms
- Sanskrit lessons
- Cinnamon Rolls
- Papaya, mango, ice cream, guava and almost daily fresh coconut water
- Writing emails about my experiences to friends at home
- Amma singing Vithala, Vithala on the beach
I was struck by how powerful it was to make the list of joys. Doing it made me feel lighter. If I focus on what gives me joy, or on the lessons I have learned, I will feel lighter than if I focus on resisting the lessons or the discomfort that may accompany them.
Are there stories about the life lessons you have learned that you would be willing to share? I sure would like to hear about them and I imagine others would like to read them as well!