Guest Post by Evan Smith: Speaking Up About #MeToo

(Note from Karuna: I was looking at my nephew’s Facebook Page yesterday and found an entry on October 16 that touched me. In the post, Evan shared his reaction to the #metoo movement. I asked for and received permission to share his reflection as a guest post on my blog. Thank you Evan.)

I am reading about the #metoo movement today and I saw someone comment on the fact that while all the women are posting about it the men are staying silent. As the father to a future young woman, I don’t want to be one of the ones staying silent.

What I want to say is this: I don’t understand this problem. I don’t understand it because I’m not one of these men and can’t even begin to relate to the idea of forcing yourself either physically or verbally on a woman. I don’t feel like I was raised all that differently from most men in this country.

It’s not like I’m special in any way. When I see an attractive woman, I think to myself “she is great looking” but there isn’t any part of me that wants to do or say any more than that. Is it because I’m married? Is it because I have no intention of ever sleeping with anyone other than my wife? Does this problem exist because the slightest possibility of sex exists between these assholes and every woman with 2 legs?

So I want help understanding this. Guys, message me privately. If you are a guy that shouts at girls on the street in ways that you think is none threatening or you think you’re not hurting anyone, please message me. I want to understand what you don’t understand about this. Because this is about you. And I won’t assume that I don’t have any friends who do this. It won’t be the first time I learned a close friend has a surprising lack of respect for women.

My little girl will be a woman some day. If I ever witness her being attacked the way I have read about today, there will be no level of understanding or calm rationalism that will hold me back. And you can be sure I will raise her (along with my don’t-take-shit-from-anybody wife) to stand up for herself. But I would really like it if she got to mature in a world where this didn’t happen. We are supposedly the most civilized country on earth so how is this still happening? HOW are we not all on the same page here?

Guys, read the Me Too posts your friends are putting up and make sure you are NOT a part of this problem. Because I am positive most men don’t even realize they are doing it and think they are just giving compliments. Understand that you are bigger and stronger than these people because nature decided that was a good idea and when you do this you SCARE them. When you act like an ass you are ONE STEP away from raping them or worse and that is all they can think about when you do it. And it doesn’t matter if you get that or if it makes sense to you- JUST STOP.

Or maybe just stop because being a man grants you absolutely zero dominion over women and if you don’t 100% agree with that you have serious problems.

Advertisements

Living and Learning in Amritapuri: September 1-10, 2017

For various reasons, I got behind in sharing the experiences I was having in Amritapuri. I am still going to do that even though I’ve been back in Seattle for almost a month.

Karthika

There are special programs each month on Karthika, Amma’s birth star. In September, Karthika was on September 9. What I like best about Karthika  is the sight below.

This time, I attended the chanting and singing that was occurring that evening in the Kalari. I really enjoyed doing that and the sweets that were handed out at the end of the program were a nice treat too.

Challenges

I’ve mentioned before that when we are around Amma, it is common for our weaknesses and negative tendencies to come up so that we can see them and work on them. A negativity that was in my face numerous times on this trip was feeling incompetent. One of the times I felt that way was when I attempted to take orders in the cafe. At that time, I was still having difficulty writing because my broken wrist wasn’t completely healed. Even more of a problem was the fact that I hadn’t done that job for years. I didn’t know the current prices and as a result I was really slow.

Another place I felt incompetent when I was doing the prasad line seva. My job was to see that the two lines of people who were going to hand Amma prasad (the packets of ash and candy that she gives people who come to her for a hug) was always full and that all prasad givers had been trained to do the job. One of those lines is on the stage, the other is down on the auditorium floor. Doing all components of the job became even more complicated if there were times I had to wander the auditorium, and even outside the auditorium, looking for people to fill the line.

About the time I was beginning to feel reasonably competent in doing the job, there was a day when the darshan location was changed to the temple. That building is much smaller than the auditorium and had a different system for the prasad lines. Some things went badly and I couldn’t figure out why. Back to feeling incompetent. I was relieved that my next shift would be in the big auditorium. WRONG. The day before my next shift, I learned that the auditorium was going to be used for Amrita University’s graduation ceremony and darshan would once again be in the temple. Continue reading “Living and Learning in Amritapuri: September 1-10, 2017”

No Matter Time Nor Place

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:

  1. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
  2. Thou shalt not make any graven idols.
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. Thou shalt not kill.
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  8. Thou shalt not steal.
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor
  10. 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.

Social Commentary by JR, Street Artist

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.

My Onam Experience

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.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: August 28-31, 2017

Ganesh Celebrations

I have continued to attend the Ganesh bhajans in the Kalari from 9 to 10 each evening. I love, love, love the high intensity, ecstatic music. The only reason I’m not sad that it will end on Sunday is that Onam and Krishna’s birthday are coming soon.

I love participating in the procession that goes to a nearby temple on Krishna’s birthday. The college students and brahmacharis do the same style of singing on that occasion that I’m hearing during Ganesh’s celebration, so I have that to look forward to. However, I’m also keeping in mind that the last time I was in Amritapuri on Krishna’s birthday, my back went out a few days before the big day and I couldn’t participate. I frequently remind myself that tomorrow’s not promised and do the best to make the most of today.

Onam

A few days ago, I heard someone say that Onam is like a combination of New Year’s Day and Thanksgiving. I liked that way of thinking about it. Daily pukkallams are still being created near Amma’s house in honor of Onam. During my last “Living and Learning” post, I shared photos of the first three. Here are photos of the four newer ones. (The artwork is all made from flower petals.)

Healing

The skin near my eye is completely healed and I’m off of all medication for that. I am able to take my wrist splint off part of the time I’m in my room. There is too much chance I will get bumped when I go outside so I almost always leave the splint on when I leave the flat.

I am focusing on using my right hand more. When I do anything with my left hand, I’m making a point of having my right hand participate whenever possible. The strength and flexibility in my injured hand is no where near “normal” but I think my recovery is progressing well.

Rain

It has been raining several times a day for the last week. The rain makes everything so much cooler. I have no doubt that people in Seattle would like to have some of this rain.

Temple

The public program on Wednesday was held in the temple rather than the auditorium since the crowd was smaller than normal. When we are in the temple, it brings back so many memories of my early visits to Amritapuri. Here are some temple photos from 1990. (Click any of the galleries to enlarge the pictures.)

Darshan was held in a small hut in those days. Everyone didn’t fit inside so there was a line of people waiting outside to get in. It wasn’t a long line though. This is a picture of the darshan hut.

Most visitors lived in a small guest house above a print shop or in rooms in the temple. The residents lived in thatched huts.

For many years, we took a taxi from the airport to Vallikavu, the town across the backwaters from the ashram. We then boarded a canoe to get to the ashram. This was the view we saw as we got close.

The construction of the first four floors of the temple was completed just before I arrived in 1990. I remember sitting in the temple on days when there was no public darshan and noticing that we all fit into the first third of the room. I wondered why Amma built a temple so big. It didn’t take long for me to realize Amma knew what she was doing. This is what the crowd looked like by the mid-90’s.

Eventually, Amma built an auditorium and flats to accommodate the growing number of people coming to Amritapuri. Here are a few views of what the ashram looks like today.

Current Events

I am looking at CNN as much here as I do at home, or at least close to it. I sense it is important for me to stay aware of events that are happening in the world. I was at the ashram during the 2004 tsunami and during Katrina in 2005. The flooding in Texas is bringing back those memories.

I feel so sad about the loss that people in Houston and other areas in my country and the world are experiencing due to Harvey and other natural disasters. I feel many emotions around the fact that so many people in power in the U.S. can see the magnitude of these storms and still deny the existence of climate change.

Tai Chi

Thursday was my last day of Tai Chi as the teacher was returning to Barcelona. I am sorry that it ended, but feel very grateful that I had the opportunity to take 12 classes with him.

Quote and Photo from North American Summer Tour 2017

The circumstances of life will always keep changing. Change is nature’s unchanging law. However, it is we who make experiences bitter or sweet — our mind and our attitude. As long as we are unable to bring our mind under our control, sorrow will continue to hunt us down. However, once the mind comes under our control, then no problem or tragedy can devastate or paralyze us. In reality, the foundation of happiness is gratitude. When the mind becomes filled with gratitude, we will spontaneously become happy.” -Amma in New Jersey, June 29, 2017.

 

To view the previous posts in this series click here.

Dungeon Prompts: Moral Authority

Last Thursday, I received notice that Sreejit from The Seekers Dungeon was re-starting his Dungeon Prompt series. I was intrigued by the topic for the week, Moral Authority. I began to think about what moral authority meant to me.

The next day, I read that the Trump Administration had 1) stopped a study of the health effects of a mining practice in Appalachia, 2) disbanded the federal advisory committee on climate change, and 3) decided that the Environmental Protection Agency would work on building partnerships rather than focusing on regulations and enforcement. I felt despair when I read that information. It occurred to me that I was seeing examples of what moral authority is NOT, at least in my world view. 

I accept that President Trump has some authority over me because of the power of his position, but due to the things he says and does on nearly a daily basis, I do not believe that he has moral authority, or it least none that I will accept.

Since those were thoughts I had on the spot, I decided it was time for me to learn more about moral authority.

Wikipedia stated:

Moral authority is authority premised on principles, or fundamental truths, which are independent of written, or positive, laws. As such, moral authority necessitates the existence of and adherence to truth. Because truth does not change, the principles of moral authority are immutable or unchangeable, although as applied to individual circumstances the dictates of moral authority for action may vary due to the exigencies of human life. These principles, which can be of metaphysical and/or religious nature, are considered normative for behavior, whether they are or are not also embodied in written laws,[1] and even if the community is ignoring or violating them.[2] Therefore, the authoritativeness or force of moral authority is applied to the conscience of each individual, who is free to act according to or against its dictates.

Moral authority has thus also been defined as the “fundamental assumptions that guide our perceptions of the world”.[3]

Theodore Brown wrote:

Put the phrase “moral authority” into a Google search, and you will get back something over 670,000 hits.  Clearly the expression gets used a lot.  But what do people mean when they use it?  Many people seem to think that it means the right to weigh in on discussions involving what to do about some tough issue.  Other uses suggest that it is a measure of virtue; those who live exemplary lives have moral authority.  Or, that one can gain moral authority by having been put through a trial: the John McCain effect.  One simple definition is that moral authority is the capacity to convince others of how the world should be.  This distinguishes it from expert or epistemic authority, which could be defined as the capacity to convince others of how the world is.

When I found the diagram at the top of this post, it occurred to me that reflecting on those positive and negative behaviors might help me identify those people who I think have moral authority. From that exploration, I came up with a list of  behaviors that I think those who have moral authority have in common.  In my mind, people with moral authority:

  • love all beings in the world
  • love and are committed to nature
  • live lives of service
  • speak the truth
  • teach others to live in integrity
  • teach others healthy principles of living
  • teach others to love and respect one another
  • value unity over division
  • live lives that are true to their teachings, i.e. they walk their talk

As I pondered who the people were that I think have moral authority, Jesus, Amma, Martin Luther King, and Pope Francis came instantly to my mind. Amma is clearly the person whose moral authority has impacted my life the most.

I believe blind faith may come in an instant, but mature faith develops from experience. I have been in Amma’s presence for 28 years- watching her, learning from her and seeing the impact she has had on my life and the lives of my friends, family, and other devotees. I have no doubt that she has made a massive difference in the lives of millions of people the world over.

Many years ago, I wrote a song, and had a friend translate it into Malayalam, that in a way reflects my decision to accept Amma’s moral authority. I titled the song, Only for This I Pray.

This is an audiotape and lyrics of that song.  Please pardon any pronunciation errors.

amma ende karangal ennum ninne sevikkatte
amma ende manass˘ mantrathāl nirayename
amma ende vākkukal ennum ninne pukazhthette
ende hridayam ānandam kond˘ nrittamādatte

ende sneham prakāshamāyi ennenum thilangatte
amma ende vishvāsam valarnnu kondirikkatte
ennenum ammayepole āyi varename
amma itinnu vendi mātram nyan prārthikkyunnu

Mother, may my hands be in service, my mind fill with mantra
May my voice forever sing your praise, my heart dance with joy
May my love shine ever brighter, my faith ever grow
Mother, may each day I become more like you, only for this I pray
Only for this I pray

That prayer is as true for me today as it was the day I wrote it.

 

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: August 24-27, 2017

The Western Cafe Opens

A puja was held at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday to bless the new cafe space prior to its opening. It was SOOOOO nice. Many people crowded into the café and others stood outside. A pujari performed many rituals, including chanting the 108 names of Amma, and a brahmachari led the group in singing four bhajans. I don’t remember the name of the first song but the others were Kali Durge; Amba Bhavani Sharade and Durge, Durge. Swamini Krishnamrita, who you can see in the photo above, did the Arati.

Afterwards, we went to the section of the new building where the canteen food is cooked. One of the stoves in that area was lit by the puja flame and we sang Om Namah Shivaya until a pot of milk boiled over. It took quite a while for that to happen so we sang for a long time. I enjoyed it so much.

Then, we returned to the café portion of the building and each devotee was given a small bowl of prasad that contained a chocolate chip cookie, a banana and keshari, an Indian sweet. The bowls were made from banana leaves.

The prasad bowl reminded me of a pada puja that the café staff did for Amma many years ago. Normally, during a pada puja, Amma is offered a plate that holds a variety of Indian foods. The café staff had done the pada puja their way though and had brought Amma items from the cafe such as a veggie-burger, French fries, pasta and pizza! I wasn’t in India when it happened, but I still laugh when I think about it. Everyone, including Amma, had thoroughly enjoyed the unusual experience.

Ganesh’s Birthday Celebrations

One of the reasons I came to India in August this year was so that I could participate in three festivals. The first one, Ganesh’s birthday is an eleven day celebration.

Ganesh is son of Shiva and Parvati and is known for having the head of an elephant. He is the god that is worshipped as:

  • remover of obstacles
  • patron of arts and sciences
  • deva of intellect and wisdom
  • god of beginnings

The celebration began with a puja at 5 a.m. on Friday, August 25. The pujari performed many rituals and the brahmacharis chanted numerous chants. It was beautiful although I have to admit I was too tired to enjoy it as much as I thought I would. Also, I had expected there would be a lot of singing but I was wrong, singing wasn’t part of this particular puja.

It was during this program that the Ganesh statue that had been made for this year’s celebration was installed. You might remember from a previous post that the statue had been created on the ashram grounds this year. At the time I wrote that post it looked like this:

This is what it looked like on Friday morning when it was installed:

At 8 a.m. on that day, I went to the auditorium for another another Ganesh event. This turned out to be the one I had remembered from the past. It was also a puja but the ashram elephant, Lakshmi, came for this one. We sang lots of songs and Lakshmi danced to the music. Afterwards, she was offered many plates of food. She definitely enjoyed that!

People are gathering at the Kalari, the site where Ganesh was installed, between 9 and 10 every evening during the 11 day celebration. I attended the first two gatherings and will continue to do so. We sing rousing Ganesh bhajans for most of the time and then a beautiful Arati and closing prayers. After the program is over, each person is given a luscious and tasty treat.

On September 3, the last day of the celebration, the statue will be taken to the beach in a public procession, singing as we go. It will be immersed in the Arabian Sea where the clay will dissolve so Ganesh can go back to his home at Mt. Kailash where he lives with Shiva and Parvati.

Onam

The season of Onam also began on August 25. Onam  is a harvest festival and is considered to be the biggest and most important festival in Kerala. September 4 will be a full day of festivities at the ashram, but each morning until then a new pookkalam will be be made outside of Amma’s house. The pookkalams are constructed using flower petals of various colors. Here are photos of the ones that were made for the first three days of this Onam season.

August 25
August 26
August 27

Photo Credits: All photos are from the Amritapuri Facebook Page

To view the previous posts in this series click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: August 15-20, 2017

I had planned on writing another ashram living post several days ago but have had more health challenges. I will give you details about that later in this post, but wanted to acknowledge that I believe this one is overdue! At the same time, I know that many of the lessons that come in Amritapuri are about learning to be flexible and not attached to plans so not being able to adhere to my self-imposed timetable should not be a surprise. Amma often encourages us to be like a bird on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moments notice.

Photo Credits

I looked at the ashram Facebook page yesterday and was excited to find that it had many photos that fit this post. All of the pictures below come from that site. To see the page go to:  Amritapuri – Home. The photo at the top of this post comes from pixabay.com.

Stage Seva

In my last post, I mentioned having had the opportunity to be a prasad queue assistant. I had planned to find the sign up sheet for that position so I could do it again, but I had no luck locating it. The next darshan day, I was standing next to Chaitanya when someone walked up planning to ask her to call me. The prasad line lead had just discovered that the devotee who had the 8 p.m. shift had left the ashram earlier in the day without telling anyone she was returning to her home country.

I was asked if I would work the shift, which started in five minutes, and I agreed to do it. Sometime during the shift, I was offered the opportunity to have that shift until I returned to the U.S. I was delighted to accept it.

There were several components to the job. Not only did I have to call the people from the prasad line on the auditorium floor to come to the stage at the appropriate time, I was also responsible for seeing that any first time givers were trained and that there was always enough people sitting in the downstairs part of the  prasad line. That meant that in addition to calling people to the stage every two minutes and seeing that they sait in the right place, I had to go down to the downstairs prasad line to see if there are any first timers, train them and if necessary walk into the main hall to recruit more people.

I felt a bit muddled during the first two days, but I know I will figure it out in time.

Independence Day

Tuesday was India’s Independence Day. I understand there were several activities related to that event in the morning before I came downstairs. I didn’t see those, but I did enjoy watching the children carrying their tiny flags around the ashram. 

Tuesday meditation day

Tuesday is also the day that Amma spends with the ashram residents each week. She joins us for meditation, leads a question and answer session and then serves us lunch.

You can see from the photo above what a feat it is to feed everyone lunch in a short period of time. The photo below shows some of the devotees who put the food on the plates. The plates are then handed to Amma and she blesses the food. From there the plates are handed to devotees in lines that snake throughout the auditorium. The plates are passed in this manner until everyone has been served.

No one eats until everyone has their food. As that process nears completion, we chant a chapter from the Bhagavagita. When everyone has been served, Amma leads the meal prayer.

Tai Chi

I started a Tai Chi class on Wednesday. It meets six days a week from 7 to 8 a.m.  The teacher will be here until the end of August. He is from Spain and is an excellent instructor. I am so happy to be taking Tai Chi classes again and I can tell the practice is helping to heal my wrist.

Sanskrit chants

On the first darshan day after I arrived in Amritapuri, I was drawn by the sound of a large group doing vedic chanting. When I made it to the front of the auditorium, I saw about 100 residents chanting in unison. As I looked around the auditorium, I noticed many others participating. I understand that those who are part of the group are learning them in a class. I decided I wanted to join the chanting but not the class. Over the next few days, I found out they were chanting;

  • Dhyayamo
  • Guru Stotram
  • Guru Paduka Stotram
  • Om Ganaanaam
  • Prano devi Sarasvati
  • Ganapati Atharvasirsa
  • Mantra Pushpam
  • Na Karmana

At one point, they alternate between these chants:

  • Sri Rudram
  • Narayana Suktam
  • Purusha Suktam
  • Medha Suktam and Durga Suktam

The order of the chants above change and I think other chants are added as the class learns them. I haven’t been able to follow, or even find, all of them in my booklets, but I am able to participate enough to feel satisfied.

Hospital

Sometime last week, I noticed that there was a redness on the skin above my left eye. Over the next few days it spread. It didn’t itch or hurt, but I was concerned when it seemed to be getting worse rather than better. On Saturday I decided I needed to have it checked. We are blessed to have a small hospital on the property so I went there. Before long, I was with the doctor. She was concerned by what she saw and wanted a specialist to take a look. I thought that meant I would have to take a three hour drive to Kochi to go to AIMS, Amma’s multi-specialty hospital. I was pleased to discover that they used a different process. The doctor’s assistant took a photo and sent it to the specialist. I was then told to come back in an hour. When I returned, I sat in front of the doctor while she talked to the specialist and answered his/her questions over the phone. The specialist recommended a combination of antibiotics, ointments and an allergy med. The combination is working and my skin is significantly better. I am so glad medical care is available so readily when I am here.

This was another be a bird on a dry twig experience because I did not believe it was appropriate for me to do the stage job until the skin problem was healed. Hopefully by Wednesday I will be able to start it again.

Darshan

On Saturday evening, the darshan line was finishing sooner than Amma wanted the program to end, so she instructed the token team to give darshan tokens to visitors who had not received her hug that week. Needless to say, I was happy to be one of those peope. It had been a stressful few days for me and it was wonderful to be in Amma’s arms once again. 

Café

The café is moving into the new building on Thursday. I look forward to seeing what the new space is like. I drastically cut my sugar intake in early July so haven’t had many bakery times since I’ve been here, or at least haven’t had the cakes and cookies. I always make an exception for the Sunday morning cinnamon rolls though. Those are a priority for me. Yesterday afternoon, in a moment of weakness, I decided to have a piece of chocolate cake!

Crows/Eagle

While I was eating my chocolate cake, I watched a crow that was perched nearby. I imagined he was watching me, looking for an opportunity to take away my treat. If you leave food unattended here, a crow is likely to steal it.

At one point in the past, an eagle visited the western canteen during every meal. It perched in the rafters above the tables, patiently waiting for an inattentive devotee. If someone casually held up a piece of toast while they were talking, the eagle would swoop down and snatch it from their hand. That eagle was a regular guest at the canteen for years. In those days, even crows were known to snatch an omelet off a plate as a customer carried their food from the café to the dining hall. That may still happen, but I haven’t seen it for a long time.

Rain

One of the things I love about coming to the ashram in August is that it often rains. The rain may last only a few minutes, but it really pours. A lot of the buildings here have structures with metal roofs so the metal really magnifies the sound of the rain.  I find the sound exhilarating. I also appreciate how much cooler it is on days that it rains.

When I hear the rain now, I remember a time when I was in the auditorium a few years ago. It happened to be December, which doesn’t tend to be a rainy season, but that day it poured. Every time I didn’t think it could rain harder, it did. The rain intensified over-and-over again in a fifteen minute period. The next day, we learned that there had been devastating and deadly floods in Chennai around the same time.

The rain photo above doesn’t show the rain when it was heavy but I really liked the image.

 

To view the previous posts in this series click here.

Will I Choose to be Independent or Interdependent?

Decades ago, I participated in an experiential exercise that the facilitator called The Relationship Dance. That exercise gave participants the opportunity to feel the difference between dependent relationships, independent relationships, and interdependent relationships.

First, we each picked a partner. During the Dependent section of the exercise, one person in each dyad leaned against their partner and they walked around the room in that state. One person had the experience of being completely dependent on their partner to hold them up, and the other person had the experience of being totally responsible for their partner’s well-being. In the Independent section, partners wandered through the room having essentially no contact with each other or with the people in the other dyads. Interdependence was demonstrated by having the pairs separate to do some individual activities and at other times walking shoulder to shoulder.

I’ve never forgotten that exercise. The experience of being Dependent was not familiar to me, and was not at all inviting. I was more familiar with having people be dependent on me. Being Interdependent was inviting but not familiar. When I experienced Independent, I felt lonely and it was all too familiar. Since this post isn’t about my relationship with a partner, I’m going to broaden the definition of interdependent so that it includes being in give-and-take, supportive relationships with many people.

I grew up as an army brat. It was very hard for me to make friends since we moved at least every three years. If I wasn’t leaving, then my friends were. Also, my mother once told me that I would make one friend at a time, and then was devastated when that person became friends with someone else. To compound the problem, in my opinion, our family had a very low level of connection with each other.

As a child I became very independent. Over the years, I have made significant changes in that part of my life and now have many friends who could potentially be a large support system. While I have moved a significant distance along the continuum that goes between independence and interdependence, I still have a way to travel before Interdependent becomes my primary way of being.

I have had an abundance of opportunity to watch my struggle in this area as I heal from breaking my wrist. My recovery was made harder than it would normally have been because I also had considerable pain from bruised ribs caused by a fall two weeks earlier. The rib problem made it painful for me to get up and lie down, and the fact that I needed to overuse my left side when I couldn’t use my right hand, prolonged that pain. (Be assured that I am looking at, and committed to changing,  the factors that caused me to get hurt twice in two weeks.)

I have long marveled at how people who live with physical limitations are able to overcome them. I decided to use this experience to see what I was able to do on my own. One of the accomplishments that I am most proud of occurred on the second day after I broke my wrist. On that day, I was able to pry open tight hooks on a bra and put on the bra using only my non-dominant hand. I soon discovered I could do my own laundry, get dressed in carefully selected clothes, cook using the food I had in the refrigerator and freezer, and crack an egg open. I also felt proud the day I changed the cloth waist ties on two pairs of Indian pants to elastic. With the cloth ties, I would have had to tie a bow, an impossible feat at that time.

While I was able to figure out how to do almost everything on my own, I did ask for help when it was impossible for me to do something that needed to be done. The best example of that was being unable to lock my deck door at night since I had to pull it towards me with one hand and turn the key with the other. I tried but I couldn’t do it. The temperature was in the 80’s and 90’s in Seattle that week and I couldn’t open any of the windows in my living and dining rooms with one hand. Leaving the deck door shut as well would have been unbearable.

I wouldn’t have felt safe leaving the door open at night so that was not an option. I asked one neighbor to lock the door each night before she left town. After she left, I knocked on different neighbors doors each night, asking them to lock the door for me. I rationalized that asking a number of people would cause them less of an inconvenience. Another example is that I asked a friend to bring my vacuum cleaner up the steep stairs from my basement since I knew it wouldn’t have been safe for me to carry it, but I didn’t ask for help vacuuming even though it was difficult for me to do with bruised ribs. And instead of asking for help to bring it back downstairs, I eventually took the vacuum cleaner outside and rolled it around the house and in the back door.

I did accept help from two friends who wanted to bring a meal and from another who offered to come cook some meals that would last for a few days. I also accepted help from a friend who offered to go grocery shopping for me and asked another to take me to the places I needed to go to get ready for my trip to India.

For the most part, however, I told the friends and neighbors who offered help that I was fine, but would let them know if I needed anything, and then for the most part didn’t ask.

While I did accomplish many things on my own, I was also abundantly aware how different my experience would have been if I had been living with someone or if I had taken full advantage of my support system. I was aware of the message in my head that said Don’t bother anyone,  an adult version of Children are to be seen and not heard. I also heard You should only bother someone if you really, really need it; You may need surgery for your arm or you might get sick sometime in the future, so don’t ask for help now, you might need it more later; and You choose to live alone and that decision has consequences, which was short for “You made your bed, now lie in it. As I write these messages down, I realize how immersed in old unhealthy ways of thinking I have been. I knew these messages were still alive in me to some degree, but the injury brought them out full force.

Just before I left for India, I attended a potluck in the Seattle area. I witnessed my reaction when the friend who drove me there offered to help me put food on my plate. I told her I could do it. I even resisted when she gave me reasons why I should let her help. Seeing such a blatant example of my resistance stuck with me. On my second day in India, a man offered to help me wash my dishes after a meal. I told him I could do it. He watched me struggle with that for a minute, and then took the dishes away from me and washed them. The incident made me aware once again of how I push help away. It also gave me the experience of how good it felt to get it. The next day another man asked if I wanted help washing my dishes. I said thank you and handed them to him. Since then, I have accepted help when it is offered and have been more willing to ask for it in the first place.

I dread the thought of ever being completely dependent on anyone. I hope that is not in my future, but I have no control over that. What I do have control over is whether I live my life alone now or instead create a life style that includes a mutually supportive community.

Even though this injury has highlighted my tendency to be overly independent, I know I have come a long way in this area. I also know I will have an abundance of opportunities, perhaps on a daily basis, to choose between an action that would support my tendency to be overly independent and one that would lead to an experience of interdependence.  It is my intention to increase the number of times I choose the road that leads to interdependence.

 

To view the previous posts in this series click here.