January 3 was a particularly good day for me, full of so many things I love about my visits to Amritapuri. I decided to give the day a post of its own.
That morning, I woke up at 5:50 a.m. I showered and dressed, read and answered email, looked at the news on cnn.com, and then, at 7:15, headed to the cafe. Once there, I assisted with breakfast preparation and handed out meals to customers until the first rush was over. Then I ordered breakfast for myself and visited with friends while I ate.
At 9:00 a.m., I left the ashram for my next adventure. This time I was going to the seed-saving farm. I had visited that site for the first time the year before. Before I tell you about going to see it this year, let me give you some back story.
Last January, a devotee told me about the seed-saving farm and gave me directions for getting there. He said I should walk to end of the main road in Vallikavu and turn left. After I passed the temple, I should turn right. That sounded easy but I soon discovered there were two paths north of the temple, paths that were quite close together.
I took the first path and walked a long way. After some time, I decided I must have taken the wrong one so went back to the temple and took the second path. I walked a long way on that one too but still couldn’t find the farm. I returned to the road and decided to take the first path again; I would walk further along it this time.
I had been told the farm would be next to a blue house. Before long, I came to a blue house where tapioca, banana palms and some other plants were growing. It was a smaller farm than I had expected, but it was very nice. No one was there, so I wandered around taking photos.
After exploring that farm, I returned to the ashram feeling very successful. When I showed my photos to the person who had given me the directions, however, he said that I had not been at the seed-saving farm; I had been on private property! He told me that the farm was further down that path.
The next day, I headed out to find the seed-saving farm and this time I found it. Lokesh, who manages that farm, showed me around and told me many fascinating things. I took lots of photos and looked forward to writing a post about the farm.
After visiting the seed-saving farm that day, I went to the tulasi farm that is closest to the ashram and took photos there as well. Then I stopped by Saraswati garden. At some point between my visit to the tulasi farm and the time I returned to the ashram, I lost my iPhone. I retraced my steps numerous times that day and went to various Lost and Found stations in the ashram as well, but I never found the phone. I had downloaded the photos of the private farm the same day I took them, but losing the phone meant I had lost all of the photos I had taken at the seed-saving farm and the tulasi farm. I was leaving India the next day, so there would be no way to replace them until my next trip to Amritapuri.
January 3, 2018
Back to my story about this year. I left the ashram at 9:00 a.m. on January 3rd, heading for the seed-saving farm. I took the first turn to the right after passing the temple. In time, I passed the private farm I mentioned above. I kept walking but never found the seed-saving farm.
When I realized this path wasn’t working, it occurred to me that maybe the second path had been the correct one and my memory was wrong. On my way back to Vallikavu, I came to a small road. I decided to go north on that one rather than return to town and start over. I walked a short way on the small road, stopping when an Indian man who didn’t speak English, indicated I should go the other direction. I turned around just in time to see a Western woman crossing the road not far from where I was standing. I asked if she was going to the garden and she said yes.
The gate to the farm was a short distance from the road. That was not how I entered the farm last year, but that was irrelevant. I was where I wanted to be thanks to the man turning me around and the woman crossing the road.
The area looked completely different than I remembered it. Part of the reason for that was that it is a 13 acre farm and the volunteers were focusing on a different part of the property than they were last year.
Lokesh was a bit dismayed when he saw me. He told me there are four growing seasons in Kerala and one had just ended. Everything had recently been harvested. They were just beginning to prepare for the next season, so there wasn’t much to show me. He gave me a tour anyway, and in my mind showed and taught me a lot. I will write a separate post about that garden but will share some photos below as a preview and perhaps as a teaser.
There was another reason that this farm was an important part of my day. Last year, there had been a rickety bridge that went from one section of the farm to another section. As I remember it, the bridge swayed and it was scary to walk across it. Sometime during the year, that bridge had been replaced by a new one. It is hard to call it a bridge, though, because it was only a coconut tree that had been cut down or fallen. There was something I could hold on to as I crossed but it wasn’t as close to the tree trunk as I would have liked. I made my way across the bridge tentatively and carefully. I believed that the the water underneath the bridge was shallow but I sure didn’t want to fall into it!
As I walked back to Vallikavu, I realized I was taking a different path than when I had come. It ended up being the second path from the temple. I think I will remember how to find it when I come back later in the year.
When I arrived in Vallikavu, I decided to visit this bakery. Seeing or thinking about the name of it always brings a smile to my face.
Once there, I bought my favorite treat. (It isn’t as big as it looks!)
I returned to the ashram sometime between noon and 12:30. Lunch begins at 12:30 but I wasn’t ready to eat since I had just had a treat. I checked my phone and saw a text from Chaitanya asking if I wanted to join her for lunch at 1:30. That was a surprise, and a very welcome one. I usually only get time with my kids if I go to where they are working. I, of course, said yes!
From 4:00-5:00 p.m., I did the prasad assistant job I’ve mentioned in previous posts. It is one of my favorite sevas. When I did it in August I was overwhelmed, partially because the job was new to me, but also because I was dealing with the stress from living with a broken wrist. This time, for the most part, it was stress-free.
When I left the stage, I decided to join the prasad-giving line so I could be the person handing Amma the ash and candy packets that she gives to those who come to her for a hug. So from 5-6 p.m. I made my way through the prasad line and ultimately had the joy of being so close to Amma and serving her in that way.
The canteen dinner doesn’t start until 7:00 p.m. and I would be working in the cafe from 7:00 to 9:00 so after giving prasad, I went to my room and made some oatmeal. After my shift, I sat in the auditorium and listened to the bhajans (devotional singing) for a while and then went back to my room.
I no doubt checked email and the news again and perhaps worked on an article I was writing for another publication. I went to bed around 11 p.m.
What an enjoyable and full day it had been.
To read the previous posts in this series click here.
I have been writing individual posts about many of the things I have experienced over the last two weeks but decided it is time for me to update you on some of the other parts of my day-to-day life in Amritapuri.
The loud music from a temple in town played from 5 or 6 a.m. until 5 or 6 p.m. my first weeks here. I learned that the music came from a Narayana temple that was in the midst of a 41-day festival. I had no idea when the festival started or when it would end. One day last week, the music began as usual but it was MUCH louder than it had been the other days. It reminded me of the time in the early 90’s when the music coming from that side of the water started at 5 a.m. and lasted until 2 a.m. the next day, day in and day out. While the music had been loud this year, it was nowhere near as loud as it had been back then. I had even enjoyed listening to it when I was in my room. But I did not enjoy the blasting music that came into my room on that early morning last week.
The following morning, I slept later than I had slept since I’d been here. It wasn’t until someone else mentioned it that I realized there was no music coming from town. The 41-day festival was over! They must have played the music louder on that last day to mark the ending.
When I started this section I labeled it construction. Soon it became obvious that I should change the heading to equanimity. Amma teaches us to strive for equanimity in all situations. I have had plenty of opportunities to practice that lesson on this trip.
This has been the first time in the 28 years I have been coming here when there was no construction noise. That quiet ended a few days ago when workers started making the stair railings in my building higher. The railings had already been raised on the first four floors so they started this time on the 5th floor, my floor. So for the last few days I’ve been dealing with the sound of an electric saw cutting through metal pipe. I have NOT been feeling equanimity.
1) After I finished writing this part of my post, it occurred to me that they had finished my 5th floor railing in one day and the pipes have still been being cut on my floor. Is it possible that they are using the 5th floor as their staging ground and the racket will continue until they finish all 16 floors?
2) I went to lunch shortly after writing Note 1. While I was there, I was griping about the noise and the possibility that it might not end for days. When I returned to my room, the saw, the workers and most of the pipe was gone. I don’t know if they’ve already finished the job, moved higher up in the building, or just stopped for the day. Regardless, if this was a test, I flunked it.
The other area where I have struggled to maintain a sense of peace has centered around having ants in my flat. For the most part they are not a big problem now, but when they come back in large numbers, I have no equanimity.
I promised I would publish one more post about the Christmas play but that is not to be. In the past, I have been able to get play photos and audio recordings of some of the songs but that is not possible this year. I will put some of my photos from the rehearsals in this post instead. As you look at the pictures, keep in mind that the cast had only 15 days to make the costumes, backdrops and props; learn the acting roles, dances, songs and musical accompaniment; make power point slides in English and Malayalam; and figure out the sound and lighting and much more.
When I meet people by watching them rehearse for a play, I tend to think of them in relation to that role forever. This year, I find myself doing that with the actors who played the gorilla and the giraffe. I saw the person who played the giraffe on the bridge to Vallikavu yesterday and asked him if he missed being a giraffe. I told him I’m likely to continue thinking of him in that way. He laughed.
I have been handing prasad to Amma on most darshan days and doing the prasad assistant seva twice a week. I love those sevas. In addition, I have cleaned rudraksha seeds twice and plan to do it again. I’ve also been helping Chaitanya in the cafe in the morning, making the pancake batter and helping getting everything needed for the orders, such as putting honey, butter or peanut butter on toast or adding oatmeal, ragi porridge or hash browns to orders. I then pass the plates to the person who gives them to the customers. Sometimes I cut up tomatoes, wiping down counters or do other tasks. Last night, I helped keep the bakery and the cold drink counters stocked. I’ve been enjoying participating in this way.
In the past, devotees climbed the rudraksha trees to harvest the fruit. During that period, I remember seeing volunteers separating the fruit from the seeds and then brushing the seeds clean. I learned this year that, at some point, they realized they were harvesting the fruit before it was ripe. Now they wait until the fruit ripens and falls from the trees. After the fruit falls, the animals and other critters eat the fruit. Then the garden staff can just pick-up the seeds from the ground.
Once the majority of the fruit has been removed, the seed is soaked. After soaking, any remaining fruit is much easier to remove and the seed can be brushed clean. It is still a painstaking and slow process but much less so than when they were dealing with unripened fruit.
I attended a funeral last week. I always feel honored to participate in that experience. It is unlikely I will be in Amritapuri when I die, but every time I see a funeral, I think of how wonderful it would be to have Amma at mine. While I love that image, I fully believe that she will be there to meet me when I pass no matter where I am in the world.
I love the increased level of synchronities that happen whenever I am in Amritapuri. I remember two from last week.
The first one occurred on Thursday. In the early evening, Amma told the person in charge of Western tokens he should hand out more darshan (hug) tokens. He gave one to the person sitting next to me, but didn’t say anything to me. I wasn’t feeling the need for a hug so I didn’t think twice about it. As I watched more and more people I knew lining up for a hug I began to feel the familiar longing… but I also felt tired. I started to walk towards the cafe but decided to not go that direction because I might run into the person handing out tokens and if I did, I would have to make a choice. I turned instead to go to my room and instantly walked into him. So much for avoiding putting myself in that position. He offered me a token. I laughed and took it… and had a wonderful darshan.
On Saturday evening, I was passing out plates of food in the cafe when Chaitanya told me I could leave early. I was surprised that someone was taking over for me and wondered if I had done something wrong. That didn’t seem at all likely, but it went through my mind.
As I walked out of the cafe, Swami Amritasvarupananda was singing Manyukal Mutum, my favorite Swami Ayyappa bhajan. There was no doubt in my mind that this was one of the synchronicities that are so common for me here. I sat and listened to the rest of the song. When it was over, I walked out of the auditorium only to find three Ayyappa devotees standing in front of me. They were the first I had seen on this trip. I believed this was no accident. (To learn more about my Ayyappa experiences from the past, read Story 2 and 3 in Overcoming Myself.)
To read the previous posts in this series click here.
Soon after I was given the red rose yesterday, I had a completely different experience. I was driving to an appointment along 25th Avenue South. That block, which is just north of my house, for the most part has Greenbelt on one side of the street and a fenced off property belonging to Sound Transit on the other side. The land goes over the light rail tunnel.
For as long as I can remember people have dumped their garbage along that street. The problem has decreased significantly, though, since city workers used big logs to block a place where people could pull off the street and dump their couches, mattresses, concrete and other unwanted items.
Yesterday, however, I saw something I had never seen before. I decided on the way home from the appointment, I would stop and explore it further… and take photos. That is what I did.
This pile of dumped garbage covered the sidewalk and more than half of the width of the street.
As I looked at it closer I noticed that there was a rope tied to one end of the pile.
I followed the cord with my eyes, and the reality of what had occurred began to dawn on me. The person who had done this had tied the other end of the cord to the corner of the fence. He/she must have been driving a truck and after backing up so that he/she could connect the junk to the fence, drove forward so that it poured onto the street. Needless to say, I was no longer feeling joy.
While I can see that this experience is an opportunity for me to notice how easily my emotions can be swayed, I am still shocked and angry that someone had this much disrespect and thoughtlessness.
At 5:00 a.m. this morning, the last entry in The Seeker’s Dungeon Rage Against the Machine Month was posted. The posts by 30 guest contributors were all so different from one another and each person had important things to say. I looked forward to reading a new post each morning and am sorry the event is over.
Some of the event instructions were:
Your post doesn’t have to be about the United States or even politics, but should be about what is keeping our world in darkness and your own solutions for shedding light. Talk about where your own passions lie, your own causes, and the glass ceilings you are trying to break on through.
I’ve listed all of the posts below so that you can read some or all of them. I suspect you will find them as thought provoking as I did.
The Rage Against the Machine Contributors:
Day 11: Earth Grief by Sherry Marr
Day 12: Searching by Oliana Kim
Day 14: The Hip Woman by Ana Daksina
Day 15: On Being a Lady by Kripa Gressel
Day 17: I don’t understand… by Amy
Day 20: #BeKindToElephants by Monika
Day 21: Finding A Way by Bertie Hutchins
Day 22: Fated by Rebel Willing
Day 26: Coming Out by Elmari W.
Day 27: What Sort of Men by Gary Maxwell
Day 27: Just One Word by Sonya Kassam
Day 29: Rectitude by Tobe
My contribution to Sreejit’s new event was posted today. I called it Creating Light in the Darkness. You can find it at:
I thought the first two articles in his series were excellent.
I hope you will go to The Seeker’s Dungeon and read my post… and consider reading all three of them… and maybe even those that he posts throughout the month of November!
Some of you may want to write and submit a post of your own. You are welcome to do that. Here is part of the event description:
Your post doesn’t have to be about the United States or even politics, but should be about what is keeping our world in darkness and your own solutions for shedding light. Talk about where your own passions lie, your own causes, and the glass ceilings you are trying to break on through. Your essay should be between 800 and 5000 words.
You can learn more about the event Here.
Sreejit, from The Seeker’s Dungeon, is offering a series of Guest Posts during the month of November. Writers will be sharing their opinions about what is keeping our world in darkness and their ways of moving towards the light.
I will be participating and thought that some of those who read my blog might be interested in writing for the event as well. You are welcome to submit a post whether you are a blogger or a non-blogger; liberal or conservative; religious or non religious, interested in politics or not; from the United States or anywhere else in the world. In other words, everyone is encouraged to participate.
Here are the details of the event:
To celebrate one year since the election of arguably the worst president in the history of the United States, the month of November will be Rage Against the Machine Month here at The Seeker’s Dungeon. The entire month will be guest posts on topics about how we should or could be doing better. Rage here shouldn’t be misconstrued as hate speech, but rather as passion speech – passion for life, passion for equality, passion for humanity, passion for the environment. I won’t be posting any hate, so don’t bother submitting it – strongly defined passions, however, I will certainly post. Keep in mind that you don’t have to agree with me, or my own unabashedly liberal agenda or worldview, but also understand that I don’t moderate the comment section. I’m not interested in creating a platform for exciting violence, but calling it out. In the comment section I allow people to represent themselves.
Your post doesn’t have to be about the United States or even politics, but should be about what is keeping our world in darkness and your own solutions for shedding light. Talk about where your own passions lie, your own causes, and the glass ceilings you are trying to break on through. Your essay should be between 800 and 5000 words. You can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and write Rage Post in the subject line. Please include a header image, a profile picture and a short bio, along with your blog address, or whichever other form of social media that you would like your name to link to. Also, be sure to edit your submission before sending it. I’m eager to hear what you all have to say, so let’s say it well.
To see the Guest Posts from Sreejit’s past events click here.
I hope to see you in the Dungeon!
(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.
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.
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.
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”
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.