A Beautiful Flower

I walked through the ashram yesterday, looking for flowers that were new to me. I was intrigued by this  one. I wonder if it is in the same family as a hibiscus. There are both similarities and differences.

To read the previous posts in this series click here.

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A Mystical Land

On Friday morning, December 15th, I decided to go to the roof of my building to practice Tai Chi. I was so drawn by the view in front of me that I soon stopped the Tai Chi and took in the beauty of the land below. I had never seen it look so mystical. Some of the pictures look more like paintings to me than photos.

Whenever I am on the roof, I also watch the majestic eagles soaring overhead. They often fly much closer than these but they pass-by so fast that it is hard to snap a photo and get anything but sky.

To read the previous posts in this series click here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Ascend

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 14, 2017

Flowers

When I was in Amritapuri in August, it seemed like there were fewer flowers than I have noticed during my December/January visits. I don’t know if that was due to the season or if it was because I’m more familiar with the flowers here than I used to be so they weren’t as likely to catch my eye.

The gardens in the main part of the ashram are mostly made of potted plants. It seems like the number of pots have grown significantly in the last few months. The grounds seem so lush now. On the 14th, my attention was drawn to the plants near Amrita Darshan, the building where my flat is located. Most of the flowers that had bloomed there were white. I have shared them at the beginning of my first three posts.

Ants

I was surprised by the number of ants in my room when I arrived. There were so  many I didn’t know what to do about it. Sreejit and Chaitanya had both been in my room during the last few days and there were no ants present at that time.  I guess they came to greet me and/or to provide me with my first challenge.

I’m usually pretty good at blocking trails of ants and in that way encouraging them to go back where they came from, but my regular techniques don’t work very well when there are hundreds of ants. I know that a crumb of food or a dead insect will draw them, so in addition to trying any solution I could think of, I worked to clean the room even though it already seemed clean. The ants have shown up from time to time since then, but never in large numbers. My non-violent interventions seem to be working.

As I was finishing this post, an ant ran across my hand. When I looked around, I saw a few others on my desk. Moments later, I saw what was probably drawing them. How nice of nature to provide me with an example of what I had just written about. I wish the video had come out clearer but it makes my point. (There was a group practicing Christmas music not far from my room so my video even has background music!)

Play practice

I attended play practices in the afternoon and evening of the 14th. During the afternoon practice, the cast were learning a scene where one  of the main characters in the play was having a vision of an event that occurred during Jesus’ life. I love to watch the process of a scene being taught for the first time. It amazes me how it begins to come to life with only an hour-and-a-half of practice. During the evening practice, the musicians and singers rehearsed one song. The harmony was SO beautiful.

Silent Retreat

I haven’t even seen many of my friends yet, because they are participating in a ten day silent retreat. I look forward to being able to talk to them on Sunday or Monday!

Amplified temple music

I remember in the early 90’s when I first came to the ashram, we could hear devotional music coming from a temple across the backwaters. The music was so loud that it sounded like it was being played on a boom box in my room. My memory is that during some parts of the year, the music started at 5 a.m. and then lasted until 2 a.m. the next day. My nerves felt frazzled by the constant noise. Over the years, the music continued but the volume lowered significantly and it no longer lasted all day or occurred after dark.

I’ve noticed the last few days that the music starts sometime after 5 a.m. and  goes until around 11:30 and then starts again for a short time in the early evening. It is loud but not nearly as loud as in the 90’s. In the early morning it is recorded music. At other times a man is singing with a child or a woman or a child is singing alone. As I write this, it is evening, and a group of children are singing. Everything but the early morning music seems like it is live. I think generations of children must have grown up participating in this daily ritual.

I only hear the music when I am  in my room. When I am walking on the ashram grounds I am more likely to hear music from our auditorium. So far this trip I have  enjoyed listening to the singers from the village temple. I’m glad I don’t live any closer to that temple though. The music must be really loud in the village, or maybe the temple has speakers scattered throughout the area.

In the early in the morning, the music is somewhat drowned out by the sound of birds waking up and leaving the trees where they roosted for the night.  I took the photo and video below from the window of my flat.

I also made an audio-recording of a man singing with one of the children. You can hear some hammering on the video as well. That sound was occurring in the ashram.

Amma’s Darshan

I entered the darshan line around 4 p.m. but it didn’t move for quite a while. During the wait many friends I hadn’t seen yet walked by. It was fun to talk to them briefly and made me aware how many people I know here. I also had the opportunity to talk a bit to the person sitting next to me. She had met Amma when she was five-years-old but hadn’t seen her since then. She is now an adult and decided to come see Amma in India.

Finally it was time for my darshan (hug). When I reached Amma, she looked at me with a smile in her eyes and a look of recognition and love. I went into her arms with appreciation for the many times I have been blessed with this experience during the last twenty-eight years.

 

To read the previous posts in this series click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 13, 2017

My plane landed in Trivandrum soon after 3:00 a.m. on the 13th. Before every visit, I look forward to the sweet smell of India. I always feel like bowing down and kissing the earth when I arrive, although I only do it in my mind. I am so thankful that in 1989 I discovered Amma, or maybe Amma found me. Regardless, through that experience, I found my “home in the universe” in Amma, and in India.

It seemed like it took a long time for me to get through immigration and collect my baggage, but by 4:00 a.m. I was in the taxi headed for the ashram. I shared the taxi with a young man from Chicago who recognized  me and told me he knew Sreejit and Chaitanya. And it turns out that he is going to be one of the singers in this year’s Amritapuri Christmas play!

I’m used to the drive to the ashram being wild, but this one was more so than normal. In India, the cars, taxis, trucks, and buses weave in and out as they pass rickshaws and each other at high speed, returning to their own lanes just before head-on impact. The drivers are incredibly skilled and have nerves of steel.

This time was different though, because two vehicles didn’t get back into their own lane at the appropriate time and our driver had to partially pull off the road to avoid a collision. There was also a small vehicle that tried to cross the road at a time when it was impossible. That driver stopped before we hit him but it was still a jolting experience. We arrived at the ashram in record speed and unscathed. I felt very graced.

By 5:30 a.m., we were pulling into the ashram grounds. I was home.

Since it was too early to go see my son and daughter, I went directly to my room and started unpacking. I own a flat at the ashram, which means I can store some of my belongings in my room in-between visits. At the end of my last visit, I gave the ashram flea market any items that I did not use regularly. I was able to store everything except my standing desk in two small trunks even before I gave things away, but now everything fits into two loosely packed trunks. (The top trunk is 2 feet long, 11 1/2 inches wide and 8 inches high.)

[Note: The arrangement between flat owners and the ashram is similar to a time share in that I can use the room whenever I’m at the ashram but it is rented out to other ashram visitors when I am gone.]

Having fewer belongings made it so much easier to set up the room. Also, when I came to India in August, I had a broken wrist. As I put things onto the shelves this time, I was aware of how much easier it was to accomplish tasks when I had both of my hands/arms available to me.

Chaitanya lives in the same building as I do. By 6:30 a.m., I couldn’t wait any longer so went upstairs to see her. I don’t have as easy access to Sreejit so had to wait to see him until 8:00 a.m. when he was in the kitchen starting lunch preparation. It was, and is, so nice to be with them again. I am truly blessed.

After spending time with my kids, and having breakfast, I went back to move-in activities. This was the first time that I have been able to use the SIM card from my previous visit. (You have to use pay for minutes monthly and If you are gone for more than 3 months you have to purchase a new SIM card.) Since I had been out of the country less than 3 months, I was able to activate the phone within a few hours of my arrival. During my last trip, I had discovered that using my iPhone’s Personal Hotspot gave faster internet speed than the internet wi-fi thumb drives I usually use, so within hours of my arrival I had access to both my phone and the internet. Generally, it has taken 3-5 days or more for everything to be up and running.

[Note: As I write this, I am remembering my first trip to the ashram in January 1990. At that point, I had to take a rickshaw to Oachira to use a phone. It was a red phone and was located in the middle of an alley. A group of people gathered around me as I made the call. Now everyone has a cell phone and internet cafes are abundant.]

The phone plan I purchased was even better than the phenomenal one I signed up for in August-September. At that time the plan included a SIM card and 1 GB of data a day for 84 days. The cost: 450 rupees ($7.03). This time, the cost was 348 rupees ($5.43). For that fee, I will receive free phone calls in India and 2 GB data a day for 28 days!  (As always, I am aware of how inflated prices must be in the United States; the cost of purchasing medication here being the other obvious example.)

In the evening, I watched my first play practice. The cast were rehearsing one of the dances and it was fantastic. I will not be sharing much about the content of the play until after it is performed on Christmas Eve, but I will say the dance was electric and I loved it!

Wednesday, the day of my arrival, was a darshan day. (For those of you who don’t know, Amma’s form of blessing is to give a hug to each person who comes to her. At this point, she has hugged more than 37 million people world-wide.) When I asked for a darshan token, the person handing them out asked me if I would mind waiting until the next day. That was perfectly fine with me. It would give me more time to anticipate the experience of once again being in Amma’s loving arms.

The Beginning: Fall 2017 Trip to Amritapuri, India

I traveled to Amritapuri for five weeks this past August and September so that I could participate in three festivals, Ganesh Chaturi, Krishna Jayanthi and Onam. I hadn’t attended the festivals since 2005 because it didn’t feel right to leave my therapy groups so soon after having missed them for parts of Amma’s Summer North American tour. I had retired the end of May, though, so I now had the freedom to travel at any time of year.

Another major reason I have chosen to go to Amritapuri the end of November each year, instead of August, is because I love to be in Amritapuri prior to and during the annual Christmas play. My daughter Chaitanya writes and co-directs these Broadway style musicals and my son Sreejit and his friends write the tunes for most of the songs and work with the musicians and singers. I love to watch the script come to life and become so much more than words on a page.

While being at the ashram for the play is of major importance to me, I did not consider it an option to come to India twice. The 24-hour trip, along with a 13 1/2 hour time difference, is very hard on my body and the thought of facing jet lag, within months of having recovered from it, was most uninviting. I did not plan to return for the play this year.

I love the joke- Question: “Do you know how to make God laugh?” Answer: “Tell him your plans for your life.” This was certainly one of those experiences. I knew even before I left India in September that I would probably come back in December.

About a week before the end of my last trip, my son and daughter let me know they wanted me to return for the play. I knew that was true and I wanted to be there too, but that wasn’t enough to get me to change my mind. I gave them plenty of rationalizations for my choice.

The next morning, I woke up to find an email from a neighbor in my inbox. She told me that her landlady had informed her that her granddaughter was going to move into the house and that she would need to find another place to live by the beginning of October. Another neighbor had said that I used to have roomers, so she wanted to know if I would consider letting her rent from me.

It has been a long time since I’ve had a roommate, but I have been considering the possibility of doing that for awhile. That fact, combined with the synchronicity of the request, i.e. coming the morning after I’d had the interaction with my children, did not escape me. This development would certainly take care of my money excuse.

During that day, it also occurred to me that the person who normally house-sits for me when I’m in India was going to be in India himself this year, so having her as a roommate would solve that problem. And the third synchronicity was that only days before, I had published a post on this blog saying that I knew I needed to become more inter-dependent and less overly-independent. I decided I was willing to consider the possibility  of having her as a roommate, and I was also willing to consider returning to India for the play.

Skipping forward to December 11, I have had a roommate for almost three months. That was a remarkably easy transition for both of us, and I was on my way back to India, still dreading the flights and the jet lag but looking forward to being with Amma, Sreejit, Chaitanya, my Amritapuri friends, watching the play practices and the performance, and experiencing all that I will experience on this visit.

A Different Experience, A Different Feeling

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.

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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.

The Red Rose

This morning, I worked in the Greenbelt for a short time. At one point, I was standing about fifteen feet from the Hanford stairs, which are on the north end of the property. As I glanced towards the stairs, I saw a homeless man whom I haven’t talked to for a year or two. I believe he lives with a few friends in a different part of the Greenbelt, about six blocks from where I was standing.

I used to do a lot of litter pick up in this area and I had talked with him numerous times when he and his friends were hanging out on the stairs. They used to point out places where I could find cans to pick up and sometimes they even saved some for me.

Today, we saw and acknowledged each other at the same time. He started to talk to me but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. He gestured to the planting areas and I told him that we were working to make the land a forest again.

After I answered his question, he handed me a red rose. I was so surprised and had no idea where it came from. It was as if the rose materialized out of thin air. Without a word, he continued walking up  the stairs. What a beautiful way it was to start my day.

Practice in Letting Go

This past summer, during Amma’s Chicago programs, ideas for how to design one of the planting areas in our Seattle forest restoration site started coming into my mind. The next day, I walked to the children’s program room, borrowed colored pencils and graph paper, and drew that design.

When I returned to Seattle, I transferred the design onto the ground as best as I could. It took hours and hours to accomplish that task as I was trying to lay it out perfectly. When I finally finished, I started laughing at myself. It had taken me that long to create placement for 12 plants. We had ordered more than 300 shrubs and ground covers. Clearly, that was not how I was going to maketo make planting plans for the whole site.

I enjoyed having “my area” though and dreamed of what it would look like in the future. This fall, I started noticing  how often branches from nearby trees fell into “my area”.  I also noticed that I was only seeing them in “my area”.

A few weeks ago we had a wind storm. In the photo below you can see some of the branches I took out of “my area” after the storm.

On November 15, we had the big planting work party. It was wonderful to finally have the native plants in “my area”. I day-dreamed about what the area would look like in the Spring.

Then I had a horrifying thought: “Those falling branches could kill ‘my plants’!” I’ve been resisting the apparent fact that in forestry 50% of what we plant may not survive. In fact, I haven’t dealt with it at all because I believe “our” plants will be different. And I hadn’t even considered the possibility that any of the plants in “my area” would die.”

At that point, I took a good look at the terrain surrounding “my area”.

The trees are really tall, they are old, and “my area” is closest to them.

As I reflected on this situation, I had many thoughts.

  • These plants, and all of the plants in the restoration site, are not “mine,” they belong to Mother Nature. I can be an instrument and do my best to take care of them, but what lives and what dies is not in my hands.
  • I knew that we would likely lose some plants in the summer since we now have long stretches with no rain, but it hadn’t occurred to me before that some plants are likely to die during the winter.
  • I remembered the Tibetan monks who spend many hours making a sand mandala and then ritualistically take it apart as a way of acknowledging that life is transient, in a constant state of flux.
  • While I will not purposely dismantle the area I have been thinking of it as “my area”, I am clearly getting an opportunity to let go and surrender. My job is to put in the effort and let go of the results.
  • It is time for me to stop thinking about that area as “my area”. I am an instrument, I am not an owner. That area is no more important than any other area.

As I was writing this post, I thought about the title that the Green Seattle Partnership gave those of us whom they trained to lead forest restoration work parties. We are called Forest Stewards. I decided to look up steward to see exactly what the word means. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines steward as “a person hired to perform household or personal services.” It gives these words as synonyms: “domestic, flunky, lackey, menial, retainer, slavey, servant”.  That’s it. I am not an owner, I am a servant of the forest.

I am a Forest Steward.