Weekly Photo Challenge: Waiting

There have been very few geckos in my room (in India) this year. I have missed them. The ones I have seen have been very small, about a third of the size of the ones I see in December. Maybe this is the time of year they are born.

A few days ago, when I was lounging on my bed, I looked up and saw a baby gecko. It was less than two inches from its head to the bottom of its tail. My photo didn’t turn out very clear so I decided to share it using a PicMonkey effect called Edge. That effect allows only the outline of the object being photographed to be visible. Do you see the outline of the little gecko? I really like how the photo turned out.

The gecko was located just below the place where the ceiling meets the wall. I watched it for some time. I was struck by how long it stayed in one place. I knew geckos eat insects so I decided it was waiting for one to come near. The only insects I’ve seen in the room are mosquitoes so it was probably waiting to eat one of those. The gecko was more patient than I was, so in time I stopped waiting for it to move and left the room.

When I returned an hour later, the gecko was in the same part of the room, but it had turned the other direction; it was facing south instead of north. The gecko continued to wait. I continued to watch it periodically. I didn’t have the patience to be waiting quietly to see what happened next.

About an hour later, I noticed the gecko start to walk down the wall. My half-hearted attempt at waiting was over! I decided I would video the gecko’s descent. The problem was, I had to get closer to do that. And when I moved in, the gecko stopped. It looked like it was watching me, waiting for me to go away. I waited for some time but once again, the gecko had more patience than I did. Eventually, I stopped waiting for the opportunity to take a video and took a still photo instead. I decided to use the PicMonkey Frost effect on this one.

I could learn a lot about patience from a gecko, if I was willing to wait long enough to learn it! But I guess that is a learning in and of itself.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Waiting

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Daily Prompt: Grit

Twelve days ago, I fell doing Greenbelt restoration work. I fell hard. The result: bruised ribs. When I first read today’s Daily Prompt: Grit, I took grit to mean the quality of doing whatever it takes to accomplish a goal, not letting any roadblock stand in the way. When I looked up the word in Wikipedia, I found this definition:

Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or end state, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective. This perseverance of effort promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie within a gritty individual’s path to accomplishment, and serves as a driving force in achievement realization.

Since I fell, the amount of time I work in the Greenbelt has reduced dramatically, and what I do there has shifted. I may slowly place a few burlap bags over a cleared area; spend time laying out a design for a cluster of trees, shrubs and ground covers that will be planted the end of October; or I may wander around looking at the squirrels, birds and the occasional butterfly. Thankfully, I can still use my organizational abilities to lead work parties so the work is advancing; it just isn’t me holding the shovel.

Yesterday, I read that it takes bruised ribs 4-12 weeks to heal, and that the older you are, the longer it may take. I can tell that I am getting better. There is evidence of that daily. Healing just isn’t occurring on my preferred time table.

While I am frustrated by not being able to do what I want to do, when I want to do it, I know that I am being given lessons in patience and accepting what is. It doesn’t mean I have to stop advancing towards my goal, but it does mean that I can’t do the level of physical labor that I want to be doing. It is important for me to realize that developing patience and learning to accept what is are also lessons in my life’s curriculum and that those qualities are as important as grit in achieving my life goals.

I have grit, and I am learning behaviors that will support that grit.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 31, 2016- January 1, 2017

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Choices Have Consequences

On New Year’s Eve, I decided to go to bed just before midnight rather than stay up for the end of the Amritapuri, New Year’s celebrations. When I heard the next day about the things I had missed because of that decision, I felt a bit sad.

The entertainment continued for a while after I went to my room. When it was finished, a video of Amma’s Christmas message was shown. The translation of her talk was projected onto many different screens. I know it was shown in English, French, German, Russian, and Malayalam. There may have been other languages as well. If you would like to see a transcript of Amma’s talk, you can find it here.

By the time the entertainment program and the talk were done, Amma had finished giving darshan. (Darshan lasted until 1:00 a.m. That meant she had given hugs for 14 hours with only a ten-minute break.)  Amma then led a meditation and sang three songs. I know two of them were favorites of mine; I haven’t heard what the third one was.

The name of the first song starts with Kushiyom. Amma introduced it a few days before the 2004 tsunami. The song ends with the Lokah Samastha peace chant. I couldn’t find a recording of the whole bhajan, but I did find one of Amma singing the Lokah Samastha part. The video was recorded days after the tsunami hit the village where the ashram is located. It was a time of so much destruction and grief.

The last song Amma sang is the bhajan I find to be the most celebratory of all of them, Mata Rani. This video is a favorite of mine.

Amma returned to her room at 2 a.m. Sweet pudding was distributed to the devotees afterwards. If I had stayed for the entire program, I wouldn’t have gone to bed before 2:30 or 3:00 a.m.

While I felt sad, particularly about having missed those two songs, I knew I had made the right choice. I had been so tired that night and was also feeling very chilled. I had gone to my room to get a long sleeve shirt earlier in the evening and, as weird as it may sound, I also wrapped myself in a double layer fleece blanket.

While it was a bit windy and the fans in the auditorium were blowing, I could tell the the temperature didn’t justify the level of cold that I was feeling. I had the same experience before I got sick last week and also one week here last year.

I fell asleep the moment I laid down and didn’t even hear the sound of the loud firecrackers from the village across the backwaters.

So yes, choices have consequences. In this case I felt sad about what I missed, but when I woke up on Sunday morning, I was awake and healthy, and able to enjoy New Years Day. I was very glad I had chosen to sleep.

So many lessons

Since I knew I would be missing time with Amma by going to bed early on New Year’s Eve, I made sure I had time with her during the day.

Several years ago, Amma created a plan that gave all of the Western visitors and residents the opportunity to sit on the stage with her for 30 minutes on each darshan day. (The Indian residents have a similar opportunity but I don’t know much about their structure.)

Soon after I arrived in Amritapuri on this visit, Amma changed the length of the sitting shift to 45 minutes.  On New Years Eve, I made sitting on the stage a priority. I didn’t think I could sit cross-legged for 45 minutes and was prepared to leave early, but I ended up staying for the whole time!

Later in the day, I joined the prasad line. As I went through that process, it occurred to me I have mentioned in past posts that the prasad-giver hands Amma the candy and ash that she gives to each person who comes to her for a hug, but I haven’t said anything about what that experience is like, other than I love doing it.

It took two hours for me to make it to the front of the line. Once there, I began handing Amma the prasad. We give her a group of three packets at a time, each containing ash and a piece of candy. It is essential that we keep our eyes focused only on Amma’s hand at all times, because if we start watching her, we would be very likely to miss the cue that she is ready to receive more packets from us.

When Amma is ready for the packets, she opens her hand a certain way. Sometimes, she may want even more of them. In  that case she opens her hand a little wider and we give her three more, i.e. six packets in total. Occasionally, Amma’s hand is an easy reach and sometimes it is further away.

The process is further complicated by the fact that Amma often moves her hands when she talks with people, so you may think it is time to hand her the packets when in fact she is just gesturing to make a point. She may also reach to a nearby plate to pick up extra candy, a banana, an extra ash packet or a variety of other things.

This time, there were a few other factors to take into account. Whenever Amma is on stage there are many people around her. The prasad-givers have some designated space but it is small. When I was next to Amma, there was a boy around 10 years old who came to her crying. She held and talked to him a bit and then asked him to sit behind her. He took half of the space of the person who times the prasad-givers’ two minute shifts. When the timer moved to make room for him, she had no choice but to take part of my limited space!

Then, a woman in a white sari stood over me talking with Amma. The end of her sari flapped in front of me. That meant I couldn’t even see Amma’s hand. So I was trying to hold the woman’s sari away from me, ducking low to get some kind of view of Amma’s hand, and attempting to get the packets into her hand in the correct way and at the correct time. (Sometimes I think Amma is setting all of this up to play with me!)

When my two minutes were up, the timer tapped me. It is always hard to exit quickly so the next person can get into place before Amma wants more prasad. Once I get out of that person’s way I have to navigate around a fan and a whole lot of people who are sitting on the stage, without stepping on someone. I left laughing at the leelas and celebrating that I had been able to stay focused throughout all of these challenges.

I believe everything happens for a reason and that we can learn from every experience. In the two hours I was in line, and in the two minutes I had handed Amma prasad, I could see that I had been given lessons in patience, focus, flexibility, letting go, equanimity and no doubt many other things. Amma teaches us through her every action.

 

To see all of the posts in this Amritapuri series, click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 23-25, 2016

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Be Like a Bird Perched on a Dry Twig

I’ve mentioned before that Amma teaches us to be like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at any moment. That lesson has been front and center for the play cast during the last three years.

Five or six years ago, when the play was on a darshan day, Amma said to hold it on the auditorium floor since she would be using the main stage for darshan. The participants built a small stage for the performance.

In December of 2014, Christmas Eve was again on a darshan day. Since the cast believed the play would be on the auditorium floor again, they were very creative in how they built the stage. It had three levels so that three scenes could take place at once.

Amma is asked where she wants to hold the play 3-5 days before the event. In 2014, they were shocked when she said that she wanted them to perform it on the main stage. She would finish darshan early, and watch it with us. While everyone was delighted that Amma wanted to watch, they only had 72 hours to adjust all the backdrops and choreography to fit on the smaller stage.

In 2015, the play was once again on a darshan day. While they knew they couldn’t count on it, they planned for the play to be on the main stage since Amma had wanted it that way the previous year. Days before the performance, she told them they would need to use the auditorium floor since she would be giving darshan on the stage. Everyone flew into action, building a stage for the auditorium floor and adjusting everything that needed to be adjusted. That year they just took it in stride, seeing it as the opportunity for growth that it was meant to be.

The December 2016 play would normally have been on a non-darshan day but,  since it was a Leap Year, it ended up being on a Saturday, another darshan day. This time the play was planned so it would fit on either the stage or the auditorium floor. The leaders kept in mind that Amma could come up with an unexpected third alternative and that is exactly what she did. When asked where the play should be held, Amma informed them she would let them know on the day of the program.

While they were jolted by this response, they went on preparing the play, envisioning it in both places. The day before the event, thinking Amma, because of the size of the crowd, would most likely choose to hold the play on the auditorium floor, they installed the lighting and the backdrop. The gigantic backdrop was rolled and hoisted 30-40 feet above the auditorium floor.

On Christmas Eve morning, Amma was asked once again where she wanted the performance. She said she would decide later in the day. They still didn’t have a definitive answer at 6:00 p.m.

It soon became obvious that Amma wanted to see the play with us, so the backdrop and the lights were taken down around 7 p.m. I heard that it took 30 people to remove the huge structure of lights and carry it to the main stage. Both items were then reinstalled on the stage, while Amma was giving darshan.

Soon the cast were in their make up and  costumes. All the props were ready to be put on the stage. Nothing else could be done until Amma finished darshan and the stage was cleared.

Darshan was over at 10:30 p.m. It usually takes hours to do the play set-up but they accomplished it all in an hour; the play started at 11:30 p.m. and proceeded without a hitch. The music was wonderful, the acting was wonderful and the dancing was wonderful. Never has one of their plays gone so smoothly.

The cast had handled all of the challenges with such grace, knowing that everything they experienced had purpose. What a lesson it had been in flexibility, persistence, patience, non-attachment, equanimity, and being like the bird perched on a dry twig.

I will write more about the play in a future post, but for now I will share some pictures I found on Amma’s Facebook page today. They will give you an idea of the quality of the costumes and backdrops and even glimpses of the acting.

The story was about Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, with the emphasis being on the loving father. The first photo is of the father, the second Jesus, the third of one of the piggies, the fourth is a village scene and the fifth is of the prodigal son in despair.

After the play, Amma sang some songs and led a meditation. The photo below was taking after we sang a very rousing bhajan. She often ends those kind of songs by saying “Mata Rani Ki Jai” (Victory to the Goddess/Divine Mother) over and over and we respond “Jai” (Victory) each time with arms up. That is what you are seeing in this photo.

If you look closely you can see Amma. (The picture also shows you what the auditorium looks like and gives you a sense of how many people were present.)

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Amma ended the evening by passing out Christmas cake to the thousands of people who were present. What a day it had been.

Prasad Giving

When I arrived at the head of the prasad giving line on Christmas Eve, Amma started hugging people faster. Our “shift” for handing Amma the candy and ash she gives to each person who comes to her for a hug lasts either two or three minutes. Usually the prasad giver only has the opportunity to hand her a few packets. Because she was going fast at that moment, I was able to give her many packets. I had a lot of fun.

I handed Amma prasad again on Christmas day. This time when I reached her, the person who was being hugged asked Amma a question. Amma had lots to say so I was able watch. I didn’t get an opportunity to hand her packets during my time, but I didn’t care. It was nice to be so close to her and after all, I had handed Amma so many packets the day before.

Karunalaye Devi

When I left the stage where Amma was sitting, one of the brahmacharis (male monks) started singing Karunalaye Devi, a song I mentioned in a previous post. Hearing it again felt like a gift.

When I returned to my room, I looked to see if the song was available on YouTube. I was surprised to discover that Amma has a YouTube channel that contains videos of many of her songs.

A version of Karunalaye Devi had recently been uploaded. The singing takes place in the Amritapuri auditorium, but there are also darshan scenes from  her Indian tours. The man in the photo below is Swami Amritasvarupananda, one of Amma’s senior swamis.

Christmas Surprise

The afternoon of Christmas Day, I participated in the play cast celebration. It is always so much fun, and, considering all the challenges, they had even more than normal to celebrate about. At the end of the party, we heard that Amma had said any ashram visitor who hadn’t had darshan during the previous week could come for darshan that night. Since the crowds are so large at this time of year, we hadn’t even considered going until January.

It made for another late night, but it was so worth it. What a wonderful Christmas season it has been.

To see all of the posts in this Amritapuri series, click here.

Be Like a Bird Perched on a Dry Twig

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Amma tells us to be like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice. That doesn’t mean that we should live from a fear based hyper-vigilance but rather we need to learn to live consciously, adapting to each change that comes our way.

Amma gives us a plenty of opportunities to learn that lesson, some directly, and some indirectly. I am going to share two recent experiences that were, in my mind, chances to practice that teaching.

Giving Prasad

In an earlier post, I mentioned that we are able to hand Amma the prasad that she gives each person who comes to her for a hug. For as long as I can remember, the type of prasad she has given in India has been a piece of hard candy wrapped in a packet of sacred ash. We have handed her those packets three at a time.

When I received the instructions for giving prasad on Wednesday, I was told we would be giving Amma chocolate Hershey’s kisses wrapped in an ash packet instead of the hard candy packets. Those would be given to her two at a time since the Hershey’s kisses are so much bigger than the hard candies.

When I joined the prasad line on Thursday, I was told that we would be alternating what we would give Amma. The first time we handed her prasad, we would give her three packets with the hard candy and ash. The next time, we would give her two packets with the Hershey’s kisses and ash.

When I reached Amma, however, I discovered that the devotees were handing her two packets, one with a Hershey’s kiss and ash, and one with the hard candy and ash. Amma had changed the instructions yet again!

I laughed at the leela. I laughed even more when I received my own hug that night and Amma handed me a flower petal and a Hershey’s kiss. That is the type of prasad we receive during the North American tour, but to my knowledge it has never been the custom in Amritapuri.

To me, this was a good example of being the bird perched on the dry twig. We had to be ready for the type of prasad to change at any moment and adjust accordingly.

Tai Chi

The second example occurred during my Tai Chi class. Soon after I arrived at the ashram this year, I visited the beach area we had used for the class last year. I found it full of construction debris. A few days later, it had been cleaned up so it seemed like we would be able to meet there after all.

Even in the best of times, the class is interrupted by an occasional truck, bicycle, or bus that wants to go through that area. Today was one of those days when so much came our way that it got funny. It was another darshan day, but this time the crowd was huge. When we arrived for the class, there were already two parked buses in the area. They bordered the space we were planning to use. Once the class started, two more buses drove onto the grounds and parked nearby.

About half way through the class, a truck with some construction supplies tried to go through our area to the building beyond. There was no room for them to do that, because of the parked buses, so the driver just parked in the space we were using and started carrying the supplies to the construction area. Clearly, we had no priority.

There are two other areas on the beach that could potentially work, but there seems to be a new routine at the ashram. When the ashram cows are walked in the morning, they are taken to the beach and tied to trees, where they “hang out” for hours.  Today there were eight cows in that area of the beach.

What could we do? We would have to hold our class a few feet from the cows.  So we did just that. And I loved it!

When we become like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moments notice, we are able to adapt what comes our way. Each challenge is an opportunity to practice detachment, surrender, equanimity, patience, persistence and flexibility.

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

Watch, Wait, and Wonder

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Photo Credit: Steve Shattuck

Some of you may remember that towards the end of last month, a swarm of tiny black ants formed on the sidewalk in front of my garden.  I, of course, didn’t know how many there were but in my shock it looked like millions! I didn’t want to kill them but I also didn’t want that many ants, and potentially more, in my garden. I also didn’t want anyone to accidentally stand in them. After pondering the dilemma for a short time, I decided to wash them away with water from a hose. That solution worked and the ants never came back.

When I wrote about that event in Discrimination Opportunity, a blogging friend responded that he understood black ants to be harmless.  In pondering his words, I realized that I had moved to action very quickly.  I had been stung by red ants in the past after I unwittingly stood on or near their hills. Even one bite from a red ant can be very painful, and being bit by a large number of them is something I will never forget. Did that memory cause me to act too fast?

As I continued to reflect on my action, I realized that a child would be terrified if that many ants were crawling on them, even if they weren’t being stung.  I concluded that my washing the ants away was a reasonable response, but I wasn’t sure that I was right.

Prior to that event, I had seen a few big black ants in my living room.  After the incident with the tiny ants in the garden, more of those big ants showed up, both inside and outside of the house.  Two ant events in a short period of time made me wonder what was going on.

When I become conscious of an animal, bird or other living being repetitively showing up in my life, I sometimes look to see what that creature symbolizes in Native American traditions.  I googled “native american medicine ant” and found Dr. Loretta Standley’s website.  She says this about ant medicine:

When Ant Medicine grabs your attention it is asking you to cooperate with your tribe (co-workers, family, projects, etc.,) in unity and patience. Ants are resolute and unwearied little creatures. Although they are tiny, they are indeed mighty. They have a strong skeleton on the “outside” of their body (exoskeleton) with specialized muscles that give them their strength. Ants can carry 30 times their weight, which would be equal to a 150 lb. person carrying a bulldozer on their back at 19,500 lbs.

The typical way to stop ant medicine is to literally stomp on it or fumigate it. If an ant is stomped on, it will emit pheromones that will draw more ants to the area. In short, ant medicine is unstoppable, tireless, patient and unified.

Ant’s message is about working non-stop toward your goals and forging ahead for the Good of the whole. Are you working on a project that benefits a larger audience? Have you been ignoring your tribe? Ant medicine cooperates with the tribe in harmony and wisdom toward a common goal, knowing that patience will be rewarded. Have you been cooperating with yourself on your own personal projects?

I was intrigued. Just the day before, I had met with two colleagues to clear up some long standing issues between us and was going to do the same with another friend the next day.  I thought the “ant medicine” perspective was valuable and would ponder the questions Dr. Standley put forth.  Now that I had this information would the ants go away?

Nope!  If anything, the number of ants increased.  I did more research and discovered the ants were carpenter ants.  Everything I read indicated that I would probably have to call a professional pest control company to keep them from damaging my house.  While there were still not that many ants, over the next few days their numbers continued to increase.  Their favorite location seemed to be on my front porch.

I decided to take the time to observe them and see where they came from, where they were going and what they were doing.  As I watched, I noticed that there were some small holes, or perhaps just indentations, in the caulking near the front door.  The ants went to those holes over and over again.  Even though the ants never went inside of them, it seemed like the holes were getting bigger.  Maybe the ants were breaking down the caulking.  They also went to a place next to the bottom corners of the door where some wires, probably old wires from broadband television hook ups, were located.

The following day there were even more ants on the porch.  Anytime I left the door open even for a minute, the ants tried to get into the house.  I decided I couldn’t continue doing this so called pest control.  I made an appointment for them to do an assessment the following week.

I remembered hearing that spreading cinnamon powder could repel ants.  It hadn’t worked very well in India when I tried it there, but I didn’t want to kill these ants unless it was absolutely necessary, so I spread some cinnamon in front of the door and in the areas where the wires were located.  The number of ants decreased immediately but some still made their way through the cinnamon.

The next morning, I looked outside to see what was happening.  There were three dead ants on the porch.  Two were by themselves; the third was being pulled away by a live ant.  The dead ant had a little different coloring than the rest of the ants. When I had looked up carpenter ants on the internet, I had noticed that the queen ant had different coloring than the workers so I wondered if the one being pulled away was a queen. I questioned whether a queen would be on the porch with a worker, but it seemed like a possible explanation as to why the black ant was trying to carry her away.

The live ant spent the whole day trying to drag the dead one from the porch.  He seemed disoriented so I believed that he was probably also under the influence of the cinnamon.

I had thought the cinnamon would repel the ants, not kill them.  My heart felt heavy as I watched his efforts.  As I felt my feelings, I was struck by how much I have changed.  I was raised in an era when we killed bugs, flies, spiders, and beetles, with swatters and insect spray, and here I was mourning the death of three ants and feeling compassion for the one who was taking such care to move the dead one.

I watched that process throughout the day, and noticed that no other ants ever came onto the porch.  It has been almost two weeks since all of this happened and I have only seen two or three carpenter ants in or outside of my house during that time. They appear to be gone.

But my story doesn’t end there.  There are two more related events!

During one of the psychotherapy groups I led the first week in June, an ant walked through the room. One of my clients immediately smashed it.  As I thought about his action during the following week, I realized it was a good teaching opportunity.  In the next group, I asked him if I could do a regression piece with him (a role play where he acted as if he was an eight year old and I was a healthy parent).  He said yes so I talked to his eight year old about ants and what he thought should happen to them if they were in the house. We also talked about spiders. After we discussed his belief that they should be killed, I asked if he wanted to try something different.  He was interested.  I offered him the opportunity to be in charge of catching and releasing all bugs, spiders, and ants that might wander into the group room.  He liked that idea and accepted the challenge.  This past week an ant came into the room and he had his first experience of catching an ant and taking it outside!

The second incident occurred yesterday, the day I started writing this post. That morning, a friend phoned and said she wanted to talk to me about the morality of killing carpenter ants!  Her situation was very different than mine in that there were a huge number of ants involved, but the timing amazed me. How interconnected we all are as we learn what we need to learn on our life journeys.

Am I done with the ant lesson?  I don’t know; only time will tell. What I do know is that I have gained much from these occurrences. I see that I had an opportunity to:

  • Be thoughtful before taking an action that effects one of Mother Nature’s creatures.
  • Feel compassion for a creature as small as an ant.
  • Consider ways of thinking that are outside my normal experience, e.g. the Native American perspective.
  • Hear feedback and reflect on it.
  • Not criticize myself when I took action not knowing for sure what was right.
  • Learn from a previous experience, e.g. the ant swarm event prepared me for the carpenter ants
  • Share my experience with others, e.g. talking with my friend and to those who read this post.
  • Teach a new way to respect nature to a regressed 8 year old.
  • Be reminded that if I take my time, the answers will come.
  • See how all beings are interconnected.
  • Reflect on how much my attitudes towards live creatures have changed throughout my lifetime.

I feel very grateful for all I have experienced and learned as the result of this ant “lesson.”