Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: January 3, 2018

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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.

January 2017

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.

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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.

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Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 20-January 2, 2017

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.

Temple Music

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.

Equanimity

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.

Notes:

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.

Christmas play

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.

Seva

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.

Rudraksha seeds

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.

Funeral

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.

Synchronicity

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.

An Evening Surprise

Yesterday was the first day since I’ve been here that I didn’t take a nap. As I walked back to my room around 9:30 p.m. I noticed something on the wall ahead of me. I had no idea what it was so walked closer to it. In that moment, it flew off, drawn by a nearby light. I realized it was a gigantic moth. It must have had a four inch wing span, or at least that was what it seemed like in the short time I had to observe it. I walked away so I could look at it from a distance. In a minute or so, the moth flew back to the wall. I walked back to take a photo of it.

While I’m curious, I hope to never meet one of these again. I suppose this is one of those situations that I should learn to accept with equanimity but I’m not there!

To read the previous posts in this series click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 15-19, 2017

Sick or jet lag or both?

On my second day in Amritapuri, I developed a sore throat and the beginnings of a cold. I was concerned that I was getting sick but that wasn’t the case. I think it was due to a combination of jet lag and natural adjustment to being in a place that is 13 1/2 hours ahead of Seattle, with a different schedule, different climate, different water, different food and all the other differences. I slept a lot the next few days but am beginning to come out of it. I also had an acupuncture appointment on Monday and have felt considerably better since then.

Construction or lack thereof

On my third day, I noticed that something was missing. In all the years I have been coming to Amritapuri, the sound of construction has been constant. There were times in my early years when it lasted all night, although that hasn’t happened for decades.

When I was in Amritapuri in August, it seemed like there was more building construction going on than ever before. What was missing this time was that I hadn’t heard anything but a few minutes of hammering since I had arrived. No sound of rebar being cut. No cement mixer operating. No welding sparks. No construction sites to walk around or through.

I imagine there are probably new buildings going up not far from here but inside the main part of the ashram, the only type of construction I’ve seen so far is decorative, and that is a quiet process. Amazing!

Amma’s Birthday Tree Planting Project

This year the Pacific Northwest devotees planted trees as a birthday gift for Amma. We had planned to plant 64 trees since Amma was turning 64, but ended up planting 309! We devoted the December PNW GreenFriends newsletter to the project. Prior to my trip, I had a copy of the newsletter turned into a booklet. There are 12 devotees who participated in the project in Amritapuri right now. Some of us plan to give Amma the booklet on Thursday the 21st. If you would like to look at the stories and photos in that newsletter click here.

Play practice

Amma and the tour staff didn’t come back from the Europe tour until December 8th. The script and the music for the play had been completed prior to then but by the time everyone had returned to the ashram, there were only two weeks left to gather a cast and for the actors, musicians, dancers, and singers to learn their parts. Also the costumes, backdrops, props, power point slides that show the words in English and the Malayalam, and the sound and lighting plans had to be created. Everything has to happen so fast; it is always like watching a miracle unfold. The performance will take place on Christmas Eve.

I’ve continued going to at least one of the play practices each day. Prior to Tuesday, the cast was rehearsing individual scenes. On Tuesday, they practiced all of Act 1 for the first time.  I had seen the adult parts of that Act before but I’d never seen the children’s scenes. I was amazed by their performance.

Saraswati Garden

For part of the time that I was in Amritapuri last December and January, I worked at Saraswati Garden. On the 18th, I decided to visit the garden. As I came close to the entrance, I passed a  line of banana palms that I have photographed on my last three trips to the ashram.

December 2016:

August 2017:

December 2017:

I knew that banana palms last only one season, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when I walked through the palms this time. The main palm in these photos was at least 15 feet tall and approaching the end of its life cycle.

(Click on any of the galleries below to enlarge the photos.)

After passing the palms, I entered the garden. One of the first things I saw was a very unusual butterfly. I used a cropped version and three different camera effects in a mostly unsuccessful attempt to give you a better view of it. I looked up both Kerala butterflies and moths on the internet but didn’t see any that resembled this one.

(The photo from the top of this post is also from Saraswati Garden, as is the Wordless Wednesday post I put up earlier today.)

Prasad giving and prasad door monitor

One of my favorite activities when I am with Amma is to hand her prasad, the packets of sacred ash wrapped around a piece of candy that she gives to each person who comes to her for a hug. I wasn’t able to do that when I came here in August because I had broken my wrist in July. I felt sad about that loss but was pleased when I was asked to be one of the people to help facilitate the prasad line.

Each prasad giver hands Amma prasad for 3 minutes so it takes a lot of people to keep the line going for the 12 or more hours that Amma gives hugs in a day. The line starts in the auditorium as only six prasad givers are on the stage at a time. My job was to call people from the auditorium line every three minutes so the onstage line stayed full. In addition, I had to train anyone who hadn’t done it before. And, if there were not enough people in the auditorium line, I had to find people to join the line. Managing all of these tasks was challenging and I dealt with feeling incompetent. I felt relieved when, just before I flew back to Seattle, one of my supervisors said they all liked working with me and hoped I would join them again when I returned.

Soon after I arrived at the ashram on the 13th, I was asked if I was willing to be scheduled for the position. I certainly was. I was given a shift on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I missed the first one because I was feeling sick, but very much looked forward to serving in that way.

Not only can I help with the prasad line this time, but now that my splint is gone and my wrist is working I’m also able to hand Amma prasad myself. I did that on my second morning at the ashram. As is usual for me,  I had the sense of “home” “home” “home” going through my mind and body as I handed each packet to her.

 

To read the previous posts in this series click here.

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.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: September 12, 2017

When I planned my trip to Amritapuri this year, I made a priority of being there during Krishna Jayanthi, the day Krishna’s birth is celebrated each year. In my early days with Amma, I found myself crying deeply whenever I sang or listened to some bhajans (devotional songs). When I checked out those bhajans later, I discovered that almost all of them were Krishna songs. I didn’t know anything about Krishna from my conscious mind, but clearly some part of me did.

I have been at Amritapuri on Krishna Jayanthi twice before. An important part of the celebration is a procession that goes from the ashram to a nearby Krishna temple. The group sings all the way to the temple. When I participated in that procession in 2003, I was in bliss the whole time. The second time I was at the ashram on Krishna Jayanthi, my back went out just prior to the celebration and I wasn’t able to walk in the procession.

This year, for me, Krishna’s birthday was a time of bliss, a time of sadness, and a time of challenges. Prior to booking my trip, I had done an internet search for the 2017 date of Krishna Jayanthi in Kerala. August 14 was the date that came up. I booked my trip for August 9 so that I would have time to get over some of the jet lag before the big day. Continue reading “Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: September 12, 2017”

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”

The Wonders of Nature

Sreejit’s direction for this week’s Dungeon Prompt is to “pick a quote from a famous person that best describes your life’s journey. The quote can be about the person that you’ve been up until now or the person that you are trying to become. Tell us about it. Use the quote as a springboard for letting us get a better glimpse of who you are.”

While my brother Bill would not have considered himself to be a famous person, nor would he be considered a famous person by the world, it was in a section of his journal that I found the quote that fits the most for me. Bill died at the age of 39. His words reflect some of the values that I held early in my life and during the last five to eight years have again become a major focus. The quote:

I am very sad that people seem to see so little of the world around them. I can’t walk outside without seeing the beauty of our created world, from the rainbow in a line of earthworm slime, to another visible ring on Jupiter. We have been given this magnificent world to study and enjoy in limitless detail at any level, microscopic to cosmic. Even though I have enough things to interest me another 10 lifetimes, I must take solace in knowing that, at least compared to others, I’ve had much more than my share even in half a life time.   (William John Smith 1953-1992)

When I was a child, I was fascinated by butterflies. I am mortified now to think of the butterfly collection I had then. I caught butterflies with a net, used some chloroform type liquid to kill them and then mounted them on a display board. At the same time I feel grief about that, I recognize that we had a different way of thinking in the 50’s and that I had made the display out of my love and appreciation for butterflies.

I have memories of making forts in the forest when I was young, although I don’t remember where that was. It is possible that the “forest” was just my back yard, but I don’t think so. Being an army brat, we moved every three years. I have almost no memory of the places I lived or events that happened there.

I do remember an incident from the 4th grade when we were living in Germany. I had crawled under the schoolyard fence during recess so that I could collect snails in a box. When I came back into the schoolyard at the end of recess, I looked up the hill only to see my teacher and my mother, who also taught at the school, standing behind a railing watching me. I have no memory of what came next but I do remember getting “caught in the act”.

I know there was also a time during my school years when I had a microscope and loved using it. I enjoyed studying the biological sciences when I was working on my Bachelors of Science in Nursing degree from 1966 to 1970.

When Al and I first married, we bought a house three miles south of the center of Seattle. To me, it it felt like having a farm in the middle of the city. There was a pantry in the basement where I could store canned fruits and the house had an outdoor clothesline that operated by a pulley, going from the porch to a nearby tree. There were concord grape vines growing in the yard and I made grape jelly from the grapes. We purchased the lot behind our house and made a garden there.

Over the years, I stopped gardening. There were a few times I planted some vegetables but the trees grew so high that the backyard got very little sunlight. Besides, my life was filled with child-rearing, going to school and working multiple jobs. I didn’t start gardening again until Amma began to encourage us to grow organic vegetables at home. That was probably around 2010.

Over the next few years, I removed part of the grass from my front yard, so I could build a garden that would get some sun. I took out all of the grass three years ago. It is a small area, but now the whole front yard is a garden.

Next, I developed an interest in vermi-composting, a process by which red wiggler worms transform food scraps into high quality compost. The worms became my pets. I still love my worms. Other people have to find dog and cat sitters. When I go to India I have to find a worm sitter!

In March of 2014, I started blogging. The primary focus of my writing was about the process of learning life’s lessons. I wrote from both psychological and spiritual perspectives. Over the years, I started to use photographs on my blog and in time I started to focus on nature and nature photography… in addition to writing about learning life’s lessons.

I shared photos of flowers…

…  wrote posts about experiences with snails (Photo Journal of a Snail’s Adventure), moles (Attitude is the Key), slugs (Seeking to Live in Harmony with Slugs) and ants (Wait, Watch and Wonder).

Soon I wanted to know more about these garden “pests.” I started reading about them and was amazed by what I learned. I shared that information in my blog posts. (The Symbiotic Relationship Between Ants and Aphids) (Slugs Underground) (The Fascinating Fruit Fly)

Several years ago, I remembered my fascination with my childhood microscope. I decided I would buy another one “someday.” One morning it occurred to me that I could add microscopic photography to my nature posts. I immediately purchased a microscope and adapter that connected  it to my iPhone camera. I started taking and sharing microscopic photos.

In September of 2016, I woke up one morning thinking that I was not willing to watch one more tree die in the area of Seattle’s Greenbelt that is near my house. I took my shears and started cutting down the blackberry and ivy vines that had covered that land for 30-50 years. That day was the impetus for starting the GreenFriends Greenbelt Restoration Project that is now my passion.

Our GreenFriends group, aided by a neighbor and students from the Introduction to Environmental Science class at the University, the Green Seattle Partnership and the Seattle Parks Department began to clear the land. Once the invasive vines were removed, we dug out blackberry root balls, covered the cleared land with burlap to hold back weed growth and then put dried blackberry canes and other debris on top of the burlap. The debris and the burlap will disintegrate and enrich the soil. This fall we will plant 400 trees, shrubs and ground covers and will continue to plant until the land is once again a healthy forest.

Every day I work in the Greenbelt is filled with seeing wonders of nature, whether it be a fern, flower or tree whose will to live has been so strong that it has defied being buried under invasive plants for decades or whether it is watching the birds, butterflies and other creatures that are returning to the land. One day, a mole stuck its head out of the ground and looked at my friend Ananya who was sitting nearby.

My passion for nature that began as a child, went into the recesses of my mind for decades, is now back in full force. I feel grateful and blessed. I so appreciate that Bill’s words helped keep that part of me alive during the intervening  years.

Written for Dungeon Prompts: Defined by a Quote

To read more of Bill’s life philosophy go to The Truth I Live By.

The photo at the top of this post is from pixabay.com.

Shared with Senior Salon