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

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Exploring Utopia

I have been thinking about Utopia since last Thursday when Sreejit announced it as the topic for this week’s Dungeon Prompts. My reflection took me to some uncomfortable places that expanded beyond the scope of Utopia.

When I think of Utopia, I think of Shangri-La, and when I think of Shangri-La, I think of the 1973 movie The Lost Horizon, one of my favorite musicals of all time. [The movie was panned by critics but it really spoke to my heart.]

As I began to write this post, I looked up The Lost Horizon and found this YouTube recording of the opening theme song. Here are the lyrics and the video. I started to cry as I listened to the song.

Lyrics:

Have you ever dreamed of a place
Far away from it all
Where the air you breathe is soft and clean
And children play in fields of green
And the sound of guns
Doesn’t pound in your ears (anymore)

Have you ever dreamed of a place
Far away from it all
Where the winter winds will never blow
And living things have room to grow
And the sound of guns
Doesn’t pound in your ears anymore.

Many miles from yesterday before you reach tomorrow
where the time is always just today
there’s a lost horizon waiting to be found.
There’s a lost horizon where the sound of guns
doesn’t pound in your ears anymore.

Earlier today, the word nirvana came to my mind. Wikipedia says this about nirvana: “All Indian religions assert it to be a state of perfect quietude, freedom, highest happiness along with it being the liberation from samsara, the repeating cycle of birth, life and death.”

It occurs to me that I may have considered aspects of Utopia, Shangri-La and Nirvana this week. In fact, I think I’ve mixed them all together. I will be presenting some of my processing in a fairly random manner.

***

In my mind, Utopia would be a world without war. It wouldn’t be a world without conflict because humans will always have differences of opinions. It wouldn’t be a world without pain because humans aren’t likely to grow unless there is at least a measure of pain involved. But it would be a world where differences are honored, where people place a high value on seeking win-win solutions, and where love is valued more than hate. It would be a world where we don’t expect each other to be perfect. In my vision of Utopia, everyone would live a life full of adventure, challenge and learning. People would be willing to work on and resolve their issues with each other and would give and receive support.

***

This week I reviewed my life and identified times when I experienced a deep sense of bliss. The times that came to mind, in order of their occurence, were:

  • In 9th grade riding on a bus with Youth For Christ members, singing Christian songs with all of my heart
  • Listening to and singing  bhajans during my early years with Amma, especially when the songs were about Krishna.
  • Spending several hours in a deep meditative state during one of my first trips to India. It occurred when I was sitting in the temple, very close to Amma. I felt like part of me was in another realm, at a party that my conscious mind was not allowed to attend.
  • Singing and “Dancing in the Spirit” at Power House Church of God in Christ (COGIC).
  • Being one of a handful of white people at several COGIC convocations in Memphis, singing gospel music along with 40,000 African-Americans.
  • Listening to Gregorian chanting at Christ in the Desert, a Benedictine monastery in New Mexico.
  • Hearing Taize music for the first time.
  • Singing and dancing to Amrita Vahini, Mata Rani and many other Amma bhajans.
  • Singing Ganesh bhajans in the Kalari last week.

Amma teaches us that bliss comes when the mind is silent. She gives the example of chocolate. If we have been craving chocolate we feel bliss at the moment the chocolate touches our tongue. If the bliss was from the chocolate then we could eat more and more chocolate and become more and more blissful. The reality is, if we eat a lot of chocolate, we will become sick. Amma says we experience bliss at that time because in the instant our tongue tastes the chocolate, our minds are silent and free from desire.

In all of the examples above, my mind was silent. I was focused and living in the moment.

***

So how do I keep myself from experiencing states similar to Utopia/Shangri-la/Nirvana in my life now?

There would be no point in trying to recreate the experiences from the past since bliss is a peak experience that usually comes unannounced. If I look at the list above though, I can see that each instance involved music and community.

Nowadays, I spend too much time alone; watch, read or think too much about current events in my country and in the world; over-think in general; and often don’t ask for what I want or need. I’ve allowed music, singing and dancing to almost disappear from my life except when I am with Amma and even then I don’t take full advantage of those opportunities. I make myself miserable by ruminating about the past or by having expectations and being upset when they don’t come to fruition.

Being around Amma brings our negativities to the surface so that we can work on them. I know that even though the behaviors I mentioned in the paragraph above are areas of weakness for me, they all feel very heightened right now as I’m writing this on a day when I am immersed in my “shit.” Things are not as black and white as I’m feeling in the moment.

At the same time, I also realize that these self-sabotaging behaviors could become more entrenched now that I’m retired. Am I willing to change them? Time will tell.

Thank you Sreejit for creating a prompt that helped me to sort some of this out.

 

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

Ganesh Celebrations

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

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

Onam

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

Healing

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

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

Rain

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

Temple

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

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

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

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

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

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

Current Events

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

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

Tai Chi

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

Quote and Photo from North American Summer Tour 2017

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

 

To view the previous posts in this series click here.

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

The Western Cafe Opens

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

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

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

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

Ganesh’s Birthday Celebrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onam

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

August 25
August 26
August 27

Photo Credits: All photos are from the Amritapuri Facebook Page

To view the previous posts in this series click here.

Dungeon Prompts is Back!

Sreejit from The Seeker’s Dungeon announced yesterday that he is going to  begin offering weekly Dungeon Prompts again. This week’s prompt is “Moral Authority.” Sreejit provided the questions below to stimulate our reflection:

You can tackle this issue from any perspective you wish.  The basic question is what is morality for you?  Where does your morality come from?  Is there someone that you look to as a moral authority?  Does your morality come from your sense of truth or human nature?  Does it have to do with religion or spirituality, or is it a completely separate issue for you? How do you integrate your own beliefs, with the beliefs of others?

You can, and are encouraged to, participate whether you have a blog or not.

I look forward to the possibility of meeting you in the Dungeon! For more information about the process click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: August 21-23, 2017

Saraswati Gardens

I’ve stopped by Saraswati Garden twice since I’ve been in Amritapuri. The plants have grown so much since I left the ashram in January. Some of the marigolds are now six feet tall!

(You can click on the galleries to enlarge the photos.)

Fruit bat

As dusk approached on Tuesday, Kumuda and I were walking down the back stairs of the building where we both live. As we looked below us, we saw a group of people gazing up into a tree. There was also a lot of movement in the tree.

We suspected that they were watching fruit bats. Moments later, bats began flying in and out of the tres. The bats coming towards the tree were carrying round objects that were bright yellow or orange. We wondered if those objects were small oranges. Whenever the ashram elephant is brought to the courtyard on darshan days, devotees buy fruit from the juice stall to feed it. Maybe the devotees were buying oranges for the bats. That explanation seemed far fetched but we had no other.

This was our first view of a bat from the stairs. (It is towards the left side in both pictures. It started opening its wings in the second photo.)

Once we reached the ground, we joined the group who had gathered at the bottom of the tree. I watched one of the fruit bats moving through the tree in a way that reminded me of a monkey. It even looked like it had hands. The video below gives some idea of what I saw.

Crows and Pappadams

At one point during the Tuesday prasad lunch (the day when Amma gives everyone lunch), I looked up and saw six crows perched in a line towards the top of the auditorium. The crows were intently watching the activity below. If one saw an opportune moment, it would swoop down and take a pappadam off of someone’s plate. I saw several crows with partial pappadams in their mouths so maybe they were stealing pappadams from each other as well. When I looked up five or ten minutes later, all of the crows were gone. Perhaps they were feasting on their plunder. (The photo of pappadams came from Wikimedia.)

Café 

Thursday is opening day for the new café. They closed the cafe about 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday and started moving all the equipment to the new building. I imagine the kitchen staff stayed up most or all of the night putting the new place together. I wanted to help but knew my help would be limited by the splint on my injured wrist.

A story about an Indian squirrel that helped build the Rama Setu bridge kept coming to my mind. I blogged about that story last year:

Many years ago, at the the end of the programs in each city on Amma‘s North American tour, there was an announcement that contained a story about a squirrel who contributed to the building of the Rama Setu bridge. The squirrel participated by rolling in the sand and then going to the end of the bridge and shaking the sand off, chanting the name of Lord Rama throughout the process. It completed this process over and over.

Lord Rama rewarded the squirrel by picking him up and stroking his back. From then on, this type of squirrel had three stripes on its back, stripes that went from head to tail. The stripes are seen as Lord Rama’s fingers. At Amma’s programs, this story was used to teach that everything we do to contribute makes a difference.

I remember thinking that what was called a squirrel in the story must be what we call a chipmunk. Since then, I have learned that the squirrel is a palm squirrel and it the same size as a large chipmunk.

I was determined to find a way to support the effort. I saw that the counters and shelves in the new building were covered with a heavy layer of construction dust. I found a small bucket of water and a rag and started washing down the counters with my good hand. Often there were hoses, boards and other construction materials on the counters. I had to wipe around those, but I was helping! I washed the surfaces for a couple of hours and then had dinner. After dinner I came back and did some more.

When I returned, I discovered a lot of the construction materials had been moved so it was now possible to wash many of the surfaces completely. Also, enough of the dust and other debris had been removed by the first cleaning that we were able to use soapy water with the next round. Soon the beautiful counter tops were in full view. I was so happy to have found a way to help.

On Thursday morning there will be a puja to mark the opening of the new cafe. I will share about that in my next “Living and Learning in Amritapuri” post.

Ganesh sculpture

Ganesh’s birthday celebrations begin this Friday. (Ganesh is the aspect of God who removes obstacles.) The Ganesh statue is being sculpted at the ashram this year. I don’t know where that work is occuring, but I found this photo on the Amritapuri Facebook page. There will be 11 days of celebration and then the statue will be carried to the Arabian Sea, immersed, and the sea will take it.

Rain

There have been many days since I have been in Amritapuri where it has stayed clear all day. In the days surrounding the eclipse, however, it poured many times. I don’t know if there was any relation between the two events, especially since the eclipse was on the other side of the world, but I wondered if that was a possibility. It is so much cooler on days it has rained. I wish it rained every day!

Sunset

Last night, as I was walking towards the building I live in, I noticed that the sky was a brilliant red. I rushed to the elevator and took it to the 14th floor to see if I could see the sunset in its full glory. By the time I got there, however, the sky was no longer red. It was still a beautiful sight though.

Later, I found a photo of the sunset on the Amritapuri Facebook Page. It wasn’t red then either, but the colors were more vivid than when I last saw a few minutes later.

Sunrises and sunsets are so beautiful here. I should make a point of looking at them more often.

Synchroniticy

When I visit Amritapuri, so many synchronous things happen. A really good example of that occurred two days ago. This is the first time I’ve come to India in August in more than a decade. I usually arrive towards the end of  November and stay until January. My main reason for picking that time is the Christmas musical that is performed each year on Christmas Eve.

My daughter writes the scripts and co-directs the plays and my son and his friends compose many of the tunes, provide the instrumentation and work with the singers. I feel so proud of them and wouldn’t want to miss the event. Besides it is such an exciting time to be at the ashram. There is only three weeks time for the actors and dancers to learn their roles and for the costumes, backdrops and many other aspects of the play to be created. The energy at the ashram during that time is electric.

My desire to surprise Sreejit and Chaitanya by showing up at the ashram at a time when they would never suspect I was coming and my desire to participate in the three festivals (Krishna and Ganesh’s birthdays and Onam) won over my  desire to see the play this December. I considered the possibility of coming to India twice but that solution seemed unlikely.

A few days ago, Chaitanya said she hoped I decided to come again for the play. I gave reasons why that wasn’t likely to happen, money being one of them. When I woke up the next morning, there was an email from a neighbor in Seattle saying that she  needed to move out of the house she has lived in for the last ten years and someone had told her that I might rent her a room in my house. She needs a place to stay from October until the second week in January.

I haven’t rented a room to anyone for about five years but it wasn’t lost on me that if I did that, I would have the money I needed to go back to India in December. Also, the person that usually stays in my house when I am traveling may be in India himself this December, so having her living there would be helpful. If those two things weren’t synchronistic enough, this all occurred within a week of me writing a post saying that I needed to work on being more interdependent as opposed to overly-independent. Having a roommate would certainly facilitate that process. What could do but laugh?

I don’t know whether or not she will decide to rent from me, but if she does I will consider coming back to India to see this year’s play.

To view the previous posts in this series click here.

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

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

Photo Credits

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

Stage Seva

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

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

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

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

Independence Day

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

Tuesday meditation day

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

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

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

Tai Chi

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

Sanskrit chants

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

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

At one point, they alternate between these chants:

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

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

Hospital

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

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

Darshan

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

Café

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

Crows/Eagle

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

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

Rain

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

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

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

 

To view the previous posts in this series click here.

Will I Choose to be Independent or Interdependent?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

To view the previous posts in this series click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: August 11-14 2017

Setting Up

I spent a good part of my first days at the ashram setting up my room. That included unpacking the suitcase I brought from Seattle and the items in the small trunks I keep here year round. I washed the clothes from the trunks in buckets. That task was made considerably harder since I couldn’t wring out the clothes with only one hand, my non-dominant hand at that. I knew I could choose to use a laundry service, but clothes dry so fast here that I prefer to do it myself. Luckily, I was in India not Seattle. I could press the items on the washing stone in my bathroom and get out a lot of the excess water. And in India, the clothes and towels would drip dry in a reasonable amount of time even though they were not rung out properly.

The morning of my first day I ordered a SIM card for my phone. I was surprised to discover I could buy a plan that included the SIM card and 1GB of data a day for 84 days for 450 rupees! Four hundred and fifty rupees is equivalent to $7.14. I sure wish we could get these prices in the U.S.

At the end of my last visit to Amritapuri, I loaned my internet stick to my daughter. She added data to it as  necessary during my absence so it stayed active during the year. As a result, I had immediate access to internet, rather than have to go through the application process. Sometimes it takes a week to get the SIM card and activate the internet stick. This time I didn’t have to wait at all for internet access and it took only about 36 hours  to get the SIM card. Once I had the SIM card, I discovered that using the Personal Hotspot on my iPhone gave me faster internet speed than the internet stick!

Changes

As always there are so many changes to see, even though I was here in January. I probably will have not seen them all by the time I leave. Construction has been endless since I first came here in 1990.

Since January, the Western café has been in a temporary structure while the new café is being constructed. They will be moving into the new café in a few weeks.

There are many changes related to security. I will mention a few of them. New structures are being built in the front of the ashram where visitors will register for the day. Residents, flat owners, and visitors staying more than 30 days will be given photo ID badges. Even the Swamis are wearing them! Visitors who are staying less than 30 days will use the receipt they are given when they check in as their form of ID. The auditorium is still open air in that it doesn’t have walls but now has white railings with some gold colored ornamentation around it.

Amma

Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday are public darshan days at the ashram. It is on those days that people come for Amma’s blessing in the form of a motherly hug. She has hugged more than 37 million people worldwide. Darshan days last from 11:00 a.m. until around midnight. At most, Amma takes a ten minute break during that time.

On Saturday night, I eagerly awaited my hug. I was so tired that I was nodding off for hours as I waited for the international token numbers to start but it was of course well worth the wait. I had a fun and meaningful time with Amma.

Earlier that day I had been asked to help with the prasad queue. Amma hands each person that comes to her a packet of blessed ash and a piece of candy. Devotees who want to hand her the packets Amma will give out form a queue. Normally, I love to hand her prasad, but with a broken wrist, I couldn’t do it fast enough, and besides, I would have trouble standing when my time was up, so that seva (volunteer work) wasn’t possible for me. When someone asked me to be the person who makes sure the prasad giver line near Amma stays full by gesturing the people in the area of the auditorium where they wait for their turn, I eagerly said yes. I have felt drawn to that seva in the past but have never done it. It gave me time to be on the stage with Amma, and the experience of being useful. I loved doing it so will find out how to sign up for other shifts.

Monday and Friday evenings Amma comes to the beach to meditate with us and have a question and answer session. I forgot about it on Friday night but went to the question and answer part last night. I love being with Amma near the sights and sounds of the beach.

Festivals

I picked the dates I would come to the ashram based on the timing of the festivals. I really wanted to be here for Krishna’s birthday, Ganesh’s celebration and Onam, a family festival in Kerala. I knew there were multiple dates that Krishna’s birthday is celebrated in India so I googled Krishna Jayanthi, Kerala and found out it was August 14. As August 14 drew near, there were no signs of the big celebration. As I remembered it, the alternate date was after I would leave India, so I was bummed. Later that night, I was excited to learn that the celebration will occur on September 12, days before I leave. I look forward to sharing all three of those events with you.

Seva

When I am in India, I like to work in the gardens and to help Chaitanya in the café. I also work on the GreenFriends newsletter we publish in Seattle each month and write for this blog. Having the broken wrist has really put a dent in my ability to do some of those things. Chaitanya had hoped I could hand out the finished orders in the cafe but I would need to have the ability to move fast, to work with both hands, and to carry items having some weight. I can’t do any of those things so that job was out.

When people finish their meals, they wash and dry their dishes and then put them in a big bucket. The dishes are then dried a second time so no water remains on the plates. I discovered that I could slowly dry dishes for a short time, so have done some of that. Yesterday I tried buttering the bread that would be used for grilled cheese sandwiches and the buns that would be used for vege-burgers and omelet sandwiches. I was able to butter about a dozen buns but was slower than molasses. Those buns would probably be used in less than fifteen minutes. Buttering the bread didn’t work at all.

So far, I have been focusing on healing and getting over jet lag. I slept a lot yesterday so maybe I will be more awake today. I hope to go visit the garden that I worked in last year today. I can at least see it!

Greenbelt restoration work

Under normal circumstances, I would probably be thinking a lot about our Greenbelt restoration work back in Seattle. Part of me would want to be there working to turn that property back into a healthy forest. Since I wouldn’t be able to do that work even if I was there, I notice that it has been easier for me to be fully here.

We will be receiving 400 trees, shrubs and ground covers to plant on that property in the fall so I hope that Ananya, the Forest Steward that is my partner in this project, and I will be able to do some long-distance planning while I am here. The photo above shows an area where a potential design for one segment has been laid out. The ferns in that area have grown after having been buried under blackberry vines for 30-50 years.

Weather

As I arrived in the ashram on Friday, it became very windy, and chilly. That seemed unusual to me. Later in the day someone else commented that they had never seen it so windy unless it was raining. It was chilly enough that in the evening I put on my jacket! The next two days were warmer. For me, yesterday qualified as HOT.

The forecast had called for rain every day, but there hasn’t been any rain since I’ve been here, at least not during my waking hours.

 

To view the previous posts in this series click here.

 

My 2017 Journey Begins

(Note: In my first post in this series, My Dream Becomes Reality, I shared a story of an event that spanned a period that started months before my trip and ended with what happened when I arrived at the ashram. In this post, I’m going to go back to the beginning of the journey itself. I encourage you to read the first post as preparation for this one if you haven’t already read it.)

My friend Ramana, who is also housesitting for me, took me to the airport early in the afternoon of August 11. This was the beginning of my 28th trip to Amma’s ashram in Amritapuri, India. The trip entails a fourteen-hour flight to Dubai, and after a two-hour layover, another four-hour flight to Trivandrum, India. Once there, I take a two to three-hour taxi ride to Amritapuri. The trip to India is grueling in any circumstance, but this time I would be doing it three weeks after having broken my wrist. Even the thought of going when I was essentially one-handed was overwhelming.

Normally I take two suitcases, mostly filled with supplies for other people, but this time I brought the bare minimum, one small suitcase plus my purse and  laptop. Once on board, I discovered that the flight attendants and even the passengers were more than willing to help me if I needed help. Before long, we were in the sky heading for India.

The last three years, Emirates has offered me the opportunity to purchase an upgrade to business class for the Seattle to Dubai segment of the journey. I had not done it in the past, but decided to take them up on their offer this time. It was still a tough journey but the upgrade made a huge difference in my experience.

Dubai

My friend Prarthana traveled to Amritapuri a week before I started my trip. I had not told her I was coming to India. It was fun to know that I would be surprising her when I showed up there. When I was on a two-hour layover in Dubai I received an email from her. In it she shared some of her travel experiences. When I answered the email, I didn’t mention that I was in sitting in the Dubai airport at the time I was reading it.

One of the things she shared was that the water in the toilets in the airport was heated. I found that strange, especially since I had just used one and it wasn’t heated, and I had never experienced heated toilet water there during previous layovers. Before I boarded, I used another restroom and it was abundantly obvious that the water in the toilet was very hot. Later, I learned that the heat that emanated from the toilet wasn’t because the water was heated, but rather because the weather in Dubai was so hot that the water coming through the pipes was hotter than water that would come from a hot water heater. I had noticed that the temperature in Dubai was 105 F first thing in the morning and it apparently can get to 120 F during the day. This was my first time traveling through Dubai in August.

Taxi to the ashram

It took me at least an hour to get my baggage after we landed in India. When I finally had my suitcase, I located the driver who would take me to the ashram. I am always amazed at the skill of the drivers, and their rock-solid steadiness. In India, the roads are usually filled with bicycles, motorcycles, buses, rickshaws, taxis, trucks, private cars and pedestrians. Drivers are constantly honking as they pass each other, swerving back into their own lane just before colliding with oncoming traffic. Speed limits are ignored whether it be on a highway or a village road.

I always remember my daughter’s first trip to India. She sat in the front seat and I was struck that she didn’t seem to have any reaction to this kind of driving. When I talked to her about it later, she said she had her eyes closed the whole time. She commented that it was like one big game of “Chicken.”

Two hours later, we reached Karunagappalli. We turned onto the small road that led to the beach road; the beach road goes all the way to the ashram. A few minutes later, the driver turned the car around. I didn’t understand whether the road was washed out due to the monsoons or if there was construction on the road ahead. I was glad he knew other ways to get to the ashram.

Soon, we were on the beach road. I was shocked to see how big the waves in the Arabian Sea were. I’ve been going to the ashram yearly since January 1990 and I had never seen the Sea so stormy. This was the first time I’d been to Amritapuri in August since 2003. Maybe I had forgotten what the waves were like during the rainy season.

Fifteen minutes later, we drove onto the ashram grounds. I was home.

To view the previous posts in this series click here.