Wednesday, November 25, 2009

2009 11 25. Wednesday.

Had another meeting of the Communications Skills Group this morning. Just Rachel and I up in her room. She shared about her recent experiences with pancha-karma (an Ayurvedic holistic healing process) and I shared (in a rambling fashion) a bit more details about my childhood, young adult years, family dynamics, relationships and some of my experiences with Gene's groups between 2000 and 2009. My experiences with Gene's groups and some other similar groups could fill a whole book with all kinds of juicy stories.

After the compost work I met for the 2nd time with the 1st year biotech master's students about the research project they want to do on the compost. Turns out they want to focus their work on how EM can help the compost process. EM stands for "Effective Microorganisms". You can google it for more details. EM is a proprietary mix of beneficial microorganisms that are supposedly effective for lots of different cleaning and health applications. The westerners use it quite a bit here at the ashram for all kinds of things. There's a lot of people around the world who swear by EM, but there isn't a lot of scientific data on it. We tried using it in our compost, but it didn't seem to do much, it costs money and it was a pain to make. So we stopped using it. The students will contact me next week to present the details of how they'll focus their research.

Monday, November 23, 2009

2009 11 23. Monday.

While working at the compost area, I got a call from one of the Biotech College teachers asking me if I could meet with some 1st year Masters students about a compost project. I'm already coordinating with some 4th year undergrad students on a short term project, but the Masters students can do a longer, more in-depth project. Cool. I said "Sure." and the 4 Indian female students came by after compost. Unless I'm missing something, it appears that almost all of the biotech students are female. I showed them how we make the compost and then we shared about some project ideas. They want to focus on studying the microbial population in the compost pile. They're going to do a literature search and see if there are any universities that have active compost research programs. I bet a researcher could spend a lifetime studying the microbes in a compost pile! So much microbial activity going on with so many variables to play with. They said they'll contact me soon to explore the project in more detail. Should be interesting.

OK Dear Readers, get ready for a lot more whining, moaning and complaining to be appearing in the next two months in this sorry excuse for blog. The room next to me is controlled by the Indian Accommodation Office. Amma is coming soon so that means I'll have a parade of Indian families staying there. There's a little bit of sound insulation between the rooms but not much. A family stayed there the past 2 days and, typical of many Indians, the adults spent 20 minutes in the morning loudly coughing and hacking. In the West, a cup of coffee is our morning ritual. In India its very accurately imitating a cat trying to bring up a particularly large and recalcitrant hairball. Maybe its some kind of Ayurveda thing. I don't know. Imagine trying to do a little morning meditation with that racket happening. Fun. If there are any Indian readers of this blog perhaps you can illuminate the reasoning behind this prevalent and popular morning ritual.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

2009 11 22. Sunday,

This morning I'm walking back to my room after breakfast and one of the younger western guys comes up to me and says frantically "No one showed up for garbage collection! Can you help?" I say "Sure. Just let me use the bathroom first and I'll be right back." He then goes and asks some other western guys nearby if they can help. They say they have to finish the job they're working on first. He then says "That can wait! I need help now." The other guys seem a little uncomfortable but reiterate that they need to finish their job. He gets flustered and walks away. As I'm watching the scene I clearly see a lot of my own reactive patterns in the guy. And, at the same time, I'm thinking "Don't worry. The job will get done. Just relax and let Amma's grace help out." We do the garbage collection and it turns out to be pretty light. The guy comments on how surprisingly little trash there is. Just the two of us get the job done easily. The incident is a very good reminder for me to always stay relaxed and trust in Amma's grace even if things look difficult.

Yesterday an attractive young Italian woman (Clarice) helped us at the compost area. After the compost work we were chatting and she mentioned that she was also fluent in French. I recited the only sentence I know in French which is "Je ne mange ni viande ni poisson." which translates to "I don't eat meat or fish." I needed to say this when I visited France to make sure I got vegetarian food. Clarice then steps away to wash her hands and Mukhunda asks me to repeat the sentence in French. I do so and Mukhunda repeats it back a few times. Keep in mind that I haven't told Mukhunda what it means. So when Clarice comes back Mukhunda looks at her sincerely and says "Je ne mange ni viande ni poisson." He says it pretty well. Clarice smiles and Mukhunda asks what the sentence means. Before Clarice can respond I quickly say "It means 'Will you marry me?'." Mukhunda gets a horrified look on his face and says "Oh my gosh! Sorry! Sorry!" His expression is priceless! Keep in mind that Mukhunda is in yellow robes, has taken a vow of lifelong celibacy and has been a monk for about 15 years. I start laughing and quickly say "No! No. I'm just teasing!" Then I give the correct translation. Clarice is smiling throughout the whole scene and Mukhunda remains embarrassed for a little while.

Later that evening I'm thinking maybe my little joke didn't feel good for Mukhunda, so I resolve to apologize to him the next day. So today after compost I take Mukhunda aside and offer the apology. Mukhunda just starts laughing and says "No! No. It was a good joke. I like when people tease me. Amma teases me all the time in front of everyone. I am not a serious man. Please don't worry. It was funny." As he speaks he pats me on the shoulder and back. I felt better. The more I know him the more I really like him and consider him a great role model. He's almost always in a good humor even when he has to work non-stop for days on end.

Amma will be coming back in about 10 days and lots more people are showing up here. For the past 2 months the room next to mine has been empty but now they're putting people in there. The room is part of the Indian accommodation so Indian families are often there. I usually have to remind them about quiet hours in the morning and evening. My main goal is to try and be cool and calm when I remind them to be quiet. It takes a lot of mindfulness to keep myself centered when I talk to them. Usually when it gets to the point that I need to talk to them I've got a little emotional charge going that I need to not identify with. Not easy!

I now seem to be becoming more and more sensitive to my negative mind states. When something triggers me now, even something small, I really feel it a lot. Of necessity, I've done LOTS of practice on not judging myself, so it doesn't feel too bad. I feel it strongly, but there's also (usually) a good amount of spaciousness around it. The spaciousness is a relaxed feeling/knowing that is psychologically larger than the negative mind state. The negative mind states are just strong and clear reminders to look clearly at the old patterns that create the triggers. On some level it feels good that I'm looking more closely at the old, dysfunctional programming in my mind. Don't know if its changing, but I'm definitely looking at it carefully.

Related to that, I'm also now doing more of what I call "self-soothing" practice. My old predominant mode was a feeling of low-level, free floating anxiety. Probably a combination of my genes and the tense environment that strongly predominated in my childhood home. So when I'm walking, eating, etc. around and especially when I meditate, I'll often focus on guiding myself toward calm states of being. Takes lots of practice but feels good. It seems that certain contemplations and beneficial thought patterns are effective at sending calming signals from my neo-cortex and frontal lobes to my deeper emotional (limbic) brain circuitry. Be interesting to see if someone has done some fMRI research on this phenomenon of "self-soothing" to see how it actually works.

I spoke to my Dad a few days ago to check in and let him know I'm doing fine. We chatted and he said he's reading my ashram blog. After our conversation I got to thinking that my family, through this blog, is learning much more about my inner world than they ever knew before. Usually when I talk with family members on the phone we share the usual pleasantries and not much more. We do get into some deeper discussions but pretty rarely. So here in this blog they can get a lot of deeper glimpses into my thought patterns, values, passions, quirks, egoic tendencies . . . and general weirdness ( smile ).

On a related note here's a message for my family: You're very welcome to come visit me here in India any time!Its pretty easy to get here and its a nice place to hang out. I'll be coming back to the states once in a while, but if you're feeling adventurous, come visit here. If you come when Amma is not here, it'll be quiet and peaceful. If you come when She's here, they'll be lots more people and you'll have a much more interesting time. I recommend coming when She's here to get the full experience. And you can help me throw cow dung onto the compost piles! ( smile )

Saturday, November 21, 2009

2009 11 21. Saturday.

Had another meeting of the Communication Skills Group; just Rachel and I. Nicolas is still traveling. Someone told me he went from Sai Baba's ashram to Tiruvanamilai, the city in the state of Tamil Nadu where the holy mountain Arunanchula is. Arunanchula is believed by many to be the form of Lord Shiva on Earth. I went there back in 2006 and did circumambulations around the mountain, which is one of the traditional ways of worshiping Shiva and receiving His blessings. Ramana Maharshi, a very well known Hindu Advaita sage, lived there for many years until he left his body in 1950. Since then his ashram has been a popular spiritual destination for many westerners. Some westerners advertise their spiritual teachings there in the tradition of Ramana Maharshi. When I was there I saw about 3 different notices for advaita satsangs (spiritual teachings) being offered by different westerners. A wonderful mix of cultures!

Rachel and I shared what's been happening for each of us. Not much happening for me emotionally. Things continue to be kind of quiet and peaceful. The usual little things trigger me but nothing major. Afterwards we spoke about the importance of not making assumptions and examining assumptions in our friendships and close relationships. We both shared examples of how assumptions can create difficulties in relationships. Rachel has been practicing a lot with the Byron Katie inquiry process called "The Work". It's a very powerful and simple process for directly questioning any thoughts that are in argument with reality. Byron Katie emphasizes that when we argue with reality we lose. . . always. Her first book is called "Loving What Is" which is a good summary of her core message. Check out for details on the process. Good stuff. Byron Katie had a very sudden and fascinating spiritual awakening in a California home for the mentally ill. A great story.

Had a very nice talk with Yuri at lunch. We were just chatting about various things and he shared some difficult challenges he had during his recent visit to his family. Turns out he has some difficult family dynamics very similar to the ones in my family. Lots of striking congruences. As he shared about the difficulties I totally understood and I shared about the same things in my family. As either one shared the other would just nod their head in agreement and understanding. Yuri and I have lots in common and a similar outlook on life. And we're both crazy about the watery rice!

To my family: I'm happy to share the details of the "family dynamics" mentioned above. Just sign a standard "hold harmless and full legal indemnification" form, get it notarized and fax it to me. . . (smile!) After I get all the forms I'll reveal all the juicy details! Or at least my version of the story which will likely be short on accuracy but definitely highly entertaining. ( grin )

Thursday, November 19, 2009

2009 11 19. Thursday.

Yesterday the fake American sadhu came up to me speaking some kind of Vedantic Vaishnava babbling. Just for fun, to everything he said I replied "Everything is Krishna." This got him flustered (my intention) and he regaled me with more Vedantic babbling about how saying "Everything is Krishna." is not correct. I just replied with a shrug and said "Everything is Krishna." to his increasing frustration (and my increasing amusement). Well, this morning he walked by me rolling his eyes and waving his arms saying "Everything is compost! Everything is compost!" I laughed! The guy is totally loopy and sometimes brilliant.

After breakfast I went to the computer room to catch up on some emails and compost research. Swami Jnanamrita was there also with a lot of small Amma pictures on the screen (I think one of his jobs is to help with the Amma website). The ashram doctor was also there checking his email. After a while the ashram doctor pulls Swami J into a very lively and abstract discussion about the nature of enlightenment. It went on for a while and it was quite interesting to listen to. I was rooting for Swami J, of course. The doctor was pretty insistent about his points and it seemed to me that Swami J thought the dialog was becoming too intellectual and abstract. After a while Swami J kind of stopped responding to the doctor and the dialog fizzled out. During their dialog my egoistic mind was filled with all kinds of totally brilliant and insightful advaitic things I could say in response to their points, but I definitely knew to keep my mouth shut. People already suspect I'm a fool. Why open my mouth and prove them right? Few things I enjoy more than a good lively discussion on advaita.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

2009 11 18. Wednesday.

Today was my second full day of teaching compost to the students at the nearby Amma grade school. Went well. Pretty much the same as the first day. I estimate I spoke to about 400 students total both days. Wonderful that all those kids now know all about the benefits of composting. I told them to talk to their parents about maybe starting some small compost piles at their homes.

On both days I took one of the school buses back to the ashram. Definitely brought back some very distant memories of riding in a bus overflowing with screaming kids jumping around, hitting each other and generally acting just the way I did at that age. A group of young boys near me took delight in asking me my age, where I live, if I'm married, etc. All my short answers elicited gales of giggles and laughter.

Young Boy (smiling like he knows I'm going to walk right into his clever trap): "Where do you live?"

Me: "At Amma's ashram."

Group of Young Boys: (howls of loud laughter and punching each other)

(same scene repeated with each question, including the bonus of seeing the young girls rolling their eyes at the boy's behavior.)

Oh well, perhaps in small town India being easily amused has its advantages. The same all over the world.

I was riding in the back and the ancient bus had almost no suspension. Every time we went over a bump I was hurled skyward only to slam back into the very thinly padded seat. Ouch. Where's my chiropractor? That's one way to get the old karma pounded out of me. The boys loved it, of course. More howls of laughter and throwing of celebratory punches after each big bump.

Had a nice talk with Norma today. She's a young British lady who has done some interesting work with anaerobic composting. All the compost we do currently is aerobic. Norma has some experiments she wants to do to see if anaerobic composting can be more efficient than what we're now doing. We shared about how to do the experiments and what equipment we need.

After speaking with Norma, I had the second meeting with the 4th year Biotech college students to discuss the possible experiments of using cellulosic and lignin enzymes to help the woodchips in the compost breakdown faster.

Because I'm a science junkie, I always love the idea of doing experiments to see how things really work under different conditions. I think that's one reason why I'm drawn to spiritual practice. All the scriptures and gurus say if you do the practices properly, you'll get the result (and enlightenment is a pretty darn nifty result in my book) so I'm doing the experiment on myself to see what happens. So far the experimental results are "Mind full of putrid egoisitc crap - 100%. Enlightenment - Zilch". Oh well. Rome wasn't burned in a day. Maybe a Zen Master would say that Zilch and Enlightenment are the same... Maybe I'm a Zilch Master.

"Does a dog have Buddha nature? Zilch. Does Advait have Buddha nature? (more howls of laughter)"

For those interested, definitely check out episodes 140 and 141 of the "Buddhist Geeks" podcast. They interview Dr. James Austin, another neuro-scientist who's done extensive research on mediation and all its positive effects on the brain. Bottom line: Start meditating if you're not already doing it.

Wow. Check out: Very cool article. Full human brain simulation not far down the road? Maybe simulated enlightenment soon after. If they can simulate my brain maybe I can get all the simulated Amma hugs I want. This line of research will get very interesting when they start to connect these simulated brains to real sensors and actuators. Watch out. You heard it here first, folks. Our ipods will become "I" pods. I'm now putting my bets on a sooner rather than later Singularity. Maybe one of the main jobs of God-incarnations like Amma and Sai Baba is to help guide us as we create more and more powerful computers, artificial intelligences, biotechnology and nano-technology. Maybe now we're like adolescents with some really powerful and potentially dangerous tools. Definitely want Mom and Dad around watching carefully and intervening as needed when we're playing with such tools. Maybe they'll be something like a spiritual Singularity to go along with the technological Singularity. Sure hope so!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

2009 11 17. Tuesday.

There's a young French woman (Surya Devi) who teaches at a nearby Amma grade school. Its a big school with about 1,800 students. Surya Devi is very interested in environmental issues and she invited me to give talks to many of the classes about the compost project. There's a small compost area they're just starting behind the school and we brought the various materials needed to demonstrate compost. Each hour a new group of students arrived and I showed them how to make compost by mixing food waste, woodchips and cow dung. I talked about why its so good for the environment and how compost works in nature. For the most part they listened pretty well. The boys would laugh and joke around some and the girls were very quiet and attentive. I got the usual response of a loud "Eewww!" when I showed them the cow dung that's an important part of proper composting. I liked that part. For a few seconds I had their full attention.

Surya Devi, with her blond hair, really stands out. I think she's the only westerner who teaches at the school. She was a student at this school for a number of years and speaks very fluent Malayalam. Tomorrow I'll do the same thing all day for other students. Feels wonderful to get the students aware of composting and how valuable it is for the environment. I'm definitely not a natural at working with kids. I always have to stretch myself to do it well. It can be kind of draining for me, but today it went pretty well. Especially nice when some of the kids who had real genuine interest hung around afterwards to ask more questions. For the younger kids I tried to be more expressive and funny (hopefully not too silly) while keeping the topic simple and basic. For the older kids I asked them lots of questions so they could demonstrate how much they know about biology.

This evening I had an interesting talk with Yathran. While Amma's been away in Europe and Asia he's been traveling around India visiting different saints and gurus. It was totally wonderful to hear him share about his experiences with them. I'm always fascinated to hear people share their spiritual experiences. He used to live at Sai Baba's big ashram in Andra Pradesh. For many years there's been a big controversy surrounding Sai Baba. Some people allege that he had sex with some young boys. Yathran is a smart and no-nonsense guy so it was interesting to talk with him about how he reconciles the controversy with his feeling that Sai Baba is a true incarnation of God. He spoke about it with refreshing thoughtfulness and subtlety. Based on some research and inner guidance, he came to the conclusion that Sai Baba did what He did to help remove very negative old karma from the boys and to remove old karma from the world. And he accepts that many other people came to a different conclusion. Numerous other highly respected spiritual masters (including Amma) have said that Sai Baba is a true incarnation of God and all of his actions only benefit His disciples and the world.

My conclusion: I don't know any details about the controversy, so I can't say one way or another. However, Sai Baba's followers (just like Amma's followers) are doing a truly amazing amount of selfless, effective work to help uplift the poor and needy and humanity in general. They've built countless schools, hospitals, clinics, homes, etc to help all of society. And Sai Baba has inspired millions to lead a more compassionate and conscious life. I've really felt that in the different Sai Baba groups I've been to.

Yathran asked me not to tell anyone about his travels because, as an official Amma renunciate, he's not supposed to visit other gurus or spiritual teachers without Amma's permission. As you can probably guess, Yathran is not his real name.

On a related note, when looking at the life story of many gurus and avatars, its often the case they'll do very controversial actions in order to test the faith of their disciples. A while back an Amma devotee told me that Amma Herself said that someday She'll be the center of a large controversy which will test the faith of Her followers.

My love and devotion to Amma is so deep I don't think there's anything She could do to shake my faith. Well, maybe there is one thing; I think I would have to leave Amma and the ashram if She ever canceled morning and afternoon chai. I'm willing to suffer for enlightenment, but there are some things no human should have to endure.

Monday, November 16, 2009

2009 11 16. Monday.

A week or so ago I spoke to one of the teachers at the Amma BioTech college about a possible student project involving the compost. He invited me to give a brief talk today to some of the 4th year biotech students about the compost work and some possible projects. One idea I thought of would be to research if there's some natural substance that can help the woodchips break down more quickly in our compost piles. I mentioned all the research currently being done on cellulosic ethanol focused on how to efficiently break down things like corn stalks, etc for ethanol production. Some students came to me after the talk and said they're interested in the project and have some ideas for enzymes which may do the job. Hopefully I'll meet with them soon to get into the details.

After my talk with the students it was lunch time and they were very nice to let me grab some food in the faculty lunch room. They had a whole bag of papadams there! Yum! Papadams are a very tasty crunchy lentil snack. They look like a really big potato chip. Did I mention they're deep fried? The best part of all. The other teachers had to leave for their classes so I was alone in the room finishing my lunch. I had to practice some serious self restraint not to eat a lot more of the papadams. Still had more than my fair share. Greasy, salty and crunchy; a match made in heaven.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

2009 11 14. Saturday.

Had another meeting of the Communications Skills Group (CSG) this morning. Just Rachel and I. We met in her room on the 13th floor of the E building. Gorgeous view of the ocean and countryside. And no mosquitoes! I really miss living there.

When it was my turn I shared about some of the recent small annoyances that have triggered me. A few days ago one of the Indian helpers at the compost area balked at my direction to add more woodchips to the foodwaste. Very confusing and annoying. They must think woodchips are in short supply or something. I need to show them a picture of the huge mountain of woodchips at the big Amma workshop. Also I should show them a picture of the smelly ugly poorly processed piles that didn't have enough woodchips.

Now that I think about it, if you look at it from a particular angle, the woodchip mountain kind of looks like Arunanchula.

Rachel shared about some of things going on with her and we shared about how learning better communication skills will help us both better navigate ashram challenges. Turns out the biggest issue for both of us is reactivity. In difficult situations, my emotions will rise up quickly and take over and I'll react in ways that are non-skillful (to put it mildly). Internally, I try to always sense when a situation could get difficult and remind myself to respond calmly and coolly. Sometime works, often doesn't.

There was nonstop heavy rain this afternoon which made for some seriously miserable compost work. I got soaked to the skin and became cold! Brrr. Can't wait for the hot dry season to start. We got the pile finished somehow and boy, the hot chai after wards was especially wonderful!

Just got finished reading an autobiography from the ashram library called "All the Fishes Come Home to Roost" by Rachel Brown. Its about an 8 year old American girl who goes with her parents to a Meher Baba ashram in some backwater grubby Indian town. Its mostly really hilarious. But the young girl gets sent to a nearby Catholic school and the nuns are a group of seriously sadistic child haters. Ouch. One of the nuns almost kills one of the young boys at the school. Kind of frightening in some parts but mostly very funny. Recommended reading to get a taste of India. Or a taste of some wacky westerners in the middle of wacky India.

I recently listened to some very interesting interviews from the podcast series called "Insights at the Edge". In two separate interviews, the host spoke with Dr. Richard Mendius and Dr. Rick Hanson. They're a team of neuroscience researchers doing cutting edge work on the effect of meditation and mindfulness practice on the brain. Very fascinating stuff. The bottom line is that even a little bit of daily meditation practice has great benefits for the brain and mind, and this is getting clearly proven using recent brain imaging tools. Definitely worth a listen.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

2009 11 11. Wednesday.

Got to the airport at around 6am and had an uneventful flight back to Trivandrum. At the Trivandrum airport they were screening for swine flu. I filled out a form and the mask wearing immigration lady aimed a non-contact thermal probe right between my eyebrows. Zap. Normal temperature. Cool. Then she waved me on. Usual ride back to the ashram; auto-rickshaw to the train station. The auto-rickshaw driver kept begging me for 5 dollars. I told him I didn't have any dollars on me, only rupees. He must have thought I was lying cause he kept pestering me for 5 bucks. Jeez, buddy, give it a rest. I gave him a 20 rupee tip at the train station and he looked at me like I handed him a pile of feces along with news that his whole family perished in a train wreck. Ouch. I scuttled guiltily into the station and got into the ticket line. Glancing outside I saw the poor guy still there, staring at me with a sad expression. Ouch again.

About an hour before the train got to my stop it cleared out, leaving lots of empty benches. Cool. I stretched out on a bench and asked the Indian man nearby to tap me when we got to Kayamkulam. Then I had a wonderful snooze. I felt a gentle tapping on my head. The man smiled and said "Kayamkulam". Thanks! I hopped off and hopped on to an auto-rickshaw and buzzed back to the ashram. Felt great to be back. Looks like the non-stop rain we had for 5 days finally cleared up.

Later that afternoon one of the western admin office guys knocked on my door. He was surprised to see me open the door. He said "Oh! You're here. I thought you checked out." I said I just left for 2 days for my visa travel. He said "OK, I was going to clean the room, but no need to now." I said "Wait! Its no problem. You can clean!" He just smiled and walked away.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

2009 11 10. Tuesday.

Got up around 6am and walked over to the Trivandrum airport and had an uneventful 50 minute flight to Columbo. The Colombo airport is beautiful and fully modern. Quite a contrast to the international airports I've seen in India which are mostly pretty grubby and rundown. The Colombo airport had toilet paper! Wow. You *never* see toilet paper anywhere in India unless you buy it yourself or stay at an ultra-fancy hotel.

I got the usual casual religious questions from the Sri Lankan immigration official. He was quite interested in my story of being raised Catholic, then being a practicing Buddhist for about 10 years (including living in a Vietnamese Zen temple for 3 years) and then meeting Amma. I had to cut it short when the guy behind me started to get impatient. There are lots of westerners who come to Sri Lanka to meditate at one of the many, many Buddhist temples and meditation centers here. There was a really beautiful statue of the Buddha at the airport. I think Sri Lanka is about 70% Buddhist.

Then I went over to the hotel information counters for some hard bargaining. I first said I wanted to take a bus to Negambo. A few days ago another westerner at the ashram told me that Negambo beach is about 30 minutes from the Colombo airport and has some cheap guest houses. The guy said there was no bus to Negambo but I knew there were cause the westerner told me so. I just said "Fine." and started walking away. Then he said he'd give me a nearby guest house room for 1,500 Sri Lankan rupees (about $15) and throw in a free ride there. Staying close to the airport was definitely an advantage cause my flight leaves at 7:30am the next morning. I said "Sold!" Then we hopped into a car and zipped over to the "Crystal Villa" guest house about a 5 minute drive away. On the way he kept telling me the usual price is 2,500 rupees. I think he was trying to make me feel guilty for getting a good bargain. I just ignored him. Sorry, buddy. It ain't working. Go play that guilt trip rap on someone else. The Crystal Villa was pretty nice. The road leading up to it was patrolled with a soldier in full uniform toting a small and very lethal looking machine gun. Right down the road from the Crystal Villa was another much fancier hotel; even had a swimming pool. That was probably the reason for the guard.

My room was spacious and not too many mosquitoes. The shared bathroom, however, was loaded with mosquitoes. Yuch. Seriously annoying later on when I had to take a poop and spend the whole time frantically swatting the little bastards, an evil grin spreading across my face every time I flattened one into a little black and red splotch. Actually, whenever I kill a mosquito, I try to say 3 Om Amritay Swaryay Namaha's to help send it off to a good rebirth. . . somewhere far away. Somewhere I read its good karma to kill a mosquito because that will help it move more quickly to a higher rebirth. I wonder if that logic also applies to Republicans...? ( smile! just teasing, just teasing. Settle down. Now all my Republican friends will leave mean comments on my blog. Oh well, its not easy being a left-wing socialist pinko tree-hugging neo-hippie progressive liberal flower child like me.)

There was a little hole-in-the-wall food stall down the road where I had my lunch. They had a little buffet and I thought the proprietor said everything was vegetarian. Turns out some of the stews had fish. Yuch. I don't like the taste of fish stews. Fresh cooked fresh is wonderful, but fish stews to me have a yucky sour taste, and I had to keep spitting out little bones. I went there again for dinner and was careful to get only the dishes with no fishes, as per my wishes. They had some bread on the buffet line that was really good! Wonderfully chewy with great flavor and great texture. I was very pleasantly surprised. Some of the best bread I've had in a long time. Didn't know Sri Lankans were excellent bakers. Maybe some wayward Italians got shipwrecked here long ago and started some bakeries. The natives were probably overjoyed to eat something besides rice.

Monday, November 9, 2009

2009 11 09. Monday.

At around 6pm, just before I had to leave for my trip to Sri Lanka, it started pouring rain. Pooh! I waited a few moments and it slowed down a little bit. Then I huddled under my umbrella and quickly walked over to the place across the foot bridge to where the auto-rickshaws are and grabbed one and buzzed off to the nearby train station at Karunappaly. I got kind of wet but dried off after a while. My Indian visa expires in 2015 but I have to leave India once every 6 months to keep it current. At the train station I met someone else from the ashram. A pleasant surprise. He's an American from California and was going to Trivandrum same as me. We got there around 10pm and shared an auto-richshaw to the airport. We had a nice time chatting on the ride down. We shared a lot about our experiences of meeting Amma and having Her become our Guru. Always fun to trade Amma stories. His flight was at 3am and mine is at 9:30am, so we said goodbye at the airport and I went to a nearby grungy but cheap guest-house to catch some sleep.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

2009 11 08. Sunday.

They were late bringing the Indian breakfast, so I sent to the western canteen to get some breakfast there. I grabbed some food and sat down with a group of people at a table. I was just enjoying my meal listening to their talk. The man next to me finished his meal and had an extra small banana that he offered to me. Now here at the ashram many westerners like to feed bananas to the elephants. So, as a joke, I put my nose near the banana and said "Let me see if I can grab it with my nose." The man totally didn't get the joke and just looked at me like I was nuts. The New Zealand lady across from me totally got the joke and started laughing loudly. She thought it was just hilarious. I explained the joke to the man and he smiled weakly, not very amused. The lady continued laughing for a few more minutes and we riffed some more on the theme of feeding the elephants, and then chatted about other topics. I finished my breakfast and went over to the Indian line to get a little more and sit quietly by myself. It was interesting to notice that although joking around with the New Zealand lady was fun, it also stirred up my mind. It took me a little while to dissipate the agitated energy created by the laughter and joking around. I kept replaying the scene in my mind. Usual old habits. Incidents like this show me how I feel more centered and at ease when I do less casual socializing and spend more time by myself.

I always enjoy dialogs where I really feel I'm connecting with another person in an honest and safe way. But I'm usually not comfortable with a lot of casual conversation. I think my sensitive nature is a little on edge when I don't know for sure where the other person is at emotionally.

There was a fight in the compost area today. Ouch. I was talking with someone at one end of the compost area after the work was done and we hear a commotion at the other end. I see two of the regular Indian compost helpers (both young men) wrestling and throwing punches. Mukhunda (one of the yellows and a pretty powerful guy), ran over and broke it up. Then there was a shouting match with Mukhunda speaking forcefully and trying to settle them down. Seeing the fight definitely threw me off center. I have a hard time watching any kind of violence, makes me queasy and anxious. I grew up watching violent movies and TV shows and never thought twice about it. Then when I was about 24 or 25 I was watching "The Terminator" movie with some friends and for some reason the violence in that movie really threw me off. From that day on I totally stayed away from violent media. Maybe at that time some part of my brain got to a certain stage of development. During my childhood, there was a lot of shouting and yelling in the house and I think this had the effect of making me emotionally sensitive in some ways. Maybe because of all the totally dysfunctional communication in my childhood home I'm now keenly interested in exploring healthy communication.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

2009 11 07. Saturday.

David does most of his internet surfing from about 11pm to 5am and then he sleeps till about 1pm. He said I could grab his cellular modem in the morning so he put it in a safe place where I could get it. This morning after 6am chai I grabbed it and started downloading podcasts. Oh, boy! I'm in heaven! Feeding my podcast addiction even though I'm here in the middle of rural India. Cool. Actually the major Indian cell companies know all about the many well-off westerners here at the ashram who would love to get internet access in their rooms. So the cell companies early on built cell towers close to the ashram and the westerners love it. They pay a relatively cheap price for slow but manageable internet service with a cellular modem card plugged into their laptops. David's cell card works great even though there's been nonstop rain for the past 3 days.

Today is Saturday which is one of my 'podcast fast' days so I'll have to wait till tomorrow before I can listen to them.

No one told me about the "eastern monsoon" here that starts after the regular monsoon season from June to Sept. Its been raining nonstop for 3 days. Yuch. Place is flooded 6 inches deep in places. Luckily the rain slowed down during composting this afternoon, otherwise it would have been pretty miserable work. Lots of rain means extra cold showers. Brrr!

File this under the "Word to the Wise" category": If you bring a laptop and/or a USB memory stick here to India keep in mind that (based on my direct experience) most computers and memory sticks I've encountered here are infected with viruses and malware. So if you use an unprotected USB memory stick here, plan on it getting infected with some bad viruses unless you are VERY careful and really know how to stay secure. I've got two very good anti-virus programs running and they have saved my butt a number of times. I use Microsoft Security Essentials and Blink Professional from Blink Pro is *highly* recommended. You can get USB sticks that have a "read-only" mode. This is recommended. My Ironkey USB stick has a read-only mode and that has saved me a few times from getting bad viruses.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

2009 11 05. Thursday.

One thing that I've come to rely on here in India is my IronKey secure USB stick. If you plan to do any kind of internet banking or anything like that here in India, I definitely recommend getting an IronKey. Once you understand how to use them properly, they are very, very secure. Check out for all the details. The IronKey allows you to go to any computer and surf the net securely with its own private VPN. It can also store all your website passwords and you can open it in a read-only mode so it can't be written to.

David (who lives a few doors down from me) has a cellular internet card for his PC and he let me install it on my laptop. Cool. Now when he's not using it he said I could use it. Tried it and it seems to work pretty well. Internet is kind of slow but manageable. Gotta keep feeding my internet addiction! I need to do some research on composting issues so having easy access to the net will help with that seva.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

2009 11 04. Wednesday.

Some mice came into my room around 3am and started making some noise, knocking things over and chewing on the banana I had sitting on the counter next to the sink. Grrr! I got very annoyed. After breakfast I got a lid for one of my extra buckets and put my food in there.

Had an Amma dream last night, the first one I've remembered in about 6 months or more. I was walking quickly through a big white house with lots of rooms and stairs, trying to find something. Everything was painted white. At one point I turned left into a bedroom and saw Amma sitting up in a bed with lots of white sheets and She was wearing Her usual bright white saree. I have a vague memory that my sister was also there with Amma; not sure. As soon as I saw Amma, I joyfully and with lots of devotion ran up to Her, sat down beside the bed and took Her hand in mine. I was feeling lots of love and I said "Oh, Amma." a few times. Amma was smiling quietly. After a minute or two Amma seemed to change shape and become misshapen, like She was melting a little bit. Then I started to feel nervous holding Her hand because I started to think it was a mouse that was going to bite me.

Had the 3rd meeting of the Communication Skills Group this morning. Since Nicolas is gone it was just Rachel and I. It went well. We had more time for our extended check-ins which gave us both time to share some deeper issues. I shared about the difficult feelings I had about 2 months ago when I was living next to some Indian ladies who talked loudly during official quiet times. I shared how it was very frustrating for me not to be able to go to sleep or meditate when I wanted. I also shared about the very surprising incident when the Indian lady who was angry with me for asking them to be quiet later apologized and explained about how her mother is partly deaf. Rachel did a wonderful job listening and reflecting back what I shared. I look forward to when Nicolas gets back and he shares about his trip to the Sai Baba ashram in Andra Pradesh.

At dinner David and I were chatting and he mentions he's a drummer. We start talking about favorite bands and it turns out he's a big Led Zeppelin fan just like me (John Bonham, the Led Zep drummer, was fantastic). He tells me about the special way they recorded the drum track for "When The Levee Breaks" to get the echo effect on the bass drum, If you're not familiar with this song, hop onto YouTube and check out the studio version (the live versions aren't as good). The drum track is so amazing. I couldn't get that song out of my head until I fell asleep.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

2009 11 01. Sunday.

Saw a cute scene this morning. One of the cows near my building was laying on its belly with its chin on the ground. On its head a crow was there apparently pecking away at some flies or other bugs on the cow. On the cow's face was a very blissful expression.

I downloaded and installed the new Microsoft free security program (called MSSE). Apparently just in time. I somehow got hit with some viruses and MSSE looked like it was able to clear them out. Spent a good part of the morning trying to get it all cleaned out. Hopefully I was successful! I hate the thought of having some virus on my laptop. MSSE works really well. I definitely recommend downloading and installing it. Really good anti-virus tool.

I was checking the internet news and read a short blurb about how they did the first successful beam test on the repaired LHC. Yay! Hopefully soon it'll get up to full power and we'll start seeing some interesting results. Hey Tim! Keep me posted. My brother Tim is a science junkie like me.

This afternoon I was speaking with Ravan, one of the Indian workers who helps at the compost area. He's been here for about 21 years; since he was about 10 years old. We got to talking about the different Amma swamis he's know for a long time and I told him about my wonderful feelings for Swami J. Ravan shared how he's known Swami J for more than 21 years; way before Swami J was a swami. Ravan said Swami J suffers from a lot of physical problems like stomach pains, back pains, migraines, etc. Ouch. From my interactions with Swami J, he always seems pretty happy and healthy. Ravan also shared how Swami J loves to joke around a lot and has a great sense of humor. A few minutes later Swami J shows up and starts a long conversation with Mukhunda at the other end of the compost area. Interesting coincidence...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

2009 10 31. Saturday.

Had the 3rd meeting today of our little Communication Skills Group with Rachel, Nicolas and I. Went really well. At the first part I presented a draft meeting outline we could use. We try to use the Non-Violent Communication (NVC) structure of OFNR: Observe (what is actually happening), Feelings (what is our emotional response), Needs (what unmet needs are creating the emotional response) and Requests (what can be done to meet that need).

Then each of us had time for an extended check-in. As always, felt good to share with people who strive to listen with full attention and compassion.

The meeting structure we're experimenting with goes something like this:

* Start with an Amma prayer
* Everyone does a quick check-in to make sure we're all feeling safe and settled enough to participate.
* Roundtable discussion about any thoughts from the last meeting and any ideas for the group to consider.
* See how much time we have for the extended check-ins and select someone to be the timekeeper.
* Extended check-in: Each person can share as they desire and make requests. Requests can include a request for feedback and reflective feedback, request for suggestions. If the person who's sharing makes no request then the rest of us just listen silently and attentively, only asking questions as needed.
* Quick feelings check. Any feelings need processing?
* Closing roundtable discussion: Share any thoughts about this meeting and ideas for next meeting.
* Closing Amma prayer.

I didn't share too much during my turn. Things have recently been pretty quiet for me inside and out. Turns out Nicolas is leaving for 10 days right after the meeting. He speaks fluent Russian and he met some Russian friends who offered him a free ride to go see Sai Baba. Rachel and I decided for her and I to meet in a few days. I'll miss having Nicolas at the next meeting. He's a wonderful guy and really shares from a deep place.

For those who don't know, Sai Baba is probably the most popular guru in India with even more followers than Amma. Many, many Indians and westerners consider Sai Baba to be their guru and a perfect incarnation of God. Same way most of us feel about Amma. In fact, there are many who consider both Amma and Sai Baba to be their gurus. They often say its like having a mother and a father. For me, Amma is Mom and Dad all rolled into one short plump dimple cheeked ball of Supreme Huggable Love.

Like Amma, Sai Baba has a very large charitable network of schools, ashrams, hospitals, housing, etc. Back in the states I visited about 3 or 4 different Sai Baba groups and enjoyed all of them. I always felt they were humble, sincere and filled with love for their Guru and all people. The main activity at the Sai Baba meetings I went to were bhajans or songs in praise of the various Hindu gods, followed by a delicious vegetarian potluck. Sometimes they included a Jesus bhajan. Many Hindus feel that Jesus is an incarnation of God (Avatar) just like Krishna, Lord Rama, Buddha, etc. The idea that there can be only one incarnation of God on earth is a foreign concept to almost all Hindus. At different times there's been so many incarnations of God in India that you couldn't swing a cat without hitting one.

(smile, just teasing)

Card-carrying dyed-in-the-wool Advaitans just laugh at the whole notion of avatars. "Everything already *is* God, you silly people." they say. The Bhakti people just roll their eyes and reply "Yes, yes, we've told you a million times we already know that, but the leela of devotion is so divinely sweet and wonderful! You heady, intellectual advaitans are missing all the fun." And the debate goes on... With the name of "Advait", you can probably guess which side I'm on. Now excuse me while I lose myself in some blissful bhajans, shedding sweet tears of devotion. Or are those tears just because I missed morning chai?

I'm now trying to get in the habit of doing a podcast fast every Tues and Sat. I'm definitely addicted to my podcasts so its good for me to practice doing without at least for two days a week. So many good podcasts out there! The PC security podcast I really need to listen to. There's a lot of serious computer viruses out there and I need to keep my data safe.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

2009 10 27. Tuesday.

This morning during my chanting, my mind got hooked on visualizing Amma playfully scolding me while I was getting darshan. In my mind's eye I could see Amma pulling my ears, twisting my nose and hitting me on the head while all the time playfully teasing me about my big ego and all my vasanas. It was fun. I keep hoping that Amma will scold me like this at one of my actual darshans, but my imaginary Amma scoldings feel pretty good.

Went to the ashram medical center this morning to check on a patch of dry flaky skin I've had for a while. Much to my surprise the 2 Indian doctors on duty were totally available! Neither was seeing any patients and no one was waiting in line. Wow. That's unusual. Usually there's a long line of people to see them. I walked into the room, perhaps interrupting their conversation about overly-sensitive whiny hypochondriac westerners. (smile, just teasing). The Indian doctors I've seen for the most part have been great. The only annoying thing about Indian doctors is sometimes when I ask them a question, I'll get nothing more than a head waggle that is totally meaningless to me. I sometimes have to work hard to pull an answer out. The doctor looked at my patch of dry skin and said to come by tomorrow when the skin specialist will be here. I asked him what the skin problem could be. In response I got a head waggle. OK, I know when I'm beat. I cut my losses, gave him a smile and a cheerful "Namah Shivaya" and headed out.

After seeing the doctor I took an auto-rickshaw to the big Amma workshop across the backwaters. I went up to the rickshaw driver and asked how much to go there. He said '30 rupees'. I said 'fine' and hopped in. One the way there I enjoyed looking at the big pictures of Amma he had in the back of his rickshaw. When we got there the driver pulled out 10 rupees and handed it to me. I was confused and asked him why. He didn't know much English and just waved the 10 rupee note closer to me. I shrugged and took it. Have no idea why he did that. The driver tipped me! Pretty funny. Just another one of those Indian mysteries. 10 rupees is 2 cups of chai so I'm happy.

Before lunch we had the second meeting of the Communications Skills group with Rachel, Nicolas and I. It went well. All in all our meetings are (so far) very similar to many many meetings like this I attended in the Washington DC area. We met from 11am to 1pm. The first part of the meeting we debriefed on how the first meeting went. The consensus was it went well. Then we had a roundtable discussion about what emotional safety means to us. Emotional safety is a core feeling we want to create at our meetings. We agreed that emotional safety is based on confidentiality of what we share at the meetings and on good listening skills. When we sense someone is able to listen with attentiveness, empathy and without judgment, then we feel safe. Then we each got a chance to do an extended check-in, sharing whatever we wanted to share and then requesting feedback and reflection as desired. During my check-in I shared about how I was in a pretty peaceful place the past few days. Things are kind of quiet inside and outside. I get triggered here and there by small things but no big triggers happening recently.

They're now starting work on replacing the roof in the big hall, and its a big job. The big hall is like an aircraft hanger. They've already removed part of the roof and sure enough, there's been rain. Yuch. What a mess. Apparently they hired a contractor to do the work and they've brought in about 50 or so workers. Definitely dangerous work! Most of the work is done up in the steel rafters about 50 feet above the stone floor. Good to see most of the workers wearing support harnesses with with big ropes. Hope they use them. May Amma's grace keep them all alert and safe.

The ashram is now going thru a "let's all learn Sanskrit" phase, apparently at Amma's request. Many of the Indians and westerners are now taking Sanskrit classes. At the after compost work chai and snack break today one of the yellows taught me how to say "My name is Advait." In Sanskrit, it goes "Mama namah Advaitah." Or something like that. The yellow then asked me to try to say it. I replied "Mama namah Chai-ananda." He laughed. "Chai-ananda" means "the Bliss of Chai." Its very, very common in India for Hindu monks and nuns to have the name "(something)-ananda"; or "the Bliss of (something)".

Sunday, October 25, 2009

2009 10 25. Sunday.

I was really pooped today. I think its a combination of me yesterday helping a lot with loading compost onto the truck (using only my right hand, for those who may be concerned) and carefully doing some simple isometric calisthenics. I feel like my body has gone 15 hard rounds with Mike Tyson! I'm going to bed early tonight. When I'm sore like this the cold showers are a real misery.

Forgot to mention that I finished memorizing the Hanuman Chalisa about 2 months ago. Very enjoyable to sing along with my fave recording of this bhajan. I sing silently (if you've heard me "sing" you know why). For some reason my voice usually hurts when I try to sing. It may even be that when I try to sing my voice hurts as much as others people's ears. I have a feeling that's not the case. Before I was born the Lord said "You have a choice, you can either have a beautiful singing voice or be strikingly handsome." I thought for a moment while the Lord whistled a sprightly little ditty and drummed His fingers on His solid gold podium. I went for handsome for the obvious benefits. Then the Lord smacked the podium, laughed uproariously and exclaimed "Ha! You get neither! Have you seen your old karma?" Yeah. Real funny there Lord dude. However, upon later review of my karma I would say I got off pretty darn light. Who's says the Lord ain't merciful? A few minutes later I found myself (sans memory) in a small warm dark wet place with my thumb in my mouth and my knees at my chest. Just for fun I practiced my "singing" while in the womb. In hindsight, that may explain a lot of things about my "interesting" childhood. Sorry Mom. I'll make it up to you in a future life. While I was in the womb "singing" my Mom saw "Damien" and the movie terrified her way more than normal.

Wow. I went right from the 'Hanuman Chalisa' to 'Damien'. Jeez, I'm a mess. Amma! Help me!

This afternoon I went to the website. They have a nice little feature where you can email questions to Amma. After you hit 'send' it says "Amma has heard your prayers!" Cool. I sent a question to Amma asking Her to make a recording of the Hanuman Chalisa. For those who are interested (Jagadish, Sanatan, Para and Emily) could you also send that request to Amma? That will let Amma know others are interested. Would be wonderful to hear it in Amma's voice. Jai Hanumanji!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

2009 10 24. Saturday.

I stopped by the nearby Amma Biotech College to see if they could order me some pH test strips and a soil salinity meter so I can start testing the compost. No one was in the lab room so I started asking around for the person who orders equipment. They told me to go to the Dean's office. I went there expecting to be greeted by a receptionist, but when I walked in there was no receptionist; just the dean having a meeting with some people. I felt nervous about interrupting his meeting, but he just smiled and told me to have a seat. The meeting finished in a few minutes and he waved me over. I told him what I needed and and he said he'll work on it and he gave me his business card. He was very nice.

Had a nice talk with Mukhunda at dinner. He came by to give me some items he purchased for the compost work. I want to use the items to modify the pitchforks to make it easier for the workers to use them (like those snow shovels you can get with an extender handle starting at the base). We shared about how the compost work was a good seva and that even though it seems we don't have enough people, the basic work is getting done everyday without too many problems. Its really nice to know a few Indians like Mukhunda where we can (mostly) communicate well across the cultural differences. He's got a lot of joy and a wonderful combination of delightful innocence and deep maturity. I really like how he respects that I'm a westerner and not used to the usual Indian hierarchies here. He's well loved by many.

Friday, October 23, 2009

2009 10 23. Friday.

Did something a little different in my morning meditation. After I do all my chanting, IAM technique and bhajans, I'll usually sit in silent mediation until breakfast. During the meditation, I'll almost always just watch my mind, focusing on relaxing and just watching the mind wander where it will. The "practice" I do is just staying relaxed and at ease no matter what the mind is doing; to not take my mind personally. Today I got the urge to count my breaths. So I got some beads and moved one bead every time I counted 27 breaths. (27 because that's 3 cubed and 9 times 3. In Sanatana Dharma, 3 and multiples of 3 are considered auspicious.) Felt good. The feeling was more like I was training the mind rather than just watching it. Both feel good, but training the mind in this way is something I haven't done in a while. Usually with these various mind training practices I'll do one as long as it feels enjoyable and authentic, and then move on the the next. But there are some basic things I try to do everyday like my Amma mantra, the 108 Names of Amma, the IAM technique, The Mahay Shasura Mardini, the Hanuman Chalisa, Amma Arati, etc.

Now that I think of it, the IAM technique involves quite a bit of mind training type activities; visualizations, focusing on the breath, etc.

This morning before lunch Nicolas, Rachel and I had the first meeting of our Communication Skills Group (CSG). It went well. The first part we discussed what we what to get out of the meetings and the 2nd part each of us got about 10 minutes to do a 'check-in'. That's where one person shares whatever they want and the other 2 people listen attentively. Gene Long and I did probably three hundred or more check-ins when I was his housemate for almost 3 years. Those check-ins really helped me get a deeper feeling for listening carefully and being compassionately present with another person. During the CSG check-in portion I felt the wonderful group feeling that's generated when we listen thoughtfully and compassionately to another person. I've felt this many times at all the meetings I went to that were organized by Gene, Mike Rios and some other groups in the DC area. It felt good when I shared and they both listened with empathetic attention. We plan to meet again on Tuesday morning. Before I left for India I told Gene that it would be interesting to have a group like this at the ashram. I didn't really think it would happen but now it is. Cool. Just for fun here is the list of group guidelines I wrote up and gave to Nicolas and Rachel. Most of these things I learned in dialog with Gene and at the group meetings he facilitated.

Guidelines and Ideas for Amma Ashram Conscious Dialog Meetings. (This is just a collection of ideas presented in no particular order.)

. All sharings are confidential.
. We can have some kind of opening prayer and reading.
. We try to take responsibility for our reactions and triggers. And we try to be aware of another's sensitivities in a clear way (not co-dependent or supporting a victim story).
. We support each other to speak the truth about ourselves.
. Acquiring and deepening mutual understanding will be a key process, especially at the beginning.
. Deep understanding takes time. Trust takes time. Deep emotional safety takes time.
. Emotional safety is the first priority. If anyone feels unsafe at any time they can interrupt and speak up.
. We are always at choice. No one is compelled to do anything that disturbs their emotional well being.
. Delayed reactions are OK and can be brought up for discussion at any time.
. We are encouraged to share commensurate with our feeling of emotional safety.
. We strive to use "I" statements.
. We are free to express our needs and make requests (not demands). We strive to be aware of authentic needs vs demands.
. Its OK to ask for what we need and to share our preferences.
. The meetings will likely evolve a lot in beginning with lots of course corrections.
. We avoid "fixing" unless requested.
. Having triggers and sensitivities is OK. We will respect each others triggers and sensitivities as we strive to shine the light of compassionate awareness on them.
. We strive to be present with our emotions and to share when we feel tight and shut down.
. Every group has their own chemistry that takes time to be understood and integrated. We can have an open attitude to how our group may naturally evolve.
. Within the group, we strive to maintain and improve our own well being and this will naturally contribute to the well being of the group.
. One of our guiding principles is "Do What Works". We strive to be practical and not rigidly confined to any philosophy or technique. We want the group feeling to be spontaneous and authentic.
. Conflicts and tension will naturally arise on occasion. We can strive to see them as opportunities for deeper self understanding and mutual understanding.
. We can be aware of triangulation (talking in an unclear way about another person in the group who is not present). "Don't tell me, tell them."
. What can we do during our time to share?
* Just want to vent? Do some emotional release?
* Want to be understood? i.e. questions welcome? Reflective listening.
* Want advice, suggestions?
* Some or all of the above?
. Ask before invite someone else to the meetings.
. Communicate first. Try to minimize surprises.

While he was here, one of the things Peter Ash emphasized to me about the compost piles was to make them drier and use more woodchips, especially with the wet food waste. I've been trying to do that and, as needed, I'll tell the helpers to use more woodchips. Well, for the past few days for some reason, one of the older Indian helpers has gotten defensive and reactive when I tell them to use more woodchips. This helper has been working at the compost area for about 4 months and is a long time good friend of Mukhunda. Later on I told Mukhunda about this and he said he understood my concern and he knows this person can be sensitive to taking direction. I told Mukhunda that however he wants to handle it is fine with me. I didn't want to tell the helper directly cause I got the clear feeling he would react in a negative way. More and more I'm learning that situations tend to take care of themselves. So more and more I'm trying to intervene as minimally as possible in these kind of situations. Here I felt some intervention was necessary. If the helpers can't follow my directions then we run the risk of making compost piles that don't process properly, smell bad and can spread disease.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

2009 10 22. Thursday.

I'm now hooked on hot kanni vellum. When they serve breakfast, in addition to the watery rice, they always have a pot of hot rice water available. Its the extra water from cooking the rice. One the yellows told me that Amma has said kanni vellum contains the essence of life. Not sure what that means, but now everyday at breakfast I put a little Himalayan natural mineral salt into my thermos and get it filled with the kanni vellum. Then I sip it between breakfast and lunch. Its really good! Someone told me it has a lot of glucose. Probably great for endurance athletes. I'll have to have a blood sugar test at some point to make sure all the white rice and rice water isn't making it too high.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

2009 10 21. Wednesday.

Lately I've been increasingly aware of all the little ways I internally fight and argue with myself and judge myself. As I'm seeing it more clearly its helping me to very slowly and gently reduce this old tendency. There's a lot of negative self judgment programming happening inside me. I think because I'm doing more meditation and spending more time in quiet I can better see that kind of old programming.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

2009 10 20. Tuesday.

Nicolas, Rachel and I met this evening over dinner to talk some more about our plans to meet and practice communication skills. I gave them a little list of communication skills ideas and guidelines I've gleaned over the years. We had a nice time listening to Rachel rant about a difficult work situation she recently had back in America. She ranted in a way that was very funny! Nicolas and I were laughing and also wincing at the difficult situation she was describing. I told her if she can make me laugh that way with her ranting then she's probably gotten over the difficult situation.

Monday, October 19, 2009

2009 10 19. Monday.

Was feeling lots of tingly bliss the whole morning while getting my chai and doing my sadhana. I often get this sensation when I feel a cool breeze on my skin. It started when a cool morning breeze moved through the big hall as we were all singing the Mahay Shasura Mardini bhajan. It continued in my room as I was feeling the breeze from the ceiling fan while doing all my chanting and meditations. Felt really wonderful!

This morning I went over to the 'S' dorm to try and find someone. I'm walking up and down the hallway looking for the right room. At the end of one of the hallways in a room kind of tucked off into a corner, with the door wide open, I see the really big fat slightly crazy Indian man laying totally nude on the floor of his small room. Yikes! What a sight. His belly rises up like a big brown humpback whale. I quickly move on; smiling and trying to scrub away the image now seared into my visual cortex. And ladies, in case you're wondering, definitely nothing to write home about. So much so that in my very short glance I couldn't fully confirm if he was indeed a male. But that most surely falls in the category of "things better left a mystery." Poor guy. I'd be a little crazy too. Apparently what he lacks there he's trying to compensate for by growing the largest belly in central Kerala. I'm guessing he'd be a real kick-ass sumo wrestler.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

2009 10 17. Saturday.

I went to the boys computer room to download podcasts and catch up on some of my compost emails and research and there was a really weird situation going on. Some Indian lady is there loudly crying and wailing and she's surrounded by 8 or 9 of the senior ashram Indian staff. They're all looking at a computer screen which is showing the video replay of one of the ashram security cameras. Suddenly one of the staff members points to the screen and says "There!". On the screen is a black and white video of some Indian lady passing in front of the security camera. The Indian lady starts wailing even more loudly and some Indian man (her husband?) starts yelling at her and waving his arm like he's going to smack her. I'm guessing she got caught stealing or something like that. After a few more minutes of loud wailing and shouting they all move outside and continue the drama nearby. I restrained myself from asking about what happened. Doesn't involve me so I don't need to know, although a part of me was very curious to find out. My Indian friend Svayam comes in smiling, apparently amused by the whole situation.

Friday, October 16, 2009

2009 10 16. Friday.

This morning one of the persons who helps out at one of the Amma gardens came to me and complained about the plastics they were seeing in the compost we were delivering to them. I'll call this person "GP" for 'garden person'. I told GP I definitely agree its a problem and I'll try to get the compost workers (mostly Indian) to remove more of the plastics. Later that day I told this to one of the Indian senior yellow brahmacharis (YB) who helps out with compost. I told YB what GP had told me about finding lots of plastics in the compost and could he (YB) tell the Indian workers to try and remove more of the plastics? Well, to my surprise, YB starts ranting about how GP is lazy and doesn't help out like they should and on and on. It was definitely a nice little rant with some serious emotion behind it. The rant was surprising because this YB, like most of the yellows, is usually pretty cool, calm and easy going. I rarely (if ever) see them lose their cool. I just listened to the rant without commenting. When the rant was over I decided the best course of action for me would be to just drop the whole issue and let it fade away. I still tell YB to make sure we remove all the plastics we can, but I definitely don't mention GP. I also didn't tell GP about YB's rant; no reason to make waves when no wind is blowing.

Later, after all the compost work was done I was still there taking some compost pile temperatures using my new handy-dandy temperature probe. Swami Jnanamrita comes by and takes a look at what I'm doing. I touch his feet and then share with him a few moments about how I take the temperatures and how it helps us to control the quality of the compost. As I'm sharing I'm feeling good to be with him and also slightly nervous. I have a lot of respect, veneration and good feelings for Swami J so I don't feel casual around him. Kind of like how I would feel if I was having a direct conversation with Amma. I still really enjoy just looking at him; always gives me a good feeling inside. He radiates a lot of clear compassionate energy. I don't know if its true or not but I get the feeling he can can read my subtle levels and sense what's really going on inside me. If he can I'm in trouble... ( smile )

Thursday, October 15, 2009

2009 10 15. Thursday.

This morning after breakfast I had a nice talk with Nicolas and Rachel. She's an American lady who, like Nicolas and I, is very interested in communication skills and conscious relating. We made tentative plans for us to meet once in a while to practice communication skills. I did this a lot starting in 2000. Back then I got connected with Gene Long and Mike Rios, 2 really cool friends in northern Virginia who helped organize a wide range of various personal growth and transformation groups. We had many many meetings and workshops focused on building communication skills and conscious relationships. I had a wonderful time at the meetings and learned a lot. Will be very interesting to practice some of those skills here at the ashram.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

2009 10 14. Wednesday.

I went to the nearby train station this morning to go up to AIMS and have the doctor check the healing progress on my left pinkie. Before the train pulls out I'm walking up and down the cars looking thru the windows trying to see if there's one with an empty seat. None! Every single car is totally packed. Wow. That's unusual. Well I'm definitely not gonna stand on my feet for 3 hours so I hop over to the air conditioned 'Chair Car' and it has lots of empty seats. Yay! I settle into an aisle seat and put on my socks and warm hat. Its chilly! I am totally not used to air conditioning. Brrr. A few minutes later the ticket taker comes in and I wave him over so I can pay him the extra 100 rupees to stay in this car. I then settle in for some nice chanting and sadhana while the train rolls north.

Up at AIMS hospital the doctor plays around with my left pinkie, wiggling it this way and that and muttering to himself. He then smiles and tells me it looks to be healing fine and says I can now start doing some gentle movements and exercises with it. I smile back. Cool! Good news. I go to the receptionist desk, yank out my wallet and ask them whats the charge for the consultation. They give me a blank look like I asked them about X86 op codes or something. Then one of them says "No charge." I shrug and say "Cool." That gets me another blank look. Here in India I have got VERY used to getting blank looks. Why is there no charge this time? Who knows? I exit the hospital and get auto-rickshawed back to the train station, swerving thru deadly crushing traffic and getting bumped around like a barrel rolling down a mogul slope. The usual.

On the way down south the train stops for some reason or other. After about 10 minutes of being stopped I pop outside to join all the other Indians who are outside chatting and pissing in the grass. I stand by myself, the only westerner around, feeling bored and looking at the beautiful blue post monsoon sky and clouds. Some young Indian men come up to me and start chatting. They tell me they're studying English so they can try to go to a British university, and they want to practice their English on me. We chat away about the usual stuff and soon the train horn sounds. We pile back onto the train and two of the young men sit near me to practice some more. They all want to get MBA's and become entrepreneurs. I tell them solar power and virtualized data services (VDS) like Amazon ECC are gonna be big growth areas. I have a fun time explaining VDS and they immediately get it. Many young Indian are totally savvy about IT.

Monday, October 12, 2009

2009 10 12. Monday.

For a few days each morning I was getting my 1/2 liter thermos filled with chai. The guy who pours the unsweetened morning chai seems totally happy to fill up whatever container we give him. I was drinking all the chai before doing my morning sadhana, and then later on feeling a little wired and jittery. No surprise after a 1/2 liter of chai! Jeez. I'm outta control. Coming back to my senses, I now switched back to getting just one serving of chai. Much better. Just the right amount of buzz for a nice sadhana session.

After breakfast while walking back to my room I had a funny dialog with the Fake American Sadhu:

Me (seeing him come near): "Hare Krishna!"

FAS: "Krishna, Krishna! You passed my test. I was checking to see if Krishna was at the top of your mind."

Me: "Krishna is everywhere. The whole planet is Krishna!"

FAS: "No, this place is just a speck of dust at Krishna's feet. Sometimes this place should be called 'Planet Crapton'."

Me (laughing) "Planet Crapton! That's great! I'm gonna remember that."

He's totally nutty but he makes me laugh. Very cool.

Now whenever any of my friends visit the ashram the first thing they'll say is "Can you introduce me to the Fake American Sadhu?"

Mukhunda and I went to the big Amma metal shop across the backwaters to get them to make a long metal temperature probe I need for the compost work. As the metal workers are making what I need I look around and notice how OSHA would quickly shut this place down with all the egregious safety violations: unprotected welding work, frayed power cords on the ground, everybody wearing cheap sandals that offer zero protection, very loud banging with no hearing protection, long fluorescent bulbs with no protective covers, sharp scrap metal strewn all over the floor, etc, etc... I hope Amma's protective grace is working here!

Me and another guy are out at the cowshed this afternoon mixing up the bins of cow dung and urine for the day's compost. I see this well dressed Indian man take a standing position behind one of the cows. He puts a very long plastic glove on his left arm and then jams his whole arm up the cow's vagina. Wow! I get very nervous imagining the cow is gonna kick him and break both his legs. Scary. But apparently the man has done this hundreds of times and is a total professional. Then he takes a long thin metal tube and inserts it into the cow's vagina for a moment or two. A light goes off in my head and I guess that he's just giving an artificial insemination. Later on I ask and he's says that's exactly what he's doing. I admire his bravery. A cow can kick really hard!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

2009 10 11. Sunday.

I'm now back in the nice routine of getting up around 5:30am so I can get the morning 6am chai. After grabbing my chai, I come back to my room, do a little laundry and then do chanting, IAM technique, bhajans and meditation until about 9am. 2.5 hours of sadhana feels great! Especially when I'm riding on top of a little chai buzz. Also wonderful that this building (the 'N' building) is blissfully quiet in the mornings. Mostly westerners here and many of them also do morning sadhana same time as me.

As I'm typing this I'm delighting that my left pinkie has healed to the point where I can type with it again. Yay! I go a lot faster when I can touch type.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

2009 10 10. Saturday.

Here at the ashram I find it a good place to be aware of how I emotionally react to so many things, big and small. I'm getting a chance to see the reactions more clearly and contemplate how the reactions are generally not needed and not useful. And, at the same time, I'm working on practicing forgiving myself for all my reactivity. I'm realizing more and more I can't be compassionate, forgiving and relaxed with others unless I can be that way with myself. Its true; charity starts at home.

One of the western female renunciates helped out in the compost area a few days ago. This morning she was telling me how much she enjoyed the experience. She said the Indian men in the compost area treated her well, unlike how she's treated by Indian men in other areas of the ashram. She said often the Indian men will not take her seriously and not respect the work she does. She was saying that Mukhunda was especially nice to work with. I agreed and said that he was always sweet and joyful. She replied "Just like you." and walked away to get breakfast. For a few seconds I was like a deer in the headlights, trying to determine if I had heard her correctly. For the next few days my mind wanted to go into all kinds of stories about what she meant by that. And, at the same time, another part of my mind was observing and gently laughing at my habit of wanting to spin off into all kinds of stories. This lady was tall and attractive which only added to my stories. Ah, how beguiling are the leelas of the mind! The One Brahman loves to play the game of hide-and-seek from Itself. Oh, well, I'm stuck in the game for a while; might as well play for fun.

Now that there's hardly anyone in the computer room I have time to download a few podcasts. Oh no! Not back to my podcast addiction! I'm limiting myself to my few very favorite podcasts: 'Buddhist Geeks' (wonderful show about modern American Buddhism), 'Security Now' (gotta make sure my laptop stays secure) and 'Changesurfer Radio' (a really cool trans-humanist podcast that also covers techno-singularity topics). I listen to the podcasts while brushing my teeth and getting myself cleaned up after the messy compost work.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

2009 10 07. Wednesday.

At breakfast this morning an Indian man asked me the question I get asked all the time; "Where are you from?" Just for fun and to do something different I replied "This body was born in America." He looked at me for a second and asked "And your soul?" With a somewhat bored and knowing expression, I said "The soul is everywhere and nowhere." That got me a few seconds of silence. He was no doubt impressed with my unique ability to combine deep piety with profound egoic pretentiousness. During the silence I noticed his eyes were closed and his body was gently shaking as though he were suppressing some emotion. Obviously my wisdom was touching him deeply.

( smile )

What actually happened is after I said "everywhere and nowhere" we started a conversation. Turns out he could speak English pretty good but apparently he could barely understand it (or at least my version of spoken English). Every time I said something I got a blank look and had to repeat it a few times before he seemed to understand. His answers came from far out in left field and were not connected to my replies at all. Very surrealistic. I decided the dialog wasn't going anywhere so I excused myself to get some more food and went to sit somewhere else.

Later on the FAS came up to me and started rambling about god knows what. Apparently he was in a good mood because as he was yapping he reached out and gave me a side hug! I was really surprised. A week or so ago I overheard him talking to another westerner. The FAS was saying in a very serious tone of voice that he was a sadhu and should not to be touched. And in the past whenever I reached out to touch his arm in a friendly way he would pull away with a scared expression. I just chuckled at his seriousness and had no problem not touching him. So I was surprised he would touch me. He continued yabbering in a good natured fashion and I said "Gotta run!" and walked away. He was still yabbering as I walked out of earshot.

As I walked thru the big hall toward the Indian lunch area there were about 400 older Indian ladies gathered there for some function. They were all talking loudly and simultaneously. Wow! What a racket. It was really loud. I had a quick lunch and got outta there.

As I went to the compost area I saw the truck full of wood chips there. Yay! We're almost out of wood chips so I was glad to get some more. The truck was stuck cause Lakshmi (the female elephant) was chained right on the path. The driver didn't know any English but I tried to communicate to him to wait here until the mahouts (elephant handlers) come back. He didn't understand my English but he did understand the word "mahout". He smiled, pointed toward the west and trotted off down a path. Curious, I followed. He went to a little concrete house right next to the building where I live. He called inside and a few minutes later one of the mahouts came out with his hair disheveled and putting on his dhoti. The driver and mahout spoke in an animated fashion for a few moments and then we all trotted back to the compost area where the mahout got Lakshmi moved. The truck backed up and dumped my precious wood chips. Cool.

After compost as I was sitting outside my building brushing the sand off my feet when I noticed a very small scorpion crawling up my left sleeve. Yikes! Double-ungood Yikes!! I quickly brushed it off and it landed on the sand nearby. I saw it waving its tiny little claws in the air and moving its stinger tail. Jeez! What a little monster. I was just about to squish it right then and there but decided to just brush it farther away. Little guy scared the poop out of me! But because I just came back from compost work my clothes looked like that had already happened. Maybe this scorpion gave me a chance to make up for the scorpion I squished a few weeks ago.

My mind felt unusually calm and quiet at dinner; I was working on memorizing a Sanskrit prayer which one of the westerners had translated for me.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

2009 10 06. Tuesday.

The Fake American Sadhu (FAS) knocked on my door this morning at about 5:30am a few minutes after I got out of bed. He was in a bad state; looking very disheveled and talking (it was actually more like incoherent rambling) about wanting to leave his body and having this or that problem. Couldn't really make too much sense of what he was saying, but obviously the poor guy was suffering. It seems he has some deep psychological issues. Paranoia, depression, bipolar or a combination. I tried to be very reassuring and tell him how much Amma and Krishna love him and how they want him to stay in his body for a long time to help the world and grow spiritually. It seemed to help. Poor guy is a little more messed up than I thought. But, IMHO, the Amma ashram here is probably one of the best places for him. I feel he's getting big wonderful doses of Amma's love which is helping him a lot on the subtle levels.

Now if he had knocked on my door a little earlier while I was still sleeping, I might not have been so compassionate. Lucky for him and me.

Now I'm making a point of greeting him with a cheerful "Hare Krishna!" FAS is a dedicated Vaishnava (i.e. a devotee of Vishnu and the Vishnu avatars, which includes Krishna). FAS is still trying to reconcile how a fellow Krishna devotee (me) could end up with the name "Advait". From what little I've read, Advaita Vedanta in India tends to be more associated with Shiva. I think Adi Shankar Acharya (a very influential 8th century Indian proponent of pure Advaita) is considered to be an emanation of Shiva. But in reality, its all one Brahman, so why fuss over the details? (unless its fun). I tell the FAS I'm an "Advaita Vaishnava". He just rolls his eyes and starts rambling about some obscure Upanishadic passage. I give him a cheerful "Gotta run!" and continue on my way. The guy will still talk your ear off if you let him so I'm getting good at smiling and walking away while he's still yapping. As it is, my mind does plenty enough aimless rambling; no need to listen to it from someone else.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

2009 10 04. Sunday.

Saw a funny sight this morning. I was at the compost area catching up on some work when this young western lady comes by pushing a wheelbarrow full of some green waste. She asks me where to dump it and I escort her to the pile out back where we dump all the green waste. Its a hot day and she's sweating. As she dumps the waste I can clearly see thru her thin cotton blouse and pants that's she's wearing what is popularly know as "t-back" panties. That's a style of sexy underwear for those of you who may not know. (for the guys reading this, please at least finish the next sentence before you run off and do a google image search). Kerala is a very conservative, traditional part of India so I had to smile at how a Kerala man may react if he saw what I saw. Only because of Amma's grace am I now somewhat less interested in such sights.

Its interesting that here in very conservative Kerala you can sometimes see billboards of an attractive woman with an open shirt advertising a brand of bra. I'm now surprised to see such things because here at the ashram there's pretty much zero sexy images of any kind. All the women (western and Indian) dress very conservatively. In America I was used to going into any store and seeing all kinds of very provocative images on magazine covers, etc. Not to mention seeing provocatively dressed women in the warmer weather. When I'm not exposed to that anymore, its a little surprising when I do see it. For me I definitely enjoy not having that kind of stimulation around. Helps my mind stay quieter. But don't get me wrong, I'm all for individual freedom and liberal values, and I support laws that allow for people to dress in public any way they darn well please. I'm guessing that people's consciousness will slowly evolve to the point where clothing is totally optional and no one will care if people walk around nude.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

2009 10 03. Saturday.

Amma left for Her European tour at around 12:30 this afternoon. She came down the steps of the Kali Temple and stepped into a beautiful large cream white Mercedes sedan and drove off with a police escort. Most of us devotees were there in the courtyard with palms pressed together delighting in catching a glimpse of Amma. The lucky ones standing on the driver's side were able to touch Amma's hand as She stuck it out the window while Her car pulled out. Happy travels Amma! We'll miss you! Many of the the western devotees at the ashram will soon leave to join Amma on tour.

I purchased a new thermos this morning. After compost I put some hot chai in it, screwed on the lid and stuck it in my shoulder bag. 5 minutes later I noticed a big wet stain on the bag. (warning! rant begins here) What's this?! The thermos leaked! Jeez! I spent the next 10 minutes in my mind cursing how many Indian made products are dreadfully poor quality and made by people who apparently don't care about making something that works properly. Grrr! (end of rant) I tossed the thermos in the trash. A few months ago I had another Indian made thermos that also turned out to have a leak. Trash.

Friday, October 2, 2009

2009 10 02. Friday.

I rushed off for Amma darshan right after compost. I quickly showered, went to the Kali temple and got in darshan line. I borrowed 50 rupees from Nicolas to get some Amma prasad. While waiting we had a nice talk about the importance of self forgiveness. Toward the end they said no more darshan for westerners. Pooh! Oh, well. There was a big crush of people around Amma at the end, wanting to get a final hug before Amma goes on Her European tour tomorrow. The ornate wooden doors to the beautiful Kali murti (statue) were open so I offered my prasad to Her (Kali) after doing some pranams (prostrations) and mantras. In my deeper self I know Amma and the Kali murti are one and the same. Amma enlivened and awakened the Kali murti statue during its installation ceremony years ago.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

2009 10 01. Thursday.

I was in a bit sour mood again this morning and then the thought popped into my mind that whatever my mood is is just reality, just like the weather is whatever it is. Its just some energy passing through me and I really have no control over it. Or, to put it another way, whatever mood arises is nothing personal. It has nothing to do with the real me. Its not my mood that's the problem, but rather my resistance to a negative mood or clinging to a positive mood. That's the real difficulty. After pondering and integrating that thought, I felt better.

There was lots of nonstop rain this afternoon and that made for some seriously miserable compost work. There was no western volunteer help today; just me and a crew of Indian volunteers. But my energy was really good. I kept telling myself that the real work is keeping my cool in the midst of managing all the compost work.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

2009 09 30. Wednesday.

For some reason I was in a sour mood this morning. As I was eating my breakfast the Indian man across the table was staring at me. Usually that doesn't bother me but today it was highly annoying. My sour mood faded away in a few hours.

Had a very interesting talk with Rajan. He's an older British guy who's been a devotee of Amma for about 22 years. He was telling me all kinds of fascinating and very interesting stories about his encounters with Amma and Her senior swamis. I don't know much I can believe his stories (some of them are quite remarkable and surprising), but he's very entertaining.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

2009 09 29. Tuesday.

I've been meaning to ask Amma at the Tuesday satsangs about what She means by awakening. At the satsang today She responded to a question from someone else and in part of Her answer She spoke about what it means to awaken. Yay! My question got answered. Amma said that one aspect of being awakened is living with constant remembrance of who we are as That, Brahman, the Self or Pure Consciousness. Amma said when that knowledge is effortlessly with you all the time, that's a sign you're in an awakened state.

At Mukhunda's request I wrote up a little note for Amma saying that the birthday compost went well (because of Amma's grace) and could we hire some workers to help with the compost work? He told me to meet him at the Kali temple after Amma prasad lunch. When I went to the Kali temple Mukhunda wasn't there so I went back to the compost work. Jagadan (another yellow brahmachari) told me to go back and show it to Amma. So I shrugged and went back to the temple wondering how I was going to get the note to Amma. Usually they're careful about letting people close to Amma. I showed the note to one of the Indian men managing the darshan line. He just told me to wait, so I sat down and waited; enjoying being near Amma and chanting my mantra. Finally, as the darshan line was finishing he waved me to come forward. He took me close to Amma and read the note to Her. Amma flashed me a big smile, spoke a few words to the man and returned to giving hugs to the last few people in line. The man turned to me and said "Amma says 'No' to hiring workers." I was a little disappointed but figured that with Amma's grace we'd get all the work done somehow. (As I'm writing this a few weeks later the work is getting done pretty well with the volunteer workers. The food waste is a lot less with Amma now gone on tour as of 10/3/09.)

Monday, September 28, 2009

2009 09 28. Monday.

Less than five seconds after my alarm went off, some noisy neighbors started talking loudly. Perfect timing! Slept well. Rained a lot last night.

Soon after I woke up i noticed a wet spot on my sheet on the edge of the bed. What's this? Did I pee in my bed or something? Soon I noticed a small drip from the ceiling. Oh, that's it. I've got a leaky roof. Luckily I sleep in the bottom bunk of a bunk bed so I was able to put a bucket on the top bunk to catch the drips. Easy fix. Its a very small leak so I'm not gonna worry about getting it fixed yet. Rainy season should be over soon.

I found out that Amma gave darshan (hugs) from noon Sunday until 9am Monday. That's 21 hours in Her chair hugging about 80,000 people with no bathroom break. That's a typical program for Amma whenever She goes on Her Indian tours. The whole time She's reaching out to people with both arms, holding them and often caressing their backs. With that many people, She moves pretty fast. Whenever I see Amma hug that many people without any break, I really feel like I'm witnessing a miracle.

I'm discovering its easier to do my mantra when I'm out and about walking around, and more difficult to do when I'm alone in my room. Something about knowing other people are around inspires me to get more focused on my mantra. When I'm alone my mind more easily wanders. I'm becoming a lot more aware of this and trying to get more focused on my mantra when I'm alone. Just seeing this pattern helps.

I've got a library card for the main library and Dortmund wanted to borrow a book. So we went there together so I could get the book for him. He got a book called "Mystical Formulae" written by an Indian man. The English translation is laughably terrible! The translator barely knew English so reading it is pretty funny. Its a book filled with hundreds of mantras for all kinds of different purposes. Mantras for getting a lover, for flying, for getting wealth, for defeating enemies, for curing snake bite. You name it, this book has a mantra for it. In the middle of the book in some random spot is a mantra for enlightenment. Cool! Just have to do the ceremony correctly and repeat it 100,000 times and boom! You're enlightened! Be warned that the ceremony is pretty complicated. And the book says repeatedly that if you don't do it just right you won't get the result. I'll just stick with my Amma mantra. I wonder if they have a mantra for curing chai addiction? Actually what I'd really like is a mantra to help me be happy with less sleep. But because I've got Marfan's syndrome (which affects my main aorta) its probably good for me to get enough sleep. Helps minimize the overall stress on this aorta.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

2009 09 27. Sunday.

I was standing outside my door this morning wiping some sand off my feet before going into my room. The Fake American Sadhu walked by and said "What are you doing?! You're not supposed to touch your feet!" I had no idea what he was talking about but just for fun, I smiled and reached out my hand like I was going to touch him. He laughed and jumped away. Strange guy, but amusing.

2nd day of Amma's program. LOTS of people here and A LOT of food waste. Wow. Another good crew of helpers and we got it all done after working all day. We had A LOT of really wet food waste. Too wet to go into the main compost pile, so I had them dump it around some big palm trees and cover it all with a good thick layer of older compost. I was really pooped at the end of the day, but felt good that we had kept so much food waste out of the backwaters.

Had a nice talk with Nicolas today. He's a very nice but kind of taciturn young guy from the Czech Republic. He's been helping a lot at the compost area and he'll be here until February 2010. I asked him if he would be willing to be trained as the alternate compost manager and he said yes. Yay! Now I can finally take a few days off once in a while to catch up on other things. Nicolas is also very interested in Marshall Rosenberg's 'Non-Violent Communication' (NVC) work and we occasionally have nice talks about that.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

2009 09 26. Saturday.

Amma's birthday celebration today and tomorrow. Lots of people here. We had A LOT of food waste to compost today. But with Amma's grace we had a good crew of helpers and we got it all done. Made a really big compost pile. I'll call it a compost mountain.

Friday, September 25, 2009

2009 09 25. Friday.

Looked outside my window this morning to the small field where they tie up some of the cows. I saw one of the calves chewing on some laundry that had been hung out to dry. Someone is gonna be pissed!

I met Kandre at the compost area this morning and we had a relaxed talk about upcoming compost plans. He seems to have a lot of anger that's just waiting for an excuse to come out, so when I talk with him I try to be extra relaxed and easy going. Good practice.

Saw a really small baby scorpion crawling on one of the walls in my room. Jeez! Scary. First time I've seen a scorpion in the wild. I squashed the little guy and said a little prayer for it to have a good rebirth (hopefully somewhere else and as something else). I have to accept the karma of killing it but scorpions in my room is where I draw the line, thank you very much. I kill mosquitoes all the time so maybe killing one tiny scorpion won't add too much to my slowly composting pile of old karma.

Went to the last part of the Amma bhajans tonight. Always very inspiring to see Her on stage filling the whole hall with amazing devotion and grace. Watching Her, I really felt how She was all about giving, giving and giving some more.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

2009 09 24. Thursday.

They told me a bus would be going to the ashram this morning from AIMS (free ride! yay!), but after waiting around for an hour they said it was canceled. Pooh! So I had to grab an auto-rickshaw to the local train station. On the way there I saw another auto-rickshaw with a rear window picture of a traditional small Christian church covered with snow and surrounded by snow covered pine trees. I had to smile. Now there's a scene that's a million miles away from hot, steamy tropical Kerala! Also saw a sign for a "Pollution Test Center". I laughed. Just take a whiff and you'll have no problem detecting the pollution!

At the train station I got my ticket and sat down to do some mantra japa. Some strange acting man tried to hand me some bananas. No thank you! He then put them on my lap. I promptly tossed them in the trash. Definitely don't take any food from strangers here. Lots of stories of thieves putting drugs in the food and then stealing from you.

I did some chanting and mantra on the ride home and that seemed to help my mood. Was feeling better when I got back to the ashram. The auto-rickshaw dropped me off at Vallikav (the little town next to the ashram). Walking back I fell into step with Upasan, a very nice and thoughtful tall young British guy. He had just come from the internet cafe where he said he just finished watching "7 Years in Tibet", a movie about the early life of the Dalai Lama. He shared his ambivalence about his love for spiritual movies and books vs. the other part of him that says he should skip all that and just do sadhana instead. His thoughts and feelings on this issue echoed some of my own and it felt good to hear him share many things that I also thought and wondered about. The more people (especially westerners) I talk to here, the more I realize how much we all share in terms of our spiritual path with Amma. Seems most of us have similar concerns and worries that get resolved in similar ways.

This evening as I was stepping out of my room to go to Amma darshan I fell into conversation with James, a nice middle aged American guy. He did some energy healing on my hurt pinkie. Felt really good! As he was gently touching my left hand I was feeling waves of wonderful tingling pleasure all over. After he finished the healing he rambled on aimlessly about various topics; his spiritual path, things I should do to help my finger heal, etc. Because his healing felt so good I listened politely for a while, but finally I had to pull myself away to go to darshan or I sensed he would talk at me for a long time.

At darshan, as I was in Amma's divine arms She was talking to someone else. I was feeling such deep appreciation for all the love that Amma gives that I started to cry just a little. Amma quickly whispered "My darling son." a few times in my right ear and let me go. The emotion I experienced in Her arms felt cleansing. Thanks, Amma! As time goes by I'm feeling more and more how much Amma really means it when She whispers that we're Her darling children. Its really true! She's definitely always with us if we just reach out a little to Her.

After dinner a very short Indian man saw the splint on my left arm and asked me how I hurt my hand. I told him and he said "Whenever an Amma devotee gets an injury like that here at the ashram, you can be sure its Amma's way of preventing some much bigger problem in the future." I replied that I feel he's totally correct. He's definitely preaching to the choir on that one. I can imagine some of my friends and family may think that's a strange way of looking at things. But I'm sure some of my relatives who are deeply Christian feel the same way that Jesus is always watching over them and helping out. At first I was feeling very frustrated about my finger injury, but now I'm getting used to it healing slowly and appreciating that its probably removing some of my parabdha karma.

Getting connected with a living master guru like Amma has given me a perspective on things that's very different in many ways from the mainstream mindset. Oh, well. Its just one big ball of Reality, no matter how you look at it. When I open a disco I'll call it the "Reality Ball".