Sunday, May 31, 2009

2009 05 31. Sunday.

2009 05 31. Sunday.

I helped out with the veggie chopping this morning and had a nice talk with a young French woman (Reneeya, about 26 years old I would guess) who was there. She hadn't yet received Amma darshan but was very excited about meeting Amma later this year in France. Reneeya told me about an Amma dream she had and how she's getting more and more interested in spiritual practice. She was really cute! Tall and willowy with dark hair, dark eyes and a really nice golden olive skin color. That combined with her French accent made her very attractive. I didn't let on about that (or at least tried not to). One very nice thing for me about getting older is my sexual energy seems to be fading away pretty significantly. Yea! I like that. Feels very nice not to have all that sexual shakti clogging up my system and messing with my mind. It can get awakened under the right circumstances, but I'm now happy for it to lie dormant and hopefully fade away even more. My mind is already discombobulated enough as it is.

Before coming to the vegging chopping seva, I was carrying a little story about how I didn't want to do seva around people who were doing a lot of chit chatting. We started the seva and internally I worked on shifting my attitude that if there's silence, then I can enjoy doing my mantra. If its in the flow to talk, then I can enjoy the conversation. I notice that I often create artificial boundaries around my sadhana that, in reality, aren't useful or helpful. I'm noticing that problems less and less exist "out there" but primarily exist when I have a contracted attitude about some situation. When I loosen up my attitude and practice just flowing with whatever is happening, then solutions arise naturally and "problems" fade away. The problem transforms into an opportunity to just be in harmony with reality. Which, I think, is one of the big lessons that Amma wants me to learn.

While we're working at the recycling area, some Indians like to come by and see if there's anything interesting in the trash. We find a lot of useful items that can be resold. When the Indian men come by, I get a feeling like they shouldn't be there and they're interfering with our work. When the ladies come by, I feel like I want to be helpful and help them find what they need. So very obviously I'm carrying around some old and useless story about this situation. I'll have to look at this story more closely so I can try to let it go. I think I've got some old gender stereotypes still active in my subconscious.

One thing I notice sometimes during my sadhana is that I'll have this background feeling that doing sadhana is something special and that I'm a special person for doing it. Its kind of like I'm taking my sadhana personally rather than just letting it flow with no expectations. I see that I have a story about sadhana that I carry around in my head. I think its connected to a deeper egoic need I have to feel special and to be seen as special (which is just a reflection of my insecurities). It seems this egoic need runs pretty deep and comes out in all kinds of ways. Some ways I can see. Others I probably can't see, but I'm sure others can see just fine! Thats scary.

One nice thing about ashram life is that many of the usual choices in life are taken care of for us. I don't have to think about what to fix for meals, when to eat, what to wear, what work to do, etc. For me that frees up a lot of mental space so I can concentrate more on my moment by moment mindfulness practice.

5:15pm: Bright bright sunshine pouring in through my window. Clear and hot but the ocean breeze and ceiling fan are more than sufficient to maintain comfort. Down the hall someone's tea kettle is whistling for a few seconds before they pull it off the flame. Right near the window some pigeons are cooing. Occasionally and with suddenness, their dark shapes with wings folded all the way in will drop like a stone falling outside the window. Mostly I hear just the sound of the ocean waves and car horns from the north-south beach road. Afternoon chai has settled in comfortably. I hear the sound of a door down the hall. Coming or going I can't tell. Absent is the usual sound of one of the ashram Indian ladies slapping laundry loudly and rapidly against a flat rock. Clothes aren't clean here unless they feel the pain. Perhaps she's all done for the day.

I was feeling out of sorts during my usual evening sadhana time. I had a nice meditation, but it seems that the energy of the meditation threw me off somehow. Afterwards my head felt foggy and slightly achy. I needed to take a break so I did some little tasks in the room when normally I would have been listening to my MP3 bhajans. Often when I meditate I'll feel nice concentration and settling down, but there'll be like a pressure at the top of my head. Like the meditation is generating some kind of difficult energy there. Don't know what it is, but I'll try to examine it more closely. Perhaps its telling me I need to adjust my sadhana in some way.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

2009 05 30. Saturday.

2009 05 30. Saturday.

As I suspected would happen, I've been roped into more seva. I should be happy cause Amma says seva is the fastest way to purification in today's world. OK, I'm happy, see? Happy now? This morning before breakfast, one of the seva organizers ask me to help with morning veggie chop from 7-9am. He didn't know I was already doing trash seva but I said I would try to do the veggie chop also. Actually I really should be happy cause veggie chop is an easy seva, just sitting on my lazy butt and flailing away with the knife. Gotta make sure and count my fingers after each seva session.

This afternoon an American renunciate here (Cameron) let me borrow his UPS to see if it would provide a good ground circuit for my laptop power. As we were talking I asked him if there was Wi-Fi at the ashram. He said he didn't know of any. Then he said something that really surprised me: "If you're nonchalant and cool, you can go into the boys computer room and use the internet there. Just act like you should be there and usually they won't say anything." Wow! That is a *seriously* useful and wonderful insider tip! The boys computer room is where male ashram residents go to mainly work on the ashram web site (which is a pretty extensive web site at It takes a lot of effort to keep a big web site like that up to date. Apparently, as long as the privilege is not abused, male ashram residents can go in there to check personal email, etc. So, feeling vaguely guilty and nervous, I quietly stepped inside and set myself down in front of one of the computers, expecting any minute one of the big swamis to slap his hand on my shoulder, glare down at me, and ask what I'm doing there. However, everyone there completely ignored me as though I totally belonged there. Wow. That was like too good to be true. I checked my email and took care of some banking transactions and, shortly before 4pm chai, quietly gathered my bag and stepped back out, still slightly dazed at my good fortune of discovering this option. The main ashram public internet room is a rupee (2 cents) a minute so this will save me a tidy sum. I'll use my savings to buy some extra hot whole milk at night. Hear that, Dad? Even more good protein!

While I was plowing through my email one of the Amma swamis was sitting next to me at his computer station. Nearby a young Indian guy was working on an Amma article for the website. At one point the swami gave a very nice little impromptu dharma talk to the young Indian guy about the deeper meaning of what an ashram is all about. It was really cool to listen in and absorb some wisdom. Moments like that are part of what makes it so nice to live here. Most people's minds here are fixed on dharma in one way or another and that passion also flows in me. Just another small example of the little things that make me feel at home here.

Friday, May 29, 2009

2009 05 29, Friday.

2009 05 29, Friday.

During the Mahay Shasura Mardini song this morning even I (with my tin ear) could tell that the harmonium player was off on his rhythm. Don't these guys have auditions or something? Definitely threw me off. During the song I was enjoying trying to visualize the Sri Goddess Durga larger than life on the big stage sitting on Her tiger and holding in Her ten arms all kinds of weapons and other sacred symbolic items. That is the way Sri Durga is traditionally depicted. Perhaps Sri Durga likes to have all those items because they "may come in handy some day". Definitely a Goddess I can relate to. With those ten arms, Sri Durga would be GREAT to have in the trash recycling area, I bet She could sort a bin of trash in no time flat. Maybe even do 2 or 3 at once.

(I feel its OK to have some gentle fun with the deities because any deity who gets assigned to planet Earth has *got* to have a sense of humor. Without a sense of humor, I'm sure the deities assigned here would have blasted us to smoking ashes a long time ago (I know I would have). Kind of an irrefutable existence proof of their sense of humor. In exchange for guiding us to enlightenment, we humans provide them hilarious non-stop entertainment. Definitely a win-win. Maybe that's why its taking the human race so long to finally grow up. As soon as we're mature and wise, we'll totally lose our entertainment value. And who wants to see their favorite sit-com canceled? )

In my mind I was imagining Sri Durga on a tiger, but I've also seen many other pictures where She's on a lion. Personally, I'm a tiger man. In all the pictures, even though Sri Durga is holding all these fierce weapons, She's always depicted with a sweet and gentle smile, even when She's brutally and graphically decapitating and eviscerating Her arch rival the evil demon Asura something-or-other. I think its Asura Mardini. "Asura" is a Sanskrit word that means demon. The good news is that anyone who gets killed by one of the Hindu Gods or Goddesses immediately gets enlightened and goes right to nirvana. Folks, that is *my* kind of religion. No eternal damnation here. Free pass straight to moksha, even if you're a slathering wild eyed berserker demon (level 65 in WOW).

Before breakfast there was a nice scene in the big hall. Two older skinny Indian men dressed in bright white clothes were strolling slowly, holding hands and having an animated conversation, waving their other hands to punctuate their dialog. It was very sweet to see such natural affection between two men. Far behind them on the big stage was a picture of Amma smiling as only Amma can smile, with a few ghee lamps casting a golden glow on Her picture. Often I'll see young boys, teenagers and young adult men with their arms around each other or holding hands while walking or talking.

At breakfast they had uttapam again. Yum! The Indians apparently are also crazy for the stuff cause I saw the young Indians in line in front of me pile a pound or more of the stuff on their plates. Hey! Save some for me! Believe me, its that good. They had a lot so there was some still in the pot even after I finished my breakfast. I took some more and really stuffed myself. Hey Dad! You reading this? I may even finally put on a few pounds here. I waddled back to my room, belly bulging and happy.

One day, when the stars line up in the perfect jyotish alignment, they'll serve uttapam *and* chai on the same morning. I get shivers just thinking about it. On that morning I'll finally dissolve in a blinding sphere of blissful divine light and merge into my vast inner altar of egoic sense pleasure. Just like Sri Mirabai and Sri Chaitanya merging into the Sri Krishna murtis.

Maybe I could write some bhajans extolling the greatness of chai and uttapam. Hey Achyut, send me a melody and I'll write the lyrics. We can perform it at one of the Amma programs. Well, you can perform it. If they hear me sing they'll grab me and toss me flying head first out of the hall. I have a voice like a bag of rusted metal scrap.

Now I could *pay* for uttapam and chai at the Western Cafe but that is totally not the same, of course. I think you understand.

While walking around the ashram, you see two levels of swamis here; the junior swamis wearing bright yellow robes and the senior swamis in ocher robes. So far I've only seen a few ocher robed swamis, but you can't swing a cat without hitting one of the yellow robed swamis. Lots of them. They sometimes travel in packs. Watch out.

There's two ocher robed swamis in particular who always give me a very good feeling when I see them. One is a younger guy perhaps a bit younger than me and the other looks to be in his mid 50's or so. Don't know their names. Both are on the tall side for Indians. They both have very sweet smiles and have a powerful and gentle presence about them. Makes me want to go and touch their feet and just hang out with them and look at them. May sound strange but when you're crazy for Amma your devotional side can get awakened; it feels good. I'd love to hang out with them, but the ocher robed swamis, in particular, are very busy, constantly fielding questions about organizing the ashram or one of Amma's many many charitable operations. I think a lot of the administration of Amma's charitable empire falls on the ocher robed swamis.

After the recycling work, I had a nice talk with Kundasan. At one point he mentioned he's a massage therapist. I mentioned in passing that two of my Amma friends back in the states had the chance to massage Amma's feet. Kundasan got an envious look and said he would love to massage Amma's feet for days and days, skipping food and drink and massaging Amma's feet till he passes out. As he was sharing I was feeling exactly the same way. I could totally relate to and feel his passionate desire to massage Amma's feet (a rare treat only offered to a few devotees). This is a good example of the feeling of connection that is so palpable for me here. Its little incidents like this make me feel so connected to everyone here even though I don't socialize much. We're all crazy for Amma and that shared passion makes me feel so at home.

This afternoon I went to the internet cafe in Vallikavu to check some email. It was hot! But the ocean breeze kept it bearable. On the way back I was crossing over the bridge when I saw a tall young western man walking toward me. He was wearing essentially a see-through shirt. I thought it looked a little strange, but it was a hot day so it definitely made sense. The man walked past a small family of local Indian townspeople. After he walked past, the locals turned, pointed to the man and started smiling and laughing amongst themselves. Apparently to them a see-through shirt on a man is a very strange sight, worthy of much pointing and giggling. Lots of Indian men around here go shirtless so I don't see it as a big deal, but the Indians sure thought is was weird.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

2009 05 28. Thursday.

2009 05 28. Thursday.

Woke up around 5:20am feeling much better. Very refreshed. Got a good night's sleep and slept right through all the morning wake up bells. I think all my meditation, mantras and sadhana has allowed me to develop one special siddhi; the ability to sleep through all the bells and clangs that indicate early morning sadhana. I have a hunch this siddhi, nice as it is, may not be so ideal in taking me toward God realization. To which my advaita friends would say "How can you move toward That which you already are?" Yes, yes, thats completely true of course, but I still wish I wasn't such a lazy, sleep addicted Amma devotee.

After I got back to my room sipping my morning (unsweetened) chai I heard the distinctive call of one of the sea eagles coming from the 10th floor balcony on the south side of the building. I imagined it was saying something like "OK, pigeons, talk amongst yourselves and decide which one of you will be my breakfast."

Hopefully that eagle is going after the pigeons rather than dive bombing the food plates at the western cafe the way a few of the eagles like to do. The last time I was here, it happened to me and scared the poop out of me. Because this is a PG rated blog, I will refrain from revealing my real thoughts about that eagle. Doesn't look good for an Amma devotee to be expressing seething egoic anger. I think that incident is written up in an entry from '05 or '06.

At breakfast one of the Indian food guys was serving small spoonfuls of some dark sauce. Putting my two brain cells (I like to have a spare just in case) into high gear, I immediately surmised that if they were only serving small spoonfuls of it, then it must be hot. Throwing caution to the wind and taking my life in my hands, I went and got a tiny dab of the stuff. I was right. It was really hot. Mein Gott! Pure fire! How can they eat this stuff? Must be some Indian cultural heritage siddhi passed down from generation to generation. But after I mixed my tiny amount into my watery rice and curry it was actually pretty good (not that the usual curry they serve here needs any extra spices to begin with). Bear in mind I had not much more than a homeopathic dose of the stuff. The Indians had a full spoonful and some of them requested two (I think they were showing off). The guy serving it knew me or knew the tastes of westerners and wisely only gave me a very small amount when I held out my plate for some. Smart man, good karma on ya.

The exact same Indian guys who were serving the food in '06 are still here. They pretty much know exactly what portions I want and instantly remembered it when I showed up again.

When I was taking my empty breakfast plate to wash I noticed there was a jug of chai available! Wow! Sweet chai after breakfast! I never saw that before when I was here last time; maybe a new thing. Cool. And there was still some left in the jug after sitting out for 15 minutes or more. That was a miracle. Feeling vaguely like maybe there was some reason I wasn't allowed to have any (sometimes hard to know what the rules are here), I somewhat furtively got my cup, twisted the handle and watched the hot, light brown liquid flow into my cup. I guess Amma wanted me to have some sweet chai this morning after all. I restrained myself with some serious willpower and only took half a cup (I decline to reveal the size of my cup, however). A serving of sweet chai after the usual Indian breakfast is really good. Bliss! I sat back, sipped and yet again (as I do so often) bowed down and offered puja to my way-too-large and very well maintained inner altar of egoic sense pleasure. Amma's trying to slowly knock that altar down, but I'm fighting Her tooth and nail. A devotee like me really makes Amma earn Her paycheck. But She loves a challenge. Without Ravana, would there be a Lord Rama?

(Apologies to my non-Hinduphile readers who aren't familiar with all the Hindu words, allusions and metaphors I pepper throughout this blog. I've been simmering in the Hindu cultural and religious soup long enough now that a lot of Hindu mythology is now second nature to me. And I've only barely scratched the surface.)

At the recycling center I keep finding useful little items. I gotta be careful or soon my room will be filled to overflowing with little things that "may come in handy some day". Yesterday I made myself a note to stop by Ram's Bazaar (the ashram second hand store) later today and get myself a cheap wallet to hold my wad of rupees. So naturally this morning, as I was sorting trash, I saw one of the other guys toss something through the air into to resellable items bin. I glanced into the bin and lo and behold, a nice wallet! Upon careful examination, I determined it was in great shape. It even had a change pocket (very handy). I wiped some dirt off of it and, glancing around like an experienced shoplifter, put it into the little bag I keep handy for stuff that "may come in handy some day". Actually, its totally OK for us in the recycling team to swipe any items we may find useful. Some of the other guys are even bigger pack rats than me. Nothing quite like the visceral satisfaction of finding something useful in the trash.

One of the more seriously gross things at the recycling center is the bucket where we pour all the personal care and medicinal oils, lotions, potions, tonics, ayurvedic concoctions and various liquids. The Indians love their vast array of ayurvedic potions. Even the ants and crows won't go near that bucket. I'm afraid to ask what they do with it when its full. One of the many things in life that's better left a mystery.

Its been a pretty clear day today so now I'm getting a taste of the Indian summer. Hot but very manageable. The constant ocean breeze makes a really huge difference. Even in the hottest part of the day, there's salty breeze to keep everything from getting too stifling.

After lunch and doing laundry, I walked over the new bridge into Vallikavu (the town next to the ashram) to hop onto the internet and catch up on emails, etc. Its gonna be a challenge, but I want to see if I can keep my internet time to a bare minimum. Last time I was here back in '05 and '06 I spent a lot of time reading all my science and technology list emails, browsing the news and generally killing time. Its a tough habit to break! I think I've got mild ADHD or something cause I get very easily distracted by TV, radios, internet, etc. If there's a TV or something like playing within sight of me, its very hard to turn away and focus on whatever else I may be doing. A TV pulls for my attention like a powerful siren song. So in that sense its very nice being here at the ashram where there are essentially no distractions like that.

Without all the distractions that I used to experience, I'm finding that I can practice my Amma mantra A LOT better than I could at home. Its much more easy and natural here to keep it going in my mind. The last time I was here, for whatever reason, it was difficult to keep it going. But this time around it seems to be flowing much more smoothly. The are signs around the ashram reminding us to chant our mantras. I think I'm feeling the potential power of the mantra more than I used to.

A bit of background for those not familiar with mantras: In the Hindu tradition, a mantra is typically a short phrase (one to a few dozen syllables) usually consisting of sacred Sanskrit syllables. "Mantra" literally means something like "collecting the mind". Traditionally a guru (like Amma) will offer to give a mantra to their disciples. The theory is that a true guru like Amma can look deep inside to the inner condition of the disciple and give them just the right mantra they need to speed up their spiritual growth. Also the guru will imbue the mantra with their sacred energy, making it more powerful and effective. Usually the guru will whisper the mantra into the ear of the disciple (Amma does this. Its wonderful to remember when Amma whispered to me my mantra.). The mantra helps create a strong spiritual bond between the guru and disciple. After getting the mantra, the disciple keeps it secret and chants it as often as possible. The theory is that after chanting it many many times, the mantra will start to run on automatic, always playing and repeating in the background of the mind. Thus the mantra is one of the practices that clears away old karmas, purifies the mind and carries the disciple to God-realization. Mantras can be used for other purposes (even nefarious purposes, surprisingly), but that's too much to go into here. Feel free to research.

This evening around 8:30pm or so I gave a quick call to my friend Vera (about 11am her time). It was really nice talking and sharing and hearing her voice. I miss the long conversations we had. Since I've only been here a week it was kind of like being in two different worlds at the same time while talking with her. So recent and yet it seems like so long ago that I was back in the states. I guess its because I was here before and could pretty much effortlessly step back into the ashram groove. The world here is so different and also so familiar and comfortable. Now that I think about it, there's a lot less stress here for me. Rather then so many outside demands on my time and attention, the discipline now must come from the inside in that its now up to me how I spend a lot of my time. That feels really good. The discipline feels easier because I'm doing the things I feel the most passion for; those activities like sadhana and seva which I feel will have the biggest payoff for me in the long run. Well, I'm not sure I actually feel a passion for seva, but I do know its a great way to dissolve old karma.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

2009 05 27. Wednesday.

2009 05 27. Wednesday.

It was a quiet night and I slept really well. No slamming doors or crazy wind storms. To my delight I slept right through all the early morning wake up bells for Archana (yeah, I'm a good sadhak... right). I'm definitely a lazy devotee but its hard to do sadhana when I'm constantly tipping over and passing out with sleepiness. Or at least thats my excuse; I don't think Amma buys it. Perhaps one day Amma will grace me with the ability to get by on less sleep.

I was up around 4:50am, feeling refreshed and did the stotram of the 1,000 Names before the Mahay Shasura Mardini bhajan and chai. As an experiment I took the unsweetened chai to see if doing without the sugar helps. Often after I drink the regular sweetened chai I'll fly high for a while and then crash. Not a hard crash, but enough to make me a little drowsy and groggy. Maybe my system doesn't like the extra sugar. Probably smart to avoid the sugar anyway cause diabetes runs strongly in my paternal family. I've seen directly from some family members that living with diabetes is a COMPLETE hassle and pain in the butt. We'll see how long my unsweetened chai experiment lasts. Knowing my will power (or lack thereof) the smart money is on it not lasting too long.

Well, the smart money lived up to its name. My sugar free chai tapas lasted all of about 8 hours. But I have a lame excuse. I mean a good reason. I was assigned to help with cleaning the western cafe floor at 2pm. I thought it would be a pretty easy seva but it turned out to be 3.5 hours of hard work moving chairs and tables, scrubbing and and mopping the big floor and putting everything back. I was really tired when 4pm chai rolled around. At around 3:45pm, the Italian guy in charge of the seva called out "OK, chai break!". That Italian guy seemed to have enough energy for 3 people! He was a real dynamo. I was envious! We still had a lot of work to do at that time so I figured the only way I would get through it is to put some quick energy (i.e. sugar) into my system. It worked. After the chai, I felt a bit more energized and was able to (just barely) make it through to the end of the seva.

As I was sipping my chai during the chai break, the skinny dog that hangs out at the western cafe barked and ran up to some of the young Indians who were walking nearby. He did this a few times. The dog didn't bother any of the many westerners who were walking around; just the young Indians. Curious. Maybe the dog was abused by a young Indian at some point. Amma has specified definite rules not to pet or feed the dogs that hang out here, but some of the westerners can't resist giving a pet and some scraps to an obviously underfed dog. A skinny dog is a sorry sight, but if we started feeding any of the dogs, then there would quickly be dozens or more of them here, creating all kinds of problems. There are a few cats here, but they look well fed, no doubt feeding on the endless supply of rats and mice that sneak around the ashram. The last time I was here I only saw a rat once or twice so, from my perspective at least, they seem to be well under control. Gassho to the cats!

After the chai break, we got back to work cleaning the floor. At one point I was scrubbing the floor and feeling really tired, so I wasn't scrubbing with a lot of vigor. Near me was a little dark haired European boy about 9 years old also scrubbing the floor with a lot of energy and having fun. The Italian guy in charge called to me and said (while pointing to the European kid) "Hey! See how he's doing it? Scrub the floor like him!" The little European kid then turned and gave me a smirky smile. At that point I desperately wanted to clobber both of them with my broom but a.) I was too pooped to swing my broom. b.) I've already got a big pile of steaming karma so why add another fresh shovelful to the heap? and c.) they would probably misinterpret my hitting them with the broom and make a big unnecessary fuss. People can be so sensitive. Jeez. Hit them with a broom and they take it personally and make a big stink. So I just swallowed my pride (yuch!), muttered a pitiful "OK", and tried to follow the shining example of the little European snotty brat. Whoops. Meant to say "kid". I'll have to edit that out.

Most of the Amma devotees here work their tails off. Its really inspiring to see how much energy, intelligence and enthusiasm they bring to their sevas. I'm hoping some of that will rub off on me. And almost all of the people I work with are pleasant and friendly. I usually don't say much or socialize too much and they're all fine with that (maybe that's what they prefer! (smile) ). Staying here at the ashram I get a direct experience of how busy this place is. There's a lot going on here! They have a very active printing press, website maintenance team, all kinds of stores selling juices, fruit, teas, simple household items, Amma pictures, Amma music, Ayurvedic medicines, an Ayurvedic healing center, phone center, a thrift store, various big and very busy kitchens, schools, classes, gardens, trash processing (the part I know best!), an active puja and homa section, tailoring shop, plumbing maintenance center, magazine design and layout, database maintenance team (thats a big team, I know), internet room, all kinds of active construction projects, some cows, a woodwork shop, charity hospital, laundry service, PR team, etc, etc.

And on top of all that they find some time to do their spiritual practices. Easy! Just skip on sleep. They're all up at 5am or earlier except for one tall skinny devotee still snoring peacefully up in room E1011.

I took a much needed nap through my normal sadhana time of 6-7:30pm. I was really tired and I fell right asleep. I finally (with much difficulty) dragged myself out of bed for dinner and that seemed to help. After dinner, I grabbed myself a cup of hot sweet milk at the Juice Stall (8 rupees, 16 cents). I wanted to get hot milk without sugar but that was not an option. And the Indians wonder why half their population over 40 has adult diabetes. Wake up, guys. If you ever want to get rich just buy stock in an insulin company in India. Believe me, the market is growing. I often see little empty glass insulin bottles in the trash.

Then I went right to bed and quickly zonked out.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

2009 05 26, Tuesday.

2009 05 26, Tuesday.

Rained like the dickens all last night. I was expecting to wake up and find the whole ashram floating out somewhere on the Arabian Sea, with the kitchen crew scooping up stringy piles of seaweed to cook for dinner and dodging crazed wild eyed Somali pirates. If the Somali pirates boarded the ashram, we would just take them to Amma for darshan, and in a few minutes they would be lifelong devotees, chopping veggies and chanting mantras like the rest of us. We're all Amma bots! And you will be assimilated.

(As I'm writing this, I just set down my afternoon cup of chai on the table. Within about 2 minutes the little tiny ants sniffed it out and made a beeline for it. Hey guys! Get your own chai! This one's mine.)

In one of the empty flats in this building, I think someone left and forgot to secure their bathroom door. About every hour or so last night the wind would blow through and some door would slam shut with a bang like a Howitzer going off. Cripes! Monsoon season here sure makes the nighttimes a lot more eventful than I care for. Banging doors and thunder and the wind whistling like a million hungry ghosts as it whips around the building. Jeez. Settle down out there. Kind of frustrating to have my precious sleep disturbed so much, but arguing with the weather is definitely a losing game.

I set my watch to get up at around 5:30, but with all the nighttime excitement I was wide awake at about 4:45am. So I dragged myself out of bed and squeezed in an IAM technique session and just made it to the main hall as they were beginning the Mahay Shasura Mardini bhajan. Sweet. Afterwards, I took my morning chai up to 11th floor of the E building and looked around to the green panorama below and the morning sky all around. It was really beautiful. The rain had stopped and there were dark gray clouds low to the ground in various places. A heavy mist was rising here and there from the palm trees and I could see miles and miles of green all ending at the ocean. On the eastern side the large buildings of Amma's University rose up pink and red above the palm tops making a beautiful contrast to the deep green of the palms. The damp cool morning air added a special richness to the sweet chai. After drinking in this scene for a while, I returned to my room for the usual chanting, bhajans and meditation till 9am breakfast.

OK, so maybe now I can give a little emotional check-in and update. Bottom line is (so far at least) it feels really good to be back. Feels like home. I mentioned to many of you that the last time I was here I didn't socialize much at all and I felt very much at home. Seems I'm in pretty much the same frame of mind this time around. I'm really enjoying eating all my meals alone and feel no desire to socialize beyond the usual everyday encounters. When I think of eating with the westerners and all that chit chat, it makes me feel uneasy. I like eating with the Indians cause I can't understand a word they say and that makes it easy to focus on memorizing some verses or doing mantras during meals. I tried unsuccessfully to learn Malayalam at one point, but not knowing it does have its advantages. Like when the political campaign trucks drive by blaring out some rapid fire canned speech at ungodly volume. Maybe one day the Indians will pick up on the wonderful value and benefits of 'disturbing the peace' laws. I sure hope so.

I'm a bit lazy when it comes to starting sadhana, but once I get going I seem to get in a nice groove without too much trouble. Right now I'm only doing about 2 hours of seva a day from 10-noon so that gives me plenty of time for housekeeping, writing blog entries, sadhana and other miscellaneous tasks. As I mentioned earlier, I'm pretty sure I'll get roped in to all kinds of additional seva before too long. So I'll enjoy this easy time while it lasts.

I think one of the main reasons I feel so at home here is that pretty much every one is crazy for Amma like me. Just knowing that and seeing it manifest all around where ever I go gives me a constant warm comfortable feeling inside. I'm surrounded by hundreds of people who share my deepest passions. That strong and ever-present feeling kind of fulfills all my social needs right there. Pretty much every one I see is a passionate Amma devotee and for me there's not much more to say beyond that. To talk about trivial stuff would actually take away from the feeling of connection. But I do like sharing with someone about our Amma experiences or other spiritual experiences. That seems to happen often enough in the natural course of normal daily encounters so I don't feel the need to seek it out.

One of my fears is that I'll get complacent and not fully utilize the opportunity for spiritual practice the ashram provides. I can very easily get lazy so I have to keep an eye out that I don't fritter away too much time on useless activities. I feel its an amazing opportunity for me to be crazy about Amma and to live at Her ashram. Actually, if I do start to get lazy I'm sure Amma will rear back like a good Kentucky mule and kick me hard in the butt. That's Her job; nothing personal. (smile). However, I will have to edit those parts out; I do have a reputation to maintain, after all. I work hard to make sure my reputation bears little (if any) resemblance to the reality. Hmmm... now that I think about it, perhaps that could backfire on me...

This afternoon I finally got some time to post my initial round of blog entries. By some miracle, I was able to spend a whole hour on one of the ashram internet computers without getting kicked off. Normally there's a line of people waiting and we're limited to a half hour. But if no one is waiting we can go longer. At one point the guy in charge was going to kick me out (I was over my half hour time limit) but some other lady popped up and said in a wonderful French accent "OK, I'm all done, he can stay." Cool. Definitely Amma's grace. Gave me time to get all the blog entries posted and catch up on all my emails. I'm sending all my favorite science and technology news emails straight to archive without reading them. That is difficult! I really miss keeping up with all the latest sci/tech news. Actually I'm unsubscribing from all of them.

By the way, thanks to all of you who've emailed me. I really appreciate it and it feels good to stay in touch. Unfortunately, because my internet time is limited, I will (usually) only be able to give short replies. I wish I could write more, but I'm a slow writer and it would take me a lot of time to give a full proper reply to your emails. Hopefully this blog will keep you up-to-date on all my misadventures.

Outside my window I can hear Amma on a live video feed leading the Atma Puja in Japan. They're playing it on a big screen in the old temple and the big hall. I was watching Amma on the screen and I got a nice feeling that She's keeping a sharp eye on all of us.

OK, its 5:30pm and my chai buzz is in full swing. Time for sadhana! Usually my sadhana consists mostly of just watching mind running around like a chaotic pack of highly caffeinated puppies. And, just like puppies, I gotta be gentle on myself when trying to train my mind. It took me a LONG time to learn that lesson. My first years of meditation practice was just endless unnecessary fighting with my mind. Finally I gave up the struggle, waved a white flag, conceded defeat and now just gently watch my mind do whatever its going to do anyway. Paradoxically, that makes it much easier to gently guide my mind (just have to practice guiding it without expectations). Seems my mind only fights with me when I think I need to fight with it. I learn, but I usually learn the hard way.

When I listen to bhajans on my MP3 player I try to visualize in front of me in detail the particular deity of the song (like Krishna/Radha, Amma, Hanuman, Rama/Sita, Durga, Kali, Lakshmi, Shiva, Devi, Ganesha, etc). I can keep the image in my minds eye for only a few seconds or so before wandering off on some random and irrelevant thought train. I call them thought trains but in my case it may be better to call them thought train wrecks. Very easy to get on these trains but getting off is a bear.

As you can surmise from the above paragraph, there's a lot of deities to keep track of in Hinduism (aka "Sanatana Dharma", literally; "Eternal Path"). I love 'em all but feel a special affinity for Krishna. Maybe because at one point he had 10,000 lovers, wives and concubines. Now *that* is worthy of some worship. Just teasing, of course (although the part about 10,000 lovers is straight out of Krishna's life story, or it may have been 100,000). I like Sri Krishna because he's a very playful and fun loving deity, always mischievous and getting into trouble. While at the same time constantly (with great heroism and aplomb) saving his village from this or that marauding wild demon or monster. I also like it that all the demons He kills immediately get enlightenment and go straight to heaven. Thus, after he kills them, the demons all become loving devotees of Lord Krishna. But the Bhagavad Gita (spoken by Lord Krishna to His devotee Arjuna) is all about how to go straight to being a loving devotee and avoiding all the fuss of becoming an evil demon and getting your head chopped of by Sri Krishna. Sri Krishna sees everyone and everything as a pure manifestation of the Divine Oneness, so perhaps either path is fine. I'm frantically clawing my way back from the evil demon path. Well, not actually evil demon; more like self absorbed narcissist. But Amma takes all kinds!

I was really tired before dinner. I had to lay down for a few moments and recite the Amma Arati in my mind while trying not to fall asleep. I think part of it is due to the fact that we do A LOT of walking around the ashram. I'm definitely walking much much more than I usually do in a typical day back in the States. I think my body is just getting used to the much higher level of movement.

On the way to dinner from the 10th floor elevator landing I saw in the nighttime darkness what looked like hundreds of twinkling lights out west on the horizon of the ocean. No doubt all the local fishing boats taking the opportunity to grab some catch between bouts of intense monsoon rains. Considering all the fishing thats done here I'm surprised if there's still a single fish in the water between shore and 10 miles out. But I see the boats out there all the time so they must be catching something. Or maybe all the fishermen head out there just to sip some chai, gab about the latest cricket matches and take a break from the wife and kids.

I also saw some stars for the first time since returning. Under the stars and over the ocean was a thin yellow crescent moon oriented like a perfect peaceful smile. A Cheshire cat purring in the sky, content and happy because it gets the cosmic joke. I smiled back. I don't yet get the big cosmic joke, but tonight the moon gets it. Maybe thats more than enough.

Above the lunar smile was a dim halo like the ones surrounding the pictures of all the Hindu deities. I took my cue and gave a 'namaste' and bow the the moon. The waves reflected the dim moonlight and continued their endless watery kirtan crashing to the shore.

After dinner I went to bed early. I was really pooped!

Monday, May 25, 2009

2009 05 25. Monday.

2009 05 25. Monday.

It was really windy and stormy all night so I didn't sleep too well. Got up around 5:50am. They serve chai at 6! Uh-oh! I had to decide real quick if I wanted to try and make it for chai. Yes! I'll try. I got dressed real quick and zipped down there in time. Yay! If I had the same passion for sadhana as I do for my morning chai I would have been enlightened a long time ago. Maybe my name should be Chai Das. After my chai buzz got up a good head of steam I settled in for some nice sadhana till breakfast. Sweet. Meditating and chanting while the world slipped away.

After we got the days garbage all sorted, we took the non-recyclable items (the burnable items) over to the outdoor furnace next to the backwaters. Yuch! What a nasty job. We had to throw the trash into the furnace which was emitting clouds of black ash (Hey Mom or Dad, please just skip this section; trust me). Considering what we burn, its probably pretty toxic stuff! As we were pulling the cart to the furnace Adam shared with me his worry about coming anywhere near the furnace. I responded with something like "I feel that Amma's grace will be protecting us." After seeing the furnace and what gets burned inside there, I sure hope I'm right! I may be silly and naive, but I really believe that Amma will protect us from things like this as long as we follow Her guidance, trust Her, and act with discernment. So I wasn't too worried working near the furnace. With that being said, I definitely did not stay near there one second longer than was needed.

At lunch today a western man sat across from me which was kind of unusual as usually its mostly Indians who eat on this side of the hall. I've seen this man around and for some reason he gave me the impression of being a Zen practitioner. Maybe he just looks like some Zen teacher I've seen in the past. In any case while he ate his meal, he seemed to give off this nervous or agitated energy. Who knows what's really going on with him but its interesting to see how my mind constantly makes up all kinds of stories about people I see but don't know. Usually my stories bear no resemblance to reality, but at least they keep me entertained. (I'm easily entertained.)

I went to the Dhanalakshmi Bank branch here at the ashram. On a whim I brought my old bank account book from when I was here back in 2006. Much to my surprise, they said the account was still good and and I could deposit my rupees no problem, Yay! That was easy. At this branch at least, all the transactions are done manually on paper. I would hate to be the bookkeeper for that bank. My old balance even collected some interest while I was away. 72 rupees! Wow. Its party time! The chai is on me.

At the 4pm chai everyone was lined up neatly in one line, waiting patiently and serenely. Then one of the yellow robed swamis came by and called out "OK, everyone! Make two lines!" Upon hearing this everyone quickly made a big jammed disorganized jostling crowd around the chai bucket, holding out their arms, elbowing each other and shaking their cups like starved baby chicks begging for regurgitated worms. The swami strolled away, pleased with his skill at crowd control.

Thanks, buddy.

On the way back at the elevator landing on the 10th floor were two European girls about 6 years old playing with some toys on a spread out sari. Cute! I waved to them and gave them my best friendly "Hello!" but they just gave me a blank look that only a kid can give as if to say "Wow, we thought adults were clueless dweebs but this guy makes us realize we vastly underestimated". Devastating. Well, let me tell you kid, better people than you have tried to crush my ego and all have failed. You see, its kind of like squeezing a water balloon; press down on one side and, well, you get the picture. Amma, however, is sharpening Her pin and looking at me with a scary smile and a fear inducing gleam in Her lotus eyes. Uh-oh... Without my ego this blog may get pretty boring.


One of the Indian ladies who lives on this floor was leaning on the wall outside her room and looking at the kids with a big sweet smile. The kids seem to really love it here. From what I've seen, it seems that Amma makes a point of setting up the rules and facilities so kids and their parents will have a good time. Any guru that loves kids as much as Amma is definitely OK in my book.

OK, enough typing, my chai buzz in starting to kick in nicely and that means only one thing. You guessed it... Time for afternoon sadhana! See you soon. Don't wait up. And don't believe my neighbors who said they heard snoring from my room.

The E building where I'm living now is very close to the Juice Stall. Every evening after dinner there's usually a diverse crowd there. Indian boys from the nearby school gathered in clumps and trying to look cool. Indian female students also in small groups giggling just like girls from anywhere in the world. I very rarely see much mixing between the male and female students. Gender segregation is still prevalent in many parts of Indian society. No worse or better than the western ways, just different. There are dark skinned workers of all ages from Kerala and Tamil Nadu dressed in more raggedy clothes talking quietly or just looking off into space. There's constant construction going on here at the ashram and Amma brings in a small army of poor workers to get new structures built. Amma gives them a safe place to sleep and three all-you-can-eat meals a day. I'm guessing She also pays them a wage. Westerners (mostly younger) stand around talking earnestly about their spiritual adventures, trading travel tips, swapping funny travel stories and planning the next phase of their Indian pilgrimage/vacation. They're enjoying the cheap prices for the delicious shakes and juices from the Stall (an extra 10 rupees for "Boost", whatever the heck that is). In the background the waves are pounding and some local temple is blaring out devotional songs; their piety amply demonstrated by the loud volume. The crickets and frogs join in the fun, sounding out their secret simple language of predator, prey and mates. All of it blends together pretty well. The rain has stopped, letting the heavy clouds and perhaps a few stars enjoy the scene.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

2009 05 24 Sunday.

2009 05 24 Sunday.

I set my watch for 5:30am but was wide awake around 4:50am so I got up in the darkness and did the 108 Names of Amma and then some silent meditation. Then I went to the big hall in time for the usual singing of the Mahay Shasura Mardini song which usually begins around 5:45am. Then we all had our 6am cup of chai. Delicious!

While waiting for the elevator, I had another nice talk with Ramesh. He's been here a long time and has had lots of talks with Amma. I asked him about the best approach to asking Amma a question. Should we just hold the question in our minds? Or is it better if we actively try to get an answer directly from Amma? Ramesh said that its better to ask Amma directly if we can. Amma says that we're all Her children and its OK and natural for children to pester their mother with questions. Amma says its the same for us as Her devotees. Ramesh said that Amma will sometimes pretend to be frustrated with our questions, but that's just Her way of testing our faith, and she does that only when were ready for the test. Ramesh said that if we have an important question and don't have access to Amma, we can write our question down and then do the 108 Names followed by the 1,000 Names (verse or stotram). Ramesh said that Amma will often respond in a dream or some other way. Ramesh used to work very hard at his teaching job at Amma's University, but Amma told him to take a sadhana sabbatical. Cool.

If I'm smart, I'll use Ramesh as one of my main role models for being a good Amma devotee and sadhak. He seems to really embodies the gentleness, discipline and discerning mind that Amma wants us to cultivate.

I came back to my room and did some chanting, IAM, bhajans and meditation till 9am breakfast (feels really wonderful to have time for extended sadhana sessions). After breakfast I reported for seva (volunteer work) at 10am at the recycling center. The work consists of going through bins of stinking trash and sorting everything in great detail. They separate good paper, string, glass, metal, hard plastics, compostable items, wood, resellable items, etc, etc.

After all the sorting was done we had some extra seva to take all the old wood and coconut shells over to the kitchen for burning. The old coconut shells had been sitting in a big pile for a long time and they were just starting to rot. Yuch! Pretty nasty work lifting them out of the bug infested muck and tossing them into the bins. Then we put all the bins on an old rickety cart and pulled them over to the main kitchen burner which is a pretty big cast iron furnace. Whoever is in charge of that furnace has (in my opinion) the worst seva job in the whole ashram. The burner was off when we deposited all the old coconut shells and old wood, but it was still hot from cooking breakfast hours earlier. My already sweaty body started to sweat in overdrive. It was pure bliss to finally get back to my room and take a nice cool shower. I also filled a bucket with some water, some detergent and my sweaty grimy clothes. Doing laundry by hand here is pretty much a never ending job.

The Amma organization makes their own line of laundry detergent as well as lots and lots of other things. If this keeps up Amma will soon be the Proctor an Gamble of India. All profits to charity.

At the garbage recycling area I swiped a big plastic jar with a tight lid. You have to have one of these to hold any trash that the ants might like. The ashram rooms have lots of these little small fast ants that get into anything edible. They're manageable as long as you make very sure not to leave any edibles around. When I was here last time a new roommate came in and forgot that he had an open candy bar in his bag. Can you say "big mistake!"? When he came back a few hours later his bag was filled with thousands of ants! It was a real mess and he learned quick. Occasionally I'll see one crawling around on my laptop screen. I think they may be interested in my blog.

Hey! Little ant on my guys sure are cute! (Maybe if they see I wrote something nice about them, they'll stay out of my stuff.)

Then it was off to 1pm lunch. They served some kind of hot spicy vinegar yogurt sauce. Wow! It was strong. Tasted like pure strong vinegar. Yuch! I take back all those nice things I said about the Indian food here at the ashram. Be interesting to know what spices they use in it. Back at my room I had the last piece of dark chocolate that Vera had given me at the train station. Yum! Especially after forcing down that horrid yogurt vinegar sauce (I even went back for a second helping. Someone get me a counselor, I need help.).

For some reason I'm really pooped. My legs have almost no energy. I'll have to squeeze in a little afternoon rest. I think some residual jet lag has crash landed on my brain. I'm wiped. Off to bed. I may even sleep thru the afternoon chai. That's serious.

This is definitely the wet season. Its been raining on and off all day. Right now its coming down in buckets. Does cover central Kerela?

I went to Ram's Bazaar, a little second hand shop here at the ashram. I needed to get some old pants I could use for the dirty work of handling the garbage at my seva assignment. The shop was pretty crowded and I could feel my impatience start to rise. As if I'm in some kind of hurry here at the ashram. I get impatient so easily! I'm definitely in need of some Amma's grace to work that vasana out of my system.

Had a nice talk with a young American guy named Adam while we were waiting for dinner. He was telling me about this wonderful energy healing session he had earlier in the day with one of the people (Kaivalya) authorized by Amma. He said that during the healing he could see Amma working on him, standing nearby and holding his head. Afterwards he described feeling immersed in a deep feeling of oneness and peace with himself and the world. He invited me to join him and his friends at the Western Cafe, but I declined, preferring to eat without conversation. During dinner I practiced memorizing a few more verses from the Hanuman Chalisa. It definitely feels good to have time to enjoy quiet meals by myself. I had a light dinner; not too much appetite. Maybe the local microbes are getting settled into my gut and making friends with the ones already there. Party hearty guys!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

2009 05 23. Saturday.

2009 05 23. Saturday.

Woke up around 5:20am hearing the usual chanting and took a quick shower. Brrr! Cold! The men and women in separate halls chant the 1,000 Names of the Divine Mother each morning followed by the Mahay Shasura Mardini (a song in worship of Goddess Durga). Last year after much effort I committed the song to memory so its really nice to be able to sing along. I got to the men's hall around 5:45am just as they were starting the song. Afterwards we all lined up in the early dawn for the 6am cup of chai. Ahh! Just as delicious as ever.

I got back to my room and did my IAM practice. With all the packing and traveling and everything its been about a week since I'd done it. Feels really good to have time to do it again.

8:45 am. As I'm writing this there is a serious thunderstorm happing! Ouch! The lightening is hitting really close and its really loud! Fierce Goddess Kali strides across the land, a thousand feet tall, dueling with Indra, throwing Her nine heads back and laughing to split the heavens! Even Lord Shiva bows to such power!

So I unplugged my laptop and switched to battery power.

9am. The storm passed quickly and now its off to breakfast! Watery rice and way too spicy yellow curry consisting of various unidentifiable vegetables. The spicy curry is causing my nose to run like crazy. Painful but for some perverse reason I enjoy it. Lets see if I can say that after a few months of eating this stuff day in and day out. As I was eating it I was thinking that perhaps all those spices provide some kind of medicinal effect against all the strange microbes filling every nook and cranny of south India. And soon some of them no doubt filling the nooks and crannies in my gut. Bon appetite guys! Hope you like hot spice. Ramana Maharshi used to speak of the health benefits of rice water.

Sometimes it seems I like watery rice the way Homer Simpson likes cream filled donuts. Mmmmm! Watery rice! Ahhh....

I went to the Seva (volunteer work) office this morning and got my work assignment. I report 10am tomorrow to the recycling center to help sort metal, glass, etc. The seva guy said it usually only takes an hour or so, so I should tell him if I think I need more seva. Yeah, right, you'll be hearing from me real soon, buddy. Don't hold your breath... ( smile! ) Just teasing (I like to let my mean cynical side come out and play once in a while. I'm sure most of you will be surprised to hear that ( evil grin! ) ). I have a feeling that before too long I'll be roped into all kinds of seva. Amma says seva is the best purifier and yours truly needs some serious purification.

Just got back from lunch. They had uttapam! (a spiced wheat dish with the consistency of good spoonbread. If you haven't tried good spoonbread, do yourself a favor and make some; its a real treat.). Yum. I had to restrain myself and not take too much. I stuffed myself because dinner isn't until eight o'clock and my body seems to be deeply programmed to want to eat at 6pm.

Just got back from the ashram pharmacy. My two prescriptions which normally cost me about $15 total per refill came to about $2.50 total. Someone tell my Dad. He would love this. They have a pretty good medical center (the Kripa Hospital) right here at the ashram that can handle all the basic stuff. With me here now they added a staff psychiatrist and I'll make him earn his pay. ( smile! )

They're now showing a live video feed of Amma giving a talk in Japan. Amma speaks in Malayalam which is then translated to the Japanese. Yeah, does me a lot of good. Still very nice to see Amma of course. I think She'll be returning to the ashram in early August if I remember. With Amma gone now the ashram is very quiet and peaceful, just the way I like it; much shorter lines at the chai bucket.

I missed the 4pm chai. Darn! I asked some guy if the chai was still being served and he responded in the most delightful heavy French accent "Oh no! They serve for 5 minutes only and then Poof! All done! Must be quick quick! OK, bye now!" It was like fine champagne for the ears.

For some reason I've had a sore throat ever since I got on the train. Maybe the pollution in Cochin or somewhere got to me. Other than that feeling good.

As I was meditating (or, more precisely, trying to meditate) at about 6pm the setting sun was making my walls glow with a beautiful pink color. Really nice. I'm up on the 10th floor facing west and the sunset views are really nice. Spectacular is more like it. When I went to take a bathroom break a cute little gecko jumped off the toilet seat and scampered away. I told him I didn't mind sharing the toilet as long as he remembered to flush. Anything that eats mosquitoes is definitely a friend of mine, and I'm happy to clean up any poop consisting primarily of digested mosquitoes.

During my sadhana time I was listening my recently purchased MP3 album by Krishna Das called "Gathering In The Light". Whoa! This is some great bhajans! Highly recommended for those of you who like beautiful and inspirational bhajans. I especially liked the "Hare Krishna" track. Very sweet! Put me in bliss. Also I've been listening a lot to the three live kirtan CDs by Vaiyasaki Das. His live kirtans have become my all time favorites. Highly recommended. His studio albums, on the other hand, didn't do much for me.

I'm wrapping up my first full day back here at the ashram. All in all very nice. Feels really good to be back. I guess being in my own room helps. If I had to deal with some roommate (who also had to deal with me, which is even worse), then perhaps I'd be singing a different tune. Actually, when I was here last time, most of my roommates were pretty cool. Only a few triggered my selfish ego and vasanas (which is pretty easy to do, truth be told).

My favorite roommate the last time I was here was a young Belgian guy named Kadak who was a pretty good musician and had some of the most surreal tattoos I've ever seen. I won't even try to describe them as it makes my eyes cross just to think about them. I'll never forget one morning when for some reason a nearby temple started blaring loud music at 5am right toward our dorm. While trying get back to sleep in the pre-dawn light, Kadak kept saying in his delightful Belgian accent "God! What a bunch of Nazis!" Still makes me laugh even though at the time I was in COMPLETE agreement with his sentiments.

Went to sleep with the wonderful sound of the pounding ocean waves.

Friday, May 22, 2009

2009 05 22. Friday.

2009 05 22. Friday.

Got into Mumbai around 10pm and then took a flight down to Cochin at 1am. The Mumbai airport departure lounge was filled with lots of really fancy shops and upscale trendy bars. Interesting and very stark contrast to the real India I was going to see soon. To be more accurate the "real" India is very diverse, mostly poor but a growing middle and upper class.

At the Mumbai airport I saw some young guy with a long string of binary digits tattooed on the back of his right calf. I asked him if it was a cyrpto key. He nodded and replied in what seemed like a German accent "Yep. Its my 256 bit GPG public key running all the way down from my right shoulder." Cool. I told him about the US guy who had an encryption algorithm tattooed on himself. This particular algorithm (256 bit RSA or something like that) was classified as a munition by the US Govt and thus there was a big stink when he tried to travel overseas. Made for a cool story in Wired mag.

I was REALLY sleepy when I got on this flight. They put me in an exit row seat which was great for stretching my legs, but the seat couldn't lean back! Yuch! I was really desperate to lean back and sleep. Pooh! In any case, I was so tired I was able to sleep a little bit anyway. They fed us another big meal on this flight. One thing for sure, they feed you A LOT on a long international flight! I was stuffed to the gills by the time I got to Cochin at 3am.

After getting my luggage I hopped into a taxi and went from the Cochin airport to the Ernakulam South train station. In the taxi, I leaned my seat way back, closed my eyes, said a prayer to Amma and put my life in the hands of the taxi driver. I snored while he dodged trucks and pedestrians with inches to spare, honking all the time. By Indian standards, a totally boring ride.

Once at the train station, I got the 6am express train south to Kayankulam. The train ticket was 34 rupees (about 75 cents!) for a third class seat. My luggage was pretty heavy and it was a COMPLETE pain in the butt to haul it around the train station. I had to take it up and down some stairs to get the correct platform. A very nice Indian man saw my plight and helped me get to the right train and get my luggage on board. His name was Phillip and he was a real bodhisattva. If an Indian person from Kerala has a western name it usually means they're Christian. Phillip definitely demonstrated the Christian ideals. (as I'm writing this, its starting to rain heavily again, apparently this is the wet season).

The third class seat was definitely not very comfortable and my butt was really sore at the end of the 3 hour train ride south. During the ride the sun was peeking through the clouds while a gentle rain was falling. Really beautiful. From my barred window I saw the usual rundown villages and towns interspersed with brilliant green paddy fields and lush palm tree jungles. I enjoyed seeing the cows sitting down and lazily chewing their cud in the drizzle. Lots of beautiful egret type birds flying around the paddy fields.

I finally got to Kayankulam and once again had to schlep my way too heavy luggage up and down some stairs in the hot Indian sun. Yuch! I have yet to learn how to travel light. I grabbed an auto rickshaw (a motorized tricycle with a roof) at the station and we buzzed down to the ashram. Being a passenger in an auto rickshaw (or any vehicle for that matter) in India is definitely not for the faint of heart. About every 5 minutes it looks like we're going into a certain accident! But at the last second everyone seems to come to their senses and swerve and squeak by with inches to spare. I got totally used to this on my last 6 month stay here so it doesn't bother me any more. Its good practice to just enjoy the ride and leave the safety to Amma. So far so good.

And then there it was! The ashram! With the new bridge all complete. The walking bridge over the backwater to the ashram is pretty high so once again I had to haul my luggage up and down a lot of steps in the morning sun. I was really wiped by the time I got the the check-in office. My enthusiasm for being back was deeply buried under exhaustion and serious jet lag. In spite of that it felt really good to be back. Lots of deep feelings came up. So many familiar sights!

At the check-in office I was assigned a room on the 11th floor of the E building. I hauled my stuff up there and set up a few things. Another guy's stuff was also there but he was out. I went back to the check-in office to ask about something and the guy there said "Great! I'm glad you came back. Because you own a flat, you can get your own temporary room while your flat is being built. The flat owner's monthly fee is half of the usual $150 per month." Wow! Now that is a serious perk! Cool! I didn't know that. Wish they would tell me these kind of things.

The check-in guy (with a straight face, I'm not kidding) said the following: "You can either stay in the shared room for $150 per month or move to a private room for $75 per month. Which would you like?" Doing my best not to burst out laughing, I pretended to think for a second and said "Well, I guess I'll take the private room for half price." The check-in guy nodded at my wise choice, approving of my ability to make difficult decisions under pressure. So I went back and hauled all my stuff in my new room (fortunately only two floors down by way of elevator). Yeah! Its on the western side of the E building so it faces the ocean and the old temple building. My own room!

One of things I was nervous about coming back to the ashram was thinking that I would again have to share rooms. I would also be bounced around from room to room until the building with my flat was completed in probably about 6-8 months time. Turns out I didn't need to worry at all! I bet Amma got a chuckle at all my needless worries. Come to think of it, I probably give Amma lots of reasons to laugh and roll Her eyes. Well, She must be an amazing Guru if She's willing to guide the likes of me.

After getting my stuff moved in I finally took a MUCH needed shower. Bliss! I was really grimy after 2.5 days of travel and hauling heavy luggage in the Indian sun. The water (as usual) was chilly. Cold showers is one thing I still take a while to get used to (actually, I don't think I ever get used to the initial blast of cold water. Ouch! But after a few minutes in the shower its not too bad). It was a cool rainy day so the water felt especially chilly. Water is pumped up and stored in big black tanks on the top of the building (that way in the hottest part of the day you can finally get a hot shower. Yeah, thanks.). Then I collapsed and slept liked the dead from 2 to 7 pm. My brain was in desperate need of some dream time. I got up feeling a little rested but still groggy and disoriented. More dream time needed.

Effortlessly and happily stepping back into the usual ashram routine I know so well, I grabbed my bag and trooped off to the 8pm dinner. The rain had obligingly stopped by then. I had some leftover rolls from the flight so instead of watery rice, I just had some hot rice water into which I ripped up my bread and tossed it in. Delicious! As usual, I ate on the Indian side and from across the big hall I could easily hear the westerners at their side chatting away and laughing. For some strange reason I always really enjoy the solitude of eating by myself. While eating I sometimes practice learning new verses from whatever chant or bhajan I'm trying to memorize at the time.

After dinner back at my room I was happily tapping away on my laptop keyboard when some big loudly buzzing bee or hornet suddenly flew into my room! Scared the crap out of me! It was flying all over the place and after a few tense minutes, flew back outside through the grate over the door. Stuff like that always gives me the hopping heebie jeebies. First thing I do when I finally get to my own flat is put some screens on the windows. Reminds me of the time when I was here back in 2006. One night I went to use the bathroom at around 3am. I turned on the light and suddenly saw this huge black spider right there in the middle of the bathroom floor! I almost went to the bathroom right there! After some tense struggle I finally trapped it under a plastic tub and tossed it over the balcony. I think it lost a leg in the process and I got a few white hairs for my efforts.

Waiting for the elevator I had a short chat with Ramesh (not his real name). He's a teacher at the nearby Amma Engineering University (Amma runs a truly vast worldwide empire of schools, universities, charity hospitals, clinics, ashrams, soup kitchens and probably a hundred or more charity programs of all kinds). I said something to Ramesh I thought was clever and it was interesting (disheartening) to see how my ego again and again took pride in it. I kept thinking back on it and feeling good. Always eye opening to see how deep my ego runs even after all these years of meditation and (alleged) spiritual practice. Doesn't seem to have changed me much at all! Oh well, Rome wasn't burned in a day. And Amma likes a challenge.

Finally went to bed around 10pm after typing up some more blog entries.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

2009 05 20 and 21. Weds and Thurs.

2009 05 20 and 21. Weds and Thurs.

On the flight from Newark to Bombay I sat next to a Kerala Christian mom and her 11 year old son. His name was Sujay and he was a very bright and friendly kid. We had a nice time chit chatting and playing little games. He loved to tell me about fishing and he took great pleasure in showing me his collection of rubbery and highly realistic fishing lures. At one point the mom asked me where I was going and I told her my final destination was the Amma ashram. At that moment it seemed she got quiet and didn't want to talk any more. She spent a lot of time during the flight reading her Bible (and maybe praying for my soul! (smile)). Later on she seemed to warm up to me after seeing me and her son having a nice time chatting and having fun. We had a nice time seeing who could spin a little top for the longest time. I won when the top I spun fell off the seat back tray onto a magazine and kept right on spinning for a while longer. Sujay thought that was the coolest thing (me too, truth be told). I won, and that was the important thing. (grin)

Sujay fell asleep at one point and after he woke up he told me in great detail a dream he just had about a rather gruesome train wreck (at first I thought he said "plane wreck"). He took innocent delight in telling me the all gory details. Out of respect for my dear readers, I won't share them here but needless to say its not exactly what I wanted to hear while floating along suspended at 30,000 feet in a very old 747.

I think the Indians have some kind of national zeitgeist aversion to anything looking too new. Looking around the economy cabin and the bathroom almost everything looked dilapidated and repaired multiple times. But we landed safe and sound so at least the important things like wings, engines and pilots were in good working order. I imagined us landing safely and coming to a halt at the gate and then, after the last person stepped off, the plane gently collapsing into a pile of aeronautic rubble. Knowing the Indians, they'd just slap it all back together and squeeze a few more miles out of it. One thing about being a predominantly third world country is I bet the Indian economy is VERY efficient with very little going to waste.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

2009 05 20 Wednesday

2009 05 20. Wednesday.

My good friend and housemate Gene dropped me off at the Vienna Metro this morning around 7:45am. I'll definitely miss living with Gene at his place. We had lots of great dialogs during the 2.5 years I lived there. He has helped me learn a lot about clear and compassionate communication. It was great to live with someone who shared a lot of my values and interests. I always felt very at home there and Vienna, VA is a very nice place to live.

I took the subway to Union Station in DC and met with Vera and Mark to share and have a little breakfast. Vera and I have been closely connected for a long time so a lot of emotions were coming up for us. She and I have worked on practicing good communication throughout our relationship and it felt good we were able to talk in a compassionate way about what we both were feeling. As a parting gift, she gave me some dark chocolate. I'm eating some of it now as I write this. Yum! I'll have to eat it fast now that I'm here at the ashram. Chocolate and the hot Indian summer don't mix at all. Mark had to leave for work and Vera and I had a classic Hollywood goodbye at the train departure area. Straight out of a hundred romance movies but still wonderful (and also difficult). She is a dear friend and has helped me grow a lot.

The Amtrak train to Newark airport was cold! Brrr! The ticket taker lady said the temperature was not adjustable and they had no blankets to offer. Seeing as I was on my way to south India in the summer, I tried to enjoy this last blast of arctic temperature. On the train ride I saw mile and mile after mile of old abandoned factories with broken windows and covered with graffiti. Kind of depressing. Made me think of all the people out of work around the world. Made me start to worry about finances and my future and if I was doing the right thing heading off the the ashram. Sometimes you just have to make the leap and hope for the best. A good chance to practice trust.

As best as I can articulate it, the main reason I came out here was to see if I could deepen my moment by moment mindfulness. At Gene's place I spent a LOT of time surfing the web, checking email and listening to all my podcasts while I was working around the home, preparing food, etc. Podcasts are very addictive for me so I want to see what it would be like to be in a place where there was no chance to hear them. I've been reading a number of books recently about the life Sri Ramakrishna (many thanks to Sanatan for being very generous and loaning them to me) and that just deepened the strong pull to be in a place with very few distractions where I could at least try to see if I can go more deeply into my mantra practice and other moment by moment mindfulness practices. This game (leela) of spiritual purification for me (for now at least) feels like the most interesting game with the highest payoff. I may totally wash out but at least I'll try.

I mostly listened to science and technology podcasts so it will be interesting to see what happens in those areas while I live in the bubble of the ashram. I unsubscribed to all my science and technology email lists so I'm kind of putting myself in a time capsule. I have this passion for keeping up with the latest science and tech news. OK guys, if something really interesting happens in the sci/tech world let me know!

The moment of truth came on Tuesday evening before my trip. I erased all the podcasts from my MP3 player and my computer. Here at the ashram there's no wifi so now there's no easy way to download my podcasts even if I wanted to. I also listened to some spiritual podcasts. My favorite was a weekly pod cast called "Buddhist Geeks". Really good and highly recommended if you have any interest at all in meditation and spiritual practice. I never missed an episode.

I propose a contest for someone to email me a very plausible sounding science/technology story that could be either real or bogus. I'll have to decide if its real or fake. I'll treat the winner to a mouth watering all-you-can eat dinner of watery rice and over-spiced curry (you have to pay travel expenses, however). I think only Para, Gaven or my brother Tim or my sister Teresa could pull off a fake story that could fool me.

Another thing I'll miss is being able to see the Obama speeches and press conferences on YouTube and elsewhere. I never got tired of seeing him speak. Apologies to my Republican friends. What a minute. Now that I think about it I don't believe I have any Republican friends... ( smile! ) Actually I do have one Republican friend that I know of. If I'm not mistaken this person told me they voted for Obama! Shweet! I told various friends that I feel comfortable leaving knowing the country was in good hands with Obama. Like many I was REALLY overjoyed at his election.

Its a little scary leaving the usual workaday world of earning money and all that, but it feels good that I'm going to try this experiment of spending a longer time at the ashram. Not to do this would feel like I was giving in to all my fears about finances, etc.

At the Newark airport I had a brief talk with an Indian Christian man (George) from Kerala (which I think is about 30% Christian). He was very nice and friendly and I told him about why I was going to India. He was puzzled that a nice American raised as a Catholic (me) would become so fascinated with Hinduism and Gurus (or Avatars, to be more precise) and all that stuff. At the end of our conversation we were talking about how nice it was to see the cultures mixing and learning from each other.