Tuesday, June 30, 2009

2009 06 30. Tuesday.

2009 06 30. Tuesday.

This morning I went to brush my teeth and saw a very cute little gecko was in the sink. I though it would just quickly scurry away but when it tried to run up the sides of the sink it kept slipping back down. It was so cute! I gently got it onto my hand. To my surprise it just sat quietly on my hand while I lifted it up to get a closer look. It just looked back at me with its tiny black eyes. I set it down on the counter top and it scurried away. I see them on the smooth stainless steel walls of the elevator all the time, so I wonder why this one couldn't get out of the sink. Maybe the little pools of water in the bottom of the sink makes it hard for it to grip.

Wow. As I was walking toward the 7am veggie chop seva, one of the other German guys who also works that seva came to me and said "No veggies to chop today!" Cool! This gives me the whole morning until breakfast to catch up on my blog and do some documentation work on the compost project. Yay! I have a lot of blog entries to put in. This may be my last day doing the veggie chop and garbage seva cause Prabana has been putting the word out that the compost manager is a full time job and shouldn't be distracted with other seva. Will be very interesting to see how the seva managers feel about that. I'll ask them later today and give a full report.

Had a nice talk with Antara at breakfast. She shared about a bliss experience she had last night while falling asleep. I shared about some of the bliss experiences I've had over the years. I enjoyed hearing the details about her bliss experience and comparing notes with what I've experienced.

I spoke to one of the seva coordinators after breakfast. He said its official that Peter and I are now the managers of the compost project and that I no longer have to do the veggie chop and garbage sorting sevas. Cool. It will be nice to have a little more time for sadhana and enough time to properly manage the compost. Since its a new project there's a lot of little things to do to get it up and running well.

This morning when Turyanan came back from the garbage collection rounds, he shared his frustration about how at the boys student hostel they sometimes just dump their trash on the ground. This same problem happened when I was here 3 years ago. I went to the boys hostel and took some pictures of the trash pile. Then I showed them to the boy's hostel warden and said (in a gentle diplomatic way) that I think I need to show this to Amma because this problem happens all the time. That really got the attention of the hostel manager (an older Indian man). He said "I'm innocent! Please don't show this to Amma!" Which meant he doesn't want to take responsibility that he didn't train the cleaners properly. The manager is in charge of the workers who clean the hostel and dumped the trash. So I told him to please tell the cleaners to *find* some trash bins rather than just dump it on the ground. Hopefully he got the message, but knowing how things work here, he'll totally forget and not train the cleaners properly the next time. Many Indians feel its totally OK to just damp trash any place. Probably the cleaners come from a poor area and that's how they deal with trash at their homes: just dump it out in some nearby field. I see trash piles all over when I walk into the nearby town. It seems that in the majority of India there's no trash collection. Just one unavoidable aspect of a mostly very poor third world country.

My ego replayed the conversation with the manager in my mind for hours afterwards. I was thinking "I should have said this." or "I should have said that." My ego had a field day about what I could have said better to be more right and more clear. Just my usual frustrating pointless ego games.

It was cool this evening. I wore two t-shirts and my warm hat at dinner. The monsoon season (June-August) is essentially the cold season here. Not the hot summer I was expecting at all. When the weather is clear its pretty warm. But now many days its often really cold showers. Brrr!

I was right behind Dortmund at the Indian food lunch line today (he's a young Austrian guy). The young Indian paid workers, as usual, were cutting into the line all over the place. The young, poor Indians have no concept of making a proper que. They just try to cut in wherever they can. Dortmund was getting pretty frustrated seeing this. When some young Indian kid cut the line near him, he would grab their shoulder and push them to the back of the line. The Indian kids just smiled and moved to the back of the line. Dortmund is a pretty big guy. I could tell he was getting really pissed off at the Indians and I was getting uncomfortable seeing him yank the Indians toward the back of the line. I was uncomfortable because I was seeing him act out some of my own shadows. He was joking about the whole thing but it seemed he was really angry inside. I also get frustrated when I see the Indian kids cutting in, but I try to just disregard it (with only partial success). Its definitely one of my trigger points here at the ashram.

Today was Peter's last day at the compost area. We had another nice talk about the project and composting tips and tricks. He's leaving early tomorrow morning but I'll be emailing him lots of updates on the project and he'll give us directions and guidelines as the project grows. There'll be a lot more food waste when Amma's here so it will be interesting to manage the project during that time. Peter says he'll be back in 2 months or so to help set up compost training programs.

After dinner I had a short talk with one of the Indian men I know. He asked me about the compost project and how much food waste we use. I said it looks like the ashram currently generates about 1,000 pounds of food waste a day and currently feeds about 4,000 or 5,000 people a day. This man was really concerned about that much food waste and said someone needs to see how to reduce it. Later when I mentioned this conversation to Mukhunda (who manages the Indian side of the compost project), he said that in actuality the ashram is very efficient with its food and generates very little food waste. He told me about all the ways they minimize the food waste. For example, at the student's dining hall, they have ladies whose job is to watch what food the students throw away. If they catch the students throwing away food, the students have to pay a small fine. Mukhunda said some food waste is unavoidable, but Amma has given lots of very clear and strict instructions about minimizing food waste. Amma takes it very seriously.

Monday, June 29, 2009

2009 06 29. Monday.

2009 06 29. Monday.

At the 7am veggie chop today they were showing a live video feed of the beginning of Devi Bhava from the Coralville, Iowa Amma program. At first there was only I and two other people there. We had a lot to do so it looked we would be working a long time. But soon we were joined by a very nice Finnish lady who mostly gets around in a wheelchair. And soon after that we were joined by an Indian mother and daughter. And soon after that a friend of the Indian mother joined us. Wow. This was really great. Even with all the help we didn't get done till about 8:45am. One of the jobs was to peel a bowl of garlic and that takes a long time. The garlic they get here is small; not like the big garlic available in the US. It was really nice to be with such a diverse crowd all happily chatting away and getting to know each other. We had the 2 Indian ladies, the Indian man, a German guy, a French lady, the Finnish lady and me. Like a little UN going on and a live video of Amma leading the Devi Bhava. A very nice moment. I didn't talk much. I was happy to just listen to all the criss-crossing conversations and watch Amma.

I spoke with Prabana today about the compost project. I wanted to get her understanding of all the jobs involved. But rather than talk about that, Prabana ended up talking for 30 minutes about her vision of the compost project and her concerns with Peter's vision. That's not really what I was interested in but I listened patiently and tried to understand where she was coming from. Prabana wants to keep the compost project very simple and slower while Peter would like to turn the piles more often to more quickly produce finished compost. Also Peter and the Indians would like to package and sell some of the finished compost but Prabana is reluctant to commercialize the project because packaging involves plastic bags and other things that can end up as trash. Because the compost project will grow as we generate more food waste, Peter was talking about getting a small earth mover to easily turn and move piles. Prabana definitely does not like the idea of some fuel burning machine involved in the project. Will be interesting to see how the project evolves with these different visions bumping against each other, especially since I may be helping to manage the project.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

2009 06 28. Sunday.

2009 06 28. Sunday.

At 5:10 am I got up to use the bathroom and went back into bed, looking forward to another hour of sleep. However, I was feeling pretty awake. After a few minutes of indecision, and with a lot of effort, I dragged myself out of bed and went to the usual Mahay Shasura Mardini bhajan. Felt good. I did my usual IAM practice afterwards and felt good the whole day. Thought I would be sleepy in the afternoon, but my energy was good.

At breakfast this morning there was an urn of chai already set out when I got there. I set my intention not to get any chai until I had finished all my breakfast and washed my plate. In the middle of my breakfast Peter came by and said "Did you see the chai? You should get some before its gone!" I pretended to be surprised, looked at the chai urn and said "Really? Wow. I'll get some soon." He walked away and I continued my breakfast, trying to memorize the Hanuman Chalisa bhajan and getting frequently interrupted by thoughts wondering if the chai was all gone yet. When I finally went to get some, the chai came out in a strong stream. Wow. There was still a lot in the urn. Surprising after it had sat out for so long. The Indians are even more crazy for their chai than me.

One of the senior western devotees on tour with Amma talked with Amma about how to manage the compost project after Peter leaves. Peter Ash is leaving in a few days to go back to his home near San Diego. Peter runs some organic farms and puts on organic farming and composting workshops and classes. Amma said She would like two Western men to manage the project after Peter leaves. So I put forward my name to be one of the project managers since I've learned a lot with my many long talks with Peter.

After the composting work today I went back to my building and was sitting outside wiping the sand off my feet and slapping the sand off my sandals. A man I hadn't seen before approached me out of the blue and started asking me questions about the ashram and seva and other things. Turns out this is his first time here and he decided to chat with me. He seemed kind of overwhelmed with the ashram and I tried to reassure him that he would get used to things pretty easily. I gave him some info and we were chatting. He's from France and is about 40 years old. As we were chatting this rather eccentric French lady who lives at the ashram butted into the conversation and took over talking with him. I was happy for that and took the opportunity to sneak off and get a much needed shower.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

2009 06 27. Saturday.

2009 06 27. Saturday.

Ate at the Western Cafe for the first time today. Prabana, Peter Ash and I had a meeting to discuss the composting project. I brought my Indian food over from the other side of the hall. We had a nice talk; the composting project is going well and there's lots of ideas for replicating it to other Amma organizations and setting up training programs. Peter's enthusiasm and energy is one of the main reasons why the project is going well.

I finally solved the problem of the the little tiny ants that like to crawl all over my toothpaste tube and toothbrush. I got a plastic lid and filled it with a little water. Then I put a cup in the middle of the water and put my toothbrush and toothpaste inside the cup. Voila! No more ants. They can't swim so now I'm not accruing the bad karma of killing some of the ants that get into my toothbrush. One of the Indian guys at the compost work told me about this trick.

We had another compost meeting this evening at 8pm at the compost area. It was a cool evening. No moon and very dark. Peter Ash, Prabana, Mukhunda and I met for about 2 hours. Way past my usual 9:15pm bedtime! Turns out Mukhunda has a BS in physics just like me. He said he wanted to go to grad school but Amma said that wasn't the best path for him. Mukhunda says he's now very happy living at the ashram and helping with the compost and lots of other things. At about 10pm we went to the big Indian kitchen and had ourselves a wonderful dinner. There were some pots of leftover fancy food that they serve to the college students. Doshas, uttapam and all kinds of really nice curries. I stuffed myself on delicious, fluffy doshas and wonderful thick curries. Finally got to bed around 10:30pm. I was feeling lazy so I set my alarm for 6:30am to make sure I get my precious 8 hours of sleep. I felt a twinge of guilt that I'll be missing the morning Mahay Shasura Mardini bhajan, but my pleasantly bloated belly drowned out most of my guilt.

Friday, June 26, 2009

2009 06 26. Friday.

2009 06 26. Friday.

From where we chop veggies in the morning in the big hall, we can see the main stage. This morning they were showing a live Skype video feed of the Amma Atma Puja happening at some city in America. It was being displayed on a big screen on the main stage. It was very nice. At the beginning, we heard part of Amma's talk which was translated into English. Then they did the Atma Puja which is always very inspiring and powerful. The whole audience participates in the Atma Puja. Then they showed the beginning of Devi Bhava when Amma (dressed in Her colorful Devi Bhava clothes and crown) starts the all-night hugging. Definitely a special treat to see. At various points the Skype connection went down and came back up to the accompaniment of all the usual Skype sound effects. It was funny to be listening to an Amma bhajan and then suddenly hear all these distinctive Skype noises.

This evening they were showing a live video feed of the end of Devi Bhava rather doing than the usual men's bhajans. I watched for a while and then went to my room to do the 1,000 Names stotram and some bhajans and meditation.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

2009 06 25. Thursday.

2009 06 25. Thursday.

Had a nice moment with Svayam this afternoon. He's a slightly heavyset young Indian man from Bihar about 35 years old or so. He's a very sweet guy with a gentle, innocent nature and very friendly large expressive eyes. He's lived here for about 10 years or so I think. He does a lot of different things around the ashram and is very good with computers. I needed to print out some compost project data records and they told me Svayam could handle it. I found him chatting and relaxing with some other Indians in the big hall after the compost work today and told him what I needed. He jumped up to help and we went to the boy's computer room. That's the same room where I got kicked out of a few weeks ago. But with Svayam escorting me it was no problem. After we got the pages printed we were chatting and he said he sometimes assists Swami Jnanamrita with things. Spontaneously I said to Svayam "Whenever I see Swami J I get a special feeling inside. When I see his eyes and his smile I feel wonderful." Svayam beamed a huge, bright smile, looked at me intently, grabbed a hold of my arm and said "Yes! Yes!" in full agreement. It was a sweet moment. For just a moment we were like two schoolgirls talking about having a crush on some hunky boy pop star.

Hmmm... "Hunky Boy" I like that. Hey Emily; between Jagadish, Para and Sanatan, which one do you think we should start calling "Hunky Boy"? I'm thinking Sanatan, but I definitely trust your judgment on this.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

2009 06 24. Wednesday.

2009 06 24. Wednesday.

I asked Murtena about taking 1 or 2 days off a week from the garbage sorting so I could go everyday to the compost. He was very agreeable and said it should work no problem. Definitely like working with him.

At the garbage sorting area I saw Latunan looking intently at a little red ant that was on a piece of paper he was holding. Latunan is quiet young Danish guy whose parents are devout Tibetan Buddhists. I looked closer and saw that the ant was casually cleaning its antenna. In a gentle voice, Latunan said "If I had little tiny lips I would kiss you." I thought that was an interesting thing to say so I said "Careful, that kind of stuff goes into my blog." Latunan just smiled and continued looking at the ant.

A hard day's work at the compost pile. In addition to making the usual new pile, we had to turn one of the bigger piles. Which means we had to shovel the pile to be turned onto one of the other piles. Lots of hard work, but the Indians were doing most of it. A compost pile needs to be turned and mixed once in a while so it gets recharged with oxygen. Peter was gone today (he normally supervises the work). He's traveling with Swami Jnanamrita to some organic farming project. Lucky guy. I'd love to travel with Swami J. Although he'd probably have me up at 4am and keep me working until midnight. Let's see; hang out with my beloved Swami J or get a good night's sleep? Tough choice. Needs some careful thought. Let me sleep on it.

I and Mukhunda (one of the yellow robed brahmacharis) were directing the construction of the new pile. They've seen me talking a lot with Peter and taking notes, so it seemed they were expecting me to help with the direction and supervision. Its a pretty straightforward process so it went smoothly. And lots of the Indians now know just as much as I do about the process. I got really sweaty during the work lifting the big buckets of food waste and helping to turn the other pile. Some nice sweet chai and cake was served after the work was done. I was the only westerner there at that point, all the rest were Indians. They definitely enjoy joking and playing around a lot. Felt nice to sit, rest, sip chai and watch them horse around. Another group of Indians on the other side of the field were starting the daily 4:30pm volleyball game with their usual high enthusiasm.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

2009 06 23. Tuesday.

2009 06 23. Tuesday.

After the morning garbage seva I went back to my room on the 10th floor. From the elevator landing I looked west and could see a rain storm coming in from the ocean. The wind was picking up, cool and fresh. As I watched, a wall of gray moved over the sea toward the ashram, blotting out anything behind it. In a few minutes the sound of the rain came and then the rain itself. Far below some people jogged for cover and umbrellas sprouted over the heads of others. The wind picked up more, pushing rain to wet my feet. Now distant thunder. I went to my room and showered, a little rain inside to join the rain outside. Just as cold.

At the compost pile work today I brought a notebook and tape measure and diagrammed all the piles and took notes on what was done. While everyone else was doing the hard work of slopping all the food waste and other things onto the pile, I was taking measurements. Pete says its pretty important that we start to take data on what's happening with the piles so he was happy I started the diagramming work. Swami Jnanamrita (the swami I have a crush on) was also there getting his hands dirty with the slop and talking a lot with Pete about the whole process. Brahmachari Tapasyamrita (yellow robes) spoke to me for a long time giving me lots of instructions on various aspects of getting the compost project up and running to the next level. Since it looks like I'll be taking the data, they may also expect me to do some of the compost project organizing as well. Be interesting to see what role I play beyond handling the data collection. I'm not very good at managing people and large projects but we'll see how it goes. I'll definitely need some Amma's grace if I do that kind of work.

After the compost prayer was done, they waved me over to get into a photo with Pete, Swami Jnanamrita and some of the others. I'll try to get a copy of that photo and post it on the blog. I was told that Swami Jnanamrita organizes about 10 big community development projects around India. I talked a briefly with Swami J about the data collection. It was cool to hang around him and feel his presence. In addition to the pile composting, they're now starting some worm composting bins to see how they work. From what I can gather, the Indians at the ashram are taking the whole composting project pretty seriously. Really cool to see that happening. The composting project takes the ashram to a whole higher level when it comes to being in harmony with the environment.

My involvement in the whole compost effort is definitely giving me a feeling of being engaged and connected with a valuable and important project. Its definitely a nice feeling, but I have to keep clear awareness on how much my ego is attached to that feeling. I have to practice not being attached to the project because at any time they could move me to other work that my ego would feel is mundane. The compost project is getting some pretty good attention and priority and if I'm not clearly aware, it can feed my ego to be near the center of the action. A good place to practice reducing expectations. Or maybe getting rid of them altogether.

The sunset was really beautiful. A slow moving bhajan for the eyes.

Monday, June 22, 2009

2009 06 22. Monday.

2009 06 22. Monday.

As I went into the big hall around 5:40am this morning for the Mahay Shasura Mardini bhajan, I saw an interesting sight: about dozen or so couples (apparently) sleeping on the floor in the pre-dawn darkness. Actually, from what I could see, the ladies were sleeping and the men were sitting next to them listening to the last part of the 1,000 Names verses being recited from the stage way in front. I don't remember seeing people sleep in the big hall before.

Had a nice talk this morning with with Mukhunda, one of the yellow robed brahmacharis (YRBs). We have to get some chain link fence for the compost project and one of the other YRBs told me to talk to him. Mukhunda lives in a big open dormitory room with about 8 other brahmacharis. Apparently they all sleep on the bare top of a long wooden box that holds their possessions. I explained to him what we need and he listened with clear attention and he made sure he understood me. His energy and presence was very nice; I felt him to be fully present as we were talking.

OK, I said I wouldn't write so much about the special treats they sometimes make available, but I'll make a brief exception here. So at breakfast this morning they had uttapam. As I've mentioned before, its one of my fave faves. They also had this really good thick brown sambar that was just heavenly with the uttapam. OK, pretty darn good, but not quite good enough to slop onto the final blog pile. So I get up to wash my plate and one of the Indian servers is bringing out an urn and setting it on the little salt table. I'm thinking to myself "No, it can't be sweet chai. Maybe just some hot spiced rice water or something." Trying not to get my egoic cravings too stirred up (and failing), I casually take my time washing my plate. Then I pull my chai cup out of my bag. Is there a little tremble in the hands? A little palpitation of the heart? Perhaps. Not sure. The guy in front of me turns the spigot and out comes the unmistakable color and smell of sweet chai. My pupils suddenly dilate sufficiently to scare any doctor who would happen to see them. My whole word reduces to my hand reaching out and turning that spigot. The deed is done! I restrain myself to half a cup and slink away like a thief in the night, glancing right and left. I stroll back to my room in the breezy, sunny tropical morning, digesting uttapam, chanting my mantra and sipping blissfully.

So I get back to my building and I see the elevator door is just starting to close. Durasana stops the door and motions me to join them. Durasana is a very nice and energetic Italian guy. Very easy-going and calm. As I step into the elevator, the door is closing and my right foot bumps into it. I stumble into Durasana who quickly and deftly catches me and stops me from falling. As I'm tripping, some of my chai spills. At this point imagine Gollum from Lord of the Rings despairingly crying out "My Precious! My Precious!". Also in the elevator is a very pretty young dark haired German girl watching me stumble like a drunkard with Parkinson's.

OK, Advait. Where's your bliss now?

Back in my room I nurse my wounded ego with the remainder of my precious chai. Well, I guess I shouldn't worry so much about my wounded ego. My guru Amma is committed to killing it. But maybe She's playing with it first like a cat playing with a mouse. Just when I think I've escaped . . . Wham! Out of nowhere the claws slash deep. This guru thing is not for the faint of heart. But Amma is taking it easy on me because I am, after all, a wimp, addicted to my creature comforts. She's operating on me with lots of anesthesia. I may never wake up! The anesthesia is, of course, Amma's Divine infinite motherly love.

Gently slapping me, Amma says "OK, Advait! Get up. After a grueling, extremely difficult operation, I've successfully removed your ego. And let me tell you; it was a real stinker. You can now finally wake up to your Infinite True Self!"

Me (laying on the table; groggy and barely conscious) "No. Just more anesthesia please. That's all I want. And maybe just a little chai also?"

Rolling Her eyes, Amma mutters to Herself "Jeez. Some days it just doesn't pay to be the Divine Mother of the Universe."

An easy day at the compost pile. We had a lot of help so it gone done pretty quickly even though there was a lot of food waste. And it was a relatively cool day which was really nice. During the composting a welder was working nearby extending the roof to cover more of the compost piles. So while we were working there were constant very bright flashes of welding light happening and the deep loud buzz of the welding machine.

Normally after we finish the day's pile we turn one of the older piles which is pretty hard work. For some reason today the Indian men wanted to be in charge of turning the pile. No argument from me! Go for it, guys. I got the easy job of spraying the turned compost with EM. EM is some kind of fancy beneficial microbe bacteria compound that is supposed to be good for all kinds of things. They use LOTS of EM here at the ashram for all kinds of cleaning and other purposes. They make a type of highly purified EM that you can drink, and other kinds that can be used in gardens, etc. So today I just stood around with the EM sprayer strapped to my back pumping it up and spraying the turned compost while the Indians did all the hard work. They were laughing and joking in Malayalam and having a grand time. And then at 4pm; sweet chai and pastries, as usual. Yum! Although they ran out of chai before I could get my second cup. Grrr! Had another nice chat with Pete about his vision and his many ideas for the composting.

Today is my one month anniversary back at the ashram. Feels good. Feels like home so far. Doing what I most want to do; playing this endlessly interesting game of spiritual practice and connecting with Amma.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

2009 06 21 Sunday.

2009 06 21 Sunday.

Skipped the afternoon compost to post blog entries and catch up on email and other errands. I emailed my compost pile data collection draft proposal to Peter Ash. I look forward to getting his comments. Should be an interesting project if it actually gets approved and moves forward. If it does move forward I can guarantee all kinds of interesting leelas which will keep the blog spicy and juicy. If it doesn't move forward, I'll have to start making stuff up. Wait a minute, I'm already doing that. Little did you know that the ashram is just my Indian version of Lake Woebegone. Doesn't matter if its true or not as long as its entertaining. In reality I'm living a debauched life at the Indian version of Las Vegas. Playing the tables and getting pawed by the hot hostesses.

*cringe and shudder!* Definitely not the life for me.

108 Names mystery solved; I spoke to Ramesh and he gave me the details. In the Hindu astrology system (called jyotish) Amma's birthstar (Karthika) comes around about once a month. And on that day they recite the 108 Names of Amma before the 1,000 Names stotram. As long as they have a good reason, I'm happy. They also do a Karthika puja in the evening with homa, mantras, bhajans, etc. It was wrapping up as I was drifting off to sleep. Good timing. This Amma worship stuff is all well and good but it shouldn't interfere with my sleep. Let's keep our priorities straight.

At the dinner line this evening I ran into Cameron and told him I enjoyed the DVD he gave me of his two animated Amma children's stories. He said he's done a screenplay of one of his Amma children's books and is looking for someone with film business experience. I said I spoke to someone a week ago who's in that line of work. I happen to glance behind Cameron and that person was right there. Very fortuitous coincidence. I introduced them to each other and they walked off happily chatting. Maybe I should charge Cameron a finder's fee.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

2009 06 20. Saturday.

2009 06 20. Saturday.

Had a nice talk with Antara this morning at breakfast. Before breakfast they showed a live video feed of the Amma Atma Puja in Los Angeles (its a special high energy ritual Amma does toward the end of Her programs in America and Europe). While she was watching it, Antara said she had some very powerful feelings of connection with Amma. She said that she was crying tears of devotion and joy at feeling such a deeper connection. It was very inspirational to hear her share.

At the compost work today there was a lot of plastic trash in the food waste from the kitchen. Peter got pretty annoyed at all the trash because no one is supposed to put plastic in the food waste. Especially in the main kitchen. Peter complained to one of the yellow robed brahmacharis. He was getting worked up for good reason; it is a total pain in the butt to pull the plastic out of the food waste.

Toward the end of the compost work today Peter, as usual, was still working really hard. His energy is amazing. At one point Peter pointed to the front of his sweat soaked shorts and said "It looks like I peed my pants! I quickly pointed to my dirt covered pants and replied "It looks like I did the other!" Peter and the yellow robed brahmachari with us laughed. At 4pm they brought a bucket of sweet hot chai and some delicious pastries. I stuffed myself and had 3 cups of chai. So good after the hard work. They're building a shade cover over the compost piles so we're now mostly working in the shade which makes it much better.

Unexpected Change Alert! Out of the blue they did Amma's 108 Names before the 1,000 Names stotram. I'll have to show up a little earlier at the evening program now to catch the 108 Names. I had some real nice bliss during the bhajans. Very sweet. Perhaps my overdose of chai at the end of composting today played a contributing role. Maybe a little chai buzz still happening. Whatever the reason it felt wonderful.

"Everything is smaller than the warm OK-ness." -John DeRuiter.

At dinner they served spiced rice powder which I've never seen here before. Was really good when mixed with some hot rice water.

Friday, June 19, 2009

2009 06 19. Friday.

2009 06 19. Friday.

At the morning veggie chop I had a nice talk with Vitrana. He's from Ireland and is a strong Sai Baba devotee. His accent is heavenly! Sai Baba is another very popular guru also from south India like Amma. I'm guessing that Sai Baba has quite a few more devotees in India and around the world than Amma. Not sure. Probably many millions in India consider themselves devotees of Sai Baba. And there are Sai Baba groups in most big cities in America. He said that even though he's a strong Sai Baba devotee he felt an inner calling to visit the Amma ashram and make a connection with Amma. I told him that I've visited a number of Sai Baba groups in America and have always enjoyed the friendly atmosphere, the great bhajans and wonderful devotional energy of the groups. I told him I totally understand how one can have a connection with 2 different gurus. I know there's a fair number of Amma devotees who are also devotees of Sai Baba. They often say that Amma is their Divine Mother (Devi, Kali, Durga) and Sai Baba is their Divine Father (Shiva, Krishna, Rama).

Got some jaggery (dark palm sugar) at the store today. Now I remember how good it is. I enjoyed it the last time I was here. Sweet but with a rich, complex flavor. I made sure and put it in an air tight container with a good lid. The ants would really love to get to it. I used a clear plastic container so the ants could see clearly whats inside. Yes, I know, totally evil.

At the compost pile work today I had to run and get a refill of cow urine. They mix the cow urine with cow poop to make slurry to slop onto the pile as its being layered. The slurry adds nitrogen which the little bacteria love. So I grabbed a 10 gallon bucket and a little pushcart and off I went to the cow shed. It was nice cause its less intense than layering the pile so its like a little rest break. I got to the cowshed and the urine is collected in a little concrete trough at one corner of the shed. At that time of the day the 6 or 7 cows are out of the sun and lined up at the hay trough blissfully munching away and pooping and peeing to their heart's delight. From the urine trough I had a great view of the ass end of the cows. Oh, boy. Occasionally a cow would look back at me with a pair of soulful brown eyes and a mouth full of straw. At feeding time the cows are watched over by 1 or 2 western devotees. I got a small bucket and filled the big bucket about 70% full of nice warm fresh cow urine. Every few minutes a fresh flow of urine would refill the trough. Since I've been working on the compost pile for 8 or 9 days now I'm totally used to the smell. Don't even notice it. Then I slowly push the cart back to the composting area. Even going slowly, some of the urine sloshes out. When I return Peter says "Great! Lets make more slurry!" with the same enthusiasm as a kid asking for another milkshake. He's definitely a farmer all the way to the bone.

Going to the cowshed was a reminder that I'm living my dream of being in a wonderful Amma community that is dedicated to living in harmony with nature. Very nice.

After today's compost pile was complete I had a nice long talk with Peter Ash. He's in charge of the whole compost pile project. I told him it would be great if we could start to properly monitor, track and take data on all the compost piles to see what's working and how best to improve the process. He enthusiastically agreed and we spoke for a while about the best way to take data and properly monitor all the piles. I told Pete I'd write up a proposal for the compost data project and run it by him. I also spoke to one of the Indian yellow robe brahmacharis who's been helping in the compost area and he also agreed its a good idea. This should be an interesting leela. One thing I love to do is test monitoring; taking data, studying it, making charts, graphs, etc, and writing reports and analyses. I was an engineer for about 13 years and data gathering, analysis and reporting was a big part of the job. It was great.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

2009 06 18. Thursday.

2009 06 18. Thursday.

The breakfast this morning at first was not very appetizing; just some poorly spiced chopped green veggies of some kind. After I reluctantly finished my small second helping, I was walking back to wash my plate when I saw they had brought out idlis, sambar *and* uttapam. Doh! Uttapam is definitely one of my favorites! But I was already stuffed. Some uttapam and sambar would have been wonderful. Oh, well. Amma says to get the taste of God we must lose attachment to the taste of the tongue. Still working on it.

At the compost pile this afternoon I was really dragging shortly before 4pm, and looking forward to the afternoon chai. Then one of the Indian men told me they had brought sweet chai. I said I wanted to go get the unsweetened chai. When I went into the shed to wash my hands I could smell the sweet chai. Wonderful! I caved in (of course) and had the sweet chai. It was right there and I could have all I wanted. They also brought some cakes, pastries and jelebes. Wow! The sweet chai and pastries was a real special treat! After having a little more than my fair share of each, my energy felt great! I stayed and helped with the final work for another 40 minutes or so. The work was pretty strenuous but I felt really good. The sugar rush did wonders for me and apparently was just what my body needed. I may buy some jaggery (dark palm sugar) at the store and keep it handy. Maybe my body just needs some extra quick energy when I'm doing strenuous work.

2009 06 18. Thursday.

2009 06 18. Thursday.

The breakfast this morning at first was not very appetizing; just some poorly spiced chopped green veggies of some kind. After I reluctantly finished my small second helping, I was walking back to wash my plate when I saw they had brought out idlis, sambar *and* uttapam. Doh! Uttapam is definitely one of my favorites! But I was already stuffed. Some uttapam and sambar would have been wonderful. Oh, well. Amma says to get the taste of God we must lose attachment to the taste of the tongue. Still working on it.

At the compost pile this afternoon I was really dragging shortly before 4pm, and looking forward to the afternoon chai. Then one of the Indian men told me they had brought sweet chai. I said I wanted to go get the unsweetened chai. When I went into the shed to wash my hands I could smell the sweet chai. Wonderful! I caved in (of course) and had the sweet chai. It was right there and I could have all I wanted. They also brought some cakes, pastries and jelebes. Wow! The sweet chai and pastries was a real special treat! After having a little more than my fair share of each, my energy felt great! I stayed and helped with the final work for another 40 minutes or so. The work was pretty strenuous but I felt really good. The sugar rush did wonders for me and apparently was just what my body needed. I may buy some jaggery (dark palm sugar) at the store and keep it handy. Maybe my body just needs some extra quick energy when I'm doing strenuous work.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

2009 06 17. Wednesday.

2009 06 17. Wednesday.

Continuation of the French Fry Cutter Leela: Had a short talk this morning with Mr. Omkumar who's the big boss of the Indian kitchen. He said he'll do some looking around and for me to come back in a week or two.

My days now follow a routine. Here's a typical day: Get up at 5:15am, brush teeth, get dressed and head out the door around 5:35am to hear the last little bit of the 1,000 Names archana and then sing along silently with the Mahay Shasura Mardini bhajan. Then I join the line to go up in front of the main stage to partake of the blessed camphor fire and bow to the picture of Amma. Then go get my cup of chai. I'm back in my room by about 6:10am and then I start the I AM meditation practice which is done by about 6:50am. At the end of the I AM practice my final meditations have been very nice, probably mostly due to the hot chai settling into my system. Then I go to the western cafe area to help with the veggie chop seva till about 8:30am or so. Sometimes we're quiet and sometimes there's a lot of conversation. Sometimes were done early and I can head back to my room to do a little chanting before breakfast. Breakfast is at 9am. I eat alone usually with the young Indian laborers and currently I'm working on memorizing the Hanuman Chalisa. Then around 9:30 I'm back in my room to brush teeth, maybe do some chanting and small housekeeping tasks or work on my blog till about 10:20 when I head off for the garbage seva. That's done about 11:45 or so then back to my room for a shower, laundry, blog writing, chanting or other misc tasks till 1pm lunch. Lunch is the big meal of the day usually with dry rice and some extra curries and sauces. I try not to stuff myself cause usually I do compost seva at 2:30pm and that's pretty heavy work. The lunches are usually very tasty so its hard not to eat a lot. After lunch I change into my seva clothes and head to the compost area. We're usually done by 4pm and I head back to get afternoon chai and then back to my room for shower, perhaps more laundry, blogging, meditating, chanting or napping until about 6pm. Then I go to the big hall for 1,000 Names Stotram till 6:45pm. Then its bhajans till 8pm and then dinner (which also is served on one side of the big hall). After dinner I usually get a little fruit or a cup of hot sweet milk from the juice stall. Then its up to my room and getting ready for bed. Usually in bed by 9:15pm or so. And that (currently at least) is a typical day. Every third day or so I'll skip the compost to spend the afternoon catching up on email and other misc tasks.

Strange leela today with the Indian lunch. I went to get seconds the way I usually do and I stood in front of the big curry pot. Its always the case that the Indian servers serve us. We never serve ourselves. Well, I stood in front of the curry but the servers just sat there ignoring me. I stood for a few moments and finally gave up. As I was walking away I saw they were serving some lady so I walked back to try my luck and they gave me a serving. Strange. They also ran out of rice which I've never seen before. Maybe some problem in the kitchen. I got annoyed that they wouldn't serve me but the annoyance faded when I thought "Well, who knows what's going on? Just some leela. No big deal."

Lunchtime mystery solved. In the afternoon I asked Ramesh about it and he said when they run out of rice they try not to serve the curry until they get some more rice. That way when the rice comes they'll have some curry to go with it. At least they could tell me that instead of just watching me stand there. Grr!

At afternoon chai I was waiting in the big hall. Seated next to me was an older male Indian sadhu (or at least he dressed the part of a sadhu). He leaned over to me, pointed behind him and said "You can go get payasim over there." Looking over I could see they were serving payasim on the other side of the hall. Payasim is a sweet, delicious spiced rice pudding. I went to get some, half expecting they would say something like "Only for brahmacharis! Not you!" But the serving lady gave me some without a second glance. Cool. I went back and chatted for a few minutes with the sadhu. Turns out he has his home base in Tiruvanamalai (the Tamil Nadu city of the holy mountain Arunanchula and the Ramana Maharshi ashram). The Ramana ashram and Ramana Maharshi are well known in western spiritual circles. From there the sadhu travels around to various ashrams and holy places in India. You can't swing a cat in India without hitting some holy site or sacred temple. It would be cool to talk to him some more and get more details about his life as a sadhu. India has a fair number of sadhus wandering from place to place. In general, India is a friendly place for spiritual wanderers. There are lots of temples and ashrams were sadhus can stop, rest, pray, meditate, get the darshan of the temple murti and get some food. After you have raised your family and finished your career, its traditional for an Indian man to leave home and take up the life of a sadhu. This tradition is described in the sacred Hindu scriptures. I think today only a small number of men (and a smaller number of women) follow this sadhu tradition.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

2009 06 16. Tuesday.

2009 06 16. Tuesday.

A had a nice long talk today with Swarupan this morning during the veggie chop seva from 7-9am. He's a young German guy staying here for a while. He has a spiritual teacher back in Germany and I asked him more about this teacher. Swarupan told me his teacher has received darshan from Amma and was the one who suggested Swarupan come to the ashram. Swarupan says he often has intuitions about the upcoming planetary changes and he shared about his intuitions, what they may mean and his relationship with his spiritual teacher. His teacher sounds like a pretty cool guy; sincere and coming from the heart.

Our conversation had what I call an authentic connective quality. That's where I feel I and the other person are sharing about our inner worlds in a clear and honest way. When I feel I'm getting a window into the other person, or they're getting a window into me is when I feel the conversation is authentic and meaningful.

On my way back to my room from the veggie chop seva I ran into Antara. She's a quiet and nice Canadian lady who sometimes helps with the compost pile work and we've chatted briefly a few times. It seemed she was feeling off center so I tried to tune into where she was at and create a space for her to share. She opened up a little about some difficulties she was having adjusting to the ashram and Indian culture. Breakfast was starting soon and I had to go to my room and get something. On the elevator back down I ran into her again and we ended up having breakfast together. One of the rare times that I didn't have a meal alone. She opened up a lot more about the difficulties she was having here and in her connection with Amma. I tried to listen and reflect back an understanding of her concerns. She said that most of the women here are difficult to deal with, not friendly and sometimes overpowering. Antara had many concerns on her mind so I listened for a long time and offered some ideas here and there. She seemed to really appreciate having someone to talk to. She's a very thoughtful woman and I liked her sincerity, honesty and deep desire for spiritual growth. She wasn't complaining, but rather working on how to take deeper responsibility for her life situation and experiences. I really enjoying learning about a person's inner world (part of being a 5 on the Enneagram) so it felt very good to listen and share with her. I especially liked hearing the details about her connection with Amma and how its growing and deepening, but sometimes is difficult. Any conversation about Amma is wonderful. Antara said she would like to live permanently at the ashram but Amma denied her request to purchase a flat. I suggested that perhaps Amma sees some further opportunities for her back home in Canada. It was time for my garbage seva so we walked back to the E building where we're both currently staying. She's up on the 14th floor.

Turyanan and I had a nice conversation while pulling the trash cart to and from the burn furnace. He's a cool guy about my age from Ireland. A wonderful accent! He was sharing about all kinds of things; his experiences here at the ashram, his connection with Amma, his experience with the Irish Amma group, his work as a designer and other things. He's a lively guy with a quick smile and great sense of humor. Did I mention his wonderful accent? I enjoyed the conversation a lot because, like my earlier conversations with Swarupan and Antara, I felt he was opening a window into his inner world in a natural and spontaneous way. I asked a lot of questions because I wanted to just listen. As he shared about his experience with the Irish Amma group, I shared about some of my experiences with Amma groups in DC and Miami. We had some of the same experiences and it was nice to share stories. He had some experience with the London Amma group and said when he was there it was going thru a lot of conflict. I shared how the DC group went thru a similar experience a few years back. I also shared how the Miami group (which was small) had a very sweet and relaxed energy. I miss the Miami Amma satsang. Niramayan and Athulita were very sweet and warm and their energy filled the gatherings.

Three good connections all in one morning. Felt nice. Seems like I was due for some authentic and connective conversations. Have to check with the Amma jyotish guy and see how the stars were lined up. After all the sharing and dialog it felt good to have lunch by myself and continue work on memorizing a bit of the Hanuman Chalisa.

It was a very clear day today. Low humidity. From the 10th floor I could clearly see the Kerala mountains far way directly to the east of the ashram. We drove thru them the last time I was here and went on the South India tour with Amma. They were beautiful. Green, lush, cool and hilly. One of my favorite combinations.

Prabana is a lady from Europe who helps organize the compost pile project. Prabana is a very hard worker and very task oriented. She can sometimes be kind of abrupt and sharp. At the end of today's compost pile work, she and Peter were having a lively and somewhat heated discussion about the big picture of how to proceed with the whole composting project.

At one point during the work today there were about 7 or 8 Indian men who came by to look at the compost project. Interesting the parallel English and Malayalam conversations going on. I wonder what their ideas and plans for the compost are. I'm hoping they assign some more Indian workers to the project. Creating and properly maintaining a compost pile is a lot of work.

Monday, June 15, 2009

2009 06 15. Monday.

2009 06 15. Monday.

A few days ago I started wearing sandalwood paste between my eyebrows. In Hinduism, the location between the eyebrows is where the sixth chakra is located. Many Hindus (male and female) put a dab of sandalwood paste there. If I remember correctly, the sandalwood paste helps to cool the emotions and calm the mind. I had some dry sandalwood powder from some Hindu rituals and ceremonies I attended a few years ago. It took me a few times to learn the correct amount of water to get the right consistency. When the mixture is the right consistency, you dab a little circle between the eyebrows and it dries in a few minutes to a lighter color. Most of the westerners here wear sandalwood paste. As my friend Sanatan would say "Now I'm with the Cool Club!" Membership provisional.

The synthesizer player was back this evening. Cool. Toward the beginning of the men's bhajans a short rainstorm blew in and cooled things off nicely. Soon after that a nice wave of bliss settled into me. The bliss is nothing special, just a nice experience that comes and goes. What I feel is not a devotional bliss, but more of what I call an advaitic bliss, as best I can describe it. The bliss makes it much easier to concentrate on the bhajans. The bliss faded toward the end of the bhajans but the afterglow of peaceful feelings remained for a while.

I'm guessing the nuero-physical correlates of the bliss state have to do with a combination of certain brain regions turning off or on and certain changes in nuero-transmitter levels, like endorphins, norepinephrins, serotonin, cortisol, adrenalin, etc. I'm also guessing that some of the brain regions that regulate emotional arousal (I think called the limbic system) somehow become unusually quiescent when the bliss state arises. When the bliss state is active in me, certain thoughts *seem* to enhance the bliss. When I'm in bliss I'll say things in my mind like "How wonderful that it totally doesn't matter whether this bliss comes or goes." or "What I really am is beyond any feeling of bliss or any other feeling." And thoughts like that seem to deepen the bliss state. So perhaps those kinds of thoughts have their origination in a part of the brain that is connected with the bliss state. In any case, the bliss usually only lasts 5-30 minutes at most. I bet some nueroscientist somewhere has studied this. In some of the spiritual books I've read they talk about how one of the purposes of meditation and spiritual practice is to purify the mind so it can handle longer and more intense periods of bliss. Anyone who has experienced this bliss knows that it can be powerfully addictive. Many of the spiritual books I've read talk about the importance of having no attachment to the bliss state. Just another transient experience. Nothing special.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

2009 06 14. Sunday.

2009 06 14. Sunday.

OK, so today I officially started the "French Fry Cutter Leela". At the morning vegging chop seva we spend a lot of time cutting potatoes for french fries. This could be done much easier, faster and more consistently with a simple hand operated french fry cutter. So this morning I went to the big Indian kitchen and asked around for the person who orders equipment. The Indian kitchen is always filled with steam from huge pots of boiling rice and chai and the wonderful aromas of all kinds of spicy dishes being stirred in really large vats. Lots of the fancier dishes are reserved for the students and some of the older residents. Where I eat they only serve the simple food (except for lunch when we get an extra course or two). There's a nice altar of Amma near the kitchen entrance and I try to do a quick namaskar to Amma whenever I go there.

I spoke to a very nice Indian man named Sanjay who helps run the kitchen. Sanjay has a beautiful smile and was very helpful. He understood my request and said I should come back in a day or so and speak to Omkumar who's the big boss.

Knowing how things work in India, I give myself about a 10% chance of actually procuring a proper french fry cutter. Even though, it should be an interesting leela. Attempting little projects like this is a great way to learn a little about how the different parts of the ashram operate. I only know about a very small portion of this place.

Today, while Murtena and I were hauling a heavy bin of good paper up the big recycle paper mound, he asked me if I thought about asking Amma to be a renunciate. His question was good because it gave me an opportunity to ask him about the details of becoming a renunciate. He said that if Amma grants our request, we can stay in our own room if we own a flat (last year I purchased a flat at the ashram). To become a renunciate costs around $15,000 or thereabouts. In return the basic needs of the renunciate are taken care of for the rest of their life. The Amma organization provides them food, shelter and basic health care. In return, the renunciate has to do some extra work and abide by the ashram rules which are pretty straightforward. Any extra money the renunciate has they can either keep or offer to Amma; their choice. In the future I may ask Amma about becoming a renunciate. Right now I don't feel any inner pull to become one, but that may change.

At the compost pile seva today Pete (the guy in charge) was amazing. He was working like 3 people. And in a hot sun to boot. I was dragging but Pete was really working hard, and seemed to really enjoy it. I was totally drained by the end. We were missing 2 of the usual volunteers so we had to make up the slack. Well, Pete made up almost all the slack and I could just barely carry my own weight. Definitely hard work. The pile was done right at chai time so I wonder if Pete was making that his goal. He did it. Then we trotted off for chai. He came back smiling with a cup of hot brew in his hand and shared more about his plans for the compost pile project. We were having a nice time chatting but Sonia cut me off saying "Please, I need to talk with Pete about the plans." I got a little annoyed but it was hard to get too bugged holding a thermos full of hot chai I'll be enjoying soon along with a blissful shower. I dragged my tired butt back to my room in the hot afternoon sun wearing clothes that looked I had celebrated the completion of the compost pile by rolling in it.

Strange. At the evening men's bhajans today, there was no synthesizer. Only a harmonium. And they sang mostly simple bhajans. I knew many of them and could easily sing along. I definitely missed the synthesizer. It adds a very nice aural dimension to the usual bhajans, but it was nice to be able to sing along. Maybe the synthesizer player had something else he needed to do.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

2009 06 13. Saturday.

2009 06 13. Saturday.

Nice little leela today around the afternoon chai. I was waiting for the chai in the big hall when an older Indian man called to me and said "Sweet raagi." and pointed to one of the brahmachari buildings. Raagi is a really delicious sweet pudding thats sometimes served as a special treat. I said "Cool." and started to head in that direction. Then one of the other Indian men stopped me and said with a serious expression "No. That raagi is only for the brahmacharis." Feeling a little disappointed I replied "OK, no problem." So I sat back down to wait for the chai to come. Then a minute or so later, another young German guy (who is very obviously NOT a brahmachari) said to me "Go and get some raagi. They're serving it over there." I told him what the other Indian had said and he replied "No. Its really OK, you can have some, they don't mind." He held up his cup of steaming hot raagi as proof. Feeling slightly nervous, I got a small cup and went up to the raagi pot. Some Indian brahmacharis were there crowded around and one of them casually handed me the ladle so I could serve myself. I got a cup and snuck off before anyone could bite my head off. Then I got my chai. So now I've got a cup of sweet raagi and a cup of hot chai in either hand. And people wonder why I love this place.

So here's the kicker. I've finished my raagi and I'm now sipping my chai and chatting with the German guy. Then one of the young Indian brahmachari sits nearby and says to me "Please. Go get some raagi." To scope out the situation, I asked "Isn't it only for the brahmachari?" He frowned and replied with the usual incomprehensible south Indian head waggle that can mean almost anything and said "No, no. Please come with me." He stood up and motioned me to come with him. So to pursue this leela to its mysterious conclusion, I followed along. He led me back to the raagi pot and served me another full cup. The mystery of the raagi leela only added to its deliciousness. I sipped the hot dark raagi and chewed on the little slivers of coconut.

This little leela is fairly typical of how some things operate here. Someone, usually an Indian with great seriousness, will tell you one thing and then later some other Indian will waggle their head (meaning god knows what) and say just the opposite. Just an example of why its really wise to keep a loose attitude toward some of the rules here. Now many of the rules, of course, are clear. But lots of little things can change on a dime for totally mysterious reasons. If you should ask an Indian about it, they'll just waggle their head as if thats all the explanation that is required. The Indians seem to have a deep aversion for explaining the changes or even acknowledging that they happen. The bottom line: go with the flow and be prepared for unexpected leelas and changes. For me, its actually very good practice. My usual nature is to be uptight and think that rules should be clear and good reasons provided for any changes. So flowing with the leelas here is VERY good practice in helping me let go of my usual uptight habits. When in Rome, fart like a Roman.

After I got my second cup of raagi I hung around with three other young western guys who were there. A German, a British man and a Frenchman. We were chatting about various casual topics for about 10 minutes. I became slightly uncomfortable cause I felt the conversation was pretty trivial and not connective. So I bowed out and took off.

Since I've been back, I've had only a very few short conversations that have felt authentic and meaningful to me. Most of the westerners here, IMO, are really good people with deep spiritual aspirations, but for whatever reason, I only feel an authentic connection with very few people. They're definitely people here I deeply respect and admire, but for whatever reason there's no real chemistry for deeper conversations. Truth be told, thats OK with me. As I've described earlier, I feel very much at home here even with very minimal socializing. With so many people coming here, I'm sure I'll make all kinds of deeper connections as time goes by.

One thing that seems to help me concentrate during the evening bhajans is to drum along with the rhythm with my left hand while tapping along with the melody with my right hand. Now my drumming is definitely not accurate with the correct rhythm, but this little technique seems to help me focus more on the songs and reduces my wandering mind. I'm not really feeling much devotion during the songs, but for now at least the focus practice feels worthwhile. In a number of little ways, I trying to practice focusing and being more present when participating with the various daily group chanting periods.

Friday, June 12, 2009

2009 06 12. Friday.

2009 06 12. Friday.

Looking east inland I can see a lot more cell phone towers than last time poking up above the endless horizon to horizon carpet of palm trees. No surprise. Cell phones are booming. I can see about 16 towers from my vantage point on the 10th floor.

As I was leaving the recycling area this morning, I saw a bunch of cars and motorcycles all flying the flag of the Indian Congress Party (the main center-left party in India; currently in power). I asked and some Indian guy pointed out a man and said he was a member of the National Parliament. The MP hopped onto his special open air campaign car and the whole entourage and motorcade left the ashram, green and orange Congress party flags flapping in the warm humid breeze. He must have stopped by the ashram for a tour. In the past Amma has met with the President of India (J. P. Kalam). Kalam has spoken at the ashram at least once. I don't know if She's met the Prime Minister. Wherever Amma goes in India, the local political big-wigs turn out to greet Her, drape Her with a flower garland and give speeches at Her programs. Same in America; usually local official will come and give a short speech before Amma's program and drape Her with a garland. Amma almost always gives them a nice hug.

At the compost today Pete was training one of the Indian men (Balanan) so he could take the lead on the compost. The plan is for the Indians to take full charge of all the compost work at some point. Its very labor intensive and they're not enough western volunteers to do all the work. I'm exhausted after each days work. The signs around the ashram call it a "fun seva" but they don't say how intense the work is. Definitely not my idea of "fun". But it feels really good that we're doing something so wonderfully harmonious with nature. As we were cleaning up I said to Balanan "We'll now call you 'Compostananda' the 'Compost Raja'." He laughed. Perhaps Balanan can round up a crew of Indian workers to do all the composting properly.

Since I knew I was going to be working on compost when chai time came, I brought my thermos with me so I could enjoy the chai after all the work is done. Its interesting that if you bring a cup to chai, they will only give you a standard serving and no more. However, if you bring a thermos, the chai pourers are happy to fill the thermos all the way to the top. So today he happily filled my thermos. Cool. It holds about a cup and a half. I've gotten used to drinking only the unsweetened chai. My system seems to like doing without the sugar, and now that I'm used to it, my taste buds don't miss the sweetness (well, missing it a little bit).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

2009 06 11. Thursday.

2009 06 11. Thursday.

Another long time resident here who's a good role model is Murtena. He's a very nice calm and steady French guy who helps out with the recycling and does lots of projects around the ashram. He has a quick smile and is always gentle and easygoing. I got to know him a little bit the first time I was here, and now we're working together some mornings in the recycling area. I'd like to emulate his always calm and cool demeanor. He's been here a long time. About 10 years I think. Today when Murtena and I were pulling the trash cart back from the furnace there was a truck in the way of some garbage cans we normally get on the way back. Murtena just kept going. I asked him if we should check those bins. He said "No, I think they're OK."

I replied "You sure? I'm learning from you."

Murtena smiled. "Can't I also teach you some bad things?"

I smiled back. "I already know all the bad things!"

At the compost this afternoon Pete Ash (his real name) showed up. He's the American organic farmer who started the whole compost project about 2 months ago. Pete saw the food waste being thrown away each day and proposed that composting it would be a way for the ashram to live up to Amma's frequent teachings about being in harmony with the earth. Pete was taking a bunch of photos of the composting process for the ashram website and a future documentary. I ask Pete if he could talk about how to make a proper compost pile and he was more than happy to oblige. So for the next 1.5 hours while we were layering and building the compost pile, Pete gave a pretty much non-stop running monologue about how to build a good pile. It was great. I learned a lot and he was happy to answer questions. For fun I called him "Pete the Compost King!" He laughed and said he's been called worse. At one point Pete was sharing some in depth details and I stopped to listen. After a few minutes Sonia said "Would it be OK to talk a little later? There's a lot to do now." Sonia is definitely a no-nonsense very hard and smart worker. That's great, but she can get slightly uptight, IMHO. No big deal. I can get even more uptight.

Pete was really cool at chai time. If the pile is not done by chai time, I'll feel a little guilty when I sneak off to go get my chai. At 3:55pm, when I told Pete I was going to get my chai, he said "Great! Let me join you." The two ladies still working hard gave us a little look when we trooped off with a lot of work still to be done. But I felt OK cause Pete was the boss in charge. "Hey ladies! Complain to him." We grabbed our chai and came back and worked till about 4:45pm. I was really exhausted at the end. Those piles require a lot of pretty hard physical work. I finished off the pile with the last layer of wood chips. Another one done! No one was around so I grabbed the artificial flower garland from yesterday's pile, held it and said the traditional Hindu food prayer, blessing all the worms and bacteria. "Bon appetit, little guys!". Then I neatly laid the garland on top. I then drank most of my bottle of electrolyte water. Man, that really tasted good! I was really sweating.

I now definitely know the rudimentary basics of compost pile theory and practice. I'm sure there's a lot more to know, but the basics are pretty simple.

I got back to my room, took a shower and then gave my room a much needed sweeping. Felt good! I'm really enjoying the feeling of keeping my room somewhat neat and tidy. My little victory over the pervasive trashiness of India. With a few exceptions, the ashram is kept pretty neat, clean and tidy. Unlike the rest of India which, in general, looks like a big trash heap, with some exceptions. Then a quick nap and off to evening stotram and bhajans.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

2009 06 10. Wednesday.

2009 06 10. Wednesday.

This morning at the veggie chopping seva I was assigned to grate some cheese. The veggie chopping coordinator swiped a small piece of cheese as she was showing me how its done. Sinduran was also there so after a few minutes of grating I casually offered him a piece of cheese. He accepted it matter of factly and said "Thanks". That little gesture on my part helped to dissolve most of the annoyance I felt from yesterday when he asked Rudy and I to stop chanting. I thought of all the things I've said and done that annoyed people in my life and that helped me to let go of my annoyance with Sinduran. I thought to myself "He did the same thing I've done myself many times. He's just reflecting my own issues."

I got really angry this morning while we were pulling the cart of burnable trash to the furnace. Some trucks had been working in an area thats along the path where we pull the cart. This area was now deeply rutted and filled with mud. Vigrahan (a big young quiet French guy) was pushing the cart and I was pulling and steering. We were trying to pull it through the ruts and a young Indian kid jumped beside Vigrahan to help push. The front wheels got locked in the wrong direction and I called for them to stop so it wouldn't get stuck worse. They must not have heard me cause they kept right on pushing. I kept calling for them to stop and they just kept on pushing and getting it stuck worse. I got really frustrated and looked back at them and yelled "Don't you guys understand 'Stop!'!" The young Indian kid just smiled and Vigrahan looked surprised. Then we got the cart going in the right direction. A few minutes later I apologized to Vigrahan. He was very gracious and understanding. Turns out he's a social worker for the homeless in France. So perhaps he's trained in dealing with difficult people. That'll come in handy around me. We shared a little bit and I told him my bad habit of getting angry. He said "No problem, I get angry a lot also but I get angry at myself. I keep it inside which is not good." As we shared we both agreed that working on self-forgiveness is important. My outburst threw me off for the rest of the day. My anger is a deep vasana and the ashram here will bring it out. Amma says thats what an ashram is supposed to do; help us see our shadow sides so we can finally heal and integrate them. With Amma's help I'll try to dissolve that vasana. It runs deep. Working on the compost pile in the afternoon helped me feel better. Nothing like some real yucky smelly grimy sweaty hot seva to cleanse the mind and perhaps wipe out a little karma.

Now that I think about it, the Indian kid gave the perfect response to my egoic angry outburst. Maybe I could learn something from him.

With my buttons getting pushed and my vasanas coming up, now I know for sure I'm back in the ashram groove. Just like last time! And, in the grand scheme of things, its good. What I need.

At the bhajans this evening, I didn't notice that I set my mat down right on a line of ants. When I did notice it seemed that the ants weren't interested in getting into my bag or onto my mat, so I just stayed there. The ants just seemed to route around me no problem. These were some kind of gentle black ants. There are aggressive red fire ants all over the ashram that love to bite and sting. Gotta watch out carefully for them.

At the bhajans some of the Indians and westerners will sit themselves down right onto the stone floor with no mat or cushion and sit there the whole 1.5 hours of bhajans. Amazing! For the life of me I can't see how they do it. My butt and ankles would be screaming in pain after 10 minutes. Perhaps because I'm so skinny and have no padding. That combined with me being an overly sensitive wuss. I use a square flat foam pad for my legs and ankles and a nice small flat Thermarest air cushion for my seat. Feels great.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

2009 06 09. Tuesday.

2009 06 09. Tuesday.

This morning at the 7am veggie chopping seva, Rudy (a young Austrian guy) and I were there first. I suggested that we try to chant the "Lokah Samastah" together. Rudy agreed and we chanted for about 10 minutes until Sinduran (an older Dutch guy) showed up. At first Sinduran just plugged his iPod into his ears and listened to his own music. After a few moments he got annoyed and said "Can you chant silently? I want to hear my music." Rudy was very cool and said "Sure, no problem." I was about to ask Sinduran to move to another table but decided not to. I was very annoyed with myself that I didn't ask him to move since we were there first and he could have easily moved to another table. Sinduran and I were roommates briefly the last time I was here and we didn't get along well. Something about him rubs me the wrong way. I spent the whole rest of the day annoyed at him and myself about the incident. I kept replaying in my mind what I should have said. As my ego was chewing over the incident, my calmer rational mind was counter-balancing with reasons why it was no big deal. It was a see-saw struggle the whole day.

Truth be told, my voice was getting pretty tired by the time Sinduran asked us to stop so in a way it was a good thing.

I skipped the afternoon composting to spend some time in the internet room posting my blog entries and catching up on email. I also wanted to finish some sewing repairs on some clothes I found in the recycling area.

At the bhajans (devotional singing) this evening I tried to more actively sing along silently with the songs. Amma has about 6 or 7 big books of all the bhajans that She and Her devotees have composed over the years. In the evenings they'll choose songs from any of the books, so you really have to all of them with you to make sure and have the words. I don't have any of the bhajan books and almost all of them are in some Indian language thats too complicated for me to follow anyway. So this evening I tried to listen more carefully and pick up the general melody. The melodies are usually pretty catchy and easy to pick up, even if the words are complicated. And all the bhajans are call and response style. So I made an effort to pay attention to the melody and the sounds of the words and try to sing along silently as best I could. That seemed to help my concentration and deepen my focus during the bhajans. A few bhajans I already know and can silently sing along easily.

I always sing silently cause for some reason my voice is very weak for singing. Whenever I try to sing out loud, my voice gets weak and tired after just a minute or two and I have to go back to silent singing. I get the feeling its good to try things to deepen my participation and concentration during the bhajans, even if I'm not singing out loud. Its like Amma's voice in my head says "Don't just listen passively, try to participate as much as you can. That will increase the benefits of the bhajans for you." That's one thing about being a devotee of a guru; their voice can get into your head. For me that's definitely a good thing. Much better than the usual voices in my head.

Especially here at the ashram, my "inner Amma" is pretty active and will gently guide and suggest things I can do better. However, when my ego flares up, my "inner Amma" voice is pretty much totally drowned out.

Monday, June 8, 2009

2009 06 08. Monday.

2009 06 08. Monday.

Strange. No curry at breakfast this morning. Instead we had the usual watery rice with a spoonful of hot chutney and a handful of pappadam pieces. Pappadams are kind of like big Indian potato chips except they're made with lentil flour. Really tasty. Normally they're about 6 inches or so in diameter but these were just the leftover broken pieces. I ate mine fast before they got soggy in the watery rice. Mmm! Definitely a special treat.

Hmmm... Looks like a lot of what I'm writing is about this or that special treat at the meals. Shows you were my priorities are.

There was a bit of a flare up at the compost pile seva today. For the past 3 days an American lady has been in charge (lets call her "Judy"). But apparently for the past month or so some Spanish lady had previously been in charge (lets call her "Sonia"). Well, Sonia showed up today after we had already started today's pile. Sonia immediately started to take charge and change things. Judy was totally surprised and said "Wait a minute! I was put in charge. I'm handling this." Sonia just kind of ignored her and started changing the pile and telling the Indians what to do. Needless to say, Judy got pissed and walked off in a huff. Sonia just ignored her and continued directing the operation. Surprisingly, after about 15 minutes, Judy came back and began helping again and taking directions from Sonia. I was impressed that Judy came back apparently in a good frame of mind. If it had been me in Judy's place, I would have carried a resentful grudge for longer than I care to admit. It seems that both Judy and Sonia are skilled composters so hopefully they'll find a way to work as a team.

One thing I'm trying to remember is that here at the ashram things are very fluid and situations change all the time. Lots of unexpected things can happen and I try to remember to stay loose and have no expectations.

This was our 27th compost pile and it was jumbo size. There was a lot of food waste today. 27 is one of the sacred numbers in Sanatana Dharma (a multiple of 3 and 9). I found a leftover artificial flower garland in the trash as we were making the pile. I set it aside. When the pile was done, I laid the garland on top before the Brahmachari recited the usual compost pile blessing. He smiled at the sight of a garland on a compost pile. I told him "I wish I could put my ego in that compost pile." Wearing a yellow t-shirt drenched in sweat and with relaxed hooded eyes he replied "No need. All our egos are composting inside Amma." Touche! And right on target. Judy and Sonia were both at the blessing. It seems they're going to work together OK. We'll see. I can learn a lesson from Judy's ability to quickly adapt and let go.

I washed my hands as best I could before I went to chai. I got my chai and when I got on to the elevator, I noticed I still smelled pretty stongly of cow dung and compost. The other two ladies in the elevator probably got a real nose full! Sorry! But Amma said once that the sweat of Her devotees is to Her like wonderful perfume. I was definitely reeking of "Amma's perfume" and then some.

Well, my chai is done so its time for my shower. Since its a hot sunny day I'll be treated to a nice hot shower after working in the hot sun. Oh, boy.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

2009 06 07. Sunday.

2009 06 07. Sunday.

At the morning veggie chopping seva, I had to cut a stack of white bread into cubes. Wow. That white bread sure smelled good. I've got a bit of a white bread addiction and it was hard not to sneak some. I've haven't had any bread since I've been here and smelling it brought up some craving. If its not around its not a problem, but put it in front of me and the old cravings come right up. Mmmm! Highly processed food with no nutrition. Delicious! Probably kind of like the white rice I'm eating pounds of everyday...

At breakfast today they had doshas! Yum! Now that is a serious special treat. For those who don't know, doshas are like a tangy crepe pancake, fluffy and spongy when made properly. Delicious. An Indian specialty. I think they're made from rice flour. I was only going to take two or three, but the Indian guy handing them out was putting a stack of about 5 or 6 big doshas on each plate, so I just took what he gave me. Then the next server ladled some unidentifiable yellow curry on top and voila! Perfect Indian breakfast. Man, it was good. They're definitely having more special treats at the Indian meals than last time. I'm getting spoiled. After doshas it will be hard to go back to watery rice.

Now that I think of it, doshas are a little bit like the Ethiopian injerra bread that I also love. Hey Emily, could you put some injerra in the mail for me?

After the morning garbage sorting seva it started to get real windy and rain just as I was going to take my shower. And that means only one thing. A really cold shower. Brrr! Cold! That is a serious tapas! I thought that it would be summer time hot here, but the monsoons make it cool. Well, maybe a cold shower for an ashramite has its own wisdom.

Today's compost pile work was running a little late so, in front of everyone there, I skipped out early for 4pm chai. OK, so here's my side of the story: there were more than enough people there anyway and we were almost done, so don't give me that look.... As I write this I'm stewing in my big pot of guilt but sipping my delicious chai, so its all worth it. As I was heading out the lady in charge called out "You must have a real chai addiction!" What could I say? I just smiled and said "Yep, totally true!" She just smiled back.

As we were making the compost pile, on some of the layers we had to pour liquid cow dung / cow urine mixture. Just for fun I poured out a big smelly OM symbol. The Indians got a kick out of that. The brahmachari there said "Now all the worms will be blessed!"

OK, now done with my chai and time for another freezing cold shower. A sick feeling of dread and fear fills my being as my hand trembles and slowly reaches for the spigot. This better wipe out some serious karma. I hope I'm not putting myself through this for nothing.

OK, lets step back for a second and do a quick assessment. I'm sorting garbage in the mornings and layering kitchen waste and cow dung in the afternoon in the hot Indian sun (or monsoon rains, depending). And I'm paying them for the privilege. My Amma friends totally understand but I know this must seem crazy to my non-Amma friends and family. What can I say? When someone like Amma steals your heart and mind, you go a little bit crazy. It feels like a good kind of crazy. In any case, I'm surrounded by hundreds of people who are even more crazy for Amma than me, so maybe we're on to something. And sorting the garbage and making amazing compost is definitely very eco-friendly. I'm all for that and its certainly something the earth could use more of.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

2009 06 06. Saturday.

2009 06 06. Saturday.

A very stormy night. Got woken up twice by some windstorms and driving rain moving through. Up here on the 10th floor the wind really whips fast around the building! Makes quite a racket.

A cool morning. Almost on the edge of being chilly, but not quite. Maybe about 76 F or thereabouts. The morning hot chai was really good in the cool air.

My second day at the compost seva and now its totally no big deal to be spreading fresh cow dung and cow dung mixed with cow urine. All in a day's work and another glorious compost pile now baking in the sun. Or it will be whenever the sun comes out again. Now its monsoon season. It was totally wonderful that it was relatively cool while we were working on the pile. Working with fresh food waste and cow dung in the baking sun is definitely NOT a "compost party".

(OK, this next section may seem a little silly, but if I don't have some fun with this blog I run the risk of getting bored with it.)

Swami Jnanamrita stopped by the compost pile area today apparently to get a rundown on what we're doing there. Trying not to be too obvious, I kept looking at him when I could. He has a really nice smile and radiant eyes! He also looked kind of tired around the eyes, but that didn't take away at all from his radiance. He probably stays up late and gets up early doing all his swami work; pujas, sadhana, managing projects, etc. I wanted to just stare at him. Just for fun I imagined the swami and I sharing a picnic on a bright green grassy hillside meadow sprinkled with yellow flowers under a clear blue sky. We'll laugh, share laddus, sip mango lassis and swap Amma stories while I stare dreamily into his eyes.

Uh-oh. If I keep this up people will start to tease me about having a crush on a swami. Jeez. I'll never hear the end of it. Gotta make sure no one finds out. I'm 47 years old for pete's sake. Aren't I beyond this sort of thing? Well, I've already got a crush on Amma so I guess its OK to add one of Her swamis to the list. My friend Sanatan would love to rib me about this. Good thing he's not here. (Just teasing, Sanatan. I'm really missing all the nice times we had poking fun at each other. You can tease Jagadish now.)

I wonder if anyone else feels a special attraction to one of Amma's swamis? I would guess yes. Be interesting to hear their stories.

My ego felt good that Swami J (as I now affectionately think of him) was seeing me help with the compost. No big deal. Thats simply the kind of thing my ego is programmed to feed on. I just try to shine a lot of awareness on it and see clearly its a little ego trip. There's a whole section of Google maps dedicated to my endless ego trips.

It was pretty cool in the big hall during the evening 1,000 Names stotram and bhajans. I would go so far as to say I got a little chilled. Definitely not expecting *that* when I was thinking of returning here. It was cloudy, windy and rainy pretty much the whole day. I tried to stay concentrated on the bhajans but my mind was wandering all over the place. Got a little bit of bliss during one of the bhajans and thats always a nice treat. While the bliss was happening I was telling myself that its no big deal. Its just another experience and all experiences come and go. In the past I was *really* addicted to those strong blissful feelings that used to arise on a regular basis in my meditations. Now it happens fairly infrequently. I used to think they were something special, but now I know they're just an occasional and natural side effect of a concentrated mind. Or maybe they're just the result of some kind of grace. Who knows? I would love to see some neuro-scientists do some brain scans of meditators while they're feeling bliss to see what parts of the brain are active and which are quiescent.

It feels like one of my main practices will be increasing my concentration at the stotram and bhajans so I can get their full beneficial effect. Amma says that listening to bhajans with concentration and mindfulness is especially helpful in this modern world. She says it helps relax the mind and increase devotion and love.

Friday, June 5, 2009

2009 06 05. Friday.

2009 06 05. Friday.

(Anyone with a weak stomach or just finished a meal may want to skip this next section. On the other hand, anyone who revels in the natural earthy world will enjoy. I think my friend Beth Leamond will totally love this section.) There are some signs around the ashram advertising a "Compost Party" at 2:30pm each day. So after lunch today I had some free time and decided to troop over there in the hot Indian sun and see for myself how the words "compost" and "party" can go together. Oh. My. God. Was I ever in for a "new and enriching life experience". So in a nutshell; this is a compost party: Take a 4 foot by 6 foot section of land and layer in the following: straw - buckets of Indian food waste - wood chips - cow dung mixed with cow urine - another layer of vegetable mush kitchen scraps - banana leaves - cow dung - wood chips - more wet and sloshy food waste - etc and repeat until the rectangular pile is about 3 feet high. Each layer is spread out and evened out by hands wearing gloves with multiple small rips and holes. Cover the pile with an even layer of fresh cow dung (spread out by hand) which will harden in the hot sun. At the end of this process my hands are essentially covered with pretty much everything that was layered into this aromatic lasagna of food waste, straw and cow poop.

I was deeply and pleasantly surprised at how quickly my nose got used to the smell! I've never before in my life been so close to so much cow dung and cow dung mixed with cow urine. At first it was really intense! And all this happening under a baking Indian sun. But then after 5 minutes I got totally used to it and totally disregarded the smell. So even though the smell was strong, it was totally natural. The cows at the ashram are all raised in a totally organic and natural way, so their dung is pure and not tainted with chemicals, unnatural feeds or bad and crowded living conditions. Also I think we humans have a deep natural instinct for what is natural and organic so the smell, even though strong, wasn't repulsive or bad.

Here's the kicker; after the fresh pile was all complete and we were cleaning up, the lady in charge said "OK, time for the blessing!" Huh? One of Amma's yellow robed brahmacharis then walked over and we all stood around our new rectangular heap of bacterial heaven. The brahmachari then said a short prayer and voila! An officially blessed Amma compost heap! What could be better? I felt strangely satisfied looking at our aromatic creation. After about 3 months this pile of (choose your own descriptor) will turn into some of the most unbelievably powerful fertilizer imaginable. This was pile number 23. I could tell because the pile next to it was neatly labeled "22" with a little sign sticking up. Apparently the ashram generates enough waste that we can make a pile a day. These piles better process soon cause we're gonna run out of space before too long.

Anyone reading this who is an avid gardener will totally get how good this is. We used to throw the food waste right into the backwaters. I know cause that was one of my jobs the last time I was here. So its really wonderful to see all that rich food waste turning back into top grade fertilizer. Amma really is serious about encouraging us to live in harmony with nature cause she's setting aside a good chunk of land for this composting. Amma also hopes to encourage the locals to start their own compost piles. There are more and more gardens sprouting up all around the ashram so it looks like we'll have plenty of use for all this fertilizer. And there are hundreds of potted plants of all kinds here lining the walkways and filling lots of nooks and crannies around the ashram.

Hey Beth; send this section to your friend "The Compost Queen". I'm sure she would enjoy reading it.

Once we were all done I sprinted over to the water tap to rinse my hands. Never has a hand rinse felt so blissful! Then, to celebrate our work, I trooped back in time for afternoon chai. Mmmmm! Then a shower. I leave it to your imagination as to how wonderful that shower was.

Its interesting that some Indian men were actively helping with the compost. Normally the westerners and Indians do the seva jobs separately, but its definitely nice to be working with them. It seems they also like the idea of composting and not wasting any of the organic waste the ashram generates. The person in charge was an American lady who seemed to really know her way around a compost pile. She guided us with a sure had and the Indian men had no problem that she was in charge.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

2009 06 04. Thursday.

2009 06 04. Thursday.

I think another one of the reasons I'm so fascinated by all this spiritual stuff and inner work is that (I've been told) I'm a Five on the Enneagram chart. The Enneagram is a personality profile system popular among the New Age and Personal Growth crowd. Google it for more details. One aspect of the Five (which is definitely true for me) is that they're passionate about getting knowledge and understanding how things work on a deep level. From a young age I've been very interested in science (in college I majored in physics) cause I want to know how things work. After college it become increasingly clear to me that the most fundamental thing I could study was the person who was interested in science; my own mind and consciousness. It all starts from there, doesn't it? So at 28 (1991) I began my deep involvement in various meditation practices.

When I met Amma in 2002 (in addition to falling in love with Her) I got the feeling that Amma has fully realized the depths of consciousness and can help accelerate my path to learn more about my deepest true nature. It seems the deep feeling of love and faith in Amma can somehow deepen and accelerate the inner learning process. And I'm not happy unless I feel I'm exploring the deepest mysteries. Buddhism had great meditation practices and great meditation teachers, but it didn't really touch my heart. In hindsight I can see this clearly. Tibetan Buddhism has some nice devotional and heart energy, but for some reason I never felt a strong connection to any of the Tibetan lamas I met. Amma opened my heart to the devotional side of inner work and that seems to add a lot of juice and passion for the work. It seems that inner work for me goes fastest when my head and heart are fully engaged. Amma provides both in great balance. And She gives me hugs and chocolate. Sometimes dark chocolate! Can't beat that.

Unlike the last time I was here, it seems my body has adjusted nicely to the long time between lunch and dinner. I now cram in some extra food during lunch. That, along with the 4pm chai, seems to tide me over til dinner. Maybe its just my imagination, but the food seems to be even better now than last time. I've been really enjoying all the meals and they have special treats like uttapam, idlis, etc more often than before. We're getting spoiled! They seem to be using slightly milder spices than before. Not so hot now.

Looks like I've found a good solution to the mosquitoes at the men's bhajans. I got some long sleeved shirts for my arms and onto my extra white cap I sewed a cloth drape to cover my ears and the back of my neck. Looks like those hats they wear when traveling through the desert. Then all I have to do is put some of the citronella balm onto my hands and feet and viola! Mosquito problem solved! I can definitely enjoy the bhajans better now. And with the long sleeves and hat drape I don't have to use so much of the citronella which runs about 70 rupees ($1.70) per bottle. You can tell I'm always thinking about ways to save money. I gotta stretch my money carefully so I can stay here a while. The long sleeves and the hat drape are kind of warm, but not too bad. I get used to it and when I get into the spirit of the bhajans I forget about the warmth.

During the bhajans the older Indian man sitting on my left was constantly swiping and swatting at mosquitoes. They seem to be especially attracted to him. Poor guy was really getting pestered!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

2009 06 03. Wednesday.

2009 06 03. Wednesday.

Well, Dad, today at least you definitely do not have to worry about me losing any weight here. I was waiting along with everyone else at the usual area for lunch when suddenly everyone started to move to one of the other big buildings. I asked someone what was happening and they only said "Special feast." I liked the sound of that. So I joined the crowd. They seated us at tables with a big green flat banana leaf in front of each person. Then it started. A twelve course Indian feast! All kinds of curries and sauces and fruit and three different kinds of sweet puddings for desert. And some crunchy sweets and a laddu. Wow. It was really unbelievable. And really delicious. It was like a Thanksgiving meal Indian style. We were all totally and completely stuffed by the end. As I'm writing this I'm barely able to keep my eyes open. The feast reminded me of the meals they serve at the Ramana Maharshi ashram next to the holy mountain Arunanchula. Not as many courses as the feast today but also served on banana leaves. Some of the best food I've had in India was at the Ramana ashram.

One of Amma's relatives is getting married and sponsored the feast as part of the celebration. Actually it happens on a fairly regular basis that some Amma devotee will sponsor some uttapam, idlis, chai or payasam as a special treat for the ashram residents. But a feast like this is way beyond that. I'm going to go lay down and snore and belch for a while. I feel sorry for anyone who has do to seva right after a feast like that.

At the feast they forgot to serve chai. I was going to complain but decided not to. They would probably take it the wrong way.

I found out the name of the Mystery Amma Swami whom I have a compelling attraction to: Swami Jnanamrita (I think it roughly translates to "Nectar of Self Realization"). Not sure if I'm spelling it right but thats how it sounded. If I can get up my courage, I may ask him if he would like to do a short five minute silent meditation together. It would be an interesting experience to interact with one of the swamis and get a small feel for their world and their presence.

I got a little burn blister on my ring finger so I went to the clinic to get it lanced. I got very frustrated! I just walked in and sat down near the doctor's office. There was no obvious sign saying you had to register first. So everyone was getting called before me even though I was there early. I finally had to ask someone what was going on and the guy couldn't speak English. After some frustrated asking around, I finally figured out the system. Grrr! Put up some signs for Christ sakes! My emotional brain gets so easily triggered in situations like that. Took me a while to settle down. I get very frustrated with myself about how easily these kinds of things trigger me. Oh well, more grist for the mill of growth. The doctor said just to let the blister pop on its own and then put some antibiotic cream on it. Next!

I took a bottle of electrolyte water mix to the stotram and bhajans tonight and it seemed to help. They sell electrolyte powder at the ashram store. Its pretty warm and the extra electrolytes seemed to keep my energy up.

I'm realizing there's lots of room to deepen my concentration at bhajans. Usually my mind just wanders, but if I can keep it concentrated (even for a minute or two) that helps to deepen the feeling of the bhajan. More and more I realize that moment-by-moment mindfulness (the Sanskrit word is "shraddha) is something I'm just a beginner at with a lot to learn. If I can deepen it, it'll be a big boost to deepen the feeling of peace and presence.

Earlier today I got a jar of this natural citronella based mosquito repellent at the ashram eco-store (they sell all kinds of natural, sustainable and organic products mostly made by the western ashram residents). I put some on before the bhajans. Seems to work really well. That's a very nice discovery cause the mosquitoes can be real pests during bhajans. I can focus much better when I'm not getting constantly annoyed and slapping at the little bastards.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

2009 06 02. Tuesday.

2009 06 02. Tuesday.

Busted! I went to the boys computer room this afternoon. The yellow robed brahmachari who was there the first time I used it (and didn't say anything) asked me what I was doing. I said "just going to check my email." He said not to use these computers but to use the main internet room. The guy (Cameron) who told me I could use the boys computer room was right there and didn't tell the brahmachari that he (Cameron) was the one who told me I could use it. Would have been the right thing for him to do, IMHO. I sheepishly collected my bag and went out. Darn! It would have been real sweet to use the boys computer room but Amma had different plans. Oh, well. I went to the main computer room, paid my rupees, updated my blog and checked my email.

I was feeling guilty and off-center after being told to get out by the brahamachari and, at the same time, was telling myself that its totally natural for those feelings to arise. Its just the way I've been conditioned. That perspective added some nice spaciousness and inner relaxation around the guilty feelings. I've been practicing cultivating that perspective for a while now and it definitely helps. Difficult feelings will automatically arise in me in certain situations. Its just the way I've been programmed. Trying to fight those feelings is like arguing with the weather; it doesn't change anything and justs wastes my energy. Not fighting with my difficult feelings seems to really help change the underlying programming. I like to think of them as cultural malware rootkits insidiously installed into my kernel when I was just a kid. The goods news of Sanatana Dharma (aka Hinduism), Buddhism and similar spiritual paths is that the mind's programming is open source and user serviceable. All this meditation and spiritual practice is just learning how to hack my own kernel and micro-code. To me that's the most interesting game in town. In addition, getting connected with a guru like Amma is like allowing a master programmer to come in and do bug fixes that are beyond my ability.

My energy level is definitely better today. I think my body is just slowly again getting used to the food, climate and rhythm of ashram life. Feels good.

Once again I felt the clear urge to be out of my room and join the men's bhajans. They do the 1,000 Names of the Divine Mother (stotram version) from 6:15-6:40pm. I like the stotram version better than the verse version. It has a very nice flow. I've recited it many times so there are a few parts I know by heart. One of my core practices here is trying to recite the 1,000 Names stotram each day. It feels more powerful reciting it all together with the other men. Also each day I try to do the Mahay Shasura Mardini, Amma's 108 Names, my IAM practice, the Amma Arati (and, of course, recite my mantra as much as possible). If I can do all of those each day that'll feel like I'm at least doing the minimum.

Toward the end of the bhajans today my mind was getting foggy, but that often happens when I'm sitting in meditation posture for a long time. It was also pretty warm and that drained some energy. I do really miss meditating when its cool. Meditating under my ceiling fan feels pretty good. Maybe one day they'll turn on some fans during the bhajans. That would be great. Also help to blow away some of the mosquitoes.