Monday, August 31, 2009

2009 08 31. Monday.

Arun and I met at 6:45 at the Kalari Temple. They had recently finished a puja there so I was able to get a scoop of sweet brown chewy prasad. Yum! We then grabbed a bus to the local train station and had a quick breakfast there (doshas and sambar, Yum! again). Once on the train we talked for a little bit (mostly me listening) until we pretty much ran out of things to say. I said "I want to do some morning meditation." Then for the 2.5 remaining hours of the train ride up to Amma's AIMS hospital in Kochin I did various chants, mantras and meditations; felt good to get into my own space. We got to Kochin and took an auto-rickshaw to AIMS. On the way Arun unloaded on me all the serious money problems he and his growing family are facing. He has another child on the way. I listened patiently but his story made me wonder why people in his kind of dire financial condition keep having more and more children. We had a little lunch at the AIMS canteen and Arun shared how much he disliked spicy food. Poor guy was definitely born in the wrong place! South India has one of the spiciest cuisines in the world. I love it!

At AIMS Arun came in very handy as a translator. Many of the staff at AIMS only have a marginal understanding of English, and misunderstandings are common. After lunch I had my consultation with the hand specialist and he confirmed I needed surgery to repair the cut tendon. The doctor was very nice and answered all my questions about the procedure. He had an opening the next morning so I took it. Then Arun went off to meet his wife (she's having some prenatal tests done) and I went to check in at the guest house. Felt good to be back by myself.

I checked into my room and discovered they don't have any towels available. Uh-oh. I gotta take a shower. I needed bedsheets so I ordered an extra one. The bedsheets are 100% cotton so the extra one worked perfect as a towel. The room was blessedly quiet. Very nice to be away from all the noise at my ashram room.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

2009 08 30. Sunday.

Was feeling in a bit of a sour mood this morning as I went to get my chai. Its Sunday so there are lots of Indians here for darshan, and the crowds seem to get me annoyed. I got back to my room, finished my chai and did my morning sadhana and was feeling better. I was also feeling a little repentant for my sour mood. So at lunch I made a point of sitting right in the middle of a group of Indians. In my mind I was giving them an invitation to annoy me in some way so I could ignore it and let go of some old karma. Soon after I sit down and start my meal a large Indian lady dressed in purple and holding a baby sits next to me. The baby proceeds to start banging on my right arm, pulling my shirt and splashing a little water around. The other Indians nearby are looking at me to see my reaction. Little do they and the mother know that inside I'm smiling; thinking to myself "Yes! The perfect antidote for some of my stinky karma." I totally disregard the baby's pounding and just eat my lunch. After about 5 minutes the mother gets up and moves to another table with her daughter. Wait, I've got more stinky karma! Come back!

Turns out the ashram security cameras showed the person who stole Peter Ash's laptop from the boys computer room was dressed in swami clothes. They're certain this guy was a fake swami who dressed like that to get into ashrams and temples to steal stuff. He gave a phony address and a phony name when he registered here. Fake beards are easy and I wouldn't be surprised if he used one also.

Went to the doctors here this afternoon and they determined that when I cut my left pinkie I also cut the tendon that controls the tip of that finger. Ouch! That's not good. They said there's some good hand surgeons at Amma's big hospital (AIMS) in Kochin that can fix it up. I called and made an appointment for tomorrow. I went over and told the guys at the compost area about the situation and one of the Indian men (Arun, a native of Kerala) said "I'm also going to AIMS tomorrow morning. We can travel together." Darn! I really prefer to travel alone but it looks like its my karma to travel with this guy. He's a very nice man who helps out a lot at the compost area. We've talked briefly a few times but no real connection. I usually really don't like traveling with people I'm not really connected to. I hate making casual conversation. Oh, well. We'll see how it goes. We both love Amma so maybe that will make a nice connection. My plan is to do a lot of mantra japa so we won't have to talk. His English is pretty good.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

2009 08 29. Saturday.

Got the stitches taken out of my left pinkie today. The tip of the finger feels pretty stiff. I'll get the doctor to look at it tomorrow.

Strange incident at dinner tonight. I'm sitting at the table enjoying the last of my dinner when I feel a hand gently rubbing my back. "What is this?" I'm thinking. A second later an old short Indian man with a white mustache looks at me and says in a heavily accented voice "I love you." He then turns away and walks toward the plate cleaning station. I stare at his back and blink my eyes a few times. Huh? What was that all about? On the back of his shirt is printed a quote from Amma: "Peace of mind is real wealth." or something like that. I say to the older Indian man sitting in front of me: "That's going into my blog." He ignores me and continues looking down absorbed in slurping up his watery rice and curry. I shrug and do the same. Some things are better left a mystery.

Friday, August 28, 2009

2009 08 28. Friday.

Yuri, 2 other guys and I went over the backwaters to see the Amma Engineering College (AEC) wastewater treatment plant and biogas plant this morning. One of the other guys (Ben) has experience with wastewater treatment in the US. We're all interested in getting options for treating the ashram sewage. For some reason the AEC has to follow strict rules for sewage treatment but the ashram doesn't. Strange. The wastewater plant was running fine but the biogas plant was totally defunct and covered with weeds and trash. A biogas plant takes in food waste and/or sewage and converts it into methane that can be used to cook food or generate eledtricity. Apparently the biogas plant failed because the people in charge didn't properly sort the garbage from the food waste. So apparently the plant got clogged and no one bothered to clean it. The other guys and I plan to see if we can get it restarted somehow. Its always a very interesting adventure trying to get projects done at the ashram. All kind of roadblocks interspersed with sudden unexpected breakthroughs.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

2009 08 27. Thursday.

A strange sight this morning: I went to the Indian breakfast line this morning as saw the really big, fat, slightly crazy (but harmless) Indian man lying on his back spread-eagle (this is the same man who took all the idlis in an earlier posting). He had his earphones on plugged into his little portable CD player. And his huge belly was rising up like a big brown mountain with his exposed belly button completing the picture. Looked pretty funny actually. I wish I had got a picture. Some other Indian men talked to him and got him to stand up. He looked pretty normal. Perhaps he was just resting before his usual huge breakfast. I often see him say something in his strange way of talking and making the Indians laugh.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

2009 08 26. Wednesday.

Peter Ash left his laptop in the boy's computer room last night and now its missing. Ouch! My heart really goes out to him. He didn't have a recent backup so if he doesn't get it back many of his photos and notes are gone. Moral of the story: BACK UP YOUR DATA! I brought 2 small external hard drives here just to make sure I can do regular backups.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

2009 08 25. Tuesday.

At the satsang today, Amma said She's getting tired of answering our questions when no one is waking up or becoming realized. When I thought about this for a little while some questions popped into my mind: What exactly does Amma mean when She uses the term "awakening"? Is it an advaitic or non-dual awakening? An awakening that somehow removes the vasanas and samskaras (egoistic tendencies)? An awakening that somehow makes us closer to a saint? Or just removes doubts as to our true nature as the ever-present awareness/consciousness? I may present these questions to one of the swamis sometime. In the past 10 years or so, there's been lots of Americans and Europeans who are claiming to have what sounds like a non-dual awakening.

I went to the admin office and they said it looks like I can move into N103 on Sept 3rd. Yay! Hopefully there'll be no hiccups. All the people I've spoken to so far say the N building is pretty quiet.

Monday, August 24, 2009

2009 08 24. Monday.

Had a weird encounter with Odyan at dinner. He's the American who pretends to be a sadhu but is actually just a loopy weirdo (but harmless). He sat next to me at dinner and started talking this strange spiritual nonsense. So just for fun I started to say "Everything is Krishna." He got all weird and upset when I said that and finally stood up and walked away. He seems to get all weirded out whenever I say anything that smells of advaita. He's strange but he does show flashes of a sense of humor, so he's not all bad. Keep in mind that whenever I poke fun at others I fully realize they could be (probably are) farther along the spiritual path than me, no matter how they may appear on the outside. Outside appearances don't count for much in the spiritual leela. Unless you're an Amma swami; then the inside and outside almost definitely match.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

2009 08 23. Sunday.

I was going to get some morning chai and the ashram dog suddenly jumped up and snapped at me. It didn't touch me but came pretty close. I was really surprised, a little scared and said "Jeez!" Some western ladies who were sitting nearby said "Wow! That dog just snapped at you!" I don't know what went thru my mind but suddenly I just smiled at the whole situation. Maybe because the ladies expressed concern about me caused me to suddenly feel OK. Normally a dog snapping at me would get me totally angry and create all kinds of revenge thoughts that would run thru my mind for days. A few seconds later I thought that maybe it was a little test from Amma to see if my mind could stay calm. I pass about 1 Amma test out of 5. Not too bad!

I went to get breakfast and both elephants (Ram the male and Lakshmi) were standing side by side in the big hall with people all around them loudly singing a Ganesha bhajan. Ram is a pretty big elephant! Currently there's a big Ganesha holiday happening. The elephants were all decorated very nicely and there were loud drums and horns playing. Happily all the festivities didn't delay breakfast too much. Then people got into a long line to get some prasad. When that line finally got short I jumped in at the end, got my prasad (a sweet laddu and some other sweet stuff), then I jumped back into the breakfast just in time. Padmanu (the gentle and nice Korean guy who gave me a shoulder massage) was saving my place. I gulped down the sweets and got my plate filled with some watery rice and curry. Yum!

Swami Ramakrishna (a senior red-robed swami) was again serving the sambar at lunch today. When he served me I smiled andspontaneously asked him "When can I serve you?" It looked like it took him a split second to understand my question and then he tilted his head back and laughed. Gotta keep the swamis happy; helps the ashram run smoothly. However, he didn't answer my question. Cagey swami...

I spoke with Mukhunda about the noise from my Indian neighbors and what I should do. He was very understanding and listened well. He said the best thing is try and see it as a sadhana and to try and ignore the noise. I'm already trying to do both of those but I felt a lot of wisdom and clarity in his words, so I'll try to follow his advice. My feeling is that Amma would give me the same advice. Felt good talking with him.

An hour later I went back to my room to get cleaned up for dinner. The Indian lady who had told me to "Go back to America" was sitting outside the building. I didn't look at her and sat down to clean the sand off my feet and sandals. She asked my my name. I was feeling cautious so I just said "Advait" without looking at her. She then started asking me some other questions. I responded cautiously and when I glanced at her she had a very nice, welcoming smile. Hmmm. What's going on here? We spoke for a few more minutes and then she said she was sorry about the noise. Wow. Hearing that was a very nice and unexpected surprise. Her mother is living in the same room and is hard of hearing. She also said that its important for some of her chanting to be done in a clear voice so it has the right energy. She acknowledged that the Indians often talk more loudly than westerners and can sometimes make noise during the official quiet hours. We had a nice little chat and I told her that for many many years I lived in places that were always very quiet at night and its difficult when I hear talking while I'm trying to fall asleep. I also told her I spent 2 months in the E building which was very quiet and peaceful. She was understanding and heard my concerns. I also told her I'm taking all the noise in the building as a sadhana and trying to ignore it, although its difficult. I wonder what caused her to suddenly be friendly and understanding when she was so resistant earlier? She said she's lived at the ashram since 1985. Amma is constantly talking about being compassionate and understanding. Maybe it starts to really sink in after a while. I was very pleasantly surprised that she opened up and became friendly. Definitely was not expecting that. Amma's grace can be really wonderful.

I went to my room and wondered if somehow Mukhunda had spoke to the lady? Didn't seem possible cause I don't think Mukhunda knows where I live and I didn't mention the lady's name cause I didn't know it. Also Mukhunda was still at the compost area when I left and had been there the whole time after our talk. A very interesting coincidence. I'll mention more of my problems to Mukhunda. Maybe he has some kind of special Amma's grace in helping to resolve people's issues.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

2009 08 22. Saturday.

My building is right close to the main Indian kitchen. At 5am there's some kind of banging there each morning. Today no exception. Then at 5:30am the neighbor Indian ladies wake up and start banging pots and chatting. And then this morning at 6am some German girl down the hall starts wailing and crying for about an hour. And remember there is zero sound insulation in this building. Jeez. This place has become some kind of hell realm when it comes to sleep. I keep trying to practice presence awareness in the midst of all the racket. Sometimes it helps. Sometimes not...

Peter and I were talking about compost plans near Swami Jnanamrita's room. Swami J came out and Peter went up and gave him a hug. It was very sweet to see. Being an Indian Swami, I think Swami J very very rarely gets hugged. Peter is a very warm hearted guy. Swami J is very happy with all the good work Peter has done and they talked for a few moments while I just stood nearby and watched. I tried to put myself in a calm, relaxed space while being close to Swami J. Swami J looked at me briefly a few times and it was totally wonderful to see his expression and especially his eyes; very deep, clear and joyful dark brown eyes. Wow. His presence is really beautiful.

I went to the Amma Biotech College across the backwaters to get some distilled water for some pH testing. The Indian lady who was helping me also said that at the college they're not sorting the trash and they're just burning it beside a road. Jeez. What a toxic mess. Many Indians have some kind of deep phobia about dealing with trash in a proper way. For most Indians, it seems the idea of sorting trash for proper recycling is an utterly foreign concept. She showed me the bins of trash waiting to be burned and basically asked me on the spot if I would take responsibility for sorting the daily trash of 9,000 students and staff. Jeez! I don't think so. We talked some more and I gave her some options. She had a worried expression on her face when I left.

Friday, August 21, 2009

2009 08 21. Friday.

After breakfast I was in my room making something using my pocket knife when it slipped and sliced my left pinkie. Ouch! It was a deep cut! I quickly wrapped a clean cloth around it and ran over to the ashram medical center. Luckily it was about 11:30 am and the wave of morning patients had all cleared out and the doctors were all available. They took me in right away. I felt chilled and clammy so I was in a little bit of shock. They cleaned out the cut and gave me a shot of local anesthetic (lidacane). Ouch again! The anesthetic injection really hurt! But I was definitely appreciating when it kicked in and the doctor (a young Indian man) sewed me up (2 stitches) and I didn't feel a thing. The nurse was a very sweet and kind American woman. She gave me some Bach Flower Essence Rescue Remedy under my tongue. Seemed to help. So 45 minutes after the cut happened I was all sewed up, bandaged up and on my way with some antibiotics in case the knife nicked the bone. The nurse said she was generally opposed to using antibiotics, but a bone infection is serious business. I took her recommendation with no hesitation and will take all the antibiotics (Cipro) as prescribed. Cost of the stitches and dressing came to 50 rupees (about $1.10). 10 Cipro pills came to about $2.00.

Peter was at the compost work today and it was great to have his help since I couldn't do much work with my cut pinkie. I just stood around and directed everyone while Peter watched and gave pointers. Peter recently spoke with another compost expert and that person gave him a lot of ideas. So now we've made some changes in how we make the piles. Just slop everything on and don't worry about making layers. The changes actually make it a little easier. Yay! Peter and I (just like when he was here last time) had some nice long talks about compost techniques, other ashram enviro projects and organic farming. People have been telling me that Amma mentions the compost project often and especially talks about the worm composting project. Ramping up the worm composting operation is one of Peter's projects during his stay here (about 4 weeks this time). I plan to learn as much as I can about worm composting while he's here.

I took a shower with my left raised up high the whole time. Gotta keep the dressing totally dry. I looked like one of those "one arm raised" sadhus you can see in India. There are sadhus who spend years with one arm constantly raised. A type of 'tapas' or austere spiritual practice. Putting up with my noisy neighbors is plenty enough tapas for me, thank you.

As I'm typing this (being very careful not use my left hand much) my left pinkie is really starting to throb. Ouch! Not a sharp pain, just a strong dull ache. I'm pretty sure that's normal for a cut like this. I'll see the doctor Sunday so he can look at it and change the dressing.

My hand was really hurting as I was trying to fall asleep. I put out some prayers to Amma for Her to help me. I finally feel asleep after a while.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

2009 08 20. Thursday.

Many times last night some cat nearby was howling and crying in the most horrible way. Kept waking me up. All I could guess is that its a mother cat and it spent most of the night fighting off rats who wanted the kittens. A really disturbing sound. If it was the sound of some cats mating it sure sounds like a painful ordeal. I gotta get out of this building soon.

Feeling out of sorts this morning. Didn't sleep well at all with all the noise from the neighbors and the yowling cat. On the way to get some chai I ran into Uttalan. He's a really nice Italian guy and I'm helping him get some big sacks for his seva work. We spoke for a few moments and his friendliness, smile and good nature really helped me feel better. A little smile and friendliness can work wonders here at the ashram! This is a good lesson for me. Amma is often testing us, triggering various kinds of stress. Sharing a nice, friendly moment with someone really helps me navigate the stress tests.

I went to the Indian canteen this morning to get a hit of chai. I clearly say to the Indian man making the chai "No sugar." He nods, but just to be sure I say again "No sugar!" He nods and proceeds to fill my cup with regular chai with the usual sugar. I roll my eyes towards the heavens. Jeez. I get his attention and look him in the eyes "Please. No sugar!" He gives me a blank look for a few seconds and then smiles and says in a very heavy accent "Without sugar?" "Yes. Yes." I reply. He makes a no sugar chai in another cup and then tries to take my cup to throw out the sweet chai. I grab my cup and indicate for him to pour the no sugar chai on top of the sweet chai. Why throw away perfectly good chai? I say a quick food prayer over my chai and then proceed to get a nice sugar and caffeine buzz. When I get back to my room I put a few rupees in the jar where I save money for all the insulin I'll be buying in the future if I don't watch it. For the most part I've stopped drinking sweet chai. At the compost area I gave them a separate flask to bring me unsweetened chai.

I had a nice talk with Chirandu this morning. I met him in the laundry area and we shared a few jokes. Then he asked how I was doing and I said "Pretty good but having some challenges. Amma's testing me and, as usual, I'm flunking most of the tests." He then in a very kind way asked me if I wanted to share the details. I said "Sure." and we sat down and I told him about my troubles with the loud and unfriendly Indian neighbors. He listened well and asked a few questions. Felt really nice to have him listen. He's a real gem.

I went to dinner at about 8:30pm and saw Mukhunda talking with Peter Ash (the guy who started the composting here). Peter had arrived about an hour ago and had just finished dinner. Mukhunda was very happy to have Peter back. We had a nice quick talk and then Peter went off to check in at the Admin Ofiice.

After dinner I had a nice long chat with Antara. She said she was feeling some small residual depression and we spoke for a long time about spiritual practice, dealing with difficult emotions and our connection with Amma. She said that that morning she took a risk and opened up to one of her roommates (a young German girl about 22 yrs old). Antara said that the German girl was very kind and wise. She was surprised at the wisdom in such a young girl, and that their talk really helped to lift the depression.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

2009 08 19. Wednesday.

Went by the Admin office and put in my request to move. People have been telling me that the N building is pretty quiet so I told them I'd like to move there. Please have a room open soon!

Went to the Engineering College this afternoon after the compost work to give my 2nd composting class to some of the young Indian Green Friends students there. My clothes were pretty dirty but since I would be building another compost pile with them there was no need to change. On the way there I stopped by the Biotech College to see about getting some distilled water so I can do some compost pH testing. I was the only westerner around and with my dirty clothes I got a lot of looks from the Indian students. Couldn't be helped; I just ignored the looks. The compost class went pretty well. The kids seemed eager to learn and I had one of them take notes on the whole process so they can do it themselves next week. Strange how the Indian kids all wear really nice clothes to a compost workshop. I told them its better to wear seva clothes.

There is a serious amount of construction going on at the college campus, I saw at least 4 or 5 new big buildings going up. Its getting to be a really big campus!

A day ago I loaned my 16gb memory stick to Nityanan. We've been working on a compost presentation and he needed to put some files on it. He also said he would be leaving this evening. I told him just give it back to me at dinner. Well, dinner comes and goes and Nityanan never comes by. So after dinner I go to his room and its all locked up. Uh-oh. I start to get nervous. Replacing a 16gb memory stick in India would be pretty expensive. I start looking around and finally find him. Whew! Thank goodness. He gave the stick to one of the yellow robed brahmacharis who works with me in the compost. Now I just need to track him down. When I found him Nityanan and his wife are watching the end of today's Amma darshan on a big flat screen TV in the big hall. I sit down to watch also. An Amma pada puja is starting and the video camera is catching the whole thing up close. Really nice to see. They sing the Amma Arati during the pada puja.

As I was starting to go to sleep I hear this steady banging on the door next to my room. I poke my head outside and see a western lady banging on the door and calling out "Lindsey! Wake up! You locked me out!" I go back into my room assuming that this Lindsey person will wake up soon. Nope. No such luck. The banging and shouting keep going on and on. Jeez. I'm getting hit from all sides here. I go back outside in the hallway and tell the western lady she can go outside and call through the window. She said she tried that but was afraid to go to the area behind the building cause they're doing construction there and its pretty dangerous to walk around. I say "Well, let me try and see what I can do." I grab my flashlight, go out back and scramble over piles of broken cinder block and tree branches and finally get to Lindsey's room. I see her (a young girl about 18 years old) sound asleep in blue jeans and a dark t-shirt. I call out "Lindsey! Please open the door! You locked your Mom out!" She finally wakes up and opens the door. The Mom is waiting for me when I get back and thanks me profusely. I just say "No problem." and in my mind I'm thinking "Dear god, can I now finally get a little peace and quiet here?" Nope. Not yet. As I go back into my room the Indian ladies on the other side start jabbering away loudly even though its past 10pm (official quiet time). Sigh... Another long night.

Monday, August 17, 2009

2009 08 17. Monday.

Had a very nice talk at breakfast with Yuri today. He's a really nice young Polish renunciate who looks a lot like me. He's very passionate about making the ashram more environmentally friendly. He shared a lot of ideas and it was wonderful to see his passion for helping the ashram. He's very excited about the compost happening and he also (like me) desperately wants to see the ashram stop putting all its untreated sewage into the backwaters. He's done some research into biogas and wants the ashram to make a biogas plant to process all the human sewage here and make methane for cooking. I plan to talk with Peter Ash about this when he gets back. The strategy is for Peter to present the best biogas concept to Amma who will hopefully give it the go ahead. Yuri, like me, also loves the watery rice and never gets tired of it. Maybe something about watery rice and tall skinny guys go together.

Ram the male elephant is back and they're keeping him in the compost area. Scary. Everyone tells me that Ram is kind of crazy and unpredictable. Yeesh. Just what we need where I'm working. And Ram has gotten to be a pretty big full grown elephant since I last saw him. Lakshmi, however, is very sweet and I'm now comfortable enough to walk up and feed her directly into her mouth. Its cool to stand right next to an animal as big as her and stuff food in her mouth. I'm now saving good fruit from the waste food in a separate bin for her.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

2009 08 15. Saturday.

Had a nice talk with Ranjiv, an Indian man who works in Europe as a teacher. He's been helping out with the compost for the last few days. He has lots of western values and ideas so we could talk very easily. We talked about the intersection of our romantic relationships and spiritual life. I was happily surprised at how easily and naturally he could talk about relationships. Just like many of my American friends back home. Turns out we have similar experiences in our relationships. We both had a string of girlfriends and we're both very drawn to the spiritual life. Ranjiv is thinking of coming back to the ashram at some point and living here. He's had a number of European girlfriends and he said they really helped him learn a lot about western values and ideas, which he feels more in tune with than the traditional Indian values about relationships and personal freedom. A very thoughtful guy.

As I was leaving the compost area one of the Indians who works there offered me a coconut. Its full of coconut water and meat; I just have to break it open. When I got back to my building the chanting lady who keeps me awake at night (and told me "Go back to America!") was sitting in front. After getting the sand off my feet and sandals, I spontaneously offered her the coconut. I said "Here, this is for you. Its more than I can eat." She smiled and declined. I offered again and said "Sure? You and your roommates can share it." She just smiled and declined again. I shrugged and went back to my room. The spontaneous offer felt good. Helped clear out some of the negative energy that was there between us. She'll probably chant loudly again tonight and totally annoy me again. All part of the practice of living in the ashram of a true sat-guru. By facing my shadows and vasanas, I'm fulfilling the real reason to be here. Not much fun, but that's the real spiritual life. I did the same thing in the regular world, of course, but here I can work on myself with very few distractions. Much easier for me to keep in touch with my inner world and its constantly shifting weather.

Friday, August 14, 2009

2009 08 14. Friday.

We had a big crew of people at the compost work today. Lots of Indian and western and male and female volunteers. We put them all to work and it went pretty fast. Felt good that everyone was working together well and seemed to be excited about the compost project. One of the young Indian ladies (who works as an MBA at the Indian Stock Market) worked with me to dump all the food waste on the pile and spread it out. She was pretty strong! And not afraid to get dirty. She's an Amma devotee in Mumbai and wants to start composting at the Amma ashram there. Another group of ladies had the job of shredding some big bins of elephant dung. Elephant dung comes out in big very fibrous spheres that need to be pulled apart into small pieces before we can use them on the pile.

At dinner one of the senior red robed swamis (Swami Ramakrishnananda, I think) was serving the Indian curry. Cool He has a beautiful smile. I'm coming to respect and admire the senior ocher robed swamis (orbs) more and more. They radiate a wonderful energy.

After dinner as I was trying to sleep, I knocked on the door of the Indian ladies next to me and asked them if they could chant more quietly. One of them has been chanting from 9:10 to about 9:40pm and I usually go to bed around 9:10pm. The chanting is loud and keeps me awake, even if I crank up my ceiling fan. The older Indian lady who chanted appeared to get huffy and miffed that I would ask her to be more quiet just so I could sleep. Sigh... With a negative expression on her face she said she had to chant it loud. She said the chanting was only happening for another 2 or 3 days. I sure hope so. When they talk quietly at night its fine, my ceiling fan drowns that out. But the chanting is pretty loud and very rhythmic which makes it hard to ignore.

Later on, just as I was about to fall asleep, she started chanting again after 10pm. I could hear it clearly in spite of my ceiling fan at full speed. Jeez. No end to this. Official quiet time (as directed by Amma) begins at 10pm. I asked her how much longer she would be chanting and she just told me "Go back to America!" and closed the door. Sigh... I'll pester the guys at the Admin Office again about moving soon.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

2009 08 13. Thursday.

Coming back from the compost work today two young Indian ladies stopped me and asked me if I could identify an apple tree sapling. I told them I don't know how to identify different trees. They were very insistent, however. "Please come see the tree!" I shrugged and followed them. They took me to a healthy little tree sapling about 1 foot tall. They asked "Is that an apple tree?" I had no idea and in a gentle way told them so. I told them they could go to the eco-shop library and find a book on trees to see what it is. They said they got the seed from an apple that Amma gave one of them. They seemed disappointed that I wasn't an expert tree identifier. Sorry, ladies.

I went to the big hall for dinner around 7:45pm. They don't serve dinner till about 8pm, so I sat down to enjoy the Amma darshan video feed. Soon I see Padmanu walking by. He's a young Korean healer who lived down the hall when I was in the E building. We traded smiles and I continued watching the Amma video feed. A few seconds later I feel some hands on my shoulder and Padmanu asks in his heavy Korean accent "OK to give quick massage and healing?" I say "Sure!" and he then proceeds to give me a wonderful 10 minute shoulder massage. Really, really nice! Felt great. In response to my question, he said I had some energy blocks but not too bad. He said he does healing sessions at the Amma Healing Center at the seaside Ayurveda building. 700 rupees per hour (about $15). I may spring for it sometime if my inner frugal tightwad can ever relax. I'm usually pretty paranoid about spending money only on things I need. But I definitely give myself small treats. For example, a delicious piece of cake at the Indian canteen goes for about 6 rupees (15 cents). I think I can work that into my budget.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

2009 08 12. Wednesday.

A few days ago one of the western teachers who works at the nearby Amma Engineering College invited me to come there and speak to some of the students who belong to Green Friends. Green Friends is an international Amma group for people who want to work to help the environment. I spoke to them briefly about the compost project and then about 10 of the Green Friends students and I made a compost pile. They want me to come there every Wednesday to work with them in building compost piles. My plan is to see if I can teach them how to do it themselves.

Went for Amma darshan before dinner. While waiting in the darshan line I realized I forgot to get Amma a gift. Usually I get Her a piece of fruit for darshan. I was debating on whether or not to leave the line, but I decided to stay. Felt a little guilty but had a nice darshan. A little later at dinner I was watching the darshan video feed. They have a camera pointed at Amma while She gives darshan and they show it on some flat screen TVs around the hall. At the end of darshan the video showed a group of Indians doing full Pada Puja (worship of the Guru's feet) for Amma. They put Amma's feet into a beautiful silver platter, then poured various offerings over them (ghee, honey, rosewater, milk and yogurt) then washed them and then fed Her various foods. It was wonderful to see. Amma kind of kept a neutral expression during the whole thing. Seemed She was just quietly absorbing the love and devotion from the devotees.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

2009 08 11. Tuesday.

One of the usual food waste items they bring to the compost area are the chai tea grounds. Before I throw them onto the pile, I like to grab a handful and take a deep sniff. They smell really good. The other Indians there like to tease me when I do this (one of the reasons I do it). Seeing me enjoy the smell of the tea grounds, one of the Indians said to me "You have to let go of what you like the most!" I replied "I like Amma the most!" The Indian man just smiled a big smile and shrugged. The others laughed. Then I quickly added "Amma is the chai of my heart!" They laughed again. That crazy American will say anything...

Later, after the compost work two of the Indians were drumming under the metal roof that covers all the compost piles. It was really loud! The metal roof seemed to amplify the sound. I had some work to do and the drumming was driving me nuts. Finally I motioned them to stop and asked if they could drum outside. I tried to tell them when they drum under the roof its really too loud. I think they were kind of miffed at my request. I debated on whether or not to try to gently reiterate why it was so loud, but I decided to just let it go and if they were miffed at me, well, so be it.

Soon after that a group of local Indian ladies came by to complain about the smell of the compost. They spoke to the two yellow robed brahmacharis there. At first I thought it would be a big problem. Later I found out they also complained loudly about the cowshed built nearby, but soon they got used to it and no more complaints. Probably same will happen with the compost.

On the way back to my room from the compost I saw Swami Jnanamrita walking alone down the path. I chose not to look at him but at the last minute my head popped up and I gave him a quiet smile. It seemed he quickly looked away and didn't want to meet my glance. My mind made up all kinds of stories. I worked on just being aware of them as stories and letting them go. I've got a lot of "look at me!" vasana in my consciousness. Being here is helping me see it and let it go.

Monday, August 10, 2009

2009 08 10. Monday.

After breakfast I went to the Admin Office to see about moving to another room. The group of Indian ladies next to me make a lot of noise as I'm trying to sleep. I've talked to them a few times but it doesn't seem to help. I usually try to get in bed about 9:15pm or so. The Admin Office guy said a room won't be open for a few weeks and asked me if I could hold out till then. They were very polite. I said I'd try. One of the Admin staffers (they're all western men) said he lived with some Indian white clothed brahmacharis in a dorm style room for a few years and they had no concept of respecting someone who is sleeping. Just not part of the Indian culture. I asked him how he handled it. He shrugged; "Somehow with Amm's grace I got used to it." Well, if he can get used to me, maybe so can I. He said that in the Indian culture the burden is on the sleeper. Meaning that its totally OK to turn on lights and talk loud when someone is sleeping. For Indians, apparently the right to talk is higher than the right to sleep. I guess when you grow up in that culture you can learn to sleep thru almost anything. I'm in India so I guess I have to adapt. Sigh... I'll try. It helps if I crank up my ceiling fan and turn up my MP3 of the "OM" chant that plays on my laptop. Helps to drown out the noise. I feel very good now that I never learned to understand Malayalam. If I could understand what my neighbors were saying it would really drive me batty.

I went to the lunch line today and there were only about 30 people in front of me. Not too bad. I'll get served pretty quick. Then one of the usual Indian servers came up to me and said in a slightly urgent tone of voice "Please! Come help serve." He motioned for me to come with him. I shrugged and followed him to the big pot of sambar (a spicy red tomato sauce). He handed me a ladle and said "Please serve!" I shrugged again and said "Sure. No problem." I then started serving everyone for about 10 minutes, trying to chant my Amma mantra while doing so. I was also wondering why he happened to pick me, especially since I'm a westerner. Have no idea. I don't think I've ever seen a westerner serve the Indian food. After about 10 minutes another Indian man showed up and the server who snagged me for service said "OK. Please take food now." I handed my ladle to the other Indian man and got into line and had the usual delicious lunch.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

2009 08 09. Sunday.

At 2am I was woken up by something like a fan with a really loud ball bearing problem. I turned off my fan to see if that was it. It wasn't. I dragged my sleepy butt out of bed and went down the hall and the sound stopped. When I got back to my room it started up again. Turns out it was some kind of bug. A really loud bug! Wow. It kept me awake for a long time. Finally it moved away or became quiet. Jeez. Seems like the universe doesn't want me to get a decent night's sleep these days. Amma's putting me through some kind of test. Sigh...

This morning after breakfast I was talking with Murtena about some seva issues. The fake American sadhu (I'll call him "Odyan") jumped in all excited to tell me that Krishna's birthday is being celebrated later on this week. I tried to be polite and said something like "Cool. Thanks for telling me." and then turned to continue my conversation with Murtena. Odyan kept jumping in all excited and telling me details I didn't need to know. Somehow I finished my talk with Murtena in spite of Odyan's pestering. A few days ago I told Odyan that I have a deep feeling for Krishna. He latched on to this for some reason and now apparently thinks I'm like a crazy Hari Krishna or something. Curious guy. I try to avoid him when he's around. But I try to be polite when he corners me.

Later in the morning I stopped by the compost area to get something. Jagadan shows up with some Indian man and is giving him a tour of the area. They asked me some questions and it turns out the man is a member of the Indian national parliament. The equivalent of a US Congressman. Wow. The guy's name is Bishnu Pada Raj. He was very interested in the compost and wants to encourage it in his district. What really surprised me was that Bishnu didn't have any assistants with him. He was alone with Jagadan. That struck me as very unusual for a politician at his level. Usually they're always surrounded by some staff. Bishnu was very interested in getting in contact with Peter Ash about the composting project.

Amma was giving darshan in the big hall today so there are lots of different bhajan singers performing all day. I was having lunch at 1pm and I heard this male start singing. Wow! He had a really good voice. Really really good. I asked around and found out his name is Bhupender Singh Bajaj (a Sikh). I'll have to see if he has any recordings on the internet for sale.

I got the compost area around 2pm and Lakshmi the elephant was standing nearby. She reached out over the fence and grabbed a big leaf from a palm tree in the neighbor's yard. Then one of Lakshmi's Indian handlers came running up and started beating her on the leg with a stick. Lakshmi started to trumpet and tried to get away. I felt sad and scared to see Lakshmi get beat like that. I'm guessing that she needs proper discipline but seeing her get beat was disturbing.

Rich Devotee Alert: Found out something kind of disturbing today. All the sewage from the ashram goes untreated right into the backwaters. Wow. That is a serious issue in my book. I always assumed it was being treated in some way. That is a lot of pollution going right into the backwaters. Especially when Amma speaks so much about living in harmony with the environment. Peter Ash a while back spoke about getting an anaerobic digester that could process all the ashram food waste and sewage. It would output methane for cooking and finished compost for the gardens and plants. A prefect win-win if it works the way he described. If any wealthy devotees are reading this, get together and lets explore getting an anaerobic digester. Peter Ash is very well regarded and well liked by the senior swamis. I may ask him if he could ask Amma about this.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

2009 08 08. Saturday.

Interesting talk with Jagadan (a yellow robed brahmachari) after the compost work today. He said that Swami Turyamrita is really considered to be the senior swami. I and most Amma devotees I know consider Swami Amritaswarupa to be the senior swami. Jagadan said that Swami Turyamrita was the first close disciple of Amma and has been with Her the longest. He said that Swami Turyamrita writes 90% of the Amma bhajans. Jagadan said the bhajans come to Turyamrita in a kind of trance state. Kind of like channeling. I wonder if Swami Turyamrita also creates the bhajan melodies, or if someone else does that.

Friday, August 7, 2009

2009 08 07. Friday.

2009 08 07. Friday.

OK, now it starts. The Indians who moved in next to me were talking most of the morning, although they were quiet during part of my morning sadhana time. I soon may have to remind them that official quiet times goes until 9am.

Went to the Ayurvedic Medical College after breakfast to register for the 2nd Monday each month eye camp. Of course its not happening in Aug so I have to come back next month. I needed a ride back to the ashram and the people at the College main gate just said "1 kilometer, 1 kilometer." Its actually about a mile back to the ashram and I didn't really want to walk that far in the Indian sun. I saw an auto-rickshaw near the gate with the driver sound asleep in the back seat. I gave him a bright and cheerful "Om Namaha Shivaya!" He sleepily opened one eye and gave me a look that said "Why in the hell are you bothering me?" I decided to totally ignore his look and asked "Ride to Vallikavu?" (the town next to the ashram) He just frowned, waggled his head and tried to go back to sleep. Little did he know what he was up against. He wasn't going to get off that easy. In an even brighter and more cheerful voice I asked "20 rupees to Vallikavu?" He gave me another look. I again ignored it and asked again. This went back and forth a few times until we got to the inevitable conclusion. With great effort and a few more rather grim glances to me, he crawled to the driver's seat and I hopped in the back. Off we went! To Vallikavu! We got there and I paid him 25 rupees. Definitely had to give the poor guy a tip after I so rudely interrupted his nap so he could do his job and earn a little money.

Had a long talk with yellow robe brahmachari Jagadan after the compost today. He talked for a long time about the value and power of Amma's 108 Names and the Sri Lalita archana (1,000 Names of the Divine Mother). Very informative.

Atman (a western man and long time Amma devotee who lives in Virginia) is the father of Para. I saw them many times at almost all of the Amma programs in America. I've spoken to Atman a few times but never got close to him. Atman showed up at the compost area a few days ago and said that Para had passed away back in April. Para had severe cerebral palsy and died from the complications of an operation. Para was confined to a big wheelchair bed. I saw Para get Amma darshan many times. Para almost always seemed to have a big smile. I was sad to hear that he passed away. I know many many Amma devotees will miss Para. In response to a question, Atman said that Amma said that Para became liberated (enlightened) after leaving his body. Br. Jagadan later invited me to the ceremony where they were going to put Para ashes in the ocean, but I declined since I don't know Atman that well. I didn't want to be there in case Atman wanted it to be a small private ceremony.

As I feared, my new Indian neighbors (a group of older brahmacharinis) talked loudly and continually as I was trying to fall asleep. I politely asked them to talk quieter and it seemed to help a little bit. In any case I'll probably need to move again so I can get a good night sleep. I really miss the E building where it was quiet! I could do sadhana almost any time there and it would be nice and quiet.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

2009 08 06. Thursday.

2009 08 06. Thursday.

My neighbor Indrani likes to do some puja in the mornings between about 7 and 7:30. She's aware that there's no sound insulation so she pitches her voice very quietly when she sings her puja bhajans. Even so I can still hear her clearly. At first it was a little annoying because I do my main sadhana between 6:30 and 8:30 each morning. But now when I hear her sing it often puts me into a kind of physical bliss. I'll hear her start singing and then get this wonderful tingling sensation all over my skin that lasts for about 15 minutes to a half hour. Feels really good, but its very different than the mental bliss I'll sometimes get during meditation or bhajans. Years ago when I working for the Army one of my coworkers would whistle once in a while. This guy could whistle like an angel, he had genuine talent. Whenever I heard it I would get waves and waves of this tingling bliss and I'd stop whatever work I was doing to enjoy it. Very nice. I wonder how many other people experience this kind of tingling bliss?

I was heading back to my room after breakfast and I could hear the distinctive sound of a puja bell being rung at the Kalari temple. That bell means they're doing a puja. I had a little free time so I went there, bowed and sat down nearby. The puja takes place at a fire pit. One of Amma's devotees who's been trained to do puja rituals sits in front of the fire pit and does all kinds of elaborate complex rituals. Its wonderful to watch and amazing how the pujari (the person doing the puja) can remember all the intricate steps and motions that comprise the whole puja. A typical puja can take an hour or more to perform and the pujari must remain completely focused the whole time on doing the correct motions, mantras, etc. Watching a puja always puts me in a pleasant meditative frame of mind. I chanted my Amma mantra while watching the puja. I would love to spend a lot more time watching the pujas but the compost work keeps me too busy.

Had a nice long talk with Nityanan today after the compost work. He's an Amma devotee and photographer from Italy. Very nice man. He wants to do a photo shoot of the compost work for an Amma website in Europe. We talked for a long time about the compost project and how he could structure the web page to best inform and educate people about the compost.

Darn! Came back to my room after the compost work to discover that Indrani moved. She's the single western lady who lived in the room next to me. No more morning tingling bliss. And no more blessed quiet. And my worst nightmare came true; an Indian family moved in. Oh Jeez. Thankfully this evening they were quiet. Although I think it was because they only moved their furniture and they didn't actually stay in the room this evening.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

2009 08 05. Wednesday.

2009 08 05. Wednesday.

Took an auto-rickshaw to Kayankulam (about a 25 minute ride) this morning to a dentist recommended by Prabana. I had tried to call this dentist to make an appointment but could never get through. So I went there today expecting to just make an appointment. But the dentist (a nice Indian lady) had an opening available right then. Cool. I hopped into the chair and she slapped on some topical anesthetic and went to work. I got a full cleaning and a topical filling on a sensitive tooth with some exposed root surface. Came to 800 rupees total. About $17. She said my gums did not have any significant inflammation. Great news. I've had problems with gum inflammation for about 5 years so it looks like its finally clearing up. I also needed to get my eyeglasses fixed and a watch battery. On either side of the dentist office was a shop for each. Very convenient.

There was a young photographer at the compost work today taking lots of pics for some Amma student magazine.

A few days ago I asked the man who brings the chai after the compost work if he could also bring a cup of unsweetened chai. So now he's bringing a nice big cup everyday after the work. My taste buds definitely miss the sweet chai, but I seem to feel better drinking the unsweetened. My energy seems more steady afterwards; I don't seem to crash like I sometimes do. Sometimes I get real tempted for the sweet chai! But usually they have a sweet treat and that makes up for it. They asked me why I want the unsweet chai and I told them all of my older paternal relatives have diabetes so I probably have a strong genetic predisposition toward getting it myself. It took a while to make it clear to them that I don't actually have diabetes, just a predisposition.

An Indian business-man farmer Amma devotee has been visiting the compost area for a few days. After the chai break we started talking (actually me just listening) and he went on for a *long* time about his study of Kaballah and the mystic traditions of Drunvalo Melchezedhik and other Western mystical traditions. He was raised as a Kerala Christian and apparently has become totally fascinated by some Western mystical traditions. It seemed like he was trying to impart all his knowledge to me in one afternoon. Luckily when someone else asked him a question I found a little break to politely sneak away. I like to be a good listener but I gotta work on setting my boundaries. I gotta learn how to give off the vibe that I'm not a good listener. Seems like I get cornered by incessant talkers a little too often.

Went for Amma darshan in the Temple this afternoon after my shower. Very nice. I purchased an orange to make sure I'd have a little something to offer Amma. Always good to offer a little something to the Guru when getting darshan. This time Amma was giving darshan right in front of the Kali murti. I gave Her the orange, She wrapped me in Her arms and whispered some "My Darlings" in my ear and then it was all done. Its good for me to contemplate what an amazing treat it is to get Amma's darshan here at Amritapuri. Like reading stories of the gopis who were able to play and dance with Krishna in Vrindavan. We think of how amazingly blessed the gopis were but its good to realize that anyone who can get Amma's darshan has that same blessing. And it doesn't have to be physical darshan. Amma has said some of Her closest devotees are those She has not met in person.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

2009 08 04. Tuesday.

2009 08 04. Tuesday.

Went to the Amma satsang at the Temple today. Amma led the opening meditation and then spoke for a long time about the importance of keeping the mind focused on the goal of enlightenment and God-realization. She said that focus will help us avoid distractions. Then She served the usual delicious lunch to all the devotees.

The last few days there's been lots of different people (Indians and Westerners) from various places who've come by the compost area to see what we're doing. It looks like more and more Amma institutions are getting very interested in starting their own compost programs. We try to answer all their questions and I try to put them to work so they can get a direct experience of how its done. Very nice to see lots of interest in what we're doing.

Monday, August 3, 2009

2009 08 03. Monday.

2009 08 03. Monday.

They set out some chai at breakfast (a nice treat) so I had my usual half a cup. For some reason it made me unusually jittery. Normally the chai here doesn't feel very strong and doesn't have much effect on me in terms of caffeine or jitteryness. Maybe they made an extra strong batch. I was wired for about 2 hours after drinking it.

I found out the Spanish family near my room (with the very loud young boys) should be leaving soon. Yay! Watch them get replaced by an even louder group. Just the kind of thing Amma likes to do to test me. Its OK if I fail all of Amma's tests as long as I do it in a way to make Her laugh and smile.

The past week or so was cool with lots of rain so it was really nice to have a hot sunny day today. The showers are much more pleasant! The water is a little warmer and after working up a really good hot sweat at the compost work it feels actually good to take a cool shower. I definitely like it when it gets hot here.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

2009 08 02. Sunday.

2009 08 02. Sunday.

Sunday darshan is a big day here at the ashram. Lots and lots of Indians take the day off to come here and get darshan from Amma. The main hall was really packed around lunch time. With so many people I felt a little claustrophobic. Felt good to finish my lunch and get away from the crowds. One nice thing is they have a video camera on Amma with a good close shot of Her giving darshan. That is a real treat to watch. Amma has such wonderful expressions when She's giving darshan.

At compost today an old Indian man who lives in the neighborhood came by and spoke with one of the yellow robed brahmacharis (yerbs) for a while. The yerb said the old man is living with his son and his son is abusing him and not feeding him because the father refuses to give in to the son's demands concerning inheritance of the property. Hearing this got me angry that a child would abuse their parent just because of some property. We gave the old man some chai and snacks. I was told it was the first food he had in 2 days. He seemed like nice and intelligent old man.

A Spanish family moved into one of the rooms nearby. They have 2 young boys around 4 and 6. Those kids never shut up or stop shouting! Jeez. The younger boy kept shouting at the top of his lungs "Esto es un mosquito! Esto es un mosquito!" My God. Unbelievably annoying. I went there today and very gently asked them if they could be a little more quiet. The father seemed to have the attitude "Talk to them yourself. I can't do anything." Jeezus mister, why you have kids if you can't control them? I don't how the parents can stand the constant noise. I very gently asked the kids to be a little more quiet and it seemed to help for a little while. If I can learn to put up with this by golly I can handle anything.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

2009 08 01. Saturday.

2009 08 01. Saturday.

After the compost work today Br. Jagadan (a yellow robed brahmachari who often helps with the compost) talked to us for a long time about some of his experiences working for Amma. He's been with Amma a long time and has worked in starting and maintaining community self help programs all over India. He also started to share something about his experiences in working with a tantra teacher, but another yellow robed brahmachari came by and Jagadan discreetly switched subjects. Now that would have been interesting to hear about! Br. Jagadan likes to share so I'm sure we'll hear his tantric stories at some point.

Got really really tired after the compost work today. Not sure what's going on. Went to my room and slept for an hour before dinner.