Wednesday, September 30, 2009

2009 09 30. Wednesday.

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

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

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

2009 09 29. Tuesday.

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

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

Monday, September 28, 2009

2009 09 28. Monday.

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 27, 2009

2009 09 27. Sunday.

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

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

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

Saturday, September 26, 2009

2009 09 26. Saturday.

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

Friday, September 25, 2009

2009 09 25. Friday.

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 24, 2009

2009 09 24. Thursday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

2009 09 23. Wednesday.

Left for AIMS (Amma's big hospital in Cochin) this morning to have the doctor look at my pinkie. I was able to get on an express train. Cool. Only 2 hours. Did some chanting and meditation. Was feeling frustrated this morning about the whole incident with Kandre; running over in my mind all the things I could have said. Usual ego-mind stuff. Got to AIMS. Doctor said my finger is healing OK; be careful and come back in 2 weeks. Will do, Doc. Left the hospital and popped into the internet cafe to catch up on emails and write up some blog entries.

Was feeling depressed in the evening. Frustrated with my finger healing very slowly and not able to do a lot of things. Also I sometimes feel down when I'm away from the ashram and not surrounded by all those wonderful and wacky fellow Amma devotees. When I'm out in the regular world I don't feel their support. Also the ashram environment is a strong support for my daily discipline of practice and seva. Outside the ashram I'll spend hours on the internet getting caught up on things. I'm pretty good about not wasting any time when I get on the net, but getting out of my usual routine can throw me off emotionally.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

2009 09 22. Tuesday.

At the usual Tuesday satsang Amma didn't arrive till noon. Usually She's there by 11am or so. We waited a long time and I tried to stay with my mantra while waiting. The hall was very packed but very quiet. After Amma started speaking, the old Indian man sitting next to me moved his chair so one edge of it pressed into my shoulder. I told him to please move his chair but he just waved his hand as if to say "Your problem, you deal with it." I then pushed his chair away and waved my hand at him. I felt good that I pushed his chair away but was annoyed with myself for then waving my hand at him. That wasn't necessary.

One of things we're doing with the compost is making it dryer so it doesn't smell when we turn it. We make it dryer by adding more wood chips. I saw that one of the bins was a little too wet so I told them to add more chips. This one young western man (Kandre from Denmark) really over-reacted! He started to say in a loud voice "More wood chips! More! More!" He wouldn't stop. I tried to calmly tell him why Peter wanted it dryer but he kept on and on with "More wood chips!" Jeez. Very frustrating, but I didn't say anything more. Guy must have a lot of anger inside. Made me want to quit the whole compost thing and just go back to America until my own room is ready (should be built in a year or so).

After the compost work I got Erhard to help me move to the room next door. With his help it was very easy. We got done in about 1.5 hours. As I was going to sleep the older Indian couple (my new neighbors) kept talking loudly. I finally had to ask them to be quiet as there is not much sound insulation between the rooms. The old man frowned at me but they did quiet down.

Monday, September 21, 2009

2009 09 21. Monday.

Some of the Indians told me Amma wants to move the main Indian kitchen to the compost area in 2 to 4 months. Thus the composting will have to move. Uh oh. Will be very interesting to see where we end up. Could be better cause we could get a better roof and tool shed, along with some materials sheds that we really need.

This morning there was a Youth Ecology Conference at the big hall in the ashram with some speakers and presentations on how we can help save the environment. In the afternoon they planned some workshops and I'm in charge of the compost workshop. About 5 young people signed up. At 2pm they come out to the compost area. At the same time a truck is delivering a load of wood chips (we use a lot of wood chips when we make compost). Well, the truck gets stuck in the mud and there's a lot of confused activity to try and get it unstuck. We finally get it unstuck and then I'm distracted when they need to start loading up a big pile of compost. With all that going on it was hard to talk with the compost workshop participants. They helped out wonderfully, but I wish it hadn't been so hectic so I could have spent more time explaining how we make the compost. I was supposed to teach them a little about composting but ended up just frantically running around trying to make sure everyone was doing the right thing at the right time.

Arggg! Found out the owner of the room I'm staying in is coming soon, so I gotta move. Looks like they're gonna move me to the room right next door which will make it easy.

This afternoon during lunch I was watching the live video feed of Amma giving darshan in big hall. As usual the camera was focused on Her face. It was really delightful to see all the wonderfully animated, lively and joyful expressions continually beaming from Amma's face. I got the really strong feeling that Amma was having a total and complete blast giving darshan; totally happy doing what She most loves to do. She was definitely radiating bliss! She was also 3 hours into giving darshan with about 10 hours more to go with no breaks.

Had a very nice talk with Johann today. He's a young, very thoughtful long haired guy from Sweden. He shared about how many years ago he was a homeless drug addict in Paris listening to lots of heavy metal. He felt his life wasn't going anywhere and he described his deep hunger for purity. He said one day on the streets he felt this big shift happen inside him. He went into this very quiet place inside and his old identity as a head banging drug addict just dropped away. He no longer felt any attraction for that old lifestyle. He then began a spiritual search that led him to Amma and other spiritual teachers. It was very nice to hear him share about his pretty remarkable spiritual transformations.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

2009 09 20. Sunday.

I was doing my morning sadhana around 7am when my room was suddenly filled with a beautiful golden light. My main window faces east. It started out as a cloudy morning but suddenly the clouds cleared and the beautiful dawn light came pouring in. Very nice.

Outside my room is a small grassy field where they tie up a few cows in the morning and give them some hay. Normally they're pretty quiet; just chewing their hay and farting happily. But this morning for some reason they were making a lot of noise. Sounded a little like an old recording I used to have of a group of humpback whales singing.

After being here a while, and following Amma since 2002, my feeling is that a big way that Amma helps us grow is by creating an environment where we have to learn to guide ourselves. I think one of the biggest things that Amma's subtle energy is creating in Her disciples is independence and self-sufficiency. Amma wants us to really think for ourselves and operate independently as much as possible. The main qualities I hear that Amma wants us to cultivate is deep faith in Amma and God, dispassion in the face of life's ups and downs, introspection or always looking within and lots of adaptability. I think all of this is Amma's way of showing us how we can always be connected to our "inner Amma" which is just our own inherent divinity. In Amma's life story, this is what She had to do in Her solitary spiritual search as a young child and teenager.

Had a funny short dialog with the fake American sadhu. I was heading back to my room and he walked passed me moving pretty quickly. He said "There's a lot of cars here." (Lots of Indians come from all over to get Amma's darshan on Sundays.) I said "Just the usual Sunday visitors."

Him: "Yea. Visitors from another planet. I wish they would take me with them." (Typical of the strange things he says. I have no idea what he meant.)

Me: "I thought the best place was always the here and now."

Him: "Not if I pee all over the floor!" He quickly went to his room. I smiled. Strange guy but I like anyone who can make me smile.

This evening after dinner I was standing outside the big hall talking with Mukhunda (one of the yerbs) about some compost plans when suddenly he jumped up in surprise. I quickly saw that some young Indian boy had reached down and touched his feet as a sign of respect. Mukhunda, the boy and the boy's parents then started laughing and chatting away in Malayalam. It was a pretty funny scene. I thought he would be used to people touching his feet by now. He's been a yerb for a long time. The red robed swamis constantly have devotees touching their feet. I do it myself once in a while when I feel inspired.

Amma's 56th birthday celebrations are coming up Sept 26 and 27th. There's gonna be about 30 to 50 thousand people here, or more. A lot! Our original plans were to just dig some pits and bury all the food waste (it'll compost just fine in a pit, albeit more slowly). But I found out Amma wants us to compost it the usual way (which takes a lot of work). Its gonna be a huge job to compost all that food waste if we get as much as I think we might. Oh, well. I won't be doing the work with my injury; just managing. Still, there's a lot of planning work to do to get all the materials and helpers. I was told all the programs will be at the Amma college on the other side of the backwaters. Yay! That means there shouldn't be lots of crowds here at the ashram. I go a little bit crazy in big crowds. I have A LOT of respect for the crew of people who go on all the tours with Amma. They have to do a crazy amount of work surrounded by these huge crowds. Somehow they seem to always do it with grace and calmness in spite of getting very little or no sleep many days.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

2009 09 19. Saturday.

Strange. The fake American sadhu knocked on my door and offered me a little gift. He said it was a peace offering because he felt that he's been annoying me with his one sided talking about Hindusim. Very nice of him. The gift was some dried clay (Gopi Chandan) which can be used to make tilaks (marks on the forehead signifying our connection with the divine). He started to go on and on about where it came from and how to use it. I had to gently stop him. He lives next to me and from what I can hear he seems to get along well with his roommates and neighbors. They seem to like his very strange but harmless behavior and constant talking about some aspect of Vaishnava Hinduism.

At some of the evening bhajans when Amma is giving darshan, Her bhajan group will give a very spirited rendition of the Mahay Shasura Mardini bhajan. Very high energy with some interesting instrumental breaks. Usually its Big Swami who's singing.

Friday, September 18, 2009

2009 09 18. Friday.

Finally was able to get to bed early enough to wake up and get the 6am chai. When Peter was here almost every night we would talk during and after dinner about the compost work and plans. Getting up early also allows me time to have a nice long sadhana session before 9am breakfast. Felt very nice to do the morning chants and meditations I used to do.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

2009 09 17. Thursday.

For some reason I was feeling a lot of frustration with myself this morning. All my little mistakes were getting magnified in my mind. I think part of it is due to my low level frustration about my finger injury and not being able to do a lot of the things I usually do. When this happens I just try to watch the feelings come and go.

Got the 15 stitches removed today from my little finger. Ouch! The nurse couldn't tell if she got all the stitches cause the thread is very thin and I've got some thick scabs there. She put some ointment on it, wrapped it up and said come back in 2 days.

I had a nice Amma darshan this evening. I felt wonderful energy as She whispered "My darling, my darling." in my right ear. I passed a question to Amma if there were any stitches left in my finger. No reply. Oh, well. No surprise. Amma doesn't usually reply to my questions. Hopefully the doctor can check it out soon.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

2009 09 16. Wednesday.

We saw Peter off this morning at around 8am. He's heading back to San Diego and says he'll be back in early December. He said he's on a limited budget so its really inspiring to see how much commitment he has to the compost project here. He has to travel on his own dime and it also costs about $100/month just for basic room and board here, in addition to all the miscellaneous expenses.

Past few days had some nice talks with Erhard from Austria. A very nice young guy. He's a fan of Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle. We had some nice talks about their teachings and advaita. Its cool that I can meet and share with a few other people who are as interested in this whole advaita thing as I am. It seems to me there's more and more people having some kind of advaitic awakenings. I like hearing how different people describe their advaita experiences.

Both Ram and Lakshmi (the 2 elephants who're kept in the compost area) were acting up today. Ram was throwing palm branches at one of the workers and Lakshmi kind of lunged at me (scary!) when I walked by her at some point. First time I saw that kind of behavior from either of them in the compost area. I found out later that their handlers (called 'mahouts') had left and gone across the backwaters for something. Maybe the elephants sensed they were gone. Both elephants are chained up with very strong chains, so no real danger (I hope). Later the mahouts said that they'll stay near the elephants when we're doing compost work.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

2009 09 15. Tuesday.

At the usual Tuesday satsang, Amma spoke about the importance of constant introspection; looking dispassionately at the state of the mind and always bringing it back to calmness and peace. I try to practice this as much as I can. Very difficult to do when my emotions get stirred up for some reason or other.

I had an encounter with the fake American sadhu. I was passing near him and he started to go on and on about some Hindu festival or something. I got a little annoyed and said "You should really stop talking and listen for a change." I then walked away without bothering to see his reaction. I then got annoyed with myself for losing my cool. My emotions come up so quickly! I resolved (as always) to try and be more mindful.

Monday, September 14, 2009

2009 09 14. Monday.

Yesterday after the compost work one of the yellow robed brahmacharis (yerbs) asked me to go with him and Peter on a field trip some nearby organic farm where they also do worm composting. At first I resisted cause if Peter was going he could see things and tell me about it as needed. I've got lots of research I need to do for the compost project and some other eco projects. But the yerb politely insisted I go. What to do? The yerbs (and especially the ocher robed swamis (orbs) ) have a lot of seniority and the tradition here is you follow their directions. As a westerner, I could easily refuse and he couldn't do anything about it. But its good practice for me to put aside my own desires an do what they say. The yerbs definitely respect the westerners and are (usually) more easy-going with us than with lower seniority Indians. In the Indian culture there is a strong tradition of honoring and venerating yerbs and orbs. But the yerbs know westerners don't come from those traditions.

So at 8am this morning, 2 of the yerbs who help at the compost area, Peter, I and 3 others piled into a minivan and drove over to the farm. It was deep into the back country of Kerala about 40 minutes from the ashram. The yerbs started the trip by leading everyone in chanting the 108 names of Amma. Its the end of the rainy season here and the Kerala country side is amazingly lush and green. Quite beautiful. And a lot less trash then in the more populated areas.

The farm we visited is all organic and the farmer has won some government awards for his work. I think he gets the awards cause the government wants to get people interested in organic farming. Chemical farming is killing (has killed) the soil and the local environments here, and is bankrupting their future. He was very happy to show off his farm and tell us all the tricks and techniques he's learned over the years. In one field was some leftover large yellow skinned cucumbers. The farmer cut us all a large slice. Really delicious! And slightly sweet. He gave us some to take back to the ashram.

Then we all piled back into the minivan and went to a nearby Kerala government agricultural research center. It was all behind a perimeter fence and was quite beautiful. Mainly because there was no trash around. It always stands out as unusual to be some place in India where there's no trash laying around. One of the researchers showed us some of their work in worm composting, mushroom cultivation and other things. For some reason one of the yerbs with us was very keen on mushroom cultivation and asked Peter a few times to explore getting it started at the ashram.

Then we piled back into the van and the yerbs brought out their stash of snacks. While driving back we stuffed ourselves on various kinds of rice crackers and sweet cakes, and discussed what kinds of eco-projects the ashram could do next.

At the end I determined I definitely wasn't needed on the trip. My time could have been better spent doing other research for the compost project. But the yerbs seemed happy I was there.

Toward the end of today's darshan, we all saw Amma get 3 pada pujas in a row. That's were some people wash Amma's feet, drape Her with jewelry and garlands and feed Her. They had a video camera right up close and were showing it on the big screens around the hall. I'm not sure but I'm guessing the Amma pada puja is a fund raising option where wealthy people make a large donation for the privilege of doing it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

2009 09 12. Saturday.

I found a good reason why I don't want to become an Amma renunciate (at least for now). As an Amma renunciate, you're not supposed to leave the ashram without Amma's permission. From mid March to early April is something called "Temple Season" where the local temples blare out this horrible screeching 'music' from early morning till late at night. A number of people leave the ashram at that time. When I was here in 2006 during temple season it was horrible. So I plan to leave when it starts up next year. As a renunciate, I would have to stay unless Amma gave me permission to leave.

Friday, September 11, 2009

2009 09 11. Friday.

Today is Lord Krishna's Jayanthi (birthday) celebrations and there's been lots of music and processions throughout the day. It was a touch and go decision but I hemmed and hawed and decided to go to the Jyanthi program this evening after dinner. It was *very* tempting to skip it and go to right to bed to indulge in my sleep addiction. But I did a little meditation right after dinner and went to the program. Got there around 10:45pm and the stage was very nicely decorated. Soon after that some Indian lady on stage started chanting some Krishna leelas (stories) in sing-song Sanskrit. Very nice. Then an Indian man near her started doing some complex elaborate Krishna puja with lots of hand waving and flower offerings to a little statue of baby Krishna. All of this was being displayed on some large video screens in the hall. I'm guessing about 2,000 people were there. The combination of the chanting and puja totally mesmerized me! I went into this relaxed state with waves of pleasant tingling running all over my skin. Very nice.

Then Amma came on stage and led some Krishna bhajans. The last bhajan was very energetic and Amma had everyone lift their arms up to clap and wave. Looked just like from the stories of Sri Chaitanya leading a huge kirtan. Then Amma began handing out cups of sweet rice pudding prasad to each person there. There was a tight crush in the line, but Amma was handing them out pretty fast. I got mine (Thanks, Amma! and Yum!) then went off to bed. Walking back to my room I saw Swami Tuyramrita standing facing away from me and chatting with someone. I quietly swooped down, touched his right foot above the small toe, touched my heart and continued on my way. I heard him say "Namahah Shivaya" right after I touched his foot. Touching his feet is mostly my way of honoring his ocher robes (representing the death of the ego). My feeling is that Amma only authorizes full swami vows to those who have a deep realization of their true nature and a very open heart. Finally got to bed around 1:45am.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

2009 09 10. Thursday.

This evening I was walking down the path next to the Western Canteen. I'm holding a cup of hot milk in my right hand and on my left arm is the new plastic molded splint with the big wide black velcro straps. A group of young Indian boys is walking toward me and they're taking up the whole width of the path. The tall Indian guy coming right toward me is looking at his friends and doesn't see that he's going to run into me. So I reach out with my left arm and gently push him on his right shoulder so he doesn't run into me. He quickly looks down and sees this big plastic splint with big black straps pushing into his shoulder and gets a priceless expression on his face! Like he's being ambushed by some killer android. He jumps to the side and quickly moves past me. I smile at the memory of his expression and continue on my way. I could have called out to him, but that wouldn't have been any fun.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

2009 09 09. Wednesday.

Yay! Blessed quiet at 5am. Moving to the opposite side of the hall pretty much eliminated the 5am sound from the local temple. It was strange I didn't hear it at all. Maybe they took a day off.

Finally learned the AIMS canteen menu to get the perfect meal: Veg Kuruma (lots of mixed veggies in a spicy sauce), Kadala Curry with lots of chick peas for protein and a cup of steaming hot rich rice water (called 'kanni vellum'). Pour it all together to make a nice soup and there's my perfect AIMS meal. Nutritious and watery. I'll have to remember it next time I come back here.

I hopped onto to one of Amma's buses going from AIMS to a special Amma program taking place at another ashram about 8 miles from Amritapuri. Its the 156th birthday of some very highly regarded local guru/saint whom I'm guessing left his body about 60 or 70 years ago. I didn't pack any extra clothes when I went to AIMS and ended up staying there for 3 days so my clothes probably smell pretty bad. The bus dropped us off at the program but I quickly hopped onto an auto-rickshaw and came back to the ashram to shower and change. I thought all the meals would be canceled here at the ashram because of the special program, but to my surprise, the admin person said there'll be the usual Indian dinner. Cool. Felt very good to be back home.

Had a nice long talk during and after dinner with Yuri. We talked a lot about our experiences with meditation and I told him about my experience with Emmett Walz back in 2006. I only tell a few people about that experience cause it can be easily misunderstood. Yuri has had some similar experiences so he could grok where I was coming from. I also told him about some other friends of mine who've had some awakening experiences, and he told me about 2 people he knows who've seemingly permanently dropped into the "witness" state. We shared that there seems to be a growing number of people who are 'waking up'. Everyone wakes up in their own unique way and describes their awakening in very differently. But the awakening seems to have some common features in all who experience it. Yuri also shared about two powerful and well known western gurus he's studied with. After spending time with them, Yuri determined that both of these gurus had some serious and deep egoic issues that they were blind to. And at the same time these two gurus have an unmistakably powerful spiritual presence that can trigger openings and awakenings in their followers. We shared about the continuum between awakening (knowing clearly and without doubts our true nature as pure consciousness) and complete liberation (being fully awakened *along with* the removal of all egoic and contracted mind conditioning). Being awakened is not the same as complete liberation. Someone like Amma (from what I can see) is a great example of complete liberation while someone like Andrew Cohen seems to be deeply awakened, but with lots of residual, unexamined and active egoic contraction patterns (I've read very interesting books by two of his ex-disciples). I know I'm stepping into a can of worms by naming names, but worms make the best compost! Any Andrew Cohen followers can flame me at All caps is fine.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

2009 09 08. Tuesday.

2009 09 08. Tuesday.

At 5am some local temple started blaring recorded music. Arggg! I should have remembered this from the last time I stayed in this lodge back in 2006. I jammed in some foam earplugs and that helped a little. After I help get the ashram to be more green and eco-friendly, I plan to start a nationwide campaign in India to enact 'disturbing the peace' laws. Well, I can always dream....

I went to the Amma dental college here this morning to get a quick flossing done (can't floss with this cast on). Two different dentists looked at my teeth and said flossing is not needed as long as I keep using the interdental toothbrush every day. Both also said that the gum inflammation that was dogging me for years has finally cleared up. Yay! When that inflammation was happening I was in fear of my teeth rotting and falling out. I started using interdental brushes about 9 months ago and I think they're largely responsible for my gums finally healing. Definitely get them and use them if you have any gum problems. Nothing else worked for me.

I saw some young Indian guy walking around in the hot morning sun dressed in tight dark jeans and - get this - some high top leather boots! Ouch! What masochist would wear leather boots in this kind of steamy hot climate?! I sweated just looking at the guy.

Then went back to the internet cafe and pounded out some more blog entries, my left hand holding a pen to help tap on the keys. Takes longer, but not too bad. Gotta keep my readers happy!

My splint arrived today right on time! 3pm just like the guy said it would. Very very surprising for India. The guy wanted to leave before I could try it on but I stopped him. Tried it on and the fit was pretty good. A little tight in one spot but not too bad. Total cost of this custom made padded thermoplastic velcro splint came to 390 rupees; about $8. In the states it would have been about $300 I'm guessing.

I went back to the hotel to register for 1 more night and to move across the hall opposite the local temple that blares the 5am music. Hopefully a little quieter on that side.

Grabbed a little late lunch at the main canteen which is all vegetarian. They actually have a non-veg canteen hidden away a little farther back. Being a vegetarian I think its cool to be in a country where the meat eaters are hidden away a little bit from the rest. Makes it seem slightly shameful. Cool. (smile)

Went to see Dr. Iyer before leaving. He said the splint is good and I can get the stitches removed in 10 days at the ashram medical center. Cool! Saves me a trip back to AIMS. Dr. Iyer wants to see me in 2 weeks so I'll come back then.

Then went back to the internet cafe and got all caught up with all the blog entries and the backlogged emails. Felt good to get everything done!

Monday, September 7, 2009

2009 09 07. Monday.

I hopped on the local bus at 7am to get to the train station at Kayamkulam about 20km distant. I got there early and was able to find a seat. But soon the bus totally filled and people had to stand. I saw an old Indian lady standing and gave her my seat. She was reluctant to take it when she saw my cast but I motioned her to stay seated and not get up. The bus started its trip and soon got very crowded! It was a definite challenge to stand in the rocking, bouncing bus with only one hand to hold on with. But somehow I managed. We got to the train station and I scored a general seating ticket for the next train north to Kochin. Then I grabbed a quick dosha and sambar breakfast with a side of fried banana and some unsweetened chai. Yum!

The train was even more packed than the bus! By some miracle I was able to get a seat about 40 minutes into the trip (a very nice Indian man offered one to me, Thanks!). My feet get really painful if I stand for a long time. The seat was hard (not good for my skinny butt) so I pulled out my inflatable seat cushion, huffed and puffed for a moment to blow it up (that got me some funny looks, didn't care), jammed it under my bony, unpadded butt and breathed a pleasurable sigh. Without that cushion, the trip would be pure agony. Trust me, its happened a few times. You people with big cushiony butts don't know how lucky you are.

People were jammed in all around me with some young energetic toddler dressed in yellow on my left who liked to bang on my arm and kick my leg. I totally didn't care. But the mother went bonkers seeing her 2 year old child beat up on some poor westerner in an arm cast. Soon the kid got moved to the other side. Whatever. I settled in and did Amma mantra, 108 Names and the 1,000 Names for the next 2.5 hours. Time slipped by mostly unnoticed as the train gently rocked its way northward through the incredibly lush post monsoon Indian countryside. The magic of sadhana. The sun shone bright and the ceiling fans in the compartment were working overtime. Thank god.

Got off at Kochin and was walking toward the exit when some young Indian man leaped toward me, tapped my arm and said "AIMS? 120 rupees!" Sold! I followed him out of the station to his auto-rickshaw and we buzzed over to AIMS (Amma's hospital) in the crushing, smoggy and dangerous Kochin traffic. Inside the rickshaw were two horrible garish pictures of Jesus. I touched my heart and then Jesus' heart to get His darshan. I'm a darshan junkie. If you have even a whiff of saintliness be careful cause I'll be touching your feet like flies on a freshly flattened squirrel (I'm from Kentucky so I can get away with similes like that). Is that a simile? One of you English majors help me out here.

After he dropped me off and I paid him he told me about his health problems. No wonder driving an auto rickshaw all day for years in a typical smog choked Indian city of 5 million.

I got to the hospital and the nurse took off my casts and bandages. Gruesome! The inside of my left pinkie is covered with about 15 stitches. Really horrible to see! Like something out of a Hollywood horror film. Jeez. But there's almost no pain and I finally got to wash my left arm which felt wonderful. Some guy came and took my arm measurements for a Velcro splint which will be ready tomorrow, so I'll spend the night here. The doctor said I should have no scar but I told him a nice long garish scar would be cool! I could make up all kinds of fanciful stories about how I got it. He just smiled. Crazy American! My doctor here (Dr. S. Iyer) is apparently one of the best micro-surgeons in India and is on the board of the Indian Society of Micro-Surgery. I'm in good hands. Left the doctor to grab a meal and then went to the local internet cafe where for the next 2 hours I sweated, swatted mosquitoes and got caught up on this blog. Also responded to a lot of emails.

At the hospital canteen, I had a nice talk at dinner with Keshav. He's an Indian computer guy who worked in the States for a few years (he's now living and working near Mumbai). He got very interested in Christianity while in the States when he found a warm and welcoming Christan church there. We had a nice time sharing about the core principles common to Christianity and Hinduism (I've had the same general discussion with a number of Indians over the years, standard conversational fodder). Then he shared some of his frustrating experiences here at Amma's hospital. He said on a few occasions some of the staff was very rude to him. We both agreed that at Amma's hospital, the staff should try to embody Amma's teachings of love and compassion. But people are people and Amma's devotees are no different. Like all of us we have our egoistic patterns.

Went back to the internet place for more blogging and emails. The guy said he closed at 9:30pm but he let me stay till 10. Cool! 20 rupees (40 cents) per hour. Internet here is slow but manageable.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

2009 09 06. Sunday.

I sometimes get lazy with my Amma mantra practice but the other day it occurred to me that really practicing the mantra consistently could take me to some interesting new places in terms of my states of consciousness (but being an advaitan, I know all states of consciousness (and everything else) are just the leelas of That). That perspective makes my mantra a little more interesting. I'll know I'm starting grow on the spiritual path when my mantra gets as interesting as surfing the web. That would be a real breakthrough! (probably won"t happen anytime soon) Maybe deep and consistent mantra practice is like surfing the web, but a different kind of web. Perhaps a much more fascinating kind of web. We shall see... Maybe I'll finally get caught in Amma's web.

Tomorrow morning I go back to Amma's main hospital (AIMS) in Kochin for the doctor to take off the cast and look at my finger.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

2009 09 05. Saturday.

Amma has very clearly told the swamis twice to give Peter Ash whatever he needs to improve the compost project, but Peter expressed some frustration this morning that the yerbs (yellow robed brahmacharis) seem to be dragging their feet when it comes to actually getting things done. Here at the ashram and in India in general, things happen at their own mysterious pace that is often opaque to outsiders. But the the yerbs are definitely very busy getting ready for all the big events around Amma's birthday on Sept 27.

Its nice that even with 1 hand I can still feel useful and do a little work around th compost area. Felt good to be at least a little productive. I'm being REAL careful with my left hand. Definitely want it to heal OK.

We got 3 big loads of woodchips delivered to the compost area today. Wow! Now we're all set for at least a few weeks. Without the dry woodchips we wouldn't be able to make proper compost piles with enough carbon to balance all the wet food waste and soak up the moisture.

I've made a point of drinking more water and now my fingertips seem to be coming back. Yay! They were very dry and cracked for a while.

I bought some neem tree oil to put on a small cut (supposed to be a very good antiseptic). I was also told that its a very good mosquito repellent. I happened to hear one of my young eiropean neighbors complain of having to put this chemical cream on to keep away the mosquitos (he works on his computer out in the open hallway). I gave him the neem oil and told him to try it. He did and he said it works great. Neem oil is also supposed to be good for the skin. Sounds like a win-win.

Tonight after dinner we had a meeting with Swami Jnanamrita, Peter Ash, 2 of the yerbs who work at the compost area, Ben (the American wastewater treatment expert) and I. Peter outlined to Swami J all the things he wanted for the compost area. He also outlined what he wants to do to tackle the problems of burning the soft plastic (highly toxic!) and stopping the ashram sewage from going untreated into the backwaters (killing the backwaters!). Swami J basically said "Yes. Yes. Yes." to all of Peter's requests (he had to cause Amma told him to give Peter whatever he wants). Swami J then spoke to Mukhunda and Jagadan (the 2 yerbs) in rapid fire Malayalam telling them to get busy. Peter, Ben and I were very happy at how the meeting went. For me it was wonderful (as always) to be in the presence of Swami J. I could just stare into his eyes all day long. Sounds silly, I know, but its true. What to do? Amma calls me 'Advait' but I'm bhakti crazy for Swami J. Very confusing. (smile!)

Friday, September 4, 2009

2009 09 04. Friday.

Now my right foot is swollen with a little infection. Jeez. My body is getting hit from all sides. I'm taking some Cipro antibiotics and it should clear up soon. The doctor says I have only a small infection around the cut. The foot swelling is some minor inflammation, not infection.

With my left hand in a cast I'm now REALLY grateful for my adjustable belt. I got this cool belt in the States that can easily be operated with one hand. Its a belt with no holes. If I didn't have this it would be a lot more difficult to get dressed and wear pants now.

I was at the juice stall this evening after dinner to get a few bananas. I'm waiting quietly in line when suddenly some Indian man reaches over me and starts waving his money at the cashiers. Instinctively and very quickly I push him back with shoulder saying "Whoa! Whoa! Que! Que!" He then sat down on a nearby bench and glared at me. Glare all you want buddy, but you aint jumping in front of me. I felt very good that I stopped him and didn't tolerate that kind of behavior. If I had passively let him get away with it I would have stewed over it for days. Not good.

One of the young Indian guys at the compost area loaned me a wonderful book called "One Straw Revolution". Its about a Japanese farmer in the 1950's and 60's who discovered how to successfully farm with no fertilizers, pesticides or plowing. A very interesting type of organic farming. His yields are as good or better than chemical farms. Highly recommended reading.

Also recently finished watching a DVD on my laptop about a New Zealand Biodynamic farmer who's helping to successfully convert many Indian farmers to Biodynamic. The movie said that India did not have a "Green Revolution" in the 1970's, but rather a "Chemical Revolution" orchestrated by American fertilizer and pesticide companies. A temporary boost in yields, but much of Indian soil is now dead, dead, dead where it used to be fertile and alive. And those dead soils now cost way too much to farm, so farmer suicide is now a huge problem here. Change or starve. With that choice, change will come soon, I'm guessing. Some Indian university did an economic analysis of the Biodynamic farms here and found them to be more profitable and the farmers much more happy with stronger social cohession in the community. Take a hint, guys.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

2009 09 03. Thursday.

Moving day. Yay! Moved into the N building today. And Amma's grace sent me a moving helper out of the blue. Double yay! I was casually telling this other American I was moving. He saw the cast on my arm and right away volunteered to help. Thanks! We got about 95% of it moved in the next hour. Would have taken A LOT longer by myself. The guy has done aikido martial arts for 30 years and it was very interesting to hear about all his experiences with the practice. The N building has some sound insulation between the rooms. Yay! again. Got a few noisy Indian neighbors but they're across the hall and not next door. Very tolerable.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

2009 09 02. Wednesday.

At the hospital canteen at 5am this morning I ordered a cup of unsweetened chai. Need something to pry open my bleary eyeballs. Because I needed to catch an early morning bus back to the ashram, I gave them my big blue cup so I could go out. I was thinking they would only put the usual small serving in the cup, but to my pleasant surprise, they filled up the cup. Cool! I walked out into the dark cool early morning sipping hot chai. Yum! A few stars were still visible with the glow of dawn just beginning in the east.

I rode one of the ashram buses back to the ashram. No charge. Cool. Nice to be in my own space and do some bus ride sadhana. The bus got back quick! Only two hours. When the bus stopped and everyone got off I was real confused. It took me about 5 minutes before I recognized we were back at the ashram. Went back to my room and unpacked.

No Indian breakfast this morning! Its the Onam holiday so they canceled it. Grrr! I went to the Western Canteen and got something there. LOTS of people here at the ashram because of the holiday. Really crowded. What is Onam about? Have no clue. Apparently one thing its about is playing lots of loud music all day long.

The crush at dinner was intense. Jam packed! I had to make like a pro football running back to bust thru a line of young Indians who refused to let me through. They just laughed at my silly antics. I smiled back. It was kind of fun. I lost some of my precious uttapam in the process. A sad and sordid scene.

With this cast on my arm, my blog entries will likely get shorter for a while.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

2009 09 01. Tuesday.

Got up, had a nice dosha and sambar breakfast and then went to check in for the surgery. The receptionist said that AIMS has a policy that anyone having surgery must have a relative or friend with them. Uh-oh. Forgot about that. Then at just that moment Arun came in. Perfect timing! Arun and the receptionist talked in rapid fire Malayalam and Arun explained that he would be my bystander. Whew! I was happy cause the doctor wants me to have the surgery ASAP.

About 2 hours later I changed into the hospital clothes and they wheeled me into the operating room. About 7 doctors and nurses were there all getting ready and setting everything up. The two big circular operating room lights (3 foot diameter each) looked like some big UFOs floating right over me. I smiled and imagined some creepy bug eyed aliens getting me ready for the customary anal probe. Maybe anal probes aren't as bad as everyone says?

I then got a local anesthetic for my left arm and a mild relaxant that put me into a light sleep. Nighty-night!

Woke up groggy 2 hours later and the procedure was almost done. They finished up and then wheeled me into the post op room. I slept for another 2 or 3 hours. Finally got up and saw my cast which went down almost to my left elbow. Then I went and got dressed and the reality of the cast started to sink. Yuck! I hate being disabled! I could dress myself OK but very frustrating that it takes longer and I have to be very careful. The cast wraps over the fingers of my left hand so my range of motion is very limited. Yuck!