Saturday, October 31, 2009

2009 10 31. Saturday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(smile, just teasing)

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

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

2009 10 27. Tuesday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 25, 2009

2009 10 25. Sunday.

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 24, 2009

2009 10 24. Saturday.

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

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

Friday, October 23, 2009

2009 10 23. Friday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 22, 2009

2009 10 22. Thursday.

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

2009 10 21. Wednesday.

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

2009 10 20. Tuesday.

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

Monday, October 19, 2009

2009 10 19. Monday.

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

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

Saturday, October 17, 2009

2009 10 17. Saturday.

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

Friday, October 16, 2009

2009 10 16. Friday.

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

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

Thursday, October 15, 2009

2009 10 15. Thursday.

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

2009 10 14. Wednesday.

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

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

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

Monday, October 12, 2009

2009 10 12. Monday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 11, 2009

2009 10 11. Sunday.

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

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

Saturday, October 10, 2009

2009 10 10. Saturday.

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

2009 10 07. Wednesday.

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

( smile )

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

2009 10 06. Tuesday.

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

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

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

Sunday, October 4, 2009

2009 10 04. Sunday.

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

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

Saturday, October 3, 2009

2009 10 03. Saturday.

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

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

Friday, October 2, 2009

2009 10 02. Friday.

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

Thursday, October 1, 2009

2009 10 01. Thursday.

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

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