My plane lands in Trivandrum at 3:30 AM. July 6, 2022. After about two hours of early AM night driving in an ashram taxi, it's beginning to get light outside when we cross the bridge over the backwater river and then turn onto the shore road. I know we are almost home. The Arabian Sea is wild and angry. It's monsoon season. Colossal waves thrashing with huge crashing onto the shore, sometimes crossing over onto the shore road. My driver had not been honking his horn at all, but now with the narrow road, with its twists and turns, he's on the horn a lot, to warn pedestrians and oncoming traffic.
After about 20 minutes, we pull up in front of the International Office at about 6:00 AM. I knock on heavy wooden door as instructed by Kripasagar, my person who'd been in charge of my process for entry; he had said a woman from Spain will open it. A long-time ashram resident whom I know opens the door, and I know she is not from Spain but from Chile. She's clearly in a period of distress as she cuts me off every time I try to say something; she is recording a lot of details in her record book. When she's done checking me in, a woman from Spain happens along. My check-in person asks the Spanish woman to help me to my round house, one of the huts collectively known as Nachiketas (all the buildings have names). I hear their Spanish conversation that I'm 82 years old and have very good mind (not quite sure why she thinks that, except I had told her that my contact person Kripasagar had told me she was from Spain and I knew she was from Chile. She'd let me talk that much.) The Spanish woman, in her 50's who speaks English well and ends up checking up on me now and then during my time here, helps me roll my bags to my hut in Nachiketas right near everything—bhajan hall, café, western canteen, and on the other side of the hall, Indian canteen, coffee and pastry stand, and kitchen, and just a few steps away from my hut is the gate to the ocean road. On the other side of it is the shore where we can sit to meditate; it's where Amma on occasion meditates with the hundreds of devotees.
New arrivals were to remain in semi-quarantine for 4 days, during which time we can collect our own filtered water and food and can sit in the back of the bhajan hall for 5:00 evening program which includes all we see on Amma Live—meditation, satsang, and bhajans, and the kids act. And now, after Arati, Amma gives darshan to Indians and Westerners. We can get darshan after the 4 days after we've taken the test to see if we are Covid negative or positive. Meanwhile, I'm establishing my routine for the morning—rise at 4:00 AM with the bell that tolls once only. Take the dreadfully cold bucket bath. I'm sure my neighbors can hear me yelp as I splash cold water on myself. Then I take the brief walk down the stone path to the bhajan hall for archana at 5:00 AM, joining the men there; the pathway to the Kali Temple where the women do archana has become too complicated with all the new gates blocking passage. Elder women are allowed to sit on the right side of the bhajan hall and do archana with the men. There are usually only about 50 or so reciting so plenty of space is available. I'm not sure where everyone else is, as in the evenings the bhajan hall is packed with hundreds or maybe a couple thousand. After archana is chai at 6:00 outside the big kitchen on the other side of the bhajan hall. I'm happy I have my own mug, an insulated stainless steel mug purchased online-- with a lid to boot. I stand in the very short "without" queue. The "with" queue, is a lot longer. "With" means with sugar, and "without" is without sugar. A small Indian woman dips a cup into the large steaming pot of tea and fills each person's cups to the brim.
It's now getting light out, sun not up yet. I sit outside under the trees, near the coffee stand just outside the bhajan hall, to sip my tea; a few people saunter to and fro, swamis, brahmacharis, and a few others. Birds are coming alive, chirping and crows with their ever-present cawing. If it's been recently raining, water drips from leaves. It's monsoon season. Very wet and the rain comes down pelting and suddenly, seemingly without warning, keeps raining long or stops as fast as it began. Because of the daily rains, it's relatively cool. A lot cooler than any other times I've spent in Amritapuri. The ashram is lush with all kinds of plants and very tall trees. This is a new development, as there was very little vegetation other than coconut palms and hibiscus bushes in my days spent here in the 90's.
My round hut is at the end of the huts, the farthest from the hall, nestled with about 30 other huts, all two stories tall, each with 4 very tiny rooms, 2 up and 2 down, and each with bathrooms. After tea, I cross the shore road to go meditate by the sea where Amma meditates with the hundreds on surprise days, as shown on Amma live. The road has a lot of traffic. In the 90's, there was one bus in the morning and one in evening—no other traffic. Now you have to be careful that a motorcycle doesn't run you down. Remember to look right first instead of left! Because they are all coming down the wrong side of the road. The shore which used to have a long sandy beach, is no more. Now huge boulders stop the ocean from taking over the land, at least for now. Amma had said that in 50 years the ashram will be under water. That was 30 years ago. I enjoy the pounding waves. After several days the ocean calms down with monsoon temporarily at ease, and fishing boats can be seen not far from shore. Meditation vibrations are strong here, especially when you remember that this is where Amma grew up and did her sadhana on the beach, and had her vison of Goddess, saw the universe as a bubble inside Herself. Meditation reveals to me an ocean of pale golden light, deep, eternal and never-changing.
Interestingly, my time in the ashram begins with Spanish speakers and now many Spanish devotees live next to or around my round hut. I struggle to revive that ability of 50 years ago when I was fluent in Spanish. I have a long way to go. One woman next door to me, Maribel, becomes a lovely friend, and I enjoy many other lively Spanish devotees connections—the Spanish tend to be emotionally expressive and very friendly, loving it that I can speak a bit of Spanish and can understand them fairly well.
Every day I run into western and Indian devotees I know from the past, but the majority of those I see, I've never seen before. But also, since everyone is masked, sometimes it's hard to recognize old friends.
Now the hard stuff—getting around. I have printed a paper with a long list of places, such as several stores for clothing, a gift shop, a "super market" which just means soap and toothpaste and umbrellas and snacks and such, a phone place, a housekeeping place, laundry, 2 pharmacies. They all have different opening times and closing times that do not necessarily match. After about 9:00 my energy level is very low. Napping is a part of my day. I can manage about one errand, maybe two, a day. The most important seems to be getting a fresh coconut opened and drinking the water therein, to stay hydrated. I do that daily. I need clean clothes, but have no soap, and no energy to go to supermarket, and I've not figured out the laundry service. I'd planned to buy used clothing from Ram's bazaar, but they don't want me there even on my 4th day in quarantine. So I wear same clothes for sometimes 3 days. Luckily it's not so very sweaty hot because of monsoon. Additionally, I need Indian SIM card, but the man in charge yells at me because I don't understand the three things he wants. I finally get an Indian SIM and all my emails come pouring through. When nearing the end of my visit I get it how to work the laundry service, and my clothes come back damp. I'm better off doing my best to wash myself and sort of monitor hanging them on a line, hoping I'm in time to fetch them if it rains. But often they get a second rinsing. Cows are tied up daily across the pathway from my hut. They are wonderful and sweet, but leave droppings under the clothesline.
I'm very aware of my body and my inability to become detached from it and all its struggles to manage the necessary here.After about three days of daily errands, I get an idea to check my walking miles as I do when I walk on beach at home—usually one mile or so. At the ashram I'm walking 3 miles on most days, just to get errands done.
Every night in the bhajan hall is a heaven. Sometimes the sound of the rain on the roof is deafening. I sit in the back and find my heart swelling with love at the sound of hundreds of people singing at full voice the response to Amma's call in each bhajan. It's like a Bach choral, or Handel's Hallelujah chorus with hundreds of voices. Everyone knows the bhajans. This was never so in my early years. We used to struggle to find each bhajan in our books and the response sound was weak, nowhere equal to this Divine Amma heavenly sound. Now the words are all up on huge screens, along with image of Amma so that I can join in.
I wouldn't have minded sitting in the back like this forever, But when my quarantine is over, Diya finds me and takes my chair and leads me up to the front. She says Amma guided her to find me and bring me up front. It actually feels very nice to be closer to Amma. Diya choses herself as my helper for the next couple of days. I'm deeply grateful. After Diya, I'm in amazing Grace for all the help various devotees give me—Maribel from Spain, Surabhi and Shubha from my local Satsang, and others.
I get my test clearance of no covid at the little hospital behind the bhajan hall. After bhajans, the guy who gives out tokens who's known me very well since his own beginning days at Amritapuri, gives everyone tokens but me. Finally, he gives me one. He's well-known for being mean. Even Amma pointed it out to him after his own Satsang he gave months ago.
I get in the chair line. Indians first, then Westerners. Amma is taking her time. We're moving up slowly. I get a feeling to say something to the young woman next to me, maybe in her early 30's, as she seems sad. I say, "My physical therapist wants me to do exactly what we're doing now-- stand up and sit down and up and down from my chair, over and again, as part of my physical therapy." This makes the young woman laugh. She's French and soon tells me about troubles with a boyfriend and shows me his photo.
Meanwhile, she and I get up to the front, ready to walk up the long ramp to Amma. Those in charge see that it's troublesome for me to stand on the ramp, and to move slowly up. My balance is off and one leg does not work well. So, they usher me up past all the others in line, to straight in front of Amma. I'm not quite ready and am not sure what to do, but think I'm supposed to step down into this down place to Amma's right, and I say "Down?" and Amma says, "Not down." So, it was a funny awkward moment. As I get perched to come into Amma's arms she has this look of a grieving mother, Mary in the Pieta, and she says, "You ok? Tired?" I don't answer. What can I say? She knows. She holds me on her shoulder for what seems like a long time.
After my hug I head down the ramp in a daze. The only time I'd seen Amma in such a face of grief was when she was consoling villagers after the tsunami. Then suddenly I start crying from deep within me, all at once understanding that Amma has seen and known perfectly, more than I, what is going on with me physically. But even I don't know. I still don't. She does exactly the same at my next darshan several days later. Then when my hug is over. I just look at her and she at me. She tells them to give me a token to sit on stage. Everyone needs a token now, to sit on stage. They forget to take my token and so I also used it on another day as well.
A policeman in camouflage uniform with an R-K 45 or whatever these guns are called, guards the ramp going up to Amma on stage. He sees I need help and helps me. Deeply touching. Sundari Anne, serving as stage monitor, whom I've known since Kali dorm days, ushers me to a chair right behind Amma. There are not many people on stage. Lots of room. After a few minutes the French woman comes into Amma's lap, and she shows Amma the photo of the boyfriend. I see all the attention Amma gives to the photo. Later I tell the young women about Amma's attention, and she is happy I witnessed this. Often she sits with me at meals to tell me about her inner process with the boyfriend, the ups and downs, the inner understandings. We become friends. I think I'm a bit like a grandmama for her.
Meanwhile, my B12 issue is worsening, which means at night a lot of urgent tingling in my left lower leg causing sleeplessness and concern. It's Guru Purnima holiday days and so hospital staff is not inspired to be helpful. Over time the paralysis in my leg increases. Dr. Susheela in Ayurveda is the best help. It's better but still it worsens. No need to explain this further. Just trust me that it's a problem, and I believe I probably need to return to USA earlier than scheduled. One of the several OlyPen Satsang members, Shuba, who is a healer agrees with me that I should go home. I tell Shuba, "But I cannot go home. I'm scheduled to give satsang on July 22." I feel that giving satsang is one of my reasons for being here. I'm quite stubborn about that idea and will not leave until after that, which is three days before everyone departs for Faridabad.
The day I bought my airline ticket to India, a satsang started writing itself in my head. It drove me nuts. "You've not been asked to give a satsang," I tell myself, but the words will not stop coming. So finally I give in and begin to write the satsang. At some stage I realize that devotees visiting the ashram are asking to give satsangs, not waiting to be asked, and that I needed to ask. So I write to the international office to ask and they write back after a few days, "I don't know the answer to this; ask the international office when you arrive." This tells you what it's like sometimes---try to figure it out; you cannot.
I asked Swamiji Dayamrita and he said Swami Jnanamrita is in charge of satsangs. I don't know who he is, and, besides, once I'm in Amritapuri I'm feeling rather shy to explore the idea. Should I give a satsang? I want to give a Satsang, but should I? Then Sundari Anne comes up and asks if I'd like to give a satsang tonight? Tonight!!? Sure, I say. But, I'm still in quarantine. Who cares, I guess. That idea falls flat and next day again she asks. I don't think to ask her who is sending her to ask, but much later find out it was Swamiji Dhyanamrita wanting me to give a satsang. It was all quite the lila. Anyway, one day I get bold and ask Srinivas (our Amma live Brahmachari who's always in the bhajan hall at his tv screens) who is Swami Jnanamrita. "He's right there." What a coincidence, if we can call it that, that's he's right there when I've finally got the courage to ask..
Now I know who Swami Jnanamrita is, someone I'd always watched when he was a young brahmachari in white. A mystical fellow. Tall slender. Orange robe now. The one whose photograph is often shown on Amma live, of him meditating, and with a monkey picking lice from his head. I approach. He's busy talking. I try to appear casual. Then I ask him. He says, "There's no space for more satsangs. And there's a wait list." I for some reason say, "Ah, you'll miss a lot of good stories from an old devotee." Then I ask him if he wants to hear a funny story about Swami Ramanand. He says he does. I remind him that Ramandji is a lot younger than the senior swamis and they are always saying how young he is. As he gets older and receives a PhD, still they say "He's so young." He turns 40 and is in charge of Amma DC. Still they say "He's so young." Ramandanji then says, "When I'm dead and in my cremation box, they will say, 'how sad he died so young.'" It brings laughter from Swami Jnanamrita, so that was a good start. At least I made a connection with this lovely Swamiji.
At some stage, who knows how many days later, a lovely tall, elegant German man, Julius, with beautiful Greek-like curly long hair, sometimes up on top of his head in a Shiva knot, asks if I'm ready to give a satsang. Yes! So he asks me to email him what I've written. He gives me a few very good editorial suggestions and I stay awake late at night to write some more and then submit a final. He'd kept stressing to stay in the 3,800 word limit. I do that (I think many others did not as my satsang was shorter than many). Julius tells me four reviewers have checked my satsang and accepted it. I have to take out the part about the green ghee being so foul smelling that the panchakarma doctor tied camphor around our noses so we could not smell it. And that we were blindfolded while drinking the ghee.
Finally. after several days, Julius emails, "we've temporarily scheduled you for July 22," which happens to be Amma's Kartika Star day. I wait for the assignation of "temporary" to become "permanent," but it does not come after several days. I run into Julius often at tea time. We have a beautiful rapport, brief words, sometimes Satsang related. I don't push about "temporary." Then the chosen Satsang time is very close, he emails me, "please meet Gokulnath on stage at 4:30, a half hour before meditation to get the mic set up." So, this must be IT. This directive has come about 3 days before July 22.
I cannot really describe how that was for me, to give a Satsang next to Amma, except that it felt entirely natural, and I loved that Amma seemed to be enjoying it; She did not give attention anywhere else as she sometimes does during the Satsangs. There is laughter from Amma, and tears and laughter from me. There was depth and pondering. I feel I met my purpose for going to India, but I also needed all that came before, the tapas and the Grace that came with the tapas burning karma, the beautiful people who came to my aid as an elderly person who needed help, the meaningful connections with new people and the reconnections with dear old friends, most notably Dutch Gitamba, a professional opera singer in her day, who had been teaching singing to the Chinese boy Krishna who had to leave the ashram because of visa problems. He had an angelic voice and the heart of a poet with the lyrics he wrote with his tunes'. Amma told him Grace would follow him wherever he went. Being on stage with Amma made it feel like I had never left Amritapuri, but the part that I could not reckon with was the difficulty my body had getting along. Yet, it all seems to get rounded out in that Satsang. I could not have been more thrilled, or deeply touched, or profoundly moved, when Amma clearly and joyfully says yes that she would be with me when I died. And at the end my hug after my satsang, Amma still, again asks me if I am OK with that worried look on her face, coupled after with a jubilant joyful look as a finale.
On July 25, the day Amma and everyone leave for Faridabad, I get up in in the early AM dark hours to see them off. I'm scheduled to fly out that evening. I meander into the bhajan hall, with my mug in hand, and I pour myself some tea, wondering if it's ok, since I'm not going on the buses. A few people are milling about. Breakfast is there for the taking—idlies with curry sauce-- which many save into their tins. With my tea and umbrella in hand, I head out the gates by the hospital, and there I take photos of the buses. (The buses have Amritanandamayi Math written on them) At one stage it pours down rain and many rush to their buses, including Amritavarshini and her mother who are holding a sleeping mat over their heads. The young French woman leans out a window of one of the 25 buses and calls my name. That I happen to be near her bus is rather inconceivable. I take a photo of her. She looks very happy. I don't know her name, but she knows mine
These kinds of interactions seem to happen with a few people, young and older. With me listening to stories of woe or difficulty, and the beauty in the process. And including philosophical ponderings and how sadhana fits in. Even managing these kinds of talks in Spanish language with Mirabel.
So you can see there are several levels to my Amritapuri experience, all feeling like miracles.
When I arrive in Seattle, USA, Eswar and Vandya, our two local OlyPen Satsang coordinators, pick me up at the airport. What a beautiful feeling of Amma family. Even their two golden retrievers are in the back of the camper pickup truck. I'm so grateful.
Here in my apartment I find myself still in physical difficulty, with the paralysis in left lower leg the same as it had become in India but at least not increasing. In India all physical movement was difficult. Getting into bed, getting out of bed. Sitting in a chair for very long. Walking here and there for daily errands. Unable to keep my hut as clean as I'd like (Surabhi from our local satsang one day helped me with that). Here it is as difficult as India in many ways. Body not working well. Energy low. Very tired. Sleeping. Not sleeping. In my mind's eye I see Amma's pained face asking me, "You ok? Tired?" I don't respond to Amma, but it's true-- not feeling ok, falling asleep in my chair. It's more or less the same now.
What's the message here? After a couple of days, something—it's always that mysterious "something" that we know is none other than Amma-- tells me to remember how carefully I was watching Amma every evening as She walked slowly and gracefully down the long, long pathway from her room, while holding Swamini Krishnamrita's arm, preceded by the soldier armed with his RK-45, with a swami and a couple of official ones following behind. No one is allowed close. No hand darshans. She walks the full length of the bhajan hall, and then very slowly up the long ramp to the stage, and then the pained look on her face as She sits and then again when she rises from her chair at the end.
Here now in my apartment, I'm contemplating this memory of Amma walking, holding onto Swamini Krishnamrita;s arm. I suddenly realize I need to do what Amma does and move slowly, respect the body as it is, and be unattached to it. I need to ask Amma to manage my body in its old age, just let it be and not try to DO my body. I repeat to myself that I'm not the body and to let Amma DO it. "Amma, this is your body." That's what I do now, in addition to Prasada Buddhi—gratitude for all that comes my way. It's actually quite miraculous and very simple. I've no idea why this hadn't occurred to me in India. It's all Amma's mystery.