September 11, 2014 – Landing in Amritapuri I arrived in Trivandrum last Thursday night and my first challenge was the taxi ride. The ashram is about 100 kms (approx. 60 miles) north of the airport and the ride can take anywhere between two and four hours, depending on traffic, road blocks, political rallies…. The road, NH 47, runs along the western coast of India from Kanyakumari on the Southern tip of Kerala north to Kochi and from there on, as NH 17 to Mumbai in the state of Maharashtra. Between Trivandrum and Karunagappally, the town closest to the Ashram, the highway is a two lane road running through populated areas. Although designated as two lanes the road is more often used as three, sometimes four depending on the size of the vehicles trying to squeeze by each other. At any given time there may be cars, buses, trucks, motorized rickshaws, motorcycles, scooters, bicycles and pedestrians vying for space. I don’t know what the accident rate is and i would just as soon not know. Generally speaking when traffic is heavy, the travelling speed is around 30 or 40 kms/hr (around 25 miles/hr) or slower. When the road clears up the taxi driver has the opportunity to ‘step on it’, shift into a higher gear and cruise at maybe 60 or 70 kms/hour for a few minutes until catching up with the next slow moving vehicle. And so it goes, this combination peek a boo and chicken dance! The driver venturing into the oncoming traffic lane, checking out the situation, going for it, changing his mind as he is midway passed the vehicle in front of us and slowly, oh so slowly, falling back behind the truck or bus or car as the oncoming vehicle whizzes by. And then we start again. Eventually we make it by and on to the next moving obstacle. Like this, for two hours or so. All this accompanied by honking to warn other drivers of our presence. On this particular night there was a long, seemingly endless stream of logging trucks making there way ….. very slowly…. north. There were times, as we attempted to overtake a truck while heading into the blinding lights of some oncoming vehicle’s high beam, that i just closed my eyes and focused on chanting my mantra. This mixed in with the often heard internal question: “What am i doing here?” We arrived at the ashram at about 12:30 am. I am very grateful to the gentleman who helped me with my bags, for the combination lock on the door to my flat working and that the room was clean and there was a mattress on the bed. Melatonin worked it’s magic and i went to sleep. Friday, day 1 …. went by like a sluggish blur. I don’t remember much of it except that it was sweet to be welcomed ‘home’ by friends that i hadn’t seen for several months. I kept wondering why i was here. Why had i left California? I felt like i had a really bad case of the flu. I started unpacking and taking out things that were stored in cupboards. Wanting to feel settled, to get grounded. Finally, exhausted, giving up on ‘doing’ and getting horizontal. Saturday, day 2 …. Darshan day. People come from near and far to receive Amma’s darshan, to be held and hugged by Her. The place was packed. I spent most of the day in my flat, cleaning, settling in. Still feeling yucky. My friends, bless their hearts, telling me “it will get better…. hang in there”. I got a token to go for darshan, tried staying awake in the hall, but my eye lids would have none of it. I went to bed. Sunday, day 3 …. The place was crowded. Dropped my laundry off, got a few staples at the Indian shop. A hint of normalcy. Monday, day 4 …. Krishna Jayanthi. The celebration of Krishna’s birth. A huge celebration here. Little kids dressed up with peacock feathers, tiaras ….. miniature Krishna look alikes …. There was a procession in the morning with the ashram cows and calves. I heard the mooing somewhere below me. In the afternoon a game called Uriyadi was played in front of the Kali Temple with Amma overseeing while little Krishnas climbed on Her lap. The game is similar to the piñatas of Mexico with the added element of yellow (turmeric) water being scooped out of huge vats and thrown on the participants as they run by trying to hit the hanging pot. I watched from the 11th floor of the Amrita Darshan (AD) building where my flat is located. In the evening Amma sang bhajans…. still exhausted i once again fell asleep in the hall, i finally gave up and went to bed, occasionally waking up to Amma’s singing voice. Tuesday, day 5 ….. Meditation day. Amma comes to the darshan hall and meditates with the residents and visitors, then answers one or two questions and serves a prasad lunch to everybody who is present. It is the quietest day of the week at the ashram. Earlier that morning in some deep place of my meditation the question ‘why am i here?’ came up again. This time i heard a quiet voice say “For this… to sit … to be … to go to this place of stillness regardless of what is happening around you …. ” It was a peaceful place. A sense of self acceptance, of allowing …. to just be. I went to the eco store and bought almonds, raisins, cashews and then swung by the juice stall to get fruit for dinner. Picked up my laundry…. a sense of the familiar rhythm, growing stronger. I felt a bit more peaceful, noticing the absence of some resistance. Today, Wednesday, day 6 …. I have been here 5 days. This morning i walked up the 11 flights of stairs to my flat. Celebration! This is huge progress. I feel stronger, more centered and i finally have a sense of being settled enough that i can sit at my desk and write…. something, anything. To connect with self and the joy of words. To paint, with words, the landscape of my being. I realize that coming here is a huge adjustment, transition, for me. The journey is long and exhausting. Disorienting. And once i arrive it’s like a massive sensory overload to my system! The noise that only lets up for a few hours during the night, the large number of people, the heat and humidity and the exhaustion of jet lag…. Wanting patience, gentleness and self acceptance. We each have our own unique experience, our own journey of ‘being here’ in Amma’s ashram. Our own answers to the “Why am i here?” There is no ‘right’ way. We’re just here. And with Amma’s grace we can hold ourselves and each other with acceptance and loving kindness. May this be so. I look out my door at the Arabian Sea. The chanting of Aigiri Nandini rising from the darshan hall, mixed in with the high pitch sound of an electric saw. I close my eyes. It all seems so natural, so familiar….. in the present.
Landing in Amritapuri
Categories: The Journey, Travel
I also always go through a period of why am I here when I arrive. And when it is time to leave I usually don’t want to go.
The jet lag seems to get worse as I get older. it is a12 1/2 hour time difference and changing day for night is not easy. I’m glad you are adjusting. two months and I will be with you!
Thank you Karuna for the words of encouragement. Yes, i too find the jet lag is getting more challenging as i get older. I actually did come down with a cold so i am taking it really easy and laying low on the 11th floor. Enjoying my room with a view 🙂
thank you for the beautiful invitation of your words. light is present in them even as you describe discomfort. and i like the picture.
Thanks Malini. It is sweet to hear from you and i delight in hearing that you enjoyed the invitation 🙂