Eli and I agreed that, save for a couple of exceptions, we would NOT schedule things in advance.
This non-planning is a continuing leap of faith for me. My mind keeps trying to jump back in the gap and take over. That might sound, for example, something like this: “We HAVE to have a reservation. I do NOT want to get off a train in a city in India after dark without a reserved place to sleep.” I can easily justify this line of thought by calling it “travel smarts”. I like being travel-smart and will continue to be so, but I also know what it means to wait, to be open, to see what arises. When I over-plan and try to anchor all the details into place, red lights start showing up, circumstances do not flow easily, and I start having the kind of experience I have heard described by people who come back from India saying it was too intense and that they really couldn't wait to get home. So we keep listening carefully, waiting to notice the direction of the next unfolding, not missing the moment, so as to get “on board”.
Following the above illogical but not irrational strategy, we have come up with our next tentative plan. I'll write about it when we actually do it but for now I'll say that it involves leaving Amritapuri tomorrow and catching a backwaters boat south. The boat may stop to pick up passengers on the East bank – or it may stop on the West bank. If it stops on the East bank we will miss it, in which case we will make a new plan. That's India through and through, as I am beginning to understand. It doesn't bother me - it makes me laugh. Several months ago our friend Nara told us that all the things that people hate about India are the same things he loves about India. I have been hoping that would be true for Eli and I as well, and it is proving to be so. I kind of love it that the boat may or may not come to our side of the river. I think the Great Sequencing Goddess has a sense of humor. And I also know she is the penultimate travel agent. I could never have planned out the remarkable web of circumstance and grace into which we continue to stumble.
Take for example, the last 24 hours or so...........
Yesterday at 9 am I went to the main temple as I understood there was to be some sort of special meditation. I really hurried because the doors only opened at specific times and I was afraid I might miss it. (In typical India style, the times were not posted and nobody knew for sure when they were). Then I sat down in my little 3' x 2' piece of temple floor (no kidding – it was jam-packed in that temple) and commenced to wait for 2 hours. Most of that 2 hours I was OK – just meditating. But after 90 minutes or so, my mind really got hold of the reigns and I got cranky. It was HOT and humid and people were coughing and I had heard there is a upper respiratory infection going around and I was getting claustrophobic because I couldn't move my legs, and on and on........As I got crankier, I got hotter. Then I remembered that Paul (“Entering the Heart” teacher) had recently described how Shakti or Grace sometimes works by putting more current through the “wires” of an energetic system (e.g. me) and if resistance is present (e.g. my preferences and self-concern) the extra current hits that resistance and a lot of heat is generated. His teaching was that we should practice “adult spirituality” and stand firm in the heat and fire of transformation. Well....I guess that just perfectly describes the stew pot of a situation I was sitting in. I “got it”, decided to stop being a brat inside my own mind, act like an adult and stand firm. Very soon after this realization, Ammachi entered the meditation hall and commenced to meditate with us. At the conclusion of the meditation, the huge temple doors opened. I was ready to jump up and get some fresh air, let me tell you! (I guess a little of the brat was hanging in there). But instead, I had to sit tight for close to another hour because about 40 HUGE vats of rice were being carried in, followed by other huge vats of curry, etc. And then – and I'm not kidding – Ammachi commenced to serve ALL of us lunch. There were between 500 and 1000 people there. It took awhile. (The lunch was a form of prasad – blessing food).
What an amazing morning. To say the least.
The afternoon was sweet and meditation on the beach was, once again, amazing. Eli is really getting into meditation. I'll have to get him an ocean soundtrack when he gets home.
Towards the end of the day, as two elephants walked by the temple and a buzz of talking ensued, I understood that early the next morning there would be a Ganesha Puja. ((Puja roughly means altar as well the sacred devotional rituals performed there. Ganesha is the mythological elephant headed god who is the remover of obstacles and the granter of boons – he is much revered). Eli and I decided to attend the Puja although we were somewhat hazy about where it was going to be held and what exactly it meant to be there. Also we had some doubts about whether or not we would wake up in time as we don't have an alarm.
This morning at 4:30 we awakened to loud and wonderful drumming. Eli and I jumped out of bed – it felt urgent. We hurried to follow a stream of people to the Puja place - a former cowshed where Amma grew up. The whole little room was filled with the smell of ghee – clarified butter used as an offering to feed the fire. (When we came in Eli asked me if I was smelling buttered pasta – funny!)
We each found a tiny square of floor to sit on (this is a theme I guess) and the Puja began.
There was so much detail to the Puja and it was all dream-like to me so I will tell it like I would tell a dream:
The puja is 2 hours long. There are bowls full of rose petals - the Brahman priest strews them purposefully in various directions. He performs beautiful and intricate mudras (hand gestures). Every gesture and action and mudra has sacred significance. An attendant chooses, from one of 9 bowls, the specific herb for this puja. It is the herb aligned with the planet Jupiter – I don't know what that herb is. I don't know much in fact but am enveloped, nonetheless, by the deeply sweet and sacred grace of the ritual. There is a steady, lavish, spendthrift offering of rose petals and ghee into the fire. Nearby the nuns are chanting the 108 and 1000 names of the Divine Mother.....while in a separate temple the monks are doing the same. I can not begin to describe the beauty of this. I will never forget this. We stand up and take turns washing our hands then one of the priests gives us handfuls of ghee and rose petals to make our own offering into the fire. And the Puja is over. We are only there by seeming accident and yet I know it will be one of my most cherished memories.
After the Puja, Eli and I went with one of the residents here for a 2 hour walk through the jungle trails and village. So interesting. The Tsunami hit here – not as hard as in Thailand but still a great deal of destruction and loss. Amma and her organization rebuilt it all. We saw much evidence of both the tremendous damage done as well as the reconstruction. If you are interested in being blown away by sheer magnitude of charitable works, check out amma.org. The Tsunami relief is one example of an ocean of service.
Now I'm sitting and typing......obviously. And there is the sound of beautiful chanting coming from the temple – some other big thing is happening. But really I just had to spend some time writing and assimilating. And as I do so I can listen to the sound of a sort of miracle of singing and music.
I want to try to describe the SOUND here. First of all there is the constant background of the ocean surf. Overlaid on that is beautiful chanting of mantra and devotional song almost all the hours of the day. What is being sung are the names of God and of the Divine Mother - sacred sounds of devotion – every syllable has potency and significance.
Matter is slowed vibration. And conversely, the vibration of sacred sound here is so thick it feels material to me – like a matrix of vibration. I'm not just being metaphorical or poetic.....I actually experience a palpable thickening, like a finely woven tapestry of blessing force in the form of sound and vibration is laid over the area. Even when it's quiet here, I hear inwardly what sounds like a harmonium or organ music. I wonder if other people experience this? Probably so – again, my ignorance is a sort of blessing – I feel so surprised by everything.
Guess what? There is a Kali Puja tonight......