We have been in Tiruvanamali for 3 days now. We're staying at a very small ashram surrounded by lots of big ashrams, the largest of which is Ramana Maharshi's . It looks to me like there are thousands of people at that ashram but here we have just a few. “Here” is Treveni II. It really feels like a little home – not like an ashram. It sits at the base of Mount Arunachala which is a tremendously important pilgrimage place and is considered to be a sacred mountain. Treveni II is wonderful, peaceful, clean and quiet. Outside the ashram gates there are always Sadhus. These are holy men, dressed in orange usually, who have dedicated their life to prayer and practice. They rely entirely on God for everything. Like beggars, they don't have a house or an income. But beggars here are beggars because that's their place in the caste system – they are born to it. Sadhus, on the other hand, choose to surrender to a renunciate life. Whenever we leave the ashram we have an opportunity to give them food or money.
The full time residents of this ashram are a couple from Germany – Volker and Ute. They have been here for almost 10 years. Two years ago they adopted twin baby girls - Asha and Arthi - from the local orphanage. (The government has a program to help rescue baby girls from infanticide and place them in an orphanage). Amparo, a student from Germany, lives here 6 months out of the year and seems like a family member – like an aunt. She does a lot of the cooking and helps with the little girls. (Amparo does what several people I've met do: she works at home in her own country for a few months each year, doing things like home health care or restaurant work. In the space of a few months she can make enough money to live for the rest of the year in India. Some of these semi-expatriates do volunteer work or spiritual practice in India, and others take drugs and hang out.
I'm having a little trouble finding my rhythm and pace here. For one thing the schedule at Treveni II is not mandatory but certainly is inviting. Meditation from 6:15 – 7:30; breakfast and dishes from 8:30 – 9:30; lunch at 12:30; dinner at 6:30; and usually visiting after dinner. Then there's also Seva - “service” or work - which is for 1 or 2 hours. The food is wonderful as is the visiting and so – since we haven't wanted to miss any of that AND because it's just TOO HOT to do much in the afternoon – I can't figure out how I'm going to see much of Tiruvanamalai. And there is a lot to see and experience here. Another thing that's going on for us right now is that we are really, really tired. I feel like we're in the field of poppies that Dorothy almost got stuck in during her journey to meet the Wizard of OZ. We've been told that when people first get to Tiruvanamali they are very tired because the energy here is so super-charged that their systems sort of shut down as a way to adjust and amp up in capacity. I'm not sure about that but, for whatever reason, both Eli and I have been ridiculously tired. I think it's so handy be able to say that I am “amping-up” explanation rather than that I am simply lazy.
And on the subject of lazy......I had big resistance to Seva. It looked a lot like LAZY, but I am still considering how I might be able to fit it into the category of “amping up”.
First let me describe Seva at an ashram. Seva is work basically. There is a very practical consideration to the expectation that ashram residents do some work because at an ashram like everywhere else, there's always a lot of work to be done. The teaching about Seva is that it is not just plain old work but is also form of spiritual practice – an opportunity to serve in a selfless way. So with that as the context, here's the story.
I found out that the Seva that was needed the most yesterday was to weed a big empty lot. Weeding just might be the job I hate the most – or maybe I hate ironing more. This weeding job was in the direct sun and after about 45 minutes the contents of my cranium were cooked and I did what I always do when my head gets too hot – I got cranky. I wanted to have a tantrum....to jump up and down and yell – “I HATE SEVA!” Luckily, Eli was being quite mature and working with great good nature. I thought it would look bad to have a tantrum next to that. So I restrained myself – barely.
Looking forward to more of the same Seva today, I thought I had better pray – so I prayed to have a good attitude. Given my reaction yesterday, I thought that this particular prayer might be over-taxing the prayer-interchange station. And I figured that if I did get a better attitude it would mean that I would go back out in that oven of an empty lot, do my work, and “get over it”. But instead, after breakfast I got to do about an hour of dishes - which I like - and another hour of house cleaning – which I also like. How about that?! Praise the Seva Lord.....amen!!