Through The Looking Glass

“The new midlife is where you realize that even your failures make you more beautiful and are turned spiritually into success if you became a better person because of them. You became a more humble person. You became a more merciful and compassionate person.” ~ Marianne Williamson

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 I was reading a post on a friends social media, where she was going through a deep internal struggle related to the sequence of her entire life. Since I have been going through a similar internal conflict, I felt a sense of understanding, empathy and respect for the process.

What I found interesting, was that many of the comments were obviously trying to uplift her mood by stating profound spiritual truths and teachings. I found this such an intriguing circumstance of how we project all these highly idealistic perceptions of how we must face this inner process; through being in the moment and choosing to be happy right here, right now.

After reading all the very similar comments, I realize that unless one has been down this dark corridor, there is little to no comprehension of the process. The process of transformation, often can be very deep and excruciatingly painful. Even though you realize that some level of mental and emotional upliftment would be beneficial in this moment; often it’s not there to be found.

“Suffering is not enough. Life is both dreadful and wonderful…How can I smile when I am filled with so much sorrow? It is natural – you need to smile to your sorrow because you are more than your sorrow.” Thich Nhat Hanh

The process of having the outer ego removed and stripped away often provokes a disenchanting series of feelings. The person you were previously has radically shifted and the life you were striving to live, does not exist.

The axis of transformation is steep and can be something that is akin to a deep exfoliating of your skin, leaving it red and painful. It takes time for the new growth to take place and can not be ‘solved’, by some theoretical commentary.

We live in a society that does not allow or fully accept such inner transitions. There is a collective rule of having to continuously present a false sense of happy all the time, rather than show the deep suffering going on in that moment. If you are attempting to live life with greater awareness, you are doing your practice and allowing the process to flow.  Despite the fact your mind finds the content of the experience to be of a painful nature; it’s often necessary to facilitate the change that is needed.

“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.” Rumi

Transformation does not have to be difficult or even painful, however most people walking this path find that it often will fall more into a painful category, rather than joyful. Of course, the after affect of such transition is a greater sense of peace and happiness due to having to fight with some aspect of our sense of expectation; having to eventually let it go.

When challenges comes, there is always a lesson to learned and eventually some shift in our perspective in life. Hence, if we never suffer in our own lives, how can be truly embody empathy towards others suffering.

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The Many Faces of Friendship

“All your identities at the body-mind level have been changing continuously, and none of them has been constant and faithful to you. Why then are you attracted to any of these identities by stating ‘I am like this’ or ‘I am like that’?” Nisargadatta

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Regardless of our age, when we look back over the course of our lives, we will see an interchange of numerous friendships that have come and gone, while others have stayed. Few of us actually give much thought to the phenomena of ‘friendship’; what does it really mean and why do we pursue this aspect of our lives with such a priority and need. In addition, many of us have had lovely friendships with kindred spirits, while other friendships have caused us tremendous pain and suffering.

Through our human interaction we have certain limitations, projections, and ideals that we measure ourselves and everyone else by. Thus, when we meet someone who appears to imbue qualities that we idealize for ourselves, we put forth the effort required to make that person our friend. However, what happens when that person does not live up to our ideal of friendship and our expectations are not meant. The result is that we turn against them and create some reason why we are no longer friends, often moving from a place of really liking that person to disliking them. Rarely do we actually stop to see the situation for what it really is, as our own version of ‘reality’ takes place within the perceptual faculties of our mind, which is often tainted by our own version of how we choose to see ourselves and others. We measures others value based on our own self measurement and we accept or deny others based on this very finite principle of our own self perception. Also, there is always something to be gained through friendship, even if we can not immediately see this, we are all searching for something better than ourselves, to fill the empty feeling that we all embody. 

This feeling of emptiness can only be felt when we can slow our minds down enough to attain a sense of inner reflexivity. In this state of awareness we all feel a deep sense of being incomplete. However, when we are not aware of the unconscious expression of our inner emptiness, we spend our lives constantly running after material objects, experiences, relationships of all kinds, and anything that we can find to keep our mind distracted, to fill the void of emptiness that we feel. Of course, friendship can be a beautiful phenomena of sharing and having the strength and support of someone who we feel fully accepts who we are. However, if that same person did something that we found unacceptable, most likely the friendship would be over. In this way, we go through life measuring our own sense of self and value based on the people we are constantly interacting with, mainly our group of friends. As we continue through life, these people often change, as we are constantly re-negotiating our own sense of self. Therefore, as we change and grow we seek to surround ourselves with such people who we feel are relatable in the ways that we value and find important.

At a spiritual level, all people that we come into contact with are karmically there for some reason, to teach us various lessons. This phenomena can be seen when we have very long and lovely friendships, yet even more so when we have friendships that turn out to be very painful and cause suffering to us in the end. In my own life, the majority of friendships have been very positive and strong, with many continuing friendships with people I have know for thirty years when we were young children, up to the new friends I am continuing to make.

Like most people, I have numerous positive friendships, yet in the last few years I have gone through some of the most negative experiences with people who were assumably friends. I mention this term very lightly in my own personal experience, as I know the feeling of a strong friendship and all of these negative experiences I never really felt that these people were actually my friends, yet due to other related factors, they were considered ‘friends’. In essence, I experienced some of the most psychologically manipulating and dysfunctional relationships of my life. The reality for me was very clear, as this was a pattern that this particular individual perpetuated in numerous relationships in their own life; constantly seeking to replicate this dysfunctional behavior. The lesson for me was that we need to be very careful who we allow into our lives, even if you are a kind person and have a huge range of acceptance of others, its very important to be highly discriminating. 

It is not my intention to ‘other’ people for their behavior, yet I strongly realize from making the mistake of feeling that I had to accept everyone no matter who they were. Dysfunctional individuals are very self destructive and if you associated with them, you will run the risk of great loss in some way.

In this way, difficult situations teach us the most profound lessons related to renegotiating our own inner strength, boundaries, and the level of discrimination that we need to live a life with as little harm as possible. In such situations, sometimes it is not until we can gain a more distant perspective that we can really asses the situation and realize that for whatever reason we had to go through that friendship and learn from it. In truth, we all carry inner negativity and certain levels of toxic behavior such as anger, greed, jealousy, hatred, and similar such emotional states. Everyone who comes through our lives can show us profound insight into ourselves, both the beautiful qualities that we embody and the deeper, darker unconscious negative tendencies that we all have to some degree.

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Seeking The Divine

“India chose her places of pilgrimages on the top of hills and mountains, by the side of the holy rivers, in the heart of forests and by the shores of the ocean, which along with the sky, is our nearest visible symbol of the vast, the boundless, the I.” Rabindranath Tagore

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Amritapuri is the ashram of Sri MataAmritanandaMayaDevi, who is a world renowned spiritual figure. She is considered to be an enlightened master or SatGuru. The ashram has been considered an ashram for over 30 years and originated as Amma’s families property. Today, its a sprawling ever expanding village that houses between two thousand to four thousand people, depending on if Amma is here or touring throughout the world, as She is accustom to doing. The ashram is located in a very remote area of India, right beside the Arabian sea and surrounded by a dense, dark green forested area, as far as the eye can see. The ecosystem here, due to the lack of development is very close to being pristine, with dense trees, which are mostly coconut trees and a vast array of natural birds and other animals that inhabit this area of the world. The air is pure and fresh with a sky that is clear without pollution or other such chemicals.

The ashram has multiple huge areas that provide filtered drinking water and all of the food is made fresh each day. The thing I love about the food is that there is an abundance of tree ripened local fruit that can be purchased for a very reasonable fee. In addition, there is a coconut stall where freshly picked coconuts can be consumed via drinking the fresh raw coconut water, then eating the inner flesh. I enjoy being able to consume several coconuts per day, in addition to making a hydration water with filtered water, several fresh limes (they are very small), some raw wild honey, and himalayan sea salt. Due to the heat and how much one is prone to perspire, as a Westerner its extremely important to consume both the fresh coconut water and the hydration water.

I have discussed in the last few blogs how my husband and I have come to arrive at Amritapuri, thus I will not reiterate the subject. Currently, it has been a little over two months since we first arrived on September 7, 2013 for an initial stay to 6 months. Of course, in the beginning of our stay we were bombarded by several challenges. Since we were originally placed in a very old building, our room was very sparse and basic, to say the least. Not to mention, all the water has traces of iron oxide, due to the aging pipes, in conjunction with the nature of the climate here. Thus, to wash all of the whites that are worn in the ashram, one must use a water filter and be very careful when doing laundry. There is a laundry service, yet for two people the cost is extremely expensive when one choses to stay long term, costing more than what it would cost to do laundry in the West in a laundromat.

Therefore, each day or every second day we do our laundry by hand, then walk up to the roof to hang the laundry. At this point, it feels very natural and does not feel like a lot of work. However, when we arrived it was still monsoon season with almost constant rain. As the ashram is located very near the beach, all the ground is made up of red sand, which when you get it on the bottoms of your pants or skirts, it is extremely difficult to wash out. The solution, is some super strong India bleach, which I never used previously in life, yet here a little is necessary to keep everything clean. Another factor was the mosquitoes, since our initial room was very basic and did not have netting over the windows. Hence, we put a net on the window to keep the birds out, yet the mosquitoes could easily come in. Thus, waking up at 2am to spray natural repellant on is not fun, especially when the morning wake up bell sounds at 4am and Archana (chanting of the 108 names of the Divine Mother and the 1000 names of the Sri Lalita Sahasranamavali) begins around 4:45am for men and 5am for woman. As this is an ashram, these are held at two separate locations.

When we arrived it was at a historically all time high for the amount of people staying here, due to Amma’s 60th birthday event. There were people from all over the world here, in addition to around half a million people on the birthday itself, which was held offsite. Therefore, it took around a month to feel grounded and adapt to this place after figuring out what foods to eat, hydration water, when to avoid going outside for too long, and also doing a daily Seva. Seva is volunteer work that contributes to the functioning of the ashram, everyone staying here must participate in something. My husband and I did several Seva’s in the beginning that were in the afternoon, which was extremely hot and we could barely survive working during that time of day. Later we got an opportunity to do an early morning Seva, while its still cool enough. The afternoon heat and the feeling of having a high level of humidity in the air creates the feeling of perspiring constantly, thus it has taken me awhile to get used to this type of humid climate.

Just before Amma left in early October, friends of our allowed us to stay in their very nice flat. It was just before Amma left for the Europe tour that we finally felt settled in and were able to take in the amazing splendor of the ashram and the beautiful environment. To be here with Amma is something that defies words, as its magical, despite the numerous crowds and the various cultural nuances that are diametrically opposite to our Western standards of personal conduct and politeness. In this part of India, people are extremely physically pushy and will not hesitate to bud in front of you in any line, or push you out of the way. It was initially challenging, yet now that I recognize this factor I stand my ground and make sure the person waits their turn.

Now, our daily lives are steeped in a daily routine, of waking up at 4am almost everyday, of course we have slept to 6:30am. Yet sleeping in only by two additional hours leaves us feeling the drowsiness of having over slept. In addition, the notion of time is very different here, its as though one day lasts forever; its endless and the amount one can get done seems infinite. Since its an ashram there is a structure to each day, with various events that are set up for everyone to attend and participate. We do have some free time, which we use to relax in our room, go to the beach to gaze out over the Arabian sea, or to meditate. The room that we are currently staying in, is on the 10th floor giving us the most beautiful view of the ocean. In addition, the sound of the waves crashing along the shore is a familiar sound that I hear whenever I am in the room, like right now. I have always felt an extremely strong connection to the beautiful ocean, therefore to have an entire wall view of it, as well as listen to the rhythmic melody of her rolling waves, is so sublime. 

After Amma left the beginning of October, both my husband and I started to experience this extremely expansive joy and gratitude to be here. We both have this extremely strong feeling that we have always been here, doing these things in perfect harmony; like our lives have been going on for an eternity.

Being here, feels like being at home which is a feeling that both my husband and I have never experienced before. Amritapuri is not like being on a magical holiday, yet a place where a lot of discipline and work is required to move towards the goal of deepening one’s inner awareness and to inevitable realize our true nature. Thus, with this perspective in mind we are enjoying each new day with a beautiful graciousness of fully enjoying our precious time here.

For more info on Amma or Amritapuri go to:

http://www.amma.org

http://www.amritapuri.com

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