Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Happy Holidays -- Greetings from Amritapuri

Dear Ones:

Since it has been a long time since I wrote and the holidays are approaching, I thought it would be nice to wish you all Happy Holidays, whatever you are celebrating. And if you are not celebrating anything, I still wish you happiness and a joyful New Year.

I am aware of birthdays (at least two 50th), anniversaries and even a couple of surgeries among you. Although I may not send a personal card to all of you, I am thinking of you. My mother had a surgery recently and all went well. I also hear that the economy in the US and the world is not good and the State of California has a 21 million shortfall projected, with lots of budget cuts and layoffs. Didn't we had this surplus only 2 years ago? The situation in Brasil is also not so good althouth a labor party candidate was just elected. At the same time I remind myself that everything is impermanent, I know this must be a very tough time for everyone. I will pray for us all, including myself- hopefully I will still have a job when I return.

I left Varkala to Amritapuri December 5th on a taxi with Rajamani, the cook from the Ayurvedic place where I had panchakarma. It was three weeks of massage and theraphy. By some misterious process I was exhausted most of the time, could not swimm or be exposed to hot sun or big crowds. By also some misterious process I am supposed to get lots of energy in a few weeks.

I started swimming at the ashram yesterday--there is a nice pool here not very chlorinated. It is very conservative here in this small village in South Kerala - Vallickavu, and specially conservative, as far as dressing goes, at Amritapuri, the ashram. So, women have to wear indian swimming suits which are more like sleeveless long dresses that we are supppsed to wear with a t-shirt underneath but we are getting away without it. When I look at the women swimming from from my flat at the 15th floor during the women swimming hours (women swim separately from the men) they look more like big balloons floating. It feels like we have a tent around us while swimming. The bikini I purchased in Rio last year will have to wait for Thailand. But I was able to do laps. Free style is easier than breast strokes and butterfly works, barely, but I am not so good at it anyway, so it doesn't matter so much.

Rajamani was very happy to come with me. She would twinkle her eyes and hold my hands from time to time in the taxi. It was the first time she wore a saree during the past 3 weeks, a nice green blueish color. She cooked for me during my treatment and she would always wear working clothes, something like a long sleeping gown. She taught me some special Kerala dishes which I am hoping to try-she is an incredible cook!

As I am going up to the second floor of the temple to the western office to register when I arrived, I saw Rishika (Deborah) my friend from Rio, Brasil. It was really nice to see her. I also recognized a lot of others from around the world, but none as close to me as Rishika.

Rajamani spent the night at my flat after registering with the indian office and left the next morning after an indian breakfast to catch the 8:40am train back to Varkala.

All 4 boxes I had sent from California were stored in the cabinets of my flat, a space not even bigger than a lot of hotel rooms I stayed at before. Everything is very basic and we (the owners) have to furnish it with everything, even hooks to hang a towel. There is a small kitchen and bathroom next to the one room flat.

I bought a little gas stove in Varkala, sort of like a camping stove and a few pots and pans that allows me to prepare my oatmeal with dates in the morning and ocasionally, "kitachari"-kerala brown rice with dal and spices which is quite nice. I can also make tea, fruit juices and cut fruit which is great. It is very nice to have a "home" away from home, even if there is no hot water, no bathtub and I shower with a bucket. What am I expecting anyway? This is an ashram! And not the most quiet one either. There is a 17 floor building being constructed right next to the temple where we meditate Tuesdays and Fridays with Amma when she is here. Also, loud music comes out of big speakers from the villages around as early as 4:00am and it hits me in the morning like a personal alarm. As I need to be out of bed by 4:30am for Archana (recitation of the 1,000 Divine Names of Devi) it is not a big deal.

Since people can not afford their own stereo, there is a community one. They play mostly devotianal songs - this culture is so full of rituals, praying and singing. So much for privacy or personal preferences though. I guess you need to conform here- it is basically a homogeneous society. Not much variety or choices like we get, even the marriages are arranged, and don't even think of divorce- -not a possibility to support two households. Money is very tight and most are confined within the boundaries of their own village, many only speak their dialects which are more than 400 in India. That makes it hard to mingle even with their own people. They seem fairly content given the state of their poverty and 97% of keralites are alphabetized. I dare to say they may be happier than a lot a more wealthy folks.

Amritapuri, like most of India, is the opposite from a Zen like monastery. Everything is intense, the color of pineaples, the size of bugs, the crows are bigger, the smells, the heat of the sun, the calm eyes of the cows, the peace and bliss from being around Amma, regardless of the caos in the temple. The place just bursts with life. It is very mellow in many ways, the sunset is really nice over the sea and and the sund rise over the backwaters is exquisite with shallow wood boats going back and forth the ashram. We are squeezed in a little piece of land between the ocean and the waters of a river (aka backwaters).

The cultures of westerns and indians are so different! It is quite amazing the number of countries clustered at Amritapuri, in this small village of Vallickavu, where also thousands of indians from neighboring villages come regularly to see Amma. About 3,000 a day in an calm day, as many as 16,000 on Sundays, when Amma hugs people from 8pm to 10am the next day without a single break.

Although we have different sections in the temple, we westerns are way outnumbered by indians and the dance among us is interesting to see if we can just be detached and witness. The indians sense of personal space is very different from ours. In a coutry where 1 billion people live with less space than the USA or Brasil, they must be very used to rub against each other. No matter how much we move forward, back, or sideways, indians always find a way to touch some part of our bodies. It must be a condiotining, as it is our conditioning - specially of northern hemisfere folks not to touch each other (strangers,I mean).

The westerns get very upset, the indians don't understand...they just smile coily when they perceive some "bad vibes" from us. Aren't we supposed to practice being in moment? The moment is this colourful, messy, crowded place where all we want is to taste the peace Amma is exhaling, the bliss of being around her. Westerns get a little out of hand at times aroud her at times. Too intense, but Amma is just having a good time all the time, joking, laughing after 7 hours straight of hugging, giving spiritual guidance, advise, listening to the sufferings of us all, making executive decisions and all sorts of small decisions. No bathroom breaks, no food, no breaks. I am exhausted when I finally get near her to get my hug, just by hanging out, eating, buying a karick (tender) coconut talking, singing bhajans. Westerns go last since we all stay in the ashram while most of the indians have to return to their homes. I see that the right side of her saree is stained from the 3,000 plus faces that touched that place before me, but Amma is fresh, clear as lake water... As she hugs me I ask, "Amma, can I do massage in the ashram?". She looks at me, ponders for a split second and says in a cute malaylam accent "OK! Go to office". I am happy, I just created this combination of shiatzu and ayurvedice massage I wanted to try. I am also happy because I have this ball of energy dancing between my solar plexus and heart chackra, which is slowly exanding throughout the body and giving me an additive feeling of peace, love and compassion.

I practiced my new style of massage a couple of times on Rishica, she herself trained on both modalities of massage, and I started doing it for the western women who sign up for it at the massage room last Saturday. I am basically booked until the end of December. Now I will practice Reiki on Rishica and maybe start offering that too. I learned level I many years ago in California, and levels 2 and 3 in Varkala recently. There is a big need for massages here. People get here jet lagged and stressed out from demanding trips with Amma or just travelling in general. Also from hours of sitting crossed legs on the hard floor.

Massage is my main Seva or selfless service --aka volunteer work. The money I charge goes towards Amma's charitable projects. My clients have been very happy, so it is a win win win. I also clean toilets and help Rishika with translations at times.

Dear ones, I realise this message is starting to get long, so I will stop here. You must be getting all kinds of holidays mail. Eletronic and snail, so I don't want to occupy your time.

Keep warm for those of you in the Northern Continent and enjoy the summer and the beach for all of you in the Southern Continent.

A big kiss to all, A Lotus to you, May you become a Buddha in 2003!

Marisa (Atulya)

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