Feeling Lightness of Heart

I would love to start a complete blog entitled something like,  “Beautiful Things to Make You Feel Good.”

Imagine that:  a whole compilation of beautiful things, ideas, etc., to bring joy into people’s hearts, etc.

Today was a bit of a hard day.  But, there was one thing that made me feel extraordinarily wonderful.

I was listening to something upon first waking up, a kind of audio on the “Insight Timer” app,  and it exhorted me to “… Feel freedom.  Feel a lightness in your heart, a lightness in your body, and know that you are free…”

This incredible idea:  — “A lightness in my heart?”  I thought,  “What on earth does that feel like?”   I could imagine feeling light in my body, but not feeling “lightness” in my heart.    (Maybe warmth of heart… heaviness of heart… but for some reason I could not remember ever feeling “light” of heart)

In any case, I tried then to viscerally feel what it would feel like to feel a lightness in my heart…

And, lo and behold,  what an incredible feeling!  And what an accompanying Memory!  I HAD felt this way before!   

Indeed, it brought me back to when I was in Dharamsala in 2013,  a beautiful town (home of the Dalai Lama, etc.,) in the foothills of the Himalayas (India).

That Lightness of Heart!  That was something I used to feel almost continuously and every day while I was living in India at certain times,  relatively free (studying, not working in a kind of daily grind as a teacher day in, day out).     It brought back that lightness and I felt —  I hoped, I felt, I was sure, that I could get back to there and feel that lightness again.

I hope to be recommitted.  (shall I be committed for writing this post?)    I hope to be recommitted to go back to India and to feel that lightness again.   To get out of the daily grind, and get back to a life of study and writing (more or less) at my own pace.

To be Free (again) is a goal I have.   What a blessing to be reminded, that it is possible to Feel Light of Body and Light at Heart.    Thank you.  

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Nature of the Energies generated by Karma Yoga at Amma’s Ashram

Hello,

I wanted to write today to share the latest on my experience at Amma’s Ashram, Amritapuri.

I am aware that I have been blogging from here nearly every day. This might seem like a lot. But I interestingly feel a great drive in me to write, to blog, to put my experiences down in typing.

In any case, there is a huge amount going on here — so it seems.

There seems to be a lot going on, both externally and internally.

Karma Yoga, and Increased Energy 

What I wanted to write about was the interesting phenomenon that many here who are part of my Seva (my Karma Yoga job — see previous posts for more details on what this means; I am in compost!), have also spoken to me about, and which I am experiencing viscerally to an increasing extent these last few days.

This is a feeling that I am if anything, gaining in energy, gaining in focus and in positive energy to get things done — viz, “being more productive” — the more Seva (selfless service) work that I do.

I have not been working a huge amount — only about 2.5 to 3 hours per day of work in compost.

But that said, while it is (at times) a highly physically draining and exhausting bit of work, I find that if anything my days seem to be more productive than they might be were I not doing this work.

There are a number of dedicated “Karma Yogis” among those who work with me, many of whom work 6, 8, or 10 hours per day. Again, they are doing this entirely without pay or compensation (besides, for a few of them, a waiving of the paltry accommodation fee (only a few dollars)). They are generally doing this out of devotion to Amma, and out of a desire to maintain this ashram and community.

Their work also, in a way, benefits even materially, the world outside at large.

(I say, “even materially,” as there is a strong tradition of belief in the Indian spiritual tradition that doing spiritual work, even if it does not have an apparent material impact, actually is of great benefit to “others,” or a benefit to the world. That is to say, that even Yogis or Monks meditating in the mountains, are benefiting the world. That raising one’s consciousness has a greater benefit beyond one’s own limited organism (e.g., to some collective consciousness, we might speculate).

I say “even materially”, as the work of this ashram is actually also supporting a huge range of humanitarian projects sponsored or organized by Amma worldwide.)

[One can read more about Amma’s humanitarian projects here: http://amma.org/global-charities and here: http://www.embracingtheworld.org/]

In any case — these Karma yogis have also spoken about an increased feeling of energy from doing their many hours of Sefless service work (in their cases, working most of the day).

And I have to say, though with just a few days of experience, my experience has been largely the same.

As another girl who works here said to me [a shorter-term inmate like myself], “I feel like I am getting so many things done”….

For me, I am not sure if my list of things getting done sounds concretely very impressive. What do I do in a day? I meditate and try to be more mindful; I do my physically taxing compost work; I write blog posts nearly every day; I handwash all my laundry (as I do anyways; but here I am much cleaner than I have been for awhile…), and do a variety of other little things.

But for some reason, though these are not a great deal of things to be doing (I realize), I do feel that I have more energy than I would otherwise in my life, keeping to a similar agenda of tasks.

One explanation for this is the good vibrations and positive energy (“etc.”, “so to speak”, — choose your apologetic rider), that are generated by doing charitable activity.

The explanation that the Karma Yogis (all of whom are quite dedicated devotees of Amma, of course), is that it is the powers of Amma that imbue them with this increased energy.

Though initially I might be skeptical of this, I also see some truth and beauty in their explanations. To be sure, I have experienced a lot of powerful energy, whenever I have been around Amma.

I also —

(And here I reach what I suppose will be a significant junction — this is where a few things may occur. (1) Family and friends who I may choose to refer to my Blog, may feel a bit alienated. Or think that I think weird things. Mind you, that latter thought is not particularly novel, and is probably true. But of course we all wish to be felt sane, and reasonable, and well-understood, and so on. This leads to (2) — Some general readers may also be alienated. Or think me not 100% sane…. Again, though, there could be worse things than merely that ;))

This reminds me of something that the spiritual teacher/guru Ram Dass (nee Richard Alpert), used to say in his talks: “If this is getting too weird, or doesn’t make any sense, then there are two explanations: Either I’m insane, or you’re insane…” (!)

In any case, maybe I am insane. Actually, despite this build up, perhaps what I am about to write, is not too too weird. Maybe just a bit.

So… what I was going to write was that: I can certainly feel the presence of Amma at times — not really Amma as an individual, but more I would say I experience again the feelings of peace and tranquility, which seem perhaps to reflect the facet of Universal consciousness that she embodies.

I feel I can in a sense step back and return to the presence that I have felt around Amma at times. That there is a peace there, associated with being in Amma’s presence, that I can return to.

This feeling seems to have increased, to a greater or lesser extent, from being in the vicinity of Amma, and seems to be something that also comes and goes.

Maybe this should not be surprising — that the peace of a saint can come and go and remain with us. And that perhaps, acting in service, should encourage and enable these feelings of peace to come more frequently and reliably.

Sending Peace your way. Love.

A bit more on Amma’s Amritapuri Ashram – Meals, and Karma Yoga or Seva (Selfless Service work)

[Dec. 19, 2014]: I was not planning to write this post, but as dinner was relatively late, and I do not like to go to sleep so soon after eating, thought I would take down some further notes on staying at Amma’s Ashram (Amritapuri).

I wanted to add some of my experiences here, for the reading pleasure of those interested, or for the guidance of those thinking of coming to Amma’s.

In brief, my recommendation is: come here! It is a place you should really experience. In this post I commented briefly on the food, and then wrote about the practices of Seva, or Selfless Service/Karma Yoga.

Cuisine at Amritapuri

Three meals a day are included along with the accomodation fee.

I mentioned late dinner – (free) dinner time is around 8 pm (though on certain days – such as today which was an Amma “Bhajan” day (when Amma is part of the Bhajans, and sings herself, in a very enthusiastic and devotional way) – on days like today it is usually not until at least 8:15 that the Bhajans end, when the mad rush of Indians and foreigners clamber over each other for the metal plates, for receiving the free rice, subji, and sambar).

One has a choice of about three places to eat at most meals. First, there is the free meal, which is usually rice, with plenty of Kanchi (rice water), and some slight variations on spicy subji (vegetables) and sambar etc.

The free meals are not bad – I partake of them often. Though sometimes I feel like something besides white rice.

If one is thus looking for something different, there are also various foods available at the “Indian canteen” and at the “Western canteen”s, respectively. Here for a moderate fee (e.g., 50 to 100 rs. for a meal, depending of course), one can add a bit of variety to one’s diet.

Despite the somewhat late, (non-Ayurvedic in timing), dinners on certain nights like tonight, I have few complaints about the meals situation. The residents and guests at this ashram are really quite lucky to have such a nice little range of food options, for moderate prices or even for free, and the food is of very good quality and generally quite tasty. They do a great job here, and I am very grateful for this nice nourishment situation.

Karma Yoga – Seva (Selfless Service)

Something else that I like about Amma’s Ashram is the opportunity (and the encouragement!) to undertake Seva.

Seva is a Sanskrit term meaning literally “Service,” often expanded to “Selfless Service.” It is work not done for an extrinsic end, and/or for money, estate, or good name, but is intended to be work done in the spirit of voluntarism. It can be work undertaken for the community, or work undertaken for one’s own spiritual growth, or so on.

I actually find Seva to be one of the most enjoyable and important aspects of living at this ashram.

Everyone is encouraged to work at least one or two hours of Seva per day. There are a wide range of Sevas available – from washing dishes, to managing recycling or compost, to putting cards into envelopes (I observe an army of, generally older people, peacefully doing this on the temple balcony every day), chopping vegetables in the kitchen, pushing people in wheelchairs….

I personally have been working with the Compost team, which is surprisingly fun and enjoyable. As it is generally a core group of longer-term residents supervising and working on the compost, along with a mix of those staying for only a couple of weeks, there is a lot of camaraderie amongst the group. And it is a great way to meet people at the ashram, to get to know them, and to make friends while one is here.

Many of the long-term people here are very hard-working in their Seva, and their hours of work and dedication, and spirit of selfless service, makes the contribution of short-termers like myself pale in comparison.

While I have been doing about 2.5 to 3 hours of Compost seva per day, many of the longer-term residents, work 6 to 8 or even 10 hours per day. This, again, is strictly work done in the spirit of Seva, selfless service – it is charitable work, for which they are not paid.

This work is being done to maintain the community, or as these individuals’ personal karma yoga (the yoga of “action” or work) or spiritual practice.

Karma Yoga as Spiritual Practice

One friend of mine in the Compost, Mussam, from Lebanon, has been at the Ashram just four months, but does over 6 hours of Seva work in Compost each day.

He told me that he is at a stage of his spiritual practice where he wants to focus principally on Karma Yoga (the yoga of “action”). He says that in future, if so inspired, he might wish to again partake of other spiritual disciplines (eg., such as the reading of scriptures (an element of jnana yoga, or the yoga of knowledge)). But right now, he wishes to focus exclusively on Karma Yoga, or being of service to the Ashram.

This I thought was quite a refreshing and admirable stance to take.

It is notable how rare is this attitude, or spiritual path, in contemporary Western circles.

That is to say – the vast majority of people doing “spiritual practice” in the West, will sooner take a Yoga class, or practice Meditation, than engage in any kind of Selfless Service or Charitable work.

(This is not to judge those people – people are busy of course, and everyone has their own unique set of circumstances, restrictions, priorities, habits, and so on…
But it is intriguing the extent to which (as we might say this, speaking under the matrices of the yogas), to most practitioners of “yoga” today, Karma Yoga takes a definite back seat to Hatha Yoga (e.g. Yoga asanas) or Raja Yoga (e.g. meditation).

Mussam’s commitment at this “stage” of his Sadhana, indeed reminded me (though he had not been acquainted with these verses himself), with certain verses of the Bhagavad Gita – such as this aphorism at the opening of Chapter 6:

Action is the means for a sage / who seeks to mature in discipline; / tranquility is the means / for one who is mature in discipline. (Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 6 v. 3)

This exceedingly simple suggestion is rather fascinating: Tranquility is important, but first, the Gita suggests here, one would do best to undertake the path of action — in order to “mature in discipline.” Then, once one is thus “mature in discipline,” the time may be more ripe for, and one may derive more benefit from, practices centred on tranquility.

I remember this making intuitive sense to me the first time I had read it.

Say: start out in the world. Learn about this world of action. Once you have got your feet wet (and dirty, undoubtedly), you will have matured in discipline (or not). It will be more appropriate to practice tranquility, once you have thus spent some time in the world.

Reminds me also of C.G. Jung’s interesting points regarding the extroversion and introversion of the individual. Jung suggested (what also seems quite intuitively valuable), that the first half of one’s life, would be useful to spend “extroverting” – until roughly mid-life – and then, once one has thoroughly experienced the world (to a greater or lesser degree), it will be time to turn inwards.

Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram) — A place to take a break

Mahabalipuram (or Mamallapuram, as it is now called), is a place I am enjoying quite a bit, as a place to take a break, unwind, and relax.

There is frankly not a huge amount to see or do in the town, and it is quite touristy, with “far more touts than good restaurants,” as I have seen one person write, which is quite true. (That said, if you want decent and fairly priced South Indian food, walk a few minutes down towards the Bus Stand end. The Western tourist restaurants are over-priced, and the food is nothing special).

Despite this, I am very happy to be in Mahabalipuram. I have a room right on the Beach, with a beautiful view from my balcony, which I got for a fairly reasonable price (Lutz Guest House, near Mamma Mia restaurant, at the very North end of the beach – best value of the various places we paraded through on our first day).

This is a nice town to rest in and take some time for quiet. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed after three-and-a-half months spent in a rather intensive, talkative and busy, volunteer community in Auroville (a few hours away). Mahabalipuram is for me a great place to just rest and do –nothing.

Beautiful view from my balcony. The beach is filled with local fishing boats and fishermen.
Beautiful view from my balcony. The beach is filled with local fishing boats and fishermen.
That’s the ancient (c. 9th century) Shore Temple in the background.