Meet Caroline from Production …

My story with the camera began only two months ago. The first time I took hold of it, it took me at least five minutes just to put the battery in. Shana stayed with me and, with a lot of love and patience, tried to teach me. But I just couldn’t do it. No matter how much I tried, it just wouldn’t work. Five minutes is a very long time to put a battery into a camera. It should take 5 seconds… It’s actually very simple. After I had finally figured out how to do it, I laughed so much, but while it was happening I was sweating and ready to give up.

The next day was prasad day, and one of the residents asked Amma about being addicted to stress and worry. Amma talked so beautifully about how to manage tension, which was exactly what I needed to hear. Her answer helped me to see my “stress” vasana, my lack of self-confidence, and my belief that I’m no good with technical things. I had watched these old patterns in myself for years. But the difference now is that I know I have Amma. I know I’m not alone. She is with me. She will do the seva through me.

These days, I’m feeling so grateful for this seva and actually relaxed. Now I enjoy being behind the camera. Vinod, with all his videography experience, has been such a great mentor. In fact, the whole team inspires me every day with their dedication and loving presence.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to send all of my love to the online participants.  Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to serve you in this wonderful seva!

 

As a householder, I did not think it would be possible to embark on a Monthlong Silent Retreat.  But I threw caution to the wind and signed up at the last minute. The experience proved to be beneficial in so many ways, some surprising. While I knew I could not cease all external engagement or communication, as in the ashram, just saying yes to a pause in the daily routine and allowing myself the space to go inward each and every day for 28 days was immensely cleansing and healing. My whole being went into slow motion and…. I began to see myself, my habits and reactions more deeply for what they were. The teachings from scripture classes and the satsangs from different swamis and devotees provided the nutrients for reflections upon my own life and on my sadhana. Often the message seemed to sprout in my heart center, giving me a knowing that arose effortlessly.

I felt held in a sacred space by the retreat facilitators, gently opening and closing the day, and being there to guide my meditation, yoga, and spiritual practice. Sometimes the message that came through for me was really what I needed to hear. For example, there was the poignant message from the devotee who was sending loving thanks to the Amma family as her own death drew near. My own seva with the dying puts me face to face with two different approaches to the end of life, one that welcomes the transition of leaving the body, and the other that calls on death as if it were the only doctor left to end the suffering of the body. The first approach is bathed in light and the truth of Amma’s promise to us. The possibility of liberation was not new to me but, for the first time, this message flooded me with an overwhelming sense of security and completeness. It seemed like all the habitual worrying I had done in my life made no sense at all. Truly, what more could I ask for?

I am now post-retreat. I have more passion for my spiritual practice. I am more attentive throughout the day of integrating an inner silence into my doing and being. I feel the wind taken out of my tendency to be plotting the future, even the next hour or day, after years of my own tyranny as a planner. I am more at peace with not knowing, I am more firmly present. As a result, I have given more bandwidth to my intuition, and synchronicities have followed in its wake. I notice I am making better decisions.

But perhaps the greatest and most precious gift of the retreat is that, even without being in the ashram, I had a home and a group of instructors that nurtured my longing for God. By the grace and the blessings of Amma, may the urgency to be one with Amma never wane. And may it be so for all of Amma’s children and for all beings. I offer these words at the Lotus Feet of our beloved Guru Amma.

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The Shanti Mandiram retreat hall rang with warmth and good feelings as Br. Mitramrita welcomed the participants to our most recent 5-day retreat. But in the quiver of a moment, everything changed. As Mitramritaji spoke about the schedule, an adorable baby squirrel plummeted 30 feet from a cross beam above to the hard tiled floor below. He struck the ground with incredible force but somehow managed to land on his paws and partially cushion himself against the impact. Injured and dazed, the brave little squirrel shook his head a few times, then darted at full speed…  

… and scurried up a retreatant’s long brown braid of hair—it was the same color as his nest after all! He stood there on top of her head fully alert, quietly waiting.

With infinite gentleness and care, Shana came out from behind the camera, scooped up the little squirrel in her shawl, and took it away from the crowd. Its heart was racing. Luckily Pranada was there. She knew it was crucial to create a warm safe nest where he could calm down, where his heartbeat could return to normal. 

Meanwhile back in the hall, as the orientation continued, the mother squirrel was racing frantically back and forth across the ceiling beams in a desperate search for her lost baby. 

When news of the mother squirrel’s arrival reached the team, they brought the baby squirrel into the hall in a clear, see-through box, hoping the mother would catch sight of him and take him home. Unfortunately, with so many humans there, and with many meters between the ceiling beam and the floor below, the mother just couldn’t make it. She tried and tried, ran and ran, calculated and recalculated the jump from the end of the metal beam to a little landing on a nearby pillar. But it was just too far. 

After the orientation ended and the participants left, the box with the baby squirrel was nestled on top of the junction of the pillar and the overhead beam. The team hoped this would give the mother a chance to reach her baby. 

Squirrels, like us humans, need their mother to survive, so by this time the team was deeply concerned—we had to try to figure out how to reunite them.

Night was beginning to fall, and the situation was becoming serious. The team decided to reach out to Amritapuri’s squirrel expert, Sarvaga, who shared a recording of a baby squirrel calling out to its mother.

Mitramritaji downloaded the recording of the “baby squirrel call for help” on his phone and played it loudly next to the box where the baby was resting to show the mother where her baby was.  The team knew the mother squirrel wouldn’t come out after dark; it would be impossible for her to see, so time was of the essence.

Suddenly, the mother squirrel changed strategies and began racing up and down the coconut tree at the far eastern side of the Mandiram. 

The team moved the box with the squirrel inside to the top of the water tank directly next to the tree. The mother could sense her baby was there, but still couldn’t see him. She shimmied very close to the box, but still couldn’t understand that her baby was inside it. Shana ran and got a ladder and tilted the box so that the mother would be able to see her son. It was very touch and go. If Shana tilted the box a little too far to this side or that, the baby squirrel would fall a great distance. 

Night had fallen, and after hours of effort, the team sadly decided they had done all they could. They decided to leave the baby in a very visible place on the floor of the Mandiram with a computer playing the baby squirrel rescue cry. Just as they were about to leave, they saw a shadow dart across the wall; it was the mother, trying to find a way down. She was desperate to save her baby. The mother garnered up all of her courage and jumped from the wall onto the top of a cabinet and then 4 meters from the top of the cabinet to the floor. Those who saw it said she had done the impossible. Pure love had pushed her beyond all limits.

She sprinted towards her baby, picked him up by the scruff of the neck, wrapped him in a tight ball, and scurried up the wall to safety with her baby in tow.

Over the next few days, the team kept their eyes open for the baby squirrel, but there was no sign of him. Everyone feared for the worst.  Finally, on the fourth day, the little guy was spotted joyfully darting up a coconut tree right behind his mother.

This small story of a creature in need awakened motherly love in the hearts of the entire seva team here at Amrita Silent Retreats, reminding us that we never know when we may be called upon to show our kindness and care to someone in challenging circumstances.

Truly there is no power in any of the worlds as powerful and transformative as a Mother’s Love. If a mother squirrel can go to such lengths for her child, then what to say of our Divine mother? How blessed we all are to have Amma in our lives every moment, and how blessed we are when we have a chance to share a small portion of this love with those who drop into our lives.

In 1995, when I arrived for the first time in India, I went straight to Bodhgaya where Gautama the Buddha got enlightened under the famous Bodhi Tree. No, I did not go there with the intention to learn meditation and get enlightened. Even when some other travellers asked me to join their group meditations, I did not go. I spent my days just hanging out on the banks of the dried river bed near the village and close to the bodhi tree inside the main temple. I also spent a lot of time going through the Buddhist scriptures in the main library. I was fascinated by the Buddha’s teaching, but I felt it was not the right time for me to learn meditation, maybe because I could not sit cross-legged without pain.

Unexpectedly, the ‘right’ time came sooner than desired when I stayed in Rishikesh learning yoga. Every evening, as part of the schedule in the ashram where I was staying, there was a one hour group sit. So I also joined. There were no instructions, and to my dismay, a one hour session meant one hour of suffering. I had to endure intense pain in the hips, knees and back from sitting cross-legged on the floor without cushions. Luckily, I remembered some of the meditation instructions I had read in the scriptures back in Bodhgaya. In a nutshell, the instructions were simply to observe the breath. This somehow saved me. I guess at that time it was more of a forceful pranayama to distract myself from the pain, rather than an observation of the breath. However, just staying with the breath helped me gain tremendous focus. With the yoga practice and continued sitting practice, meditation became my favorite pastime. It seemed natural to spend two hours every day sitting for meditation and it soon became an integral part of my daily life. I did not have to think about the benefits to get inspired to practice regularly. For me it seemed simply the best activity I could think of, as any other activity appeared egoistic to me. Only later, after I met Amma, it dawned on me that if I really want to become selfless, I need to learn to be of service. Just sitting around with eyes closed is not enough. Amma says meditation is as precious as gold but she also says if we combine meditation with selfless service, it would be like gold becoming fragrant.

Lately, when I was involved in teaching IAM (Integrated Amrita Meditation) I seriously started to contemplate on why we should meditate. I received questions on the benefits of practice from the participants and wanted to have this clear in my mind whenever I had to present this subject. So, I came up with 3 reasons why I meditate and would like to share those here. 

1. Meditation is fun

OK, maybe not always and not for everybody in the beginning, but with ongoing practice, everyone will experience some blissful moments. Of course these are only temporary moments and their occurrences are not under our control. It would be foolish to get attached to those fleeting moments. At the same time I feel it is important to enjoy those blissful moments and use them to get inspired to sit regularly. In this process, the mind WILL get more concentrated and a concentrated mind is by nature a happier mind than a distracted mind. At times of deep concentration the mind can become so blissful that it feels like joy is oozing out of every pore of one’s being.

It has another advantage when we discover that meditation can be blissful: We learn to become less dependent on outer circumstances for our joy, which allows us to move effortlessly towards that joy which we carry within.

2. We learn about our self

In the process of trying to focus the mind, whether we want or not, we will learn more about our mind. That might not always be so pleasant but it is always rewarding. Benefits will show not only on the path of meditation but also in our daily life when we interact with the world and with people in the world. When we understand how our mind works, which in essence operates like anyone else’s mind, we become more understanding towards others and also more compassionate. We recognize that others have to deal in principle with the same ‘mental issues‘ as we do. 

3. We learn more about the ‘SELF

As our mind becomes more one-pointed and more refined, the teachings of all the masters will become clearer and more accessible. Hearing them say “You are eternal,” or “Pure Consciousness is all there is,” will have a different effect on us than before. Even listening to our friends or our partner will have more depth. In regard to all matters, spiritual or worldly, a mind which is lucid and one-pointed will be able to focus better on the task at hand. That is also true when we listen to spiritual talks. It becomes of real importance especially when we listen to the words of the Guru. Gradually we comprehend that these words are not only theory and our mind will become more and more fit to abide in the Guru’s words of wisdom.

If you are still doubting, ‘could I not be doing something more fruitful than just sitting here with my eyes closed?’ and these 3 reasons are not enough to get you on your meditation cushion, here is one more quote from Amma:

“Not even a single moment spent in meditation is a waste of time”

Prior to moving to Amritapuri, I had prayed fervently to Amma for a silent retreat at Her Ashram. I had experienced retreats in Thailand, where I lived at the time, and now dearly wanted a retreat blessed by Amma in Her Ashram, instead of sitting retreats elsewhere.

Then, within a few weeks of moving to Amritapuri in 2015, I saw a poster on the message board announcing the first Amrita Silent Meditation Retreat. I was overjoyed! The experience of having this prayer answered became the catalyst that gave birth to my regular practice of telling Amma everything.

By Amma’s Grace, I have been able to participate in many successive retreats over the past four years. People have asked me if I notice a difference in myself today. It was a blessing to receive this question, as it gave me a chance to reflect.

The retreats have changed me in both profound and subtle ways. Amma says we are changing every moment, more than we can comprehend. I experienced this Truth as I found that sitting each successive retreat revealed a new, slightly improved version of myself. I got a chance to learn anew and gained the awareness not to repeat the same mistakes. Beginning with an open and curious mind, each retreat became an adventure into seeing what new tricks my mind would conjure up. Gratefully, the closed environment and caring retreat team supported me on each step of the adventure.

“No one can upset you without your permission.” Amma

Amma says an important sign of progress on the path is how equanimous we remain in challenging situations. One encounter, after a number of retreats, made a deep impression on me. One day in the ashram someone approached me and started yelling. I just stood there like a deer in headlights as they walked off. A moment later, I realized that their anger had just washed over me – nothing stuck. The next thought was ‘this is the miracle of sitting retreats!’ I felt grateful to Amma and encouraged by this sign of my progress. The prolonged periods of silence and heaps of meditation seemed to be working. Didn’t try for this result. It just dawned. An Amma Miracle!

“Only the faith that comes from one’s own experience will be permanent, like the new leaves that sprout after the plant has taken root.” Amma

Everything that arises in the mind is an opportunity to look within. As I sat successive retreats, the ability not to project became more natural. Actually, I started to have the experience that looking outside myself was painful. Undoing this ancient habit takes courage, intense effort and, most importantly, Amma’s Grace.

“You weigh things and stamp them as good and bad according to your likes and dislikes.” Amma

In the retreat orientation, it is recommended that participants adopt several attitudes. In addition to maintaining a beginner’s mind, two other attitudes that I adopted and sincerely practiced throughout the duration of every retreat were:

  • Be at ‘zero-complaint level’ – letting go of likes and dislikes
  • Do not look for an experience – neither to recreate a previous experience nor search for a new one

Amma says that the nature of the mind is to swing like a pendulum, never resting in the present moment. Constant chatter!

“The mind is the noisiest place in the world.” Amma

I realized that underneath every complaint and expectation of a new experience, was a comparison with the past, dwelling in the future, or wanting things to go my way. Like bubbles rising, I would try to catch them before they surfaced. Dissolving complaint and expectation bubbles with gratitude!

“Only when the mind stops all its interpretations can we hear the inner voice of God.” Amma

My intuition had been telling me to sit multiple retreats, and I allowed that inner voice be my guide. The benefits have been invaluable and immeasurable.

I offer these humble words at the Lotus Feet of our Most Beloved Amma.