When we focus on our blessings, it creates an appreciative heart and adds a strong sense of balance to our lives. 

Amma has given us an extraordinary opportunity to grow and realize our true nature by allowing us to stay in Her ashram. She has laid out various stepping stones for us: karma yoga, puja, bhajans, archana, etc. Her most recent stepping stone is the Amrita Silent Retreats now offered at Amritapuri.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says that a person is bound to fail in meditation if he does not strike a balance in his day-to-day activities. Eating too much or too little, for example, is not going to bring you any closer to God. Meditation can help a person overcome all sorrows, but he must eat and sleep well, work daily and find time to enjoy recreational activities, too.

We can safely say that everyone wants to be happy. Hopefully, entering the spiritual path will help us to find real happiness. First, it seems we need to be aware and present in our lives, less distracted and less scattered. Meditation is an invaluable tool to help us move in that direction. A big part of a healthy meditation practice is balance. It’s crucially important that we relax. This is a very challenging and unfamiliar concept to some people. I think of it as a big balancing scale; tranquil and interested; peace and clarity; calm and energized. This is a balancing act and within one meditation session, we can flip flop back and forth. Both aspects are needed together in harmony.

Next, in our time off the meditation cushion, we have to adjust to the many changing circumstances that we encounter in life. Karma yoga helps us in letting go of our comforts and attachments, our concepts about how things should be.

Karma yoga helps us to concentrate the mind. If we are successful in our Karma yoga we will experience the results when we sit for meditation. And conversely, if we can increase our concentration during meditation, the quality of our seva (selfless service) will increase.

So you can see how the two, meditation and karma yoga, go hand in hand, thus creating balance.

Most people in modern culture are really quite scattered. We spend a large part of everyday distracted. Actually we are addicted to these distractions. We go from one to the next without even realizing it.This can also be true for people staying in the ashram; we can get so caught up in ashram life, that we find ourselves busy non-stop, all day long.

I have been trying to balance meditation and seva for years while living in the ashram. The Amrita Silent Retreats have helped me a lot in this regard. The retreats appeal to both newcomers who are visiting for a short time, as well as ‘old-timers’ who have been around Amma or ashram residents for a while. For people just starting the spiritual path, this provides a strong foundation so that from the beginning, they can learn the importance of setting aside time to sit everyday. They also gain a lot of confidence upon completing a course. For old-timers, retreat participation is valuable because it recharges their enthusiasm for the goal. I have heard this feedback from both groups of people.

After completing an Amrita Silent Retreat, people often say that they come away with a taste for meditation. They see it’s value. They also realize that it isn’t necessary to carve out long periods of time to develop a meditation practice. We can meditate for short periods throughout the day.

Amma has designed another way for us to strive for balance and harmony in our lives. The Amrita Silent Retreats are a rich, powerful and rewarding experience – truly a gift from Amma.

The deadline for completing the new Silent Retreat website happened to coincide with Amma’s 65th birthday. Together with Deepti, a devotee from France, I’ve been working around the clock these past days to get everything ready for the launch. With hours of work remaining on the project still to be completed by this evening, it became clear that attending the Padapuja ceremony this morning would be impossible if we would meet our deadline. Feeling sad that I would not be present to see the Padapuja, I went to sit in front of the Kali murti to pray. I offered Her my disappointment and frustration. Coming out of the temple, I checked my phone. Amma’s message for September 27th, Her own birthday was this,

If you really desire Amma’s happiness, let me see you engaging yourself in activities of selfless service to bring solace and peace to the suffering people. That will be real padapuja to Amma.

Feeling encouraged by these words, I carried on with the work. An hour later, taking a small break to go down into the ashram, I was immediately greeted by a smiling brahmachari carrying a silver cup and a tiny spoon. “Padapuja!” he exclaimed, pouring a small amount of the creamy white elixir that had washed Amma’s feet into my hand. It was so sweet to taste. How to describe the gratitude and love I felt in that moment! I could feel Amma’s Presence so vividly, though She was still physically on the other side of the backwaters. Tears filled my eyes and I was rejuvenated with another powerful surge of energy and enthusiasm for the website seva.

On my way back to the hall, I immediately thought, ‘Oh no, what about Deepti – she also missed the Padapuja ceremony to do seva.’ Worried that the brahmachari would be gone, I hurried back to the place where I had seen him. There he was… standing in the same place with the same beaming smile. Of course he was! His silver cup appeared even more full than the last time I saw him. This time he poured three spoons of the padapuja water into a little cup I had brought for Deepti. I joyfully walked back to see her, wondering why he gave three spoons. ‘Lucky Deepti,’ I thought.

But at the bottom of the stairs to the Shanti Mandiram sat a little old lady who lives in the building. Obviously, she was not strong enough to make the trip over the bridge to attend the ceremony. She was seated with a young relative, perhaps her grand-daughter. I see this lady sitting in that same chair everyday on my way to and from the Silent Retreats; she just gazes out in the direction of the Kali Temple.

With the same joy as I was greeted by the brahmachari, I exclaimed to her “Padapuja!” She suddenly moved with the vigor of someone thirty years younger and opened her hand to receive Amma’s blessing. Her young relative did the same. Deepti then received the last drops of the Padapuja nectar. This is an example of how Amma takes care of Her children, a spoonful of sweetness for everyone of us.

The Silent Retreats have provided solace and peace to hundreds of people from all over the world. The positive effect of these retreats is so expansive that the Shanti Mandiram was built for us and inaugurated in Dec 2017. For Amma’s Birthday, the meditation hall that we call the Shanti Mandiram was transformed into a Noisy Mandiram, becoming accommodation for 250 village women and children from Tamil Nadu. Their joy at being brought here for Amma’s birthday may have made the hall a lot louder, but it didn’t dampen the love felt in the space at all. Whether we are shouting or are in silence, as Amma’s children, Her love is always flowing to us like sweet Padapuja water.

About 30 years ago, when I was in my early twenties, I was a typical New Zealand backpacker in India. I had spent a year in Taiwan teaching English, two rugged months in Nepal rafting and hiking, and now I had descended down onto the seemingly endless dusty plains of India to continue my journey.

I was independent minded and traveling alone suited me. Town after town, temple after temple, market after market, India was (and continues to be) a place of extreme sensory experience: I can still smell the human suffering in the slums, see the brightly colored saris of the women vendors along the roadsides, hear the persistent call of Temple bells, which represent the sound of ‘om’ they told me.

And if I ever forgot that I was far from home, the taste of the food, full flavor and exotic; and the heat, you can’t forget that, the powerful midday sun turning my skin dark brown.

Life is lived to its fullest in India. And yet without really knowing why, I began to feel a restlessness growing within me. I had been moving within the sacredness of Indian culture and somehow it allowed me to see that something was missing in my life though I didn’t know what it was.

And as the weeks passed into months I could feel this restlessness growing. Indian’s deep sense of knowing herself was showing me how little I really knew my self. I realized that I lacked a sense of inner contentment. I began to long to experience a connection with this part of myself that wanted to be happy. I needed to find a way to cross this gap…I needed a bridge.

And it was at this time that I met Amma.

Spending time with Amma it became clear that for me meditation was that bridge.

I was extremely lucky to come to Amritapuri and find such a wholesome environment for my practice to develop. I can look back and see that the ashram gave me three different kinds of support that I needed:

The first one is that Amritapuri is a sacred place that uplifts anyone who comes here…and also that it’s safe, clean and comfortable; a space where I can really relax and focus.

The second is the time to practice. This time allows me to create momentum in my practice. 

And lastly it gives me a way to be able to walk the path with other seekers; a harmonious and supportive community of friends who are practicing together…I feel like we’re all one family. 

I like to think of these as the three legs of a three-legged stool: when all three are present there’s harmony and balance; and when something’s missing, there’ll be tension and instability.

I know when my stool has all of its legs I will approach my meditation practice with confidence and patience.  

I am grateful to be part of a wonderful team who are dedicated to serving our retreat participants, encouraging them to build and cross their own inner bridge.

For me it’s a dream come true.

I have come to the conclusion that the most rewarding way to continue to build my own inner bridge is to support others build theirs!