Lexi Humm from India, notes from satsanga on the obstacles to Realization

Om Namah Shivayah! Salutations to Lord Shiva (who resides in each one of us)!

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Greetings, dear Santosha family! I am back at Amritapuri, Mata Amritanandamayi’s ashram and birthplace in the south of Kerala. I’d like to tell you about the guest lecture I went to the other day at Amma’s university. One of Amma’s most senior disciples was asked to summarize the Bhagavad Gita in one hour. Noting that this was highly impossible, he instead provided us the 3 main obstacles to realization and the antidotes for overcoming them. 

The first obstacle in the quest for realization is attachment to the body.  In American yoga culture, such a concept can be quite sticky. How do we maintain our yoga practice as a means to keep the body, our current earthly vehicle, healthy and fit for loving service to our world family and Earth Mother, without crossing the line of body and health obsession? In the greater context, how do we use this lifetime with discrimination and discernment so that we may depart from our unique and special bag of bones and flesh and leap peacefully into whats next, whatever that may be? The remedy is to develop the conviction that I am but an instrument in God’s hand. I am but an empty flute for a sweet divine melody to pass through! This body, this incarnation is only temporary. This thought and bodily machine is powered by divinity! I am not alone, but God is always with me. So may I move with happiness and strength! 

The next obstacle is sorrow, also known in Sanskrit as ‘shoka’. We all know this one: breakups, failures, heartaches, getting laid off, environmental destruction, war, poverty. The list goes on. As Amma says, we’re in the peak of Kali Yuga for Pete’s sake. We depend on things and beings for joy, peace and security. However! If a particular object or person is actually the source of joy, it/he/she should be able to provide this joy at all the times. Totally not the case. A puppy isn’t as cute when he stains your new carpet. Or how about when a precious baby (AHhhhh Gucci Gucci Goooo) spits all over your new sweater? Things of the material world just can’t provide unceasing joy; they just can’t! Now if only my mind could catch up with this simple logic. And how to overcome this sorrow? The best way to move from world-dependence to God-dependence. And by becoming dependent on God, you are actually just becoming dependent on your own true nature. The lecturer noted a funny story of how when a certain brahmachari was assisting in Amma’s darshan line, his favorite Bollywood star came to see Amma. He was in a pickle- could he really ask for a movie star’s autograph in front of the Divine Mother??? Luckily, he refrained! And, as it happens, later that night he was invited to accompany a dear friend/journalist who was to interview the star at the star’s house itself! SO, moral of the story, in migrating from worldly dependence to God dependence, you get BOTH! Prosperity in both your inner and outer world. Not a bad gig, eh?

And lastly, our third obstacle for realization is delusion. We are swimming in maya! (Or splashing and drowning, depending on the day) Amma’s disciple provided a metaphor for this one. I’ll give you the gist. Its like walking in your backyard at night all of a sudden getting extremely frightened, because- SNAAAAKE! But really, its just a rope! And in actuality, the rope is just covered by the darkness.  It is us who project the snake onto the rope… Lady and gents, I’m afraid to relay the message, we do this to the truth, and apparently, all the time. First, we cover the truth. Next, we project the untruth onto the truth. And so, we totally distort the real truth- our infinite blissful TRUE nature! So how do we overcome this one? The ultimate solution is knowledge of non dual love. We must develop the understanding that my reality is in fact a projection of my mind. In truth, divinity alone is. And, as I am told, once you understand this concept, every aspect of life becomes an expression of love!… So there’s you’re homework for this month! Ha! Just kidding! 

I’ll conclude with Amma’s closing remarks from this Tuesday’s satsang. “One small act of love can awaken love in others and help us to awaken love in ourselves. So, may I be able to spread the sweetness of love, speak good words and do good actions.” Much love and endless blessings to my Santosha family! 

Lexi Humm on living in India at Amma's ashram

I am returning to the US after nine months of living under Indian Guru Mata Amritanandamayi’s wing, or as I’d like to put it, incubating in Amma’s womb. Nine months… Just enough time for a proper rebirth, eh! Quite poetic if I do say so myself.

Back in September, I came to Amritapuri, Mata Amritanandamayi’s ashram (you may also know her as ‘the hugging saint’), with no more plans than my taxi ride from the airport. I came to India with hungry, heavy heart. I was on the search for spiritual healing, answers, to simply feel normal and stable again. After two days of travel time and a nearly ten hour time difference, I’d figure it would take at least two weeks to adjust, to feel myself again. And I figured it would take another two weeks to actually evaluate whether this place, these teachings were for me or not. I decided I’d stay one month, feel it out, meet some other traveling seekers, and figure out the rest of my Indian adventure from there. Not a bad idea, right? Little did I know that God would have a much different plan. 

The first time I stepped foot in the Kali temple tears poured from my eyes like Niagara Falls. Something completely came over me. What was going on? I didn’t know, but something inside was being moved. One of the nuns saw me. “Aw, you’re so cute! How long have you known Amma?” “Um… I watched some videos of her on youtube a while back…” (Just kidding, I didn’t actually say this.) 

Well, one month had passed, and let’s just say, “Whewww weee”. I was burning, baby. However, it was a sweet burn. The burn of tapas.  I felt every aspect of my being was being challenged. Everything I thought I knew about the spiritual path, meditation, the guru had gone with the wind. I was being made into a clean slate. OK, let’s stay another month. During this time, I took mantra from Amma.

 I began to meditate on my mantra on the beach of the ashram. It is here that Amma used to dig herself into holes so she could hide from the villagers and spend hours in Samadhi. It is said that the animals would come and bring her food. The land is powerful to say the least. These meditations were very awakening for me. Like I said, everything I thought I knew- out the window! Goodbye! One month quickly turned to two. Pierre words echoed in my ear, “When you are digging for water Lexi, stay and dig a well. Don’t keep on digging and digging more holes”. And my personal favorite, a quote of his from the Santosha blog, “Eventually all the places on Earth I may choose to relocate have the one, same, common denominator - I am there.  I will manifest the same situations with different faces.  I might as well stay put and learn to transform me.” By God’s grace, the time had come to change. No more running, Lex. 

 I had taken mantra, spent a few bouts of ten day long vows of silence, experimented with fasting,  and for the first time since I was a little girl, I looked in the mirror and saw myself as a child. Glistening eyes and chubby cheeks. This same little girl that would spend hours with the bugs the garden, sing made-up songs in the shower, take imaginary hikes through the Amazon (actually it was just my backyard). I didn’t know what was happening, but life as I knew it was pulled from underneath me. Walls inside me were beginning to crumble (that is, until the ego would realize and quickly build them back up again). And the wall of between the inner and outer world was beginning to dissolve. Don’t let me fool you. It wasn’t all bliss and magic. During these times, deep grief began to process. Memories that a hold been locked away began to surface. During mediation with Amma, grief would pour from my heart. My physical heart would stab in pain. “Who is the shaman with octopus arms tapping on my heart!?”, I wondered. And so many, many unheard, tears and cries of abandonment and unworthiness began to fall… Weeks on weeks would pass of crying everyday… Poetry really helped bring to life the voice of my inner child. But hey, FINALLY! This stuff has been stored up for way too long! Mama mia! What a sweet release! Who was this unique special Devi behind all the insecurities, the memories, the paper-mache polite personality? I am only beginning to find out…

The time came when Amma would be going tour around India for a total of some seven or eight weeks. One could accompany tour as staff as Amma stopped in major cities all around India to give meditation, satsang, and of course, her famous hugs! This meant hours and hours nearly every day with Amma as she hugged and imbibed devotees and curious seekers with Her love for the universe. Talk about showers of shakti! But, man, to be honest, I had heard some wild horror stories. Delhi-belly.  Dehydration. Lack of sleep coupled with long hours of work.  Fifteen to twenty hour cramped non-AC bus rides through India. Sleeping on yoga mats on the concrete in a room of fifteen other women of all ages and nationalities. Mosquitoes. Sharing a handful of squat toilets and bucket showers with some fifty women.  On one hand, not exactly enticing… however, traveling around the land of Mahatmas with a Mahatma seemed to me the opportunity of LIFETIMES. It seemed to me life could unfold no other way- sign me up! Bring it on, baby!

Ha! My eager zest met quickly met the waves of oscillation as my ego was on FIRE! Childhood fears, deep insecurities- everything was coming to the surface. Things in me I didn’t even know it existed! It is the guru’s job to show the devotee his/her obstructions on the path. The curtain had been opened, ladies and gentlemen! My time hiding from myself was OVER. I was beginning to see and understand how these patterns and beliefs had not only been shaping my days, but had been choreographing My. Entire. Life. Mama mia! As the American spiritual teacher Ram Dass puts it, I was becoming a ‘connoisseur of my own neurosis’. I was exhausted. Exhausted of myself. And living amongst a crowd of a couple hundred people of Amma’s entourage, there was nowhere to hide! Nowhere to run. I had to face myself. It could be no other way. 

The words echoed of a longtime devotee’s , “You can ask Amma to show you the butterflies, she’ll do it! Really!” Naaah! I didn’t need butterflies to prove the guru’s love for me! I have faith! Well, well, well, not so tough after all. “Mother, I cried! Please, show me your love! Please, Mother! Please, show me your love! Please make me feel better!” Only the baby that cries gets milk, as Amma says. Ask you and shall receive! My next mediation with Amma was pure bliss. I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face even if I tried. I felt the corners of my mouth were being pulled up by celestial beings in the heavens. Amma had heard my cries, for no way can I reach such a state on my own. It was pure grace! Later that evening, it was my turn for “star-gazing”, a chance for the new comers to sit directly next to Amma on stage while she gave Her darshan, a chance bask in the beauty and wonder as She endlessly gave hugs and solace to the thousands and thousands of people. This could go one for 12 hours straight. Amma would only get once to pee. No lunch-break, no nap, nothing! (Did I mention she’s been doing this around the world for some forty years? My arms get tired just during Sheila’s yoga-2 class!)  As I sat next to Amma, gazing in admiration and reflecting on my recent meditation, I prayed and prayed, “ Oh Mother, thank you, Mother! Thank you, Mother! Thank you for showing me the butterflies!” And I kid you not, just I finished these words, two beautiful butterflies swirled and danced around Amma’s head. A Guru of unconditional love AND a sense of humor, somebody pinch me! And truly what love, a Mother that shows me my own darkness… not exactly the nicest gift to give.  

I came back to the ashram from tour with deeper connection with Amma and deeper connection with myself, as well as a more honest acceptance of my Vasanas and Samskaras that hinder my path. I had also discovered a newfound release of the shame and guilt that for so long I have been carrying, as if they were innate parts of me. I am beginning to learn that behind the cloud of my mind’s maya and all its delusions, resides an oasis of awareness, an oasis of peace. I am only just one conscious breath away! Now if only I can live from this place… Thank God I have lifetime for this training (or perhaps I should be saying, lifetimes)! 

With the completion of tour, four months turned to six. There was really nowhere else I’d rather be, nothing else I’d rather be doing. Six turned to seven. And since I had been there for so long, I had qualified for room darshan with Amma- five minutes alone with the divine incarnation of the Mother of the Universe... I would taint the experience by trying to put into language.  I’ll leave it to your imagination J 

And so, the original one month plan turned to nine months. And after nine months of chanting the 1,000 names of the Divine Mother with the nuns every morning, chanting my mantra and doing japa, practicing Amma’s meditation practice called ‘IAM’ (she also has referred to it as her own milk for Her children!), weekly hugs and satsang from Amma, and spending my days tending to Amma’s mother, Damayanti Amma, cleaning her house and fetching her milk, I return to the US by government orders! Well, kind of. I’m coming back for a month for a visa change.

 Life as I knew it is not the same.  I came to India for answers, only to find out all I know is that I don’t know anything at all. The whole play of life has really just become more of mystery. An ever-changing masterpiece of creation, rearranging moment to moment, by us! The creators! Divine beings! We just don’t know yet it. Or maybe some of us do (Heyyyyy Pierre, is there something you want to tell us? Just kidding… kind of.)  

 All I know for sure is to put forth proper effort, trust Divine timing, and pray for Guru’s grace. I will be continuing my earthly excursion here at the ashram for two more years. I will be studying at Amma’s university, just a twenty minute walk from the ashram through the backwaters. I’ll be taking a Master’s of Philosophy course, but what I’ll really be learning is how to live a simple, spiritual life. 

 For those interested in Mata Amritanandamayi’s teachings or in visiting her ashrams (she has various in the US, Europe and India), happily contact me! For those further interested, Amma will be giving her public darshan in Elbourne, Illinois (about an hour west of Chicago) June 24-26. You can find more information here:https://amma.org/meeting-amma/north-america/chicago-area

Have a Blessed week. Much love to my Santosha family and satsang!

Jai Kali ma!

Lexi 

 

 

Spiritual Living During Uncertainty

As people around the world have been individually and collectively processing the results of our recent (2016) US elections, I have been reflecting on the work of spiritual leaders throughout history.

How is it that the Great Ones saw past the dramas of their immediate time and surroundings?  Internally, how did they move past their anger, deeper to their underlying fears, past fear to their underlying love... and then lovingly act in this world?

Even in sacrificing their lives the Great Ones as Jesus, Gandhi and Yogananda demonstrated the love of God-realization.  Each of those Great Ones had truly overcome fear.

I have heard from many students who are seeking how to process emotions - what do I do with angst... anger... uncertainty... fear - how can I channel my energy constructively?

My response has been:

1) Start the day by choosing what is timeless and beyond the drama of today.  Develop a morning practice of connecting to the Infinite in a personal felt sense way.  Make a small home altar where only God time happens, and do breathing techniques if you don't know what else to do.

2) Clean up your own mess.  Resolve past bad habits.  Become a better listener and listen to the fears of others.  Hold space for others without needing to change their minds.

3)  Choose community involvement around spirituality.

For those of you wanting to have activism, why not get involved in the service missions of a local church or temple?  If "progressive" people can start meaningfully participating in God, more "conservative" people will have a safer place to meet them.

In each of you practicing yoga, I see the potential for the reclamation of the word God from those who use it for fear and division.  I encourage you to move past the reactionary mindset of a modern rationalist - rejecting the ethnocentric religion of your upbrining - and choose God again.  And for those of you confident enough in your own spirituality, consider sharing church time with those whose perspective on religion and God may be more ethnocentric than yours.  I have found it is hard to be angry at someone praying and singing next to me, and that after such activity a magical place opens up between us where there can be mutual interest in how to navigate life on this planet.

Each of us experiences fear and uncertainty about life and death... until through commitment to spiritual life we are no longer afraid.  No matter who had won the recent US presidential election, we would have been collectively facing the same need for coming together in a less fearful way.

Please consider God time as an option.

Blessed week to you - Pierre

Innate Beauty

My Ayurveda teacher Dr. Vasant Lad always emphasized, when doing client first sessions, to see the innate beauty in each person - each person as a unique flower.  Health for that individual is then a unique beauty to be cultivated and ever-improved through gardening - not a generic baseline that is gradually lost.

My Yoga teacher Yogananda said "Every person is innately wonderful; he has only to rid himself of the mask of ego consciousness,"  which is an apt metaphor on this Halloween.

Tomorrow is November, and the beginning of a transition in the school where the collective group of teachers and staff begin making more decisions about the school's direction.

We have several new classes which reflect their desires to share what they love when they love.  Please do attend these classes and offer feedback as to what you enjoyed and what could be improved.  The new schedule is up online here.

Thank you to the 75 of you who filled out the survey about new classes.  Those of you who did not, we are always open to feedback.  

Blessed week to you -

Pierre

Perseverance

This week I celebrate being married with my American family.  (We had our Indian wedding in February.)

My journey to marriage was a long broken road, as Rascal Flatts sings. 

Similarly, it has taken 5 years for our Santosha studio to break even financially, but it has.

I share this for each of you who has a dream and is encountering doubt.

I too often doubted.  How did I make it through?

- I kept good company (including nature)

- I kept a daily practice (meditation, t'ai chi, yoga)

- I asked for help

- I was willing to turn it over to Grace and trusted that how my Dream would manifest was not up to me

- I kept a secret private place inside where my version of God was always alive and with me

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Each of you is a unique flower.  No other like you has ever been nor ever will be.  

That unique beauty that is in you - let it bloom!

------

We worked for almost 2 years, doing  30 minutes of construction here and there in between classes.  At long last, we finally painted a couple walls this week!

Blessed week to you -

Pierre

Autumn Balance: Celebrating the Fall

Recently I drove West on 86th street at sunset and witnessed that glowing orb directly in line with the street.  One of the beautiful aspects of Indy's gridlike road system is that, at equinoxes, the sun will rise and set mostly on those gridlines.

Autumn brings the simple changes in self care that involve balancing the dry quality by incorporating more oil (except for larger Earth body types, who naturally enjoy autumn and need no more oil).  Oil on dry skin, medicated oil in the nose (nasya), oil swishing and gargling, and even eating more oil.

If you are not sure which oil to use, come to the Sunday yoga and ayurveda class.  We also offer some of the most amazing Ayurveda bodycare oils on the planet.

Blessed week to you -

Pierre

Self Study: the Luminous Lifelong Learning

Many people fall into ruts in life, where each day drags in monotonous predictable emptiness.

Each of us needs a going toward, something to be aiming the consciousness and heart toward that keeps life growing.  This becomes even more important once a person is no longer young.

Yoga as the 8 limbed path - ashtanga yoga - is best pictured as 8 concentric layers.

The 8 layers lead progressively inward - inward past my physical body and bioenergetic body into the still place within my own spinal cord and brain.  This samaadhi or total absorption allows me to be completely One with the moment and with All That Is, where the endless unfolding of the panorama of life is viewed in ever-new bliss.

Along the journey inward, in the second limb, is svaadhyaaya - luminous Self study. 

This luminous Self study implies a study that will bring me out of my little world and into an EXPANDED awareness of why am I alive.  Traditionally it involves ritual and chanting to one's lineage of Divine masters  so that one felt that Presence awakening inside; and also the study of sacred scriptures, whose information we would grow in understanding as our years progressed.  

For non-religious Westerners, studies like art, music, science and even learning a new language are possibilities.  I have been inspired by life long learners like Georgia O'Keefe who took up painting late in life.

The growth of our Santosha school and the deep yearning I see in so many of your hearts is testament to me that the Vedas (wisdom texts of ancient times) are indeed coming alive in a new land.

Encouraging you to keep your childlike, innate curiosity for learning alive and sacred - blessed week to you -

Pierre

Simple Devotion

The fast route to yoga (union with the Divine, experienced as moment-to-moment ever new unfolding bliss) is described as the internal alignment with the Holy Spirit within.

In yoga one can feel this Presence by using the senses to go inward, rather than outward.

The process starts with faith, though, which is not natural for rationally-minded modern folks.

I look back now at my stubborn years of dry faith-less practices where I thought my willpower and sweaty efforts were enough.

Now I emphasize the importance of a simple devotion before starting practices.  "Oh Cosmic Infinite, for so long I have been living life out of strain.  Please - You come !  Remind me to no longer strain.  "  Or a simple childlike prayer, "Help I want to have fun again".  Or better yet sing a song until the mind absorbs in it.

Then do practices.

We will have many more opportunities for the deeper techniques of yoga.  Many of you are ready to go beyond physical yoga into the inner practices.  We will have a deeper class like breathing, chanting or meditation every single day in the new schedule.  Choose Spirit now, don't wait until the end of life.

One breath...

Pierre

Change the World by Changing Me

In my years practicing relationship work, the simplicity of the serenity prayer continues to touch me:

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Relationship life presents a rich opportunity for this prayer.

As many of you know, this prayer is also often used in the 12 step community.  What many don't often recognize is that underneath any substance or behavioral addiction is the deeper pain of:

"Why am I needing to substitute something else (addictive behavior) for real happiness?"

Dysfunctional relationship programming - dysfunctional ways of trying to get one's needs for love, community, and interdependence met - is often the answer.

Yoga philosophy describes overcoming the pains of relationships in many ways, including the simple yoga sutra:

मैत्री करूणा मुदितोपेक्षाणाम् सुख दुःख पुण्यापुण्यविषायाणाम् भावनतश्चित्तप्रसादनम् 

maitri karuunaa muditopekshaanaam sukha duhkha punyaapunyavishaayaanaam bhaavanatash-citta prasaadanam

4 situations are described:

1) When meeting happy people - be friends with them;

2) If you encounter someone who is suffering - have compassion for them. don't try to take it away or fix it;

3) When you see people doing meritous work  - be elated with their efforts;

4) When you see people doing non-meritous action - witness it, but also see above it.  "I see you have dropped your garbage," but don't judge the person as only that.

In addition to these simple steps around relating, there are the more difficult steps: what are my core patterns of dysfunction?  Why do I continue to attract the same kinds of people and situations?  What can I do to change my own patterning so I am no longer adversely affected by those around me, and stop taking things so personally?  How can I rest in my own happiness and stop judging and evaluating others?

This process is more difficult, and most people choose to avoid it by changing relationships or even relocating.

Eventually all the places on Earth I may choose to relocate have the one, same, common denominator - I am there.  I will manifest the same situations with different faces.  I might as well stay put and learn to transform me.

The process has a 3 step path:

(1) identify dysfunctional learned (often in early childhood) pattern

(2) release pattern

(3) replace pattern

This work can be laborious and it can seem difficult to find a trusted counselor/sponsor/therapist/minister with whom to do this work.

We do this work at the school with our regular bimonthly communication classes on Wednesday nights.  And we do it with our once a year weekend intensive.

"Releasing the Past: Overcoming past relationship challenges and creating new patterns"  happens Aug 19-21.  You are each welcome to some or all of it.

Blessings to you and yours - Pierre

In the World, Not of the World

"Be in the world but not of it."  It took me awhile as a young adult to understand what that meant.

Much human suffering comes from mis-identification.  I can identify as my body, my job, my relationships... My surroundings create an environment to which I then attach identity.  That is why my teacher always emphasized "Environment is stronger than willpower."

Yoga Lab - Revolved Hand to Toe

And he emphasized the need for transforming one's inner environment through daily practices.  Transform my own nervous system in the morning and I bolster its power to withstand the pull of outward pressures (including other people's drama).

The environment is especially challenging in a city, where we are constantly surrounded my electromagnetic buzzing sounds; where we face the bleak concrete and asphalt terrain; where it is easy to be misled by the non-stop go-go-go machination of a modern world.

This is why I created an in-town 10 day intensive (which starts tomorrow), filled with workshops and classes for remembering what is really important - my soul.

Not a 10-day in Costa Rica or India, but right here in Indy. Transform myself in the midst of my regular life.

You are welcome to any class or workshop on its own, and it's not too late if you want to do the whole thing.

And for the regulars, please be prepared for some larger classes as we have intensive students joining in - bring your mats to the front and make neat rows.

It will be a magical 10 days at the school, and I thank you for your support

- Pierre

Wishing you a prosperous Bhogi and Makara Sankranti!

In the Vedic tradition, Makara Sankranti is the traditional harvest festival to honor the Sun for the bountiful harvest and marks the return of longer, brighter, warmer days. Astrologically according to jyotish, it marks the beginning of Uttarayana, the apparent northward movement of the sun which starts on the winter solstice and the sun entering Makara (Capricorn). 

Sankranti also known as Pongal, is a time for joyous celebration, colorful festivities and delicious food. Bhogi is celebrated a day before Sankranti (Jan 13 and 14th). just as all Vedic rituals and traditions carry a deeper spiritual significance, bhogi represents a conscious inner transformation. a bonfire is lit at dawn to represent the sacred fire of Rudra where old habits, vices, attachments are offered as sacrifice. it represents reflection and purification and marks new beginnings. 

In many ways this years Bhogi and Sankranti is very special to Santosha for heralding auspicious change, peace and abundant prosperity. wishing us all good times and contentment!