Lexi Humm reflects on life direction from Amma's ashram in India

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“Flower and enjoy”

These words of advice warm my soul like I’m cuddling a cup of tea on a silent winter morning 

The sun is not yet up

The delicate icey crystals of the night’s frost still decorate the earth

Mmm… moments like these

Expansive yet grounded

Subtle yet so fully alive and present in this physical experience 

This is the mystery

Not the key, or the code, or the answer 

But, THIS… This is Her

Hello, Friend!

Hello, Mother!

How much longer will you keep me waiting?

Flower and enjoy.. these words from Pierre echo in my ear as I begin to ponder the question of how to design a simple spiritual life. A part of me has so much resistance to even allowing this idea to germinate. A part of me wishes I was born in a tiny remote fishing village on the coast Kerala- destined to be a brahmacharini at Amma’s ashram, spending my days in a white cotton sari, meditating and doing seva in the physical presence of my Beloved Guru, serving Her literal feet. But thats not exactly my reality… (Did I mention I dropped the masters?) So with my savings lessening and my visa’s expiration coming in the spring, I ask myself, “What do you want, Lexi? What do you desire?” What do I want? No, Universe, Spirit, Master, God, Guru, Amma, Higher Self, Buddha, Jesus, what do YOU want? Please! Won’t You tell me! Give me a recipe, a formula! Do you have a handout? A regimine I can follow? Schedule, perhaps? I’m great with schedules! 


Some months ago a friend, Nityananda, told me, “There are two gurus, Lexi. First, the outer guru. In our case, this is Amma. And second, the inner guru. This is your bliss. This is what makes you feel happy and expansive… So Lexi, what is your bliss?” What! The spiritual path is a path of bliss? Of joy?! Of happiness? Aren’t things meant to be hard?! And very, VERY serious?? This is NOT what my 12 years of Catholic education taught me… O mama mia! It seems there may be a lot of unwinding on my path ahead…

…May the sun shine so these wild petals may bloom… <3

As always, much love my dear Santosha familia. Thanks for letting me share some inner reflections. 

Om Ritam Namah… My intentions and desires are supported by cosmic law

Lexi 

Shiela Dimof on Panchakarma at Sivananda ashram in Kerala

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Hello!

After completing the program last week in Pune, I had the opportunity to visit Auroville which is along the southeast coast of India. It is an eco village, ashram and experiment in human unity. I've never experienced such a large area and group of people living in such an environmentally friendly way. I stayed in a yoga guest house that was powered with solar panels and wind energy. The food they served us was grown right there on the farm, and the buildings were all built with pressed bricks from the soil right there on sight. From what I heard, the block of land was barren dessert 40 years ago when it began and now it is lush with large trees and greenery. I really enjoyed getting to go for long walks and bike rides on the ashram property and being in awe of what has evolved there.

I arrived in Kerala a few days ago at the Sivananda ashram which is up in the foothills on a lake. It is very tropical here with banana and coconut trees all around. The ashram has such a nice schedule beginning with group meditation, chanting and yoga. Then Ayurveda treatments and in the afternoon is yoga philosophy class. In the evening is a second group meditation.  It has been a treat to learn more about the Sivananda style of yoga. Attached to the ashram is the ayurvedic clinic which is surrounded by an ayurvedic herb garden where  they harvest many of the herbs fresh for treatments. My first three days of treatments involve a vigorous massage with herbal powders that exfoliate and draw out stored acids and toxins in the tissues. After the massage, they have me sit in a sweat box for a while to help liquify and move the toxins. A couple times a day I take herbs in the form of a strong tea decoction. The diet is very simple and plain, easy to digest. Already I feel very tired and foggy in the head which they say is the norm. 

It is hard to believe I'm at the last leg of the journey and time is going so fast!

I hope you are well!

Wishing you lots of Love, light, peace and joy!

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Lexi on Navaratri in India

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Happy Navaratri! Navaratri, celebrated October 10th-18th, is a special Hindu festival celebrated all over India in honor of Devi, the Primordial Shakti, or Mother Goddess. The celebration and worship of Devi dates all the way back to pre-historic times. As Amma says, the universe itself is the visible form of Devi. She pervades all. She is both Maya, and the liberator of Maya. Maya is nothing but the mind, it is the cause of both bondage and freedom… it is up to us how we use it!

In Sanskrit, nava means nine and raatri means night. Navaratri includes 9 days of pujas, or fire ceremonies, in honor of the different forms of Devi (which may vary depending on what part of India you are in). The festival represents removing internal darkness so that the light to knowledge may kindle within. 

Here at Amritapuri, the first three days of the festival are dedicated to Durga (who represents the fierce aspect of God). We call on Durga for removal of mental negativity, like attachment, aversion, anger, or desire. As Amma says, “Only by the removal of negativities within can we inculcate good qualities within.” This is why Laksmi (who embodies auspiciousness) is worshiped the next three days. We ask Her assistance to “develop divine qualities like love, compassion, kindness, charity, forgiveness, and patience within”. Amma says, “When negativity has been uprooted, divine quality have been inculcated, only then can knowledge dawn”. This is why Saraswati (the goodness of knowledge) is worshipped the remaining three days. Finally, on the tenth day, “Vijayadashami” is celebrated to symbolize the “breaking of the limitations of the mind (which obstruct us from realizing the indwelling God), and ultimately attaining freedom”. 

What can you do these next few days to honor the goddess inside? Perhaps you can set a few minutes extra aside for meditation. Chant the Gayatri mantra. Place a photo of your favorite Goddess on the your alter. Light a candle in front of Her. Or maybe you can even fast. You can also celebrate Navaratri through the gift of giving food, perhaps to the needy, homeless, elderly, or even just a friend. Or maybe you want to celebrate and awaken the inner goddess by simply dancing! Whatever it is, don’t forget to set aside some extra time these days to honor the inherent and special spark of divinity within YOU! 


Happy Navaratri!

Shiela on Panchakarma training

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Hello! I hope you are well  and having a nice start to the week!

We just finished the second trimester of our time here in Pune at the Vasanta Institute of Ayurveda. The first group of people just completed their 10 day panchakarma experience and all left looking very bright and shiny. It was a very interesting process to be a part of! They all arrived with varied health concerns and, looking back, all of them seemed like they were carrying a heavy load at the beginning when they arrived. The first 4 days are somewhat pleasant because they are mainly getting oleation treatments - external massage with lots of oil (Abhyanga), shirodhara (stream of warm oil on the thirda eye), karna purana (warm oil treatments in the ear), Nasya (oil in the nose) and internal oleation with ghee on an empty stomach (snehapana). After about 4 days, as they became more saturated with oil and the Ama (or toxins) were getting loosened up and brought to the digestive tract, they each became very irritable and grumpy. It was funny to watch how all of us (staff and students) seemed to be grumpy  on those days as well- as though we were going through the treatments with them. Then over the next couple of days, they did purgation where they took herbs to help eliminate all of the accumulated ama from the upper GI tract. After this, they all started to look less burdened and it became very tangible that the process was helping their physical ailments. The last part of the process was Basti. According to their unique conditions, they did different kinds of herbal enema therapies to remove any ama acumulated in the large intestines. They also had different external basti (which is a warm pool of oil on a specified area of the body such as marma points, areas of tension, or organs in distress) to help draw out ama from that area. At the end, they left with special herbal protocol and recommendations on how to reintegrate back to their lives.  Each day, Dr Lad has spent time in the classroom explaining to us more in depth about all of the stages of panchakarma and reasons for his recommendations for each client. 

Today the second group of people begin their panchakarma process. It is nice to have an idea of what to expect and have another opportunity to observe and assist in the whole process. I think we will be more prepared around the 3rd and 4th day for the wave of grumpiness (LOL)

A couple of days ago, we had another opportunity to visit Dr. Lad at his clinic in Pune and watch him work with all of the patients that came through. - he covers so much territory in the 10 or 15 minutes that he spends with each person. It is fascinating to see how Indians don't seem to go to the dr. by themselves, they bring their whole family - so usually we had at least 3 or four people in the room at once (along with the students from the institute). In the time he spends with them, he listens to their concerns, checks their pulse, blood pressure, listens to several different heart points. he does percussion on their abdomen to check their digestion, analyzes their eyes and tongue. if they bring their Jyotish (vedic astrology) chart, he will examine that and factor it in as well. After this, he puts together an herbal protocol and most important lifestyle habits to integrate - often specific yoga and pranayama exercises. Everyone that comes in receives Nasya (medicated nose drops) and Netra Bindu (medicated eye drops). He told us on the side that he always includes these two treatments for everyone that comes in because Nasya helps create an expansiveness in the brain allowing us to open to new choices in life and Netra Bindu is very soothing to the nervous system and helps it to reset before they leave. He has said that most important is to rekindle their sense of hope that healing is possible.

At the end of the night when the last patient left, he took a deep sigh and said "wow! I'm tired". Someone from our group thanked him for letting us be there to watch and told him how inspiring it was. He said "the world is suffering and we are all healers. The world needs us!!" (Paraphrased)

On our day off yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit Dr. Amruta again at her home outside of Pune. This time she gave me a lesson on how to make medicated ayurvedic oils and ghee. What a gift to get to spend several hours with her in her home kitchen with her family learning about how she lives her life and having the opportunity to ask her whatever questions I wanted. Her home is a very rare and special sanctuary with all of the herbs she grows. She has several little pools with lotuses outside her front door. She said that every part of the lotus is used in Ayurveda. One happened to be blooming- so beautiful! She also had a special variety of sweet rose that has particular medicinal values. I've never smelled a rose like that before. She had me taste it and it even tasted very sweet. 

It is hard to believe we only have 2 more weeks in the program. It is happening way too fast!

A handful of people have asked what the food is like here and so I took some pictures of the fruit trees growing right in the neighborhood. There are coconuts, papayas, chermoya, bananas, figs, oranges, and some other fruits that I don't recognize. The tropical fruit has been very enjoyable. the main meals are  simple - different variations of Dahl, rice, and vegetable curry. It's very satisfying and nourishing. The indians love tea time, so every day there is a break for tea at 4. They work very hard. 
One other interesting part about the culture here- they seem to be experts In celebration. Last week finished a celebration of paying respect to passed ancestors. At the end of the celebration, all of the cows got painted. It was quite a surprise to go out for a walk and see cows everywhere in bright Colors.Currently we are in still in the midst of Navratri which marks the end of the monsoon season and lasts 9 nights in honor of the Divine Mother and the victory of good over evil. In the evening, the women come out to do a special dance called garba as part of the celebration. After this is a birthday celebration of Dhanvantari ( the father of Ayurveda) and two days later begins Diwali (the festival of lights).

Wishing you another beautiful week and happy Navratri! Take care and lots of love,

Shiela

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Shiela Dimof on Ayurveda training in India

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Greetings from Vasanta Institute of Ayurveda, India!
I hope you are well and enjoying the transition into fall!
I arrived here at the institute  outside of Pune, India almost two weeks ago after completing a 3 week pilgrimage of several ashrams in different areas of India.

The spiritual heritage here is incredibly rich and it is quite a gift to experience the birth place of the ancient sister sciences of Yoga and Ayurveda.
Upon arriving at Dr Lad's school, the staff greeted each one of us so warmly with a special ceremony that included getting chanted to and receiving a marigold garland around our neck. The Center here is small and incredibly well kept up. Our typical daily schedule includes waking up early to do morning meditation, breathing, yoga practices and dinacharya (daily routine) along with Agni hotra which is a fire ceremony done at sunrise. After breakfast we have classroom time with Dr. Lad  where he has been teaching us Ayurveda Sutras that pertain to the Panchakarma treatments that we are learning. Each day he also covers something practical such as techniques for applying medicated oil, use of pulse diagnosis or of marma points. 

Panchakarma is an Ayurvedic purification process that includes several different bodywork therapies.  Làst week, Dr Lad spent several days sharing the Ayruveda sutras that speak specifically about  Snehana (or oleation). In Sanskrit, the  word Sneha means oil and it  also means love. It shows the reverence that  Ayurveda has for the healing value of medicated oils.  He went into great detail on the different types of oil and ghee that can be used and for what purposes. 

A documentary recently came out about Dr. Lad  that is viewable on Amazon prime. most of it is filmed in Pune around his clinic there as well as at the Institute where I am right now (which is about an hour outside of Pune). It is very enjoyable to watch if you would like to learn more about Ayurveda or Dr. Lad or see footage of his clinic and institute here in India. During our training, we have several opportunities to sit in and observe at his clinic. It is quite a special experience! People line up down the street to have a medical consultation with him and he does it all free of charge including their herbal preparations. Here is the link for the documentary:https://m.imdb.com/title/tt7999770

In the afternoon, we have time in the treatment rooms where the staff is training us on how to do all of the different  therapies. In a typical treatment, the oil is warmed up and applied by two therapists at once. so much oil is used in the massage process that afterwards a shower is necessary. However, before getting in the shower, the client steps in the sauna so the pores can open and the medicated oils are able to go in deeper into the tissues. The treatment finishes with Shirodara -  a steady stream of warm oil  poured over the forehead for 20 minutes (wow! it feels amazing). The perk of getting to learn all of this is that we practice on each other!  In another week, people will start arriving for 10 day panchakarma retreats. During their time here, the participants coming for the treatments go on a mono diet of kitchori (a simple ayurvedic meal of basmati rice and split yellow mung dahl) and they receive the different bodywork therapies each day. They also have herbal treatments and different customized ayurvedic protocols prescribed by Dr. Lad and the staff. during this time, we get to watch Dr. Lad meet with them, assess their unique conditions, and put together their protocol.  The idea is that during the whole process, ama (or toxins) from the body is able to loosen from the deeper tissues and exit the system. Some people come with more serious health conditions and others come for a general tune up. The staff and my classmates are a very inspiring group of people and each day, i find my eyes filling with tears that I get to be here drinking all of this in. 
Wishing you all lots of love!
Take Care,
Shiela

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Lexi Humm from India on perseverance

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Is it just me, or can undertaking spiritual life at times seem extremely daunting? Its like looking at the top of a snow capped mountain from thousands of feet down at the bottom. How do we journey through the various terrains and steeps to get to the top? Of course, everyone’s route is unique and special to their journey of awakening. There is no one size fits all for spiritual living. And there is no predicting the different obstacles, delights and stormy weather we may face along the way. All we can do is put one foot in front of the other. 

Amma often tells a story of a businessman who came to Her wondering how he could ever lead a spiritual life. He had a wife, kids, a home, many businesses… He dangled a big ring of keys in front of Her. Amma answer was very simple and direct. “Well, my son, first start by chanting your mantra when you first wake up. Chant it from your bed to the bathroom. Then, once you have accomplished this, chant your mantra while taking your bath. Once you have accomplished this, chant your mantra while brushing your teeth. And so on. In time you will be able to chant your mantra and focus on divinity all day.” And so, She was right. The man came back one year later to share his success. Start where you are. Do what you can. 

I am reminded of another story told by my friend. He was Vietnam vet, sugar addict, couldn’t meditate, yet he deeply yearned for to lead a spiritual life. And so, he went to Brother Bhaktananda of the SRF Hollywood temple explaining his situation. “Well Charles, how long can you meditate for?” “Five minutes. But I can’t do anymore than five minutes.” “Five minutes, that is great! Lets start with five minutes every morning and evening. And the next week, six. And the next week, seven.” And much like the story of the business man, in time, Charles had lengthened his sits to a full hour. 

What small efforts can you incorporate into your dinacharya, your daily routine? Perhaps its sending three affirmations into your food before you eat. “I love myself, I trust myself, I nurture myself.” Or mindfully chewing. Like the great Vietnamese Zen master Thich That Hanh suggests, chew your food until its liquid. Perhaps its listening to kirtan instead of a morning talk show on your way to work. Who doesn’t love some Krishna Das in the morning? Maybe its doing a few rounds of nadi shodana, alternate nostril breathing, before exiting your car and walking into your home. What about incorporating one small act of kindness each day? Like picking up a piece of trash on the sidewalk. Turning off a dripping tap. Pausing to speak with loving kindness to the cashier at the grocery store. As Amma says, even selfless service done with joy and a selfless attitude is also meditation. 

Even a few seconds of concentration in meditation helps. Amma compares this to miners in California searching days and days for gold to only find one gram. But this one gram is extremely worthwhile and valuable. Likewise, even small concentration is precious and not lost. As Amma says, all spiritual efforts stay with you and never go to waste.  The goal of realization will automatically come. Evolution happens naturally in its own time. It is the aspirant’s job to put forth right effort. The tree is already inside the seed. It need only be sown. Lets get gardening! :)


Jai Kali Ma!

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

-----

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!