Light a candle for peace on January 1st
You all know I love fire (and the color purple, and french fries, and hot tea. But especially fire). So when my friends Kayla and Ramakrishna invited me to join in a global fire puja (ceremony) for the New Year I said yes immediately. The vision for the New Year’s global Puja for Peace is for people around the world to light a candle or a bonfire either alone or with a group and pray for peace. So far there are over 45 countries joining in more than 550 different locations. I’ll be joining in from India, and I want to invite you to be part of this growing community of prayer. You can pray anytime on January 1st, for as long as you want. And/or you can watch the main fire puja live; learn more and sign yourself up to be one of the lights at http://www.pujasforpeace.org
A few highlights from the ashram since I wrote last: Christmas eve caroling in seven different languages, a spectacularly rendered Christmas play put on by the ashram residents based on the prodigal son story, and midnight bhajans (chanting) with Amma. I was incredibly fortunate to sit about 3 meters away from Amma for the evening, along with at least 10,000 people packed into the hall. 10,000 people is a lot of people. And all of those people singing from their heart is a whole lotta love. And being so close to the love mamma herself… well let’s just say it was a very very good evening for me.
A little bit about Amma, and my exploratory thoughts on devotion, dreams, and direct action. I don’t consider myself an Amma devotee, and the ashram itself is very mixed: Western renunciates who live here full time, Indians who come from all over to pay tribute to their guru, tourists who are coming through for a day to two to see what an ashram is (and know nothing about Amma), folks like me who are highly inspired by Amma and/or are looking for a good container to do their spiritual work. And stories like this: One of my yoga instructors told us that today is his 10th year anniversary being with Amma; he came to the ashram originally planning to stay for one day. Then at the evening darshan (blessing) Amma looked into his eyes and he saw God. “I’ve been here ever since,” he said.
Where did it all begin? In the beginning of our tale this little village of Kollum in southwestern India was where Amma was born. I read her biography many years ago, but the story basically goes like this: Amma yearned to know God from a young age. She would wander by the sea searching for the Divine, singing, sometimes falling down in grief and wailing when Krishna (one of the beloved Indian dieties) would not appear to her. Her family grew frustrated with this erratic, emotional child. The village saw her as crazy. Yet one day Krishna appeared to her. And then she had a vision of a feminine face of God: the goddess Kali. Her yearning and prayers turned towards the Divine Mother. And through her incessant searching and heart-felt prayers she merged with what she calls “the True Self.” She became an embodiment of the Divine Mother, a being of pure love.
People started coming to sit with her, and as the numbers grew her family gave her the cow shed to hold darshan. And the people kept coming. At some point she started traveling (I got my first hug from Amma at her California ashram in around 2002), and then people from around the world started traveling to India to be with Amma. So what started in a cow shed has now become a spiritual center that can accommodate thousands of people. Besides multiple apartment buildings the ashram includes a huge temple dedicated to Kali (right next to the original cow shed where daily pujas are still done), an enormous main teaching and dining hall, a yoga school, a meditation school, numerous stores, a Western cafe which includes an espresso machine, a hospital, a press for books and magazines, a fantastically structured recycling and compost program, and I’m sure plenty of things I haven’t discovered yet. See an aerial video of the ashram.
And that is just what is on Amma’s family land.
Across the river, linked by a bridge that Amma’s foundation built is the huge Amrita University and multiple gardens. Another part of Amma’s mission is called Embracing the World which runs orphanages in India and Africa, plants trees, helps people in times of disaster, and runs many other humanitarian programs. A few days ago Amma was visited by the Prime Minister of Kerala; recently Amma’s organization donated a huge sum to the government of Kerala to help with local needs. And at 63 years old she shows no signs of slowing down.
All of this from one woman’s devotion and dream. And not just devotion and a dream: one woman’s dedicated actions that inspired others to take action. From a cow shed in a tiny village by the sea to an international force of love and service.
Being at the ashram has reminded me of the power of simplicity and service. Everything here is run by volunteers doing seva (sacred service). And even when there were 10,000 people here while it was hectic there is still a peace and sense of orchestrated order to the chaos. That’s impressive.
So some questions to explore:
What are you devoted to?
What are you in service to?
Where can you take action?
I’ve realized in my time here that there are places in my life that I’ve devoted energy to that are not really serving me, or anyone else. I’m using this time to clarify what my true devotion is to, and how I want to be in service to it. I’m also exploring new actions. It’s exciting and humbling and simple. Dream. Devote. Take action. And simplify, simplify simplify. I’m anchoring in the simplicity here to see how to bring it back with me to the States. The choices of my days: To wear the white shirt and skirt or my purple pants and long top? 5 am meditation. Yoga. Oatmeal or curd and sprouts for breakfast? To meditate by the beach or in the spiral garden? Hand wash laundry. To take a nap or work on my computer for a bit? Yoga and meditation. Bath. Evening bhajans. Prep clothing and food for tomorrow. Bed. Repeat.
Easy here, much more complicated at home. And yet we can all dedicate ourselves to simplifying our lives. We can devote ourselves to finding our True Self and remembering the face of the Divine. We can direct our actions and our attention to what matters most. We can ask ourselves good questions that bring us towards freedom and spaciousness. We can dream how to be in service, and remember we are part of a beautiful, huge global village. And that every one of us counts.
Please find the ashram video here.
P.S. Do it now: join in the global fire puja for peace this New Year’s day; pujasforpeace.org
P.P.S. On January 3rd I head to Bali. Next update coming soon! And some exciting news: I’ll be doing a program through the Shift Network starting March 8th!!!!! Details to follow.