When I arrived in Amritapuri last November, I had the goal of overcoming my resistance to chanting archana and my mantra. The archana we recite in Amma’s ashram is the Sri Lalita Sahasranama, a sacred prayer to the Divine Mother. Amma asks us to chant it daily, for our own benefit and for the benefit of the world.
I received my mantra from Amma in 1989 and as with any mantra, the goal is to fill one’s mind with it. I did that for several years, but over time I let that practice slide as well. In the 26 years that Amma has been my spiritual teacher, there have been times I have performed these two spiritual practices regularly, but my resolve never lasts.
I have long been puzzled by my resistance. After all, both the archana and the mantra consist of Sanskrit words, and I love to read and speak Sanskrit. I have no doubt that there is value in doing those practices; I’ve been given plenty of proof. The most memorable example occurred in 1996 when I was on my way to India. For the previous month, I had felt compelled to chant the archana and my mantra daily. I had also felt compelled to update my will.
Halfway between Singapore and India, our plane started shaking. Simultaneously, all of the oxygen masks fell from their compartments. As we struggled to put on our masks, the plane started falling, first 15,000 feet, then another 10,000. It seemed like the entire fall took about a minute. As the plane began to descend, my daughter and I glanced at each other and then focused inward. My mantra started flowing freely within me. With the mantra came a great sense of peace.
Many thoughts flowed through my mind. I felt immensely thankful that I had been “directed” to focus on archana and my mantra prior to the trip. I believed it was this preparation that now made the mantra so accessible. I noted that the premonition of danger had been correct. I realized that should I die now, I could leave the earth without regret. I had no sense of unfinished business. I felt curious about what would happen when, and if, we hit water. Would we live? Would we die? Would we struggle? Would we experience pain? Those thoughts were present, but there was matter-of-fact energy associated with them. Mostly, I felt relaxed and peaceful.
The reaction of other passengers was far different from that generally portrayed by the media. A woman screamed for about 2 seconds as the plane began to fall. After that, there was complete silence aboard the plane until the pilot spoke, about 15 minutes later. When he did speak, he informed us that there had been a decompression problem. He said everything was under control. He had turned the plane around and was now heading for Malaysia.
Once we arrived in the skies above Malaysia, the pilot informed us that he had decided to continue on to Singapore. He said, “They will be able to handle the situation better there.” What did that mean? Were we going to crash upon landing? The two-hour journey following the fall seemed endless. During that time, we had no idea whether we were going to live or die. The pilot had said everything was going to be fine, but why should we believe him? What was he going to say? “We are going to crash shortly. Prepare to die.” Even through all of this, I was, for the most part, free from fear. All that was important was my mantra.
There is more to this story and you can read it at A Reason to Believe. For now, I will simply say that the plane landed safely. When I arrived at Amma’s Amritapuri ashram, one of the first things I saw was a sign on a bulletin board, which read, “Life is not a right, it is a gift from God.” I had a stronger sense of that sentiment than ever before.
Soon I learned that Amma had told the people around her that our plane was in trouble at the time it was descending. When I went for darshan (Amma’s hug) she whispered in my ear, “Karuna, BIG problem.” I do not know, and will likely never know, whether or not she saved our lives that day, but it was clear to me that she had been with us throughout the ordeal. I believed my focus on archana and mantra prior to the trip made me more attuned to her presence, which in turn provided me with the strong sense of peace.
I’ve had other experiences, albeit less dramatic, which have given me plenty of reason to trust that following Amma’s directions are for my own good. So why am I resisting? I really want to love chanting archana; but I want it to feel like the bliss of that first taste of chocolate rather than something I begrudgingly do.
As I was pondering this situation in December, it occurred to me that I could look at it utilizing one of the primary tools I use in my psychotherapy practice. It is a Transactional Analysis model that identifies three states of being- Parent, Adult and Child. (There are numerous subdivisions as well.)
The messages I had been giving myself were:
Critical Parent: “You are so lazy.” “You know it is for your own good, JUST DO IT!” “You have no discipline whatsoever.”
Marshmallow Parent: “Oh you don’t need to worry about that.” “You do seva (service work). That is enough.” “Your process is different than other people’s. Amma doesn’t mean YOU should be doing those things.”
Child: “I DON’T WANT TO!” “Saying archana and mantra is SO boring.” “I want to have fun!”
My Adult part either didn’t have enough information to see the situation accurately or wasn’t able to think clearly because she was caught in the battle between the Critical Parent, Marshmallow Parent and the Child.
I know that it is important to listen to Nurturing Parent and Structuring Parent messages instead of the Critical and Marshmallow Parents. Examples of Nurturing and Structuring messages are: “Amma will love you whether you do those specific spiritual practices or not.” “Remember that if you do those practices you will likely feel better and your mind will be quieter. I would be happy to work with you to create a structure.” “Talk to your inner child and come up with some plans that will be fun for her. You can do those fun things after you chant archana.”
I also know that when our Nurturing and Structuring parent takes care of our Child in healthy ways then our Child settles down and our Adult is able to think clearly. For some reason, my resistance has been too high to be able to act on the healthy messages.
Early in December, I started a Tai Chi class. I LOVED IT! It was like the chocolate I had been looking for. It had been a long time since I had been able to meditate (another spiritual practice I resist). The Tai Chi quickly took me into meditative states, some as powerful as those I experienced when I first met Amma. For the first time in many years, when I went to the beach to meditate with Amma, my mind slowed down and with it came a sense of peace.
My initial reaction was “WOW… this is great. Tai Chi is all I need. I can forget about archana and mantra.” I quickly realized that sounded like my Child! While it might be true that Tai Chi was the form of spiritual practice I was meant to do, it shouldn’t be a decision made from a child part of me.
In 1999, as I was walking across the Amritapuri ashram grounds, my path crossed that of a friend. She had lived in the ashram for many years and was known for her devotion to Amma and for the amount of seva she did. She told me how exhausted she was and that she realized her life was out of balance. She needed to go back to the U.S. for awhile and while she was there she planned to focus on meditation. That interaction happened in February and she died in May. She spent the time in-between February and May dealing with cancer. She had waited too long to find that balance.
That memory has stayed with me. During the last five years, I’ve been steadily reducing my tendency to overwork but when it comes to doing archana and mantra, my resistance has been stronger than my desire to incorporate them into my life.
I know how important these practices are and that the person who is hurt by my continued resistance is me.