Monday, November 18, 2013

Life of a Poet - Sreejit Poole

I hope your passports are up to date, kids, because today we are going on a very special trip, to hear about a life so inspiring and heartwarming you will not leave this interview unchanged. I asked Sreejit Poole of The Seeker's Dungeon for an interview, suspecting he would have an interesting story. But I wasn't prepared for just how interesting. This has to be one of the most amazing life stories I have had the privilege to impart.




Poets United: Sreejit, first of all, would you give us a snapshot of your life – a small portrait of the poet?



The Seeker



Sreejit: I’m an American ex-pat living in Amritapuri, India, which is the headquarters ashram of Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma) known the world over as The Hugging Saint.  I’ve lived in her ashrams for the past twenty years, but 5 years ago she told me to stay permanently in Amritapuri to help run the western café there. 

Poets United: Wow! You just knocked me off my chair, kiddo. I am thrilled to be interviewing someone who is living my preferred alternate reality. 

I researched Amma and discovered she has hugged more than 32 million people worldwide to promote love. Amazing.  Please, tell us more.



from amma.org

Sreejit: We have generally around 1000 international visitors here each day, as well as around 3000 permanent Indian residents, so it’s a busy place, and the kitchens are always happening.  


Our cooking team

Most of the year I cook the meals for this western café, but three months out of the year Amma tours India, and at that time I work in the Indian Kitchen that travels with her, where we cook for up to 30,000 people a day.  That’s what you call a fun time!


One of the pots that we cook in 
on the Indian tours

Poets United: That is a lot of food prep, kiddo! I am in awe. What started you on the path that led you to Amma and a life of service?


Sreejit and Chai - "Me and my sister
when we were kids"

Sreejit:  In the summer of 1990, when I was 15 years old, Amma traveled to Seattle, WA.  My mother had been at Amma’s programs the year before so invited me along.  I really didn’t know what to expect but I felt that if I was living in Jesus’ time and I missed out on the chance to meet him, then I couldn’t live with myself, so let me see who this woman is.

We were a crowd of a couple hundred in those days waiting for Amma.  When she walked into the room my whole world changed.  She had a presence that goes beyond words; the whole room came alive when she walked in.


Amma and Sreejit

I sat and listened to her talk but I was too young to really understand the meaning of spirituality, and they used words such as discrimination, to mean discerning between right and wrong, whereas before I had only heard it used in terms of bigotry.  So I was mostly just soaking up the image sitting before me.  But then the bhajan (devotional singing) started and I was completely blown away.  I related to the music on a very deep level; that feeling you have when it’s as if your very being is actually calling out for God.  Many experience this in their churches but until this moment I hadn’t experienced it before.



After the bhajan, Amma gave darshan, where she receives each person in the hall individually, giving a loving hug, and some kind words.  But this was no ordinary hug.  In that hug I had finally found my place.  Until then I, like most teenagers, was roaming from fad to fad with no direction, but in that hug I found the direction that would determine the course of my life.

P.U.:  Sreejit, what an inspirational  and revolutionary story – to find your calling, or at least direction, at fifteen – especially in the spiritual realm - is astonishing enough. Your feeling during the chanting is something I have felt as well, during spiritual ceremonies among First Nations – a recognition at the cellular level. What happened after that meeting?


Taken in the early morning along the back waters 
that run the backside of the ashram

Sreejit: That next year, after Amma returned to India, I devoured all of Amma’s books and any other books on spirituality that I came across.  The whole concept of the monastic life was revolutionary to me.  Before then I had never imagined a world where you did anything other than finish school, get a job, marry, and have kids.  But here was someone preaching the service of humanity, along with the inner search for our true Selves, as the noblest path to follow.  I was completely hooked. 


The main temple at the front of the ashram

Two years later, my mom and I traveled to Amma’s main ashram in Amritapuri.  Here there were hundreds of monks and nuns all living with a spiritual focus.  To be in the community of such people is something that you can never recover from.  When I returned to America I was a changed person.  My only focus was how to return to India.  Eventually I moved into Amma’s San Ramon, CA ashram, where I attended and graduated from college receiving a degree in Philosophy.  I would continue to live in San Ramon for the next 16 years, traveling to India for a few months a year, most years.

Then one day after work, I was too tired to make it to my room so I was passed out in my car.  I was awoken by a phone call and could tell from the number that it was an international call.  Usually that meant India, as my sister had been living in Amritapuri since 1998.  When I answered the phone the woman in charge of western affairs in Amritapuri was on the other end.  She told me that Amma was asking for me to come and live in Amritapuri and cook at the western café there.  That was probably the greatest phone call of my life.  Within a week I was completely moved to India.  This was 5 years ago.

Amma, with me right in front of her, 
preparing a sweet called Koruzhatta

P.U.: What a week that must have been! I am absolutely riveted by your story. I hoped to pursue a similar path, but my life took a domestic turn early on. I would have loved to serve on a much broader scale, as you do.

Sreejit: I would never call a life of service on any scale small, as we can all only try to do our part to make the world a better place.  Any kind of service is truly helping.  I'm always  in awe of people who feel drawn to serve without someone like Amma, as Amma for me makes the path easier and more obvious



Me and my sister standing as we are 
planning out part of the drama, on the stage

P.U.: Thanks, kiddo, so much, for sharing your inspiring story with us. Turning to writing, as I suppose we must, is there a memory that stands out for you from childhood that may have foreshadowed  your being a writer/poet today?


A 22 year old me playing guitar at a fair 
in San Ramon, California.  (I’m 39 now)
Sreejit: When I was a kid I used to go to concerts all the time, from Prince to Metallica I loved it all.  I played the saxophone in jazz band, and guitar and piano on the side.  Like many 10 year olds, it was my dream to be the greatest rock and roll guitar player of all time.  Well that didn’t happen, but I did write a lot of songs along the way. 


Me practicing with one of the singers from a drama

P.U.:  It looks like you are  sharing your music in a very loving way these days! More fulfilling than being a rock star, I would imagine.

Sreejit: Until a year ago all of my poetry was in the form of song lyrics.  Then one friend told me that I should start a blog in order to market a novel, Of Mind Or Matter, that I had written a decade earlier, but had recently self-published. 



This book is available at Amazon here,
and is also available, for a limited time, 
on kindle for 99 cents.


I started the blog like he said, with an ad for my book.  Then he told me that I would actually have to write something and put it up on the blog… I had no idea what to write. 

Eventually, after one music practice, I told my friend that I was going to write something, anything, today and put it up.  He asked me what I’d write about.  I looked over and saw a recipe sitting out for Gypsy Soup.  “Gypsy Soup,” I said.  I sat down for five minutes and wrote a poem about myself entitled Gypsy Soup and threw it up there on the blog.  Immediately I received some positive feedback and was hooked ever since.  If you’re interested here is that poem:

Gypsy Soup

Lost in a soup of philosophies,
educational hypocrisies
and alphabetical biographies –
all mine.
All I’m looking for
is someone like me,
another apology,
from my brother’s theology,
to my sister’s morality.
Would you get lost in me
if I had no dream
and no reality?
Or would you keep wishing
to see that which would make you happy?
If I weren’t really me
but a steadfast version
of your own romantic identity?
For the love of God,
let’s find the answer
before we drown together
in our own elated wisdom.
Bring me a cup
and I’ll give you nothing,
so give it to God.
I’m sorry –
I’m empty –
I’m looking,
but please follow your
heart
and not your
eyes
leading you to another mistake
that might as well
earn you the right
to make another mistake –
easy.

P.U.: WOW! That is a pretty fantastic first poem! This is where i usually ask if there is one person you feel has had a significant influence on you as a poet. The answer seems self-evident.

Sreejit: All of my love poems are actually devotional pieces to Amma.  Most people don’t really understand a guru-disciple relationship, and I write in a way that allows anyone to relate, so for that reason most people think that I’m writing to a girlfriend or wife, or to someone that I’m in love with but can’t have, but actually I’ve lived the single life of an ashramite for these past twenty years.  If you know me, then it becomes clear that all of my love poems, the good and the bad, the connected and the yearning, are all actually devotional pieces.


"French fry"

P.U.: Thank you so much for this explanation. It will make us understand and appreciate your work even more. You write both poetry and prose. Which came first? Which do you love best? And what is it about poetry that keeps you writing it?

Sreejit: I studied philosophy in college.  It was not for any practical reason. I was just trying to get a degree to have a degree.  I thought that philosophers have to be either teachers or writers and, at the time that I finished school, I wanted nothing to do with teaching, so I decided to write.  That’s when I wrote Of Mind Or Matter.  I just wanted to be able to say that I’d done something with my degree.  Until then I only wrote music.  




My sister working with some of the men dancers


Now I’ve fallen in love with poetry because it’s basically a quick hit.  It is very direct, you make your point, say what needs to be said and you’re done.  With prose, however, I have to invest a lot more time and it will always need much more editing.  I think because of the time I have to put into it, I am generally more proud of my prose.  I always love my own short stories!  But when I really just want to get something off my chest, then poetry is the way to go. 
  
P.U.: There is a quote on your blog about freeing oneself from despair, and rising up. Why is that quote relevant to you?


photo credit Sreejit Poole


Sreejit: The quote is the opening paragraph from Of Mind Or Matter, and I think it basically sums up what my blog is supposed to be about, the road traveled to rising up from a state of despair to one of peace.  I call my blog the Seeker’s Dungeon because when we start out on the spiritual path we often don’t know how much negativity is inside of us.  Then when we begin to really look at ourselves through meditation or other practices, we really see all of our anger, lust, greed, and jealousies.  So it is a place to work through all of the pains along the path on the road to ultimate freedom.

P.U.: I’m also impressed with the other books you have published, Dreams are The Wisdom of Kings, and The Epic Failure of Mortality to Mean Something. What plans do you have for the coming year of writing? 





Sreejit: For now I am going to just stick to poetry and try to improve as a writer.  There’s nothing new in the works as far as publishing efforts are concerned.

P.U.: How has blogging  impacted your writing?

Sreejit: I started blogging just over a year ago.  In the beginning everything I wrote was either pure devotional pieces or angry, ranting, lunatic pieces.  Then a writer friend started to challenge me in a way similar to prompts.  He would just say, “I want you to write in the third person, add a pop reference and a quote and do not use the words ‘love’ or ‘heart’ in it.”  So, I tried it out and wrote Visionless Expression;   my first venture into the story-poem.  That really changed the way that I looked at the art form.  We started to play a lot of poetry games like this and then I started to do a lot of prompts to keep the momentum up.  This experience has allowed me to really broaden both the way that I write and the subject matters that I delve into.
  
P.U.: Blogging definitely keeps the momentum up, frequently to a dizzying degree! What other interests do you enjoy pursuing?

Sreejit: My sister puts on a couple of musical dramas every year, and so we support it with a band.  This pretty much takes up all of our free time, getting all of the singers and musicians, dancers and actors together and then forcing them to practice in a place where time is always hard to come by.


Our drama band
  
P.U.: How wonderful, another creative endeavor! Is there a poem or two of yours you would like us to include here?

This is one of my favorites called, 
Comfortable in Our Blessings

Each morning that I awake the
day betrays the ignorance that
is longing to consume me;
a world where the search for
new ways to placate the
opportunity missed
to be all that I was born to
be, was not drowned out by both
the dreamer and the rationalist. Every
person has a dreamer within,
that keeps the world moving, and
we temper it with rationalism to
always keep, that which it
wanted, from consuming; afraid
to leave our soul in the hands of our need to
be independent and free. But I see you
and remember that yea,
though I walk through the valley of
the shadow of death, I will
fear no evil: for thou art
with me; the comfort with
which I get through each day;
we may not talk like we use to -
walk through the moments and I
may shed a tear – but all that will
be forgotten once your eyes rest
heavy upon me. For it is not that I
don’t want to be good, nor is it that I
forget my way, I just need
to give you an excuse to
keep your eyes focused towards me -
your movements fluid, your
head tilted slightly, as my gaze is
held in yours and my thoughts are lifted
high, to a world where both of us are
knowing that love alone will heal,
without which we are just
a vessel waiting for
doubt to come and infest all
that used to give us solace.
You taught me that to take and to give
are the yin and yang of humanity and that
unconditionally forsaken blessings don’t convey that one is
loved; we should also express in words this divine gift from above.



~Every person has a dreamer within~
  
P.U.: Beautiful!  I especially love the message reading the first word of each line downwards. Is there anything else you’d like to tell Poets United?

Sreejit: I really love the community that I’ve found at Poet’s United where everyone is so supportive of each other’s writings.  I am so glad to be a part of it.  Thank you to everyone involved.

P.U.: Thank you, Sreejit, for a most enlightening interview. I look forward to reading your work even more, now that I know the framework in which you are writing. 

Well, kids, did that blow your doors off, or what? I am replete. My job here is done :) Every single week, I am amazed, moved and inspired by the pilgrimages the poets in our community are making.  Do come back and see who we talk to next. Rumor has it, it is another staff interview....hmmmm....who might that be?

37 comments:

  1. Wow, Sreejit....I am awed and fascinated by your history. Every week at Poetry Pantry I look forward to your latest contribution. And now I look forward even moreso. Sherry, you are right...this was a most enlightening interview! Thank you both.

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    1. Thanks Mary, I find a lot to relate to in your poetry also, the devotion and the search, and always appreciate the comments that you leave on mine.

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  2. Wow! There is so much more in Sreejit's poetry that I see now, making "Comfortable in our Blessings" a favorite poem. Thank you, both of you. I feel the teaching going on from poetry/art/music, and see that it goes both inner and outer--and that without struggling to make it so. You have made some wise choices, Sreejit, and give a lot. I am definitely reading the early novel as well as continuing to read your work here.

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    1. Ah, thanks so much. I never feel that I'm teaching anything but I think we are all going through the same struggles within and we can help each other out by talking about them, as we are all trying in our own way, to be better people.

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    2. That is the best kind of teaching/learning--when it is mutual exchange. And still, we each may have more experience in some things than in others.

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  3. This is a terrific interview thank you both...Sreejit's I especially thank you for sharing your journey..your path to spirituality..we all have a path/journey in life and dreams are indeed the gateway to self discovery. " Comfortable in our Blessing" is a powerful poem not only in form but, in the deep message that it conveys. I think you had a calling and your listened and followed your heart..May you continue to seek enlightenment.

    Sherry, I think you captured his story rather nicely!
    Bright Blessings...

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    1. It's true that we all become so comfortable in our blessings that we forget they truly are blessings. I like what you wrote, that we all have a path, it is a nice way to see this journey of life, sometimes the fog might be a little thick, and it might be a struggle to move forward, but we all have a journey to take. thanks for the kind words.

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  4. The only word I can express is 'wow' and I feel that is also too lukewarm to describe my feeling as I was going through this interview...I must say Sreejit has had a wonderful Karma behind to live this wonderful life of his own choice....and kudos to Sherry to present the poet in his true self....what an enriching experience........

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    1. Thank you for the Wow! I really feel the love! :) and I am grateful to Sherry as well for allowing me to take this trip down memory lame. It's easy to lose perspective.

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  5. Wonderful! i have read Shreejith and he writes very very well...there is a sort of an ethereal feeling in his writings. Glad you found your calling so early Sreejith. Thanks! Sherry for getting such wonderful people aboard for an interview.

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    1. Thanks Akila, I really appreciate that. Even when people disagree with my writings if they say that I wrote it well I always feel a little happy!

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  6. Thanks for the information... I really love your blog posts... specially those on Local Tamil News

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  7. Woah. You stay at Amritapuri.!!

    Well I've been there twice. I made my school studies in Amma's institution. Last Sept 27th, I was there at Amritapuri. Its a sad thing I only knew about your life now, we could have met. Lovely poems you have got there, I love visiting The Seeker's Dungeon.!! Keep writing. :)

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    1. You were here during the birthday?! Pretty crazy right? We pretty much didn't sleep for 4 days trying to keep up with all the food. Which school, which city did you study in?

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    2. It was a great experience, you know. It was fun. I know, hosting such a large event would be pretty hard. Infact when Amma comes to our ashram here at Thalassey, we used to do a lot of preparations as well. And yeah, I studied at AV, Thalassery. Passed out of 12th in 2011. I have a friend who studies there at Amrita Engineering College, named Aparna.

      You know, she used to narrate about all the places in Amritapuri and about the Western Cafe too. It seems she pays a visit there quite often.

      Anyways, nice to know about you. Maybe next time we could really meet. :)

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  8. Isnt it AMAZING the connections we make online? For you and another poet to have been at the same event - small world. Lovely!

    I so enjoyed this glimpse of your wonderful life, Sreejit, and now will relish your poetry even more than I did before, knowing they are the heartsongs of a devotee! Namaste.

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    1. Thanks so much Sherry for putting this together! It truly is a small world and getting smaller everyday.

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  9. Sreejit, I had heard of Amma's ashram but never thought I'd know someone who lived there. I enjoyed reading about your spiritual journey and how you started writing poetry. This was a most fascinating interview! Thank you!
    Thank you Sherry for asking such great questions!

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    1. There is no where quite like Amma's ashram. It's like a constant festival wherever Amma goes, but with constant awareness of spiritual values and the bigger picture, it creates a vibration that you would never find at a normal festival. Like a search for peace in chaos, you can find a little bit of the whole world here.

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  10. Wise words you have shared from this man of poetry and more. Looks like he will impact many with the truth he embraces.
    Best to you in your journey, Sreejit!

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    1. Huh, that's very kind of you. I don't feel wise, just lucky, but it's nice to hear anyways!

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  11. I always look forward to Sreejit's contributions in poetry pantry, I love his poems, they always make me think, and he has a way of saying things, that sometimes I can't seem to express. It was nice to get to know his life better and feel somewhat closer.
    Thank you Sherry for the interview!

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    1. Thank you Nataša, I really love your poetry also.

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  12. Sreejit you view on life intrigues me! I am so happy to see you featured here on Poets United~ YOUR words are stunning-very special...continue writing!

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    1. Thank you for that. It was definitely a surprise that Sherry wanted to feature me but it was fun to do and I'm grateful for the support.

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  13. Thank you, PU. This is a wonderful find. I love Gypsy Soup and feel grateful for the connection to Sreejit's work.

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    1. Ah, thank you. Gypsy Soup is still one of my favorites, glad you liked it.

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  14. Sreejit has, so far, led a life of mystery and calling. Sure, some folks get a degree in philosophy (we sometimes refer to the work thereafter as "Would you like fries with that?"), but he has USED not only his degree - but far more importantly, the teachings of his guru, Amma, to make the world more beautiful. Between prose, poetry, and music (three callings of mine, and yet so different for us all, no?), he will forever be on the road to reinventing himself, his relationship to Amma, his place in this world, and his transcendence to the next realm.

    I am so thankful to Sherry for this interview, for her perfect questions. I love how she poses questions and then steps back to receive a full answer. Sreejit, peace to you and to Amma - I understand what you meant about passing up a chance to meet Jesus. The world has so many prophets, and she is extraordinary. The simple presence of a loving embrace does more for the soul than a thousand sermons.

    And I'm married to a pastor!

    Namaste, Amy Barlow Liberatore (US)

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    1. I'm speechless next to your glowing endorsement. Thank you. Pretty funny your fries comment. Actually while I was getting my degree it seemed like Amma always had a philosopher joke in her speeches, but haven't heard them for awhile! Still I was not really in school in search of a job so probably ended up being the best subject for me. Your right, there is no greater teacher in this world than love.

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  15. :) Really nice to know that still people find peace and solace in India. Happy that Sreejit ji endorsed this country and became an integral part of it.

    Dhanyawaad (Thanks)

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    1. My endorsement, of course, I love India. There is no place like it, where you smile at someone you don't even know and such big honest smiles come back at you. India is really a magical place, where anything is possible. People that never get the chance to leave there own neighborhoods or countries never really understand how much is really out there. Now with so much online activity it makes for, now more than ever, truly international times. But to really understand other people we eventually have to leave our homes and see whatever we can get the opportunity to see. So much beauty is really there in the world.

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    2. This is what I love about life, too, my friend - "so much beauty in the world". In nature and in the human heart and spirit.

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  16. Sreejit, so wonderful to read about your life and work! How wise to have listened and followed your heart at such a young age!
    Sherry, thank you for all the time and effort you put into sharing so many poets with us!

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  18. Hello Sreejit :) I loved reading your experience. It's cool the progression of your writing and your entry into bloggerland. Sometimes things appear happenstance but are not really. YAY! Freedom after despair, it makes it that much sweeter. Wonderful work. Thank you for sharing xx

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  19. Sreejit, I have been fascinated and gripped by this interview and your journey so far. Spiritual Enlightenment is something that always holds me in awe. Great to know about you.

    Wonderful interview, Sherry Blue Sky. (My Koko)

    Kind regards,
    Salem

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