What is it like to receive a hug from Amma? Clearly it’s different and deeply personal for everyone who decides to seek out a hug. I took the easy entry in by going to a daytime program here in NYC back in 2010. In retrospect and in comparison to the all-night Devi Bhava, it just felt more intimate and manageable.
I found myself going to see Amma out of sheer curiosity. I had a student that would help me to travel to India for the first time later that year and since we would be going to the birth state of Amma I figured, why not? It just sort of made sense to go at the time. I was also looking for a teacher, a spiritual guide of some sorts beyond my current yoga teachers who weren’t guiding me much further along than the postures of yoga. I wanted more of something, but I didn’t know exactly what. Maybe Amma was the one?
That first meeting was sweet and simple. While there was still a bit of a culture shock, having never been around a spiritual guru before, it was still very welcoming and calm. It was an easy morning of watching and stillness.
Receiving my first hug was not some huge spiritual moment where a lightning bolt came down and shifted everything into clarity for me. It went fast and yes, it was certainly euphoric. It was also emotional in the sense that I was witnessing others in their very heightened emotional state. For me, there was allot of awareness and observation with less emotional entanglement because I didn’t really understand who she was for me yet.
A few days later at the Devi Bhava ceremony, I found it to be much more intense. First off, there were allot more people to navigate through in the space. It was packed from wall to wall. Then I ran into a friend who at the time was not so friendly. We tried to “talk” about things and ended up screaming at one another in some tiny off shoot room away from the crowds. It was awful. Seeing an ex-lover made me feel unsettled and yet her was there at every turn. I decided to get an acupuncture treatment for the first time ever in my life at 4 am, because what else am I going to do at 4am while I am waiting for my hug? The acupuncturist told me I had allot of fear which made me feel defensive and slightly hurt. I was determined not to believe her.
While waiting for my hug I decided I would ask for a mantra. I was able to wait in another line that was next to the DARSHAN (hugging) line. It moved at about the same rate. The only difference was I didn’t need a ticket I could just show up and the attendants helped to guide me through the process. I was given a laminated paper that explained the process of mantra and what I might choose. I remember wanting a mantra to help me grow spiritually and also, I remember having a difficult time really narrowing it down for my attendee. So, I kind of just went with what she suggested.
As I neared Amma I watched in amazement as she hugged and spoke with her devotees. I was getting closer and closer to her in a musical chair like dance sitting here and then there, until I was finally by her side. All at once she turned to me, grabbed my head to draw me close and chanted something I couldn’t begin to understand or repeat into my ear. She then called another attendant to which she also gave the mantra to. He pulled out a little card from a tiny file box where the mantra had been written. He handed me the little card and I would then wait to speak with another attendant regarding the meaning of the mantra and what to do with it. This final attendant would speak to us one by one, alone, to ensure proper instruction and use of the mantra.
There were three rules one had to agree to in order to receive this initiation:
To chant the mantra every day for the rest of your life, (but don’t worry, if you miss a day Amma will chant it for you.)
Keep a picture of Amma in sight to remember her always.
To take Amma as your guru.
I was pretty much delirious by the time I finished my mantra consultation. My number had finally been called and I was on my way to receive my hug. This occurred during an epic point in the program when Ammas’ devotees began chanting the thousand names of the goddess. I would come to learn more about this practice after my first visit to Ammas’ ashram in India. This is a daily ritual at the Ashram and last a little over an hour. I would come to practice it on my own continuously throughout the following years.
Receiving my second hug was a little bit of everything. All in all, it went quick. At the time, I didn’t have a relationship with Amma like I do now. It felt strange and also really special. This was not an everyday experience by any means.
I stayed until the end of the program that night. I believe it was around 10 in the morning when the program closed. It was unbelievable. The energy was as high as ever for everyone there. Amma made sure to hug every last volunteer and child that was in the theatre. All of the seating was removed and we danced around the room in a huge circle (like a mosh pit only super friendly!) As we would get closer to the stage, Amma would blast us with flowers. Literally chucking them at us with vigor and delight! After which, we all just stood there, speechless, staring at her. I blinked my eyes and in an instant, she disappeared. I don’t know what happened but I wasn’t the only one to believe she has just mysteriously “poofed” off that stage. It was unreal. That was really the point at which I turned more deeply towards her in a spiritual sense. It took the culmination of the entire experience as well as seeing her again in India to clarify my relationship with her.
My friends and I made our way to the subway to ride home amongst commuters heading into work. I got home, closed my eyes, took a deep breath and began to process it all. I thought about that acupuncturist, the screaming match with my friend, the ghosts that showed up, the mantra, the hug, Amma poofing off the stage and I realized I was actually very deeply afraid. The acupuncturist was right. There was fear nestled deeply inside of me that was hidden from my daily reality. This fear was casing me to be a total control freak over my emotional expression and FEELINGS, actually cutting me off from my FEELINGS! For me, this was a huge breakthrough.
The most peculiar thing in all of this, is that a few days later when I went to look in my handbag for the mantra paper, it had suddenly disappeared. I thought I had memorized the mantra but now I wasn’t sure and was second guessing myself. And so, I took it as a sign that I wasn’t quite ready to take on the commitments required. Maybe Amma wasn’t my guru? This answer would come much later for me. I wasn’t worried or concerned. I felt guided and closer to myself in ways I hadn’t felt in a very long time.
The following year would be the most transformational year of my life.
I would travel to India, spend time at Ammas ashram, fall in love, fall out of friendship, fall back into friendship and meet my true spiritual guru. All while beginning to understand my very own unique calling in this wild and wonderful world.
I am grateful for my Amma journey and the indescribable experience of knowing her light.
Amma will be in NYC July 4th through the 6th, 2018