Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Amma's Hug

For years I've been hearing about the "Hugging Saint," Amma, a spiritual teacher known as "the Mother" from India.  I've been hearing about her mostly from yoga friends, and mostly from Laughing Lotus yoga friends, the center with the big Amma picture on top of the bookcase.  She visits The City every year, and people will wait in line literally all night to receive darshan from her, which is a hug.  So, OK, I had to finally check it out....

I arrived at the Manhattan Center at 7 with an open mind and heart accompanied by a healthy dose of skepticism rolling around in my pocket, for didn't even Buddha say, seeing is believing?   I was greeted by a chorus of "Om Namah Shivaya"s spoken so quickly it sounded like one long word rolled off the fast tongues of auctioneers, dressed head to toe in white.  There were tables of mala beads and OM scarves and books and Ayurvedic vitamins to wind through, and the smell of amazing Indian food wafting up from downstairs.  I'd been to the Manhattan Center before, once for a rock concert and once to hear Bill Clinton speak, but it had never looked like this.  I felt like I was in a different country, at a bazaar.  There was a gentle hum as people moved to and fro, and the hum seemed to be radiating from Amma.  Over the heads of the crowds I saw her, a physically diminutive woman sitting on a stage surrounded by translators and musicians, dressed in white herself, a symbol of purity and devotion.

I listened to the satsang, which was basically what all satsangs are about, Love.  She also spoke of women's rights and equality and feminine power.  Right on, sister.  I listened to the bhajan/devotional music and wondered what it was about the Sitar that strummed my heart strings.  I sat in the meditation.  But mostly I marinated, in the vibes and experience.

It was getting late and after samosas and conversation and all that marinating, I was getting tired,  and darshans were going into the wee hours of the morning.  Just as I was about to leave without my hug, someone gave me his Hug Ticket, and directed me to the line pointing directly at her "lotus feet."

With every chair shift forward in a game of spiritual musical chairs, I got more nervous.  I didn't know what to expect.  How does one hug a saint?  Do I hug back or just receive?  Was I supposed to feel something, and what if I didn't?  I was given a hot pink dot sticker to wear on my chest, meaning First Timer.  As I got closer I got to watch others being hugged, the largest of big guys kneeling at her feet and bending at the waist to rest his head on her chest, her powerful, all encompassing hug, the whispering in the ear, the slight release and then the second hug.  The prasad, a chocolate kiss, pressed into the hand of the huggee as attendants hurried him away.

As I approached Amma, I was told by a translator to bend at the waist as, even kneeling, my head was above Amma's.  I was to put my arms on the chair arms, not around her, to simply receive.  I walked forward on my knees, and then she pulled me in for a hug.  

This is where I loose words because I really am not sure how to describe it.  It was more of a fierce hug than a soft one, reminding me of the kind of mother energy that is fiercely protective.  It was like being hugged by this one aunt of mine as a child who kind of scared me, with her large round soft body and loud voice.  But Amma wasn't loud.  She brought her mouth to my ear and whispered somethings deep inside of it, in a language I couldn't understand.  She whispered over and over.   I could smell and spices, and was engulfed in the darkness of her bosom as she pulled me away and then pulled me toward her again, with more whisperings and kissings on my head.  It was so intimate I wondered if it was too much.  I felt like I went somewhere for a moment, though I don't know where.

And then I was released to the light again, and whisked away and to the side by attendants in white.  It felt like being tossed out of the vortex of a tornado, where the stillness was.  I grabbed my bag and walked through a path of people, feeling a bit stunned and shaky.

I am still digesting the experience of that night, the elements of hoopla mixed side-by-side with elements of purity, the ideas of spiritual teachings vs. the attraction people feel to teachers themselves.  In many situations like this, I feel myself deeply resonating with the teachings of service out of love, and compassion, with the music and chanting and stillness of meditation, and with some of the people I meet.  Other people and elements feel slightly off path, as if they are kneeling down at the feet of a particular teacher instead of a Truth.  But if we can separate the sand from the sugar in these situations, and find our nourishment there, well....hug me again.