Published: December 2nd 2008November 24th 2008
Guided into parking
We were guided perfectly into our spot!
This week held a brief but intense trip up to San Ramon to visit Amma, the Hugging Saint. We caught wind of her being in the area through our Costa Rica contact, who is a volunteer at the Ashram that Amma goes to when she visits the area.
We planned on waking up early Monday morning and driving the hour and a half to the Ashram. It was perfect timing really - we missed the morning commuter traffic and just zipped up the 17/880, hopped over to 680, and then pretty much straight there. The weather was mystical and foggy, which seemed completely appropriate and put us in a calm mood.
When we got there we were ushered RIGHT into a parking spot by volunteers of all nationalities and backgrounds. Some sisters with dreadies, an older man in a turban, the average white boy, and so on. We were so excited about what lied ahead, even though we weren't really sure what to expect. So when we had parked and calmed ourselves, we got out of the car and began running for the path to the temple. (It's actually a common practice of ours - to run to a
Crowded in to Meditate
After Amma arrived we all headed in to meditate with her
destination. Good for the heart and just mixes up reality a bit!). At a certain point we were out of the parking area and in the woods, which means SLOW DOWN for me. I like to take in all the plants and smells and things.
It was wonderful to be among "Family" again - there's nothing like the feeling of being in an environment where there is no judgment and love surrounds you. You can lock eyes and smile with every stranger, and they just silently return the blessings and love. Which usually leaves you both beaming with acknowledgment of family and peace.
Eventually we got to the bottom of the last hill that led to the Ashram to see a crowd of people that looked like they were crowding around waiting to have a picture taken of them - facing out from the temple to the driveway. We figured maybe they were posing for a cosmic picture...or...waiting for a shuttle. We finally realized they were crowded around to welcome Amma! Quickly our friend that told us about this saw us and pulled us in to stand with her to wait. There was a very beautiful calm as
The beautiful entrance way
I really loved the hanging flower garland
we all waited, lining the carpeted walkway that was Amma's path into the temple. Some were holding flowers and other offerings. Slowly a chant and blessing began that I believe went like this: Om Nama Shivaya Amma. Or something similiar and with the same intention.
Suddenly someone blew a conch and a car quickly pulled up, followed by a young, white, teenage boy with braces, sandals, and robes running behind the car...kind of like in the movies where kids of third world countries run behind cars in excitement. I'm not sure what his role was, or if he was just really excited about Amma...like everyone else.
When she got out of the car everyone was smiling and leaning over to touch and see her. She walked quickly through the center of the crowed with a sincere smile, dressed in wonderful robes. One beautiful couple held out their new born baby and she took and kissed it. Quickly they rolled up the carpet behind her and we were all encouraged to head into the temple quickly for meditation. Some people reached down and touched the ground where she had walked, some snatched up flower petals and twigs that she
may have dropped and blessed themselves with them. I heard the man of the couple with the baby giddily say to the baby "Amma kissed you! My dream's come true!" as he bounced the baby happily.
We all ushered into the temple, where most of the chairs were filled. We slipped, the rest of the welcomers, into the aisle to sit on the floor. Amma had made her way up to the front of the temple where there seemed to be other people involved in the ceremony. Once everyone was settled in a man's voice came over a microphone and he lead us through several OMs and a ten minute meditation where he told us to focus on the vibrations of the syllables "Maaaaaa" when we breathed in, and "Ommmm" when we breathed out. I took a small video of this, though it's only meant for hearing because the camera was on the floor. ( OM Video
- This was before I found out that Photography isn't allowed in the Temple)
After the meditation, we went outside and got in line for our "token" which would assign us a group. Then we would go up to Amma
Excellent Weeping Willow
Phoenix loves weeping willows, so we had to go to it. This one was huge!
when it was our groups turn. I had T3 and Phoenix had S3. At first I was going to ask if we could be in the same group, but it actually seemed like it was supposed to be that we went separately. Our group probably wouldn't be ready for about 2-3 hours, so we decided to go find some food and look around the compound.
There was a beautiful pond with some swans and a huge weeping willow on the waters edge. We went to explore the willow and got some pictures. Then we decided to find food and got a yummy vegetarian burrito with humus and veggies on a wheat tortilla for $4 each and a cup of Chai. All the money spent there goes back to Amma's organization and all of the charities she does (Check out her website www.Amma.org
). We then decided to explore the surrounding woods and found some excellent hiking trails.
As we hiked along we found some strips of paper that seemed to be a school project, dangling from some trees. They said "My name is _____. This tree has (several wonderful characteristics that the child found). My best friends
Phoenix under the willow
My dad always told me not to fall asleep under willows - they'll suck you up into them! I don't think Phoenix would mind that.
are ____, _____, and _____." We read every one we found, and hung a few back up in the trees that had fallen. One child had written that their tree had 44 branches. Once we got to the end of the trail, we found our own tree that we loved! And so decided to write about it. I can't remember everything we had written, and I'll leave it to the folks that found our paper...but her name was Rosie and I have a picture of her in this blog.
As hippies tend to...we hugged Rosie and several other trees that day. This unfortunately has led to me having a small break out of poison oak on my face, neck and shoulders! But I'm trying really hard to maintain it, and I think it should be gone soon! It was worth it.
Anyway, after our hike we headed back to the temple to find that it was almost our turn to hug Amma. We found our friends again and she was excited for us, but worried that we weren't going to be blessed together by Amma. But Phoenix and I decided that it wasn't an accident we got separate
Yay hugs under the willow!
A friend from her class took this, that happened to be there the same day.
groups, and that it was going to be very good for us to have our own individual experiences. So we went up to the front of the temple and squeezed next to some other floor mediators to prepare ourselves and feel all the vibrations. It was so very intense.
The center aisle we had originally meditated in had now become filled with rows of chairs in sets of two, where people moved up from one chair to the next - getting closer to Amma. When people got to the first chair in front of Amma, they then move to their knees and are ushered closer and closer to Amma by volunteers dressed in white - some standing and taking your token, others asking your native tongue, others wiping your face, and others grabbing your head and getting ready to push it to Amma's chest. Another grouping of people dressed in white prepared the Hershey kiss wrapped in a rose petal that Amma would give to each person after she hugged them. All these volunteers swarmed around Amma as if bees around the queen bee, one bee even massaged Amma constantly from behind. ( Amma hugging Video
taken before I knew not to take video)
The whole process was very interesting to watch, and even more interesting to experience. As I sat in the crowed of people waiting for their group to be called I meditated and took in all the energy around me. There was a splendid band playing incredible Indian music and even some people dancing to the side of the crowds. At one point a woman who I had seen earlier with a walking stick, indicating she was blind, was ready to get her hug. She was so excited to go to Amma, and so very vulnerable. She had no stick and didn't know the volunteers that were quickly ushering her towards Amma as she scooted forward on her knees. I turned to Phoenix and said that I wished I could experience her world in this situation, because without sight she probably has an entirely different and quite possibly more intense perception of the energy coming from the Ashram and Amma. As soon as I finished saying that, my heart chakra burned intensely and tears began running down my cheeks. I believe I WAS feeling that woman's experience, at least mildly. From then
There were lots of these little papers that kids had described their trees.
on I had tears the whole time...the intensity of the place was extreme.
Finally it was Phoenix' turn. I went upstairs to see if I could watch her from above...and also wanted to be far enough away from her that I didn't effect her experience. I watched as Phoenix scooted along the chair line, getting closer to Amma. Then I had to go down stairs because it was my groups turn, so I watched her from several chairs behind - careful to keep my energy to myself (because we are extremely sensitive to each other - twice she was able to find my eyes immediately across the room when she opened hers, and previously didn't know where I was before she closed them). I watched as Amma took Phoenix' head, kissed her temple and held her close...I could feel that those 15 seconds were like an eternity for Phoenix. When she got up and moved away from Amma she looked dazed but blissed. She sat down in a chair and collected herself, smiling widely. I kept my energetic distance again, but when she was ready she opened her eyes to look at me directly and I signaled her to
Our Tree Rosie!
And the beautiful Phoenix to pose under it
come get the bags and jackets from me.
Then it was my turn. It happened so quickly really, and is somewhat of a blur. The line moved very fast and soon I was on my knees and in tears. A woman asked if English was my native language and all I could do was smile and nod. Then encouraging hands at my back led me to crawl forward and a hand, almost forcefully put my head on Amma's chest. I wrapped my arms around her gently at first and she whispered in my ear "Amma Amma Amma Amma Amma", which means Mother, to which I sobbed lightly and squeezed her tighter. The hug was both eternally long, and all too short. Suddenly the Hershey kiss was in my hand and I was ushered away so that the next person could receive their hug and kiss.
I could barely see or walk and my head was swimming. I headed toward where I had seen others head and was tempted to collapse to on the floor at the nearest empty spot, but instead decided to stand, meditate, and collect myself out of the walkway. A few minutes later I opened
I think she gave me poison oak though...
my eyes and before I could think about where to go, Phoenix called me and showed me a chair that was open near her. I didn't even know she was near me. There we both sat and let the intensity of it all wash over us until we were collected enough to move.
Without words we looked at each other and stood to walk outside. Neither one of us had the energy or desire to speak. Eventually I had the idea to eat our kisses under our tree, Rosie - so guided Phoenix there without words. After eating the kiss and taking in all the love that came with it (from the person that bought it at the beginning of the line, donated it to Amma, and then recycled as a gift to others). Finally we decided we were ready to head home. But first we headed back into the temple and purchased a beautiful Krishna painting to hang in our home.
Then we made our way back to the car and when we were on the road a few minutes, were finally able to verbalize our experiences to each other.
It was most certainly a very
Our tree Scroll!
We wrote a scroll about Rosie and left it there for people to find and read.
intense and beautiful visit to Amma and all the beautiful people that volunteer for the cause's Ashram.
One thing I think is important to beware of in this type of situation though...is the danger of beginning to worship her. She may be a very enlightened being and does WONDERFUL things for individuals and the world, however we need to learn to worship ourselves - not others. I'm quite sure Amma would agree, just like the Buddha did. Unfortunately, we have a tendancy to want to create repeatable and reliable ceremony with intense emotions like this, so religions and churches and sacraments and such happen. I can see that energy existing with Amma's followers.
Here is an excerpt from Amma's website that tell's Amma's story On the morning of the 27th of September 1953, in a small poor fishing village, Parayakadavu in the Quilon district of Kerala, a baby girl was born. Her parents gave her the name Sudhamani. She came into this world not in tears as babies usually do, but with a beaming smile on her face, as if prophesying the joy and bliss she was to bring to the world.
She gives you a Hershey Kiss wrapped in a rose petal after she hugs you.
Sudhamani spent the years of her childhood and teens immersed in intense spiritual practices in order to present a living example for the world. Even as a small child, she could often be found absorbed in deep meditation, totally oblivious of her surroundings. By the age of five, she had already begun composing devotional songs laden with deep mystical insight.
Another quality that was clearly manifest in Sudhamani from this tender age was her love and compassion toward her fellow human beings. Though only a child, Sudhamani did whatever she could to ease the suffering of her elderly neighbors. She washed their clothes, bathed them and even brought them food and clothing from her own home. This habit of giving away things from her family’s house landed her in deep trouble. However, no amount physical abuse or punishment could stop the expression of her inborn compassion. She later said, " An unbroken stream of Love flows from me towards all beings in the cosmos. That is my inborn nature."
‘Amma’ as she is known all over the world today, has inspired and started innumerable humanitarian services. She has earned international recognition for her outstanding contributions to the world community. She is recognized as an extraordinary spiritual leader by the United Nations and by the people all over the world.
Though Amma makes no claims herself, those who watch her closely notice that she is the greatest example of her teaching. Her disciples and believers imbibe her teachings by just watching her.
For the past 35 years Amma has dedicated her life to the uplifting of suffering humanity through the simplest of gestures - an embrace. In this intimate manner Amma had blessed and consoled more than 25 million people throughout the world.
When someone asked Amma why she receives every person who comes to her in a loving embrace Amma replied, “ If you ask the river,' why do you flow?' what can it say?”
Amma spends most of her waking hours receiving the distressed and all who come to her for comfort, day after day without a break.
Once a press reporter asked Amma how was it possible for her to embrace each and every one in the same loving way, even if they were diseased or unpleasant. Amma replied, “ When a bee hovers over a garden of varied flowers, what
it beholds is not the difference between the flowers but the honey within them. Similarly Amma sees the same Supreme Self in each and every one.”
Beautiful sunset on the way home
This is back in Santa Cruz at one of our beaches.
As Dr. Jane Goodall, while presenting Amma with the 2002 Gandhi-King Award for Non-violence said,
" She stands here in front of us. God's love in a human body."
There are more photos below