Expectation is a killer, and I was full of it when I first met Amma aka Amrita Anandamayi aka the hugging mother. I’d read so many accounts of emotional release, awakenings, epiphanies and deep healings, that by the time I arrived at London’s Alexandra Palace – where Amma used to visit every autumn (NB Sandown Park in 2017) – in 2009, I was primed for a spiritual showdown. And I wasn’t disappointed – it was a joyful circus of music, long-lost friends and shiny new ones, stalls selling sweet Amma paraphernalia, yummy Indian snacks and chai. By the time my darshan – or hugtime – swung around at 4am (yes, she goes on hugging all night, taking no toilet or tea breaks), I was as high as a kite on love.
The hug quickly sobered me up though.
As I got closer to Amma, having shifted from a queue of chairs to now shuffling towards her on my knees, I started feeling stressed. The group of white-robed assistants who were policing the process were strict about maintaining the efficiency of their well-oiled hug machine – fair enough, there were thousands of expectant people craving a cuddle. My handbag was slipped off my shoulder (‘No bags!’ I was admonished when I asked where it was going), my arms were pinned to my side with firm instructions not to touch, and I was prodded forward, urged to shuffle faster into a funnel of other shufflers, at the apex of which sat Amma.
Very quickly, I was right in front of her, and before I could even smile with recognition, an assistant’s hand clutched the back of my head and thrust my face towards Amma’s white-clad breast which, thousands of faces later, was mucky with make-up and grime. I felt her arm fall across my back as she whispered what sounded like: ‘My daughter, my daughter, my daughter,’ in my ear. A boiled sweet wrapped in a rose petal was pushed into my palm, and I was shunted off to the side and instructed to collect my bag from a pile. No eye contact, no connection, just a very stressful and rather unpleasant experience. Ouch.
Not one to be defeated, I decided to try again three years later. I continued to hear ‘amazing!’, ‘so healing!’, ‘I want moooore!’, ‘I’ll never pass up an opportunity for a hug!’ and I questioned my experience. This time I went to Ally Pally in the morning rather than evening. Again I basked in the community of lovely people, super-sparkly bright energy and hugely heart-expanding love love love that was buoyed up by music, friendly faces and fun. But the hug was, sadly, no different. Scarily policed, funnel, grubby boob, gravelly whisper. I admit it: I’m a self-confessed Amma hug failure.
BUT I love the joyful, big-hearted lovefest surrounding Amma, so it’s this I focus on. Amma is responsible for some amazing seva, or selfless service – read hugging thousands and thousands of people every day in the name of charity – and it’s this concept of seva that sits at the core of her teachings. She has numerous charities, including hospitals and schools and she’s one of the first there when there’s an international disaster. This woman gives her heart and soul to help make the world a better place, and I have huuuuuge respect for her. Plus I’m very lucky that I get plenty of hugs in my life… one less isn’t going to hurt.
One of Amma’s incredible achievements is her Amrita Puri ashram in Kerala. It’s a huge establishment, providing a home to more than 3,000 spiritual seekers, and it runs purely on seva – it’s where Nish and I went when we visited Kerala to explore Amma’s work minus the hugs. But more of that in a future post…
Sat nam x