All for a Hug

Today I went to see Amma. She’s “the hugging saint” from India, supposedly a true vessel / archetype of the Universal Mother / Love. Someone gave me a bio a couple years ago. She has a huge following of fervent devotees; most of the anecdotes involve the teller falling into her arms in tears, crying “Ma, Ma, Ma” (which means “mother” in all languages). Others lead monthly gatherings to sing her chants. My friend, a yoga teacher, says she had never seen anyone so radiant, she burst into tears when she saw her, and felt like a tiny speck next to her. I have little or no response to devotional yoga practices, I do better with books or physical forms, but I was curious to see and/or experience a living saint.

I arrived at the Manhattan Ballroom at noon, and was too late to get a token guaranteeing a visit. The volunteers (all in white, all glowing with happiness) said to wait until about 2pm, when they would announce extra slots. I sat around and waited for the next four hours. It was such a pleasant vibe light flowers or incense drifting in the air, unobtrusive Indian music being played behind her that I mostly sat quietly, without any desire to read or browse the things for sale. I was just so so so curious to see her. Occasionally I would move, to get a better view. As she hugged one man, and patted his back, I felt tears well at the cuteness of it. But I cried at the Sex in the City movie.

Towards 3:00, when she was supposed to stop, and they still hadn’t called my group, I felt surprisingly upset that I would not get to see her. I decided I would wait until 3:00, and eventually got called and queued.

As I neared her, I kept staring, wishing I could see auras or something spectacular. She’s just a small, round woman, with a joyous smile, surrounded by volunteers with videocameras and flowers. You kneel and shuffle forward. Then she grabs you, pulls your head to her shoulder, and murmurs “MRDMRDMRD” or something Sanskrit into your ear. She pulls back at arm’s length, laughs and smiles and says something in Hindi, then hugs again. The volunteers press a chocolate kiss and a flower petal into your palm, and help you up and out of the way.

Walking away, I could not wipe the smile off my face. I felt giddy, light, and tingly through my heart, shoulders, arms, hands, and head. I felt like I was walking on my tiptoes, being pulled up to the sky. (These were all very light sensations, like when you laugh, not strong pleasure like when you eat pie.)

I sat slowly in a chair, still near the front, to feel out any other sensations. That was it. I let the chocolate kiss dissolve in my mouth. I had planned to get lunch after seeing her, but I wasn’t hungry. Until I went away.

Postscript: In retrospect, it’s basically the feeling of infatuation I think. I’ve never understood the phrase “walking on air” but that is exactly the lightness I felt in the feet. We are all physically capable of feeling infatuation or love. I think Amma is just able to stir up that energy as she wishes.