I had planned to write about the wonderful work of Sri Mata Amritanandamayi, the so called “hugging Saint” or Amma (for short) as I was attending a three day retreat with her at Crystal Palace. However after spending time with her, I couldn’t find words to express the deep felt emotion that comes from a meeting with such a person.
In the past when I have written, the words have flown from me, almost like a miracle of finger tapping on computer, so quick that I hardly know that I am doing it at all. I never have a problem with speech, my surname being “Yapp”, I think I was put here to talk. But joking aside, when I try and convey the exact sense of peace and connected-ness there just doesn’t seem like enough words in the dictionary to do the job justice.
In the English language, when we want to convey something moving or spiritual or breathtaking, we use words which are dead and flat, and you get sentences like, “it was very spiritual” well for someone who has never felt something spiritual, then it is flat and for those who have then it evokes within them the thoughts and experiences of that moment that they felt “spiritual”. But it isn’t that, it isn’t like anything else on Earth, so there is nothing to compare or assimilate with.
So this article comes with an apology, because I cannot with words bring to you the beauty of being with a person so pure and joyful and divine as Amma, but I will try.
So who is Amma?
Amma is a fifty year old Southern Indian woman who grew up a farmer’s daughter. But there was something different about this child, I have heard that aged 4 She could recite the whole of the Bagvad Gita (the Hindu scriptures) and would sing devotional songs all day as She worked. Amma started serving people in Her local area in Kerala, and soon knowledge of Her acts of charity and healing brought people in droves to receive Amma’s blessing.
What is Amma’s blessing?
Her special form of blessing is to hug people and this She does with enormous warmth and feeling, and has in Her life hugged more than 24 million people from all over the world. To enable Amma to hug every one of the thousands of people who come to her, the hugging is done in a carefully orchestrated way, but each hug lasts for about a minute in which time Amma murmurs her messages of peace gently into your ear. It is a meeting of the heart. But bigger than that, it is not physical, but like the you are being hugged by the world. It is a gift of solace, and strength and Amma gives freely to all irrespective of race or religion.
Amma’s charitable work
I wanted to tell about the Millions of US Dollars that Amma donates to needy charities throughout the world, ensuring that the money does the job, and not lost in bureaucracy, by sending Her people along as volunteers. About the 55 school that Amma’s ashram runs, the teaching hospitals, and the countless villages which money donated to Her has built in India and Sri Lanka. But there is not space to list all these achievements here (you can find out more by logging onto www.amma.org ) Not only did Amma donate vast sums of money when the Tsunami hit, but she did astonishingly lovely, heart-melting acts herself, such as teaching fear-ridden children to swim, by getting into the water with them. She in inhumanly human, and her outpouring of love is constant. Amma also donated $1m to the Hurricane Katrina fund.
Who has noticed Amma?
Amma’s acts of generosity and compassion have not gone unnoticed, She has been awarded several UN peace awards, and had International Acclaim from the likes of Bill Clinton, Dr Jane Goodall, Richard Gere and the President of India, all of them have had one of her fabulous hugs.
How can I describe this feeling?
So after hearing all about her work and achievements, what is it like to spend time with Amma? Well I have visited Amma every year for the past five years, each time it is different for me, so I can only speak from personal experience from the most recent visit. For me it is like being with Jesus, in the flesh. The teaching of love and compassion for yourself and your neighbours is the same.
It wasn’t the hug this year that got me, although this was a superhuman warm and loving hug, the most moving part for me this year was the ending. On the last night I had my little daughter which meant we could push to the front of the queue, we decided however, to wait our turn for a hug, which we estimated to be midnight, but turned out to be 4am. There was plenty of time for silent reflection, and meditation; food was still being served; and my friend and I made ourselves busy taking petals from flowers which Amma would later throw into the crowds.
After your hug with Amma, She hands you a sweet. My little group of friends were given the opportunity to hand these sweets to Amma for 1 minute, this felt magical, to be this close to Amma, and to focus only on her hand to watch for the special signal, that shows the right moment to gently press the sweetie into her waiting palm. But this did not have so much impact upon me as the end.
When the hugging is at an end Amma joins couples in Hindu marriage ceremonies, this is very beautiful, but the best was still to come.
At the very end, it was by now 8am, Amma had been sitting and hugging since 7.30 the night before. She stands up and as hypnotic Sufi music is played by the musicians, she throws petals into the crowd who dance in a large circle so that everyone gets a chance to see her and be showered in soft and aromatic rose petals. Amma loves fun and you can see how much She enjoys the party atmosphere of this moment. It is a spectacle of glittering costume, flowers and smiles. But then She stops, and the music changes.
And there is Amma in full regalia standing on the stage with an armful of petals, which She allows to one by one fall to the floor, as She slowly, slowly turns, so you can’t even see her turning She looks every person in the crowd right into the eyes. And as she looks into you Her eyes convey compassion, love, excitement, tenderness, they sparkle and tears welled up in my own eyes. At that moment I had the feeling that I am alone, an individual, but alright, worthy and loved.
I can still sit in meditation and recall that moment, and I still cry, because it was like meeting myself and God and they were both ok.
See I told you there wasn’t the words………………………
Sarah Yapp BA (Hons) ITEC MCThA
Sarah Yapp Therapies