Amma

I went to see Amma last night.

After a relentless few weeks of filming, teaching, studenting, I really wanted to curl up under the duvet and watch the Inbetweeners but I have heard so many people mention this woman – and especially so this year – I went anyway.

Gary and I arrived in Alexandra Palace which is a venue I’ve only ever been to for rock concerts. It was odd to see it so bright and light and orderly.

We queued up to get our darshan token which entitled us to a hug and even in queuing up I was impressed by the human kindness. There were probably 20 thousand of us – and we all had to be seated and watered and fed – and I never once felt that we were being herded or ignored. Friendly white-clad volunteers were constantly popping over to tell us what was going on and how long we’d have to wait.

Once inside the massive hall it felt as over-lit and chattery as a trade fair, except that everyone was here to meditate and concentrate on the little round Indian woman on the stage.

It struck me in week where the news (Nick Griffin on QT) has been rather depressing that news like this never gets reported. A woman who helps millions of people, thousands of people volunteering their time, positive energy everywhere. That never makes the headlines.

When the teaching and the puja was over, Amma set to work. Hugging.

She has been touring Europe and has been in London for three days – hugging. She hugs everyone who comes. All twenty thousand. She has hugged 28 million people in her lifetime. She sat down at 9pm and when I left at seven am the following morning she was still hugging the ceaseless stream of people. No pee break. Not once does she leave her seat.

As always at these religious/spiritual gatherings, I went through the whole range of emotions: admiration, irritation, contempt, kindness, blankness, joy. It’s like all your crud comes to the surface until, at 6.15am, I found myself in the last place before my hug.

There is a herd of white-robed helpers shuffling you along and then manhandling you into position infront of her and then – boof – you’re wrapped in her arms.

It felt totally wonderful because despite having hugged 19 thousand people like me, when I knelt down in her lap, it felt like I was the only person in the room and she hugged and hugged. It felt like a wonderfully long time and when I thought perhaps I should get up, she pulled me towards her and hugged some more.

She smiled at me, a big broad smile and then I was being pulled up and guided away.

Why does she do it? Such a labour-intensive, one-on-one, physical teaching? She says that is her being. It’s like asking why a river flows. And talking to Gary about it, I realised that she is showing that you don’t need anything fancy. Her teaching is incredibly straightforward and earthy – she was born into a poor fishing family in Kerala – and the essence of it is: a hug is enough.

At the bottom line all these fancy concepts and philosophies and techniques obscure the fact of human contact. The hug.

All the research I’ve been reading for my course points to this. Human contact, skin-on-skin, is what builds the brain, builds all emotive connection, builds meaningful human life. If we can’t connect to real people in front of us – all the rest of our words are meaningless.

I don’t really understand what happened in those 10 seconds when I was hugged but I feel happy that it happened.

11 Comments

  1. May

    October 24, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    Very inspiring account. I’m so sorry I missed Amma here in Holland; I heard about her visit too late. Does she really go on hugging without a single break all night long? How extraordinary. It must be an absolutely overwhelming and soothing experience. I shall have to think about what you say about skin-on-skin contact, but it must be won-der-ful to be hugged by, basically, a complete stranger (no doubt sweet-smelling)so intensely and unconditionally. mmm!
    Good for you, Alistair, going to her, although you were tired. Hopefully you’ll have a relaxed Sunday tomorrow. [Don’t forget your ‘beauty sleep’! :)]

    Please allow me to give you a more down-to-earth Dutch ‘hug’ for now!
    May

  2. Ian

    October 24, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    Holland again! I did get to see Amma when she was here last week. It was my third visit and, as on previous occasions one left feeling as if one had been perfectly mothered for a few hours. The hug is of course what every inner child still longs for from Mummy, but as you say the care and help is just an extension of the hug, an embrace of gentle kindness. And the food! The chai and samosas and onion bhajis. Mother took care of everything

    And thanks to you, Alistair, my experience of being mothered went even further as a month ago I met Mother Ayahuasca for the first time, in South Devon. It was amazing, life changing. I puked and cried like the best of them, and ( silently ) laughed with belly muscle ripping convulsions for what must have been hours. I never expected to meet all my favourite cartoon characters on an ayahuasca trip, and certainly not Miss Piggy dressed like a dominatrix on the back of a motor bike! When I was lying in my bed a week later, still purring like the cat that had got the cream, I decided that this is how it must feel when one has only ever known the perfect mother. I can’t wait for the next time. Thanks Alistair. It is only because of you that I had the courage to do this.

  3. michael

    October 25, 2009 at 1:23 am

    Thank you for this piece it was a wonderful read. Wow, what a hug can do!

  4. elise

    October 25, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    Oh lovely! I did think about going but was dissuaded
    by mental rubbish. I’m glad you went and wrote about it.
    x

  5. Athene

    October 25, 2009 at 11:08 pm

    I heard you talking to Rex about going! I went 5 years ago with my Mum, after she and I said goodbye and I went home, I promptly had an asthma attack and was ambulanced to A&E on my own, thinking about the days events. My hug, my very own hug, among all the other people with their very own hugs, brought so much to the surface in such lightening speed that I dont
    think I was ready for it all. My mum wanted me to go this year and I was too scared..of what it might
    bring up… was I ready…would I crumble again? I decided that I will go next year… when I can accept the
    love and give it back. I’m glad your experience was good. It’s interesting that you experienced your major emotions.

    Which one did you let go of?

    Heartfelt blessings. x

  6. John Mc

    October 26, 2009 at 2:12 am

    Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I saw a documentary about Amma last year, and it was beautiful. Something is in the air…..even with all the tragic events surrounding us, something is in the air.

  7. Karyne Whalen

    October 27, 2009 at 1:59 am

    I have never heard of Amma…she sounds like an amazing
    woman…thanks for sharing your story. I am so in awe that she hugs every single person that comes to see her! wow! Humans do need hugs. Many of my younger students want hugs all the time so I do hug them but unfortunately I have to “side -hug” and do it in public! An inspiring story! Karyne

  8. Brian (DocSwill)

    October 27, 2009 at 4:52 am

    Connecting with others is essential. Sometimes even when we don’t think we need a hug, we do. Having lost my tongue to cancer has made me realize this more. I recently had an opportunity to share time with a dying man who also has terminal cancer. He was sent home after a failed surgery to die. While we planned a group project for my blog he was also planning his funeral.

    I brought 6 seasoned cancer patients together from around the world to interview him. He actually wanted to do this so others my learn. I found it to be an amazing project. I thought you might be interested in reading the story, Dead Man Talking: http://beyondtheglassdoor.blogspot.com/ Please let me know what you think.

    Peace
    Brian

  9. warpchik

    October 30, 2009 at 2:50 am

    She is a bit freaky, actually.
    Gary’s company used to be a neighbour to our
    record label in Tufnell Park. It’s a small world…
    I wonder where he had moved to now?

    This reminds me…
    Here is the song about you and for you, Alistair.

    http://www.supload.com/listen?s=gbBqat

  10. Anthony

    November 9, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    Hi Alistair,

    Just wanted do say hi and thank you for your blog as I was the white clad friendly face who kept you in line when you first arrived!! Glad it set the tone for a positive experience with Amma. Regards Anthony

  11. siggi seddon

    March 19, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Hi Alistair
    I hope everyone who attended actually learnt the lesson being taught. It’s sad really that most feel that only organised events can have the profound effect they’re looking for when a simple hug in everyday life can speak volumes if only we’d listen.
    I’ve spent a lifetime time being told that i was ‘special’, my job on this earth was to remind people of their value and purpose and to glimpse into their souls if they dont listen….what a burden that is! For example..You have a fulfilling life yet you’re full of sadness (short version). You have a halo shining brighly and have all the answer’s just listen.
    I’m not custom to writing to personalities because i dont have the perfect word for expression and though am glad to say…. anonymous.

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