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.