"I WON!" - AMMA IN CHICAGO
I'm finally back from the parallel universe that is Amma's North American Tour.
I spent three days at the Yorktown Westin. Each segment of the program began with waiting in line for a hug-token, finding a seat, and waiting for the hugging saint to appear.
Partway through her walk into the hall, she would halt (usually while standing atop a sari laid out for that purpose) and people from the local sangha (community) would do a puja (religious ritual) with her. Then she'd kiss each of them and move to the front of the room.
In the evening, this would be followed by a talk and a brief meditation. In the morning, it was just the meditation - which became far more powerful each time we did it.
Then there would the the waiting waiting waiting for a hug. Each person is given a token with a letter and number, and there are tote boards that show which one they're on. While waiting, you can shop, eat, have your Vedic astrology chart done, shop, do seva (selfless service), shop, leave and come back or learn about Amma's many charitable activities.
You can also hang out with your yoga teacher friends, whom you rarely see these days except in India and at these events.
Or, in the case on Saturday, you can wait in line four times for a token, only to be turned away four times. Apparently newbies come first, and if you had a hug on Friday you don't get one on Saturday unless everyone else has had theirs first and some tokens are left. One wanted to plead one's case: But one is single and parents are dead and there are very few hugs these days and it has been a rather rough year so far, and this will go a long way. But one did not.
(Friday's hug, by the way, was a heart-melting experience).
Saturday began at at 6am with a very special Vedic Homa (fire ritual) for world peace. It went on for over two hours. It took place outisde, in the chilly morning aair. There was fire, chanting, ghee, flowers, ashes, and kirtan (call and response chanting). It was wonderful.
But by Saturday afternoon the senses were overloaded, and I had to retire to the hotel room for a long, long nap. I was up in time for the evening service.
The grand finale was Sunday night's Devi Bhava service, where Amma appears as an incarnation of the Divine Mother, and no one is turned away for darshan (hug).
Nonetheless I approached the token-giver with trepidation. Would I be interrogated again? Would I be turned away again? Would this be yet another lesson in non-attachment? I almost leapt with joy when I received a token and deciphered that the 11 on it actually meant I-1. As in, "I won."
The meditation practice that goes with the Devi Bhava is incredibly powerful, and the hug that came later even moreso.
It made the mind calm down to a place of peace and stillness, and filled the heart with gratitude and compassion.
If only the feeling would last....