Meditation, Mosh Pit and Hugs. My day with Amma .

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6.30am I arrived in Bogadi. The sun was yet to rise and I’m already sitting, waiting to see the famous Amma - ‘Mother of the World’. It was recommended by another yoga student, who met Amma last year, I arrive early as I needed to get a token to see Amma. Knowing there would thousands of people here to see her today, and finding out she will be giving hugs until about 1.00am the following morning, I decided I would take the advice and come ultra early. Let’s just say, that advice was not exactly correct. But I will come the that in a bit. Surprisingly, there were large numbers of people beginning to arrive at this crazy time also - for Amma and also other ceremonies which were to be completed prior to her arrival at 11.30am.

Walking into a huge shed across the way from Amma’s temple and ashram, with blue time slip in hand (required before you can get a token - you exchange one for the other later in the day), I moved to the front where people were chanting a buddhist chant. The deep guttural sound of the 5 or so men on stage chanting was almost a little unnerving. One can certainly see how you can enter into a sort of hypnotic state whilst focusing on this one repeated sound.

A group of helpers were working to place mini ceramic bowls full of oils, incense and other small offerings onto each chair for the next ceremony which was to take place. The poonja (I think). As I was coaxed into paying to attend this ceremony, I sat with my little chair of offerings in front of me and decided to join in. I had no idea what was being said, but by copying what others were doing, I was able to follow along. Each item on my chair had a special purpose: I circled the flame in the oil around my chest and head three times, then the leaf with a small offering was circled around my crown three times, I dipped my small leaf into the single pot of oil and dripped this into the top of the terra cotta pot about 50 times (as this was done in time with a chant they repeated over and over), I near set myself on fire when I lit the little kerosene cube (which had a dangerous resemblance to a sugar cube), and then coated my entire body in the smoke of the burning incense stick and fumes from that little sugar cube. At other times I stood and turned in circles three times. Why? I don’t know?

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To complete the ceremony, everyone carried their little terra cotta pot in their right hand on top of their head to Amma’s temple across the way. In a line of about 500 or so people, it took a while before I reached the temple to do whatever it was people were doing with their pots. With shoes off, I eventually entered the small temple steps where I then had a better view of what was going on. Inside the temple, on a small platform, men dressed in white linen robes were throwing the water of all the pots onto a statue which sat in the middle of the platform. It was a little dark in there and I couldn’t see what the statute was. All I knew is it was something important to all these people so I was happy to respect the tradition and offer my bowl of water and oil to the shrine also.

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People were pushing their way through to have their pots taken from them and offered to the God within (I’m assuming), so I learned early on this morning that it’s important to be a little pushy also. Otherwise, I’m getting nowhere! As I walked out of the temple area I was sprinkled with water from the bristles of a tree branch, handed a small edible offering (which i haven’t dared eat), and given some die to put on my forehead. Quite an experience.

With hours to kill until Amma arrived, I decided to find a toilet. Let’s just say I’m not a fan of traditional Indian style toilets…. Not only is it a hole in the ground, but it’s like a bath in there. I nearly died when I saw women walking in bare foot. Oh, it’s a different world to what I know. Not saying mine is better - I just know this isn’t exactly a comfortable experience. But, it’s an experience nonetheless!

I sat in the isle where Amma would walk as she enters the huge shed turned temple we were in. In preparation for Amma’s arrival, a human barricade of people holding hands was created - about 70 or more metres at least. I was a part of this barricade, and found it to be quite a fun experience. The excitement in the room was beginning to grow. We were, however, holding hands for about 30 minutes prior to her arrival as I think someone got over excited and gave the cue a little early! And then before we knew it, surrounded by another barricade of people all dressed in white, Amma powered past me headed for the stage.

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Sitting on a round pedestal on stage, Amma opened the session with one hours worth of singing. The first three songs were really exciting for me, but then it just became quite tiring to listen to. I was starting to dwindle by this point as I had already been there for over 6 hours. Next came another two or so hours of preaching (which I didn’t understand a word of) followed by meditation. Although I appreciated being in Amma’s presence, I was a little over it by this time. The ceremony seemed to go on forever. I was also a little concerned I was going to be one of the poor people who has to wait until 1.00am the next day for my moment with Amma. For as it turns out, there was no need to come early and get a ticket. There was no order whatsoever when it came to exchanging the ticket for the token. Ridiculous.  

When that time did come (to get my token - which is a letter and number of the alphabet, e.g. B5), the entire place erupted into a mosh pit of people scrambling to find one those men who were handing out the tokens. It really was a matter of first in best dressed with getting a token. But then I noticed the people handing them out were selectively giving people tokens in the Z category or the G category - whatever they felt like it seemed! The Z people will be there all night.

With my new skills of pushing, I pushed my way through masses of crazy people to a man who eventually agreed to exchange my ticket. I ended up with G1. I was devastated. This meant I was going to be there for another 3-4 hours waiting for my hug. This would not do. So, in Indian fashion, I asked around about how to exchange this token for one which was earlier in the queue. Although told I could not change it, I was determined to find a way. I was directed to a man in an orange robe who was a helper of Amma’s. I explained I had been at the temple since 6.30am this morning and would really appreciate if there was a way to see Amma sooner. After some clarification of what I was asking, (as I think the man was originally trying to pretend like he didn’t know what I was saying), he exchanged my token for C5. Magic! I was instantly taken into the queue and within 30 minutes my face was in Amma’s breasts!

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The chaos surrounded Amma up on stage. She had many helpers around her, which made this confined space that much more overwhelming. But the energy getting close to Amma was incredible. Knowing I was finally going to meet this woman, even though just for a moment, was certainly exciting and a little nerve racking. I noticed she hugged some people ever so briefly whilst others she would hold tightly, almost appearing as though they were being suffocated. Whilst holding people she would be talking to her helpers before kissing the hugged person on the head and sending them on their way.

After having my forehead patted down to remove any sweat before hugging Amma, a man in an orange robe to Amma’s left (my right) asked what language I spoke. I’m not sure why as it made no difference to how I was spoken to? Then, before I knew it, I was suddenly grabbed from behind the head by Amma herself and pulled into her right breast. And there I stayed for the next 20-30 seconds or so. I’m not sure why she held me for so long, but it was certainly nice to have the extra attention.

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The gift Amma gave me: A little lolly and some red dye. I’m also holding flowers a helper gave me which Amma had touched and used in her blessings.

Amma’s hug was not what I expected. She smelled of fresh flowers and her clothes were soft silk. She held my head tightly toward her and in those moments I knew no one could touch me. I was a little awkward though. I wasn’t quite sure where to put my hands, whether to put more weight toward her… I was a little overwhelmed really. I began creeping my arms around her plump waist and returned the hug. But again, I was a little unsure what to do! I was also expecting to be pushed away sooner but I kept hearing her muffled voice, as my ears were squished, talking to the people around her. Was she aware I was down there? Or was the conversation more important? Was she talking about me? Who knows? After this short while she then pulled me slightly away from her chest, whispered something into my right ear in Hindu (I’m assuming), kissed my head and then released me. I was then just another one of the masses of people trying not to fall over the thin railing of the stage as people pushed their way to her.

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One of Amma’s helpers, a Frenchman who I met during the ceremony, ushered me to go and sit on the stage behind Amma for sometime. To take in the energy from there. So I did. It was a much calmer feeling being behind Amma, knowing i didn’t have to wait until the early hours of the morning to see her and could now just observe. I watched on for about 20-30 minutes or so before it was time to allow others to sit on the stage also. I also had a chance to watch some young children perform traditional Indian dances on the other side of the stage, which was quite beautiful to see.

After all of this, I was ready for home. Starving and in need of a toilet, a western toilet preferably, it was time to go. 

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Upon reflection of today, of course I am glad I went. It was an experience like no other. What I feel is unfortunate, however, is how people are treating Amma as though she is God herself. I don’t think this is how she sees herself at all but the followers look to her as though she is this divine, supernatural power. In my opinion, this almost weakens her teachings. I can relate to the human but not the God, if that makes any sense?

Essentially, Amma preaches that people must look within to know thy Self. That there is nothing external which will ever help someone to achieve this knowledge, and if we rely on the external world then we shall always suffer from unhappiness. Love and compassion is another big concept she preaches about. But supernatural powers are not who or what she is. Not from what I could gather. Yet so many westerners (who made up 70% or more of her helpers today) seem to kiss the floor she walks on, looking to her in this way. I respect this powerful woman for the messages she is bringing to the world. Good messages full of truths. But, I cannot look at her like she is a Goddess. Should I? Am I missing something? I feel I can appreciate her teachings without having to become completely obsessed by her unlike so many others - so it seems. Each to their own I guess.

So, if ever Amma is in town and you want to go and see her, my recommendation is to arrive just prior to the ceremony, get your ticket and then brace yourself for the moment when you exchange your ticket for a token. Use elbows if needed, because I can guarantee everyone else will be!

Thank you Amma for our moment today. It was one which will remain with me for a lifetime.

Much love. Jessica.

Namaste xx

Inspired, expanded, supported

Whilst sitting here in my little apartment, at my desk/kitchen eating my 2 minute noodles, it’s only just occurred to me how comfortable I am beginning to get here. When I first arrived and walked into my room (after about 35 hours in transit) I had a near panic attack and spent the night crying to Owen on Skype about how uncomfortable i was. Now, walking into my room after a 13 hour day is such a relief. I’m thrilled to be here where I can finally rest. Just a thought…

In comparison to every other day since arriving, today has by far been my best. My balance is improving (and therefore my concentration), my strength and flexibility is improving and my overall confidence/acceptance in my own abilities is vastly improving. Kakasana was still difficult for me tonight however i am slowly slowly getting there. My focus and awareness is almost there. I did, however, sit more comfortably in Padmasana (lotus) for sometime. I find this too is a very difficult posture, however during anatomy class I challenged myself to keep working through it. The pain in my ankles and knees have also begun to lessen. My thighs were still on fire, but it seems my body is slowly beginning to open up which is exciting.

Throughout the day I have been jotting down notes in my study diary to remind me to write about here. When you’re sitting for hours on end, or holding a posture and feel like your about to die or collapse, you can sometimes find your mind wanders to other places to try and take the attention away from the current state. Not ideal, I know - but in some cases its a survival technique. I’m sure you know what i mean.

So, back to the thoughts and little things which caught my attention today. Well, for one, I think my teacher is a phenomenal, powerful man. He has this wonderful smile and honest humour which makes you feel like you are in safe hands. I feel I really need this right now being so far away from home and putting myself through yoga teacher training bootcamp. Having a friendly face is always nice when you’re alone in the world. But in saying that, he has this intense gaze and very serious approach when taking us through an asana class or technique class. This keeps everyone in absolute silence, not daring to make a sound. I think I mentioned this in an earlier post, but it amazes me how he can command such respect from everyone the moment he enters the room. I love it.

During our technique class, our teacher made a comment which I thought was really significant. As we are learning the most fundamental movements, for example how to hold your leg in the air (destroys me), he explained that in the real world, students are impatient. They want to be able to do the full asana at once, so they never learn how to properly move into and hold the asana. Because of this, people never truly experience the benefits of yoga practice - but still expect the benefits. They never reached the beautiful mountain peak, or if they do, they missed out on seeing all the beautiful animals and trees and plants on the way up as they rushed passed them. It may sound silly, but this is so true. Life has become too fast. People need to slow down and actually listen to their bodies. Feel, don’t force. Huge difference between the two. Another important point is the breath. People forget to breathe whilst doing their asanas, however breath is a sign of the presence of the mind. When we are struggling in a posture, it’s amazing how the body eases into the posture once you start noticing the breath. I really need to work on this as my mind can drift often, but it is certainly improving since being in this environment. Simple concepts, but powerful and important ones.

I attended an additional class today with Needa, my teachers assistant, who was offering some additional assistance for people who would like to improve their teaching skills. We talked about different ways of overcoming fears, language barriers and concerns re chanting to a class. This too comes down to awareness of self, being confident in your knowledge and be very aware of our class. Needa mentioned a really good point about not taking on board the emotions or anxieties of any of the class members. This, among many other tips, I certainly found helpful. To further improve confidence with being in front of a class, I will sit next to my teacher tomorrow morning (looking out at the rest of the students) during a technique class. This should be interesting. I guess it’s that whole idea of graded exposure. It’s wonderful our teacher is happy to offer us the opportunity to sit with him - that he is not so particular that he would not allow others to share that most important space. I’m excited!

Well, there are many more things I could harp on about here but it’s getting late and I need at least a couple of hours sleep before my nightmare 4am alarm goes off again. Today I feel quite drained - I think it’s all catching up on me, so sleep is a must.

And i shall do it all again tomorrow.

Namaste xx