Seeing Amma

June 2nd, 2010 | Posted by administratrix in Spiritual | Travel

In which I share the story of my 2010 pilgrimage to Mother’s feet.

Amma's Feet

Guru brahma gurur visnuh
gurudevo mahesvarah
guru saksat parambrahma
tasmai srigurave namah

(I prostrate to that Sri Guru who is Brahma, Vishnu, and God Maheshwara, and who is verily the Supreme Absolute Itself.)

At the very front of the archana book, there is a 3-and-a-half page manasa puja. I read through it once several years ago.

I don’t remember having any particular response to it other than perhaps the vague opinion that it was a simple or childish form of worship.

Now it elucidates my longing so much that I wish I’d written it myself.

. .. … .. . .. … .. .
The Seattle programs are awkward. There’s a public program, then a paid retreat, then a public program. The only way to get to both public programs is to be in Seattle for three days; if you’re going to be there anyway you might as well sign up for the retreat. And, if you can’t afford the retreat, well, only one public program for you then.

I couldn’t afford the retreat. Hell, I couldn’t even afford transportation to Seattle. The only reason I was able to see Mother at all this year is because a friend, Toni, saw my sad complaint on Facebook and offered to drive me across the state.

When I asked her why she wanted to do that, she said she’d “felt compelled” to take me to Amma. When I sent her a link to amma.org, she cried looking at an image of Mother.

“It happens,” I told her. “If Mother wants to meet you, She’ll meet you.” How lucky am I, that Mother found me a ride?

. .. … .. . .. … .. .
After getting a ride, I got the very last room in the “Amma Tour” room block at the Hyatt, but it was $109 per night. I later found a motel through Priceline for $65. It was five miles away from the program, but at least I could afford it.

So my friend Toni picked me up at 8:45 on Monday morning and drove me across the state in her little red late model car so that I could see my beloved Sat-guru, Mata Amritanandamayi Devi.

My Amma

. .. … .. . .. … .. .
At the motel I loaned Toni a green punjabi, and dressed myself in a white skirt-and-top set I bought at a Chicago program a dozen years ago.

We looked at the map in the phone book for awhile, then we left to find the Hyatt Regency Bellevue. Toni navigates almost entirely by vibe; when I admitted I hadn’t seen the Hyatt where I’d expected it to be (I was looking at the wrong side of the street) she laughed and flipped a U-turn and drove us straight to it.

Parking, miraculously, was free. (We’d already filled the tank. Between the two of us, we had maybe forty dollars.) We went into the Hyatt and got in line with hundreds of devotees. I saw the clothes and the hair and the jewelry and the tattoos and wondered vaguely why humans like to adorn themselves as tribes… I felt some relief: I feel weird about the way I dress because I’m basically the only member of my tribe where I live.

The line started to move. We got to the hall and were handed darshan tokens. Then we followed the directions across the hall and sat for the puja. Toni has bad knees from a car accident she was in, but magically we were seated on the right side of the stage next to the wall so she could stand up when needed without bothering too many people. There were over a thousand people in the hall. Most of the people around us were wearing retreat bracelets.

Devi Bhava

I sat and relaxed into the vibe. These people had all spent two days with Mother; was that what felt so wonderful? Or was it my own expectation of seeing Mother? Or was Mother thinking about us? If God is everywhere and we’re all capable of producing this ourselves, why don’t we? What made this different than any other gathering of people in any other room?

Amma arrived. Toni said she had a clear view of the pada puja even though it was all the way across the hall. (I don’t think I even knew about pada puja for several years. Everyone’s experience around Amma is so different.)

Holy Water

After the holy water was distributed, something about the shape of the ceiling magnified the sound of thousands of lids being snapped onto thousands of little cups into this wonderful groovy clicky-popping sound. “I LOVE that sound!” I whispered. “I want to sample it RIGHT NOW!” The guy next to me and I started giggling and couldn’t stop.

“It’s like a crooked Zen koan!” he replied. “Like, ‘What is the sound of many lids that don’t fit?’”

Each time one of us stopped giggling, the other would start again. Silly, non-ironic, joyful, childlike laughter. It felt WONDERFUL.

. .. … .. . .. … .. .
Mother gave satsang. I took notes on my iThing. This is what they say:

Dispassion, three types: temporary, gradual, intense.
The body is like a rented house
Awareness – like a bird on a dry twig (at any time it could snap)
When we develop intense dispassion we get peace of mind.
What is the point of blaming others for our sorrow?

. .. … .. . .. … .. .
When Swamiji began the Ma-Om meditation, Toni, who had had to stand up during the satsang, came and sat back down. Meditating in Amma’s presence was, as always, a lot like stepping

calmly

off the edge of the world

into an eternal abyss.

The rest of the puja completed, Mother went into the temple to change and they closed the curtains. Toni and I went for a walk because she’s not used to sitting on the floor so much and her knees were killing her.

. .. … .. . .. … .. .
Dinner was pretty good (especially the mattar paneer).

Devi Bhava

I would have had Indian snacks instead, but there aren’t any at the Seattle programs; I guess there aren’t really any Indian devotees in the area to make them. I can’t even tell you how much I was hoping for idli and sambar and pakora. OMG what I would give for some samosas! Srsly.

Our tokens were numbered O-3. I told Toni we wouldn’t be getting darshan until three or four o’clock in the morning. We hit the bookstore. I bought a rudraksha japa mala and a new bottle of Marikolundu.

I got some chai. Eventually Toni went and found a couch and napped.

. .. … .. . .. … .. .
I went up to the stage and stared at Amma for a couple of hours.

Well, when I could see Her at all I stared. The devotees doing their various sevas on stage insisted on standing directly in front of me, and I kept crying to Her in my head: “Let me see You! I can’t see You! This is my only time with You all year and this guy has to stand there!” I was feeling extremely sorry for myself that I didn’t get my usual three days with Mother and instead had only a few hours with Her and that guy! Why couldn’t he freakin’ kneel when he wasn’t actively doing his freakin’ seva?! I paced like a caged cat up and down the side of the stage, looking for a glimpse of my beloved Mother. Eventually I perched sideways behind a chair and I could see Her, but it took a toll on my neck and meditating was out of the question.

I went and sat down in front of the stage in a place left empty because the corner of the temple blocked any view of Amma, and meditated for about forty minutes. I’m not sure, but I think I may have fallen asleep. I didn’t nod off or start to fall over – usually a good indication that one has passed out – because I had very carefully arranged my body so that it took no effort to keep it upright, but there was a definite lack of conscious continuity.

Maybe I slept, maybe I had a very deep meditation. I don’t know. The issue caused me to wonder what the difference between “awareness” and “consciousness” might be. Do I have to be one to be the other?

I guess that I possess “consciousness,” because popular opinion and scripture alike say I do, but honestly I don’t know how to define it. I think I’m here and that I’m me, but I can’t tell you why I think that. Am I still conscious when I’m asleep? Can I be conscious without being aware? Can I be aware without being conscious? Most importantly, how do I know I’m me? I don’t have an unbroken recollection of my life; I have chunks of memory bordered by periods of sleep: each iteration of myself as the doer is utterly discrete, and yet I insist that these memories are all beads on the same string. Why do I think that? And how, if indeed at all, does this small-s-self relate to any capital-S-Self I might be trying to become?

I don’t meditate regularly because, honestly, the ever-changing world is more charming than whatever I find inside myself. I understand that the space within is infinitely vast (I can fit a model of the entire universe in there with room to spare), but it doesn’t draw me like the manifest world does. At best, meditation – even in the presence of my Satguru – is no better than just really pleasant, thank you very much.

So it follows that either I’m Doing It Wrong or that I’m missing the point. What is the point? When we see images of saints deep in samadhi, it sure looks like there’s a point. What are they doing in there? And why after twenty years of meditation don’t I know the answer to that question?

. .. … .. . .. … .. .
After a yummy masala latte, I went back to the right side of the stage and found myself a place sitting on the floor directly behind the stairs. From that position, I could see Mother’s face more often than not. (I wanted to be much closer to Her, but everyone was being invited to sit after darshan and between them and the prasad people I figured I’d get booted in a couple of minutes anyway.)

I leaned against the metal banister and rested my chin on the floor of the temple and wondered, as I always do, why She bothers to do this. Why come into the world and do this incredible, endless job of work? Each year She comes, and each year she bootstraps us out of our mess, and we go back into the world full of love and compassion and ready to serve… and slowly, we forget. The next year, She does it again, and so do we. Rinse and repeat. She could just be sitting somewhere in samadhi. Why pour this little bottle of milk into the vast ocean?

“I’m a waste of Your time,” I thought. “These others probably utilize Your grace much better than I. I’m lucky I get even one darshan this year. I deserve less than even this, to sit where I can see You.” I briefly considered leaving without darshan, but even at the time I saw it was some sort of self-pitying ego dance. The mind really is a terrible thing.

“All I care about is You. All I want to do is be around you. Everything else is a waste of time.” I wondered if I wasn’t being a passive Westerner: I have ONLY A FEW HOURS IN HER PRESENCE and am I really just going to sit here? She’s right there! I thought about begging myself onto the prasad list: “I used to be one of the Iowa seva coordinators, but three years ago I moved and now I don’t have a local satsang and I’ve done no seva all year and this is the one and only chance I have to see Mother. How about it, can you get me up there?”

I cried because She’s so perfect and so beautiful. It seems that I had, compacted into my eight hours in Her presence, the same journey I would have had in three days if I’d been on the retreat.

Eventually, the sign said O-1. I went to find Toni. We got into the darshan line. It moved much too fast for me. I was on stage before I knew it, and in the lap almost instantly. I’d been in line between two first-timers, and had harbored a fantasy about sitting right next to Mother for a couple of minutes. Or maybe I’d get to be in the lap while She did mantras… but suddenly, moments after I got into the temple, She hugged me. I thought, “I love You so much, Ma, and all I want is You,” and started to cry, and then my darshan was over. She smiled at me as She handed me my prasad. She knew me – I quit wondering if She recognized me years ago – but there was no super special darshan for me this year, even though I’d been feeling so sorry for myself about only getting the one.

I got the impression I had been officially weaned off of Her form a few years ago (the first time I had had the “I really need to look within and see what’s in there” revelation) and that She knew I knew that. I mean, I remember it. This child doesn’t get long silly darshans; this one is supposed to be doing seva or meditating.

The sevite near the stairs motioned me to sit on the side of the stage. Toni sat behind me after her darshan. The monitor was making the front row get up and leave every 60 seconds. After scootching forward twice I was behind the assistant prasad person and finally close enough to Mother… a minute later I was asked to leave so the people behind me could get their turns too.

I most emphatically DID NOT WANT to leave, now that I’d gotten where I wanted to be.

I left the stage anyway, because I was supposed to.

. .. … .. . .. … .. .
I considered staying until the end of the program; I could maybe catch a cab back to the motel, or Toni could come back get me… After walking to the car and sitting for a few minutes, I decided it would be selfish not to leave. Yes, I was wasting the four to six more hours I could spend in Amma’s presence, but I didn’t have cab fare and it was clearly unfair to steal sleep from Toni, who had so graciously driven me to Seattle in the first place.

It was four o’clock in the morning. We’d been awake for over 22 hours and had driven for over five of them.

We left.

I imagined Mother behind me, giving darshan endlessly, and sniffled a little. The sky was lightening in the east and birds were beginning to sing.

We set an alarm for 10:30 and crashed for six hours. I slept wrapped around my Amma doll.

. .. … .. . .. … .. .
After brunch at a Red Robin in Bellevue, we drove back to Walla Walla. It was overcast nearly the entire way. I plugged in my iPod and we rocked Amma bhajans the whole time.

Driving home

I did a lot of japa. I got a mocha in Cle Elum. We stopped at a fruit stand-slash-antique store outside of Yakima and browsed for an hour.

I was starving by the time Toni dropped me off. I nuked a bowl of rice and beans immediately. I tried to stay up until a decent hour but I was so tired I failed. I went to bed around six and slept for a very, very, VERY long time.

. .. … .. . .. … .. .
Today I found the manasa puja in the front of my archana book and recognized in it literally all of my current feelings. “Oh Mother,” it says. “You are pure love. I am too impure to deserve Your Grace. I know that my egoism and selfishness must be repelling to You. Still, bear with me. Mother, please be with me. You are the holiest river. I am a stagnant, filthy pond. You flow to me and purify me, overlooking my shortcomings and forgiving my mistakes.” I miss Her so much, and doubt entirely my ability to do anything at all of use outside of Her influence.

Something wonderful must be going on in there, because why else travel the globe merely to hug creatures like me? If enlightenment is loving all of creation as Self, well, it must be more wonderful than it sounds.

~ Om Namah Shivaya ~


Related links:
Amma’s 2010 North American tour schedule
My Flickr picture set

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3 Responses

  • katana says:

    Always nice to read about your Amma adventures! I am still deciding if I should see her in Dallas or Chicago. Have you read any Nisargadatta? If not let me know and I’ll forward you a pdf of “I am That”. It has been a really good point of reference for my own internal investigation of awareness, consciousness, self, mind, etc.

    Well obvs if you can, see Her in both cities! If it’s an either/or choice, I’d pick Chicago over Dallas because the food is better. (The Dallas programs are kind of like Seattle in that they’re a bit sterile, IMO.) No, I haven’t read any Nisargadatta. Please do forward! -m

  • 80 says:

    Sounds lovely! I’m glad you got to go!

    Getting to Amma is the most important thing I do all year. -m

  • Heather says:

    So happy Mother found you a ride! I have been seeing & experiencing a lot of that support of nature/manifesting/whatever you want to call it lately.

    One of my spiritual recharges of the year is reuniting with a group of friends from college that gets together each summer. I didn’t think I’d be able to make it this year financially, but I started with just arranging my schedule, clearing out any other commitments for that week. Then I starting looking for little extra jobs, saving ALL my tips and collecting from people who I did little jobs for before but hadn’t paid me. Found a little bit of cash in a bag I don’t use often, got a completely surprise little gift from my husband at the last minute.

    I’m still a little unsure how it all worked, but somehow it did! I came home with no extra debt, and a lot of clarity, perspective, and good things to think about and process. It was so worth the scramble, which didn’t really end up being as bad of a scramble as I had thought it might be.