The Dungeon Prompt for this week is to answer the question “What does love look like?” It didn’t take me long to decide what to write about!
Throughout my teenage years, I was very involved in church activities. That changed by the time I graduated from college. The college I attended was religiously conservative. The U.S. at that time was in the throes of the civil rights and Vietnam war crises. As I made my way through my four years of study, I became increasingly angry and judgmental of my fellow students and the faculty for their seeming lack of sensitivity and awareness of the world’s great challenges. It seemed to me that they were choosing instead to bury their heads in their Bibles. By the time I graduated, I considered myself to be somewhere between an agnostic and an atheist. At that time even hearing the word God made me feel nauseated.
In early 1989, much to my displeasure, many spiritual people started entering my life. At some point, one of those people informed me that a woman saint from India would be holding public programs in Seattle in June. She had been in the presence of this woman twice before and reported having had intense heart-opening experiences each time. When she asked if I would like to go, I immediately said, “Yes,” and then regretted it for months. I could not imagine why in the world I had agreed to do such a “stupid” thing.
The day of the program arrived. I had clients scheduled throughout the day and into the early evening, so was unable to be present when the event began. I walked into a room already packed with people and found a seat against the back wall. Immediately, a very strange thing happened. I have always had mild curvature of the spine and I tend to sit fairly hunchbacked, probably as much from habit as necessity. As I sat down on the floor, cross-legged, my back spontaneously straightened until I was sitting as straight and tall as it was possible for me to sit. Needless to say, I was quite shocked!
When I had recovered sufficiently to look around, I noticed the woman in the front of the room speaking to the crowd through a translator. I knew she was called Amma, which means Mother. (Later, she also became known as The Hugging Saint, as she hugs each person who comes to her.) Soon thereafter, she and the brahmacharis (monks) began to sing. I immediately slipped into a deep altered state of consciousness. I knew other people were in the room, but lost awareness of them. As my whole being filled with the music, I began to weep uncontrollably. The person who had invited me to the program had warned me that it would take time for me to become accustomed to the different culture. Instead of feeling as if I was in a foreign culture, I had the overwhelming sense that I had come “Home.” I felt as if I had been starving for a lifetime and that every cell in my body was opening to take in the nourishment offered by the music. I fed and fed and cried and cried.
The music program ended with a song I later discovered was called Arati. Two women circled a flame in front of Amma as the group sang. Weeks afterward I repeatedly heard myself say to friends, “There was this song and this flame,” as I cried with the memory.
When the musical program was over, I moved close to the front so I could watch what was happening. Amma was placing everyone individually on her lap, rubbing their backs, and then giving them a hug. I decided I would get a hug and moved into the line. Finally it was my turn to be held… and then it was over. Being held that first time was not a big deal to me. Perhaps my expectations were too high. Besides, as far as I was concerned, it was the music that generated the power and energy.
I had kept my calendar for the next evening clear in the unlikely event I wanted to attend another program. I was intrigued enough with my experience that I decided not only to go to the next evening program, but after I met with my morning clients, I would go to the morning program as well. When morning arrived, all of my clients canceled! Clearly, I was supposed to go back, and did.
When the music started that night, I drifted into a deep meditative state. First, I experienced exhilarating joy, then deep sorrow. My tears poured throughout the night. I was aware of a wide variety of energy surges in my body. The one sensation I recall was the sense of danger coming from the right. I believed I was shedding the energy from many of the traumatic memories stored in my cells.
Amma was conducting a retreat in Orcas Island, Washington, starting the following day. I was unwilling to ignore the responsibilities I had in Seattle during the next few days, so decided to attend only the last day of the retreat.
I was able to enter the line for a hug as soon as I arrived at the retreat center. I was excited, and in a way, relieved to be with her again. Besides, this way of being hugged was beginning to feel really good.
I had many more experiences that day but the one I will mention here happened the morning following the retreat. I was invited to join people who were seeing Amma off at the Orcas Island airport. As she prepared to leave, I started crying as if my heart was going to break. I found my behavior extremely bizarre since I barely knew this woman and I judged that our relationship did not warrant this display of emotion. What was happening to me? Six weeks later, I went to Amma’s retreat in New Hampshire and six months after that, I was in India.
Within the first few weeks after meeting Amma, I noticed I was able to separate Jesus from my anger at the Christian church. In fact, when I was with her I believed I was experiencing what it would have felt like to sit at the feet of Jesus. Over the next year or two, most of my anger at the church fell away as well. After all, we are all part of the human family and we are all doing the best we can.
My experience with Amma was like a rebirth. For the last 25 years I have traveled to many of her U.S. programs and have made almost yearly trips to her ashram in India.
My answer to the question, “What Does Love Look Like?” is: “Love is to be seen, to be known, to be close, to belong, to be Home.” And when we are filled with love, we then reach out to others and share that love with them. Through love, we become a family who cares about one another and who works together to ensure that everyone in the world has what they need, not only to survive, but to thrive.
Written for: Dungeon Prompts: Season 2 Week 12