There is a difference between blind faith and mature faith. To me, a mature faith is built on experience. With each positive experience one has in life, faith builds. With enough faith building experiences one has an ever maturing “Reason to Believe.”
I met my spiritual teacher, Mata Amritanandamayi (also known as Amma, which means mother, and as The Hugging Saint) in 1989. Over the years, I have had many faith building experiences, but probably none as remarkable as the one that happened in December of 1996.
The story actually began eight weeks earlier when I felt an inner direction to start saying my manta, a lot! (A mantra is a repetition of words, often in Sanskrit, that can awaken spiritual energies. Most of the mantras I know about mean “I bow to God.”) While there have been other periods in my spiritual journey when I have focused on my mantra, I have never said it consistently. But with this sense of inner direction, I began to say my mantra 1,000 to 10,000 times a day, sometimes more. I also began to chant the Lalita Sahasranama, the Thousand Names of the Divine Mother. Amma recommends that we chant it daily, but I rarely followed her advice. Now, I felt a compulsion to chant it at least five days a week and did.
There have been a few times before my annual visit to Amma’s ashram in India, that I have felt the need to update my will. This was one of those years. Also, the morning I left, I felt compelled to write my roommate a note saying that if I died on this trip, I would like Mrs. Jenkins, a friend who is a gospel singer, to sing at the memorial service, should one be held. In addition to the growing feeling of dread I was experiencing, two clients told me they sensed I was in danger.
My journey started out just like my previous ones. This year, five us were traveling together, one of them being my daughter. We arrived in Singapore without incident. After an eighteen hour layover in Singapore, we boarded the airplane for the final leg of our trek. I remember thinking, “Just a few more hours and we will be sitting beside Amma…. We are in the home stretch… We have it made!!!”
Not so! Half-way between Singapore and India, our plane started shaking. Simultaneously all of the oxygen masks fell from their compartments. As we struggled to put on our masks, the plane started falling, first 15,000 feet, then another 10,000. The entire fall took about a minute. As the plane began to descend, my daughter and I glanced at each other and then we each focused inward. My mantra started flowing freely within me. With the mantra came a great sense of peace. It was like the peace I feel when I am near Amma.
Many thoughts flowed through my mind. I was immensely thankful that I had been “directed” to focus on my mantra prior to the trip. I believed that it was this preparation that now made my mantra so accessible. I noted that the premonitions of danger had been correct. I realized that should I die now, I could leave the earth without regret. I had no sense of unfinished business.
I felt curious about what would happen when, and if, we hit water. Would we live? Would we die? Would we struggle? Would we experience pain? Those thoughts were present, but there was matter-of-fact energy associated with them. Mostly, I felt relaxed and peaceful…. all that was important was my mantra.
The reaction of other passengers was far different from that generally portrayed by the media. A woman screamed for about 2 seconds as the plane began to fall. After that, there was complete silence aboard the plane until the pilot spoke, about 15 minutes later. When he did speak, he informed us simply that there had been a decompression problem. He said everything was under control and that he had turned the plane around and was heading for Malaysia.
Once we arrived in the skies above Malaysia, the pilot informed us that he had decided to continue on to Singapore. He said, “We will be better able to handle the situation there.” What did that mean? Were we going to crash upon landing? The two hour journey following the fall seemed endless. During that time, we had no idea whether we were going to live or die. The pilot had said everything was going to be fine, but why should we believe him? What was he going to say- “We are going to crash shortly. Prepare to die.” Even through all of this, I was, for the most part, free from scare. All that was important was my mantra.
Sometime during the first hour, I became aware of a strange odor. I decided to take off my oxygen mask and see if I could identify the heavy, pungent smell. I concluded that it was burning electrical wire. The implications of that did not hit me until much later when a newspaper reported that a fire had caused our plane’s decompression problem. Other news reports said that it was miracle that the plane landed safely in Singapore.
There were some moments of levity during the event. One man stood up with his video camera, happily recording the incident for posterity. Perhaps the funniest moment occurred early on when the pilot said something along the lines of, “Don’t worry. Please stay onboard.” I suppose we were experiencing the result of language differences, but my daughter, Chaitanya, and I looked at each other and laughed. Chaitanya still laughs when she remembers one of her first reactions to the plane going down was to look at me and say, “Has this ever happened to you before?”
When we arrived in Singapore, the airline provided us with meals and lodging. Finding a substitute flight to India was no easy matter this close to Christmas. We discovered there had been two other passengers going to Amma’s ashram on board, in addition to the five from Seattle. We met together in one of our hotel rooms, singing bhajans (devotional songs) accompanied by a small keyboard and percussion instruments created from spoons, glasses and anything else that could make sound.
On our third day in Singapore, my daughter and I discovered a Kali temple. That night all of us trekked to the temple and participated in a puja (worship ritual), I imagine most of us praying for swift and safe passage to India. The next day we were once again on a plane, headed for Amma!!
One of the first things I noticed after arriving at the ashram was a sign on a bulletin board which read, “Life is not a right; it is a gift from God.” I had a stronger sense of that sentiment than ever before!
An ashram friend told me that earlier in the week when one of the brahmacharis (monks) had informed Amma that our plane had crashed, Amma had responded, “The plane did NOT crash, my children were on board.” Later someone else told me Amma had been aware our plane was in trouble from the time the plane began shaking.
The next day, when I went for darshan (Amma’s hugs are a form of blessing called darshan), I could tell that Amma had seen me and was telling those sitting near her what had happened to us. When I had my hug, she whispered in my ear in English, “Karuna, BIG problem.” That statement released any lingering doubts that Amma had been with us throughout the experience.
In the weeks and months that followed, I became aware how much this experience had impacted me. My faith in Amma had significantly increased. She had known I was in trouble and had been there for me. I carried a sense of confidence that she would be there for me when I needed her in the future. I also noted how events that in the past would have been very upsetting, now barely phased me. I was much more capable of “going with the flow” and letting life unfold as it would, trusting that whatever happened would be in my best interests.
Several images came into my consciousness soon after our arrival in India. One was the image of Amma’s hand catching and holding the plane. The other was the image of being held, safe in her arms. Those images will stay with me forever. I am thankful for her presence in my life, for the grace she continually grants me and for her commitment to guide me until I learn all I need to learn on my life’s journey. I am also thankful that I have a “Reason to Believe.”
Written for Word Press Daily Prompt: Reason to Believe