This past week I traveled to Toronto to attend the last of Amma’s 2016 North America programs. Every day with Amma is always filled with learning and experiences. There is no way I could detail everything that happened while I was there but I will share some of the events that were most important to me.
The Weight was Lifted
In the post I wrote from Amma’s Programs in Chicago (My Dream is Realized), I shared about the increasing emotional distress I have been feeling because, due to a variety of physical issues, I have been unable to participate in seva (volunteer work) at Amma’s programs for some time. For fifteen years I was the coordinator for Amma’s Pacific Northwest programs. I stopped doing that volunteer job about six years ago. While I still do various forms of seva in Seattle, I haven’t committed to any seva shifts during Amma’s programs for at least three years. I was beginning to feel useless.
Amma clearly was not upset that I wasn’t working, nor was anyone else. Regardless, I found myself becoming more and more critical of myself. I realized how much my distress was taking away my ability to really “be” at the program. All too often my mind was on what I wasn’t doing instead of being present. Prior to coming to Toronto, I decided I needed to ask Amma for help.
[Before I relate what happened when I talked to Amma, let me say that she gives very individualized responses. Two people may ask her the same question and get two completely different answers. It is important that people talk with Amma directly rather than assuming an answer given to someone else is the same answer she would give to them.]
On the first day of the Toronto program, I arrived early so that I could join the question line. (I will share more of that process in the next section.) As Amma answered the questions of the people in front of me, I eagerly anticipated my own experience. Finally, I reached the front of the line. As Amma listened to the translator while he shared my concern, her eyes gazed at me with love. Her response was immediate. With firmness, yet at the same time with great tenderness, she told me not to ever think like that. She said I have done so many years of seva and that I shouldn’t feel any guilt or any worry about not doing seva now. I felt seen, heard, loved and respected. It seemed like a heavy weight was removed from my mind and my heart instantaneously. Even though I heard Amma’s answer through the translator, I will be able to see the way she looked at me, feel her touch on my cheek and hear her words in my mind forever more.
I imagine most of us have the experience of synchronous things happening from time to time. When around Amma, though, they seem to happen with much more frequency.
One of those events occurred on the day I asked Amma my question. I hadn’t asked her a question for a long time, but I knew the general practice was to meet on the left side of the stage before the program started and a question line monitor would come with a sign up sheet. If there were a lot of people waiting, then the organizer might do some prioritizing based on the severity of the issue.
I waited on the side of the stage for a long time and only one other person joined me. When the question line monitor arrived later, I was very surprised to discover that 8 of the 10 slots were already full. I assumed other people must have known who she was and stopped her as she walked through the crowd. I ended up with slot #10.
I was delighted that I was going to be able to ask my question, but a disgruntled part inside of me harrumphed from time to time, “I should have been FIRST not LAST.” I didn’t give the complaint much weight since I knew I could have lost out altogether and was ecstatic that my time would come.
As I was going through the line, a friend of mine who had recently suffered a major loss walked by. When she saw me, she asked if she could sit with me. Because I was last, and the line was moving forward leaving empty seats as each person’s question was answered, there was now an empty seat next to me. I put my arm around her shoulders as she cried. There was no doubt in my mind that the reason I was last person in the question line, instead of first, was so that I would be available to support her. The event also served as a reminder to me that I help in ways other than signing up for seva shifts.
Another synchronous event that occurred was one that was fun, but of no major significance. I was walking with Chaitanya and Akshay headed for a restaurant. I mentioned to them that I have become practically obsessed with eating sushi. Seconds after I made that statement, we turned a corner a block from the hotel where we were staying. On my left, there was a building with a big sign on it, “Grand Opening Coming Soon….. All You Can Eat Sushi.” I will look forward to going there when I go to the 2017 programs in Toronto!
There is always an entertainment program on the second night of Amma’s retreats. Devotees sing, dance or entertain in other ways. For many years, the Tour Staff has created a big dance to be performed during the last retreat of the tour. As has happened numerous times in the past, they invited me to join them. That left me in a dilemma. I REALLY, REALLY wanted to do it, but could my back take it? (I’ve had back problems since February.) My pain had reduced tremendously over the past month, but would I hurt myself if I danced a fairly high energy Indian dance? I knew that I could do it in a low impact way, but I still had doubts.
I decided to participate in the practices and take one day at a time. I could change my mind at any moment. After the first practice I was a bit sore, but the next day I felt better than I had in a long time. The same thing happened after the second practice. It looked like I was going to be able to participate in the dance!
During special events, like festivals, Amma frequently encourages the devotees to dance, and sometimes dances herself. The staff members that created the dance at the Toronto retreat decided that they wanted to surprise Amma by inviting the retreat participants to join in the staff dance. About three hundred staff and retreatants came to one or both practices. Right before the dance was to be performed, most of the chairs in the room were stacked on the sides of the room and everyone was invited to join in. People who knew the dance were scattered throughout the room and the dance was easy enough that people could participate whether or not they had been at a practice. As a result, at one o’clock in the morning, about 500 devotees danced for Amma. And at 2:30 a.m., just before the program ended for the night, Amma danced for us! It was a magical night, never to be forgotten.
These are only a few of the many experiences I had during the Toronto programs. I could write so much more, but hopefully I have said enough to give a sense of how profound the four-day program was for me. I have so many new memories to savor between now and when I go to India in November!
Photo Credit: Amma’s Facebook Page