'It's like being soaked in love'
Would you spend hours waiting to receive a hug from a stranger? Five people tell SYLVIA THOMPSONwhat it feels like to be hugged by Amma, the Indian humanitarian and spiritual leader
I MET Amma once when I was living in India, but I feel that I really first met her on her second visit to Ireland in 2005. I had seen a leaflet in an Indian shop and decided to go see her. Not many Indian people go to see her and my parents in India first asked me why I was going crazy about these things. I have had a good life with nothing sorrowful but when I met her, the tears started coming out of me. I was also very moved by the amount of building work that she did after the tsunami. After that, I gave myself to her and went to see her each time she returned to Ireland. When she hugs you, it goes straight to your heart. It is only for two to five seconds but it feels like it is longer. In the south of India where I grew up, we don’t hug each other after a certain age. I felt real peace and calm inside after she hugged me. The motherly love that she emanates makes you feel renewed.
A LOT of my friends thought I was getting involved in a cult when I first started to go see Amma. I first saw her in 1996 while I was living in London. I was curious to find out what it was all about. I am a sceptical person but I was looking for something that was spiritual without the dogma of religion. I waited for five or six hours to be hugged by her. All I’d say is that I found myself singing on the way home in the car. It was the experience of her presence and energy in the hall more than the hug itself. I am a very busy person but I found everything just emptied out of my head after seeing her. It was like being soaked in love. I went back each year and spent a lot of time observing her. I didn’t get involved in the charity until much later. I think her teaching is just so simple that she is a role model who we can follow. I am intrigued by how she can sit for up to 24 hours hugging people without taking a break to yawn, stretch or even look away. She has mastered control over her mind and shows us that we can do that too.
MY PARTNER and I first went to see Amma with some friends in 2007. I went out of a sense of curiosity really. I think what amazed me most was the whole volunteering effort. There were people of all ages and cultures working hard in the kitchen, serving food to everyone and having a good time. The hug itself was a nice experience. It wasn’t earth-moving but I wasn’t expecting anything. It was only when we went back to volunteer the next year that the experience became stronger for me. Sometimes, in your day-to-day job, you drag yourself out of bed in the morning but the volunteers work with ease and energy to do more. I found out about all the charity work she does and how she has the ability to focus exactly on where the needs are most and address them.
AMMA’S MESSAGE is that everyone has the right to be free from suffering and hunger and need and pain and sadness for one day in their lives. I’ve watched her take people from wheelchairs to give them a hug. I’ve watched her with frail, feeble and old people and how children sit in awe of her. I had been studying Buddhism for about 10 years in my search for peace of mind. I thought I had found it already when I met Amma but when she hugs you, she pulls you in with such force and holds you so tightly – whispering a prayer in your ear – that you know you have been blessed. When she looks at you, she gives you unconditional love and acknowledges the goodness in you and, by looking back at her, you recognise the goodness in yourself. You end up being transfixed by her presence. Going to see her is like going to one of the best parties in Dublin.
I FIRST met Amma in India while I was travelling. I had separated from my husband and left my job in England to travel. I thought I would meet people in India and do yoga but I met Amma instead and stayed three months in the Ashram. I felt she represented everything I wanted to be in my life. She loves everyone without judgment and makes everyone feel special. She made me feel that I wanted to do everything I could for others so I joined up as a volunteer and worked on her tours throughout India, Singapore, Mauritius and Kenya. I have since returned to live in Ireland and saw her here on her last visit in 2008. It was so powerful to see everyone so happy – hugging each other and dancing and experiencing the atmosphere that she creates.
Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi) will be giving hugs free at the National Show Centre, Cloghran (near Dublin Airport) on Saturday and Sunday (October 16th and 17th) from 10am until late. ammaireland.org. Tel: 01 6676334