Sculpture of the Virgin Mary and Child, Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona, AZ
Selflessness in action is humbling to behold. I was reminded of this after driving to a nearby town to be in the presence of Mata Amritanandamayi. Amma, or “the Hugging Saint,” as she’s also known, travels from India to the seemingly inauspicious hamlet of Marlborough, Massachusetts every year as part of her North American tour. Those who come for darshan, or the blessing of seeing her, have the opportunity to wait in line to receive a hug. Part of Amma’s mission on this planet is to put her arms around as many human beings as she possibly can while she’s here. Her love and service to humanity goes way farther than that, though; charitable organizations in her name have made significant advances in the areas of housing, education, and public health in her home country and beyond. Her foundation is called “Arms Around the World.” It all comes back to the hugs.
I didn’t get a hug this year, unfortunately, as Amma’s arrival in the States was a little earlier than usual, and it sort of snuck up on us. To be able to get the full Amma experience, you really need to schedule in a day off. The hugs are an all-night affair, beginning around 9 at night and continuing until the wee hours. The hug line is long, and the people in it come from far and wide; on the way through the parking lot, we counted license plates from over a dozen states and Canadian provinces.
What I did get, however, was nearly as great as physical contact with a living saint… I got a chance to witness the continual outpouring of unconditional and unapologetic love. I sat among the rows of folding chairs facing the raised platform where she receives her devotees, alternating my gaze between the stage and the large monitors that offer up-close views of Amma and her inner circle throughout the night. Her smile doesn’t fade. The enthusiasm with which she greets each new person that approached her didn’t wane. She doesn’t get up from her seat, even for a bathroom break, until the last person in the hall receives a hug. Her energy seems inexhaustible.
I didn’t know that people could do that. I’m not just talking about sitting all night without using the bathroom; I didn’t know that a person could just pour out their love like it flowed from an endless fountain. No one ever told me that that was something you could do. The instruction I got seems to be that you’ve got to hang on to some love, you can’t just give it all away… What happens when it’s all gone, who are you then? It’s uncharted water, and there’s a lot of fear there… What’s the price of that much openness, that much selflessness? I can’t say that I know, I’ve never taken the risk. It’s nice to know that someone else has, and has lived to take that risk again and again.
I might not be ready to throw my arms around the world and hug it like it’s my only child, loving every last drop of its tragically flawed, misguided and beautifully brutal, cruel insanity, smelling its hope and fear as if it’s the same aroma… but I can definitely do more than I’m doing now. These are dicey times, to say the least. A little more love certainly won’t hurt. No one’s asking me to sit all night on a platform hugging the multitudes, but I can ask myself to be a little kinder to whomever happens to be in front of me in any given moment, maybe even to ask, “are you okay? Is there anything I can do for you?”
How about you, reader? Are you okay? I haven’t blogged in a while. Please consider this final post of the year to be my sincerest wish for you to be happy, healthy, and free of suffering in the new year. Wherever you are…