Getting a cuddle from a friend when you are down can be really comforting, but how about a hug from a stranger? And how about if that stranger was actually one of the world’s most revered and followed spiritual leaders?
Well, yesterday I visited Alexandra Palace in London to witness the crowds coming for Darshan with Sri Mata Amritanandamayi – aka Amma. This is the Indian lady – some call her a saint – who has hugged close to 30million people. Not that I was feeling low, but I just wanted to experience what so many others had, to find out for myself what was special about it, if anything.
Most people focus on the hugging aspect but what inspired me most about Amma was hearing about her many charitable initiatives around the world, from helping flood victims, to setting up orphanages, and helping vulnerable women gain work skills and set up cottage industries.
Watching Amma hug person after person – and I mean really pulling them into her bosom and enveloping them with her physical and spiritual presence – was very moving. There was something about the genuine compassion being shown that touched everyone in the room. When it came to my turn, I kneeled on the floor (Amma sitts down so everyone has to kneel in order to receive their hug) and leaned forward into her. She began chanting something in my ear, which, having spoken to someone later on, I think was probably ‘My daughter, my daughter, my daughter’ over and over again. She kissed me on the head and showered me with flower petals and all of a sudden I was given an apple and a sweet by an assistant, and ushered quickly away for the next person to have their hug. It was all over in a mere minute, and I sat down near to her in order to ‘soak up’ the experience.
Caring for others and the world
Charlotte, my deputy editor, also came along and was particularly moved by the hugging experience, more so than I was. I found it comforting, and Amma certainly smelled good and it was nice having the blessings of someone so great, but what I found most moving, and what made the tears well up slightly, was contemplating the genuine compassion being shown, and how this simple act of hugging can be so lacking in our society. People, in the UK particularly, are not often that physical. It’s only recently that some people have started to kiss on the cheek when they greet each other. Hugging, especially anyone not your immediate family or friendship group, is just not the norm. I’m not advocating that everyone goes around hugging strangers, but we can all show compassion and love. How many times are we engrossed in our own little worlds and ignorant of the suffering experienced by so many?
Amma’s message was also one that struck me as slightly Pagan (excerpts of her talks were broadcast into the room at intervals), i.e. that of caring for Mother Nature. We all need to embrace the mothering instinct within us, whether male or female, she says, and take care of our precious planet.
All in all I loved the whole Amma experience. We bought some basil tea (even Amma dolls were on sale!), had our darshan with the great woman herself, and felt really inspired to go out and do good deeds. Amma’s work and whole ethos makes you question life, and look at what is really important. Compassion – for everyone not just your family – is what will help make the world a better place.
Visit www.amma.org.uk for more information.