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yoga

Amma Hugging Saint September 9-10, 2007

AMMA "HUGGING SAINT"

A Spiritual Invite by Email
I received a url by email from Jim Ward, alerting me to a 2-day workshop consisting of spiritual discourse, meditation and devotional singing at an expansive estate in plush Forbes Park...absolutely free! I'm not a big fan of spiritual endeavors where money changes hands, so needless to say, I was interested and signed up. My last spiritual workshop was in March 2003, and with all the beer and partying I'd been doing lately, it's time to get anchored.

Who is Amma?
This workshop was through the organization of Amma, a world-renowned spiritual leader, more commonly known as the 'hugging saint'. Although virtually unknown in the Philippines, her organization has presence in over 120 countries. It's not unusual for her followers to number in the hundred thousands for an event, all wanting to be hugged. She espouses love and compassion to all humankind, and it is said that she absorbs the person's pain with every hug. Her organization is responsible for donating millions of dollars to innumerable humanitarian services ($22M was donated to develop housing for the 2004 tsunami victims). Jane Goodall couldn't have said it any better when she described Amma - "She stands here in front of us. God's love in a human body."

Integrated Amrita Meditation
The spiritual workshop focused on the IAM (Integrated Amrita Meditation) technique, born out of Ammas "divine sankalpa (resolve) to bring about integration of body, mind, intellect and heart, enabling one to lead a more balance life and have a positive outlook in life". Due to confidentiality agreements, I am not allowed to disclose the details of the course...for good reason, as explained by the Swami. This meditation technique needs to be moderated by a trained practitioner. Suffice it to say that the 2-day exercise entailed stretches, breathing and meditation.

Flow House
Upon arriving at the workshop, the first thing that caught my attention was the house. It was as big as a country club, big enough to be an ashram, but that's not what attracted me to it. You haven't seen an open-concept until you've seen this house. Everything just flowed through...the wind, the energy, etc. The vibe was just doing it for me. It felt like a very peaceful place despite its size. Obviously, a lot of zen-planning went into the house. Talks with our hostess revealed that she fired her architect, hired an auto-cad student who put into pixels, her vision of a house, rooted in the geography of the place and the long-lost tradition of a culture.

Reason for Being There
Coming alone, I was open to meet a few of the participants. Everyone had their reason for being there, but for the most part, they were in search of themselves (don't we really all?). One has tried the whole gamut of spiritual workshops, looking for "the one that works". Another was there to un-stress. Some were curious, and some, I guess, simply needed to be with like-minded individuals in a peaceful setting.

Q&A
I had a fleeting moment of enlightenment (for lack of a better phrase) many years ago. I felt awake for the first time in my life. That feeling lasted a few minutes and it was gone. I asked the swami if it was possible to sustain a level of awakening...one that would last a lifetime. I thought he would give an ethereal "cosmic consciousness" answer from 50,000 feet above sea level, but his answer was simple...'keep thinking positive...replace negative thinking into positive'. That would bring me closer to my 'state of bliss'.

He spoke of love as a panacea for the world's ill. I asked him what if there is no love inside to give away? Again, he gave a simple answer: 'we all love ourselves...take that love and share it'. Hmmm....maybe the answers we all seek are really that simple...maybe we just complicate it.

The French Guy
2 people impressed me the most...and they were not even trying. There is this french guy, a devout disciple, who holds a childlike excitement and wonder every time he talks about Amma. His eyes widen, he gets excitable and his body english does an equal amount of talking. He impressionably talked about Amma absorbing people's pain every time she hugs, about the soft spot on top of her head (where the head chakra is, presumably where she exits the body), and about the disciple who asked to feel part of Amma's pain (after being given a small doze, he was sent to the hospital and stayed there for 2 weeks writhing in pain). He can't contain his excitement, as though he witnessed a miracle. Whatever he experienced, I want it!

Our Gracious Hostess
The next person is our gracious hostess (not necessarily in that order). With her selfless demeanor, you wouldn't think she owned that mansion-like spread in Forbes Park. She was in all places at one time, juggling the many things she had to look after, ensuring the workshop flowed smoothly. Figuratively speaking, she was the one emptying our ashtrays while we partied on. Accommodating and without airs, she was there for everyone who needed an audience.

When I asked her what her journey was all about, with humility, she said that she's done meditation, yoga, spiritual retreats, and all the spiritual flavors-of-the-month. But without selfless sacrifice in the service for others, it's all ego. I was taken by that. Even now, as I write this, I'm still thinking about that. Somehow, I feel a void created by been-there-done-that, Im-happening kind of adventurism that really is all about ego. What have I really done for others? It's been all about me. Interestingly, she added that since she pursued a spiritual life with Amma, everything she asked for in life, she got.

Ending Thoughts
Perhaps it's not fair to compare, but I can't help it. I've done a similar spiritual workshop in Toronto with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's disciples. Like Amma's IAM, Sri Sri has his proprietary exercise, the Sudarshan Kriya. Both are designed by the gurus themselves to enhance the quality of life through spiritual upliftment. They are not unique. In India alone, there are many spiritual leaders with a huge following, headed by a spiritual guru who likewise foster love and world peace. I'm not saying one is better than the other. They represent different paths on a spiritual journey - not unlike streams, rivers, brooks, creeks, all having different names but all eventually take you to sea. Regardless of the messenger, the message remains the same.

I believe that Amma's teachings truly provide sustained spiritual growth when acted upon. I am likewise convinced that she is an enlightened soul who aim to spread love and compassion in a world desperately in need of it. Her humanitarian efforts speak for itself.

What lingers with me however are the impressions I had with our wonderful hostess and the french guy. Equally important to what was taught in the workshop, their unguarded example was the litmus test on which Amma's message is conveyed - detachment, sacrifice in the service of others and a childlike openness to the wonderful things the world has to offer.

--- TheLoneRider

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IMG_3004 IMG_3083 Pictures courtesy of SenJM


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Reader Comments:

Therese Ng
(23 Sep 2007) It's nice to hear from you and thanks for the link. I even checked out some of your recipes, which sound really good! Hope you're doing well, wherever you are right now. Are you still doing the IAM meditation?

Deoven Ariscon
(23 Sep 2007) The Lord bless you with all your goodness!

Joshua Ariscon
(23 Sep 2007) ...keep up the good work!

Pamela Fernandez
(September 22, 2007) Thanks for your impulse. I am glad you took the challenge/initiative/interest to build some kind of network for the Amma movement in the Philippines. The experience is residing nicely in me to say the least. Good luck with this endeavor. Namaste.

Dunia Delos ReyesDunia Delos Reyes
(Sep 22, 2007) Hope all is well with you, I looked at your pictures...wow, lots fun!

Tana
(September 17, 2007) I really enjoyed reading the article on Amma and the IAM meditation course. Your writing and insight are great and it will be a great way to spread Amma's message. And thank you again for everything.

Jim Ward
(September 9, 2007) We really wanted to go...glad someone from the SANGHA made it. We are off to Singapore to study for a week with a Tibetan Master. Then hangout to bike and take in the sights.

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TheLoneRider