One Friday evening this past June, I was taking a walk after dinner. While walking, I contemplated my heartfelt wish to meet Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi, also known as the hugging saint) at her San Ramon Ashram.
I had met Amma once in 2006 and received from her a “family hug”—Amma had hugged my husband, children, and me together. I had sensed a special warmth in her hug, comparable only to what I had felt in my mother’s hugs, but my children had physically been between Amma and me.
Of late, my heart and body had been missing and craving my mother’s hug. My heart knew only Amma could give me that, but my mind had doubts. A voice within me asked, “Can’t you see, you are getting too attached to Amma. Aren’t you becoming too emotional about another human being?”
A soft voice within me answered: “Don’t you know from your last experience that Amma is a highly evolved soul, that she is not just another human being?”
Because of a recent back injury, I was unable to drive long distances, and the ashram was an hour from my home. My husband was also not keen on meeting Amma this time. I decided to pray, send out my intention, and then be open to whatever would follow.
After numerous unsuccessful attempts to find a friend to drive with me to the ashram, my first yoga teacher—through whom I had first been introduced to Amma—offered me a ride. The next morning, we drove together toward our destination while listening to the devotional music sung by Amma’s devotees.
Once we reached the ashram, I noticed that many devotees were saying “Aum Namah Shivay” to each other with folded hands. I realized that it was their “sacred mantra,” a way of greeting one another and communicating “sorry,” “excuse me,” or “thank you” in the ashram. There was also palpable excitement. Devotees of all ages and backgrounds, visiting from all over the world, were anxiously waiting for Amma to arrive, as if a very dear family member was returning home after decades.
Amma arrived and initiated the meditation. I was sitting about six meters from her and got a clear glimpse of her profile before closing my eyes. As soon as I started meditating, something happened within me, and I just broke down. I experienced a forceful urge to run and receive a bear hug from Amma. I remembered my own mother, her hug, her warmth, and our shared memories.
A female voice whispered close to my ear, “Here are tissues,” placing them inside my folded palms. Without opening my eyes, I kept making those dry tissues moist; the caring woman sitting next to me rubbed my back gently.
When I finally opened my eyes, I noticed that Amma had started hugging devotees. The lady who was rubbing my back turned out to be a volunteer. With a warm smile, she suggested that we step out for fresh air.
Once we were outside, she told me about her own emotional experience—which had lasted for six hours—meeting Amma the first time. I asked her quietly why I had not experienced all this “urge and burst” two years ago upon first meeting Amma. She explained that I must have been a totally different person spiritually and emotionally. I nodded in agreement, and she said, with wide eyes, “You know, it is good to cry around Amma.”
While waiting for my turn to be hugged, I found myself constantly looking at Amma. I could sense that even her presence was sacred, and I experienced an uplifting energy which I have otherwise felt only during meditation.
When my turn finally came, I found myself dazed. Amma was surrounded by four women clad in white saris, volunteers who were leading devotees toward Amma and then pulling them out of her embrace after few seconds. As I stepped toward Amma, I observed that I was neither happy nor sad; I was simply quiet and blank.
When Amma called me into her arms, and my forehead touched her chest, I broke down in loud, periodic, emotional bursts without any tears. I felt something streamlining within me, much like randomly moving electrons had started aligning in a complete electric circuit. In that moment, it felt as if I had received all I could ever want. In the next few seconds, I received my mother’s love in that full-and-fulfilling embrace from Amma.
Before taking her hands off my back, Amma whispered a few affectionate words in my ear. Then she placed a few things inside my palm, closed the fist, and lifted me from her.
As I walked away from Amma, I found myself drawn to the far wall of the hall. I started howling, with my face and palms pushed against the wall. Soon, however, I calmed down. After that I felt light, fresh, and immensely contented. It was a contentment which I had observed only on the faces of my newborn babies while nursing them. In that blissful moment, I became aware of the completeness within me.
When I left the hall, my yoga teacher and another devotee told me that Amma had not allowed any of her volunteers to pull me off her. They could see that it was a special and strong hug. I was deeply touched by Amma’s sensitivity and compassion.
When I returned home, I felt physically worn out but emotionally recharged, with a lingering wish to be silent. The next night, I spoke with my father over the phone and shared with him what I had experienced: an awesome feeling of “absolute completeness.” My father told me that he was very happy for me; for he had not sensed “it,” he said, in almost seven decades of his life.
I have now realized that Amma gave me the same love during both meetings, but my recent experience was different life changing because I was open to receiving her love.
Gunjan Raizada Chakravarty is a physicist and spiritual writer in Mountain View, Calif.