I made it to India! I have been coming to Amma’s ashram in Amritapuri, India almost yearly since 1990. Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi) is an internationally known humanitarian and spiritual leader. Her network of humanitarian projects is vast; including hospitals, colleges, schools, vocational training programs, disaster relief, orphanages, environmental programs and much more. Amma’s form of blessing (called darshan) is a hug. To date she has hugged more than 33 million people worldwide. Even though Amma was born in a Hindu culture, when people ask her what her religion is, she responds, “My religion is love.” You can find out more about Amma and the humanitarian projects at Embracing the World.
Being with Amma (which means mother) is like coming home for me. When I am with her, I feel seen, known, and cared for, to the core of my being. My time with her is filled with lessons and life experiences. The lessons can be intense at times, but growth is always the outcome. During the next six weeks, I will be sharing experiences I have during my 2014-2015 visit.
My journey begins
One of the things I have learned during my years with Amma is to expect the unexpected. I didn’t have to wait long for that to happen. I arrived at the Seattle airport three hours before my flight. The check in lines were quite short but I was soon directed to one that was separate from the main ones. The agent told me that if I didn’t mind not being able to watch any movies (because the machine was broken), she was going to upgrade me to business class. I was astounded. Could it be true? I usually watch a lot of movies on these long flights, but it took me only seconds to accept the invitation.
About 20 years ago, or maybe even longer, I received an unexpected upgrade. At the time, I was miserable because I felt self-conscious. I didn’t think I belonged there. Not this time. If they wanted to give me an upgrade, I was more than happy to accept it.
The food was wonderful and the chance to lie down for a good portion of the 14 hour flight was incredible. I could get used to this! I realized it was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity, but you never know!
The great food and comfortable seats were not the most important thing that occurred though. When I travel to be with Amma, the frequency of synchronicities that happen in my life usually accelerate. During my visit last year, I experienced several synchronous events, all related in some way to my Sanskrit studies. I wrote about them in When Our Path’s Cross. This year, I didn’t even have to wait to be at the ashram for synchronicities to start.
When I first arrived in the business class section of the airplane, I discovered that a young Indian man named Jayanand was going to be sitting next to me. There was a built-in divider between the two seats but we could easily talk around it. I found out he was from Portland and was on his way to Chennai. He also had received the free upgrade to business class.
Once the plane departed, I decided to do my Sanskrit homework. Jayanand noticed what I was doing and commented that he should do the same. He pulled out a book and I saw the script it was written in. Hindi and Sanskrit both use Devanagari script, so I thought maybe it was a Hindi book. I asked if it was Sanskrit though, and he said yes. He told me he had been taking Samskrita Bharati classes for some time. That is the same organization that runs the classes that I take!
Before long, I learned that his current teacher is the same man who taught me at a Samskrita Bharati family camp last summer. I also discovered Jayanand teaches a children’s Sanskrit class. The workbook he uses for that class is the same workbook that I had in my lap! Furthermore, it turns out that we were both at the same Sanskrit camp last August!
What are the chances that two people who have Sanskrit in common would both be upgraded to business class on an international flight and end up sitting next to each other. To me, there was no way this could have been a random occurrence. I thought it was synchronicity at its best! My newest Amma journey had definitely begun.
At the time we began to talk, I was having trouble figuring out how to do my homework. The books have no English in them and I didn’t know all of the vocabulary in the directions. Because I was upgraded to business class and seated next to him, I had been given the “gift” of having a teacher when I needed one. I felt both amazed and grateful, and took full advantage of his presence.
The rest of the trip proceeded normally. I changed planes in Dubai and then continued on to India. In Trivandrum, I waited a long time for my baggage and after some time discovered the airlines had left one suitcase in Dubai. Another chance to deal with the unexpected, and to know that everything would be fine, regardless of the outcome.
An hour later, after making arrangements for the suitcase to be delivered to the ashram, a friend and I were in a taxi, headed to Amritapuri. Driving in India is always an adventure. There are cars, taxis, buses, bikes, people, and elephants sharing the two lane roads. The vehicles drive fast and pass each other incessantly. Since cars are passing in both directions, two vehicles often end up facing each other in the same lane. Just before they collide, one or the other swerves back into their own lane. It is like a never-ending roller coaster. Luckily, the drivers have nerves of steel and incredible skill.
This driver drove faster than any I have ever had. We made it to the ashram in 1 ½ hours instead of the normal 2-2 ½ hours!
It was wonderful to arrive at my India home. My son Sreejit had picked up the key to my flat from the international office, so I was able to go to my room right away. (It is possible to “buy” a flat at the ashram. While it is not legally mine, it means that I can have it anytime I am there. When I am gone, the flat is rented out to other ashram visitors.) Having the flat means I can have a room to myself and can store linens, curtains, clothes and other supplies there when I leave.
Even though I had just traveled for 24 hours, once I was at the ashram I went into high gear. I arrived at 7:30 a.m. and by 9:30 a.m. I had visited with Sreejit and other friends, eaten breakfast, washed and hung up two loads of laundry (I use three buckets to wash and rinse the stored clothes and linens.), cleaned the shelves, put away everything from the storage and from my one suitcase, washed the stored dishes, and swept and mopped the floors.
Amma at the Vatican
Amma has been conducting programs in Europe and the U.S. since the beginning of October. Normally she would return to the ashram immediately after the Michigan programs, but not so this year. During her summer U.S. tour, Pope Francis sent a Bishop from the Vatican to meet with Amma during her Washington D.C. programs. A month or so later, we learned that she had been invited to meet with the Pope at the Vatican this fall. We didn’t know whether it was to be an individual meeting or if she would be participating in some kind of gathering.
Yesterday, we discovered the answer to that question. For the last day or two, Amma has been meeting with a group of religious leaders at the Vatican. The event is sponsored by the Global Freedom Network. On December 2, the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, Amma, along with Pope Francis, and leaders of the Anglican Church, Orthodox Churches and the Buddhist, Jewish and Muslim faiths will sign a Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders against Modern Slavery. Their goal is to end modern day slavery by 2020. What an accomplishment, and blessing, that would be. Read more
There is much more I could say about my first days in India, but I will stop here for now. More posts to come!