Since I wrote the “Needs vs Wants” prompt, I have been reflecting on my own relationship to that subject. Sitting here in my flat at Amma’s ashram in Amritapuri, India, it occurred to me that the reason I have been able to come here 26 times since January 1990 is because I have made that trip a major priority in my life. I value experience over material possessions so I have never been pulled into the world of consumerism and accumulation. There have only been two years when I was not able to save enough money to allow me to make that sojourn.
Is going to India a need or a want? At first I thought it was a want, but then I remembered there were many years I went to India even though I felt a lot of resistance to going.
On my first visit to Amritapuri, I stayed for only ten days. I cried the whole time I was there because I knew I would have to leave. I also remember wanting to be in India so much that I cried for months after returning to the U.S.. The following two years, I lived at the ashram for three weeks. I still felt a lot of grief when it was time for me to go back to Seattle.
On my fourth trip, I stayed for two months! By the end of that visit, I was very ready to leave. That began a period of my life that lasted for many years; a time when I had very mixed feelings about making the trip.
Being at the ashram is intense. When near Amma, I experienced, like most people do, that my negative tendencies surfaced. That gave me an opportunity to see them and work on them but it was often like being on an emotional roller coaster. I felt overwhelmed so often. At least part of what kept me coming during those years was that the hard experiences were balanced by ones that led to a great deal of bliss.
Even though part of me wanted to stay in my comfortable Seattle home, I knew I needed to go to the ashram, that the trips were “for my own good.” I saw the situation as similar to when I see a doctor because I know I “should.” Thankfully in time the years when I felt so much resistance to the visit ended and I started loving my time at the ashram again.
Around 2008, there were two years in a row when I didn’t have enough income to take the trip. I was grief stricken. I remember going to Amma during her U.S. tour and telling her I wouldn’t be able to come to India that year. I cried on her shoulder as if my heart was breaking. Later a friend who had witnessed that interaction came to me. She was alarmed; she thought I had told Amma one of my children was dying! That story often comes to my mind when I think about how important it is for me to be here in Amritapuri.
So back to the original question. Is it a want or a need for me to go to Amma’s ashram in India? I took a look at the question through the lens of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Physiological needs form the base of his triangle. Then come safety, belongingness/love, and esteem needs. Further up on the pyramid are the need for understanding/knowledge and aesthetic needs. The last level of needs he identified are self-actualization and transcendence.
So are my needs being met in my daily living? The first four levels were easy to assess. Yes, I make sure my physiological and safety needs are provided for. I almost always feel loved and that I belong. My self esteem is solid. There will always be more to me learn but I am content with my progress in the need for understanding and knowledge category.
I had to look up “aesthetic” to see what the word meant. I found out that it means beauty. Some of the sources I read referred to the importance of being in the beauty of nature. For several years, I have felt an ever increasing pull towards nature. In Seattle I live in an area that has so much natural beauty. On this current trip to India I have particularly been drawn to all of the beautiful flowers in the ashram. I see our natural world as full of beauty and wonder. So I would say I am addressing my aesthetic needs.
That leaves self-actualization and transcendence. As I pondered those areas, I realized that is what being with Amma and being in Amritapuri is all about for me. It’s what these visits have always been about. I learn so much when I am here and I have no doubt that every moment I spend with Amma helps me move ever higher on my spiritual path.
Many years ago, I read a book written by Malidoma, an African shaman who was living in the U.S. at the time. He said that he went home to Africa every year, to learn from his elders and detox from Western civilization. I resonated with that statement when I read it and I still do. For me being with Amma, especially in India, is like taking a vacuum cleaner to my whole system. While the living and learning experiences may be uncomfortable at times, I always see my growth when I return to Seattle. I am softer, healthier, more able to handle the challenges that life sends my way.
Years ago, Amma commented that we ask her to clean us up but then we won’t hold still for the bath. Coming to India is my way of staying put and taking the bath.
So is traveling to India to be with Amma each year a want or a need? After looking at the question from Maslow’s framework, I am clear. For me Amma and the Amritapuri ashram are gifts that have been given to me to fulfill a need. I will be forever grateful for those gifts.