Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Amma Means Love

Two summers ago a film rised up among the arthouse crew that featured a huge river and a celebration that shadowed Burning Man. Burning Man revelers bawked.

Kumbh Mela: Shortcut to Nirvana was a documentary following the 2001 Kumbh Mela.
The Kumbh Mela is a gathering along the Ganges River. Pilgrims gather in the MILLIONS follow their yogis and spiritual paths.

Each yogi (or teacher) had their specific practice. There was a yogi who held one arm up ALWAYS. I don't remember his name.

I remembered Amma. She was termed "the hugging yogi."

Apparently she has an ashram in Castro Valley, CA.

I sought some peace last night and there was a service. I've never been to an ashram, but part of me wants to do the tour of spiritual places so that G-d can hear me in whatever language or practice her/his ear is directed. I want to cover my spiritual bases.

Driving out to Castro Valley I thought of the larger trucks and Confederate flags I have experienced there.

Not to mention some of the ignorance.

I drove up a windy, lonely hill. The lights dissipated and the stars shone ahead. Without lights the hills were round shadows of giants on the landscape. Chill touched the air as I climbed.

5 miles above the 580 I found myself on a lonely country road. And I thought of my mother. I wondered what this ashram thing would be like. I hoped there would not be a large contingency of patchouli present. I chastised myself for being so judgemental.
I asked G-d/dess to give me strength.

A line of red lights led me to the ashram.

Wow. Devotees don't play. I arrived 45 minutes early and there was a line. Parking lot plan Q seemed to be in effect. It was dark, but the stables already were at capacity. Overflow was directed up a hill. It seemed like a steep hill and the road was made of gravel.

We parked and we walked to back to the road.

We cued up. An Indian family ahead of me with their young daughter were ahead of me. The wife/mother was in a sari and a WARM wool wrap. Her daughter was cute in her long skirt and Tinklebell hoodie sweatshirt. She kept on asking questions about the line.
The caucasian family behind me were made up of a skater/alterno mom/dad. They were dressed in black and thick-rimmed glasses and spoke with a skater affect. The daughters name was Carmen and she was exerting her independence.

Dad insisted that she zip up her jacket and she, although vocally announcing how COLD it was, did NOT want to mess up her hair. Father and mother took turns comforting her about how they were concerned with her health and that this was not the place for vanity.

Patience faded with each plead.

Dad finally said, "Put on your hood or I'll make you wear the hat."

She seemed horrified at this prospect and pulled the hoodie up. Father, already snugged under his own black hoodie, expressed his disgust by exclaiming, "Why do you have to piss me off?" He was perturbed that his asking previously had no effect on the girl, only threats. I think he was disapppointed to have to refer to such tactics.

Mysteriously vans came and people piled in. It was informal.

We drove up the hill, which would have been a CRAZY long walk. It looked deceptively short from the bottom of the hill.

Out we piled from the vans and went to the signs. Volunteers were all about directing devotees. People were orderly.

Apparently the main temple was filled, so we were directed to the overflow area - the dining room. Amma was being broadcast in there and we could see her.

I walked there. No arguing. I just wanted to sit and be still.

As I walked, I noticed two swan gliding along a pond below. I looked about and saw this was a little retreat in Castro Valley.

The tightness in my head loosened just a bit.

I walked in, made my way to the front and kept to myself. I took out my journal and began writing my stream-of-consciousness. I asked G-d/dess to help me sort things out. I thought of the people I am priveleged to know and thought about how disconnected I have felt over the last month or so.

That made me sad. Not depressed, mind you, but sad not to have that connection.

Amma was chuckling and answering questions on the screen. She didn't speak English. She responded to questions and a man served as her translator.

Amma was seated in easy pose under a wrap of a simple sari. She was surrounded by mostly girls and some women who later served as cantors and musicians.

Amma seemed like a comforting presence.

She was like that in the movie. She hugged and those she hugged responded in the film.

She gave advice to devotees in this moment. The translator guy gave us the English version.

Then singing began. Simple music. Long songs.

I was comparing it to the Catholic Church. We seem to have short ceremonies in comparison.

6:45 pm I arrived.

I listened and watched and wrote until the end of the ceremony.

When I finally looked at my phone, I noticed it was 10:30 pm.

Where had the time gone?

I left the space, barely noticing others, but in a place of introspection.

Was I transformed? Is sadness forever gone from me?

No, but it was wonderful leaving with a sense of peace. I lost a sense of time and thought about possibility and loving acts.

As I watched the ceremony end, I saw people cued up to receive their hugs from Amma.

She came down the stage and came into the audience.

Amma didn't hug and release. She enveloped those people in her body and held them and stroked their hair. Her lips moved and I am sure she gave them words of comfort.

And I thought to my day, how my 6th graders - about 100 of them gave me a card and thanked me for helping them make movies. They enveloped me in their arms that are becoming the arms of women and men and they said "Thank you, Ms. Ishkabibble!... We love you, Ms. Ishkabbble!" These words pierced the ice that's been glaciering my mind and soul as of late.

The corners of my mouth turned up.

I thought to myself, "Thank you."

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