I am returning to the US after nine months of living under Indian Guru Mata Amritanandamayi’s wing, or as I’d like to put it, incubating in Amma’s womb. Nine months… Just enough time for a proper rebirth, eh! Quite poetic if I do say so myself.
Back in September, I came to Amritapuri, Mata Amritanandamayi’s ashram (you may also know her as ‘the hugging saint’), with no more plans than my taxi ride from the airport. I came to India with hungry, heavy heart. I was on the search for spiritual healing, answers, to simply feel normal and stable again. After two days of travel time and a nearly ten hour time difference, I’d figure it would take at least two weeks to adjust, to feel myself again. And I figured it would take another two weeks to actually evaluate whether this place, these teachings were for me or not. I decided I’d stay one month, feel it out, meet some other traveling seekers, and figure out the rest of my Indian adventure from there. Not a bad idea, right? Little did I know that God would have a much different plan.
The first time I stepped foot in the Kali temple tears poured from my eyes like Niagara Falls. Something completely came over me. What was going on? I didn’t know, but something inside was being moved. One of the nuns saw me. “Aw, you’re so cute! How long have you known Amma?” “Um… I watched some videos of her on youtube a while back…” (Just kidding, I didn’t actually say this.)
Well, one month had passed, and let’s just say, “Whewww weee”. I was burning, baby. However, it was a sweet burn. The burn of tapas. I felt every aspect of my being was being challenged. Everything I thought I knew about the spiritual path, meditation, the guru had gone with the wind. I was being made into a clean slate. OK, let’s stay another month. During this time, I took mantra from Amma.
I began to meditate on my mantra on the beach of the ashram. It is here that Amma used to dig herself into holes so she could hide from the villagers and spend hours in Samadhi. It is said that the animals would come and bring her food. The land is powerful to say the least. These meditations were very awakening for me. Like I said, everything I thought I knew- out the window! Goodbye! One month quickly turned to two. Pierre words echoed in my ear, “When you are digging for water Lexi, stay and dig a well. Don’t keep on digging and digging more holes”. And my personal favorite, a quote of his from the Santosha blog, “Eventually all the places on Earth I may choose to relocate have the one, same, common denominator - I am there. I will manifest the same situations with different faces. I might as well stay put and learn to transform me.” By God’s grace, the time had come to change. No more running, Lex.
I had taken mantra, spent a few bouts of ten day long vows of silence, experimented with fasting, and for the first time since I was a little girl, I looked in the mirror and saw myself as a child. Glistening eyes and chubby cheeks. This same little girl that would spend hours with the bugs the garden, sing made-up songs in the shower, take imaginary hikes through the Amazon (actually it was just my backyard). I didn’t know what was happening, but life as I knew it was pulled from underneath me. Walls inside me were beginning to crumble (that is, until the ego would realize and quickly build them back up again). And the wall of between the inner and outer world was beginning to dissolve. Don’t let me fool you. It wasn’t all bliss and magic. During these times, deep grief began to process. Memories that a hold been locked away began to surface. During mediation with Amma, grief would pour from my heart. My physical heart would stab in pain. “Who is the shaman with octopus arms tapping on my heart!?”, I wondered. And so many, many unheard, tears and cries of abandonment and unworthiness began to fall… Weeks on weeks would pass of crying everyday… Poetry really helped bring to life the voice of my inner child. But hey, FINALLY! This stuff has been stored up for way too long! Mama mia! What a sweet release! Who was this unique special Devi behind all the insecurities, the memories, the paper-mache polite personality? I am only beginning to find out…
The time came when Amma would be going tour around India for a total of some seven or eight weeks. One could accompany tour as staff as Amma stopped in major cities all around India to give meditation, satsang, and of course, her famous hugs! This meant hours and hours nearly every day with Amma as she hugged and imbibed devotees and curious seekers with Her love for the universe. Talk about showers of shakti! But, man, to be honest, I had heard some wild horror stories. Delhi-belly. Dehydration. Lack of sleep coupled with long hours of work. Fifteen to twenty hour cramped non-AC bus rides through India. Sleeping on yoga mats on the concrete in a room of fifteen other women of all ages and nationalities. Mosquitoes. Sharing a handful of squat toilets and bucket showers with some fifty women. On one hand, not exactly enticing… however, traveling around the land of Mahatmas with a Mahatma seemed to me the opportunity of LIFETIMES. It seemed to me life could unfold no other way- sign me up! Bring it on, baby!
Ha! My eager zest met quickly met the waves of oscillation as my ego was on FIRE! Childhood fears, deep insecurities- everything was coming to the surface. Things in me I didn’t even know it existed! It is the guru’s job to show the devotee his/her obstructions on the path. The curtain had been opened, ladies and gentlemen! My time hiding from myself was OVER. I was beginning to see and understand how these patterns and beliefs had not only been shaping my days, but had been choreographing My. Entire. Life. Mama mia! As the American spiritual teacher Ram Dass puts it, I was becoming a ‘connoisseur of my own neurosis’. I was exhausted. Exhausted of myself. And living amongst a crowd of a couple hundred people of Amma’s entourage, there was nowhere to hide! Nowhere to run. I had to face myself. It could be no other way.
The words echoed of a longtime devotee’s , “You can ask Amma to show you the butterflies, she’ll do it! Really!” Naaah! I didn’t need butterflies to prove the guru’s love for me! I have faith! Well, well, well, not so tough after all. “Mother, I cried! Please, show me your love! Please, Mother! Please, show me your love! Please make me feel better!” Only the baby that cries gets milk, as Amma says. Ask you and shall receive! My next mediation with Amma was pure bliss. I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face even if I tried. I felt the corners of my mouth were being pulled up by celestial beings in the heavens. Amma had heard my cries, for no way can I reach such a state on my own. It was pure grace! Later that evening, it was my turn for “star-gazing”, a chance for the new comers to sit directly next to Amma on stage while she gave Her darshan, a chance bask in the beauty and wonder as She endlessly gave hugs and solace to the thousands and thousands of people. This could go one for 12 hours straight. Amma would only get once to pee. No lunch-break, no nap, nothing! (Did I mention she’s been doing this around the world for some forty years? My arms get tired just during Sheila’s yoga-2 class!) As I sat next to Amma, gazing in admiration and reflecting on my recent meditation, I prayed and prayed, “ Oh Mother, thank you, Mother! Thank you, Mother! Thank you for showing me the butterflies!” And I kid you not, just I finished these words, two beautiful butterflies swirled and danced around Amma’s head. A Guru of unconditional love AND a sense of humor, somebody pinch me! And truly what love, a Mother that shows me my own darkness… not exactly the nicest gift to give.
I came back to the ashram from tour with deeper connection with Amma and deeper connection with myself, as well as a more honest acceptance of my Vasanas and Samskaras that hinder my path. I had also discovered a newfound release of the shame and guilt that for so long I have been carrying, as if they were innate parts of me. I am beginning to learn that behind the cloud of my mind’s maya and all its delusions, resides an oasis of awareness, an oasis of peace. I am only just one conscious breath away! Now if only I can live from this place… Thank God I have lifetime for this training (or perhaps I should be saying, lifetimes)!
With the completion of tour, four months turned to six. There was really nowhere else I’d rather be, nothing else I’d rather be doing. Six turned to seven. And since I had been there for so long, I had qualified for room darshan with Amma- five minutes alone with the divine incarnation of the Mother of the Universe... I would taint the experience by trying to put into language. I’ll leave it to your imagination J
And so, the original one month plan turned to nine months. And after nine months of chanting the 1,000 names of the Divine Mother with the nuns every morning, chanting my mantra and doing japa, practicing Amma’s meditation practice called ‘IAM’ (she also has referred to it as her own milk for Her children!), weekly hugs and satsang from Amma, and spending my days tending to Amma’s mother, Damayanti Amma, cleaning her house and fetching her milk, I return to the US by government orders! Well, kind of. I’m coming back for a month for a visa change.
Life as I knew it is not the same. I came to India for answers, only to find out all I know is that I don’t know anything at all. The whole play of life has really just become more of mystery. An ever-changing masterpiece of creation, rearranging moment to moment, by us! The creators! Divine beings! We just don’t know yet it. Or maybe some of us do (Heyyyyy Pierre, is there something you want to tell us? Just kidding… kind of.)
All I know for sure is to put forth proper effort, trust Divine timing, and pray for Guru’s grace. I will be continuing my earthly excursion here at the ashram for two more years. I will be studying at Amma’s university, just a twenty minute walk from the ashram through the backwaters. I’ll be taking a Master’s of Philosophy course, but what I’ll really be learning is how to live a simple, spiritual life.
For those interested in Mata Amritanandamayi’s teachings or in visiting her ashrams (she has various in the US, Europe and India), happily contact me! For those further interested, Amma will be giving her public darshan in Elbourne, Illinois (about an hour west of Chicago) June 24-26. You can find more information here:https://amma.org/meeting-amma/north-america/chicago-area.
Have a Blessed week. Much love to my Santosha family and satsang!
Jai Kali ma!