Lissa Rankin M.D.

Owning Pink

Owning Spirituality: My Hug From Amma

It's been a week since Amma hugged me.

Posted Jun 24, 2010

Amma, the Divine Mother

It's been a week since Amma, the Divine Mother and Hugging Guru, hugged me. It's taken me this long to process it, be still, and allow the words to pour forth. Right after it happened, the experience was beyond words. Only now can I try to explain it to those of you who have been curious and asked me to describe my experience. I will not do it justice by using mere words, since it was more of an indescribable feeling, but I will try.

First off, I have to explain a bit about my spiritual upbringing. My well-meaning parents dragged me to a Methodist church I despised my whole childhood. Three family members were ordained Methodist ministers- two uncles and my Grandpa. Dad was the black sheep of his family- the only man in his family who went to medical school instead of seminary, so it's only natural that this influence would rub off on me. But it didn't ever resonate with my authentic self, and once I left the wings of my parents, I flew far away from church, but I never left God (who I like to call JABA- as in Jesus/Jehovah, Allah, Buddha, Athena, etc). I have always cultivated a deep, personal relationship with my own personal God, but I never found the right sanctuary in a church.

Nonetheless, I have longed for spiritual community. Recently, I have been exploring other non-Methodist church ways to find it, and my journey has been rich and meaningful. I recently moved near the Green Gulch Zen Center, which we jokingly call "Buddha Camp," and I have found that this community of stillness, acceptance, and peace resonates with me. Group meditation feels divinely powerful to me, and I find myself drawn to Kwan Yin and other items that tend to adorn Buddhist altars, although I can't exactly call myself a Buddhist (Jesus is still my favorite). I've also been attending Pink Posse spiritual counselor Miranda MacPherson's spiritual gatherings. Miranda is my kind of guru. She is non-demoninational, angelic, kind, compassionate, open-hearted, beautiful, and warm, and every now and then, a four-letter word slips out, making her altogether human. In her presence, I feel the invitation to draw closer to God in a way that feels so much safer than the churches of my youth. I've also discovered that my fellow seekers at her gatherings share curiosity about mystery, awareness, and transformation, without judgment. I am feeling more and more alive, and yet I don't know exactly how to resolve my spiritual awakening with the upbringing I don't want to completely release. Can I love Jesus and still be curious about other spiritual teachings? Must I put myself in a spiritual box, or can I make it up as I go?

My heart and spirit were wandering around this curious place after my spiritual soul healing journey with Jean Kowalski when Pink Posse raw foods expert Tricia Barrett called and asked me to go on a pilgrimage with her to see Amma. Having never heard of Amma, I didn't know what to expect, so I google searched her and discovered that she is an avatar, a Sanskrit word meaning "an incarnation of God," an enlightened spiritual being who embraces the world with her loving hugs, engages in philanthropy, and spreads love in her hugging wake. In the raw spiritual state Jean blessedly left me in, I agreed to cancel my plans for my busy day to join Tricia for our spiritual pilgrimage to the MA Center, Amma's ashram in San Ramon, California. It seemed like too big a sign from God to ignore, after Tricia appeared so prominently in my soul healing journey.As I write this, I realize how "woo woo" and floofy I sound. Two years ago, if you had told me I would ever write this, I would laugh- hard and loud. And yet, here I am, curious, open, exploring- even confused. In our spiritual gathering this week, Miranda said that we mistakenly label confusion as negative, whereas the child-like state of confusion can be a holy state of un-knowing. Children do not approach un-knowing as negative. Instead, they approach the world with an open mind and heart. They ask, they listen, and then they learn to know. I feel I am doing the same- asking, listening, learning to know. But it leaves me feeling often vulnerable and foolish, as I face the divine world with wonder.

This is how I came to be in the presence of Amma. It was not what I expected. I was warned that I might wait hours for my hug, as I experienced dashran, being in the physical presence of a guru. I prepared myself for long hours of silent meditation, and yet, when I arrived at Amma's ashram in the East Bay area, I found Amma sitting amidst a noisy, jubilant mass of followers. As newcomers, Tricia and I were invited to sit up close and personal with Amma, where we could radiate in her beautiful loving energy, although we could only see er face in glimpses from the side. Over the hours we waited, we came and went, eating lovely Indian food, watching the faces of others as they walked away from their embraces. One woman knelt in front of us and wept after her hug, and I rubbed her back silently. She thanked me later. Being so close, we could witness Amma's humanity, as she pinched her disciples when she was annoyed. I couldn't help smiling. She never rested, never peed, never ate. Instead, she spent hour after hour giving long hugs to each person who approached her.

The hours passed, and right when Tricia and I absolutely had to leave to meet other commitments, it just happened to be miraculously our turn. Within minutes, we were sitting in a line of chairs, waiting for our hugs. I must admit I felt a little silly at this point. Pink editor-in-chief Joy had come earlier and received her hug sooner, but Tricia and I had been waiting for about four hours, and I was starting wonder why I had come. Sure, Tricia and I spent beautiful bonding time together, and that alone made it worth the pilgrimage, but what about Amma? Why was I here?

The closer I got to her, the more detail I could see in her face. As the line moved forward, I could see that she spent almost a minute in each embrace. I could see her shoulders quiver and her face twist with the pain she felt in each individual. I could see the heaving shoulders of those who knelt at her feet and fell into her embrace. I could see them weeping when they stood up. I watched the sweat trickle down her soft, lined, human face.

As Tricia and I approached, Amma's disciples took our bags, pushed us on our knees and lined us up for our hugs. I kept thinking, "Why am I here? WHY AM I HERE?" but I tried to stay open in that holy state of unknowing. The closer I got to Amma, the more I felt brick walls in my heart crumbling. It's as if her physical presence cracked me wide open, exposing my raw, bleeding heart, so it was right there- quivering and vulnerable, when suddenly, I was on my knees, and someone was pushing me forward. Then I was home, with Amma holding my head to her soft bosom, as she embraced me. Like the calm after the storm, all my confused, doubting thoughts evaporated in her arms, as she whispered something into my ear in a language I didn't understand, in a voice that sounded like music. Within seconds, I found myself sobbing, choked gulps of tears and powerful emotion, and she was rocking me like a Mama rocks her child. And we were rocking, just like that, like no one has rocked me since I was a very little girl. I felt this rush of hot, flowing love like I have not felt- ever- in the physical presence of another person. I mean, my own mother loves me, and yet, it's always comes with this whole story of history and expectation and blood ties. But this woman had no clue who I was, and yet she was pouring her love into me like I was the open, un-knowing vessel and she was the blood of Christ. For all I know, she was off pinching her followers on the side because I was sucking her dry, but I didn't care. It felt like she brought her whole human presence to that moment, as if I was the only person in that festive ashram, as if the love I experienced was just for me, the only person she had ever loved that way- ever.

And then it was over. Amma released me, a follower handed me a pink flower petal (PINK!) and a Hershey kiss, and then I was physically moved aside so Tricia could come in for her hug. As I staggered away, dizzy and crying, I watched Tricia, as Amma pulled her into her arms. And I watched Tricia's shoulders heave with the tears I knew she cried, and Amma rocked her and rocked her, long and hard, just as she had me. When Tricia's hug was over, Amma looked into Tricia's eyes and then pulled her back into her arms, as if Tricia needed a bonus hug, a little more love poured into her wide-open, beautiful PINK heart. Me, my one hug was more than I could even handle.

Why did I cry so hard in the arms of a stranger? I don't know. Someone experienced in hugging Amma called it an "Amma blast." To me, it felt overwhelming, the whole human experience the way I've lived it lately, as is my life is so divinely guided that I am merely a vessel for something much bigger and more powerful than me. I exploded with this huge sense of gratitude for the life I am blessed to life. Have you ever felt that way? It is both exquisitely beautiful and a little freaky. It makes you realize you are not in control, that Someone bigger is in charge. Thank GOD- (or JABA, just so we don't leave anybody out).

In front of the temple with Tricia Barrett

I could go on, but I've written too much already. I'm still confused, flustered, and ultimately un-knowing. But I am asking- seeking- listening. Are you, Pinkies? Tell me your stories, please. I would love to know where you are in your spiritual journey. And just so you know, there is room for all of us here. In this Pink community, all voices, creeds, religions, and experiences are welcome, validated, and respected. How are you Owning Spirituality?

Dr. Lissa Rankin is an OB/GYN physician, an author, a nationally-represented professional artist, and the founder of Owning Pink, an online community committed to building authentic community and empowering women to get- and keep- their "mojo". Owning Pink is all about owning all the facets of what makes you whole- your health, your sexuality, your spirituality, your creativity, your career, your relationships, the planet, and YOU. Dr. Rankin is currently redefining women's health at the Owning Pink Center, her practice in Mill Valley, California. She is the author of the forthcoming What's Up Down There? Questions You'd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend (St. Martin's Press, September 2010).