“Let my hidden weeping arise and blossom.” —Rainer Maria Rilke
By Cat Saunders
It’s not my thing to follow any one teacher. My path has always been one of bridging disciplines. So it was a surprise to find myself being blasted by love in the arms of Ammachi, a live incarnation of the Divine Mother.
How I wound up in Ammachi’s arms is a bit of a story. In retrospect, I can see that it was all perfectly choreographed by the Master Puppeteer. Along the way, I was just minding my own business and paying attention to the breadcrumbs that kept appearing in my path. Little did I know what a sweet healing lay in wait for me.
My first knowledge of Ammachi came through one of my closest friends, Nirmala, who is an ardent devotee of Ammachi. Nirmala (pronounced “NEAR-ma-la”) calls Ammachi her spiritual mother and Babaji (of Haidakhan, India) her spiritual father. Because I trust Nirmala’s ability to discern “the real thing” in the guru department, I’ve always been curious about her devotion to these two people.
Besides knowing about Ammachi through Nirmala, I credit Ammachi with giving my longtime partner, John, and me a beautiful home in Seattle. We rented it for several years in the 1990s. Dozens of people wanted the house when we first found it in August of 1991. However, when we were filling out our application, eagle-eyed John noticed that the owner was wearing “one of those Baba bracelets.” That’s what John quaintly calls any bracelet that looks like the one I wear.
My five-metal bracelet is inscribed in Sanskrit with one of my favorite mantras, Om Namaha Shivaya. The mantra would take pages to translate into English. One quickie version of the translation is simply, “I bow to the God within, which is the same God within you.”
The owner’s bracelet was actually inscribed with a different mantra that honors Ammachi as the Divine Mother. However, it was close enough to get us talking and provide a mutually respectful spiritual bond. Because of that, she brought her influence to bear on her husband, and we got the house.
While living in that house, I had a dream about Ammachi. In the dream, someone has arranged for me to meet Ammachi without having to wait in long lines amidst hundreds of people. Long queues are common during Ammachi’s annual group programs for the public. In the dream, I am ushered into a private room away from the crowds.
Soon Ammachi enters and we embrace. She asks why I hadn’t come before to see her in person. I tell her that groups are hard on my body. I also tell her that it’s not my way to be a follower, but I carry my love for her in my heart wherever I go. She totally understands, and she gives me her blessing. That was it. When I woke from the dream, I felt completely at peace.
Around the same time as the dream, Nirmala introduced me to a good friend of hers, Madhuri (pronounced “MA-der-ee”). Madhuri was another Ammachi devotee. I had already made a nice connection with Madhuri in a different context a long time before. But I hadn’t seen her in quite a while.
In the spring of 1996, she called to reconnect. At the time, she was in Seattle only briefly before embarking on Ammachi’s six-week U.S. tour. She was recovering from a lengthy physical ordeal that had recently concluded with a necessary and major surgical intervention.
Madhuri spoke about her own physical process with such respect that I somehow felt safe to share my own. I told her that I was only beginning to tell the truth about my body to those closest to me. In those days, I still harbored a lot of shame about being physically debilitated in any way. From many years of work on myself, I’d made great progress with this kind of body shame. But sometimes it still got the better of me.
For example, it persisted in the way I hid the truth about my physical functioning from The New Times community, most of my clients, and many of my friends. I “look fine” to most people, and I learned early how to hide pain. So most people have no clue that I’ve been working with several complicated and debilitating physical conditions since the early 1970s. At the time Madhuri and I reconnected, I was rarely free of pain. My body was extremely high maintenance, and I lived within a narrow razor’s edge of functioning.
I hid this information from The New Times community in particular because there’s still a lot of New Age hype about illness. New Age beliefs often portray illness as a sign that you are doing something wrong. Or a sign that your thoughts are somehow wrong. To me, this is just another version of the fundamentalist view that illness is a punishment for sin. And that’s a notion I find arrogant, short-sighted, and cruel.
The truth is, I feel deep compassion toward my body and its physical challenges. I regard my body as one of my most profound teachers. I also understand how valuable its teachings are for my spiritual development. This doesn’t mean I don’t work on my body stuff, and it doesn’t mean I don’t seek ways to alleviate pain and suffering.
Even so, I don’t believe that pain is the enemy. Quite the contrary. To me, my body is my child-self. Therefore, it’s my job to care for my body with tenderness and respect, just as a loving parent would care for her child. I would never shame a child for being sick or having pain. Instead, I would simply help the child get whatever she needs to experience as much well-being as possible.
I shared all this in my conversations with Madhuri, and she knew exactly where I was coming from. She didn’t show an ounce of shame toward me, and the depth of her compassion touched me deeply. After we’d had a few heart-to-heart talks, Madhuri called one day and offered to make it possible for me to see Ammachi without having to wait in long lines. She explained that she could arrange for me to enter the line from the side, via the short line reserved for people with “special needs.”
The words “special needs” struck a note of terror in my heart. In order to partake of Madhuri’s generous offer, I would have to admit publicly that I have special needs! This in itself brought up another whole layer of shame. However, I remembered my dream about Ammachi from years before, which I mentioned earlier. In the dream, other people made it possible for me to meet Ammachi without waiting in line. So I decided to honor my dream and accept Madhuri’s kind invitation to help.
The day of Ammachi’s public program in Seattle arrived, and I drove to the Scottish Rite Temple on Capitol Hill to meet Madhuri. Once I was inside the Temple, I stood in the doorway at the edge of the auditorium.
Madhuri appeared within a few moments. We found a couple of seats off to the side of the main floor, which was covered with a sea of bodies. On the stage behind Ammachi, I spotted Nirmala singing in a group of backup musicians, all of whom were blissfully chanting their hearts out. Meanwhile, Ammachi was giving darshan (the blessing of the guru) to person after person.
The energy in the group was soft, sweet, and respectful. I felt immediately safe. In a few moments, Nirmala switched places with the lead singer, so she was in the forefront. I seized the opportunity and told Madhuri, “I want to be in Ammachi’s arms while Nirmala is singing.” Madhuri smiled and led me toward the assistants who were helping with the “special needs” people.
Now I got to go through another layer of shame. “God,” I thought, “what will people think?” I was painfully aware that in a group such as this, there would be many people who know me, both personally and professionally. I feared their judgment for being in the “special needs” line. The “special needs” line revealed my being debilitated, and it also allowed me special treatment. In the back of my mind, I could hear my mother’s voice saying condescendingly, “What makes you so special?”
Just before it was my turn to have Ammachi’s full attention, I heard myself think, “Nothing’s going to happen for me.” As quickly as I had that thought, compassion welled up in me. Suddenly I realized I could embrace that sad thought with tenderness. I wanted to bring all of myself to Ammachi, wounds and all.
Suddenly I found myself in Ammachi’s arms, and I felt a huge rush of “mother energy” coming toward me. At first, my body stiffened involuntarily, because I have long associated the word “mother” with soul murder, as Alice Miller would call it. With some disappointment, I thought to myself, “Here’s my chance to receive unconditional love, and I waste it in resistance to some old family pattern!” However, I knew I couldn’t force my body to surrender any faster than it could.
In the moment of fear when I thought I’d lost my chance to get any “goodies” from my darshan, Ammachi pulled me tighter to her breast as if to say, “I’m not letting you go until you receive my love!” At that point, my body got who was embracing me. My muscles relaxed and I burst into tears. There were no more thoughts.
As she held me, Ammachi kept repeating something in her native tongue over and over in my ear. At the same time, I kept saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Suddenly, she loosened her grip and I thought my turn was over. It wasn’t. She looked at me a moment, then pulled me back toward her. This time, her hands went right to a place on my back where I had been feeling more pain than usual the previous week. I knew she knew, just as she knew exactly how to touch and what to say to everyone, according to their needs.
As suddenly as my turn began, it was over, and Ammachi pressed something into my hand. Shaking, I stumbled back to my seat. Madhuri was there waiting. I knew I needed to cry, but there were a couple hundred people down on the floor in front of me. I was in plain sight, and I never cry in public!
Sometimes it’s even hard for me to cry in private, because I was so shamed about “showing weakness” growing up. However, I think tears are a sign of strength, and I really needed to cry and let the energy move. Since I noticed that weeping seemed to be a common occurrence for people after darshan with Ammachi, I decided to go for it.
A torrent of tears unleashed from my body. I must have cried for half an hour nonstop. I cried for my pain and your pain and everyone’s pain. It was good! The whole thing was made more special because just as I started crying, Nirmala began singing my favorite chant, “Om Namaha Shivaya,” in her beautiful, clear voice. I felt like she was singing it for me.
When my tears finally subsided, I looked up at Madhuri, who had been sitting quietly next to me. Although I didn’t speak, I’m sure she knew what my salty-eyed look of wonder was saying. This darshan stuff is definitely all it’s cracked up to be! I thought it was hilarious that only a short time before, I was afraid that nothing would happen for me.
After darshan was over and Ammachi had gone, Madhuri asked if Ammachi had given me something. I said yes, and pulled a partially melted Hershey’s Kiss from my pocket. Madhuri gently explained that the Kiss is called prasad, which means, “blessed offering.” She said I could do whatever I chose with it. However, she said it’s best to eat such a gift as soon as possible after receiving it, because it’s full of the guru’s loving energy. Out loud I wondered, “Should I eat it even if it makes me sick?”
Typically, even a small piece of chocolate would wreak havoc in my body for days. Thus, I was presented with an interesting dilemma. I wanted to take advantage of every drop of Ammachi’s love, but I didn’t want to pay for it with a week of pain. Madhuri watched quietly as I wrestled with my thoughts. “If it’s from the Divine Mother, it won’t hurt me, right? But it’s chocolate! I haven’t had chocolate–or even sugar–for 20 years!”
Then came the deciding vote, “Well, if I do eat it and it kills me, at least I’ll die in bliss.” Needless to say, I wasn’t talking about bliss from eating the chocolate.
Having made my decision, I opened the wrapper and took about a third of the soft, dark Kiss into my mouth. You know how chocolate instantly melts and coats your entire mouth with its sweet, fragrant flavor? Well, that didn’t happen. As soon as I put it into my mouth, the chunk literally disappeared. I’m not kidding!
I looked at Madhuri with astonishment and told her what had happened. She was equally amazed. I laughed with delight and exclaimed that Ammachi could not have created a more loving experience for me. Here I’d risked physical distress in order to receive more of her love, and she responded by making the candy disappear before it could reach my throat. It was perfect!
At that point, I wondered if the candy had really disappeared. After all, this was Planet Earth and there are such things as the Laws of Physics. With some healthy skepticism and a lot of curiosity, I took a second chunk of the Kiss into my mouth. It disappeared, too!
By now, I was feeling pretty brave, not to mention deeply loved. So I decided to go a step further. I wanted to see if I could let Ammachi’s love into my body in a bigger way–symbolically–by allowing the chocolate to actually go down my throat and into my stomach. Bit by bit, I ate the entire Kiss, all the time amazed to be doing such a thing. It must have taken me ten minutes to eat that tiny piece of chocolate.
As I approached the end of my feast, I was on such a roll that I was ready to eat the foil, too. But I decided that was probably overkill. I figured the silver wrapper would make a lovely memento, however. So I put it in my pocket to take home to place on my altar.
When I was done eating the candy, I turned to Madhuri, who was duly impressed, and we both laughed. Then, with a graceful flourish, Madhuri stretched out her arms toward the heavens. It was a gesture of acknowledgement to all the forces that had come together, over many years time, to create the perfect experience for me with Ammachi that day. I smiled, knowing that another layer of fear had melted away, as surely as that little chocolate Kiss.
This article was originally published by The New Times (July 1996) and updated in May 2017.
Special thanks to Nirmala Russo, Madhuri Hosford, John Giovine, and Swamiji for their support and blessings for this article. If you’d like more information about Ammachi, her upcoming schedule of public events, or her other work in the world, please visit her website at http://www.amma.org.
Cat Saunders, Ph.D., is a counselor in private practice in Seattle, Washington. She is also the author of Dr. Cat’s Helping Handbook: A Compassionate Guide for Being Human (available through Amazon). Contact Cat by emailing her or by calling 206-329-0125 (24-hour voicemail).