My sister, who is definitely a lot more spiritually evolved as a person, recently took me to meet this divine soul called Amma. Better known as the “hugging saint,” Amma is someone who believes that most problems of the world can be solved by simply embracing people with unconditional love. When someone asked Amma why she receives every person who comes to her in a loving embrace Amma replied, “If you ask the river, ‘Why do you flow?’ what can it say?”
Unconditional love – now this is a concept so beautiful and so surreal that it is completely alien to me. Unconditional love – I don’t know the last time I practiced it, and considering that I have never practiced it, I have no idea whether I ever received it. Perhaps unconditional love is what I got from my parents when I was a baby. Remembering my parents makes me look at myself as a parent. Do I practice unconditional love with my kids?
Who am I kidding? I try to, but more often than not I fail miserably. I often catch myself negotiating with my kids, “You are my favorite if you do this or if you put your things away, etc.,” or “I will get you this and love you if you don’t bother me or let me work.” Try me at 8 a.m. in the morning when I have slept at 6 a.m. due to work, and then try the concept of unconditional love.
Now, spouses are a different matter altogether. Unconditional love and spouses can rarely be mentioned in the same breath. After all, the expectations from a spouse are so high that there are bound to be disappointments. With spouses we almost think we have the right to be given certain things or be treated in a certain way. I know it because I fight with my husband about this all the time. Most of the times our conversations are: “Do this for me, and I will think of doing this for you,” or “How come you did not think of doing this for me?” With an attitude like this, who can think of unconditional love?
This is why the “hugging saint” fascinated me. Though a world traveler, she was the antithesis of most things American. She was not loud and in her sermons, she never used the words “me” or “I.” And I believe if you want to get hugged by her, she will not leave the room till she has hugged everybody who has come to meet her. And we are talking of thousands and thousands of people. Considering I usually don’t even respond to all my emails in a day or return all my phone calls, it was humbling to meet someone who stuck to a resolution like this, no matter how tired she was.
And so I got my hug, at 12:15 a.m. Do I feel blessed? I don’t know. Do I feel like all my life’s problems have been solved? No. But it was an amazing feeling to be embraced “unconditionally” by a complete stranger. I could tell. I needed that hug. I needed someone to hold me and say, “It is okay. This too shall pass.” I needed someone to tell me that they loved me just the way I was, without my past or future defining me, and definitely not judging me for my present. It did not matter to this woman that I was black or white, Indian or American, man or woman. She gave her hugs unconditionally and I do feel a certain sense of calm. Perhaps it’s in my mind. Perhaps it’s not.
But there is one thing I know for sure. She has definitely hit the nail on the head. The world needs a hug, a big hug. We, as individuals, are running so hard to maintain our present position, especially in this downturn, that many of us have become exhausted and bitter. At a time like this, when we need to rethink about how readily we try to buy a piece of happiness off the shelf, it is all the more important to come back to basics – reaching out to
friends, having a home cooked meal under a tree and loving people unconditionally. We have been taught to become so aware of our individual aura/space that we have stopped reaching out and hugging people, using our touch to communicate acceptance and tenderness.
What has happened to touch, to hugs, and to simply reaching out? What has happened to not holding on to grudges? What has happened to connecting for no reason at all, except to connect? What has happened to sharing a few words with our neighbors? When did we become such alienating individuals?
No wonder then, that in the past 15 years, the number of people seeking treatment for depression in the U.S. has more than doubled, to more than 25 million people a year! What’s worse is the fact that almost 90 percent of these people leave their doctor’s office with a prescription for anti-depressants. Scary, how quickly prescription drugs have become the treatment of choice. I wonder if we just reached out more, we could all be a little less depressed.
So perhaps we cannot reach the nirvana status of unconditional love. But we can definitely try and be a little more forgiving. I know that I mean this most for myself: to not correct every mistake that my husband or my children supposedly make; to breathe more deeply; and to just go and embrace the world. Perhaps it is the only thing we may be sure of in this unsure and ever changing world! How Zen!
This is why the “hugging saint” fascinated me. Though a world traveler, she was the antithesis of most things American. She was not loud and in her sermons, she never used the words “me” or “I.”