Amma in London 2014: Amma-zing!

If you are looking for Amma’s schedule I recommend bookmarking her website.

In 2015 Amma visits London on 10-11 November meeting and giving hugs (darshan) in Alexandra Palace.

This is my account of Amma’s visit in London in 2014 – it was my first darshan experience.

Waiting for Amma Waiting for Amma At Alexandra Palace Alexandra Palace, London, 28th October 2014: a peaceful concert venue packed with devotees of Amma. It was quite extraordinary to see a place like this where people like David Guetta partied the night away, now full of chilled out, keen meditators.   I have never seen Amma in person before. Friends told me she has a special energy and a special connection with the divine, spiritual realm. Her silent procession in the morning was welcomed by smiles, and some (prohibited) camera clicks. No fanfare, no drama.

The BBC covered Amma’s visit in 2011, worth watching: BBC video.

 4 hours, no hug… But it didn’t matter

I had arrived at Alexandra Palace just before 10am: you need to get a token to be allowed to see and hug Amma. The morning meditation started a bit later than the scheduled 11am (you need to forget your Western mindset when you enter Amma’s world). We were delicately chanting “OM”. I have never heard such a quiet chant before – usually OM is so powerful you can feel the vibrations in your body. But hey, this is England!   The meditation lasted until about 11.30am, and then the hugging marathon began. Thousands and thousands of people queueing up respectfully, speaking softly or staying silent. [Tweet ” Amma says, “love is the only medicine that can heal the wounds of the world.””] Amma in her 50 year “career” as a “professional hugger” has embraced 33 million people worldwide. She does deserve the Nobel Peace Prize as she dedicates her life to help other people and spread a message of love and compassion.   She has been visiting the UK since 1987.   You can follow Amma via her website – I do recommend looking at her various charity initiatives. She has been very hands-on, from providing funds to disaster areas via her fundraising activities, to providing emotional comfort to people who suffered loss and pain.

 Overheard and observed in Alexandra Palace…

Some things I noticed during my four hour stay in Alexandra Palace (unfortunately I had to leave due to work commitments and could not give and receive a hug from Amma):

  • a gentleman sitting next to me called his office to cancel all his meetings so he could wait until his turn to hug Amma (he probably waited 8-10 hours)
  • volunteers were canvassing support to get more volunteers to help out preparing and serving vegetarian meals by holding white boards above their heads – the queues were huge and waiting is a hungry business; all proceeds from the meals and sales of various goods go to Amma’s charities
  • there was a dedicated area for children where child minders could look after them and allow parents to meditate in silence
  • there was a massage area and a yoga area
  • Amma must have the strongest immune system ever, considering she hugs thousands of people most days – from babies to adults

I left feeling uplifted and inspired – this is a quiet revolution for hearts and minds.  

It gets better: I get a hug!

I was undecided all day on Wednesday 29th October whether to go or not go to see Amma on her last day in London. I did a normal day’s work and even five minutes before leaving the house in the evening to go to Alexandra Palace again, I wasn’t convinced.

I even missed the train I had planned to catch and the next one was delayed (no comment). I was going to miss the 7pm introduction to the meditation. When I got to the venue, no tokens were being issued to people – was I going to miss my chance of meeting Amma?

The meditation was very powerful: the OM resonated loudly across the hall. Then this happened:

om

 

Tokens were issued again at 9pm when Amma started the darshan. It was going to be a loooong night.

 

 

Overheard and observed in Alexandra Palace….

  • Random thought: was Amma wearing in-flight socks to prevent deep vein thrombosis? She started darshan at 9pm and did not stop for one minute all through the night – according to Amma’s twitter account, darshan ended at 10.20 am so she hugged people for 13 consecutive hours!
  • Random thought: was Amma “doing a Marina Abramovic” and had a secret toilet seat built in?
  • The atmosphere was like the most chilled out New Year’s Eve you could ever imagine
  • Little kid (maybe 4 years old?) chanting in sanskrit and leading the whole hall into chanting along and clapping
  • the stage was beautifully decorated with a gazebo draped in burgundy velvet, a parasol, flowers (and about 15 CCTV cameras!)
  • at the end of the meditation, you drink water blessed by Amma (puja)

By 4.30am, things started moving faster – maybe because some left Alexandra Palace or were simply asleep in their chair or on the floor.

Some time around 5am I got my hug!

Here’s how it happened:

  • you are taken to a line of two chairs leading from the middle of the hall to the stage
  • if you are wearing make up, a volunteer will wipe some of it off with a tissue so that Amma’s sari would not get dirty
  • if you are a man and your hair is shaven short, a volunteer will put a tissue on your head so that when Amma hugs you she doesn’t get stubble rash
  • you are asked what your first language is (I have no idea but I guess they wanted to know how many nationalities were at the event). I was so sleepy and tired after waiting 8 hours that my reply was “Paola”. Second time round, when the voluteer asked me again, I said a tentative “English is fine”. Unconvinced, the volunteer asked me one more time, so I replied “Alright then, I’m Italian”
  • you are asked to kneel in front of Amma, put your right hand on her armchair so you can receive your gift
  • Amma leans her face to your bowed head and whispers sanskrit words three times in your ear, the last one said louder and then it’s all over
  • you receive a rose petal and a little candy

When I got home I googled phonetically what Amma whispered in my ear. Now I know the meaning of what she said. Very powerful message indeed.

How did it all feel? The hug lasted about 5 seconds I think – and of course you are asked to leave immediately to make space for the thousands of people still in the queue. Receiving the hug made me realise that as human beings we are so limited as we judge by appearances – but our bodies are just containers (it’s what’s inside that counts!). Amma sees a whole range of people of all ages and ethnicities, and loves everybody equally and unconditionally. Now that’s a message of peace!

The whole experience taught me not to take life too seriously. What about you, what did you learn?

If you have had darshan with Amma please share your experience in the comments.

Namaste!