Last night I was on the Seattle Center campus to see my daughter play Viola and Feste in her Shakespeare company’s production of Twelfth Night. She was outstanding in both parts, of course, bringing down the house, along with the curtain, with her magnificent singing voice. (If anyone local is interested, there are two more performances at the Center House Theater: a Saturday, December 19 matinee at 11 a.m., and a closing night performance at 6:30 p.m., Sunday, December 20. Pay what you will.)
While killing time before the show, I took advantage of a break in the rain to make my way over to the Fisher Pavilion to watch the ice skaters at the temporary Winterfest rink. It was packed with teens who, judging from the guy on the microphone, were teetering on the verge of breaking yet another rule. “No chains,” “No whips,” “No skating backwards.”
The pavilion is a utilitarian space that hosts everything from square dances to craft fairs. The last time I was in there was a few summers ago to experience Amma, the world’s most famous hugger, who was making her annual Seattle appearance. She is widely regarded as a “living saint,” although I’m unclear as to which, if any, official religion bestowed that honor upon her. When asked about it, she answers, “My religion is love and service,” which is good enough for me.
This appearance was a happy coincidence in that it came just as we were planning our very first public foray as Superhuggers, and seeing it as providential, my friend Tiberio and I met there to learn, literally, at the feet of the uncontested hugging master.
We got in a long line at 8:30 a.m. Amma's been known to hug (darshan) as many as 50,000 people in one day, so we’d arrived anticipating a lengthy wait. The guy behind us told us he'd followed Amma for 20 years, ever since stumbling across her while in the military, and said it had changed his life forever. He couldn’t count how many times he’d experienced darshan with her.
When we were finally admitted inside we were thrilled to learn that we, as first timers, were to sit up front. "Amma,” a disciple explained, “wants those who have never had darshan to be as close to her as possible."
Amma herself was a tiny, plump woman who wore the most amazingly transcendant expression. We agreed that we’d never been in the presence of anyone who seemed so absolutely present.
Even being advantaged by having been moved to the “front,” it still wasn't until well after noon that we finally found ourselves shuffling up to her on our knees. As we got slowly closer, one of her disciples whispered a reminder, "You do not hug Amma. She hugs you." Apparently, there was a time when she let people hug her back, but she would come away so bruised she couldn't walk.
When it was my turn, Amma pulled my head into her chest. She smelled good. She said, "Om" and chanted into my ear. It took about a minute.
As I stood waiting for Tiberio I was a torch, lit by love. I'd not been much of a hugger before that day. Now I pretty much hug everyone I meet.
Pass it on.