Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Marriot Darshan

We never made it to India in 2010. We'd planned to spend a good couple months there, traveling around, waiting for winter to run its course. One of the things I'd most hoped to do was to visit the ashrams of Sai Baba and Amma. But somewhere during Miki's visa process, the rules changed, and we had to enter the US early. So much for India.

Last April, Sai Baba passed on. Around that time, some of Miki's shiatsu clients mentioned that their guru, Amma, would visit Albuquerque in June. At first I wasn't interested, wanting instead to visit Amma in the jungle of Kerala. But Miki won out, and with our friends Ayumi and Taylor in tow, we drove south.

Finding parking was surprisingly easy. There were plenty of spots beside a large customized bus of the type that are the homes of famous rock stars on tour. There were a handful of people dressed in white standing in the entrance to the Marriott, where Amma would give her Darshan. I was amused by all the shops here, some the type found outside temples of India, selling candles and incense and photos, and others more geared toward the modern American spiritual pilgrim: books, colorful, billowy clothing, and the omnipresent essential oils. In fact, the majority of the people attending darshan today were of a particular demographic, their white robes matching the color of their skin. Some of the booths had signs looking for people willing to do karma yoga. My favorite sign was for 'Veggie Choppers.' Great band name.

Miki, being 9 months pregnant, attracted immediate attention. We were lucky to be allowed to receive Darshan quickly, and therefore avoid a long wait into the afternoon. We found a place off to the right of the stage, a good perch from which to view the proceedings. When Amma entered, the energy of the room changed immediately. I hate to overuse any cliche, but it literally became like a hive, with the bees buzzing frenetically around their queen. We all sat again and were led in meditation. I had a hard time concentrating since the voice of the man leading the meditation reminded me of the intonation of Goenka-ji, making me smirk occasionally. After, we watched the video monitors, showing people as they received their Darshan. It was amazing to watch Amma, talking to some of her circle while she clutched someone else to her bosom. She'd be all smiles and engaged in conversation, then would suddenly bend forward and whisper intensely into the darshan receiver's ear. This shift was always sudden and always dramatic. During the proceedings, a band played devotional music on stage, the tabla inspiring motion in me, as it always does. Amma's helpers moved in a different rhythm, assisting in where they were needed. I wondered what these Indian nationals made of Amma's celebrity abroad, if they found it odd at all. More than this, I wondered how they felt after these long days of Darshan. Amma's energy is famously steady, but do they feel? Empty or full?

After about an hour or so, it was our turn. There was a bit of musical chairs, then my face was pushed into Amma's chest. What did I feel? Hmmmm, it's hard to say. Part of me was busy with protocol. But another part...
Then, just as swiftly, we were guided off to the left to sit at Amma's side.

Not being a devotee, I chose to close my eyes and meditate, falling quickly into quite a deep state of quiet. Finally, a voice inside said, "That's it," so I quickly stood up and walked back through the crowd of people who'd be here well past midnight.

And again, what did I feel? After the four of us got back in the car, we talked some, but no one shared their own personal experience. I liked that. Miki and I later agreed that we liked the auspicious timing of meeting Amma, less than a month before our child's birth. Our own experiences are still beyond words, which feels pretty much right...

On the turntable: Pink Floyd, "Wish You Were Here"
On the nighttable: Pauline Kael, "For Keeps"

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