I first came to Amma about 15 years ago around 2003. I had just gotten sober, was counting days, and so was in a vulnerable open space – a perfect time to meet Amma.
One day I was sitting at on a coffee shop bench (Ozzie’s Coffee and Tea) when I got into a conversation with a woman sitting next to me. She asked me if I heard of the “Hugging Saint”? I said no and she then told me she was in town. I didn’t think much of it but I felt interested but that was the extent of it. Just a feeling.
The next day I was sitting outside a meeting waiting for it to begin. A friend approached and while talking she asked me if i heard about the Hugging Saint? I said I just did and then she said she was here today and for the next couple of days. She told me where it was and I decided that since I heard of this person from to different people I should probably go. So after the meeting I hopped on the train and went to see this hugging saint.
At this point Amma was in the Manhattan Center. It was easy to get to and getting there I was overwhelmed. I got there later in the day of her first day and so I was too late to get a “token” so I just sat in the atmosphere. I loved it. People meditating, hugging each other, music, and the line for hugs. Watching this woman hug one after the other was amazing. Watching the emotions of those hugged was amazing. I asked around and was told I should come early in the morning to get an early token number. I did. I came back 8 am and got in line for my first hug.
In the space I was in I was open to the whole experience and saw no negatives to deter me or chase me away or affirm anything of contempt I may have held. When I reached Amma I surrendered to her embrace and felt a small jolt and a little dizziness. I got up ( was helped rather) and sat for a bit near her then went downstairs to grab a bite and sit with how I felt.
From the beginning I was drawn to SEVA (service). After my hug I volunteered to help chop vegetables. Then I helped serve food. I helped with seating and I helped with bookstore security. It was there I found a niche as I was able to do this SEVA and feel “in charge” of something – which if you spend anytime around Amma you know that getting there means you are in good company because everyone is in charge! I loved going and rounding up people todo SEVA and met some wonderful people.
In fact it was while I was doing bookstore security that I had on a few occasions people ask me what my spiritual name was. At the time I didn’t have one and felt strange saying I didn’t have one. Especially as they were seeing me as a part of this whole thing. And I must say I was, however small and not so significant, a part of this thing and I loved it and still do.
Well after a few times of saying I don’t have a spiritual name i asked someone there how does one get one. They said you have to ask Amma. I asked another person and they said yeah before she hugs you say name and see what happens. Well it felt right to me – even thought i’ve come to learn that it wasn’t quite the way.
So before my hug (this was day 1) I opened my arms and said “name?” Amma looked at me for a second ( there isn’t a lot of time and many of you know so a second can feel like forever) then nodded ok and motioned for me to sit on the side after my hug. Well this started a chain of events that meant I had to hold fast to what Amma told me because as I told others what Amma said they said no Amma wouldn’t say that, another follower said no and others told me to sit. So I sat. That day I sat for a long while before the Swami told me to come back tomorrow early.
I came the next day (day 2) and sat where they told me and for a long time… nothing happened. I did some SEVA in between but tried to keep myself available for Amma to give me my spiritual name.
At the end of day 2.. nothing.
Again one of the Swamis told me to come back tomorrow (day 3).
Day 3. I arrived early. let them know I was here and did SEVA then came and sat where they told me. This time I was in a front row seat facing Amma. It’s hard to tell sometimes if Amma is looking at you or around the room during hugging as there is so much going on. I tried to sit a visible as I could so she would see me. After awhile i got up and walked around.
While walking around I ended up talking to a woman who also was waiting for a name but she had been waiting for some years. That didn’t give me joy to hear but I thought well if it takes that then it takes that. We ended up going to sit by Amma together waiting for our name. While sitting there she got bored and said she was going to walk around a bit. I decided to join her and we walked towards the front. I had a feeling and turned to see one of the Swamis hurrying towards me saying “where are those 2 people that wanted a name?” I said me and turned to find the woman but she had disappeared into the crowd. SO I followed Swami and sat again while he talked to Amma, they both looked at me, he said something, Amma said something, she looked at me they talked again then she smiled and said “Avinash”.
The Swami waved me to him and told me roughly what my new name meant – something like “indestructible force”. This has taken some time to absorb.
Firstly I sort of expected something like Shaktiput Brother or Devi as a name or any of the other popular Indian names we so so prevalent in our culture. Avinash was so unusual and not as free flowing a sound to me. Plus I have felt more like a sensitive piece of rice paper never like indestructible force.
And to make matters more on the funny side there is another Avinash and he’s African-American and bald just like me… So was Amma being funny?
Well I can say from experience that there is always so much more that happens with Amma – we think we are there for a hug and we end up learning and receiving so much more!!
One of the reasons I love doing so much SEVA is because of the gifts I have received – first the hug then a name. I could go and just do SEVA and never gat another hug and still feel fulfilled. Jai Mai! Thank you Amma,
For more information about Amma please visit: amma.org