"Then Came the Smell of Roses"

My meeting with the "living saint" Ammachi, a holy woman who heals by hugging.

This article first ran on Beliefnet on May 29, 2003.

"Leave my shoes out here?" I thought they had to be kidding. While I was used to shedding my shoes before yoga or meditation, or even before entering my own home, this was New York City. The sweet woman informing me that the shoes must come off was not from India, but she dressed like she was. Beside her was a kind gentleman who explained. "We remove our shoes out of reverence for `the Mother' Ammachi."

Well, to leave my cherished Birkenstocks on shelves with the ocean of Birkenstocks already there seemed a risky thing to do. But I did it, leaving a book I'd been reading beneath my shoes to help identify them. Upon walking back into the church's foyer, I nearly bumped into a young man with dazed eyes and a grin so full of bliss that it seemed he would have kept grinning if I'd inadvertently knocked him down. Suddenly I wasn't so sure about this grand adventure.

I had come to meet a living saint and heal my faith. And in fact, it would be twelve hours before I saw my shoes and book again, still together but on a different part of the shelf. Twelve beautiful hours I would never forget.


I had come to see Ammachi (or Amma as those who follow her say with reverence) at the exuberant recommendation of a new friend at a yoga teacher's training I'd been attending that week in Connecticut. It was our day off, and the director had mentioned that Amma was on a New York City leg of a world tour, and that this was a wonderful opportunity to meet the Hindu "Hugging Saint," a remarkable woman who channels the spirit of maternal love and grace, "the Divine Mother". Every year she comes to the states to embrace, bless, and encourage followers of any faith.

An unidentified woman receives a hug from Ammachi.

Over the past five years as a yoga teacher and consistent meditator, I had made myself available to mystical experiences of the divine, and I felt naturally drawn to Amma. And I knew that in the path of yoga, it's considered a good idea to have a guru or teacher on hand to guide you down the path of enlightenment. I had begun to realize that being enlightened was a long process of letting your own inner light shine, but I was skeptical and not always comfortable asking for help. Additionally, guru shopping was something I found altogether distasteful. I had friends that went from one to another. That wasn't for me.

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