A few years ago, I had an experience that I had anticipated for weeks and a few that I had not expected as a result. After receiving several emails and fliers, I ventured into Philadelphia to be in the presence of an esteemed teacher from India called Amma, which in the Telugu language (one of many spoken in India), means Divine Mother. She is also known by her given name Sri Karunamayi and is considered an incarnation of the Divine feminine emanation. Having heard from friends that they witnessed a sense of unconditional love while with her, I felt called to have a first hand understanding of the energy. I knew that magic would accompany those in the gathering.
I arrived early, had dinner at an Indian restaurant near International House where the evening’s festivities were to be held and after I was comfortably fed, I walked a block or so to where my car was parked, to feed the meter. A man stood a few feet from my car and asked me how far it was to Broad Street. At the time, we were near the corner of 37th and Chestnut Streets, so he had at least 23 blocks to go. His ultimate destination was a shelter in a town a good distance away. He was homeless and early on in the conversation informed me that he had AIDS, but that I shouldn’t worry because I wouldn’t catch it by simply speaking with him. I assured him that I knew that and had no worries. He had come to Philadelphia to get food and work in a restaurant called The White Dog Café, owned by Judy Wick, a woman well known for her compassion and social activism. He wasn’t looking forward to walking the miles it would take to arrive at the shelter. I felt moved to ask him if he knew what bus fare would cost. He informed me that it was $5.75. Immediately I reached into my wallet and handed him the fare and few dollars more, which was pretty much what I had left. I felt no fear or hesitation. He smiled, thanked me and said, “At least you’re from this planet. A police officer that I asked for directions actually covered his mouth when he spoke with me.” Off he headed down Chestnut Street to catch his bus. That interaction had been natural and easy compared to what awaited me.
I walked into International House, which was slowly beginning to fill with people eagerly awaiting Amma’s presentation. I stood by a table bearing incense, cards, books, tapes and jewelry. As I was perusing the wares, a man stood next to me. From a few feet away, I caught the aroma of stale sweat, as if he and his clothing had not been touched by soap for quite awhile. I politely took a few steps away. He casually followed me. A few minutes later, I walked into the auditorium and sat next to a friend and co-worker who I met there. It seems that she and I were about to have a shared experience that we spoke about at work today. The man entered and sat down, across the aisle, one row in front of me, still in sensory range. I rolled my eyes depreciatively and thought, “How am I going to enjoy this experience?” I’m not proud of these thoughts, but I am recording them as they arose. As Amma spoke, her words were about love, compassion, service and seeing the Divine in all beings. My judgments about this man began to dissolve like sugar in water. I could still smell the strong aroma emanating from him, but instead of disdain, I felt a sense of acceptance. I meditated throughout much of the 3 hours there, focusing as much attention as I could on breathing and being.
After the presentation, she offered darshan which translates as “vision”, “visit”, “meeting”, “sight”, “seeing” or “beholding”. It’s a blessing given by a spiritual teacher and as people lined up to receive it with a touch on the third eye with a substance called vibhutti or ash that is observed to have healing properties, guess who was standing right behind me? My teacher for the evening. The most amazing thing was that I could no longer smell an unpleasant scent…only the delightful fragrance of incense.
I had been called on to live Divine Mother’s example and moved through the lesson with less grace than I had hoped for, but more humility than I could have imagined. For that I am grateful.