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I was in the presence of an enlightened being last night. A love-Buddha. A Kali-esque Divine-mama mama. It was my third time getting hugged by Amma, or Ammachi the “hugging saint.” My friends and I waited and chatted and ate for many hours in a kind of happy spiritual chaos at a large theater in Manhattan. I ran into people I haven’t seen in years. Bonded with people I see every day. Watched dazed, just-hugged people totter off from their embrace.

One guy I met told me he got hugged for the first time the night before. An ordinary-looking guy in his 30s, southern accent, runner, an architect. He said he’d been kind of cracking jokes right up until the moment he was pushed into her arms. And then, he said, he felt something that was “undeniable.” Something major had occurred. But what? “It’s like everyting is different and nothing is different.” He paused. And in that silence I saw that he was probably processing energy, the “shakti” she and other highly spiritually open beings emit. His yogi friend said, “He had a spiritual experience and now he’s trying to ‘understand’ it.” True. But his awe and wonder and confusion was palpable. He was not taking this experience for granted, or tucking it under his belt along with a bunch of others to whip out at the right raw foods restaurant or drum circle. He was being transformed by the energy that emanates from this extraordinary ordinary-looking Indian woman. “What is it?” he asked.

What is it indeed? What is it that enables someone to hug around six people a minute for nearly 12 hours straight and then do the same for days in a row? For years. What is it that makes some people weep in that 10-30 seconds they’re in her arms? Makes people change their lives because of it? Makes people wonder what hit them? Makes some people feel like they truly understand love?

Is it just that we allow ourselves to be open, truly open, to another being’s love because we feel safe, knowing that she doesn’t want anything from us–except to go love and serve the world?  Or is it something else?  

In a speech before the hugging, Amma’s right-hand woman said a journalist recently asked Amma, “What do you do when you’re alone?” Everyone around her laughed because she’s never alone. There is always someone with Amma. But the journalist wasn’t satisfied. “But after the hugging–do you read books, surf the internet?” And finally she answered (I’m paraphrasing): “I am never alone, but I’m always alone. When I’m by myself or surrounded by people I am alone. Because I am with the one consciousness… I am connected to the supreme internet and I surf that.” So, said the woman giving the speech, “You can visit Amma and have an online chat every time.”

So is that it? Is that why her presence (and other rare beings like her) is so profound? Because she knows she and God and you and me and him and her are one? Not just sort of knows it. But gets it in every cell of her being and so emanates that light and understanding?

And there I go, trying to understand. But I actually think there’s nothing wrong with intellectually processing spiritual experiences. We use our mind a lot and we need to get it on board with our heart. It just seems important not to miss the experience while we grapple.

When I hugged her a while later, I didn’t have to try to do or understand anything. Before, I was bathing in the aura of the energy, with plenty of room to intellectualize. During, I was gone. It was the difference between sexual pleasure and orgasm. One feels nice, but your mind is still whirring just behind the yum. And the other obliterates your mind for a short, sweet while–le petit mort, indeed. “The love that surpasses understanding” is what Amma is offering. In the hopes that it will inspire you to go out and change the world with the love that is unleashed in your heart. I mean, I think. Right?

Earlier, a friend had joked to me that he didn’t have time to wait for a hug, but maybe if he hugged someone who had just hugged Amma he would have the same experience–like a contact high. And later, in my sweet, post-hug daze I thought about that. What if we all had this power to hug in a way that would change people’s lives? And what if we gave those hugs generously every day? How might the tenor of our planet shift?  How and what might we crack open, heal?

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