I want to tell a story about one of the most remarkable women I never met.
She became my de facto neighbour in the jam-packed main temple at Amritapuri, the ashram presided over by Amma, the famous “Hugging Mother.”
Amma is giving her weekly satsung—a guru giving a public audience—and will soon serve lunch to the 1500+ people in the room (with a lot of help).
I’m tired and trying to make heads and tails of this whole, surreal, amazing experience of watching thousands of people receive hugs from the indefatigable Amma all day long, still shocked to have been one among the throngs thrust into her bosom.
I still have no idea what it all means, or how I’m feeling. I’m not sure if I’m more uncomfortable with the fact that I’m here, or with the fact that it feels more comfortable than I thought it would. I still have a lot of trouble just letting go and enjoying experiences, even the ones I’ve personally hand-picked to give myself.
I’m squeezed into the far corner on the women’s side of the space. It’s crammed, and still filling up. This is when a tiny, older Indian lady comes and squishes in next to me.
Moments later, she’s fiddling with her one piece of jewellery, a gold ring. She takes it off. I resume trying to listen to a swami’s translation of Amma’s lecture.
There’s a tap on my arm. The tiny lady is looking up at me with a sweet, very determined face. She shoves her ring into my hand and makes a wild gesture.
I notice the ring’s adjustable and think maybe she wants me to make the ring smaller or bigger to fit her. I can’t help but think about Goldilocks and the Three Bears at this juncture, and briefly ruminate on the pursuit of the size that is “just right.”
I fumble around a little bit, and give it back. She tries it on, shakes her head and shoves it back in my hand.
I try again but she keeps handing it back, wordless. By now I’m puzzled and have completely lost the thread of Amma’s lecture. But I’m surprised and happy to observe that I have a smile on my face.
I decide I have to just surrender to her desires, because it’s clear I have no clue what she wants, no control over the situation, no idea how to help her.
A typical reaction for me would be to get frustrated or try to fit the ring on her to see what adjustments need to be made—the former would be a habitual reaction to a perceived nuisance and the second, a retreat into logic, also a habit pattern.
This time, I go with the bizarre flow, and on the game goes. I play with the ring and she tries it on and gives it back. Over and over, a dance of gold and big smiles.
Finally, for no reason I can come close to fathoming, she puts the ring on and looks at it with great satisfaction, though I haven’t done anything different, and it’s evident she is perfectly capable of adjusting the ring herself, because she keeps showing me how to do it with impassioned gestures.
Then, my heart just melts and stops at the same time.
She rests her palm on my knee, takes my hand and caresses it. She is my friend, my mother, my guardian angel, and everything I’ve come to associate with the gorgeous power of the feminine.
She turns my hand around and caresses the other side as I try not to cry. She taps her other hand to the beat of the music thumping loudly in the room.
We sit like this, me being held by this teeny force of a woman, as Amma starts dishing out the day’s meal.
And then, as soon as it all started, it’s over. The momentum in the room has reached fever pitch and now everyone is standing, moving like one big wave in the direction of Amma and the other servers. She’s gone, and I never see her again.
The next afternoon, Amma tells a great story as hundreds sit outside on foldout chairs, the sun beginning to set.
A king has four wives. His favourite by far is the fourth wife, followed by the third, then the second, and finally the first, to whom he pays no attention.
One day he goes to the fourth wife and asks her if she’ll go with him when he dies.
“No, I will not,” she replies, “I’m sorry.”
The king’s shocked, and goes to the third wife, asking the same question. She replies that she’ll only go with him as far as his cremation and not any farther.
Dismayed, he approached the second wife to ask if she’d accompany him. Only until after your cremation, and that’s it.
The first wife, however, tells him that of course she’ll go with him, even after his death.
The fourth wife symbolizes the material possessions of life; one’s things, desires, status. They mean nothing the second you’re gone. The third wife represents family and friends, who are with you but only until your death is final – then they move on.
The second wife represents the physical body: so important to us in life, it crumbles to ashes upon cremation. The first wife, the devoted one, is the true self. We pay least attention to it, but it’s the only thing that remains when all else has gone.
I can’t help but link this story back to my newest friend, with whom I never exchanged a word. I can’t forget her, or the ring we played with, that was somehow just a gold ring and somehow not a material object at all, but a cause for connection.
For me, anyway, the ring and the amazing woman who briefly shared it with me taught me that patience isn’t something to do with a feeling of leaden obligation, but a magic door leading to a very bearable lightness of being – and into the absolute wondrousness of returning to yourself the moment you let go.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Photos: courtesy of the author