Something transformative happens when we offer our skills to an environment or group that lines up perfectly with our soul purpose.
I first met Amma, known as the Hugging Saint, in 1990.
It was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a tiny basement room at the African-Methodist Church in Central Square. I walked in, saw Amma seated in a chair, fell to my knees and sobbed for hours. Whatever I’d been holding onto was gone.
There were 10 other people in the room, all hovering around Amma like moths near a flame. As I wiped my tears, Amma called me over and asked that I lay across her lap. For the next 20 minutes, she rubbed my back and head and pinched my face while chanting Sanskrit in my ears.
Whoever I was before this day was gone. Having been a successful writer and performer for several years, my style and approach immediately changed. In a short period of time, my emotions and thoughts were transformed.
It’s a wonder what a spiritual master can inspire.
If you haven’t heard about Amma, imagine the sweetest and cutest mother-grandmother and her most delightful dinnertime concoctions. Imagine each bite as it nourishes your tongue, throat, belly and beyond. This most perfect meal would be one millionth of the love you might receive from Amma.
She is known as Mātā Amṛtānandamayī Devī or an incarnation of The Divine Mother. Amma is a force of nature and the most truly loving individual I have laid my eyes upon in this lifetime.
A year after I met Amma, during a playful, tickling darshan (blessing) with her, she asked me to be the opening act at for several of her U.S.-based retreats. My first performance was at her largest U.S. ashram in San Ramon, California. The place was packed with more than 10,000 people. It was like a spiritual rock concert and, for a brief moment, I was the main attraction.
I had prepared a spiritually-focused comedy show that was a balanced mix of enlightened thinking and hard-core comedy. I was not going to hold back my most treasured skill of joke writing just because the Divine Mother “hired me” for the gig. The divine gave me my skill set so it made sense to share it in its purest form. I put my best effort into the event with the hope of deconstructing some of the egoistic new-age mindset that seemed to surround Amma. And it worked. Every single joke was a hit.
Every once in a while, when I do a corporate show or a show related to my books, I feel chaotic electricity running through me. It’s a force of nature that wants to transform both me and the audience. While I write the jokes, this force often seems to care little about me. It’s a tidal wave of truth that aches to come out in service of others. And I’m excited to be its conduit.
My first show (of many) for Amma’s organization was just like this.
In front of a packed ashram, seated next to Amma’s pillow, I delivered the single most powerful and exciting show I’d performed to date. Except for a few cranky mafia new-agers and several traditional Hindu Indian families, the people went nuts over it and I was grateful.
During the show, a man at the back of the large hall jumped up and down shouting “Yes, yes, yes!” A woman near the stage kept grabbing my feet and touching her heart and third eye. A psychic approached me after the show saying that she had never seen so many spirits show up for a performance. She said the room was filled with angels seeking the vibration coming from the stage. Even Amma’s swamis were receptive and excited about it, adopting and tweaking some of my material over the years.
It was the most powerful night of my career. And it ruined me.
After that Ammaville show, I didn’t crave comedy, being on Saturday Night Live or moving forward with the different talent development deals hovering around me. I just wanted to follow Amma. I only wanted that precise, pristine alignment.
Everything else paled in comparison.
Soon after that first Amma night, I gave up my belongings, my EMMYs, bought an R.V. and followed this beautiful, saintly soul around the globe for 10 years. I lived at or visited many of her ashrams, including her home ashram in Kerala, India. It was the most light-filled, carefree time in my life and I loved every minute of it.
Many of us have been offered a similar perfect storm.
We each have the opportunity to work toward creating the type of alignment where we are using our best skills.
It feels as though we’ve been plugged into an outlet to be supercharged. In these moments, even the most subtle of our gifts are validated and infused with eternal life.
But we often hop off the train long before it pushes into the station.
Why is that? Why do we sell ourselves short?
As we approach the height of our value to the world, capable of anything, the question becomes, can we forego the aggressive drive of our ego in favor of the more elusive and deeper gifts? In these special moments of unique opportunity, can we step inward instead of outward? Is it possible to always be on the lookout for the friction that will lead to our greatest experiences or achievements so that we might choose more wisely?
What a journey we’ve all been on.
What regrets we all have.
As you read this, maybe you can assemble the mistakes you’ve hidden away and forgive them in one fell swoop. It might be time for tears of regret to pave the way for an upcoming enlightened decision.
We are forces born of and involving nature. If we can release the things that bind us, we stand a greater chance of being immersed in our truth. Only then can the universe greet us and shower us with the blessings that speak to our depths.
I remember the first few years traveling to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and wandering out in the desert to Amma’s beautiful, rustic yurt. That was a palpable experience because it was still so new and refreshing. The energy was mind blowing. Many of us didn’t know why we were there at the time, but in retrospect, most of us know just how special that time was.
Sadly though, the organization and Amma’s lines of followers grew and grew. No more did the rooms tap out at 10 people. It was now thousands. No more did I receive a 20-minute blessings filled with Amma’s electric, transformative passion. Combine this with above sentence: It was now a token-based system and a 30-second hug, and while that’s still a glorious gift, I missed the profound intimacy that I had been lucky to enjoy at the start of her U.S. celebrity.
I still do custom comedy and educational events for companies all over the world. I lead retreats and workshops and more, but nothing compares to the divine alignment of being Amma’s comedian. Nothing. I look forward to the next moment I can connect to my deepest, most authentic self.
You can learn more about Amma on her website. Catch a hug if you can.
Author: Paul Wagner
Image: Courtesy of the author
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock