It was the last night of the spiritual retreat with my guru Amma (also known as the hugging saint). I had spent the last few days working hard serving Amma’s program where ever help was needed; washing dishes, serving food, loading equipment, decorating the temple and crowd control, so the thousands of people who came to the program could get their hug from Amma in a timely manner.
Amma’s hugging programs run 20 hours 365 days around the clock – unless of course Amma is on route to another city or country. It was 3:00 am in the morning, I was severely sleep deprived from three days of virtually no sleep and sore around my neck and shoulders with tension, but was thrilled that my next official assignment was on stage with Amma. I had a two hour shift to sit by Amma’s side. My job was simple, enjoy the bliss of sitting close to my guru’s divine energy and offer assistance, if needed. As you can imagine, Amma’s body gets a lot of wear and tear embracing people all day, every day. I had my instructions, I could gently encourage people to distribute their weight by moving their arms to her side before the hug begins, but I had strict instructions not to interfere once the process of the hug had begun.
Amma looked at me with a beaming smile, as I replaced the person who had the shift before me. I felt my heart swell with pride – I felt she knew all the work that I had so efficiently and humbly performed the last few days. I wanted the next two hours to be meditative, mindful and to help make spiritual progress.
I asked Amma to teach me how to have an open heart and to help me get rid of negative emotions of jealousy, anger, fear, resentment and ego driven behavior. Most importantly, I sincerely asked her to teach me the true essence of Love that she exudes.
I noticed someone on a wheelchair being brought on stage. Amma usually has to stand up to give a wheelchair hug, so I wanted to be prepared to assist in anyway. The person pushing the wheelchair was nervous and careless and shoved the chair towards Amma. My hands automatically reached out and caught Amma’s feet to prevent them from getting tangled in the wheels. The back of my hand was all scratched up and a little bruised.
Amma stood up and gave a hug to the lady in the wheelchair and as she sat back down she turned and looked at me with the most approving of smiles. Her eyes were sparkling like steel cut diamonds - I imagined her saying –“mindfulness is the true hallmark of a spiritual seeker – you are making progress my daughter”.
I had caught Amma’s feet! In the Hindu tradition the feet of elders, teachers and guru’s are considered very sacred. Touching the feet of someone you wish to honor is a form of greeting and a long held cultural tradition. Children are taught this custom at an early age.
Symbolically feet represent the death of the ego, as they are the furthest from the head, where we see the world simply from our own vantage point. Indeed, the most important job of a guru is to help us surrender our head to our feet. In Vedic Astrology the first house relates to our individual identity “I, me, mine; and the twelfth is to our collective identity, where we become part of something bigger than ourselves. Aries and Pisces, as the first and twelfth signs of the zodiac, also have similar characteristics.
Those close in Amma’s circle will understand what it means when your guru gives you that loving, approving smile she gave me in that moment. I felt so special, I was euphoric, I felt the tension leave my shoulders and I looked at my “war wound” with satisfaction. The back of my hand looked quite black and blue, and I all I could think of was how I couldn’t wait to share the story with my friends and family once I got off the stage.
Moments later, I looked up and saw a very big man in Amma’s embrace and he had his elbows propped right up on Amma’s legs and his full weight was falling on her body. I panicked and tried to move his arms mid-hug (disobeying Amma’s instructions), and Amma turned to me with such disapproval in her eyes that I had never seen before - my heart sank, my ego deflated, my shoulders tensed. My smugness over the wheelchair incident had allowed my thoughts to drift and lose consciousness of the present moment.
I realized in that moment that painful that it was Amma had taught me what I had asked for when I first sat down next to her. She had taught me through these events that arrogance, self absorption and self importance is what prevents us from finding Love, which is our true essence. It is bowing down our head to the feet that allows us to open our heart to divine love and peace that we all seek.
I have seen this happen countless times around great teachers like Amma, when you ask for help with sincerity the teachings come quickly, however, often they can be through unpleasant events.
Some retreat – you might be thinking!!
When most people think of yoga and spiritual retreats they think of meditating on the beach, tighter abs, spa treatments and lots of sleep. In new age spiritual retreats the premium is often placed on meeting the requirements of the body and mind. In more ancient spiritual traditions the premium is placed on the Atman or True Self/Soul, that transcends the body and mind. Therefore, a true spiritual retreat is one which can help awaken us from the illusion of separateness from the divine presence (guru) within us.
My experience with Amma was exactly what I needed in that moment and Amma delivered the message to me loud and clear. Similarly, we should not look upon our experiences with the planets as good and bad, but rather as our gurus and teachers, showing a line of approach to rediscover our cosmic self. Planets do not mean to harm or make us miserable but they will use whatever is in their power to deliver the teachings our Soul has requested.
We have to learn to deeply understand the energy of each planet, especially the planet whose Dashaand Bhukti we are currently running, otherwise we will suffer when their greater agenda does not align with our more narrow agenda.
Here are the inner teachers and gurus that we always have access to in our lives:
Sun teaches us how to trade in our superficial and shallow self confidence for true self confidence that comes with actual achievement, sacrifice and connection to some bigger ideal than just our personal needs.
Moon teaches us how to get in touch with our authentic and pure feelings of joy and bliss and avoid getting caught up in involuntary negative emotional responses, which are usually the products of outdated memories and experiences.
Mars teaches us to fight the battles of life with equanimity. He dares us to put our principles into action, without being combative or reckless. His teachings bring us face to face with our true enemy – our own ignorance.
Venus makes every effort to fulfill our desires for love, beauty, pleasure and harmony. Ultimately, his goal is to quench the thirst of our personal desires for temporal material happiness and entertainment and seek the infinite, unchangeable inner bliss and delight.
Jupiter’s generosity can sometimes be deceptive. His real goal is to teach us the oneness of the individual soul with the universal soul. He brings luck, faith and serendipity in our lives, not just to help us acquire more prestige, fame or worldly gains, but rather to actualize our authentic higher Life Purpose.
Mercury wants us to study, interpret, discriminate and sort through knowledge. He does not want us to get stuck at the level of the intellect but rather to train the mind to have a high level of intelligence and cognition to discern Truth from Falsehood, the Real from the Unreal. (Mercury is perhaps the most important planet in the information age).
Saturn’s job is to help us to understand the nature of the physical world and reflect on suffering, sorrow and hardship that is built into the human condition. Patience, humility, solitude, simplicity and being of service to others are his hallmarks. His teachings can free us from ever becoming a victim of our circumstances, no matter how difficult they are.
Rahu casts the widest net of separation from our Higher Self, as his job is to keep the true reality of our divine nature hidden from us and keep us trapped in the illusion that the physical, material world is all there is to our existence. Ultimately, he brings us face to face with our greatest fear in this lifetime, which is based on its house and sign placement. There is no more relenting and successful teacher than Rahu — spend enough time with him and the illusion will definitely fall away.
Ketu -Don’t even get me started on Ketu... he makes Saturn look like a cake walk. Saturn wants us to take on the hardships but Ketu wants nothing to do with the material world. He wants to teach us how to function outside the range of ordinary consciousness. He wants the head/ego to completely come off - this is an impossible feat for most mortals.
As you can see there is no way out, as divinity has us surrounded on all sides. The only way to find a more permanent peaceful retreat is to work at merging our head with our feet - our sense of "I" must be intact, but so must our sense that ultimately "we are all one".
So next time you can’t afford get away and find solace in a spiritual retreat, you might remember that perhaps you are already in one.