There was a sense of urgency as pairs of people were funneled closer to the foot of the stage where Amma, a grandmotherly symbol of love and compassion, reached out her arms and hugged. The big and small, old and young, all converged on the Hilton at Mark Center in Alexandria on July 8 and 9 for the spiritual embrace.
The stop in Alexandria was only one of a 10 city tour for Amma, aka Mata Amritanandamayi, an international figure who offers teachings and blessings in the form of hugging and chants, spreading a feeling of oneness with all. She is a self-proclaimed mother of all, and the hug is a motherly expression of her love, followers say.
Alexandria resident Rosemary Tarcza heard about the Amma event last weekend, and showed up at Mark Center to see what it was all about. A friend and her mother both received hugs before. They described it to me as getting the hug of a thousand grandmothers, Tarcza said.
Leah Ruzek traveled from Westminster, Md., for another hug from Amma. Ruzek has been to see Amma three other times, including a retreat in Michigan last year that lasted a few days. She had trouble finding words to describe the effect the hugs had on her. Its not measurable, you just know that its helping, she said. Its an enormous addition to your life.
Special for family
This Amma event turned into a family reunion for Philadelphia resident Christina Seluzicki, who showed up with her 91-year-old grandfather, an aunt from Baltimore and a friend from Washington, D.C. Her grandfather has always been a compassionate and loving person, and thats what Ammas all about, she said. It was the fourth time shes seen Amma and couldnt pinpoint the positives, but was enthusiastic to have several members of her family there nonetheless. It was really special to do it as a family. Its a profound experience, it can take a while to sink in, she said.
On tour, Amma hugs approximately 5,000 people each day at the various events. Rob Sidon, the marketing and business development representative for Harmony with Higher Vision for Humanity, is traveling with Amma on her current 10-city tour. He called an encounter with Amma an opening to ones higher self. Its non-denominational, though a majority of the people at Mark Center were of the Hindu faith. This event was small compared to Ammas events in India. Ammas considered a living saint, Sidon said.
On the international scale, Amma addressed the United Nations, political leaders, promoted disaster relief, and was behind an effort that built 6,200 homes on the islands off the coast of India. In 2002, Amma was awarded the Gandhi-King Award for Non-violence.
Back in the Hilton ballroom, helpers guided people to the hugging area, where Swami Amrit oversaw the crowd. Some with medical situations wrote pleas for special attention on notes, which were in a pile on the stage. She has a heart problem, said one of the assistants to Amma. While hugging, Amma whispers in the ear of each person, delivering a chant to each. My son, my son, my son, she says to some.
Amrit said Ammas message gives the people more strength to face the challenges of life.
In the lower level hotel lobby, people lined up for hugging. Rows upon rows of shoes lined along one wall and on racks. Booths promoted this positive outlook with Amma dolls, food and drink. One booth had Amma Bliss drinks of strawberry juice, mango and banana ($3). Another drink, the Daily Basic, consisted of carrot juice, ginger, celery and orange juice. A scent of incense and Patchouli oil permeated in the air.