Just hours after seeing Wonder Woman, I woke to go see another archetype, The Universal Mother, in the form of the Indian hugging guru, Amma. It was my fifth time seeing her over a six-year span. She is almost the opposite of Wonder Woman in many ways: tiny in stature, round in every other way and hugging is her super power. What they share is a determination to share and spread love.
I know Wonder Woman is a fictional character, but when you’re also writing about a real-life deity whose aura is larger than a city block and who can hug for 22 hours without a bathroom break (for real. I’ve studied her and tried to find the trick. There isn’t any.), they really are on par.
I’d been introduced to the circus that is Amma in 2012 by a friend who was an emerging pop star and barista in LA. She knew of Amma from friends of hers in Australia. When she asked me if I wanted to get a free hug from a deity, I said, “Why not.”
My first time was overwhelming. There were loads of white people dressed in hippie finery, spastic dancing, Chai tea, lines for tokens and a bazaar full of photos of Amma and even some clothing she’d worn. It felt like the work of a charlatan and I was the only one who could see it. But I like to see the end of a ride so I stuck with it.
We’d arrived to the LAX Hilton at 4pm and left at 3:30am. It’s a process. You line up to get a token. Then you meditate with Amma and after, hugging begins. You can’t get a hug until your token group is called. We waited for hours, until about 2am before we were up. I saw people cry and faint after receiving their hugs. When it was my turn, I was unnerved by being shoved into this woman’s bosom (my people don’t hug like this) and wondered when it would be over. I felt nothing except uncomfortable.
I chocked it up to an LA experience and forgot about it until I went to my mailbox the next day. In it was a refund check from the IRS for $2,500. The original check had been mailed to an old apartment in my building and was lost. I’d called the IRS two weeks earlier about getting a replacement and they said it would take six months. I was livid but there was nothing I could do and they refused to budge. Receiving the check in the mailbox was nothing short of a miracle and I yelled, “Amma provides!” I became a devotee on that day.
In the following years, nothing as dramatic as “the check” has occurred. But worries or fears dissipated. Inappropriate love interests faded into the ether. Mostly, I just leave feeling buoyant and massively hopeful. This year, I wished for prosperity and love or whatever Amma deemed appropriate.
I drove to the LAX Hilton feeling anxious about missing out on a token but felt a wave of calm a few blocks from the hotel. The parking lot of almost full, but I found a spot, parked my car and got into line for my token at 9:15am. It was the first day of her program, which I came to learn is the best day to go because it’s the least busy. The line didn’t seem too long and I felt relieved to see my odds were good for receiving a hug.
I chatted with the man behind me, George, and the woman in front of me, Alissa. We shared our Amma experiences and predicted how long we’d be at the Hilton. George has been going since 1999 and Alissa since 2016. We had a good range of stories to share through the time we got our tokens and in the hall while we waited for Amma to lead us in meditation.
Our token number was O3 (they range from A-1 through ZZ-4). George predicted we’d be out by 3pm. We sat together through Amma’s meditation and remarked on how buzzy we felt. I felt like I’d had two cocktails, but in a pure way. At 12:30, I excused myself from my new friends and walked through the Amma bazaar. The items for sale include photos of Amma, crystals, jewelry, oils, t-shirts and linens. I knew I wanted to buy a mala (necklace made of 108 beads for meditation), as I’d done every year. I have three sandalwood ones and a broken rose quartz mala. I was going to see what I gravitated toward. I chose the first one that caught my eye: a rose quartz and rhodonite one with a tassel made by a nun at Amma’s Indian ashram. I’d have Amma bless it and place it around my neck.
I also bought an apophyllite crystal that caught my eye when we got into the token line. This crystal is for meditation, connection to the angels and releasing negative energy. It felt like it was a perfect symbol for Amma and I wanted to bring a piece of her home.
I pre-paid for my parking, went to the bathroom and got some Chai tea. I couldn’t figure out what Indian food to buy so I instead got a Magic Bar (coconut, chocolate, caramel, graham crackers, condensed milk and walnuts.) Not the healthiest, but I needed something in my system. In the spirit of adventure and pushing my boundaries, I picked a random table and asked if I could join them. It was an older gentleman and a woman, whom I assumed were married. I asked them about why they were seeing Amma and our conversation flowed in many directions from there. The man shared he was 72, single, ready to mingle and urged me to come to his birthday party. I’d assumed he was involved with the woman he was seated with, but they are just friends from Transcendental Meditation. I extracted myself from them after about ten minutes. I rejoined my original crew shortly before my token group was called.
When our group was called, I jumped up, did a little dance and skipped to our line. The 72-year old man grabbed me to hug me and wish me luck. I appreciated it, but I was also annoyed. He wanted to get together after Amma and I rebuffed him. Not every connection needs to result in a longer bond. I did a little 90’s dance as I settled into line.
Soon enough, I was on stage, just a few feet from Amma. The woman in front of me sobbed as Amma held her. When it was my time, I said, “Hi Amma!” and was shoved into her ample bosom. As she held me, I again felt nothing and then worried about feeling nothing. She said, “Maum, maum, maum,” into my ear. I tried to avoid sinking my face into the wet trail of tears on her shoulder. One of Amma’s minders pulled me back and it was over. I said, “Thanks Amma!” and she handed me a rose petal and Hershey’s kiss with a shy smile. I bounded off the stage and back into my life. For the rest of the day, I felt joyful.
Like Wonder Woman, Amma spreads love. She brings peace and calm while building schools and helping poor people around the world. Whether you believe she’s a guru or not, at the very least, everyone needs a hug (at least four per day to maintain emotional equilibrium).
Who knew hugging could be a job? Who knew it could bring so many people such joy? I wasn’t going to question it. I was going to settle into feeling good and appreciating the moment.
Still, I’m fascinated by how hugs day in and day out without getting arm cramps or taking a bathroom break. Seriously. She’s not wearing Depends and there’s no “hole” beneath her. I tried to get to the bottom of it (pun intended) and everyone agreed: no bathroom breaks. No tricks. No deception.
Given my bladder, it was enough to make me certain this is a miracle worker. So there’s that.