Take a moment to ponder the importance of a hug. It’s a simple enough concept, one that most people could benefit from. But once you’ve had the kind of squeeze that cleanses the soul and lightens the heart, you may never think about the power of embrace the same way again.
Mata Amritanandamayi, also known as “Amma,” “Ammachi” or “the Hugger Saint,” is a humanitarian whose efforts to eradicate world hunger and poverty have made her something of a modern hero. She’s known around the world as one of the last vestiges of sainthood, and has even been likened to such pacifist giants as Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi. Her purpose in life is to rid the world of poverty — both emotional and financial. To her, it all begins with a hug.
She was recently commissioned to deliver the closing plenary address at the 2004 Parliament of the World Religions, and has been recognized by the United Nations with the prestigious Gandhi-King Award for Non-Violence, an accolade previously given only to Kofi Annan, Nelson Mandela and Jane Goodall.
This week, Amma will visit Ypsilanti for a free public presentation of her darshan programs. Darshan is Sanskrit for “audience in the presence of a holy person.” In a departure from Indian tradition — especially for a woman — Amma’s darshan consists of a long tender embrace. Reportedly, she’s been doing this as a natural expression of love since she was a young woman, but her unorthodox approach to healing has resulted in her condemnation by many members of her community, including family. Her defiance of tradition has even resulted in a few attempts on her life.
For those looking for a more comprehensive experience with the modern-day saint, there will also be a two-day retreat (pre-registration and a $150 charity donation is required; amma.org) on Friday, Nov. 26, and Saturday, Nov. 27, in addition to the free 40-minute talks and devotional music presentations that will take place on Nov. 24, 25 and 28. (Amma will not leave the premises until everyone who wishes to receive her personal blessing has been received.)
Experience Amma Thursday, Nov. 24, through Sunday, Nov. 28, at the Ypsilanti Marriott at Eagle Crest, 1275 S. Huron St., Ypsilanti; 734-487-2000. Eve Doster is a staff writer for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]otimes.com