You might wonder what Amma (known as “the hugging saint”) has to do with clutter. My answer would be consciousness. And the more conscious we are, the more mindful we are. And the more we pay attention to each moment we live, the less clutter accumulates in our lives. Amma’s “religion” is LOVE. Her loving hugs cut through mental barriers (ie. judgement and criticism) to give recipients a leg up in the consciousness process. Later comes the domino effect which affects how we see and live in our environments. Below I describe my experience with her.

Once a year, when Amma visits Los Angeles to hug thousands who make the effort to see her, I drive to the Airport Hilton to be part of this unique ritual. It’s something I look forward to for months. Amma is known as a living saint, or the hugging saint. I could say my mother was a saint, too, like most mothers. But Amma is different. She is the Real Deal, in my humble opinion; saint with a capital “S.” Over the last 30-plus years, it is said she has hugged upwards of 33 million people.
Three years ago, when I first learned about Amma from a new friend who suggested I get a hug, I initially hesitated till he said: “Think of how amazing it is that you can be on the planet at the same time as a living saint, as well as have the opportunity to meet?” Now I was curious. And it was free. What did I have to lose other than a few hours?
Receiving one hug from Amma (darshan) can be an all-day process. Sometimes the wait is several hours, depending on how early one arrives. This year I arrived at 7:30am for the 10:00 session. Tokens are handed out starting at 9. In line, you can chat with friends, make new friends, text the person you were meeting there (“Where are you? I’m in line.”), or read a book. Unlike other lines I’ve waited in, no one gets edgy. Toddlers find each other and dance to music my ears don’t hear. The token itself is a small square of paper with a number and letter indicating your assigned group. Mine was E-4. After being handed the tiny ticket, you can enter the main ballroom, sit down, shop or get something to eat while you wait.
Anticipating Amma is a people-watching delight. Every age, race, and colorful outfit you can imagine wanders to and fro up and down the aisles. I always expect I’m going to see people I know or at least remember from somewhere, but it never happens. Interesting to note, there is no preferred treatment or line for “important” people except those with handicaps who need extra help getting to the stage. Being in a huge space with thousands of people (not my favorite experience) is surprisingly not unpleasant despite the unfamiliar sight of observing new rituals and orange-clad assistants swirling around setting up chairs in rows on stage, and festooning Amma’s “throne” with roses. A small table next to it holds a bowl and a small pink clock. A couple of standing electric fans are brought in and strategically placed nearby.
Eventually, a horn is sounded and the din of the room diminishes as Amma enters the ballroom, surrounded by her peeps in orange. Tears well up in the corners of my eyes for the first of many times throughout the day, as I take her in. Her face is radiant, her eyes clear and sparkling. Unlike popular celebrity “light workers” I’ve seen before, there is no obvious burst of kinetic, personality energy around her. Rather a stillness– a gentle presence, like a clear, cool mountain stream flowing from deep within a beautiful mountain.
Initially, the unfamiliar Amma experience was conducive to mental gymnastics for me. But each time, my thoughts and assessments are consistently melted away, and I feel warm and unconflicted. Everything is okay. Like some gatekeeper in my mind is gently turning away any manner of critical thinking.
She walks up to the front of the stage and bows to us and to God and sits cross-legged on a large, low cushion, facing us and prays. Then her chief assistant to her left, known as “Big Swami” (he has a long name) leads us in meditation with an impossibly low, under-the-sea voice. A baby is crying somewhere. In the back, there are murmurs as the sales’ booths are still being organized and audience volunteers are invited to help by Amma’s staff who circulate in the crowd carrying small whiteboards that say, for example, “Seva: [the hindu word for “service”] Bookstore, Audio booth.”
In the middle of each of the two aisles that lead up to the front are poles set up with flip cards at the top, each set showing a letter and a number, to indicate when you can get into the darshan line to receive Amma’s hug. People with an A-1 token are being directed to the seats in the line which will eventually lead to a seat on the stage to be guided to the hug. The efficiency of the process is genius.
Members of a small Indian orchestra with portable instruments take their places on the large area rug on the ballroom floor in front of Amma. Throughout the day, bhajans (holy songs) will be sung, prayers recited, and so on.
At 61, Amma displays apparently unlimited energy that never appears to flag even after up to 20 hours of hugging endless lines of people. Her hug is not an automatic, rote gesture one might imagine it would have to be after so many hours with no rest or bathroom breaks. She sometimes multi-tasks, answering questions, or giving interviews, all the while hugging each person and saying a few words in each ear in the native language–whatever it may be–of the “hugee” and then hands each person a Prasad, usually a chocolate kiss combined with a rose petal or two. It is said she can understand any language even if she has never heard it before.
Once on stage, we are instructed where to sit and when to rotate to the next chair, row by row. When my turn comes, I lean as instructed, into her soft white gown which feels like a fine nylon, my face nuzzled deeply in her chest. She puts her hands on my head and turns it so she has best access to my right ear and says a few words I don’t catch, then “my daughter, my daughter, my daughter.” I let go of my whole being to her: my good energy and my conflicts as I feel my heart open and absorb her. More tears spring to my eyes. A few seconds later she gently releases me, hands me the Prasad and I thank her. It all happens so quickly, yet when she speaks in my ear, time seems to stop.
I’m lead to a chair near where I started on the stage and the rotation toward her similarly starts once again, but doesn’t end with another hug. This is just the opportunity to be near her for another 10 or 15 minutes until we are led off the stage. The calming feeling I experience in her presence is powerful yet subtle; more like “balance” than “bliss.” Later, when I imagine her in my mind, I can relive that.
One doesn’t have to be a believer of any particular religion to be affected by Amma. Although she was raised in a Hindu family in a poor Indian fishing village, she professes her religion to simply be “love” and is one of the only gurus who did not have a living teacher. She is completely self-made, not having more than a grammar school education. In India, being a woman, much less of low caste and very dark skin, makes progress in life next to impossible. Yet, she defied extreme odds. Her mission has always been love and service, and to alleviate suffering, one hug at a time. She has built hospitals, orphanages, and schools all over India and does not limit her giving to her home country. She is among the first to donate to world disasters. In the U.S., she gave a million dollars after Hurricane Katrina.
Some people like to say “What would Jesus do?” I like to ask instead, “What would Amma do?”

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