Two nights ago my father and I arrived home after another one of our epic summer journeys. This particular journey took us to Dallas, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, all the way up to Boston, Massachusetts, then Mountville, Pennsylvania, and finally back to Austin, Texas. This was a journey that I mentally fought over and I constantly questioned whether or not I was possibly forcing an experience that I truly didn’t need or want to experience. Yet something in the back of my brain, or possibly deep within my spirit, would not allow me to let go, and so we set out on the road with faith and confidence.
The journey started in Dallas, where I saw my guide and guru, Ammachi. To fully describe and explain what the presence of this divine being in my life means to me, is utterly impossible. The reason people form such an attachment to a physical form is very difficult for many people to understand. The fact that it is so hard to explain unfortunately makes the disconnection of understanding even worse. Even I have had difficulty fully understanding it, but as time goes along, Ammachi is encompassing more and more of my spiritual life.
For so long in my journey, I have struggled to understand what it all means. I have racked my brain trying to fathom with some sort of logic how the universe works, how I might find peace, and create the reality I wish to live in. Time and time again, I discovered that the answers of which I seek are at the bottom of a rabbit hole, which of course goes on and on into infinity, but even as I fell, I constantly reached out into the darkness, hoping to grab a hold of something which would help me to rest and discover some finality in my spiritual beliefs. To my surprise, I eventually reached out and grabbed the outstretched hand of Amma, and she pulled me in close, loved me as I’ve never been loved before, and whispered in my ear that I no longer needed to struggle. I no longer needed to kick and scream in the darkness, but could rest in her loving arms for all eternity.
I do not think I’ve ever fully attempted to explain in this blog the growing role that Amma is playing in my life. The relationship between her and I has been a very personal journey, and has been surprising in the fact that it has pulled me away from the path of knowledge, and more so towards the path of devotion. In Hinduism there are many yogas, or paths that one can take on the journey towards God. Jnana yoga or the path of knowledge, is one such path, and is commonly described as the most difficult path you can take. Bhakti yoga or the path of devotion, is another such path, and is commonly described as the easiest. I never saw myself as someone who could commit to the path of bhakti yoga, yet here I am, singing devotional songs, repeating the name of the Divine mother over and over again, and resting in a place of surrender.
Surrender has always been an extremely difficult notion for me to grasp, because I desperately want to recover and walk again. I still struggle greatly with it now, and I find myself unable to completely let go of the expectations that I have of my future. I continue to expect to walk again. Yet even with this expectation, I am experiencing more surrender than I ever have before, because in my surrender I’m also surrendering to the desires that rest in my heart. I’ve come to believe that as we open our hearts, and connect with the divine, one is more fully able to connect with the inner truths of the heart, and my inner truth continues to say “You will be healed”, a truth that I gladly and optimistically surrender to.
At the present time, I hesitate to fully discuss all of my experiences with Amma. There have been some truly magical moments, and every time I go to visit her, I become aware of certain lessons that she is teaching me. The first day in Dallas the morning Darshan was coming to a close, and people were lining up on the side of the stage as Amma would soon be walking by as she exited the hall. As usual she would walk through the crowd, smile beaming, eyes lit up like glowing candles, as she extended her hands to her children, each hoping for a touch from Amma, possibly a glance. She also commonly stops for people in wheelchairs, and hugs them, something I have experienced several times previously. I sat beside my friend James, and boastfully told him, “Watch, Amma is going to stop and hug me. She always does.”
Amma gave her last hug, stood up, and began to make her way off the stage. Security kept the path clear as people leaned in, eagerly awaiting Amma. I leaned in as well, fully expecting my special hug. As she made her way through the crowd, I saw her deviate from the path, and hug an elderly woman in a wheelchair. Amma then made her way back to the clearing, and continued to walk. I reached out my hand as far as I could. Her white sari appeared in front of me, she touched my hand as she walked, then stopped and looked me in the eyes. She did not smile, or look at me consolingly as she normally did. She stared at me blankly for a couple seconds, her hand still touching mine, then turned slowly and walked away. My heart immediately sank as I watched Amma disappear from view.
It was then that I realized how shamefully I was allowing my ego to reign supreme. Humility and selflessness is what I should be practicing. Amma was attempting to slay my ego. A smile spread across my face, then a warmth through my body as I embraced the blessing that Amma had just given me. The next day, the morning Darshan was once again almost over. I sat in the hallway this time, knowing that she would soon be walking by. I spoke to Amma in my mind and heart, “I am humble Amma. You do not need to stop and hug me. All of your children need your love. I am not special. Just one of many souls you are helping on the path to God.”
This time my friend Karen stood behind me. I sat in peaceful contemplation, opening my heart, keeping my ego at bay. Amma appeared in the hallway, and the crowd collapsed in on her as she made her way. I reached out my hand, she touched me, then stopped and looked at me much like the day before. Except this time, she did not continue on. She stepped close to me, and pulled my head against her chest. She then released me, and looked me in the eyes with compassion and love. My friend Karen stood crying behind me, tears rolling down her face, overwhelmed by Amma’s showing of pure love.
I sat in the empty Darshan Hall afterwards, bathing in the love and divine energy I could feel flowing through my body. There were no questions to be answered, no desires to be fulfilled. All I could feel was bliss and the overwhelming gratitude for what I was being allowed to experience. Soon it was time to leave Dallas, and go back to Austin for a two day rest period, before heading off to Tampa. My father and I had discussed going to see Amma again in Boston after a two-week stay in Atlanta, but neither of us were sure if we felt up to making the trip. We decided the ultimate decision could wait.
After a very brief rest, we were back on the road. Three long driving days later, we arrived in Tampa to celebrate my uncle and aunt’s 50th wedding anniversary. Still high off of my Amma experience I was eager to talk about spirituality, God, and my path of healing. I knew it would be interesting, as many of the family members I would be spending time with, are very skeptical about such things. Sure enough, I dove into some very fascinating conversations, some of which challenged my faith, and other times strengthening it. Overall it was a very rewarding experience, as we ate good food and communed with family members we don’t often get to see.
Then it was off to Atlanta, my old stomping grounds, where I would spend two weeks doing therapy and intensive exercise. I was somewhat nervous, as my exercise regimen has slacked off a great deal since moving to Austin. It was also somewhat depressing at first, as when I initially made these plans to visit Atlanta, I was very much hoping that my healing potential would have come to the surface by that point. Unfortunately, the miracle which lay dormant within me was still sleeping, but I tried to remain open to the experience. I was able to spend time with old friends, and reacquaint myself with a rigorous exercise schedule. It did motivate me to find more of a balance between my spiritual/energy work, and the physical aspect of recovery here at home. While I was enjoying myself, I did find myself disconnected at times, and surprisingly homesick. I realized that the person I am today is very different than the person who used to live in Atlanta. Time and time again, I feel as if I becoming someone new, a more improved, more spiritually aware soul. Looking back, I feel as if I can barely recognize the various aspects of myself. Going back to my Atlanta, I realized that one cannot ever re-create what once was. Once you move on, it’s impossible to go back. While I realized that I couldn’t go back to the way things were, I could re-experience Atlanta through the eyes of who I have become. Once I was able to transition to this mindset, I was much more comfortable, and the experience became much more rewarding.
As the Atlanta portion of our adventure came to a close, my dad and I once again questioned whether the trip up to Boston was worth it. I missed Amma terribly, and I felt there was still work which could be done in her presence. However, I was unsure if Amma wanted me to come. Was it necessary? The question at the time was never fully answered. All I knew was that despite my reservations, something would not allow me to go back home at that point. We had to drive to Boston.
And so we did. Our large van, rumbled through Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, stormed through Connecticut, and eventually arrived at our hotel in the suburbs, just west of the city of Boston. The energy of Amma resonated everywhere, as fellow devotees walked around in white, smiling broadly as they anticipated the coming days of love and compassion. Unlike Dallas, this time we were signed up for the retreat, and would experience Amma Monday all the way through Friday morning. Every aspect of my homesickness disappeared, and I reveled in the fact that once more I would see Amma.
The following day, I somehow missed the first Darshan and so as usual, I lined up to get site of Amma as she exited the hall. A wide path had been made for her, but as she walked, the path quickly narrowed as people closed in on her. The people beside me kindly stayed put so that I would not disappear from Amma’s view. I reached out my hand but she was too far away. “Amma!” I called out. She suddenly turned and looked in my direction, and a huge smile spread across her face as her eyes met mine. Her eyes open wide, she quickly walked over to me and my dad. She grabbed my face and hugged me, squeezing me tight. She sat me up and touched my face, then reached over to my father and touched his face as well. She seemed so happy to see us, as if she had just seen an old friend. I felt so blessed to receive such love and attention from Amma. So many people long for just a glance, a touch of her sari against their skin. At that moment, even though I live life in a wheelchair, I failed to understand why I was so lucky, so blessed.
This is a theme that would resonate within me for the rest of my time in Boston….I am so blessed. For the first time since my injury, I looked back at that fateful day, the day my neck snapped and paralysis overcame me, and I felt grateful, grateful for paralysis, grateful that I have been brought on this journey, to experience true divine love, and be given the chance to fulfill an infinite purpose, a purpose that has existed since the beginning of time. It’s not a purpose to get a nice job which pays lots of money, to buy a house, to get married and have a family. The purpose is not to slave away each day, putting money in the bank so that one day I can retire and relax. No. The purpose is much larger than that. The purpose to attain self-realization, realize who I am, and merge with the love that binds and permeates everything in existence.
What a gift. To finally feel grateful for my past and not bitter. To finally accept that this has happened to me for the greater good. If I were to ask myself now, if I could go back. If I could go back and change things, not break my neck. Would I do it? It is so difficult to answer, but I’m closer than ever before to saying no. What an experience this journey has been, and how much further along the path of spirituality I am than I ever could have been otherwise. There is no doubt that if I died at this very moment, and my soul went off to heaven, I would look back and feel gratitude. I would feel grateful that I was given this opportunity to expand my heart, and grow closer to truly knowing my inner self.
I’ve barely touched on the experiences I’ve had with Amma so far and I question how much I am meant to tell. The guru/disciple relationship is complex and personal. Amma is constantly teaching me, nudging me, prodding and poking me to reach out and embrace my divine expression. Two words from her lips can mean so much more, as they strike me between the eyes and explain my deepest questions and fears. A touch from her hand has the ability to ignite a firestorm inside of me, bringing up demons, and unleashing innate joy and love.
Maybe in the future I will openly share everything I have experienced with Amma. I’m not sure. The most lovely thing about my new relationship with the divine mother, is that I no longer need to understand. All I need to do is continue my spiritual practices, and trust in the path. The more effort I put forth, the more I trust, the more I have faith, the more the secrets of the universe will open up to me, and once again I’ll find myself falling down the rabbit hole, but instead of reaching out in desperation for a handhold, I will just fall. And maybe, maybe that dark rabbit hole will turn into a bright hall of white light, making clear to me everything that I am.
Eventually Amma and her staff packed up their things and left. The hotel was now empty and deserted, only a few devotees scattered here and there. My father and I would stay a couple more days, spend some time with my father’s brother and sister, my aunt and uncle, and their families. It was another joyful time, laughing and catching up with more people we rarely get to see. Then we went to Pennsylvania and stayed several days with my sister and her family. I watched the never-ending entertainment of my two nephews and my niece. As I encouraged them outside in the yard to conquer perceived physical limitations, I saw a glimpse of possibly enjoying fatherhood one day. Then back inside the house, they screamed and roared, screeching in delight as my eardrums pleaded for peace and quiet. It was then my glimpse of fatherhood quickly disappeared, likely to appear again sometime down the road.
The drive home was long and hard. I had moments of extreme frustration as I yearned for home, but also found myself disappointed that our adventure was coming to a close. When we finally arrived back at our house, the whole trip seemed like a blur. In many ways it felt like we had been gone for so long, while I also felt as if we had never left. The following day I experienced the letdown. For the first time in a month it was up to me to decide what goals I wanted to achieve that day, and when I achieved no goals at all, I felt depressed and anxious. “Back in reality”, I thought. “Back to the daily struggle to accept my present moment, to have faith in my path, and find peace each and every day.”
Today is my second day at home, and I’m feeling much better. Possibly because I achieved the goal of writing this blog. I’m looking forward to seeing Francis again, and I’m quite optimistic about my recovery. Yes, the future is bright.