Amma's Blessing in Disguise to Me
Have you ever heard the saying that the worst times in life are clearing us out for life’s greatest delights? The only problem is that when we are in the thick of it, we don’t realize that at all. This was my case for sure, as I sat crying on the hard concrete floor, hunched over a tub of Nutella at Amritapuri ashram in Kerala, India. My roommate was trying to convince me to join her for dinner, but I flatly refused. The only solace I could find was in the blob of sweet, creamy hazelnut chocolate spread on the tip of my finger
You see, I had just been rejected by my guru, Amma, the hugging saint. Many of you probably know of her, or maybe have even had a hug from her. She travels around the world tirelessly giving her message of love. This depressing December day in 2013 was my first visit to Amma’s ashram. I was blown away by the all-night kirtans, friendly devotees, homemade essential oil blends, brightly decorated elephants parading by, Amma’s spontaneous inspirational talks on the beach, and daily breakfast delights of fresh, hot dosas. Combined with just the sheer beauty of the backwaters of tropical Kerala, what they call as, “God’s Own Country,” made me feel like I was in heaven.
The only problem was that something was poking at me the entire week of my stay, so much so, that I could not relax into this magnificent spiritual place. What was bothering me was that I had actually come to Amritapuri on a mission. It was not just some simple vacation. I had come specifically to ask Amma to bless my book. It was only with her approval and blessing that I would move forward with getting it published. This very simple handbook on Ayurveda was my summary of the main points I had been teaching over the years to my clients and in lectures. I spent one year perfecting this practical step-by-step book. I even went to the extent of asking my friend, who speaks Amma’s native tongue, Malayalam, to translate my dedication page. This way, Amma could read it and know that all proceeds from the sale of this book would go to her, because she was the one who had touched my heart. She inspired me to continue to help others with Ayurveda and Psychotherapy, despite my own personal mental health struggles with depression.
To prepare for my trip, I had printed the book out on special paper and carefully put the Dedication page to Amma in a protective shiny transparent cover so it would not get destroyed or tarnished on my nearly 48-hour journey from Florida to India. On my multiple flights and tedious taxi rides to reach Amritapuri, I took my book out countless times just to make sure it still looked perfect. I was so eager to finally show Amma my masterpiece.
I really don’t know what got into me when I arrived at the ashram and lost my nerve completely to present my book to Amma. Maybe it was the sheer size of the ashram, with hundreds, if not thousands, of people there. It made me feel so small and unimportant. Maybe it also is just because my nature is shy and introverted. I would rather hang in the back and just observe than be front and center. And presenting Amma with my book was a very front and center kind of activity. I knew this after watching others do it with their own books over the years. The process goes something like this: the person walks on their knees on the stage to greet Amma, who is sitting on a royal-looking throne. There are many other people surrounding Amma, and Amma’s helpers push the person to quickly make the offering to her. Thousands of people are waiting anxiously for their turn to see Amma every day, begging her to heal all kinds of ailments from broken hearts to broken bones to broken homes. When the person gives Amma their book, she holds it and looks at it so lovingly, like a mother looks for the first time at her beautiful newborn baby. Then Amma puts the book to her heart or to her forehead. Finally, she holds it up to the sky and looks up to the heavens. Another book, blessed. I had played and re-played this scene in my head dozens of times, waiting for that magic moment for my guru to bless my book.
But now I was dragging my feet. For the whole week, actually. I did everything there was to do at the ashram, from buying some of Amma’s books to talking with other students there, to trying all different kinds of South Indian foods, to attending the early morning chanting practices, to seeing a Vedic astrologer, to learning the Integrated Amrita meditation technique, to shopping at the boutique, to even getting a hug from Amma. The only thing I did not do was present her with my book.
Finally, it was my last night at the ashram. I knew it was now or never. I felt nervous as I looked at my book one last time, tenderly running my fingers over the dedication page to Amma, and thinking of how relieved I will feel after I present it to her and see her happy face. I knew all of my fears would vanish in that moment. I gave myself a pep talk convincing myself that I just needed to get over my doubts and self-criticism. I told myself that Amma was full of love, and so all she can give me is love. As I stood in line with hundreds of other hot, sweaty people, waiting for hours for my turn, I passed the time by watching Amma on the big screen hanging on the stage. There, I could see close-up, Amma hugging person after person, hour after hour. Her face was ever-fresh and radiant, looking so overjoyed to see each new person. Kissing away their tears, holding them as they released their pain, stroking their hair and telling them everything was going to be all right. One young man who looked like a professor-type to me presented Amma with his book. It was a hardback book. I was surprised that it was already published. As the line inched closer, I felt dread. “Oh no, my book isn’t published. Maybe I did this wrong. That guy already published his book and it looks like he is giving it to her as a gift. Mine is just some flimsy printed out pages that look like crap compared to that beautiful hardback. Maybe I should just duck out of the line and forget it?” I started sweating. I could feel the streams of sweat pouring down my back. My hands were shaking. I didn’t want to stay in that line. I wanted to run to my room and actually just get the hell out of that ashram all together.
“Excuse me, ma’am? Ma’am please move forward. You are holding up the line!” The crowd control person barked, which snapped me out of my worry for a moment.
I moved ahead in the line, and now I was very close. I was at the base of the stairs to the stage. I could see Amma now, and I caught the smell of her sandalwood rose scent, which usually made me feel so relaxed. But this time, I only felt dread. I looked at Amma, so calm and happy and peaceful. I said to myself, “Stop worrying. Just knock it off. You can’t turn back now. Give her the book and it will all be fine.”
My stomach was in knots. I felt like I was going to have diarrhea. I clinched my teeth and put one foot in front of the other as I climbed the stairs. Once I reached the stage, Amma’s helper instructed me to get on my knees. I said that I had written a book that I wanted to present to Amma, proudly showing her the dedication page, made especially for Amma to read in Malayalam, the only language she can understand. Amma’s helper coldly nodded, and roughly pushed my back, hurrying me to move forward on my knees.
As I lurched forward, my back right thigh cramped up. I felt like someone smashed it with a hammer. I grabbed my thigh and started saying, “Ow, ow." I fell to the ground, oblivious to the thousands of people watching me on the big screen that showcased those special moments each person had on Amma’s stage. Amma’s helper ignored my pain and told me to get up. She rudely grabbed my precious book from my hand to give to Amma. I limped the few feet across the stage towards Amma. Before I could say anything, her helper shoved my head into Amma’s heart. Amma embraced me and whispered in my ear, “My daughter, my daughter, my daughter, my daughter.” Then she released me and smiled, as she looked into my eyes.
Amma’s helper placed my masterpiece in Amma’s hands as I sat on the floor trying to concentrate on Amma and to ignore the paralyzing pain of my leg cramp. Amma’s mood changed from that sweet smiling saint to a serious face. She sternly said in Malayalam something and her helper translated for me, “Amma is asking how you know this information?”
I froze. I had never had a conversation with Amma before. And, according to what I observed when others gave her their books, I didn’t expect that she would be asking me any questions. I was totally caught off guard. I stammered, “I went to school to learn Ayurveda,” hoping that was enough, and that I passed Amma’s test.
But Amma kept going with her interrogation. Her helper quipped, “Amma wants to know, are you an Ayurvedic doctor?”
As my face turned crimson, I put my head down and uttered, “No.”
Amma got out the hammer and continued, “So why do you think you can write a book on Ayurveda if you are not an Ayurvedic doctor? Do you think you are an expert on Ayurveda?”
I felt ashamed and overwhelmed. I didn’t know what to say. I mumbled something unconvincing as Amma pressed on, “How long did you study Ayurveda?”
Feeling inadequate, and like I wanted to burst into tears I said, “Two years.”
Amma continued with what felt like a relentless tirade, “So you think you can write a book on Ayurveda after studying it for just two years? Have you had any Ayurvedic doctor look at this book? Has any expert approved what you wrote? How will you market it? Who will want to buy it?”
Then Amma gave the book back to her helper, and before I had time to say good-bye to Amma, the next person was already in her embrace. I crawled off of the stage, feeling lower than a homeless, flea-infested Indian dog. In all of my years watching Amma, I had never seen her reject someone’s book. My mind was reeling. Was my book really that bad? Why was she so harsh to me? Now what should I do? I already had put my book publishing date on hold, convincing the publisher to just give me one month to go to India to present the book to my guru. I had assumed that of course she would bless it. But that was not the case. I felt devastated as I slowly climbed the stairs to my hot, humid, dorm room.
There, my German roommate, a longtime devotee of Amma, listened to my story carefully. With compassion, she told me that Amma does everything out of love. She explained that I cannot see it now, but what she said to me was for my own good. She told me stories of how Amma can see the past, present, and future of a person, and that I should see her rejecting my book as a positive thing. The only positive thing for me at that moment was that the Nutella chocolate tasted very good, a sweet balm on my tongue, a small consolation for the bitter taste of my broken dreams.
Through tears, I meekly asked my roommate, “What good could come out of this? I just don’t get it. I don’t see it at all.”
My roommate said that I should take time to reflect and also trust that Amma is a master and she is steering me in the right direction for my own upliftment. I wanted to believe my roommates words. I tried to search for the deeper meaning that night as I cried myself to sleep.
The next day, I made my way to the airport to catch my flight, as planned to Delhi to meet Dr. Chauhan and his family. I hadn’t seen Dr. Chauhan in seven years, and I was excited to see him, his Ayurvedic clinic, and to meet his family for the first time. When I arrived, he and his family embraced me with a very warm welcome. In no time, I was laughing and sharing stories with his nieces and nephews and sisters and brothers. His family was very open and friendly and full of positive energy. My depressed mood evaporated, amidst the love of Dr. Chauhan’s family. He casually asked me how my visit was at Amma’s ashram. I told him the story of how she rejected my book. It was only then, as I was recounting the story, that I thought of an idea. I blurted out, “So, since you are an Ayurvedic doctor and an undeniable expert, would you be willing to read through my book and give me any feedback?”
Dr. Chauhan kindly agreed to read my book. I went back to Florida, happy, grateful and eager to hear Dr. Chauhan’s feedback. He emailed me within a few weeks and said that he read my book and it was just fine. No problems at all. But he just had two questions. First, he said that I explained in my book that Ayurveda is really about love, but that I did not describe what love actually is. He then said that I also talk about “soul” in my book, but I didn’t clearly define or describe that either. He concluded that if I can answer these two questions, then my book would be complete.
I was so excited to hear Dr. Chauhan’s favorable feedback, that I wrote back, “Well, you are the expert on love and soul. You are the one who has taught me about these things. So, would you be willing to write about it in my book? We can be co-authors.”
Dr. Chauhan generously agreed, and we began a project on revising the book to add in his points. We mostly wrote the book every few weeks by email, squeezing time in for it in between demanding professional lives. Within one year, we had completed the revision. The publisher, bless his heart, waited patiently over that year and finally published our e-book, Ayurveda, the Path to Happiness.
As it turns out, Amma's words that day were surely for my own good. Her harsh words were the exact impetus I needed to move forward on my path. For in asking Dr. Chauhan to work with me on the book, I received the greatest gift of my life. He connected me to his brother, Babaji, the living embodiment of love, and the great person who finally helped me to understand myself, get out of my depression, and to find peace.
If only I could have accepted Amma’s rejection that day, maybe I would not have had to suffer so much. If only I could have trusted my roommates’ wise words, maybe I could have seen the grace that very day. If only I could have understood Amma’s harsh words, maybe I could have felt her tremendous compassion. It makes me wonder how many other times in my life that out of my own blindness, I resisted goodness? I wonder how many times I cried tears of sadness from feeling rejected, when actually they should have been tears of gratitude?