1. Amma's Embrace
Today, we were up early tidying the house, and ourselves, for a photo shoot at 9am to go with a local paper feature about William being a nominee for Child of Courage in the upcoming Croydon Champions awards. Last year he was shortlisted as a finalist and we were invited to the awards ceremony. There are many brave children in the world. How on earth do you judge what one child is going through as more courageous to another? And so, I don’t know if we will be invited back to the awards this year but he has been nominated and so is feeling pretty special about that. Sundays are always a busy day. I have rehearsals for the play I have written and am directing with my awesome HeBeSheBeWeBe Theatre Company but, between the photo, washing, homework, cooking, playing with Wills and rehearsing, I have been able to take some time to start reading about Amma, my Guru. There, I’ve said it! At least for the time being, for this journey, Amma is my spiritual leader and guide.
Amritanadaymayi (Amritapuri) was born in 1953, the third of seven children born to a family of fishermen in Kerala, Indian. She was born into a Hindu tradition and began to pray, sing and make up songs to her favourite god, Krishna, at an early age. When she was just nine, Amriapuri left school to look after her younger siblings and take on full time domestic duties. One of her roles was to gather scraps of food from neighbours for the family’s live stock. Doing this, her eyes were opened to the plight of her poorer neighbours and she began taking food and clothing from her own home to give to them. She was scolded for this as her own family did not have much, but Amma felt deeply the intensity of suffering and poverty she found in others. She began embracing people spontaneously to comfort them. She says;
“I don’t see if it is a man or a woman. I don’t see anyone different to my own self. A continuous stream of love flows from me to all of creation. This is my inborn nature. The duty of a doctor is to treat patients. In the same way, my duty is to console all who are suffering.”
Amma, meaning mother, has since embraced over 33 million people all over the globe though her Darshan. At her Ashram in India and events all over the world, Amma shares her teachings, meditations, chanting and offers Darshan to everyone who comes into her presence. In the ancient Sanskrit, Darshan means ‘to see.’ In the Hindu tradition, it refers to seeing the sacred. I can imagine that, through the compassion and love Amma gives in her embraces, those who receive can behold the image of their own god or deity through her eyes. Amma says she is not of any religion or of no religion. She makes herself available to everyone who wants to meet her in person to comfort, console and uplift any individual who comes to her, through her heart felt, tender embraces in an act of unconditional love and acceptance of all mankind. She asks that no one changes their own faith or believes but seeks to gently guide each individual into a deeper understanding and experience of their own true self.
I have been reading accounts of journalists who have gone to Amma’s events, purely to report on the enigma who attracts thousands of people daily to her events and to live or stay at her Ashram. Every single one of these journalists experienced strong physical, emotional and spiritual feelings or changes during and after her embrace.
Amma accepts the spiritual practices and prayers of all religions as various systems for the purifying the mind. As in all Hindu traditions, meditation and karma yoga, selfless service are at the centre of her teaching, as are cultivating divine qualities such as compassion, patience, forgiveness and self control. All of this makes us fit to assimilate the ultimate truth, that one is not the limited body and mind. And here, you can add what we are above the limited body and mind to fit your own religious tradition and system of beliefs. For Amma, it is the consciousness that serves as the non-dual substratum of the universe. Once you have this, you have what Amma refers to as jivanmukti, liberation while alive - a state of perfect awareness and equanimity, which can be experienced here and now in this world. With jivanmukti, you can merge with the infinite.
I know that these qualities, and following a pathway to jivanmukti, will be an invaluable, in fact essential road to take on the journey I am on right now. Jivanmukti within my own Christian faith certainly something I want in my life at the end of this road, whatever the chapter I will start at the end of it may be. I also know that it is nothing I have been able to experience in churches, at least not in services. Perhaps more in the silent prayer and contemplation of an empty church. I come close in my own prayers and devotions and in the chant like music of Taize or Celtic inspired Christianity. In fact, the most spiritual encounter I have had to date was standing in the ancient ruins of Clonmacnoise, a place I must return to one day.
I really have to experience Amma’s Darshan for myself and to find her when she is about to come to London is really quite special. A week on Wednesday (barring THE call of course), I will join her for meditation, Darshan, Puja and Devi Bhava, a celebration an prayer for world peace. I am going with my eyes and my mind open and ready for an exciting spiritual re-awakening and, I think, something amazing and magical deep within my soul.
2. An Extract from Something Precious Inside
Oh, how I wished that Sophie and I could have walked out of those doors with Gill and Charlie this afternoon and then hopped straight onto a bus to the biggest firework display in London. Sophie has been determined she is going to see fireworks;
“And so you shall sweetie.” promised Gill.
“I had a feeling you would be excited about bonfire night.”
“Yes!” Sophie replied, jumping on her bed to highlight the point and picking up the bright green painted toilet roll topped with a scarlet cone and tailed with ribbons of red and green crepe paper she had made with Jenny in her school time this morning.
“I’m a rocket! Look at me! Wheeeeeeeee Bang!”
“Watch your line!” I snapped, more at being cooped up in a hospital cubicle on bonfire than any real danger. Sophie’s TPN lines had plenty of give.”
“Why don’t we sit down and have a story.” Gill suggested, lifting Charlie from his play mat on the floor and onto her knee. “I think I have bought the perfect one.”
“Topsy and Tim’s Bonfire Night. I love Topsy and Tim.” Squealed Sophie, adding to the frenzy of excitement I knew was only going to end up in disappointment and tears.
When Gill had finished the story she announced,
“Now, Topsy and Tim is not the only gift I have for you today Sophie.”
“Ah, can I keep it, can I keep it?”
“Of course darling, I bought it for you. And I bought you some more bonfire treats too,” Gill said, delving into her bag. “And some for mummy too. Do you think she deserves them?”
“Yes, she does.” Sophie replied, giggling.
“OK, then. Let’s see what I’ve got.”
Gill pulled out a selection of neon and battery lit bracelets, necklaces and the kind of ‘fake, safe, sparkler replacement toys’ they sell at firework events these days in the name of health and safety.
“WOW!” Sophie exclaimed at her haul, totally overwhelmed and captivated. That’s Gill, she always knows what to do for the best in every situation. Sophie was now sitting calmly cross legged with a wondrous pile of distraction to make her forget that she was in hospital, and not at a fireworks display this year. Once the lights had dimmed for the evening, she would be having the most magical time anyone behind closed doors could possibly dream of this bonfire night.
“What did you get Mummy?”
“Well, I thought you could share some of those bracelets with her. And… I have got this too.”
Gill handed me a cool bag, although it was warm on my knee.
“What’s inside Mummy?”
“Oh, I don’t know, let’s have a look.”
The aroma was enchanting as I unzipped the bag. The familiar mix of baked potatoes, hot dogs and toffee. It was as if Gill had captured the smell of bonfire night and bottled it for me. Inside the bag was a collection of tupperware pots, foil wraps and a flask. I unboxed and unwrapped sausages, actual oven baked potatoes, cheese, home baked ginger cake, home made cinder toffee, rolls and a flask of tomato soup.
“So now you have everything you need to have the best bonfire night ever right here.”
“But you said I would see fireworks.” Sophie remembered.
“Come on Sophie, look at the lovely things Gill has bought us. Isn’t that kind of her?
“And she’s right Tessa. I did promise. And I never break promises. You know that big window right at the top of the lifts? From that window you can see all the fireworks going off right across this side of London. It is amazing! I watched them last year with Gemma. I’ve already spoken to the nurses and they have said mummy can take you up there as soon as they’ve done your TPN and IVs and that you can stay there until all the fireworks have finished. Mummy can take her special bonfire picnic with her and you can take your sparkly torches and you’ll have the best firework night there is.”
“Thank-you.” I said, gently. Resting my head on Gill’s shoulder. I missed her so much and savoured every second of her visits. I was already looking forward to next time.
3. Getting SASSY
I said yesterday that I had found Amma, or rather, she had found me, through a post on a Facebook page. Last year, I discovered the awesome Lisa and her SASSOLOGY - devoted to living SASSY - Spiritual, Authentic, Sensual, Sensational, You.
Lisa’s site was one of those that kept popping up through writing links and various randomness until, one day, I noticed she was holding a month of writing, a Sadhana, where a group of women would come together, receive daily inspiration and encouragement from Lisa and hold fellowship and further encouragement with each other in a Facebook group. At the time, my writing needed a kick up the bum so I joined. I did some writing… and I started a theatre group for people with mental health conditions to work alongside other actors…and I didn't do much more focused writing! But, I met and got to know some wonderful women, Lisa among them, who I count as my SASSY Girls of wonder and my friends.
My birthday is at the end of November and at the time Lisa was offering special offer of her book SASSY: The Go-For-It Girl’s Guide to becoming mistress of your ability. I haven't always got on with the preachy or, even worse, overly patronising tone of many self-help, self-discovery books but Lisa talks directly and from the heart in a more conversational style. With the book, she was offering her SASSY SHE Oracle Cards. A deck of cards drawn by hand, each representing a woman with a particular leading quality. The cards can be used in a number of ways, to draw a single, or group, of these qualities and then explore what they mean to you and how you can utilise more of that quality or power in your own life. The cards came in a gorgeous pink organza pouch, the books was personally signed and the whole pack came wrapped in pink tissue paper. I felt my birthday needed a self-gift, all wrapped up with love from Lisa and me.
The book and cards come with me everywhere, to every hospital stay and hospice break. I have found the cards so so useful in unlocking elements of myself, often when they are most needed. I fan the cards out and pick three at times when I feel I need guidance. There are come cards I see a lot of, mostly telling me to trust myself, my instincts, my truth more and to be more self confident. All very true for me. It’s funny because I picked some cards at the time William went onto the transplant list and I started this blog. I wrote a list of the things I wanted or needed for me personally at the start of this journey. Lay it in front of me and picked three cards at random. One of the things on the list was that I wanted a mentor to help me to work out what I should be doing career wise and keep me focused, I wanted to finish my novel, be able to earn enough from my writing for the family to be comfortable and I wanted peace and serenity and to be able to be comfortable in the decision we had made and to be able to stay positive and focused on a good outcome for Wills and the family.
I had never seen the cards I picked out. In face, I had never heard of one of them, Shamana. I picked Omm, Shamana and Compassion.
I can nearly always interpret my cards in a go get it, rush around doing more more more kind of a way. Those who know me will know that’s how I roll most of the time. These cards are much more spiritual and all about connecting my physical and spiritual sides, taking time to ground myself and to focus on my place in the world and be compassionate to myself, as well as others. There is such a direct tie there with Amma as a guide.
Lisa talks about ‘heart riffing’ - writing wild and raw from the heart about the cards you choose and how they relate to yourself. In fact, Lisa suggests heart riffing about anything and everything that needs your attention. I think this blog is one big heart riff really.
If you are enjoying this blog, please help me to keep going and help crowdfund my Three A Day: Waiting project and get some lovely postcards and an anthology, limited for only those who support and invest in the project.