Mata Amritanandamayi: Up and Down

I went with Michele and the boys to a hotel in Los Angeles where Mata Amritanandamayi (hugging Mama) was making a stop on her tour. When she sat down, she beckoned our children and others to come sit on her lap for a fifteen minute meditation. I noticed several things immediately- I hadn’t seen her in 9 years, and in the time between she had obviously gone through the divine wringer- Amma was fairly beat up, and yet beautiful and at peace. At that moment I confirmed what I had been sensing since I walked in the door of that hotel: in the presence of this woman, as she is right now, 2007, I could weep intensely, possibly forever.

In 1998, in India, at an event near Mysore, she was a hoot, undoubtedly profound but with joy and evident delight: that darshan was not sexual but it was erotic to the core, in the sense of eros, cosmic love in full pleasure of the human form. The utter relish she takes in pulling us towards her is no secret. For that first hug she was hilarious and wild, a warrior determined to smack her love straight into the deepest part of my heart, the cosmic heart, no nibbling around, direct at the bulls-eye, and then lean back and go “Whoaaa!!!!” She stared straight into my eyes, conveying the most impossibly exciting journey one could envision, the mad ride she was on and had no intention of ever getting off. I’d never seen anybody so deep in Lila (the divine play), not high jazz guys, not my own Guru, nobody.

This time,  2007, a darker world stage, and if anything, she was far more deadly accurate, discarding most of the playful part, but willing to go to the grimmest, most horrifying pit, utterly regardless of the ravages on her own body, she’s sobbing and shaking in my ear. The sorrow she knows, the pain she carries, this is unreal. And then a beautific, young-girl-in-delight smile, chocolate kisses, we stagger off, she goes onto the next. A little research and I discover that she basically took the misery of that 2005 tsunami- which actually hit her ashram- straight in the face, an unspeakable amount of agony, right there with the people and their tears and tatters and microorganisms and psychic drag. And her charity network is gigantic, she is attracting political leaders, she’s on a very large stage and yet still taking, as Timothy Conway put it, “tidal waves of negative energy” into her own body, on a person to person level, and carrying it. I looked at ravaged beautiful Amma up there, holding my son while he sucked on his sleeve, and could weep forever. In the following two weeks, I was astonished by the way she still lived in me and the kinds of assistance she was providing, deep psychic restructuring, dream presence: I recognized the signs of a Shaktipat of the highest order. I could barely believe that there is someone out there with the strength and courage to do such a thing, let alone on such a grand stage. Who is this Ammachi?

Why is she so great? One way of expressing it would be: she is so high but so willing to get down. Up and Down: two cosmic directions. I’ll start with Up or ascension and with an example. Let’s say that you are involved in a relationship which began for you as true love, and, of course, as it progressed, began to reveal various limitations within yourself which played out as less than perfect interpersonal dynamics. In the beginning you were happy to engage the relationship, and part of what compelled you was very likely the urge to address these limitations. As time goes by, you also begin to get fairly clear about the limitations of your partner. At a certain point, you believe that you can honestly say to yourself that you have made evolutionary steps and that your partner has not.  You make the decision that you are going to force a change in this relationship, either confront it or discontinue it. You then proceed to go about doing just that.

This process can be seen in terms of ascension, up:  a planet (the relationship) whose gravitational forces once held you in thrall are now an orbit from which you can break free, and you want to break free because there is something amiss, or incomplete, or simply because the evolutionary urge becomes irresistible. Maybe it took four years, maybe it took twenty, it required that much learning before you could transcend the gravitational pull of the system: finally you are able to ascend out of it into a larger  system. The impressions left by the relationship no longer compel you to pursue them. (I’m not getting down on loyalty and faith here, but rather I’m using relationship as a model to illustrate the evolutionary process. So, it could be a dysfunctional relationship where one person refuses to respond or is not up to the attempts by the other to address the dysfunction or lack of development. Or it could apply to working at a job that begins to get extremely boring. Or it could be a guru. Or a video game. Or, closer to the point, an entire level of cognitive/emotional being.)

Of course, this is different than bailing out on a situation because it brings up too much of your own stuff. In such a case, you have not left the planet behind, but rather, you are still sucked in, have not learned the code which breaks the gravitational spell. Which is to say, you can’t bail on it. When we have not yet differentiated from a planet (or a stage in development), we will just carry on with the same patterns in a different situation on the same planet, and run into the same stuff. We need to keep gathering and crunching data at that level until the magic combination shows up for the lock, and we can open it. Also, when we’re still tangled up with a level, discerning between that which is your own stuff and that which is your partner’s is a major accomplishment in itself.

Anyway, I’ve mentioned the cave yogi before, and he could be seen as a pure ascender: with ever increasing intensity of yogic focus, he breaks out of orbit after orbit, attempting to transcend his conditioning in its entirety. He lives in such a way that minimizes new impressions from outward experience, and also keeps inward discursive activity to a minimum. He breaks away from his immediate society, then gets into Mom, Dad, keeps going through archetypes, large regions of the collective, and eventually, his need to hang around the body itself. Patanjali’s classic yogi looks like this.

What does a pure descender look like? One who goes from experience to experience, accumulating one after another, and never allowing reflection to occur, living to satisfy basic drives. This isn’t actually the easiest thing to achieve. In past posts, I’ve remarked that there is really no such thing as a pure descender because the human organism learns from experience despite worst intentions, is a profound theater of eros even in the most degraded individuals. We are hardwired to ascend. I also hold the position that drive satisfaction eventually leads to moral and spiritual evolutionary urges. But we could say that a descended person is one with little inclination to reflection or focus at all.

Now, traces from experience become the fuel for transformational inner process. Let’s say you go to a yoga class and it makes a nice impression. Continuing the yogic act after you leave the class, you would let the impression work through you until  the subtle structure has been created which is an expression of the process of metabolizing  the impression. Easier to read: as we “digest” the initial impression from the  experience, subtle , more permanent background structure is put into place. This is an ascension, and it transforms the impression-from-the-experience into something more mature and integrated than it was. It happens to those who aren’t focused, or get busy with something else, but it happens faster and better with those who take meditative/reflective moments-  or actually apply themselves to meditation/contemplation-  throughout the day. Also, research has confirmed that for those who apply themselves to sedentary pursuits, such as writing, exercise will offer similar value in terms of impression-organization force. Hatha yoga is good because it offers both meditation and exercise.

There are obviously many ways for a person to develop. So, our degenerate couch potato is likely very good at the line of development which…appreciates television. If he transformed himself into an articulate television critic blogger, he would benefit greatly from yoga, not just spiritually, but to push his television data crunching capacity up to the next orbit. However, in this post about Amma, I am placing emphasis on spiritual development, which is a different animal, albeit one which shares anatomical features with intellectual, aesthetic and other kinds of development.

On the yogic path in particular, we want to free ourselves from traces that have us in their grip, this is a basic human drive. If you stop reading this for a moment, close your eyes, and feel whatever it is that you feel right now, you will get in touch with the traces that are in play for you now. Yogic practices are designed to move those very traces, to move them toward…something less dense, something that feels like delight, or doesn’t feel like anything at all. The delight is usually experienced as the trace is in the process of transmutation. This process often trips off the heart, opening it. Also, the nerves appear wired to say a gigantic YES to this transmutation, and send out messages from happiness to deep rapture. Once the transmutation is relatively complete, we are left with integrated knowledge with a more neutral charge than the initial trace, or typically, the next, deeper samskara/impression fund comes into play. As we get through inward traces, we begin instituting outward changes in our lives.

There are many resistances to evolutionary ascension, which make people not want to develop spiritually. One is the fear of loneliness, that one will leave one’s friends or loved ones behind. This is because the orbits we inhabit are sources of love, some of which is nourishing and helpful. Other things in our orbits are less useful and we hold onto them as habits, partly for security because the longer we spend in an orbit, the more we sense the bigger picture and it makes us insecure, because we don’t know what to do out there. There can be good habits and bad habits, but habits themselves are not emergents, they are older structures which allow us to cope with our current situation. They are not necessarily jettisoned when we reach higher levels, but they are not the things to which our nerves and heart give the big excited YES. The great sages throughout history all share a pioneer mentality, and they invariably followed that YES with burning passion.

So, having hung around an orbit for a while, two things happen. One: we get bugged more and more by the parts that we don’t want, we feel the need to resolve these into something higher inwardly and outwardly. And two: we develop a taste for higher love, a higher frequency, a larger view. This draws us up. But it also takes us into a realm whose love may not come in as clearly, or as supportively, or as comfortably as before. And to that I would add, it’s not coming in like that yet. But the record left by the sages suggests that however high you get, it will come in. In fact, it appears to come in far stronger the higher one gets, far more real, although it may illuminate different regions of one’s being than the stuff one was into twenty years ago. And on the spiritual path, the adventure will be real and actually lived, which is different than reading an adventure novel, and there will be trials.

The souls recognized as  High Ones in the spiritual world have largely struck a balance between ascension and descension. Take the Buddha as an example. A burning young man, well provided for, chooses to undergo years of asceticism, has the will to keep going for quite a while. Eventually, he reaches a crisis point, and vows that this time he will either resolve the overwhelming conundrum that compels his being or he will sit working at it until his bones scatter across the field in which he is sitting. As one version of the story goes, it takes him seven days of strong determination to attain the desired resolution, which becomes one of the great achievements of human spiritual endeavor. So far, Buddha is basically a pure ascender. He then begins the second part of his life where he works to share his realization with the world, a mission in which he succeeds. In this teaching phase he advocates the middle way, which does not promote severe asceticism, but rather a mixture of practice which takes us up and participations in life which take us down. It’s important to note here, however, that the reason Buddha is compelling to us is that he got so high with his ascension before he brought it back to the lower realms, and the same is true of Ammachi (she was never a normal child and in her late teens/early twenties self-administered a lifestyle of severe austerities). When the high chooses to engage the low, something beautiful and alluring happens.

What is Ammachi’s delight in hugging? The passion of a high soul bringing love to lower regions: the love of God for creation. The delight of the gods for Lila, cosmic play. And Ammachi has loved the lowest of the low, just as Buddha was humane to those who tried to kill him, just as Christ managed to love those who did kill him. I have noticed and admired Pattabhi Jois’ willingness to continually engage new relationships which, sure enough, involved the reception on his part of basic crude negative projections: when a student is caught up in his own junk, he will project it anywhere, including onto the master who has taught for sixty years, forget about respect. Guruji takes it; a higher soul in contact with those who may not be so high will result in unconscious transference processes on the part of the student. (This gets into hierarchies and may rub you the wrong way. My response is: all are ultimately equal, but some have developed certain regions further than you have. Go stand in the batter’s box with Barry Bonds facing Major League pitching and see who is higher in that realm. Go get hugged by Amma and experience a heart like that. For more on hierarchies, I believe that Ken Wilber, ironically using systems theory, has put in the final word on the debate: hierarchies are unavoidable.) And I will add: there are characters out there who are higher than you are.

Actually, from the perspective of some seated meditation practices, Hatha Yoga itself is a descended form because it goes so deep into the body. I won’t get too far into it here, but my response to this claim is that although Hatha Yoga may get the soul free a little slower, it gets it up in a very stable manner, and the tortoise may eventually pass the hare. For example, Mula Bhanda appears to be a practice which sublimates the most dense energy in our psychic system. Undertaking such an endeavor may bog one down at first, but eventually it provides a way for the deepest, lowliest, earliest stuff in us to get smart.

So, the typical way here is to work to free oneself through ascension practice such as yoga, to break through the numerous orbits which hold us in their sway. At various stages in this work, we are compelled to act creatively in the world, to descend, receive impressions, sublimate them. Get up, dip back down, get it back up, go back down. Of course, most of us need to work a job, are required to create regularly, with deadlines, etc., and we are somewhat smothered with impressions. In that case, yoga can help us rise above some of it, maybe all of it, so that we want to get back into the mess that is this world, so we can love it. Go get as high as you can , and then go walking in the world and see what happens…

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 7th, 2007 at 11:46 am and is filed under Ashtanga Yoga. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

8 Responses to “Mata Amritanandamayi: Up and Down”

  1. Micah Elconin Says:

    Thanks for yet another well put slice of the cosmic pie….

    After about 1/2 a decade living my life in a way that more or less put ascent on a pedastool, I’ve spent the last couple of years allowing myself to enjoy a long and beautiful descent back into the the normalities of 20th centrury 20 something life (as you have noticed through my lack of presence at the shala, part of that has included me revising my practice to show a bit more respect for my body’s strengths and weaknesses). It’s been a wonderful ride (for the most part), and I have enjoyed reconnecting with wordly and material life’s pleasures, but with, as you have described, a new take on it all. I get it just a little but more, but that little bit is so powerful.

    My body, although beaten up a bit on the surface, has deeper abilities and understandings that it lacked a decade ago. Mechanics are second nature. I was giving a friend a massage the other day and was asked where I learned what I was doing. I thought about it and realized that all I was doing was utilizing my understanding of how the body feels from the inside and simply transfering that knowledge into the massage.

    My mind has more tolerence for distractions. Critical thinking and creative expression seem to pour themselves into work with much less effort than I remember. This is extremely interesting given the fact that some of the activities I choose to engage in must be detrimental to my mental faculties. Practice seems to have increased my ability to find the base principals, take in the big picture and simplify the chaos etc… Take music for example. I’ve only recently begun to engage the guitar and song writing again. Although my “chops” aren’t what they used to be, I am a better musician than I ever was. It feels different. It looks different. And I seem to get it so much more than I used to.

    And then there is my heart… I think I turned it off for a while there, but as it turns back on, I once again notice something new and improved. A love for those around me that isn’t out of neediness, but more from a place of joy in connection. Learning to find joy and peace in my solitude has given me the tools to connect stronger with those around me. There’s less grandmother zen, less clinging, and more…. well I guess, love.

    What I also find extremeley interesting is that my practice and ascent seems to have benefited from my descent as well. My experience on the mat has intesified to some degree. Deeper and denser things are begining to move and come to life in my body and my psyche. Granted some of this is just the coniuation of the proccess that I started almost a decade ago, but I’ve enjoyed the new energies that have awakened and given new life to my practice. Sun Salutations have never had so much meaning and potency for example. Down dog is infinitely mesmorizing, and my hips don’t need lotus to open up etc… Then practice finds its way into my world. Cooking becomes an extension of the mat, as does walking, talking, kissing and so many other worldly parts of my day, and then they in turn fuel my practice.

    I guess my point is that I got as high I could get, and yes, I am enjoying what happens when I go walking into the world. I look forward to the continuing interplay between my own ascent and descent. Maybe one of these days I will find a way to once again share in at least the ascending part with my local ashtanga community.

    All the best,

  2. Ramana groupie Says:

    In my experience, the process of death is the ultimate in ascend/decend. Rejoice! Great gift to be a witness to the process of dying. Ultimate reality.
    In watching my loved ones pass away, it has brought a new light into the process of being in a human body. The pleasure, the pain, rejoice in sensation! No judgement if it hurts or if it’s bliss. Let it in (easier said). The oneness divided into all kinds of organisms. There is an intelligence to this process called life. Not brain intelligience, nature and an evolutionary intelligience. How blessed are we to have a glimpse into this greater reality of life!

  3. JLafitte Says:

    Terrific essay. Well worth keeping up with the hiatus between your posts.

  4. insideowl Says:

    Really liked this. Also, you reminded me of some lines from Wallace Stevens:

    By this light the salty fishes
    Arch in the sea like tree-branches,
    Going in many directions
    Up and down.

  5. The Drishti Blog » Blog Archive » Whoa - It’s the Yoga Community’s Beloved Amma on CNN! Says:

    […] Mata Amritanandamayi, or Amma, as she is more affectionately called, is featured on CNN today – wowza!  Amma is known as the “hugging saint” because she holds events all over the world in which followers line up for hours to receive a single magical hug from her.  Amma just recently visited Los Angeles, in fact, where thousands of people (yoga students included) received inspiring hugs from this most charismatic and unique of gurus.  (Santa Barbara Ashtanga teacher Steve Dwelley actually wrote about his experience visiting Amma earlier this month in his blog.) […]

  6. bhattathiri Says:

    One of the greatest contributions of India to the world is Holy Gita which is considered to be one of the first revelations from God. The humanism of management lessons in this holy book were brought in to light of the world by Mata Amritanandamayi Devi and . Devi calls the Bhagavad-Gita the essence of Vedic Literature and a complete guide to practical life. It provides “all that is needed to raise the consciousness of man to the highest possible level.” Devi reveals the deep, universal truths of life that speak to the needs and aspirations of everyone. She preaches and educated the people through her bhajans and disclosures and continuing the mission by keeping this lantern burning always knowing the wishes of the modern generations.The greatness of spirituality is spread all over the world and all Indians should be proud of her. Amma’s tea chings began with her birth itself. She entered this world in silence, a divine gesture worthy of our contemplation. This has always been Amma’s way. Throughout, Amma’s life has been her teaching.
    Arjuna got mentally depressed when he saw his relatives with whom he has to fight.( Mental health has become a major international public health concern now). To motivate him the Bhagavad-Gita is preached in the battle field Kurukshetra by Lord Krishna to Arjuna as counseling to do his duty while multitudes of men stood by waiting. Arjuna face the problem of onflict between emotions and intellect . In almost all of the cases, emotions win. Only a very
    few people have a conflict-free emotion and intellect. Emotions, are required, for, without them, one is a mere robot. They make life pleasant as long as they are sensible and within limits. It has got all the management tactics to achieve the mental equilibrium and to overcome any crisis situation. The Bhagavad-Gita can be experienced as a powerful catalyst for transformation. Bhagavad-Gita means song of the Spirit, song of the Lord. The Holy Gita has become a secret driving force behind the unfoldment of one’s life. In the days of doubt this divine book will support all spiritual searches. This divine book will contribute to self reflection, finer feeling and deepen one’s inner process. Then life in the world can become a real education—dynamic, full and joyful—no matter what the circumstance. May the wisdom of loving consciousness ever guide us on our journey? What makes the Holy Gita a practical psychology of transformation is that it offers us the tools to connect with our deepest intangible essence and we must learn to participate in the battle of life with right knowledge?. It shows us the path to handle the situation with equipoise mind irrespective of what comes our way and reminds us time and again, that what the right action is.

    The Holy Gita is the essence of the Vedas, Upanishads. It is a universal scripture applicable to people of all temperaments and for all times. It is a book with sublime thoughts and practical instructions on Yoga, Devotion, Vedanta and Action. It is profound in thought and sublime in heights of vision. It brings peace and solace to souls that are afflicted by the three fires of mortal existence, namely, afflictions caused by one’s own body (disease etc), those caused by beings around one ( e.g. wild animals, snakes etc.), and those caused by the gods (natural disasters, earth-quakes, floods etc).

  7. Krishna Das Says:

    Jaya Radhe – Your blog has already brought fulfillment to my heart and soul. Shout the praises about Lord Visnu.

  8. Crasnic Says:

    Blessed Self.Thank you for taking cauroge in writing about your feelings. As you have rightly explained, that one has to put the feet into others shoes before we comment on others, the root cause for this is lack of Value Education. So let us all try to make some time in knowing our own culture by reading the Scriptures, Purana’s etc and know something about our Great Culture. In fact what Amma is demonstrating is the essence of our Scriptures, as Amma very boldly answered to a question about what is her message, My Life is my message . Only when we know something, we can preserve it and spread it for the good of the society and future generations.PranamsGirish

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