Our first ride was oh, so sweet. Right out of the gate, as we were leaving Varkala, we stumbled upon a secret surfing spot. As soon as spotted it, we gleefully jumped off our bikes and jumped in the ocean. The freedom to stop, while enroute to the next location, made us know that getting the bikes was the best decision for us. Train rides are good for reading but, biking through the Southern coast allowed for a lot more adventure.
We rode along the coast the whole way to the Ashram. It afforded us a very nice breeze to combat the intense heat. Actually, on this ride, I forgot to wear Guy's big over shirt like I'm wearing above and got the WORST sunburn around my tank top. The sunburn was so bad it looked like a deep tan and was very tender. It also peeled off within in the week leaving me with very spotty skin. Lesson learned!
The ride took us about 6-7 hours. We left around 9:30am and took one ocean break, one lunch break and two mini breaks for my bum. The ride was a lot of fun but, I had never biked (or ran or walked) anything over 15 miles. We did 50-60km on our first ride! The last 20km were tough. My bum was incredibly sore as were my palms strangely-- I put too much pressure on the handlebars-- but, I was determined to press on. When we finally biked up to the outside of the Ashram, I nearly cried out of sheer joy. I was incredibly proud of myself for the physical feat and I loved the idea that we had a pilgrimage before we saw Amma. However, getting off my bike and resting my sore bum was a highlight too.
We arrived ceremoniously (in my head at least) at the Ashram and found the registration desk easy enough. I had preregistered online for a room but, honestly I was nervous we might not get a room due to Amma being there. There was a long line but friendly volunteers ready to answer all our questions, which were numerous. I didn't do a ton of research on the Ashram, I just decided we would show up and figure it out. The volunteers informed us that the "rules" at the Ashram were pretty lax. There was not a schedule, no required meditation practice or lectures we had to attend. Everything was optional. Amma encouraged going without WiFi (we chose to stay off our phones for the full week we were there and as such, have no pictures) and no smoking but, had a designated cafe where you could do both. Amma's reasoning is that she wants to accept all souls no matter where they are on their spiritual path. It wasn't going to be the rigorous Ashram experience I had read about in Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir but, it was going to be an experience nonetheless.
The front office gave us a HUGE room all to ourselves (no men/women separation there!) and it was CHEAP. The room, while big, was very minimal- as to be expected. We slept on four gym mats, two each, small leather pillows and a huge picture of Amma by the door. It wasn't fancy but, it was more than enough and no roaches or rats which is pretty great for India. Our first night we got food-- I need to tell you about the food before we move on! The food was INSANE! Everyday there is free curry morning, noon and night. In addition to the free food there are two cantinas (Indian and Western) and a Western cafe. Everything was incredible and the Western cafe had gluten free, vegan and SUGAR FREE DESSERTS! And gluten free bread! We basically revolved our schedules around the food-- and went to sleep, ready to see what the Ashram had to offer.
Being that were no real schedule, we each did what came natural to us-- for Guy, that was playing music with all the other musicians at the Ashram and for me that was meditating, doing yoga, getting darshan from Amma and attending her talks. We each got what we needed and that what was so great about Amma's Ashram. I was all in for Ashram life but, Guy would have been out of place in a rigorous Ashram environment. I was so happy to be in a place where we were both finding exactly what we needed. In fact, Guy met one of Amma's disciples (a person who has devoted their life to serving Amma) and he wrote a book based on his spiritual journey before Amma and his experience with her. It was incredible read and very enlightening to what makes someone give up everything to dedicate their life to a person they don't actually know well. Each chapter had a quote from Amma and Guy really resonated with the book and Amma's message which is essentially love. He felt the way to get the most of his time at the Ashram was to meet all the wonderful people that were there and share with them.
One of the things I was most interested in was Amma's darshan-- which is a hug. I had heard they have healed people, changed their lives, etc. The hug had a lot to live up to. I decided to go for it, got my token from the and 5 hours later it was my turn to head up! Once your token letter is called- they do the token system so everyone can carry about their day until the line moves- you sit in chairs by the stage where Amma sits at ALL DAY without a potty break (seriously she starts hugging at 10am and goes until past midnight) and you play musical chairs until you get the stage and then until you get up for your hug. When I was waiting, I experienced a lot of resistance to waiting. Thoughts kept popping up about how ridiculous it was to wait for 2 hours moving chairs to hug a stranger and I got agitated a couple of times too. It was interesting! I almost gave up twice. What was interesting every time my agitation would get bad and I would want to give up, a tiny would come in and say, "this is interesting isn't it?". Finally, it was my time for the hug. I knelt in front of her and caught her eyes for two seconds before I leaned in for the our hug and her eyes are the most soulful and kind I've ever seen. For the hug, I was knelt in front of her and then leaned in to her bosom, with my hands bracing her chair for support-- before the hug, the volunteers helping faciliate tell you to not hug Amma or put any weight on her. She wrapped her arms around my neck more or less, whispered a phrase in my ear three times (I couldn't understand what it was but, one of her disciples said it's a phrase that means, "oh my darling" or "oh, my daughter"), squeezed me tight and then sent me on my way.
Honestly, the hug felt anti-climatic. The journey to the hug felt a lot more powerful to me- witnessing my resistance and how much it gets in the way of anything that requires patience. Continuing on in my waiting for the hug, even when the negative voice inside me wanted to me to quit, showed me that I can overcome that voice. The negative voice, or the Ego, doesn't have as much power over me as I was giving it credit too. It felt like Amma taught me more in getting to the hug than in the hug because I needed that lesson more. Her disciples say that's why she works on you--sneakily. My hug might not have been life changing but, being in the presence of an enlightened being was life enlightening.