Once a year I get a hug. A precious hug. Every autumn Amma (Mother) comes to London, as part of her European tour. She spends three days hugging, literally, thousands of people. Amma is recognised by many as an awakened being; she is ‘the hugging saint’.
Amma embodies compassion and charity. Known for her healing miracles, outstanding charitable works and for consoling the suffering, she recently visited the devastated areas of Japan. There was a time, however, when Amma was considered insane.
Born in a remote fishing village of Kerala, Southern India, even as a toddler Amma was passionately devotional. At the age of ten she was taken out of school by her parents, to do the family’s shopping, cooking, washing and much more. Her mother was in poor health and Amma was the eldest daughter still at home. Her process of awakening deepened during her teenage years. She would often be found semi-conscious in an altered state. From being responsible for looking after the whole family, in her early 20s Amma became incapable of taking care of even her most basic needs. Her awakening intensified at this time, taking on crisis proportions. Amma’s spiritual emergence became an emergency.
Sleeping outside in the courtyard, drinking milk straight from a cow’s udders, she lived wild. Amma’s parents thought she had finally succumbed to her mental illness. Neighbours would find her lying semi-conscious in the mud. Taking pity on her they would wash her and dress her in clean clothes.
This period proved to be the deepest time of her spiritual progression. She came through, at the end of it experiencing the Divine Mother merging with herself in a state of supreme bliss. Thanks to this lasting mystical union Amma is known in full as Mata Amritanandamayi, which means Mother of Immortal Bliss.
Amma’s story is an astounding illustration of the process of spiritual emergence and emergency. When awakening speeds up, it can take us to extreme places. And it doesn’t only happen to great teachers and mystics like Ramana Maharshi, St Teresa of Ávila or Amma. It happens, on a different level, to ordinary folk like you and me. It can happen to any one of us, whether we’re consciously engaged on a spiritual path or not.
Healing the psyche
The main feature that stands out as the psyche naturally moves towards wholeness and healing, clearing everything in its way, is the sheer intensity of psychospiritual crisis; the harsh toll it takes on the body; the terror of going mad or dying. As the ego is extinguished, albeit often temporarily, it is very easy to fear we are going to physically die, such is our identification with the ego.
Many people going through spiritual emergency find themselves in psychiatric hospital, because there are so few places where a person can be held and supported through these all-consuming experiences. What tends to happen then is that the psychological aspect of these psychospiritual crises is seen as illness, whilst the spiritual dimension is not recognised.
Not everyone has contact with mental health services, however. Kimberley was 25 when her mother died, triggering an overwhelming period of crisis for her, which lasted several years. Already highly psychic and intuitive, through the process she was able to really connect with her gifts and her soul’s calling to support others awakening.
This is often the case. Once we come through the worst of the crisis, we find that wounds have been healed, obstacles cleared, enabling us to fully engage on our soul’s path. Many reshape their working lives, finding their vocation, maybe undertaking further training. We are also more able to create lasting, loving relationships and supportive, nurturing home environments. The spiritual wisdom and insight we will have gained is experiential, which no amount of reading could have given us. Perhaps the most precious aspect of all is that we will have glimpsed awakening, tasted it, felt it. Now we have a much clearer idea of where we are heading on our journey. And, having tasted it, we will be hungry for more. If our spiritual commitment was in doubt before, that will be dispelled. What spiritual emergency brings far outweighs the suffering involved. I have yet to come across a single person who regrets what they have been through.
Global awakening of consciousness
Just as the awakening of consciousness, when it accelerates, can tip us individually into crisis, so it can at the collective level also. There are strong parallels between the two dimensions. More people are experiencing spiritual emergency now because global awakening is gathering pace. We have entered a period of world spiritual emergency, the individual and the collective mirroring each other.
Fortunately, we can draw much hope and encouragement in learning from the process at the personal level; what looks and feels at the time like our worst nightmare, turns out in fact to be our greatest blessing. This is the paradox of spiritual emergency. We can also know that at the world level too, apparent breakdown can be followed by breaking through to a whole new level of consciousness. It requires, however, colossal trust and surrender when we are in the midst of such overwhelming challenges. Would we have been able to trust that someone in Amma’s condition would come through? Can we trust we will together pull through this period of death and re-birth?
The answer lies in supporting, helping and serving each other and our communities. Of all the changes we make as we re-align our lives following spiritual emergency, perhaps the most compelling, the one we feel most drawn to act on, is an urge to be of service. Amma has taken the process of spiritual emergency and emergence to its ultimate conclusion. The immeasurable service she offers to humanity is a mark of a truly enlightened being. If you get a chance to receive a hug from this world spiritual leader, don’t miss it!