This journey began with an intention to spend time with Amma at her ashram in Kerala.
In early December, my friend Daniel (with whom I am traveling) and I received news that Amma had requested that as many as her devotees as possible be at her ashram as we moved into 2013. We both knew in our hearts that we were being called and bought our plane tickets as soon as we could. A few days later, we found out that Amma’s North India tour was scheduled to leave the day after we arrived at the ashram. So it became clear that actually we were going to India to go on tour with Amma, which I admitted to myself with a bit of hesitancy because the tours are well known to be INCREDIBLY challenging on ALL levels. I remember reading one of Amma’s biographies, “Amma: Healing the Heart of the World” by Judith Cornell in which the author describes the tour and how everyone was getting sick and how intense it was and just the extreme austerity and massive karmic burn of the whole thing.
THEN we found out that Amma had combined her North and South India tours into one, and so it was looking like we’d be on tour with her for seven weeks.
I informed loved ones, had a bon voyage party in Fairfield, traveled to Arizona to see my dad, and traveled to Wisconsin to see my mom, brother, aunt, uncle, and cousins. I raised funds to pay for my passport, visa, and plane tickets. It was an amazing and miraculous time…truly, all the wind in the Universe was at my back, and I was in complete awe and amazement at what was happening…by the Divine Mother’s grace, I going to INDIA!!!
We began our pilgrimage with an epic two day journey. We left Fairfield at 3:30 am on December 29th. Our friend David drove us from Fairfield to the airport in Moline, Illinois…then we flew to JFK in New York City where we waited nine hours for our next flight to Saudi Arabia…in Saudi Arabia we had two layovers, one was eight hours long and one was just one hour long. THEN we flew to Cochin, India, and took a 3 1/2 hour cab ride from the airport to Amritapuri, Amma’s ashram in Kollom, Kerala.
We arrived there on New Years Eve at 5 pm and had just enough time to drop our bags at our friend Anaghan’s flat and then head to the main hall…we walked in just as Amma did…amazing, divine timing.
That evening, we were so blessed to receive darshan (hugs) from Amma…only the people who had arrived that day received darshan, so we were really lucky because there were thousands of people there and just a few were able to hug her that evening…and after she hugged me I asked her, “Mother, tour?” “Okay!” she responded with a huge joyful smile, head wobbling (which I had never seen her do because I had never seen her in INDIA before!) I then walked over to where my friend Anaghan was standing and told him what Mother had said, and that now I just had to figure out how I was going to pay for it because I had just found out that afternoon that we had to pay for the tour in cash. His friend Danny who was standing next to him said, “You can pay with a US check!” So just like that, the deal was sealed. I was going on tour.
The next day we ran around the ashram a million miles an hour all day collecting everything we needed for the tour. Her devotees are to wear only white when on tour, so we stocked up on white attire, mosquito nets, toilet paper, and a million other little things that we would need. That night we left at 3:30 am.
We headed to our first stop, Bangalore, where we slept for a few hours in one of Amma’s schools and then continued to our first destination, Pune, where Amma held two full days of public programs. We spent about 35 hours or more in the buses those two days, so already by the time we arrived we were already pretty exhausted.
And that’s how the tour unfolded….packing and unpacking over and over…spending countless hours in the buses…stopping every so often so people could eat, use the restroom, etc…travelling in a HUGE caravan with about 700 people in all that consisted of 11 buses, a couple of trucks filled with Amma’s ayurvedic products, an ambulance from Amma’s hospital, and Amma’s camper. Below is a photo of me on the bus.
There were some incredibly beautiful moments, like when we stopped alongside the Bhavani River and Amma gave a discourse and we all sang bhajans together.
And another amazing moment on the tour was when we stopped for lunch one day and Amma fed us all. Each plate of food was passed through her hands before being passed to us as sacred prasad. How incredibly BLESSED we were to be fed by the Divine Mother herself!
The roads are SO bumpy here in India, and many times we would only be able to go 35 miles an hour or so…and we had to stop quite often to keep all of the vehicles together. At night we would sleep on the floor in the classrooms of some of Amma’s schools. One night I looked around and estimated that there were probably about 200 women sleeping in this one large room!
We attended two full program days in Pune and two full program days in Mumbai and the entire experience was austere beyond austere. So without going into any more details, I will just say that in the process of travelling over 2,000 miles in this way, Daniel and I both became ill.
By the time we got to Delhi, neither of us were feeling well enough to continue on the tour, so we stayed for a week at the amazing Maharishi Ayurveda Hospital to rest and heal. Nature made it exceedingly clear that this was what we were to do. I first visited the hospital on Maharishi’s birthday (photo below of Ram, Julia, Veda, and me).
My friend Ram invited me to the birthday celebration there. (Maharishi was his great uncle.) He sent a car for me and when I saw the words “Maharishi Ayurveda Hospital” a huge flood of relief and gratitude flooded over me as I thought, “Oh thank GOD, they’re taking me to the HOSPITAL!”
The next day I again returned to the hospital (which I would describe more as an Ayurvedic clinic than a hospital) to receive some Ayurvedic treatments, hoping that I would be able to rejuvenate myself enough to continue on the tour…the next tour stop was Calcutta and I fully intended to be ready to go by the time the buses were to leave the following day.
The next day came and I was upstairs in the computer room checking my Facebook when I received a Facebook chat message from David, a friend in Fairfield. He told me that Daniel was very sick, and wondered if I knew. He continued, letting me know that Daniel was at the Maharishi Ayurveda Hospital! I responded, in absolute AMAZEMENT, “I am at the Maharishi Ayurveda Hospital!!!” If not for this, I would not have known that he was there! I immediately went down to the desk and asked for Daniel’s room number. I knocked on his door, announcing myself… “Erin!!!” He opened the door in absolute amazement. I didn’t have a cell phone at this point, so he was really concerned that he had left for the hospital without being able to tell me that he was leaving. But Nature had organized it PERFECTLY, and there we both were.
We realized that we both needed to stay in Delhi and rest and heal. So that evening we gathered our belongings from the school we had been staying at with the others on the tour, and informed the man in charge of the tour that we were staying in Delhi and that we may or may not be returning to the tour.
That night we enjoyed an amazing dinner at Ram’s house and were so blessed to meet his beautiful family.
After dinner, in the sitting room, Ram invited a few people (including me) to sing for everyone. And just then, someone went upstairs to bring Maharishi’s 103-year-old brother down to the sitting room to enjoy the music. So I got to sing for the entire family, including Maharishi’s brother! He is in the middle in the photo below. Ram is on the right.
We then spent a week enjoying DELICIOUS food, wonderful accomodations, and amazing company. We were delighted to discover that our friends Veda and Julia were ALSO there, so we got to spend some time with them, and also with the Lucas Family who we met and came to love during our stay there.
I was so, so grateful to eat such delicious food (including an abundance of incredible fresh fruit) and have fresh coconut water delivered to my room each morning. I was also so grateful for the amazing staff who took EXCELLENT care of us, laundry services, hot showers, and some of the best Ayurvedic doctors in the world reading my pulse every day and teaching me about Ayurveda. The entire experience was just SUCH an incredible blessing.
After a week in Delhi, I was feeling much, much better, and it was time to continue on with the journey. Daniel, Julia, and I decided to travel together to Vrindavan, the childhood home of Lord Krishna, kirtan, and bhakti yoga. It’s been a wonderful experience visiting many sacred sites in this area…especially the Maha Samadhi Murthi of Neem Karoli Baba. And it has also been wonderful soaking in the gorgeous devotional music in the Sri Sri Krishna Balarama Temple here.
During my time here in Vrindavan I have learned SO MUCH about the true meaning of bhakti (love, devotion, and surrender to God) and have experienced so much incredible sacred music that accompanies this bhakti here in Vrindavan. Next we will head to the Maha Maha Kumbha Mela in Allahabad, and after the Mela, much is still waiting to be discovered.
It is not yet clear to me how long I will stay here in India, but I know that I will continue to be divinely guided every step of the way. And as this pilgrimage continues, my intentions are strong and clear. I am here to purify my heart so that I may be a clear and present channel of God’s grace. In this way, by God’s grace, the music and abundance that I am here to share will be able to flow through me in their purity, blessing the world with Love in many forms.
This pilgrimage has continues to be so full of miracles and blessings, some blissful and some quite challenging. And for all of this I say THANK YOU. This journey has been so mind-blowingly transformational on so many levels, way, way, WAY beyond my comprehension.
And thus, it continues…