Between the Toulon and Barcelona programs, Amma and the tour group stopped at the new ashram in the South of France, Le Domaine du Paralou near St. Michelle de Baume. St. Michelle de Baume is a charming 13th century town of tile roofed stone houses whose centerpiece is the cathedral of St. Maxime, famous for its association with Mary Magdalene. In regional tradition, the three Marys left the Holy Land after Christ’s death and journeyed in a sail-less and rudderless boat and landed in Southern France. Locals say that Mary Magdalene lived here, converting people and performing miracles and her remains are said to be resting in a nearby cave.
The newest ashram is as charming as the town, a 13th century mill set on the edge of a small river. A stream running under the house once powered the mill wheel. Inside, two large old mill wheels and heavy wooden beams form a massive fireplace. To complete the picture, a small waterfall roars nearby and its sound blends with the rushing river, rippling stream and dry rustling leaves of several species of trees growing on the property.
Amma called the hardworking local devotees to come to the ashram for lunch and a large number of them were able to assemble before noon in a light mist of rain. A nice carpet of mats had been laid for Amma to walk from her room to the hall where lunch would be served, but she took a sharp left instead and headed for the waterfall, followed by a trail of people, like a mother duck and her ducklings. She stood for some time watching the water and seemed to retreat into her own world for a short time, before returning to the hall to take her seat in a red chair before a long red drape. As usual, she asked for spiritual jokes and stories and these devotees were well prepared with some very interesting and touching stories of their experiences with Amma. Many of them focused on wishes fulfilled for which they gave credit to Amma: a house purchased near the ashram, the gift of a baby, a generous legal settlement against all odds, the appearance of the word AMMA in unexpected places and more. Many were in tears as they recounted the miracles they felt Amma had performed in their lives and the grace they had received from her.
Amma listened to each story intently with a soft, loving glow on her face, but one could see she was in a slightly inward state, perhaps from her communion with the waterfall. Or maybe it was the effect of some subtle vibration in this place, as we had noticed earlier that an unusual number of people were sitting here and there meditating before Amma arrived. One was even sitting in the woods in the drizzle, in deep concentration.
Amma told the devotees that even while giving darshan she was thinking of all the effort and sacrifice the devotees were making to run the massive Toulon program…Amma said that she prays that they always have that attitude and that this unity would stay with them forever. She added that as we all have to die one day, it is better to help others than to rest.
Amma served a delicious lunch of pasta, vegetable shishkabab, chocolate cake and applesauce. It had taken many hours for the cooks and their helpers to prepare this lovely meal for over 400 people, under difficult outdoor conditions under drizzling skies, and we could feel the love with which they had worked in the food. Then came the moment that everyone had been waiting for- she didn’t disappoint them, but sang and danced. Amma’s simple dances have more effect that the most famous dancers in history. Each one is unforgettable. And indeed, she gave the local devotees an unforgettable afternoon and inspiration to continue the hard work needed to transform this historic mill into a functioning Amma Centre. No one wanted this precious time to end, and Amma with her characteristic humility asked them for their permission for her to leave. With tears in their eyes they nodded, saying, “Merci, Amma.”
But Amma didn’t leave yet. She continued her tour of the premises, giving instructions as she walked, and ended the inspection by looking out the window that overlooked the stream that rushed under the building. It was a picture perfect moment as Amma stood looking absorbed and radiant framed by the worn grey stone wall of the mill. In every satsang, Amma mentions the Center Point of Love and Unity from which all actions and thoughts should flow. We saw this center point in full flower at the Toulon program and the founding of the new ashram which required the maximum of commitment, organization and focus that flowed from that Center Point of Love. Perhaps this is the biggest miracle of all-how ordinary people can transform themselves and learn to sacrifice their own needs and comforts to help others.
Amma climbed into her camper and rolled away and shortly later the tour group followed. We drove past plowed chocolate coulered fields, russet and yellow vineyards, interspersed with strips of emerald green fields. Later came the “garrigue”, the limestone hills covered with wild thyme, rosemary and lavender. We arrived in Barcelona in the mid-evening, set up the bookstore and the cooking tents and went to bed. In a few short hours, the cooking staff would arise to start work in the early morning chill, the bookstore staff and hall staff would start work, and the miracle of another Amma program would unfold.
Amma Centre-Le Domaine du Paradou