Rock in the Snow Field

from Vasanta

When we woke at 2:30 a.m., the tent seemed smaller than it had when we crawled in to sleep a few hours earlier. It had begun to snow and the walls were caving in. For the rest of the night, we thumped the nylon periodically to keep the snow from accumulating and collapsing the tent. We were sleepless, but not too worried. Wilderness backpacking is something my wife Maghi and I have been doing for years.

We were camped by a lake 10,500 feet up in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming, miles from everywhere. It had taken three days of hard walking to get there, through some steep rockslides with boulders as big as houses. Rain and sleet on the way up had made hiking difficult, snow would make going down that way impossible. It was too early for snow, but the storm hadn’t read the almanac.

Our plan was to make a loop—to stay one night at this lake then hike over the pass another thousand feet above us. The way up from here was a poorly marked switchback trail, impossible to discern now in the snow.

To make things worse, both of us had come down with sinus infections. We had a good medical kit and started right in with antibiotics. Still, we spent a miserable three nights and two days in the tent in the snow, trying to find in our trail mix and freeze-dried foods something that wasn’t too hard for our inflamed throats to swallow.

I spent a lot of time looking through binoculars at the route to the pass, hoping to find enough landmarks to take us safely across. There wasn’t much to see. Snow makes everything really quiet, and in three days, camped right by the trail, we neither saw nor heard another human being.

We were praying a lot to Babaji, the ever-living Himalayan yogi, figuring he was the one who could help us out of this jam. Finally there was a small break in the weather. Snow still covered the switchback trail, but we knew we had to get out of there and the pass was the only way.

Shortly after we started walking, we saw booted footprints on the trail going just the direction we wanted to go. Everybody these days, going through such rough terrain, uses hiking poles. But there was no sign of poles, just footprints. They continued all the way up the switchback, which would have been impossible to find without the prints to guide us. At one point they led us off the main trail to a little lake, then they came back again and continued up toward the pass.

About halfway to the top we stopped to rest against a large rock. Close to the ground there was an overhang sheltering a small grassy area untouched by snow. Maghi leaned over and underneath saw what looked like a little grass-carpeted natural chapel, complete with a discolored marking on the back “wall” in the shape of an arch, just the right size for a wallet-size picture of Babaji. We imagined him sitting there in his tiny rock chapel and prayed for his blessing.

We reached the pass and started down the other side. The snow was a little thinner here, and not too far ahead we could see the trail down. At that point the footprints turned to the right. We weren’t depending on them now, and they were going where we didn’t want to go, but of course, we followed, hoping to catch up with our mysterious benefactor.

The footprints led to a large boulder in the middle of a smooth, snow-covered field. There they stopped.

Two Nurses

from Scilla di Massa

My knee was injured in a car accident. The ligaments were torn, and the doctors decided to operate. In the middle of the operation, I left my body. Suddenly all boundaries disappeared. I was as big as the whole room, floating in a sea of luminous light, a delicate shade of golden pink not of this world. Every particle of my being was permeated by a love so great, so pure. I felt I could remain in that state forever. There was no fear or pain, no desire, no body. Just golden pink light and perfect love.

But it did not last. Just as suddenly I was unbearably squeezed, shrunk, and confined to my body again. And now there was pain, and lots of it.

I started shouting, “It’s too tight! It’s too tight!” I was referring to my body, but the nurse and surgeon thought I meant the plaster cast they were putting on my leg.

“It has to be this tight,” the nurse explained, “otherwise you won’t heal correctly.”

But I was inconsolable and determined to get back to what I had just experienced. Deliberately, I blocked the flow of my breath.

In the operating room, my sudden inability to breathe was seen as a medical emergency. I was rushed to intensive care where an oxygen mask was strapped to my face, forcing air into my lungs.

Two nurses were taking care of me. The one toward the foot of the bed was very busy managing the oxygen machine, the blood pressure pump, and all the other equipment. The second nurse was sitting quietly, just to my right. The mask prevented me from turning my head to get a better look at her. From the corner of my eye, I could see only that she had long brown hair, parted in the center. She adjusted my pillow and stroked my head. Never in my life had I felt so loved.

The battle between my desire to leave my body and the medical effort to keep me in it went on for a long time. Finally, I gave in and began to breathe without being forced to do so by their equipment. My heart and blood pressure stabilized. The medical emergency was over.

The nurse monitoring the equipment removed the mask from my face. My first thought was to thank the nurse next to me for her tender care. I looked to the right, but no one was there.

“Where is the other nurse?” I said to the one working the machines.

“Who?” she asked.

“Your colleague, the one who has been sitting beside me all this time.”

“Nobody has been there,” she said. “It has just been you and me.”

Desert Hike

from Anonymous

I am only half-joking when I say that, before I incarnated on Earth, I spent most of my lifetimes on a planet closer to the Sun. My enthusiasm for hot, dry weather borders on the extreme. Fortunately my wife enjoys the desert almost as much as I do.

We had been to Palm Desert before and our routine was pretty well worked out: lots of time hiking outdoors. Usually I’m strong from day one, and it takes my wife a little while to adapt. So it was surprising the first morning that she was full of energy while I was dragging myself along.

Still, we set out as planned on a twelve-mile hike to an oasis and back. It was hot, probably peaking at 112 degrees, but we were dressed for it and carried plenty of food and water.

One of the things I enjoy about hiking is that it gives me hours and hours to chant, mentally or out loud. “O God Beautiful” is one of my favorite hiking songs. I also often repeat the mantra, “AUM Babaji.” Babaji is the Himalayan yogi in our line of gurus, and in the wilderness I feel especially close to him.

Halfway to the oasis it was obvious something was very wrong with me. It didn’t occur to me to turn back; I assumed I could hike through it. By contrast, my wife was zipping along at the top of her game. At the oasis we rested and ate lunch. If I could have teleported myself back to the car, I would have. There was no choice, however, except to walk the six miles out the way we had come in.

I’m not one to complain, so we didn’t talk about it. I just said I needed to go slow. She took the lead and stayed about twenty-five yards in front of me; stopping every so often to make sure I was still following; calling my name occasionally; pausing when I had to pause. Even though I hadn’t said much, she knew I was in bad shape. I narrowed my focus until I was looking at nothing but her and willed myself to keep walking.

On the way to the oasis I kept “O God Beautiful” going inside my head. On the way back I tried to keep it up, but my energy was sinking fast and the song was more than I could handle. Just repeating “AUM Babaji” was all the concentration I could spare from the effort to keep my feet moving.

Walls seemed to be closing in around me. My band of awareness narrowed and I could feel my life force slipping away. I felt like I was dying. There was even a flock of turkey vultures circling over the trail. Talk about a B-movie script!

But this wasn’t a movie. This was serious. I wasn’t afraid. I’ve meditated for years, and I try to live in such a way that when my time comes I can go without regret.

My concern was for my wife. I knew she could live without me; that wasn’t the issue. My concern was, “What would she do if I collapsed out here in the desert?” I am a big man; she is a small woman. I didn’t think she could even pull my body under a bush, what to speak of lugging me all the way back to the car. I couldn’t do that to her.

Every ten steps it seemed I had to stop and rest. And whenever I found a little bit of shade I’d hunker there for a while, then pull myself up and go on.

Through all of this my wife was staying a steady twenty-five yards in front of me. It was good that she was too far away to talk. Anything I said would have scared her and reinforced my feeling of weakness. Having her there kept my mind on where I was going and off my present predicament. I could feel her will power pulling me along behind her. I know for certain that if she hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have made it.

After about three miles my life review started. Long-forgotten events of my childhood started happening all around me. Not only images, but also sounds: very loud sounds.

Riding my bike on the sidewalk. Swimming in the pool. Eating dinner with my family. Sledding in the winter. Playing basketball with my brothers.

It didn’t frighten me that this was happening, but it was very distracting, which was the last thing I needed.

AUM Babaji. AUM Babaji. AUM Babaji. Take a few steps. Rest. Drink water. Look at my wife. Start walking again. AUM Babaji. AUM Babaji. AUM Babaji. All the while my childhood was repeating itself in full volume around me.

Although it seemed much longer, it was only six miles, and finally we made it to the plateau just above where the car was parked. A boulder cast a small shadow, so I sat in front of it and leaned back. As soon as I sat down, the life review stopped.

We hadn’t seen anyone else the whole time we were out there. Now I looked across the desert, and about thirty feet away I saw a young man sitting perfectly still on a rock ledge in full lotus position, meditating while facing the sun. He was bare-chested and wasn’t wearing a hat. His hair was long and reddish colored.

My wife came and sat next to me. She looked over at him and said, “He shouldn’t be sitting out in the sun like that with no shirt or hat.”

“That’s just what I was thinking,” I said. “Maybe I should go tell him.”

We sat together, watching him sit motionless before us, talking a little about how we hoped he would be okay, exposed to the sun like that. I drank water, splashed water on my face, closed my eyes to rest and opened them again. Always he was there.

After about ten minutes I felt strong enough to go the short distance to the car.

“Before I leave,” I thought, “I have to go tell that man to put on a hat.”

My wife and I stood up together, and immediately both of us forgot the man was there. We didn’t remember we’d seen him until several hours later.

We went to the car, drove home, showered, rehydrated, and were lying on the floor resting in the air-conditioned condo when we remembered him again. This time what had not crossed our minds before was suddenly obvious. Could it have been Babaji? Certainly no ordinary person could have sat utterly still, bare-chested, facing the sun like that. He looked like the pictures of Babaji, and like that great guru he had copper-colored hair.

If I had been alone, given the condition I was in, it would be easy to say I imagined it all. But my wife was there, and she was as clear and energetic at the end of the hike as she had been at the beginning. All the energy that I was lacking seemed to be present in her.

We compared notes and we both had seen exactly the same thing, except for one odd detail: the man had been much closer to me than to her. Was it because I had needed him more? I don’t know for sure that I was dying out in the desert that day; but I felt that I was, and I believe Babaji saved me.

White Bird

from Rita Deierlein

I was on my third coast-to-coast bicycle trip—this time starting in California, and ending in Virginia. We began as a rather disjointed group of seven. No one person was familiar with more than one or two of the others. Without friendship to unite us, we soon separated according to how fast we liked to ride.

My partner was a man with whom I shared nothing except our pace. Soon that tenuous bond broke, and most days I was alone, which suited me fine. There is safety in numbers, but even on group rides I usually found a way to spend most of the time by myself.

This day it was pouring rain and by mid-afternoon already dark. I had been riding for hours with my head down, watching nothing but the spinning tire and the wet road in front of me. Slick pavement is dangerous, and to make matters worse, there was construction going on and sometimes debris on the road.

I had no idea where my companion was. Miles ahead or miles behind, I didn’t know. Suddenly it occurred to me that I was completely alone, in dangerous conditions, in a part of the country known to be hostile to cyclists. In this area, they don’t appreciate our fancy bikes and funny clothes. Sometimes they express their displeasure by throwing beer cans and bottles at us as they whiz by in their cars.

Most of the time riding my bike, I feel a wonderful sense of freedom and self-reliance. Nothing holds me back; I can go anywhere, do anything. Now I felt a sudden anxiety. After hours of riding in the cold, wet weather, my hands and feet were numb, which would make it harder to get away if I had to flee.

The Jesuits say, “Give us a child until the age of ten and we’ll have him for life.” There must be some truth in this, because in my hour of need what I drew upon was the training I had received as a child from my devout Catholic mother.

She was fond of calling upon God. “Offer Thee, Sweet Jesus,” my mother would say. Or, when in need of help, “Come, Holy Ghost.”

Alone on my bicycle, I found myself chanting, “Come, Holy Ghost. Come, Holy Ghost. Come, Holy Ghost.” A few minutes later something white by the side of the road caught my attention. I hadn’t looked up all day. Now I glanced to the left.

Spray-painted on a big granite rock were the words “HOLY GHOST.”

“Thanks!” I said to God, the Holy Ghost, and my long-departed Catholic mother. Anxiety vanished, and I relaxed again into the pure joy of cycling.

When the ride was over, I decided to visit my sister in New Jersey before heading back to California. I could have cycled to her place, but once I reached the Atlantic Ocean, I was ready for a break. I put myself and my bike on a bus heading north.

I found two empty seats together and settled down by the window for a quiet, comfortable ride. Just before the doors closed, a big, tough-looking guy got on. The only seat left on the bus was the one next to me. Instead of two seats, now I had three-quarters of one.

Looks are deceiving. He turned out to be a real sweetheart. We had a delightful conversation all the way to his stop a few towns before mine. “I feel we are just becoming friends, and now you have to go,” I said sadly.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a tiny figurine of a sparkling white bird. “The bird of friendship,” he said as he handed it to me.

Every good Catholic girl knows what the white dove represents. “Come, Holy Ghost,” I had said, and there It was in the center of my palm.

Let There Be Light

from Lajjana

No one in my family understood the urgency of my spiritual quest and why it led me to meditation and discipleship to an Indian guru. We were third generation South Dakota farmers. If you felt religious you could choose from a variety of Christian churches right there in town. My choice was, to them, incomprehensible.

My husband felt especially threatened by what I was doing. He was one of ten children in a family that had been financially ruined by the Great Depression. He grew up on welfare and vowed that when he became a husband and father, he would always be able to provide for his family. He made good on his vow and cared not only for me and our children, but my extended family and his as well. A person with his background might easily have become miserly. Instead, he became compassionate and generous to others in need.

When I began to meditate, and became devoted to Paramhansa Yogananda as my guru, my husband felt I was shutting him out. Someone had become more important to me than he and the family we had created together. I tried every way I could to show him that loving God and Guru didn’t mean I loved our family less. Love is infinite, not finite as he thought it to be.

But in a sense, his intuition was correct. Much as I loved my family and was grateful to my husband for a lifetime of hard work and loving care, nothing was more important to me than my relationship with God and Guru.

He never got over what he saw as my betrayal of him. Not long after I got on the spiritual path, he was stricken with cancer.

Despite his disapproval, I was determined to carry on with my spiritual practices. I couldn’t let meditation interfere with my care for him and my family. That would have brought even more criticism down upon my head.

Early in the morning was the obvious time to meditate. My husband woke every day to an alarm set for 7:15 a.m. We slept in the same room and if I set an earlier alarm, it would wake him too, and that was obviously a bad idea.

One night I prayed urgently, “I have been a spiritual seeker all my life. Now that I have found this path and this practice, I must find a way to carry on with it. Please help me to wake up early.”

At 6:00 a.m. the next morning I was sound asleep when the lamp on my bedside table suddenly turned on, shining directly into my face. I woke immediately, turned off the light, and got up to meditate for a full hour. Then I slipped back into bed and was lying there quietly content when the alarm went off as usual at 7:15.

Every morning after that, whenever my husband and I slept in that room, the light went on at exactly 6:00 a.m.

Five years later my husband died, still adamantly opposed to my spiritual life. Many times in my meditation after he passed I tried to contact his soul. I would talk to him, explaining again in words I hoped he could now understand, why loving God made it possible for me to love him more, not less.

A few months after he died, I had a vivid, superconscious dream about him. Yogananda was also there, and when I tried to introduce my husband to my Guru, he looked sternly at Yogananda and said firmly, “Don’t say a word or there will be a fight!” Despite death and all my efforts to explain, he remained fixed in his point of view.

Silently, with great love, Yogananda looked deep into his eyes. My husband, too, simply stared back without saying a word. Then, to my astonishment and delight, my husband turned to me and melted into my arms. Finally, I felt, he understood.

The division between us dissolved. In this shared understanding of Yogananda’s love, I felt closer to my husband in death than I ever did when he was alive.

I feel that death itself was his last generous act to me. On some level I believe he chose to die to free me to follow my spiritual path. Even though my children still disapproved, after his passing I left South Dakota and came to live on the West Coast where I could be part of an Ananda community. That would have been impossible if my husband had still been alive.

Our Lady

from Tyagini Naima

After three weeks in the meditative quiet of the Ananda Retreat near Assisi, Italy, it was a shock to be back in the “real world.” The coarse laughter of the young men standing near me in the train station grated on my now finely tuned nervous system. The train to Rome was just the first stage of almost two days of travel to get back home to Finland. I speak English, but hardly a word of Italian, and I rarely travel alone. I felt isolated and a little afraid.

I comforted myself by listening to Swami Kriyananda chanting AUM through my MP3 player. The chant was suddenly interrupted by a crude grinding sound as the player stopped working.

I tried to visualize Master standing next to me as my “bodyguard.” Then I thought, “Divine Mother is the AUM always surrounding me.” I prayed to Her, “Divine Mother, be with me not only in Spirit, but also in a way that I can feel physically, so that I won’t be afraid.”

At that very instant a large group of English-speaking people came into the station, many wearing badges with a picture of the Virgin Mary. “That was quick,” I said to Divine Mother.

They were pilgrims just returning from Medjugorje in Croatia, where the Virgin Mary has appeared many times to a small group of visionaries. The pilgrims must have recognized me as a kindred spirit, because immediately I became part of their group. They offered to help with my luggage, and we all boarded the train together. It turned out my seat was right in the middle of their section. The group leader, a sweet middle-aged woman, was sitting next to me. All the way to Rome we talked happily about God and Divine Mother—the Virgin Mary to them, but we all agreed we loved the same Lady in different forms.

Just before we got to Rome, the group leader said to me, “Our Lady has asked me to give you something.” She handed me her personal rosary. “It is hard for me to give this away,” she admitted. “I have had it a long time, and have prayed with it in many sacred places. But Our Lady is urging me now to give it to you, to protect you on your journey, and I always do what She asks.”

It was only then that I told her, my eyes filled with grateful tears, that just before her group had arrived, I was feeling afraid and had prayed to Divine Mother to take care of me.

Across the Water

from Sheila Nichols

My daughter was six when Ron married us. We had twelve wonderful years together. Then, at the age of forty-seven, Ron died of cancer.

The cancer had surfaced four years earlier. But, after surgery, he was declared “cancer free” and sent home without further treatment. He was still in a lot of pain; but when his doctors recommended nothing more than codeine pills, we accepted their decision without question.

In retrospect it seems obvious we were scared and didn’t want to know what else might be going on inside his body. Three years passed in relatively good health. Then Ron expressed a desire to visit the Holy Land.

We had explored the spiritual path together, reading Autobiography of a Yogi, among other books. I was immediately drawn to Yogananda, and later to Ananda; Ron was lukewarm about it, but supported me in my interest.

It was the summer of 1984. Our daughter was eighteen, and the trip seemed ideal for all of us. On the strength of my job as a schoolteacher, I was able to borrow $10,000 to cover the cost. We had a fabulous journey together—our last, as it turned out. Again, in retrospect, some part of me knew what would take place; that’s why I didn’t think twice about going into debt to make that trip happen.

A few months later, Ron developed what appeared to be a terrible flu. He could hardly eat and had to be hospitalized. Tests soon revealed that the cancer had metastasized. My formerly big, strong husband left the hospital in a wheelchair and was never able to walk again. From then on he needed constant care.

Most of the time I took care of Ron myself. Only when his mother came from Ohio to our home in California to be with him did I feel comfortable leaving. I would go to Ananda Village, to rest and to pray for Ron.

In early July 1985, Ron was very ill in the hospital. His mother was there, and I was assured it would be fine for me to go. Ron was fully conscious when I said good-bye to him, never imagining it was good-bye for the last time.

At Ananda, one of the ministers invited me to take formal initiation as a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda. By that time I had learned to meditate and was regularly practicing the teachings, but it hadn’t occurred to me to take initiation. I wasn’t entirely sure what it meant, but some deeper part of me understood. “Yes,” I said.

I was initiated on Sunday morning, July 7. Afterwards, as I was kneeling in front of Master’s picture, I had a vision of my husband and me sitting together in a small rowboat. He was in the front; I was working the oars, moving the boat forward. He was as I had last seen him, too sick and debilitated to help me row.

Master appeared, walked across the water, and stood silently in front of the boat. My husband, who hadn’t walked in months, stood up easily, got out of the boat and joined him. On the horizon, toward the left, Light appeared. I watched as Ron and Master walked over the water and into the Light.

A beautiful, bright blue, female figure appeared in front of me. “Who are you?” I asked.

“Divine Mother,” she answered.

Later that day I found out Ron had died. At first I felt terrible guilt that I wasn’t with him when he passed. Gradually though, I came to understand that God had taken me to Ananda to give me initiation.

If I had been sitting with Ron in the hospital room, I believe my attachment to him, and his to me, would have made the transition difficult. This way, my love for God, my love for Ron, and my commitment as a disciple opened the way for Master to come and take my beloved husband into the Light.

Knowing how devastated I would be, I believe Divine Mother came also, to remind me that even though the form of love changes, the death of a loved one is not the end of love.