For years now I have been taking seclusion at the Ananda Meditation Retreat. My routine is pretty well worked out: long meditations in the morning; then long walks in the afternoon, often down the steep hill to the river and back up again.
Even when meditation doesn’t come easily, I tough it out and put in the hours. So I was a little surprised when, feeling a little restless, I jumped up from meditation early and headed out for the river.
The trail to the river isn’t used much, and every year it gets rougher and more overgrown. I’m a strong man and an experienced hiker, so this was an observation, not a concern.
Not far from the river I came to a section of the trail that is just a narrow ledge on a steep hillside, covered with loose slate. The hill forms a wall on one side and a nearly vertical eight-foot drop on the other.
“Hmmm,” I thought, “that looks dangerous.”
One second later I was flipping around in the air, completely off the ground, sailing over the drop-off. It crossed my mind that my future was at stake, so I looked for some way to mitigate my fate. I found none.
Eventually I hit the ground, then bounced once or twice before coming to rest on a level spot. Perhaps I lost consciousness. I’m not sure.
As soon as awareness returned, I calmly looked around, taking stock of where I was. Next I remember saying, perhaps out loud, and perhaps only to myself, “Thank you, Divine Mother.” Of everything that happened, I think that, for me, was the most satisfying moment.
Swami Kriyananda tells of the time he was vacationing by himself in Hawaii. He was alone in his hotel room, with the safety lock engaged, when he dislocated his artificial hip. Suddenly he was in terrible pain and could barely move. He was sitting on the floor when it happened, but with great effort managed to pull himself up onto the bed and, eventually, to reach the bedside phone and call the front desk.
The hotel was on the far side of the island from the hospital, and it took almost an hour for the paramedics to arrive. When they finally got there, Swami couldn’t get off the bed to unlock the door for them, so he had to lie there while they broke down the door to get in.
Throughout it all, he told us, he felt nothing but gratitude to Divine Mother for giving him this opportunity to love Her, no matter what happened.
His loving response to such difficult circumstances has always inspired me. I was so pleased that, in such a moment, I responded in the same way.
Few people take the trail down to the river. If I waited for someone to come, it could be a long time before I had any company. No question: I had to walk up the hill I had just spent an hour coming down.
My left hand and arm were useless. My right leg was painful, but didn’t appear to be broken. It turned out I had a compression fracture in my pelvis, and that was affecting my leg. My face and scalp were cut pretty badly, and there was blood everywhere, but I could breathe okay and see just fine.
I didn’t even ask, “How badly am I hurt?” That information was not useful, so why go there? Only one leg and one arm were working well, on opposite sides of my body, so it was tricky to ascend the vertical wall I had just fallen over. Finally I found a shallower section and somehow scrambled up.
Then it was just putting one foot in front of the other. Yes, there was pain; but much of weakness, I realized, is the confusion of a plethora of choices. Having no choice means that all your energy is directed one-pointedly: in my case, to walk back up that trail.
Later, I estimated the walk took about two hours. Long enough at the time, but not long in the great scheme of things.
When I finally reached the retreat buildings, no one was around. I thought I must look a God-awful mess, so I went first to a bathroom to clean up a little, then over to the dining room.
Nakula was in charge at the retreat. I felt he was the one I needed to find, although he often isn’t around the main area. From the dining room I could see that there was a meeting going on in the kitchen, and Nakula was there. I asked another retreat guest to request that Nakula come speak to me.
“We are going to the hospital,” Nakula said as soon as he saw me.
To restore my hand and arm took some pretty sophisticated surgery, then months of rehabilitation. I had recently turned sixty-five and signed up for Medicare. If the accident had happened thirty days earlier, I wouldn’t have been able to afford the care I needed.
The energy of recovery sapped my meditations for months, and it was a full year before I had the courage to walk down to the river again.
The real gift from the whole experience was finding out that, even when God knocks me over, spins me around, and slams me down again, my heart spontaneously responds, “Thank you, Divine Mother.”