I fell sixteen feet from a pull-down staircase and landed headfirst on a concrete floor. Fortunately, the only lasting injury was that I lost my senses of taste and smell.
“The goal of meditation is to overcome the senses,” a meditating yogi-friend said to me. “Look at the bright side: Now you have two of them licked.”
She knew that I had a good sense of humor and would take her comment in the right way. For me, however, this was more than an inconvenience. I was a professional chef, running my own café. All of that seemed over now. The doctors’ prognosis was, if these senses didn’t come back in eighteen months, the condition would be permanent.
Eight years passed and nothing changed. I was a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, practicing Kriya meditation. It was a comfort to know that whatever happened to me, God was in charge.
I moved from Vancouver Island to Ananda Village in California. When my husband wanted to move back to the island to start an Ananda center there, I was conflicted, but in the end, went with him.
Nine months later, ten days before my fiftieth birthday, my husband left me. Turns out we had moved to the island because it was the right setting for the marriage to fall apart.
It was my habit every morning to walk the block from our house, go down the stairs to the waterfront, and take a long stroll on the board-walk. On the day he left, sad as I was, I followed the same routine.
I had a passing acquaintance with an elderly man named John who went out every morning the same as I. This day he was coming up the stairs as I was going down.
John was a “birder,” and announced enthusiastically, “There is a trumpeter swan out there, all by himself.”
“Alone?” I said. These birds were seldom seen on this part of the island, and never alone. Always they were with their mates.
“All by himself,” John repeated.
When I got to the boardwalk, there he was, a magnificent creature one hundred feet from the shore.
In India the swan is a symbol of spiritual realization, perhaps because it is at home on land, air, and sea, just as a spiritual master is at home in the three worlds: causal, astral, and material. My Guru’s title, “Paramhansa,” literally means “supreme swan.” It is conferred only on those who have the highest state of Self-realization.
To see a swan on this particular day, alone without a mate—as I was now—I took as a sign that Master had not forgotten me. Even though my heart was wounded, I felt an expansive joy. Breathing deeply, I savored the moment.
To my astonishment, I could smell the sea! I thought it was an astral phenomenon. Perhaps the swan, too, was not really there, but only a vision from the astral world. Then I remembered that John had also seen him. Again I breathed deeply of the ocean air. This time it carried the mixed-fragrance of fish, kelp, and the usual rotting debris.
Amazed, I began to weep, not because my sense of smell had returned, but in gratitude for Master’s presence in my life.
When I got home, I followed my morning ritual. Fixing a cup of coffee, I took it out onto the porch. To my amazement, I could both smell and taste the brew. My senses had returned.
I last saw the swan far out in the water, moving away from shore. At the time, I thought nothing of it. Later I understood that he was beckoning me, leading me away from the island back to my home at Ananda Village.