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.