My Biggest Crisis Turned into My Biggest Opportunity
There is another journey that I went through years ago, before my journey to India. Long before I had the good fortune to meet Dr. Chauhan, and Babaji, and to arrive in the warm embrace of Mother India in 2015.
This journey was my journey of loss. It began in August 2002, a very hot and humid day in Hanover, New Hampshire, where my family gathered for a reunion. I had just arrived home from a 6-hour round-trip drive to pick up my grandmother from the airport. She had flown in from Florida for our family get-together. One of my sisters had also just arrived from South America, where she was living as a Peace Corps volunteer in a rural village. Another one of my sisters had travelled two hours from the congestion, and pollution, fighting through the noisy traffic of Boston to reach our peaceful country home on the hillside. My youngest sister also had traveled about two hours from her university, on the other side of the state. My cousins and aunt and uncle had made the big trip from New York City.
In our family home, we had an oversized kitchen. It opened into a vast living room with 22-foot ceilings. Huge panoramic windows from the floor to the ceiling showcased the captivating view of the rolling Vermont hills. My mom had been busy all-day making delicious food for our guests. When I opened the door of the house, I was met with the mouth-watering aroma of freshly baked bread. Whenever I came home, I was spoiled by endless tasty treats from my mom’s organic bakery, Harvest Moon. And this day was no exception. There on the wooden kitchen table beckoning to me, was my all-time favorite, her homemade milk-chocolate coconut muffins. The golden brown muffins were surrounded by an assortment of bright colors. Radiant green fresh arugula salad, bright pink watermelon slices, creamy yellow corn salad. The stark white rounds of goat cheese contrasted by the juicy red tomatoes and dark green basil leaves. It was a delight for the senses. The mood of the house was festive. We all had not seen each other in a long time, so the kitchen was buzzing with chatter and laughter.
Seeing everyone else so happy temporarily distracted me from my own low mood. The day before our family reunion, I had just broken up with my boyfriend of six years, the love of my life. We had traveled and lived around the world together. But when it came time for settling down and marriage, he just couldn’t do it. And as the years went by, he was becoming more distant. He became completely absorbed in his work. He loved to play golf, drink beer, hang out with the boys, and make money. He spent less and less time with me. We had dozens of talks about how I wanted to get married and start a family. He would tell me that he wasn’t ready and that he needed more time. I would be pacified for a while, but not really. So, on Aug 1, 2002, after another lonely weekend, and then week of waiting for him to call, which he never did, I finally broke up with him. It was a Thursday night and I dreaded spending yet another weekend sitting at home, hoping that my boyfriend will call me. I sent him a text message, because he was always working and would never answer his phone. “Chris, I can’t do this anymore. I don’t think we should be together.” His reply? “Ok.” And that was the end of that.
I was shocked and devastated. He didn’t even care enough about me to call and say good-bye? I cried all night and could not stop crying. The next morning, I called my boss and explained what happened. She generously told me to stay at home and rest. She said that it was Friday anyway, so I should just take the day off and use the weekend to recover. I felt grateful for her compassion and I thought that sounded like a good plan. I called my mom and told her the news and she also felt very sad for me. She told me to come home, so I drove the 3 hours home, crying the whole way.
The next day, Saturday, I was crying on the inside. But on the outside was a family festival. After exchanging warm greetings between all of my relatives, I noticed that my father was not there in the kitchen, nor the living room. I asked my mom where he was and she said that he and one of my sisters went on a run together. My father was an avid runner, having just competed in a marathon and triathlon in the last few years. Within a few minutes, he entered the kitchen, his tan skin glowing with sweat from his rigorous run. He flashed me a big smile and his sparkling blue eyes lit up my heart. I had the urge to give him a hug, our usual custom. But I resisted. I thought to myself that he is too sweaty so I will wait until after he showers.
I waved hello to him from across the kitchen and he lifted his arm to wave at me. As he waved though, something very strange happened. He collapsed. He fell to the ground. I will never forget the sound of him hitting the hard wood floors. That sound haunted me in the dark hours of the night for many years. My mom exclaimed, “He fainted! It was too hot for him to be running! Get him some water!” I scrambled to get him a glass of water and knelt down by his face to give it to him. But he would not open his eyes. He was breathing heavily, struggling for breath. His eyes rolled back in his head. The other family members started becoming frantic and screaming.
My dad uttered, “Water.” With a steady hand, I put the water to his mouth, so he could sip it. But he could not move his lips so the water spilled down the sides of his face onto his sweaty dark blue t-shirt. He started making a loud, guttural moaning sound as he gasped for air. My sister called 911, for emergency medical help. They instructed her over the phone on how to do CPR to try to resuscitate him. One sister began pumping his chest hard while my cousin was putting her mouth to his, forcing breath into him. He was not responding. I was holding his hand, trying to soothe him. My other sister, the one who went on the run with him, was yelling, “Don’t give up, dad! You can do it!” like he had yelled so enthusiastically from the sidelines to her over all of those years on the basketball court. But to no avail. My father was pronounced dead at 5:45pm on Saturday, Aug 3, 2002. Cause of death: heart attack.
Within two days, I lost the two most important men in my life. A double-whammy. Something that I would not wish upon even my worst enemy. I was numb. How could I go on without my father? He had been such a huge force in my life, my advisor, friend, mentor, teacher, coach, and #1 fan. Little did I know that losing my father and my boyfriend would propel me on my journey to India, where I would find the source of everlasting, eternal love.
There were two incidents in the aftermath of losing my father that propelled me on my journey to India. The first one was that when he died, I could feel some shift in his energy so I actually knew the exact moment that he died. I actually felt his energy leave his body. When this occurred, I got up and left the scene. It must have seemed odd, the timing of my departure, contrasted by everyone else still frantically fighting for his life. Yet, I knew with certainty that the show was over. I felt an extreme sense of peace when he left his body that reassured me that he was out of pain. I had never experienced anything like that before. In fact, I was an atheist, and I had believed that the body was just a body. Nothing more. But having this experience of something leaving his body made me curious. There must be something more, something after death. Could this be true? I wanted to know.
The second incident is related to his cause of death. I was plagued by the question of how a 55-year old non-smoker, non-drinker, vegetarian, athlete could just drop dead of a heart attack. My sisters and mother and I even met with a cardiologist to ask this question. He showed us a model of a plastic heart and explained how cholesterol can build up in the veins and arteries, which was the case of my father. But his answer did not satisfy me. My question was something deeper. Given my father's diet and lifestyle, how the heck did he get high cholesterol? In my desperate search for answers, I went to a Chinese doctor, a Tibetan doctor, and a naturopath, but no answer sufficed. Finally, I came across an Ayurvedic doctor. He told me that my father died of a broken heart. He said it was an emotional problem that caused his heart to build up with cholesterol and cause the fatal heart attack. Ah-hah! That was the missing link. We had finally arrived at the root cause of the problem. I was fascinated by this mind-body connection that the Ayurvedic doctor so gracefully explained. I innocently asked my mother what she thought about it, thinking this might not be the case for my father because he surely didn't have a broken heart. It was only then that my mom revealed a big secret, explaining that her and my father had privately decided that after their 33-year marriage, they wanted to divorce. They did not want to ruin the family reunion with this news, so they decided to keep it a secret and tell us sometime later. Over the past week before my father died, he had quietly moved out of the family house and was living in a hotel. When he walked into our kitchen that late summer day, and saw my mother and all of our family members, maybe it was just too much for his heart to bare, knowing that it was over between he and my mom. It was the first time he had seen my mother since he moved out. Perhaps his sensitive heart just gave out on him, rendering his body lifeless on our kitchen floor.
After years of grieving, and asking questions, at least I got my first question answered. It didn’t make it any easier that I lost my father, but at least I understood the true cause of his death. And it gave me an insatiable desire to learn more about this beautiful ancient Indian science of life, Ayurveda. I made a vow to myself to study Ayurveda, reasoning, that if I could only help just one person to understand the connection between their emotions and their body, then maybe it could save their life, and they would not have to suffer a death like my father. So, I dove head first into Ayurveda, relentlessly pursuing an 18-month course at the Kripalu School of Ayurveda in Massachusetts.
The second question that I had in the aftermath of my father’s death was about what I experienced when I felt his energy leaving his body. What was that? Many years passed before I got that question answered properly. I read books and asked some people. But the answers never satisfied me, until I met Babaji in Vrindavan, India at his ashram. The first day I met Babaji, was on January 23, 2015, 13 years after my dad had passed. The first question I asked him was, “What happened to my father’s spirit when it left his body?” I told him about how I understood through Ayurveda that he died of a broken heart. Babaji explained to me in a simple way that my father’s body is material and that is the only thing that died. He said that his spirit, or soul, is eternal and that lives on forever. It cannot die. He explained how after my father's body died, his soul will move on and take another material form. He calmly told me that it is possible that I will meet him again, not necessarily in human form. He said that what kind of body a person acquires after death depends on one's karma. And as long as we have karma together, we continue to meet lifetime after lifetime. We meet people and have relations with people based on our past karma. When that karma is over, then the relation is over. But, in the process, we create new karma which will make us meet again in the future. I was captivated by Babaji's deep answer. As I lay in bed that night in India, far away from the green hills of New Hampshire, I felt surprisingly at home. Those questions that had been gnawing away at my heart finally had got an answer. I felt such a great relief knowing that I will meet my father again. I slept deeply that night, more deeply than I think I had slept in a very, very long time. Although the next morning, I woke with a fresh set of questions for Babaji about karma, relationships, love, and the soul.
The sudden, tragic loss of my father was the most emotionally painful experience I have ever gone through. Yet it sent me on a quest for answers to important life questions that took me all the way to India, to an Ayurvedic doctor, and to a guru whose deep wisdom, kindness, and compassion have been a soothing balm for my heart and tonic for my mind. I would have never guessed in one million years that my life would go this way, but here I am. I remember that my father used to tell me to follow my heart and that, “Sometimes you have to lose it all in order to win it all.” I guess I did just that.