Q: Sudarshan, on June 22, 2012, you had a very serious accident while riding on your motor scooter at Ananda Village. Can you describe how the accident occurred?
A: Sudarshan: I was on my way to the Expanding Light Guest Retreat to meet my wife, Savitri, and a friend for lunch. I was traveling about 20 – 25 mph on the main Ananda road and I remember thinking, “Isn’t there supposed to be a speed bump around here somewhere?” Visibility was poor at that time of day because the shadow of a large pine tree fell directly across the speed bump, and the yellow crosshatch warning paint was mostly worn off. I finally saw the bump when it was about 10 feet ahead of my front wheel.
When the motor scooter bucked, my body was launched into the air. Fortunately the machine and I separated. Witnesses said I did at least one cartwheel, but I only remember a blur. I believe my right leg folded up under me as I hit the pavement with my full body weight. Then I rolled lengthwise several times until I was lying face up on the grass by the roadside. I never lost consciousness.
Several people who were attending a continuing education for medical professionals program at the Expanding Light witnessed the accident. I soon became aware of some very focused ladies running toward me yelling, “Don’t move!” So I just sighed and lay still and waited for the adventure to play itself out. I asked a friend who had witnessed the accident to go get Savitri.
Soon, the Highway Patrol, the volunteer fire department’s EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians), and lots of others were swirling around doing the needful. Of course, they were worried that I had spinal, neck, and head injuries, and I got to endure being stabilized with foam and duct tape so I couldn’t move if I wanted to. Savitri arrived and it was really good to see her.
A: Savitri: I first heard about the accident while waiting at The Expanding Light dining room with a friend from Sacramento. An Ananda Village friend, looking rather pale, hurried up to me and said, “Sudarshan’s been in an accident on his motor scooter. He’s down by Turtle Pond.”
By the time I got there, the EMTs were arriving. Many people were helping out by keeping him shaded from the sun -it was a hot day – and encouraging him to breathe deeply to reduce shock. He had a fair amount of blood on his clothes and face, and that scared me a bit, but when I got close enough to talk to him, I could see he was smiling and talking.
It was lunchtime and we were in a crossroads area. To be useful, I stood near the road directing traffic and telling people that he seemed to have a broken leg but otherwise appeared okay — and of course asking for their prayers.
Soon the ambulance came, and our friend from Sacramento rode with me into town to the emergency room at the local hospital. It was a long wait, most of the rest of the day. We finally found out that his leg was fairly badly broken, but that they could find no other serious injuries, and that he could go home. I called the Village Office to ask that a crew of strong guys be at our house to help get him out of the car, up the few stairs at our home, and into bed. They were there – all eight of them – when we arrived.
Q: What were your initial reactions to this major new development in your lives?
A: Sudarshan: I found long ago that it works a lot better to see the positive aspects of whatever situation you face, than to indulge in frustration. Paramhansa Yogananda said that circumstances are always neutral; it’s how we take them that matters. I don’t remember consciously trying to be “even-minded and cheerful.” Whatever attitudes I had tested and proven in the cold, hard light of daily experience were automatically in play. From the moment the accident occurred, I was somewhat bemused by the adventure.
I wasn’t overtly aware of any “protecting presence” during the accident, but I did feel a calmness and assurance that things were going to be okay. I can imagine several “angel specialists” arranging my trajectory for the best outcome consistent with karmic law.
A: Savitri: I was deeply grateful that Sudarshan was alive and not more seriously injured, and for all the help he received from the beginning. The accident could have been so much worse: whiplash, broken neck or back, death. He had been wearing his helmet, which was only slighted abraded.
At the same time, I was very concerned because of not knowing how bad the leg injury was — would he be crippled for life? What would the future bring? I knew he wouldn’t be able to do his construction-related work for months. What would be the financial impact on our lives? Yet underlying it all was a calm certainty that God, Gurus, Swami Kriyananda, and our spiritual family were with us always and that we’d get through this karma, one way or another.
Q: What challenges did you experience the first few weeks after the accident?
A: Sudarshan: The pain medication I was taking (Vicodin) was quite effective, I’m sure, but the pain level was also high, not overwhelming (I have suffered worse) but incessant, and constantly wearing away at my consciousness and energy. Since the bone had multiple breaks, I felt a need to be very protective of it until a cast could be put on, which could not happen until the swelling went down. I kept the injured leg elevated on a mound of pillows, protected only by a splint, which caused discomfort in the rest of my body. Usually I could read and sleep, but sometimes barely.
While I was trying to rest, I also experienced an extreme sensitivity to sound (possibly a side effect of the pain medication), including the voices of visitors in another room, which was extremely disturbing. I remember how the old-time doctors would order absolute quiet and rest, and now I see the wisdom of this, for that is what I desperately craved. When I finally called out for quiet (somewhat desperately, I’m afraid), I remember the pain in visitors’ eyes.
A: Savitri: I had to try to figure out how to manage Sudarshan’s pain levels, including getting him into a position in bed where he could rest as comfortably as possible. We couldn’t sleep in the same bed as we ordinarily do, because the slightest jarring of his leg was extremely painful for him. I chose to sleep on the floor by our bed on a small futon — to be close at hand when he needed help at night.
Many people wanted to visit him, and I had to learn how to gauge Sudarshan’s ability to be with people. It was hard to say NO to our friends, but he could take only so much company in those early days. He was very sensitive to noise or “jangly energy” in or around our house. We learned that having house guests at that time, even for a few days, was NOT a good thing for him or me.
Q: How well did you cope with these challenges?
A: Sudarshan: It was my perception at the time that I did as well as I could. Looking back, I think I was under more stress than I recognized, and between the pain and the medication I was in a bit of a fog. So, when I add that reality into the equation, I’m more grateful that I did as well as I did.
There are stronger pain medications than Vicodin (I’ve had them in the past) but these were not provided to me nor offered. I should have requested something stronger to supplement the Vicodin, so that I could get better rest or respite as needed. I’ve never had problems with addiction, so I think I could have managed this properly. Otherwise, I don’t think there was too much more that I could have done.
A: Savitri: Every moment was a learning experience. Some days, I was doing fine. Others, I was not. But I couldn’t help it. I felt his pain in myself!
I wanted to understand what he needed at every moment in order to help him get better. But I soon learned I couldn’t be a 24/7 caregiver and stay sane. There was no way to “make it all right” immediately. There was a lot of trial and error. Although I had help of every kind from people in the community, I realized it was going to take a lot of time to make everything go more smoothly.
I was due to start leading/teaching a major program in a week or so (Meditation Teacher Training) of which I was the co-director. I had to be willing to let that go and not be a part of it at all. That was a difficult decision for me to make, but it all worked out fine! We are NEVER indispensable in this world, and it was good to have that lesson brought home to me again. Overall, I had to work out a balance of staying at home enough to help him (or finding people to be there instead of me), and working at my regular job in the Sangha Office.
I had to get used to a different rhythm of life, which was basically NO rhythm. I like steady rhythms, meditating at the same time every day, etc. That was out the window for a while.
I did a lot of praying – deep praying – all the time! I felt a considerable amount of inner guidance in just about every moment. Grace was flowing strongly and I was very grateful.
Q: Did your challenges change after the first few weeks?
A: Sudarshan: After about two weeks I got a cast on the leg. Once the leg was stabilized and I didn’t have to worry about re-injury, life became a bit more routine. I naturally tried to continue as “normally” as possible. But the healing process took more energy than I ever thought would be necessary. I needed to honor this need and get the rest, nutrition, exercise, and peace that the body needed.
I had time to meditate, and the pain wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t focus at least a little. The problem was that so much energy was flowing to the injury that it was largely inappropriate to shift some of it to meditation. I would have done better to listen to more of Swami Kriyananda’s music, or to ask friends to chant with (or for) me.
Overall, I gained an appreciation for just how much a physical state can affect our consciousness. I needed to apply much more will power to maintain my “normal” life as I knew it.
A: Savitri: Once Sudarshan had a cast on his leg, we were able to start figuring out how to deal with many things: How he could take a shower. How much he could move about on crutches without tiring. How much company he could have before it became a strain. How much and what kind of food he could eat —the pain killers are hard on the digestive system.
He had to learn how to energize his body without harming the leg (generally from a reclining position). He had to put out the willpower to meditate, even though he couldn’t sit upright. Not easy! I tried to help him with these things as I could, but he is a man of great will power and determination. Generally the best I could do was simply BE THERE and let him tell me what he needed.
Q: What were the main challenges to your normal work life/routine?
A: Sudarshan: My construction work brought in the largest share of our family income, yet I simply couldn’t work for about 7 months. But state disability insurance was a Godsend. Without that, it would have been very hard.
A: Savitri: I couldn’t work full time and care for him, and we couldn’t afford to pay for a caregiver. Those in charge of the Sangha Office never said a word about cutting my salary back to half or less time. They left it to me to do whatever I needed to do to care for Sudarshan and also to make sure that the most essential tasks for my job were covered. I’m not sure how it all happened — many small miracles all along the way surely, but all my work got done in a timely fashion. Our medical insurance helped keep us afloat with the medical bills.
I had to learn to feel comfortable about leaving him alone to go to a morning group meditation or Sunday Service. In meditation, I had to work on being able to concentrate on my meditation techniques and the inner silence, instead of worrying about his welfare.
Q: What were the blessings of living in a spiritual community at this time?
A: Sudarshan: Invaluable! Prayers were like being bathed in grace. The kindness of friends who visited me was as if it came directly from God. I feel a depth of bonding with several friends that has lastingly strengthened our friendships. People volunteered to drive me to physical therapy appointments and regularly came by to massage the leg to promote lymphatic drainage. Massage therapists in the community provided care that was essential, though not covered by insurance.
A: Savitri: It is difficult to understand how we would have gotten through this challenge without our brother and sister devotees who helped all along the way. But I’ll list a few things: right after the accident people started praying and graciously offering help of all kinds — this went on for a very long time. People brought delicious meals and also did grocery shopping for me so I didn’t have to leave him alone. Rides to the doctor and any other place needed were arranged and freely given.
Money was given to help us out. On two separate occasions we received anonymous gifts of $500.00 cash. We were deeply grateful for this assistance.
We always knew that any moment of the day or night, we could call for any kind of help and it would be there quickly. People came to give him free massages or other healing treatments, or just be with him when I had to work. Several medical professionals who live at Ananda Village acted as advocates and intermediaries for us with the hospital and other doctors as needed.
Q: I imagine there were challenges to your marriage but also blessings?
A: Sudarshan: Yes. I was surprised by the depth to which the injury affected Savitri. She is distressed by pain in others – she can’t bear even to see an animal in pain. Many times when I thought that it was natural that I should have so much pain, and felt I simply had to deal with it, she seemed to be distressed. So I tried my best to reassure her as I could. Also, she depends on me to take care of family financial and business matters, as well as many physical chores. Friends were very generous helping with the physical chores — yard work and firewood and, once I had a cast and could sit in a reclining chair, I was able to continue handling all financial and business matters.
For me the deepest blessing to our marriage was getting to know each other in depth in yet another new way.
A: Savitri: In our marriage, we each have our own separate areas of work and service and, by choice, are not together all the time. It works better that way for us. For a while, we were just about ALWAYS together, under stressful circumstances, night and day — something we had to get used to.
Often I felt inadequate to keep going and doing everything which needed doing. But I think that’s natural in a situation like this. When I felt that way, I just prayed harder and kept going.
Through it all there was a deepening feeling that “…we are in this together, for better or for worse, until the end of life, with God and Gurus’ help.” Yes, it was a big test. Yes, we both had a few meltdowns along the way, but there was never a question that we would not come through it. And everything worked out just fine.
Q: How long was it before you could use the injured leg?
A: Sudarshan: It was gradual and incremental. After six weeks the cast came off and was replaced by a walking boot, which I simply couldn’t walk on in the beginning without using crutches. In a few months, with only a cane to assist me, I was walking fairly well on it — well enough to start physical therapy.
I was in physical therapy for about four months, beginning when the cast came off. The physical therapists are enthusiastic about getting you to use the injured limb as soon as humanly possible! I saw this as a very positive process, even if quite painful, and I did my exercises regularly and faithfully (along with some more of my own).
Healing was slow, but when I asked the doctor about this, he said it wasn’t so slow he felt he needed to intervene. Since that time, I reasoned that because there was a very large surface area of broken bone (spiral fracture, broken out pieces, cracks), there was a correspondingly large amount of healing work my body had to do, and thus a longer time needed for healing to take place than for the simple fractures I’d had in the past. I was also 63 years old and I had noticed that even a simple cut just doesn’t heal as fast as it used to.
As my consciousness got used to being “injured,” I had a tendency for that to become my new “normal.” This was reinforced by the slowness of the healing. Fortunately, I’m naturally very active and I don’t like limitation, so I think I was pushing the healing about as fast as it would go.
A: Savitri: The main challenge to the healing process was his wanting to do more than his body could handle and finding he couldn’t. He needed to rest more and let the body heal. This was not easy for a person who is as physically active as he was used to being.
Q: Were you able to see the hand of God in all that happened?
A: Sudarshan: Definitely so, over and over again. It’s amazing that I was not more seriously injured. It seems that I had the karma to have a serious injury and serious pain, but it was accomplished in a localized area in a temporary way. I remember Swami Kriyananda saying that a devotee’s karma would often be greatly mitigated, though it wouldn’t usually be removed. It certainly seemed to be what was happening in my case.
In many instances, in a situation which could easily have gone awry, things went as well as or better than we could have hoped. When we thought we’d lost the opportunity to retain the best local orthopedic surgeon, it turned out the assigned surgeon was quite also good. As it turned out, we avoided surgery entirely. Disability insurance kicked in effortlessly and quit within a month of when I no longer needed it. Personal health insurance paid well in the end.
A: Savitri: I could see the hand of God in all than happened; being on this spiritual path for 35 years made that much more real for me. We knew we were both working out personal karma and that we simply had to move through it as gracefully as possible. I did my best knowing that God and Gurus were guiding us every step of the way.
Q: At what point, and how long after the accident, were you fully recovered?
A: Sudarshan: Healing was complete after a year. I now run several miles each week (it took over a year to be able to), chop and carry firewood the same as I did before, operate heavy equipment, and do manual labor in various jobs.
A: Savitri: After a year, he was able not only to go back to work full time, and to walk without a cane or any assistance, but he also began to be able to jog again, which he loves to do. And he was finally able to sit comfortably in an upright position for meditation.
Q: Today are you grateful for what happened?
A: Sudarshan: Yes, definitely. They say that a broken bone heals more strongly than it was before the injury. I feel that I am stronger now than I was before. Gratitude began pretty early on in the process. We were always taken care of, in God’s good way and time. It was not easy! But it was a blessing.
A: Savitri: Yes! I find it’s best to be as joyful as possible all the time and grateful for every bump in the road. This was a BIG bump for us, but we both learned a lot from it and grew spiritually. I was sincerely grateful all along, especially as all the help poured in from our spiritual family.
Sudarshan shows amazing amounts of courage in situations where my own (or others’) courage would falter or fail. It’s as though his life has an unspoken motto: “There’s always a way to get through this challenge, and with God’s help, we will find it!” I think this “warrior attitude” got him through the broken leg episode with much less suffering than there might have been, and for that I am also grateful.