Inner Reflections
February 18, 2020

Surviving a NEAR DEATH Experience

As human beings most of us have the problem of taking life for granted. One day, in 2003, little did I know I would come face to face with my own death and mortality.

This near death experience completely changed my life and in this podcast I’ll tell you why and share LESSONS learned.

Hope you enjoy this inspiring episode!

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[The following is the full transcript of this episode of “The BE ULTIMATE Podcast.” Please note that this is direct from Travis speaking unscripted and unedited.]

Welcome to the BE ULTIMATE Podcast.

Welcome to episode number 53 of the BE Ultimate podcast.

This particular podcast is deep because we’re going to dive into one of the most transformative days of my entire life. I’m going to share with you about surviving a near-death experience and the big lesson that I learned. I want to share this with you because I don’t want you to live your life and take for granted all the beauty and all the blessings and all the amazing people that exist in your life because as human beings, there’s something in our nature where we do take life for granted.

I’ve been there, especially before this event happened. There are still times in my life where I can feel myself just coasting along, and I may start complaining or feeling frustrated or irritated about the way that things are going. And I have to flip that switch inside of my mind to remind myself, “Travis, you are so lucky to be alive, and you have so much to be grateful for.”

We never know when our time is going to be up. We never know when this is going to be our last day on planet Earth. I know that this can sound morbid, and I know that this subject can be confronting to a lot of people, especially for those of us in the West where we isolate death from our society, right?

I remember going to a place in India called Varanasi and we stayed at this hotel right on the ghats next to the Ganges River. After we dropped our suitcase off in the room, we went walking along the ghats. In 10 minutes, we came upon this area where they were burning bodies, and it wasn’t behind closed doors. It was all out in the open. There was a procession of people marching with a dead body on a type of stretcher covered by a beautiful cloth and flowers. They took the body down to the sacred Ganges River, and as they were chanting these mantras and singing these prayers, they bathed and they washed the body. Then they proceeded to place the body upon a wooden pyre, and they lit it. And the body was there in the open being burned. At times, the wind would carry the smoke to where Lauren and I were standing, and you could smell the burning flesh.

In order to fully start LIVING, you have to master your fear of DYING.

Again, I know that that’s confronting to a lot of us. But many of the great wisdom traditions, they teach us that if you want to live your life, then you have to conquer your fear of death. We know that when we deny things, when we pretend like things don’t exist, that actually steals a kind of power away from us. We have to awaken beyond our ignorance, and move beyond our fears and look at things as they truly are.

The beauty of this is as we do it, then we begin to live. We live with gratitude. We wake up, and we’re grateful we are alive. We wake up, and we are grateful we have people in our lives that love us and support us.

Although we all move through challenges, that’s part of the human experience, there’s so much to be so blessed for.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was in the kitchen making brunch. And all of a sudden, on the TV, the news came on, and there was a report that said that Kobe Bryant had just died in a helicopter crash about 10 miles from where we live. It was incredibly sad. So sad because he was in the helicopter with his daughter Gianna and many other beautiful people, and they were all on their way to go play a basketball game. And Kobe Bryant who transcended basketball and even transcended athletics who had a huge impact on the full scope of humanity, in an instant, just died in this helicopter crash.

The sad thing about it is that he had just retired a couple of years ago, and he was making movies and writing books to inspire children, a new generation of people, to live by these values and to live by these messages of hope and positivity and inclusion and unity.

In an instant, it was all gone. It was all done.

This is the mysterious thing of being human. There’s so much our limited minds can’t ever possibly comprehend. Why does a child– why did his daughter have to lose her life? Why did he have to lose his life when he had so much to offer and so much to share? On some level, it felt like he was just getting started.

“Do not live as if you have 10,000 years left. Your fate hangs over you. While you are still living, while you still exist on this earth, strive to become a genuinely great person.”

-Marcus Aurelius

We have to make the most out of every day we have on this planet. We have to make the most out of every breath and every moment of this life.

Now, I’m going to share with you my near-death experience. This happened back in 2003. I had just discovered yoga. I had been practicing yoga for only four or five months, and my teacher, Govind Das, was leading a yoga retreat in Kauai. I signed up for this retreat. On the very first day of the retreat, our group went on a hike along the Napali Coast. If you’ve ever been to the Napali Coast, it’s beautiful. It’s stunning. It’s breathtaking.

So there we are, this group of us, and we’re hiking along the coast. It’s beautiful. I distinctly remember, as we’re hiking along these bluffs, hearing these waves crashing over and over on the rocks and the earth down below us. There was a primal, fierce, intense but also sublime energy about it. It felt timeless. It felt like these waves and this ocean had been crashing along these bluffs for thousands and thousands of years. And here we human beings were just strolling along this hike.

After some time, the trail started to go downhill. And I remember that as we were going downhill, periodically, there were these signs warning you not to get into the water, that you could drown, that the rip curl and the rip tide was intense. There were many of these signs.

But despite the signs, when we got down to the Bay, this beautiful remote beach far away from civilization, remote, out in the middle of nowhere, I couldn’t resist but to go into the ocean.

I had grown up, and I was a lifeguard. I was pretty strong and fit. And I thought that the signs that were warning you not to get into the water didn’t apply to me, basically. But I wasn’t smart, and I went into the water.

Soon after I went into the water, there was no longer any sand beneath my feet. This rip curl grabbed my body, started to pull me out away from the beach, towards this massive Hawaiian surf. These waves would pick me up, slam me down on top of the water, then push me underneath the surface. Like a rag doll in a washer dryer, I would get tumbled underneath the surface. As soon as I could, I would fight with all my life to get back to the surface, gasping for air, gasping for oxygen only to be picked up by another wave immediately. The same thing would happen again and again. This repeated itself many times, and I began to drown.

Eventually the current of the ocean started to pull me northerly. It started to draw me towards the edge of the cove– the edge of the bay by these huge black, jagged rocks. You could see the huge curl of the wave crashing  down on the rocks.

In that moment, I no longer questioned whether I was going to survive this event or not. I began to accept my fate — these were going to be my last moments on the planet.

It no longer became a question of if I was going to drown or not. It really became a question of how I was going to be drowned. As I’m getting pulled towards these rocks, I’m thinking, “Oh, great. In the process of drowning, I’m also going to get my spine broken into two. I’m going to get my face and my bones smashed.”

But I knew from whitewater rafting earlier in my life that if you ever get thrown out of the raft, the most important thing you do is to cover and protect your head because if you smash your skull, it’s lights out. You’re done.

So eventually, I got pulled to the rocks. The waves lifted me up. Now instead of slamming me on the surface of water, I was being slammed on the rocks. This process repeated itself over and over again.

This was purification. This was transformation. This was getting beat up by the universe like you can’t even believe. This was worse than getting punched by Mike Tyson. I remember at one point, it was like being in a horror movie. I got slammed on the rocks, and I was digging my nails into the rocks. I had a few seconds to try and claw my way away from the next wave coming. I’m trying to pull myself along the rocks, but it was so slippery. Despite all my effort to get away from the next wave, the wave would grab me like a claw extending itself out of the ocean, grab my weak little body, pull me out, and boom, slam me on top of the rocks almost as if to say, “Who are you to escape me? I’m going to punish you. I’m going to make you hurt!”

It was violent, and it was brutal.

It was so brutal that eventually, I blacked out. My nervous system could no longer handle it.

I remember coming to, and miraculously, I was now drifting away from the rocks, drifting away from the beach, and drifting out towards sea. At this point, I had no more energy. I had no more fight left in me. I was done. I began to take my last conscious breath in this life.

And just as I took the breath and began to sink underneath the water, out of nowhere, an arm reached around and grabbed me.

It turned out to be one of the other retreat participants, this guy named Scott who had grown up as a lifeguard in the San Francisco Bay area, who was out there waiting for me to get away from the rocks.

He grabbed me, and he held me. And it was a miracle he was there because if he hadn’t been there, I was going under. I wasn’t going to make it.

If I would have drowned, I wouldn’t be here today, and I wouldn’t be fulfilling the things that I get to fulfill today. I wouldn’t have my three kids. I wouldn’t have my beautiful wife, Lauren. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to create yoga programs and yoga books. I wouldn’t be doing this podcast video right now. None of this would have happened.

I remember as I was drowning, as I was dying, that I didn’t think about anything material. I didn’t think about anything physical. All that was flashing through my mind and all I was feeling was how sad I was I wasn’t going to get to say goodbye to the people in my life. I wasn’t going to get to hug the people that had loved me, the people I loved. That was all I thought about.

It was nothing but love. Not money, not status, not job, not career, not wardrobe, not the neighborhood you live in, none of that stuff. When you die, none of that is going to matter. You can’t take anything material with you when you pass on. The only thing that we get to take with us is what we carried within our hearts. What we carry within our hearts is the love, the generosity, the compassion, and the kindness people bestowed upon us and we bestowed upon other people.

Fortunately, after some time, Scott was able to rescue us. He risked his life to save my life, but eventually, we safely got back to shore. And it was the best feeling in the world just having the ground, the earth, beneath me below me. I remember doing the long hike back to the parking lot. Every step I took was a step of the most profound gratitude — feeling so grateful to have the earth below me. So grateful to have this body. So grateful to have breath moving in and out through my body. So grateful to just be alive.

So many of us, like myself, are on autopilot mode, living by the status quo, trudging through life, barely surviving.

My message to you is ‘Life isn’t just about surviving. It’s about thriving.’

How do you do this?

You do this by taking care of yourself. You do this by making decisions and choices that are based out of love and not fear.

Your life is like a garden. When you plant seeds of positivity, positivity flourishes in your life. Adversely, when you plant seeds of negativity, negativity grows in your life.

So I want you to make the most out of every moment that you have because this was the big lesson that I learned by surviving this near-death experience. That lesson was love what matters.

Love What Matters.

You see most of us, we get so wrapped up within how much money we have, how much money we’re making. And yes, we need money to pay our bills. No, we don’t want to be stressed out about our finances. I’m not discrediting that. I know that that’s important, but it’s not the be all, end all. The be all, end all is, again, unconditional love. Love what matters.

Don’t make the mistake of measuring your self-worth by your net worth.

They get so overly identified by how much money they have and what their status is. That’s how they measure themselves. But again, I’m telling you at the end of your life, that’s not how you’re going to be measuring yourself. All of that’s going to unravel. All of that’s going to become unglued. And in the end, it’s going to be about love. You wait. You’ll see.

This tragedy, this intense near-death experience, for me, it was an opportunity for tremendous growth. You see, we all face tragedy and adversity and challenges in our life. But remember this.

Adversity releases us from the shackles of fear and separation, and it brings us back to love and connection.

Sometimes our hearts have to be broken over and over again so we learn to love what matters.

So, I want you to tell at least three people today you love them.

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”

-Thomas Campbell

Eventually, when it is our time to go, our spirit will forever live in the hearts of everybody that we’ve touched. This is how we leave our legacy. On some level, this is how we become immortal.

The body is going to die, but the spirit of who we are, the energy that we created, that energy of love, is what we ultimately leave behind. You want to spend every day focusing on the legacy of what you’re leaving in other people’s hearts. How are you contributing to other people, and how are you bestowing upon them that great gift of unconditional love?

There was a poor Tibetan boy who grew up in Tibet. It was just him and his mom and his dad. They were very poor. They were so poor they ate the same thing every meal and every day, and that meal consisted of fried dough flour patties cooked over embers. But on holidays, this boy’s mom would get some sugar, and she would sprinkle the sugar on top of these fried dough patties. The boy felt like they were the best-tasting thing that ever existed. They were so good and so yummy, and it was such a special occasion whenever he got to have those sugar coated patties. As he got older, all this boy wanted to do was to get a job and to earn enough money so he could repay his mom for her kindness by taking her out to restaurants and introducing her to cuisine and food that existed beyond the dough patties. He became a wealthy man, very, very successful, very financially well-off. But unfortunately, his mom died before he could repay her, before he could fulfill his goal and his dream and desire of taking her to these restaurants. He remembered as a kid, he would play this game with other kids where they would make-believe an imaginative scenario if your house is on fire and you can only grab one possession, one object, what one thing would you grab? And for him, his one possession he wanted was this scrap piece of yellow paper given to him by his mom when she lay on her deathbed. When she could no longer speak, when she was in those final twilight moments of death, she handed him this note. On this piece of paper was a hand scrabbled recipe for the homemade fried dough patties he had eaten as a kid. The yellow piece of paper was his most prized possession, but it wasn’t about the piece of paper, and it wasn’t even about the recipe. It was about what it represented, and what it represented was his love, this unconditional love his mother had shared with him. They didn’t have much. They couldn’t afford much, but she fed him. She fed him through those patties, and it represented the love they felt for each other.

So again, my message to you, what I learned, is to love what matters.

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, the being a force of nature instead of a feverish little clod of elements and grievances and complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community. And as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got a hold of for the moment. And I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

-George Bernard Shaw

So remember love what matters. Go tell those three people how much you love them. Keep opening your heart. Be grateful. Give Loving Kindness. Be generous. Grow yourself. Give yourself and love what matters.

Let’s finish with the ultimate prayer.

“May we bring strength where there’s weakness.

May we bring courage where there is fear.

May we bring compassion where there is suffering.

And may we bring light where there is darkness.

May we be ultimate!”