May 12

Car Crash Sutra

The accident happened at the worst possible moment, yet even as it happened I realized there is probably never a good moment a good moment for a car accident. I was driving home through the rain, thinking about how much I have to do before I leave for my daughter’s college graduation this week.  I was thinking about what a difficult week it has been and that I just might triumph over it when the crash  came.  I was driving through an intersection, almost home, when an elderly man turned left and smashed into me, demolishing the front of my car.

Time slows down in an accident, as they say.  A crystalline clarity comes.  I was aware of my thoughts. Didn’t I have the right of way?  Was the driver impaired?  But the thoughts seemed slow and overly simple, like a headline news stream, compared to the full feeling the impact.  There was the sensation of the collision and the sound of crunching metal and breaking glass.  And there was a deeper seeing.  I watched myself try to refuse to take in what was happening.   My mind tried to push it away with objections:   Why did it have to be happening on the week of Alex’s graduation?  It wasn’t my fault.  And why did I have to be in that place at that time?   And at the same time, a deeper awareness watched all this and more, watched how in every cell of my being I DID NOT WANT THIS TO BE HAPPENING.

All my thinking could not undo it. I sat stunned in the rain in my crushed little hybrid car.  The other driver, an elderly man, got out of the big van that hit me and loudly protested that it wasn’t his fault.  He yelled at me to call the police because he did not have a phone.  His bullying manner took me by surprise and I burst into tears.  A nice fireman appeared out of nowhere and asked me if I was hurt.  I told him that I was not although it was clear that my feelings were very hurt.  I told him, absurdly, that my daughter was graduating from college that week.  I told him that I loved my little certified Prius, and that I just bought it a few months ago.  I told him it had been a very difficult week.  These things happen, he told me kindly.  A very similar thing happened to him not long ago, he told me.  Someone was texting and ran into him.  Accidents happen. The important thing is that no one is hurt.

People should pay attention, I told him, realizing even in my shocked state that this was deeply true.  We waited in the rain a long time for the police to come.  The press of errands and tasks just stopped, the flow of traffic proceeded around us, and I realized I would never have life under control.   It struck me as very strange then, that I would choose to live my life this way, taking the counsel of these ordinary thoughts, these fears, this grasping need to, well, get a grip on things.  I have heard that death can find us like this—unprepared, too far behind.  But I saw that we also refuse life, drowning it out with our re, every shutting it out.   Even as the tears flowed, I realized there is another way to live—not to like or dislike but to be receptive, to be interested, open to receiving the truth that is always being offered.  What inner conditions or qualities need to be present to meet life as it is?

A friend recently wrote of the importance of equanimity.  It brings a special kind of insight, he wrote.  We have to build up an inner reliance to external circumstances.  I thought of this as the policeman made a report, as I waited for the tow truck.  What he said struck a deep chord.  For years, I wondered why the Buddha placed equanimity above rapture, made it the ultimate factor in the 7 Factors of Awakening—made it one of the Divine Abodes or Dwelling Places.  During the accident, I realized that this quality allows us to take life in, to literally receive it as a kind of food or guide for the creation of an inner presence.   Suddenly, it seemed just completely insupportable to try to base a sense of happiness or well being—or a sense of life–on how things were going in relation to my own ego.  Is there not a finer happiness or wisdom that can accompany us no matter what? It dawned on me that I might choose to be open to the whole of life, that I could have a different relationship with it–rather than protecting myself from it, I might be in a position to witess and to serve. The spiritual teacher Gurdjieff once said, the worse the outer conditions, the better for inner life—provided one is interested in cultivating an inner life.   Based on what just happened to me—on this fresh reminder of the turns life can take—I am definitely interested.

Take care out there.