Car Crash Sutra

The accident happened at the worst possible moment, although there is probably never a really good moment for a car accident. I was driving home through the rain, thinking about how much I had to do before I left for my daughter’s college graduation that week.  I was thinking about what a difficult week it had been and feeling triumphant. I accomplished so much! Good for me! And then…crash!  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 during accidents and emergencies.  A crystalline clarity comes.  I was aware of my thoughts. Wasn’t I driving straight through a green light?  Was the driver impaired? He turned on red! 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:   It wasn’t right! Why did it have to be happening on the week of Alex’s graduation?  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: I saw that every cell of my being was bracing itself, contracting, scooting away, DID NOT WANT THIS TO BE HAPPENING.

But all my thinking and objecting could not undo it. I sat stunned in the rain in my crushed little hybrid car.  It got worse. The other driver, an elderly man who did seem a bit disoriented, got out of the big van he was driving and yelled at me to call the police because he did not have a phone.  He hit crushed my car and then he yelled at me! His bullying manner was so unexpected and so wrong that I burst into tears.  A volunteer fireman appeared out of nowhere and slipped into the seat beside me. He asked me if I was hurt.  I told him that I was not although my feelings were very hurt.  He nodded, this witnessing angel. I told him that my daughter was graduating from college that week.  I told him that I loved my little 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.  This seemed incredibly true and profound. A very similar thing happened to him not long ago, he told me.  Someone was texting and ran into him.  Accidents happen. We both nodded. The important thing is that no one is hurt.

People should pay attention, I told him, realizing in my shocked state that this was also deeply true.  Paying attention is the key to not being hurt. We waited together in the rain for a long time until the lcal police came.  The press of errands and tasks just stopped, the flow of traffic proceeded around us, and I realized I would never be able to control life with my thoughts. Accidents would happen.  It struck me as very strange then, that I would choose to live my taking the counsel of these ordinary thoughts, driven as they seemed to be by this pervasive fear, this grasping need to keep a grip on things, to keep unpleasant experiences out.  I didn’t want to 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 and willing, open to receiving the truth that is always being offered.  What inner conditions or qualities can help us meet life as it is?

“Don’t turn away,” counseled Rumi. “Keep your gaze on the bandaged place. That’s where the light enters you.”

We can practice being present with difficult feelings moment by moment, little ripples of fear or embarrassment or sadness that arise. As we see that we can be with these feelings for a moment with kindness and curiosity, seeing without fixing or fleeing, we may notice something else. We are not just what happens to us. We are also the compassionate light that sees.

14 thoughts on “Car Crash Sutra

  1. Hello,

    This is beautiful, and I can relate, absolutely. I am in my 20’s and was on the brink of beginning my business, driving home from cranial sacral class (working with the bones of our head is part of this). Long story short, an uninsured driver hits my car in the rain on the freeway, and here 5 months later I am still recovering from concussion and whiplash. Acceptance rather than resistance, and learning to slow down (not just for a day, but rebuilding my patterns and habits of speeding through chores, life, etc), have been among the incredibly powerful lessons which I am adjusting to from the accident. Blessings none of you were injured, blessings to those and the families of those who are/have been injured, and blessings to listening to the universe and her lessons.

      1. Hi Lucy, Blessings to you for sharing your experience–and the gift in the midst of the pain. May you hold everything that comes up, wisdom and pain, acceptance and rejection, with wisdom and compassion. May you heal and be stronger and more flexible than you ever knew possible.

  2. I’m not sure what to say. I just want to be here with you-with both of you-right now. Here we are. Life takes place. And yet it is the relationships that matter, not the things… as you so eloquently demonstrate in this post.
    I’m glad I took a moment to read it, and Lucy’s comments. Thanks for reminding us of what it means to inhabit life’s moments. No matter what they are.

  3. Tracy,
    I’m so grateful to you for sharing this experience, and grateful that you were uninjured. What I notice about your description is that time didn’t just slow down; you stepped back from the experience even as it happened, as Dogen Zenji tells us we should always be stepping back. As he also says, you attain realization before you recognize it.

    Please treasure yourself, and Jeff and Alex, this weekend and always.

    1. Dear Chris, Thank you for this. There was a stepping back, just as you say. Everything happened, and yet there was another awareness that was not involved. The Dogen insight feels very right–why would realization in anyway depend on the recognition of my ordinary ego consciousness?

      Peace and blessings to you and your family, friend.

    2. P.S. I once heard that a Zen master (not Dogen) described enlightenment as “small moments, many times.” This also seems to resonate with these moments of stepping back consciousness.



  4. Bravo, Congratulations! on the moment of seeing your daughter graduate. As I was reading your colorful essay I had a constant visual of the elderly man facing you and my compassion was for his ‘trauma’ as well as for yours. (I wondered if his reaction was from fear that this crash would take away his legal right to drive if the officer reported his driving be evaluated as is often the consequence.) I now take a moment to imagine what the elderly man’s essay, had he written one, would say about his perception of the ‘accident.’ What we can take away from this event can be the opportunity to see all dramas unfolding as fragile elegant dances that unite us, and marvel at the grace-filled reminder from the wise officer, ‘no one was hurt.’ — Giselle

  5. Gurdjieff also said that we “see life reflected upside down”. We see “happy” events, where we are externally successful as “good” when in fact they are just lulling us into sleep and passivity and are objectively bad for the growth of our being; and we see the difficult, awkward and painful events of our lives as “bad” when in reality they bring us deep seeing and the possibility of transcendence and inner growth. So I know you won’t think me facetious when I say you were given a gift by that old guy who smashed your car.

    It is also a reflection of your karma and open inner state that only a little tap, not two broken legs, was needed to show you something you were needing and ready to see. So keep up the good work and know we are all thankful you and the old guy were unhurt and able to profit from your encounter.

    And I hope you were able to objectively enjoy Alex’s graduation as the culmination of 20+ years of difficult work it represents. I don’t think all successes are necessarily objectively “bad”.

  6. Hi Tracy

    Glad to see you got out of the car in one piece. I know what you mean though. I also have this feeling that these things shouldn’t happen to me. I understand that this is just me dreaming but these are powerful dreams

    “It is only when we realize that life is taking us nowhere that it begins to have meaning.” P.D. Ouspensky

    I know he’s right but still I don’t believe I deserve accidents. This attitude prevents the experience of the big picture where human meaning and purpose exist as a reality. Then again Simone twists the knife.

    “Love of God is pure when joy and suffering inspire an equal degree of gratitude”. –Simone Weil (Gravity and Grace, p.55)

    Of course Gurdjieff would have understood the good sense of her remark but it is still beyond me in practice. Leaving my accidents our of it, I’ll even growl at a traffic ticket. My pettiness apparently has no limits.

    1. Thanks, Nick. Having just come from my daughter’s college graduation, I see how I can put out and annoyed even during joyous events! And I’m not alone. While I waited for my daughter to pack up all her stuff, another family offered me their daughter!

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