Looking Both Ways
A few weeks ago I stopped at a stop sign and looked right, the direction traffic was coming from, on what I assumed was a one-way street. Just as I drove into the intersection a New Jersey Transit Bus hit the driver’s door of my car. The airbags burst from their casings and the car spun clockwise, as if being used to play “Spin the Bottle”. When the car stopped spinning it pointed toward a few pedestrians. They stared at me. I stared back. “Am I hurt?” I asked myself. “Is anyone else hurt?” I didn’t feel hurt. “Maybe I am dead.” I answered.
Rain dampened the smoke rising from the car engine.
A woman on the street offered me her umbrella and encouraged me into the Latin Diner on the corner. I called my husband who ran the 10 blocks from home to be with me. I called my Dad and cried a little, but after that I slipped into the witness state. Everything unfolded around me in slow motion. I sat thinking, “If I’m not dead, I must be in shock, because I’m not in much pain and I’m not scared.”
I watched the Police Officer write his report. I watched the EMT take my blood pressure. I watched people step off the bus and into another ambulance for examination. I could see everyone playing their roles, including me. I wasn’t planning to go to the hospital, until everyone insisted. So I lay on a stretcher in a neck brace posting photos on Facebook. Later I realized that most of my friends and family didn’t think taking a “selfie” in a neck brace was as funny as I did.
Disengaging from the drama made the whole thing, well, less dramatic. I also felt like something was holding me. Something so big and light that I could just rest in it and let go.
The X-rays and CT scan showed nothing was broken. Without asking, a nurse gave me a shot of something that made me feel really quite good and sent me home. The rain broke as we walked the block and a half from the ER to our front door. The next week we got a newer version of the same car that had been totaled. I figured if you can get hit by a bus and walk away it must be a pretty good car. I began to think that I am a bit like the car. A part of me did die that day and was replaced with a newer version of myself.
It may have been an accident but it was no coincidence that this event occurred two weeks before I went to Shaman School and stepped into the West, the direction on the Medicine Wheel, in which you face your fear of death and go beyond it.
Halfway through the week we were asked to write our own Eulogy and lie in corpse pose, while our classmates read it and took us through a “little death”. Listening to someone read my Eulogy helped me let go of the fear that I haven’t been good enough, haven’t done enough, and haven’t lived enough yet. And at least for a few minutes, I let go of the fear of leaving my loved ones behind and entering the unknown.
Both in the car accident and on the floor among my classmates I recognized that in any given moment we are already whole and complete, there is nothing more we have to do in this life. There is only what we choose to do. I also felt such a strong sense that we never leave our loved ones, we simply move from a physical to an energetic state, in which we can be near them when and however we choose. There is nothing unknown about death. There is only forgotten. It is as beautiful as birth. It is as natural as life. It is the completion of one experience and the beginning of another.
Ram Dass says that all of Life is a preparation for Death. We are constantly being asked to let go of who we are in order to become who we will be.
The Yoga Sutras note Abhinivesha- clinging to life out of fear of death- as one of the main kleshas, or causes of mental suffering. When we live in fear of letting go, we miss out on the beauty life has on offer. This is why at the end of every yoga class we rest in corpse pose. We practice dying to who we were when we came into class in order to become who we will be when we leave. When we are able to lie down, be still and let go, into the “little deaths” of everyday life, we free ourselves up to live the “Big Life” in every moment of this beautiful incarnation, and beyond.