A few weeks ago I fell while walking down the street. Some clear plastic sheeting strips were on the ground, my feet got caught up in them, and down I went. I put my hands out to break the fall but still my face hit the ground. I felt my front teeth touch the cement, my nose, my forehead.
I came away dazed, a cut over my eye that required stitches, scrapes, and a bruised chest, arm and shoulder along with a greater appreciation for the power of direct experience and mindful acceptance of the fact that my body is vulnerable. My body and I have this really nice relationship. After the initial shock, there was deeply felt relief that this body, with which I have a very special relationship, was only slightly injured.
My situation is very low on the scale of intensity and impact. It could have been much worse. Compared to the events that cause damages that take years to heal, if they ever heal at all (plane crash, cancer, strokes, heart attacks, etc.), this was not much of anything. Except, of course, that it happened to me.
Primary and Secondary Pain
Any event that directly effects physical wellbeing is potentially traumatic. There are the immediate sensations of falling, pain and the experience of being dazed and dizzy. Longer term there is the healing process with its aches, pains, itches and frustrations. Then there are the secondary effects. Thoughts arise:
- "Why wasn't I more careful?" "I should have seen the stuff on the ground."
- "What happened to the moment to moment mindfulness you are so proud of?"
- "What idiot left that dangerous stuff on the sidewalk?"
- "Who can I sue?"
- "I could have been killed or seriously injured."
- "My life can be snuffed out or unalterably changed at any time."
Obsessive thinking, anxiety and depression can set in. Aggression can be triggered.
An accident, or any event, for that matter, is an opportunity for a reality check. Any event can be transformed into a teaching.
Tripping over something on the street provides direct feedback about what it means to be awake and how there are times when you may think you are awake but are not present enough to see what is right in front of you. Your state is reflected in the mirror of your experience. What a great gift it is to see objectively how you are doing.
Does the accident become a learning opportunity or just another event in the course of a lifetime filled with infinite events? The answer to this question depends on your view. If you see everything in the context of continuous self inquiry and improvement, then it is highly likely that every event is another learning opportunity.
An accident enables profound awareness of vulnerability and impermanence and of the reality that there will be unpleasant, unsatisfactory conditions in our lives. It is clear that in any moment life can be snuffed out or unalterably changed. While this can be scary, the vulnerability is a great motivator for being present and making the best of the moment. It brings a natural thankfulness to the surface; an appreciation for all the positive moments. Direct knowledge of impermanence is a foundation for making the best of right now and cutting through attachment to what cannot be. Direct knowledge of the reality of uncertainty and vulnerability enables acceptance of things just as they are.
When an event brings this into focus, it fuels the search for understanding of oneself and one's mind.
To transform every event into a learning experience there has to be a commitment to seeking understanding. People who only experience a limited existence bound to the body, conditioned mind and external conditions may be blind to the possibility of anything more. People who acknowledge that they can observe themselves and their condition with equanimity and compassion can then use every event as an opportunity to let go of whatever unskillful attachments they may have. They can observe themselves and change the way they think, speak and act. They can develop a healthy, realistic sense of self. They seek self knowledge and through self knowledge, happiness that is not conditioned by what they have or don't have.
A seeker can understand what Ram Dass means when, referring to his stroke, he says he "has been stroked by his guru." What ever comes can be transformed into a means for freedom from unnecessary stress and for unconditional happiness and compassion.
Note that negative events are often more compelling as wake up calls than positive ones. But the positive ones, like the immediate experience of the beauty of a flower or sunset, can work as well.
Don't go out looking for accidents. If one happens to find you, do your best to transform it into a positive learning experience. Watch the residual effects and see them for what they are, memories and thoughts arising and attempting to distract you from the present moment, setting you up for another mistep or illness. Accept them and let them go. Bring your attention back to the present moment and its physical sensations, thoughts, feelings and conditions. Doing this over and over again will enable you to see things with clarity and to live a more fulfilling and happy life, no matter what comes along.
� 2014 George Pitagorsky Top