While we usually think of going beyond limits as something reserved for elite athletes performing feats of physical daring, the courageous spirit and self-determination that make such deeds possible can be found in individuals from all walks of life and in every scenario that tests the strength of the human soul.
The following story is a profoundly inspiring example of this ‘beyond limits’ spirit, as expressed by Senior Teacher Amy Edelstein, as she relates her experience of the horrific car accident that almost ended her life. ~Joel Pitney
TWO AND A HALF years ago, I was returning from a business trip, picked up my car at the country commuter train station in northern New York, and was driving in dusk’s mists on a bucolic wooded and winding narrow road.
I don’t remember the few minutes from the picture of grey light rain and overhanging maple boughs (neuroscientists say that the brain secretes a memory erasing formula to protect us from incidents that our systems can’t process) to looking out through a twisted and shattered side window, steering wheel pressed hard against my chest, warm thick wet and crunchy glass in my mouth, an odd blank where my feet should be (are?), and a searing pain through my hips the likes of which cannot be scaled. It was a head-on collision with an 18-wheel tractor-trailer, coming about 35 miles per hour towards me, I had fortunately slowed to under 20 mph thanks to speed traps just up the road. The local police chief had years ago lost a child on those roads, and he did not want anyone else to lose another.
From nowhere, 25 -30 people appeared, circling the twisted metal frame, trying to wrench some corner open and extricate my frame. A stranger reached in, cradling my head on each side with big warm hands, reciting softly over and over, “It’s your lucky day, it’s your lucky day.” My consciousness rolled in and out. Lucidity. Confusion. Scanning to figure out what was happening. I couldn’t inventory the parts that were there or were not. I tried but I just couldn’t tell. Raw fear. I had been doing a lot of meditation at this period in my life. My spiritual understanding had been unexpectedly deepening, filling me with tremendous joy, energy, awe, inspiration, and wonder. It was alive in me, bringing with it gratitude beyond thought. Trapped in a metal mess, I was simultaneously aware of the presence of an always unlimited field, an unobstructed expanse of boundless consciousness. That field had life and presence, untouched by any of what happens, more deeply alive than that which comes and goes, sensitive yet unaffected, and very real.
A fire fighter wrestled with a 3 foot metal cutters, snipping in vain. Every jolt and bump sent liquid pain through me, pulling my awareness way out to a frightening edge, like a rip current in the frigid Atlantic tides. I screamed. “Honey, you’re going to have to stay quiet if we’re going to be able to help get you out,” he barked and jolted me to participate with a depth of intentionality. The field I was instinctively in touch with was deeper than the unique individuals, all separated from each other by our distinct forms, separate from me by the canister of metal that had been car. In a moment of lucidity, bolder than the sharpest stone relief, I was aware both of a field of unified consciousness and of the abyss of fragmentation my psyche was pulling me towards. I saw both. And I recognized beyond any doubt, the choice. The choice between identification at the deepest level of self with the reality of unlimited, indivisible, inseparable consciousness, goodness, from which only goodness can come irrespective of what occurs in the dimension of material form and time. Or identification with the relative, individuated self, and the subsequent separation, fragmentation, and isolation that would by default ensue.
Everyone around me, whether consciously aware of it or not, was inseparable from the field of Being. What right did I have to pull away? We were in this together, more accurately at that moment, they were there for me. Any wisdom, direction, skillful means, unexpected insight that could save my life would only be supported by that Oneness. It would only be obscured, hindered, or limited should I pull myself out of the process. They were doing their best. What right did I have to be selfish?
A portal opened into the depths of understanding, rational and at ease. This moment counted. If this were to be my last moments of consciousness or of having the luxury of the capacity for rational awareness, I wanted my life’s mission and my spiritual commitment to be reflected. I wanted my legacy to represent the deepest truth I had discovered – the one I’d familiarized myself with through countless repetitions in spiritual practice and through an adult life wholly dedicated to a context deeper and greater than the feelings of the individual self. In a conscious decision that was simultaneously a straightforward knowing, a choice that was more an ease-ful response to an obvious truth rather than a fraught or conflicted decision, I pulled back from that edge of fear and doubt. I let go into my own awareness of the backdrop of consciousness itself. That choice defined everything moving forward.
I am happy to report that two years later, I am continuing to heal way beyond anything predicted. My conviction in the power of spiritual practice has only strengthened. My desire to ignite that same love of the sacred in others only continues to grow because of the ways we can consciously engage in our own transformation, with the evolution of our shared values, and ultimately with the unfolding of new capacities in consciousness.
Listen to this interview by Lonny Jarrett with Amy Edelstein on the power of spiritual practice to work with traumatic injury, illness, or recovery.
Click here to read a Spanish translation.