No Accident

Three years ago today I was stopped at a red light near Harvard Square on a sunny afternoon when it hit me. A Chrysler minivan, to be precise. A traveling salesman from Cleveland, oblivious to the stopped cars in front of him, was talking on his cell phone as he plowed right into my little Corolla. Today, I’m actually kind of grateful to him.

The rear-end collision left me with whiplash, and a frozen shoulder that lasted for months. While super painful at the time, the injury allowed me to take a much needed break from teaching yoga without having to tell my students that I was, in truth, burned out. It also took me on a healing journey that introduced me to my talented acupuncturist and my equally talented personal injury lawyer, a man who actually uses the word “broads” in conversation, but whose wily ways secured enough compensation to help me pay my medical expenses, buy a few goodies, and grow my savings.

But the biggest impact of that collision is how it changed my own driving, because I used to be one of “those.” You know…a…tailgater…sometimes. I cringe to admit it. And it’s especially embarrassing to reveal that I occasionally did it on the way to teach yoga, yelling things like “Choose a lane, buddy!” a mere ten minutes before presenting myself as Ms. Equanimity on the mat. I’m truly lucky that none of my victims ever stopped short, and I call them victims because I was an aggressor during those tense moments in the driver’s seat. Now I’m keenly aware of tailgaters behind me, feeling the anxiety that I must have caused others as the skin on the back of my neck begins to tighten and my blood starts to boil. I considered buying a nasty bumper sticker, but decided that tailgaters aren’t likely to heed them. It was fun to peruse the choices, however, like, “Back Off – I’m Not That Kind of Car,” and my favorite, “Are You Following Jesus this Closely?”

Today I always leave plenty of space between me and the vehicle ahead of me, and I leave earlier for appointments so I don’t have to speed. But don’t start envisioning a halo over my head because I still make and take cell phone calls while driving, and I often risk getting pulled over for a DWG (Driving While Grooming) as I apply mascara or tweeze an errant hair behind the wheel. Nonetheless, I am consciously trying to become a safer, saner driver. I’d like to imagine that others are doing the same, but what I see through my windshield (and in my rearview mirror) tells me otherwise.

The other day I had this thought: maybe it’s time to start inspecting not just cars, but drivers. What if, once a year, an inspector could ride beside us for 20 minutes and watch for things like good judgment, rule obedience, alertness, and, dare I say it, patience and courtesy? I wonder how many drivers would pass? Probably the same three people who slow down for yellow lights, make a complete stop at stop signs, and truly yield when entering highway traffic (and rotaries, folks!).

My bedroom sits above an intersection with a delayed green light. It’s also a popular cut-through route for commuters. This means that I’m often awakened by loud car stereos and even louder attempts to imitate favorite singers. Occasionally I’m serenaded by a cool baby blue Cadillac that plays classic jazz as it passes (thank you, my mystery driver). But all too often, and many times when I’m praying, my ears are assaulted by the angry honking and verbal violence of livid morning drivers who feel that the person ahead of them is ruining their life (i.e. causing them to miss the green light).  Some of the incidents border on road rage.

We’re all so impatient, over stimulated, and wired for multitasking that it’s no wonder we’re crashing into each other. God forbid we just focus on driving as we drive. And whatever happened to silence? The other day as I was pumping gas, I heard voices coming from the…pump(!)…where a small TV screen was replaying the latest pre-season football highlights. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t need to be entertained while I fill up my car. And yet I’m not immune to Monkey Mind syndrome. I still catch myself reaching for the cell phone a few minutes into a long drive because, well, I have the time to talk.

Kim's dashboard altar

Buddah and other friends on my dashboard altar.

But there are those precious times when I’m quiet and contemplative behind the wheel, letting my own thoughts entertain me and allowing for some space to arise between those thoughts. Sometimes I’ll even pray or chant in the car, glancing at my dashboard altar where Buddah reminds me to calm down and find peace in the driver’s seat. Like any good spiritual practice, it only works if I work it.

And so I try, one mile at a time.

11 thoughts on “No Accident

  1. The image of “tailing” someone so clearly reminds me of the pace and unconscious behavior in my life….chasing SOMETHING! And helps me remember the relief image of space and boundaries — thank you for this great blog, Kim.

  2. Putting on mascara while driving? That’s one I can’t fathom. I guess I’m so risk-averse and phobic about injuring my eye that I’d never do it. Not that I don’t do other things you describe. But deliberately placing a small stick with wire brushes on it close to my exposed eyeball, repeatedly, while in a moving vehicle that I’m also trying to control, just is beyond my capacity to imagine.

    Thanks for sharing this gut check moment for all of us, Kim. Making more time to get to appointments is the thing I needed to hear. Being late is really a form of selfishness, that places my own time above another’s. And I’m guilty of that a lot.

    1. Linda – I mostly groom while stopped at traffic lights, just so you know…although I swipe lipstick on anytime….Yes – I, too, am a recovering late person – I really get how it’s disrespectful, immature, passive-aggressive, and harmful to everyone involved because of the stress that it causes…plus, it just feels so much better to arrive calm….thanks for weighing in!

  3. I’d like to see public service ads on tvs and billboards reminding drivers to be courteous. I design these ads in my mind all the time — very nice old lady and aggressive young driver behind he; imagine what would happen to change the young driver’s attitude. I read a suggestion long ago to adjust my attitude toward aggressive drivers: instead of getting mad at them for being in such a hurry, I imagine that they’re on their way to something VERY important, like rushing to the hospital to have a baby. Or I imagine a billboard reminding drivers that to drive soooo fast is using more gas than necessary — we know (or can imagine) how that waste is strengthening some other country’s economy — not our own. Thanks for your post. I’m glad you recognized something out of your painful accident.

  4. Kim, There is so much that reads true here. But what I really loved was the bit about the TV on the gas pump. The TV-fication of our culture really bugs me. Remember the TV on Dick Tracy’s wrist watch? That’s not my idea of a technological breakthrough. How about ending world hunger, all you geeks out there?

  5. I had a head-on collision that changed my life – it was the catalyst that got me into Resonance Repatterning. Gotta love those jolts from the Universe that come by way of poor unsuspecting human allies who have no idea of the favor they just did someone. Of course, at the time, it didn’t feel like that “flaky, unconscious lady” who plowed into us was doing me a favor. But now I know.

  6. Hi Kim
    I love your writing!!!! Its entertaining, authentic and heartful. I read your last blog as well and have been meaning to express my appreciation for your sharing and for your wonderful gift of writing!!!!
    Will connect soon. Am off to Ethiopia in 3 weeks.
    Ramona

  7. Thanks, Kim. A great reminder that driving can be a form of meditation. I too reach for the phone to make calls during long drives. When I just drive, it’s far more relaxing.
    I must say…….all peacefulness aside…..the people in the passing lane who aren’t passing send me over.
    I love getting these. The header image is very relaxing.

  8. Hi Kim,
    It is amazing how things happen for a reason. Sometimes we don’t realize this until long after the fact. I myself have become cautious at stop signs and rotaries due to being involved in a near fatal accident. I am also looking in my mirror both in the car and on my bike for those not paying attention, and having a way out just in case. This again is because I was rear ended, and these issues make us more street savvy. With all the media available to us, it becomes an overwhelming thought process to me, and crave for less sensation. Being plugged in most of the time only creates a stronger desire to create more drawings and paintings, read a real book, or even meditate on a beach far from traffic or crowds. I remember you teaching us, and it’s been my mantra ever since, to breathe…just breathe, and my impatience will soon pass as well. Thank you for sharing Kim. Namaste my dear friend 🙂

  9. Great blog, Kim. Just after I finished reading this, I took the girls to the mall and was rear ended! Nothing serious, no one was hurt but I think the girl who hit me may have been on her phone. She said she wasn’t paying attention. Well, I think we all tend to zone out or multi -task while driving. So here’s to being more mindful through out our day. Being more aware and present each moment. Thanks Kim!

    1. nice blog and food for thought for sure. I was thinking that his AM as I actually left early for yoga and really enjoyed the ride in additiion to having minutes to relax before class. Am going to try to practice this more often and not blame others who are “going too slow” when I arrive late. PS do the make up at home!! Mom

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