By Mair Honan
Two weeks after sitting with Thay and others at the Omega retreat, I was involved in a car accident that left a young man brain damaged, in a coma. At the retreat, I had listened to the moving stories of combat vets, and now I was propelled into a war zone of my own. Images of those vets were with me every day, and my understanding of their horror deepened. I felt things in my body, my dream life, my surroundings, that I had never felt before. Intense fear, waves of guilt, anxiety, and numbness ebbed and flowed through my days and nights. The practices of conscious breathing and gathas were an island of sanity that kept disappearing into an isolated, fear-filled fog. It was a life-and-death struggle to remain mindful, even for a few seconds, in the midst of such pain. The screaming, the faces, the crash replayed again and again against my will, my dear mind attempting to do it over, to make it right. I hurt so badly, at times I thought my heart would literally break. I actually did end up in an emergency room late one night with severe chest pain, etiology unknown.
I tried to get the phone numbers of some of those courageous men I had heard at Omega, but depression kept slowing any motivation to a standstill. What I had gone through would have been a splinter to their experience, but I really wanted to thank them. In between the desperation, I cried tears of gratitude to Thay and the vets, for I was sure I would have lost my mind without my memories of their wisdom, their struggle, their compassion arrived at through very difficult experiences.
A young man lies lifeless, vitals functioning only because of technology. His children will not know him and he will never see their growth. I would breathe that in and out. When we are not mindful, there is destruction. Sometimes it's a slight trip over a stone, sometimes it's a lost life, our own or someone else's. Most of the time we probably never even see what our unmindful state brings. Mindfulness can be a lifeline on the edge of insanity. It can calm the body, if only for a few seconds, when the body is jerking and hyper-aroused. It can hold tightly the tiny seed of compassion through storms of recrimination and anger. The practice, for me, needed to be there before the crisis. I doubt anyone presenting it to me during the crisis could have gotten through. It has firmed my resolve to share the practice with anyone who is interested.
May I awaken from forgetfulness and realize my true home.
Mair Honan is a therapist, artist, and mother in Lincolnville, Maine