Three Pathways continued.
Then they were there beside me; dishevelled but apparently unscathed, the looked at me with undisguised concern – and all the more so – when they realized I wasn’t about to get up. Gary smiled and pointing at me said: “you came to see me in the hospital, now it looks like it will be my turn to visit you.”
Even as I tried to rein in my imagination I began to re-elaborate what had happened, weaving memory and imagination together, I was overwhelmed with images. What if I would have hit another vehicle… a car… full of kids… what if they were killed? I began to elaborate and re-elaborate variation after variation of highway death and mayhem, of what might have been and what might come to pass. And as those images played out, the intensified throughout my body.
What will happen? What will my father say about my destroying his truck? Will I be charged with dangerous driving? My back hurts. What if I broke my back? I can’t move my toes. And we’ve all seen enough TV to know what that means.
There were other people standing around me now. Good Samaritans who had stopped to see if they could help. I was so overcome by the immediate pain and by suffering because of what had happened, what was happening and what might happen (and what might have happened, what might be happening, etc) that I barely noticed what was going on around me, though I’m sure I was responding, apparently coherently, to questions. I don’t know how an ambulance had been called in those pre-cell phone days but I know someone said that one was on the way.
I lay partway up the embankment, the late spring rain felt very cold, so did the ground, in fact everything did. Terrifying memories overwhelmed my consciousness. If the memories ebbed for a moment it was only to be replace by imaginings of my future as a paraplegic, or re-elaborated memories where I smashed into cars packed with happy kids, or…
And as the images took me so did the pain; overwhelmed with regret and fear, my entire body was screaming.
Then it was if a distant voice said “You suffer because of what you believe has happened, because of what you believe is happening, because of what you believe will happen.” This is what Silo had taught us. It couldn’t have been clearer. I thought to myself, “if this proves itself in this situation I will have something that I know I can rely on”. And so I began to review things: “this pain that belongs to my body is of a different nature than what I’m suffering. I will, for now, accept that pain but I will reject the suffering.” Or something like that and I started to try to observe, in a different way, the images imposed by my memory and imagination. By attending to them from another point of view I could stop them from covering my consciousness. And I noticed that when I managed to do that, the physical pain contracted until it only remained in two very specific points in my body, leaving me feeling not to bad, though certainly somewhat abashed. Though I still couldn’t move my limbs I could banter with my friends, and with the medics when they arrived.
Of course I couldn’t maintain that for long. My attention would drift, and the images of the truck spinning out of control would start again, images of how my friends could have been injured, how I could have killed people, how I’d destroyed my father’s truck… and as those images took me the pain would spread throughout my body and grow in intensity until it almost overwhelmed me. Then I would think “There are three pathways of suffering” and I’d start my meditation again. As I did I’d see the mechanisms at work, the images would recede, the pain, once again I’d be (more or less) lucid, relatively pain free, and in good humour. And so it went.
PS The consequences, good and bad, of this accident stayed with me. A sometimes very bad back, and insights that I have tried to deepen through the years, as well as the certainty that there are tools, even apparently ridiculously simple ones, that can be relied on in dire straights – something worked then and that came in handy at other difficult crossroads.
PPS Don’t worry my paralysis wasn’t permanent. In fact I would guess it only lasted a minute or two in Earth time. No broken spine, just muscles cramped by trauma and cold.
PPS Silo’s teaching about Pain and Suffering is basic to his message. He spoke about the differences and relationship between them from the beginning of his public teaching until the end of his life.