On February 19th, 2012, ironically on my way to a headstand and shoulderstand workshop, I lost control of my vehicle on a corner going 70 km an hour. The car spun around and went backwards into a ditch across the road and was stopped by two trees on the passenger side just in front of a creek. Had those two trees not been there, I would have flipped upside down into the creek. Had I not spun around I would have shot straight through the windshield. (I was not wearing my seatbelt.) My body was thrown against the passenger seat and then into the back seat where the rear windows smashed in on me. The impact of my body into the seat crushed the seat to half its size. I got out of the car as quickly as I could, ran up a ditch onto the road and waited for someone to stop. The car was a write off. Needless to say this was totally traumatizing. This near death experience created months of processing and ultimately a whole new understanding of life and my path which as far as I know, is Raja Yoga. It is this path that has helped me to see what I have to learn from my 4th car accident in 2 years, rather than falling into a familiar repetitive pattern (samskaras), of expectation, fear, sadness, and suffering.
Obviously, this is a very personal story, but the details are not who I am. Everyone has at least one tragedy or trauma in their life, but it is a choice to allow the trauma to create their sense of identity. “I am not this body, I am not this mind.” The actions of others, the words of others, an injury to the ego or body, the stress of work or family are external influences. The external events or situations, can be our teachers about our minds. It is our body or mind or senses which experience the event. It is the intellect which can create an understanding of the event, based on past experience. It is the ego which makes the event personal, like a part of your story. Which can lead to the overwhelming of samskaras (habitul patterns) such as victim mentality or depression. So this is how an external event can be interpreted as internal or personal. There are different depths to internal, in this example reactions, habits, and feelings are internal. Ultimately it is a choice to be angry for the cards you have been given, but it is you who suffers from the pain of anger. The cards-external. The anger/suffering-internal. For instance if there is noise in yoga class, the noise is external. Your reaction is internal. If you are annoyed, that is a mirror or a teacher for you. The lesson is not to be caught up in the annoyance, but to observe and not judge others or yourself. Eventually the reaction will fade, it will likely appear again, but you will have the skills and practice to observe your reaction, rather than be controlled by it. The eight limbs of yoga teach us how to find peace of mind amongst these external circumstances and then how to connect with a feeling of acceptance of whatever comes. We gain practice of controlling our internal environment, rather than the internal environment controlling our experience of life.
“Trade your expectation for appreciation and the world changes instantly” -Tony Robbins
My practice became observing reactions and emotions related to this event, rather than being overcome by them, rather than falling into old habits.The accident was external, my reaction to it over a period of time taught me about who I have been in the past and who I would like to become. What I noticed after months of feeling affected by this accident was how these feelings have been present in other hard times in my life. It was like an automatic switch but totally different circumstances. For the first time in years I was feeling absolutely hopeless, but for no real reason. We have a choice to get caught up in tragedy, be a victim, or practice observance, be an empowered passionate being. Over and over again, its the suffering that makes us seek more. The hardship forces growth or repetition, until we choose to suffer less regardless of what life brings. Observe your patterns of suffering, see how you contribute to it, until its just the external drama, and you controlling your coping. Personally, this optimistic attitude is not instant, it requires reminders from certain teachers from time to time. It has required getting a bit caught up in order to snap out of it. As Swami Vivekenanda says: “do not say I am bad. say I am good and be better”
Something to keep in mind is that everyone goes through hard times. You are not alone. This always helps me. Surround yourself with friends/teachers/mentors who have thrived beyond their experiences, who are honest about life’s ups and downs, who share similar values.
The Universe works in mysterious ways, considering all the pain in this world it is not for us to understand how it works. But I can say with emphasis that every “horrible” thing that has happened to me (external), I am wiser, kinder, happier for it (internal). I am grateful because as a teacher I understand what it feels like to have pain, to have expectations on a healing pace, and how to accept what is attainable in the moment. Before the car accident, my regular practice included multiple variations of headstand. It took me years to feel confidant with this pose and I was quite content in doing it over and over again. Since the accident, I have been patient and tried many times to introduce headstand back into my practice. My body has not been able to do this without pain. This has been a lesson in itself of listening to my body, acceptance, and prioritizing. I may not ever do headstand again (knock on wood;)) but I can share with students how to ease the discomfort of whiplash. This holds more value for me and my students at this time.
To find out where Tessa is teaching classes, workshops & retreats in her fun and informative style check out her Website tessaraeyoga.com