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 the accomplished meditation 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. Hold on.” 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 understanding had been unexpectedly deepening, filling me with tremendous joy, energy, awe, inspiration, and wonder. The meditation was alive in me, bringing with it gratitude beyond thought. Trapped in a metal mess, I was also 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, deeply alive, 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 to panic and allow fear to overwhelm me, separating myself from the very people who were trying to help me or the choice to stay present and connected. The choice to align with what is revealed in the depths of meditative stillness, to identify as self with the reality of indivisible consciousness, goodness, or to identify with the individuated self and experience the subsequent separation, fragmentation, and isolation that would, by default, ensue.
Everyone around me, whether consciously aware of it or not, was inseparable from that field of consciousness. We were in this together. Or, 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 connectedness, that oneness. It would only be obscured, hindered, or limited if I pulled myself away, let myself be consumed by fear, pain, and terror. Ultimately, I could stay with everyone or I could withdraw into the world of my own mind. They were doing their best. What right did I have to pull away, 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 precious capacity of rational cognition, I wanted my life’s mission and my meditative 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 of practice and through a life dedicated to a context greater than the passing 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 process, I pulled back from that edge of fear and panic. I let go into my own awareness of that mysterious and familiar backdrop of consciousness.
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 meditative practice has only strengthened. My desire to ignite that same love of the exploration of consciousness in others only continues to grow for we human beings have the extraordinary capacity to lean into our own transformation, make manifest, in real time, the expression of our own higher values, and demonstrate the strength and courage of the human spirit.
Click here to read a Spanish translation.
1 thought on “Beyond Limits: A Portal Beyond Pain”
Thank you so much for telling your story. You are very inspiring to me and I’m very glad that I’ve been able to learn from you at our school.