a bubble in a stream a star at dawn lightning in a summer cloud a flickering lamp

So You Should View This Fleeting World

a bubble in a stream a star at dawn lightning in a summer cloud a flickering lamp

So you should view this fleeting world…

⚠️ Content Warning – This post contains a description of a vehicular accident with serious injury.

I was recently confronted with the immediate and profound relevance of contemplative practice and the explorations into impermanence, living, and dying I’ve been doing over the years. As my husband and I drove home from lunch with friends, we became witnesses and first responders to a terrible accident. One minute we were going about our business and enjoying a pleasant, though blazingly hot day. The next minute many lives were profoundly changed.

One way to describe the scene we witnessed is horrific. I fear the young motorcyclist will not survive – or if they do, it will be a very different life for them. I’m wishing for a miracle. The drivers of the cars involved were undoubtedly deeply disturbed by what they saw. My heart aches for the motorcycle driver’s family, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances who are learning of the tragedy that has befallen their beloved. I’m practicing giving and taking meditation for everyone impacted. May they all be surrounded by kindness and care.

Another way to describe what unfolded is beautiful. People stepped up in ways that were inspiring. Two nurses showed up on the scene to help – one from their car on the other side of the highway and one who’d witnessed it from the window of a nearby building. The paramedics came quickly and tended expertly to the injured person. This tragedy offered an important example and reminder of our interconnection and the innate goodness of humanity.

In the horror and beauty of the moment, I found great comfort and strength in remembering some of the wisdom I’ve learned along the way from many experienced teachers and stories shared by countless brave friends, students and clients. One never knows whether these learnings and practices will be embodied in a crisis. I’m glad to be able to say that they can be. Roshi Joan Halifax’s GRACE Training and Frank Ostaseski’s Five Invitations were some of the teachings that were top of mind for me, offering structure and guidance amidst intensity and internal chaos.

“Don’t wait” (Invitation 1) and “Gather” (the G of GRACE)

This type of situation has been one of my (and probably many folks’) top intrusive disturbing thoughts when I’m out driving and I see a biker on the road. Each time I mentally recite a little invocation of safety to ward off the fear of having to confront something like this. To be honest, I did wait a little and I desperately wished for some good reason to avoid facing what was happening. But my husband saw it all unfold and he stepped right into the fray without hesitation. Just one person stepping forward can break the trance of shocked bystanders and propel helpful others into action. With his brave example as inspiration, I grounded myself and turned my attention to the task at hand.

“Welcome everything, push away nothing” (Invitation 2) and “Recall Intention” (The R of GRACE)

I wanted with every fiber of my being to push the experience unfolding in front of us away – to not look. But a person was suffering and needed help. Everybody seemed to be frozen in apparent shock and I didn’t want my husband to face this alone. Using my deepest intentions as a resource, I dared to engage, and I was surprised to find I could be with the truth of the situation. I’m grateful to my mindfulness and self-compassion practice for expanding my window of presence so that I could welcome it all in.

“Bring your whole self to the experience” (Invitation 3),”Attune”, “Consider” and “Engage” (the A, C and E of GRACE)

My racing heart and shallow breath accompanied the thought, “How can I be of service?” Though there seemed to be very little we could do, I put my hand on my heart and breathed deeply. I looked into the motorcycle driver’s face, I watched their labored breathing and other movements, and I found (astonishingly) that there were a couple of little things I could do to help.

I retrieved our golf umbrella from our car and knelt down to shield the motorcycle driver from the scorching sun. I told them, “we are here with you” and “we’re here to help” and some other gentle things. As I talked to them, it seemed to me that their body calmed. I retrieved gloves for the nurse from the first aid kit we had the prescience to purchase not so long ago – and a blanket to protect the motorcycle driver’s head from the hot concrete. We did what we could without causing more harm – and then we stepped out of the way when the experts arrived.

“Find a place to rest in the middle of things” (Invitation 4)

It would have been easy to slip into overwhelm, panic and hyperventilation. Dipping in and out of the deep place of stillness I’ve learned to access through practice, attending to my own fluttering heart and shallow breath catching in my throat, I remained grounded enough to stay engaged until the paramedics arrived, untangled the driver from the motorcycle, and carried them away.

“Cultivate don’t know mind” (Invitation 5)

Because this was a first for me, I naturally had very few assumptions or preconceived notions to get in the way. But, I have been surprised by the curiosity, awe and wonder that has been present even alongside the grief and horror. Contending with the reverberations of the experience will require more intentional cultivation of beginner’s mind.

My hope is that in sharing this experience, some of the real-life benefits of these attitudes and practices may become clearer. Perhaps you too will feel renewed and inspired in your practice by the possibilities. I also hope I might be taking some of the cliche out of the sentiment we never know how long we have in “this fleeting world.” I’m feeling this deep in my bones these days. From an embodied awareness of impermanence, may we appreciate the ephemeral preciousness of life and live deeply, elevating what matters most and letting the rest be… the rest.


So you should view this fleeting world—
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.

Diamond Sutra, Red Pine translation

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