Dealing with Interesting Days and Brushes with Death

Leave the first response January 26, 2009 / Posted in Mindful Running, Oz Archives

© Austin ‘Ozzie’ Gontang, Ph.D.

In article to rec.running , CottonPup wrote:

Well, when I was out for my usual 6:00 am run today, the unfortunate happened. I was hit by a car that decided not to stop at a stop sign.

I spent three hours in the emergency room, and I basically walked away with a big huge bump/bruise on the back of my leg, a very swollen lip, and two broken teeth (my face hit the pavement.)

I know it could have been much, much worse, and I am definitely counting my blessings. I’m interested to hear from others that have had similar things happen to them. How they dealt with all the emotions that are involved, and how much time they allowed for physical healing. Thanks for listening :) Maureen


First we are glad that you are alive and able to walk away from harm’s way. Also that your brain and fingers are able to share with us what occurred.

Be aware that the brain may go into shock somewhere down the line when you find yourself thinking about how close you came to being killed. While clinicians call it post-traumatic stress, it is the brain going into panic.

Panic comes from the name of the sylvan god of the forest, Pan. Pan never did anything to harm anyone who came into his domain <>. For centuries it was believed that Pan did heinous tortures to people who entered his forest. Bodies were found crushed at the bottom of cliffs and tangled in the scrub in ravines. People thrown off a cliff to be found in the upper branches of a tree. People found starved to death in the bowels of the heart of the forest. And worse of all, people never found again.

I have only learned recently the truth. Pan, the player of the Pan pipes, the god of the forest never did anything to the people who entered his realm. He in a way was only a trickster.

Pan would rustle some leaves. Pan would drop a few acorns. Pan would break a few twigs. And the people who experienced “panic” created the lions, tiger, and bears in their own minds. They create the robbers, murderers and thugs in their imaginations. And in that state of “panic” they rushed off to get away from their imagined dangers…only to be driven to the brink of fear…created by their own imaginations. Lost, starved, never found, crushed at the bottom of a cliff, tangled in the upper branches of trees, because they created their monsters and demons from their imagination.

Mindfulness is being aware that we only have the moment in which we are. The past is gone, the future is unknown because it is not here, and that is why we call this gift of life, the present. As Thich Nhat Hanh would said, “Breathe and Smile.” Thoughts are like breathe, they come and go. Continue breathing and you will find that once you let a thought go, you are back in the gift of life, the present.

Anyway that’s a thought when you find yourself stuck on realizing how close you were to permanent injury.

The zen monk sent his student up a hundred foot pine tree to practice his agility and quickness. The student quickly climbed up and was on his way down. When the student was about 10 feet from the ground, the teacher said, “Be careful.” When asked by the others around him why he told him to be careful when he was only 10 feet from the ground, the monk said, ” When he was going to the top of the tree and coming down, it was new for him and he was careful and very aware of what he was doing. When he was close to the ground, it is familiar territory and it is in those moments when one loses awareness and being mindful that distraction from the familiar can cause the most harm.

I trust people, cars, animals, others runners, bikers, inline skaters. I trust them to be oblivious to me. I have learned to avoid them. They have never been given responsibility for taking care of me or my well being. And I trust them never to take care of me or watch out for me. While some will, I cannot trust that it is the person or animal that is coming at me at this moment.

To that end I have used Chuang Tzu’s story tanslated by Thomas Merton to help me in my life to avoid empty boats:

Chuang Tzu gave us a mindful way of dealing with out of control people.

THE EMPTY BOAT from The Way of Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton, ©1965
New Direction Publishing Corporation

If a man is crossing a river
And an empty boat collides with his own skiff,
Even though he be a bad-tempered man
He will not become very angry.
But if he sees a man in the boat,
He will shout at him to steer clear.
If the shout is not heard, he will shout again,
And yet again, and begin cursing.
And all because there is somebody in the boat.
Yet if the boat were empty,
He would not be shouting and not angry.
If you can empty your own boat
Crossing the river of the world,
No one will oppose you,
No one will seek to harm you….

When I am confronted by reckless drivers, speeding skaters or bikers, I simply avoid them and say to myself, “Empty boat.”

Over the years, those two words have saved me from feeding anger, aggression and violence-both mine and theirs.

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