On an Irish summer day, a Sangha friend and I were on our way to the Sangha by car, chatting joyfully about Sangha life and other things. A car far in front of us pulled out halfway on the road from the left side of a street. We continued driving straight as the car stopped and then pulled out slowly again. Instead of taking a left turn on the road, the car stopped again in the middle of the road.
My friend pressed the brakes to try to stop the car in time, but it was too late. I shrieked and jolted forward from my seat as we collided into the other car. A hard bang slammed into my chest. I couldn’t breathe. Some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s (also known as Thay) words immediately came to my mind: “Breathe in, breathe out. A dead person cannot breathe. Since we are alive, let’s enjoy our breathing.”
That’s all I could do: breathe because I knew I was still alive. I heard my friend crying and calling the ambulance, but I didn’t speak. I kept focusing on my breath. In the middle of this, I noticed that I was hugging my painful chest. I didn’t know whether I had any broken bones or some damage had been done to my body.
After what felt like an eternity, someone from an ambulance knocked on the door of the car and helped me to get out. I was still clutching my chest like a baby. When I got into the ambulance and sat down, one of the first questions the person asked was, “Can you breathe? Take a deep breath.” Ah right. My dear friend, the breath.
I followed his instructions, taking a deep breath once or twice through the pain. After a diagnosis, he said that I had a seat belt injury and there was no immediate sign of broken bones. I sighed. I also felt a big relief when my friend didn’t have anything broken as well.
The person suggested us to see a doctor to treat my physical injury. Afterwards, my friend and I stepped out of the ambulance, and I immediately noticed the blue sky and sunshine. I can’t remember whether it was the same weather before the car accident, but such weather is rare in Ireland. I was thankful that it was a warm, sunny day and that the car accident hadn’t occurred on a grey, rainy day.
My friend still had tears, so I asked to enjoy our walking meditation, the sunny weather, and some of the lush green trees surrounding us. Even though I had to deal with the physical pain in my upper body for a month or so, I was happy that I had no psychological trauma thanks to the months of mindfulness practice in Plum Village. The practice helped me a lot to lessen my suffering and be as happy as I can.
By listening to Thay’s Dharma talks twice a week and meditating with the lay friends and monastics on a daily basis, I had subconsciously developed the skill of mindful breathing and the awareness of enjoying the wonders around us. Now that I’m fully recovered from my physical pain, I’m much more grateful for my breathing, that I can enjoy a pain-free body, and most of all, that I’m alive.
Whenever I can, I try to be aware of my breathing in every moment and be thankful to Thay for teaching us this beautiful practice.