No Mud, No Lotus

Insights from My Car Accident

By Neha Kaul

Photo by Marisela B. Gomez

March 15, 2015 was a day I had been eagerly waiting for, as it was a Day of Mind­fulness at Blue Cliff Monastery. I was looking forward to that Sunday because the monastery was reopening after its annual recess. I had been visiting Blue Cliff pretty regularly for over a year and felt close to the community of practice.

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Insights from My Car Accident

By Neha Kaul

Photo by Marisela B. Gomez

March 15, 2015 was a day I had been eagerly waiting for, as it was a Day of Mind­fulness at Blue Cliff Monastery. I was looking forward to that Sunday because the monastery was reopening after its annual recess. I had been visiting Blue Cliff pretty regularly for over a year and felt close to the community of practice.

I was less than ten minutes away from the monastery and was driving with a warm expectancy of seeing the Sangha. I remember driving silently without the distraction of music playing, and practicing some contemplative prayers. I was on a two-way, winding, residential section of the road when I saw a black sedan approaching, directly in front of me, on my side of the street. From silence, I observed this and felt kind of curious. Surely whoever is in that car must live in one of the houses alongside the street and will shortly turn, even though they are on the wrong side of the road, I thought. A few more seconds passed, but the car did not stop or turn. I swerved into the other lane to avoid a head-on collision. The other car swerved too, a few milliseconds after me, and hit the front of my car on the passenger side. Following the initial impact, my car hit the fence on the other side and came to a stop. The air bags went off and I felt numb. Oh drat! I reached out for the phone in my bag, which was on the floor of the front seat, unbuckled, pushed the door open, and got out of the car. Gasping for air, I walked as far away as I could from both cars.

When I got on the phone with emergency services, I wasn’t able to recollect the name of the road, even though I had driven on it many times before. I saw a car approaching and I waved to stop the car to ask for help. A kind gentleman with his young daughter stopped immediately and assisted me with the call to the police. The gentleman even alerted the neighbors, who had somehow not heard the loud thud of the car crash right in front of their house.

My attention then went to the other car and the driver, who still had not come out. I felt terrified that whoever was inside may have been killed. Mustering up all the courage I could, I went up to the driver’s side of the car, and opening the door slightly, I asked, “Are you okay?” I saw a limb move. Phew! I was relieved to know this person was not dead. A few moments later, he stepped out of the car and it was evident right away that he had been driving heavily under the influence of alcohol and/or other substances. The cops arrived shortly and took me aside, away from that driver. A few more people stopped to help, and they all seemed to want to assure me that everything was going to be okay.

I was taken to the ER at a nearby county hospital. A few X-ray scans, CT scans, and other tests later, the attending doctor informed me that there were no broken bones or signs of any major injury. My vitals were stable. But this is not really the interesting part of my story. What’s interesting is that during this time, I called the monastery office hoping but not expecting that someone would answer. Happily, someone did answer! Immediately they offered support by encouraging me to follow my breathing and letting my body feel whatever it was feeling. Yes, even the shakes, shivers, and tears.

Shortly after that, I received a call from one of the monastic sisters. Just hearing her voice on the phone was deeply comforting. She told me how concerned they were upon hearing of my accident and that they were preparing to come visit me at the hospital. And then they came. Two sisters I had become fond of arrived with extra clothes for me. They held my hand. They breathed with me. They surrounded me with the energy of loving kindness. They calmed me with their gentle responses to my frantic questions and assured me of their support for my recovery.

Relieved but still confused, scared, and uncertain, I was taken to a trauma facility for further evaluations. There, I was diagnosed with whiplash injury, multiple soft-tissue contusions, and post-concussion syndrome.

The physical injuries were only a small part of the bigger picture. When the accident happened, it was less than six months since I had been divorced. Although I was taking proactive steps in moving on from my past, almost immediately the mind went into negative thinking. The emotions of fear, anger, and feeling abandoned were more acute than ever before. Layered on this were strongly rooted cultural beliefs and fears around the stigma of being divorced, which became even stronger. It was the perfect ground for the manifestation of many unwholesome mental formations.


Later that spring, while on an extended stay at Blue Cliff Monastery during Vesak, I was inspired to revisit the place of the accident—but this time, with the support of the monastic sisters. The sisters kindly agreed. When they had to run some errands in town, I accompanied them as they drove down the same road. Even though I did not have a conscious memory of the exact spot of the accident, my body reacted instinctively as we approached the area. I felt tremors and shakes run through my whole body. Each part of my body was experiencing intense fear-based energy.

However, something was different this time. I felt a hand on my shoulder, placed there by the sister sitting behind me. She gently encouraged me to keep both my hands on my stomach and breathe with the sensations of the body, which I did. Having done some trauma release work with a Somatic Experiencing TM therapist1 in prior months, I realized that I was going through a huge “discharge” of the trapped energy of trauma. As the experi­ence passed through my body, I felt exhausted. Something very big had happened. I had revisited a painful place of trauma with the energy of mindfulness and compassion. It was as though there was an opening to release all the accumulated shock and fear, even from before the accident, all the way through my past. In the days following, I felt greater peace in my body, and the release continued over the next several days but with lesser intensity.

It has now been several months since the accident. There are no quick remedies in such situations. I have learned that it takes patience and time. I’m steadily recovering from the various bodily symptoms. I’ve begun taking pottery lessons to nourish myself creatively, and I continue to follow my spiritual practices as best I can every day. It is plainly discernible that the practice of mindfulness has been pivotal in helping me move through the healing process with greater faith and confidence. Knowing the practice of mindfulness and having a supportive Sangha are the foundations for my recovery. And truly, in my case the recovery had to take place on many levels.

As I write this story, I feel a deep love for the monastic sis­ters and brothers at Blue Cliff, lay friends, and Dharma teachers everywhere in the world. The quality of this love also includes elements of gratitude, reverence, and appreciation. In fact, one of the stronger motivations for writing about my experience is to testify to the miracle of taking refuge in a Sangha, a community that practices the teachings of the Buddha in harmony.

Reflecting on this accident with the help of the practice, I found that it was very easy for my mind to go to extreme posi­tions. On one hand, it could spin all kinds of negative stories and compound my suffering. On the other hand, it could be jumping to spin positive stories to try to rationalize events in order to run away from the suffering. In reality, neither of these extremes is helpful for my practice.

I have also learned that it is pedestrian and futile for me to ask “why” questions. All that I can honestly and reasonably notice is that there were sufficient causes and conditions for the accident to have happened. There were also sufficient causes and conditions for me and the other driver to have lived through the accident. We are still alive! It is in being able to see both these sides with a dispassionate equanimity and joy that healing occurs.

I discovered that there were more than enough conditions for my happiness and healing even in the midst of loneliness, despair, and suffering. Moreover, as I look back now I’m thankful for the kindness of all the people who stopped and helped. I feel thank­ful for the medical expertise, attention, and treatments I received from those who cared for me in hospitals and in private practice. And I feel thankful for my parents, who rushed from India to be with me here.

Most of all, I am grateful and humbled that through my ex­periences I was given the opportunity to taste the truth of Thay’s central teaching: no mud, no lotus.

1     Somatic Experiencing is a type of therapeutic approach for addressing traumas. It is based on the work of Peter Levine, Ph.D. More information can be found at

Neha Kaul, Clear Wisdom of the Heart, lives and works in Westchester, New York. She was introduced to Thay and his teachings in 2013. She has been practicing within this tradition since then.

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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