Learning to See: Miracle on Napo'opo'o Road

spirit trees moving

Dear Friends, Yogis, and Cultural Creatives!

In the middle of both dark and superlative events, percolating through our shared world, I had a rocky reminder of the miracles around every corner.

The reminder came in the form of a lava rock wall. The corner was one mile down Napoo’opo’o Road, the tropical path of sweeping ocean views, emerald trees, and endless colors.

When it’s dry, it’s a stunning passage. When it’s wet, the drive is more like a thriller than a street. If it weren’t where that passage leads, into the heart of Kealakekua Valley, almost no one would want to take that crazy winding highway.

I was alone and musing on how special Kealakekua is. The word means “pathway of the gods,” and it is the quintessence of picturesque. One of most magnificent wedges of island known to humankind. The western horizon is a luminescent blue ocean kissed by a shoreline sprinkled with ferns, palms and flowers. Large and small homes dot the steep valley walls and friendly terraces of well-kept coffee farms and organic orchards.

The lava rock wall zooming toward me was a facet of the Mauna Loa Volcano, and the drizzling rain had left a shiny mud and oil slick on the sharp curve. When I turned the steering wheel back to center, the tires didn’t turn with it. It kept heading left. Even though I was driving slowly, both hands on the wheel, attentive, it was as though an invisible force twisted the wheels left so I was aimed head-on into the gray volcanic rock.

The universe doesn’t make events happen to us. The spirit of the volcano that turns molten lava into hard rock wasn’t trying to hurt me. It was shaping me. Spirit shapes events to occur not TO us but FOR us. Events, large and small, good and bad, are ultimately for us. I believe that.

It was important for me to remember this as my car veered across the opposite lane and into the slate-colored rock. I gasped with a slight, “Oh!” Nothing to do, except relax and lessen the pounding crush of the impact.

I heard the first screeching rips in the metal four feet in front of me, coming fast. Then the car bounced, and I bounced, lifted up off my seat a little, flying. In the air, the car twisted and scooted back, aimed toward the top of the valley, rattling but still running. She seemed to have a mind of her own, my little green Ford, my friend and vehicle for adventures short and long. In that moment I felt at one with my horsepower companion, who through singing sunrises and long limpid nights, carried me vast distances and always brought me home safe.

She, the one who I secretly called Perelandra, planet of love, took a 360- degree final twirl and landed — ta-da! — facing uphill. I loved her in that moment like everything — the faithful friend that she was, she taking the main impact, protecting me. In the middle of the road in the rain, I was safe, and praying no other cars would zip around either uphill or downhill corners. People drive too fast on this road and would have a hard time seeing me to brake in time.

By sheer force of will, I drove-limped the few dozen feet and pulled in a tiny turnoff to get off the road. After checking my vitals, amazed I was perfectly fine, I called 911, reached out to my insurance company, who called a tow truck, and assessed the damage, to the car, to the rock wall — Mahalo, Goddess Pele! — and to me. I wasn’t trembling. I was breathing deeply. Many hours of practicing yoga, the relaxation response I had tended, helped immensely. I felt troubled by the suddenness of things, but overwhelming gratitude kept surging to the surface. I could have been killed. There could have been cars coming. I could have hurt someone else. All kinds of thoughts kept flooding in to remind me of death and impermanence, so I simply let the thoughts have their way, and allowed my heart to heal the thoughts and put the rest of me into a post-traumatic rest. Resting in my heart, I felt thankful for the spirits of this place, shielding me, bringing me home safely. Again and again.

My car was totaled, but I was alive and Perelandra, the spirit of my car, was fine. Not a scratch on her.

Still, as I replayed the events in my mind, it hit me like another rock wall that my car had been pulling to the left for a week, ever since I’d had my brakes and tie-rods replaced by a local auto shop, not the manufacturer, but a shop that was recommended to me because it was much less expensive. There may be another lesson to learn here, I realized.

My car was a hybrid, and while I know a partially electric vehicle is a different animal than many of us are used to seeing, I didn’t quite understand the importance of having a mechanic who knows hybrid technology working on my hybrid, especially the brakes. That’s because of what’s known as “regenerative braking.” What that means is that brake and tie-rod engineering is more sophistocated and trickier in a hybrid. Every time you use brakes, it captures the vehicle’s momentum or kinetic energy and turns it into electricity that recharges the onboard battery as the vehicle is slowing down or stopping.

I was happy to learn a new and perfect metaphor for how Yoga works on the body: by putting the brakes on our discursive thinking and misaligned bodily movements, we recharge the power in our souls.

But as I investigated it further, I realized the auto repair shop and my insurance company should know about this to help prevent future collisions and potential injuries. When I made the calls, framing my words with the assurance, “no one is in trouble here, I’m just thinking you should know it could have been faulty brake and tie-rod installation.”

Maybe it’s not a surprise to you, but to me, it was astonishing that no one wanted to address the problem or see if there was a way to make the roads safer for hybrid cars, especially since we all know that moving toward reduced fossil fuel usage will and should increase the use of hybrid technology.

If someone were hurt in one of my yoga classes, I would want to know everything about it so I could possibly help prevent future problems. Luckily, I’ve never had a student injure themselves in one of my classes, at least not to my knowledge. Apparently, some mechanics don’t work like many yoga teachers do, being keen on improving our methods.

Still, I did not tremble or rage. I breathed deeply. I saw the whole catastrophe of modern civilization that is trying to evolve, and yet for the most part, many fear repercussions if we admit to any mistake or wrong-doing; insurers just want to make the settlement quickly, and no one wanted to address the issue of regenerative brakes and what that means for mechanics who are trained to work only on gasoline-powered cars.

So here we are. Learning to see through the eyes of spirit, which is in itself luminous and liberating. Unwinding the old false assumptions based on the false ego’s notions and embracing what’s fresh and true and new.

How do we make a new world when people are mostly unwilling to look at how we create problems like the rock wall of potential extinction that we are headed for?

Universal spirit happens to us, is working for us, and gives us the lessons we need to evolve up the next rung of the ladder of life. I trust more people wake up to the climate change problems we’ve created – and can uncreate – just as I hope more drivers of hybrids will learn from my experience the importance of using mechanics trained in the new technology.

We never know when our time will come for passing through the veil into the next phase of life. It’s important to be ready. And in the meantime, being willing to reexamine our assumptions, to admit mistakes readily, and to gain the wisdom that will help our world evolve grace us all on this gradual path toward enlightenment. We will in these ways create a human civilization that reflects the beauty of nature rather than the false ego. Our willingness can make our new world full of magnificent moments.

“We all have our crosses to bear,” my mother would say. I used to dislike when she did, for I hadn’t yet realized how true and purposeful that perspective is! It is the crosses we bear and the rocky roads we take that make us wiser, more loving, and forgiving. She was so kind, and I love remembering her. I am so lucky for that, cherishing now even some of the things I used to ignore.

Yes, indeed, as Henry David Thoreau has said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

What I’m seeing is that the accident was a way to help us save lives by compelling me to write a story about being extra careful with brake and tie-rod replacement in hybrid cars. And if you send it to all your hybrid-driving and eco-friendly loved ones, and it saves one life, it will have been worth it.

Even the rocky patches have flowers along with the thorns!

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“Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” — Mark Twain
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