Lying down, I exhale, and there is complete release. The work, the practice, the pranayama, swiftly fade into history. I can hear and feel my breathing and heart rate slowly begin to return to normal. With eyes closed I exhale again and search my supine body for any areas of tension that can be discovered and released. The practice fades away. The room and spacial awareness fades away. With eyes closed and physical body so relaxed that it becomes momentarily irrelevant, I begin to see. The darkness against my forehead gives way to a gentle and calming gray light. I am in a boundless yet comfortable space. There are no walls, ceilings, or floor, yet I feel very safe and very grounded. I am standing and looking out into this gray space. Before me and at a small distance, as if a mist is slowly dissipating, I begin to perceive a vast crowd of people. I recognize them, every face. They are every person in my life from past or present; parents, friends, sibling, and even grandparents I have only known through stories. Dead or alive they are all there, smiling, and calmly observing me. From this gray haze of comforting smiles, one person steps forward. It is my friend and former band mate Collin Watson.
Collin passed away years ago in a car accident in which I was the driver. Taking his seat belt off to sleep in the passenger seat, he was thrown from the car as it flipped front to back several times before resting. Exhausted and trying to drive back to D.C. to work in the morning, I nodded off just long enough to lose control of the car…
I awake to silence. I am gripping the steering wheel unbelievably tightly. Little makes sense. I don’t even recognize that the car is on its side. I look to the passenger seat and it is empty. This makes no sense. I exit the car by crawling out of the hole where the sun roof used to be. The SUV is resting on the drivers side and there is very little left of it, except for a miraculous space about the size of my body. I step onto the grass and it is an oddly pleasant evening. It is about 4AM and there is little other traffic and a beautiful and surreal covering of mist and dew on the finely cut highway grass of I95 Northbound. Calling Collin’s name out at the top of my lungs, I cannot grasp in the least of where he could be. Dazedly wandering across the expanse of dewy grass, I eventually do find him. Nothing makes sense. It can’t be him. It can’t be anyone. There is too much blood and his limbs are at angles that are impossible for my already shocked head to make any sense of reality out of. I bend down to try and help. I feel almost out of my own body. I feel as if I am 30 feet above and watching the situation unfold. It is too harsh and violent to be completely present with. I can feel my brain receding and guarding me from the present. There is no me. There is only Collin, quiet on his back, and staring to the stars as several last breaths pass his lips like hiccups. I hold his head and am telling him to relax… it will be ok.
This seemed like hours, but was actually minutes. A car traveling behind us saw the accident happen and dialed 911. The first time I am aware of anything and the first memory that came back to me was of standing next to Collin in the grass, watching the red and blue lights play across that wet grass. Someone walked me to an ambulance, where I sat and received treatment for the few scratches that I had incurred. Collin was gone. It got super cold as I went into shock and began to shiver uncontrollably. My body and brain were numb. There was nothing in me but an observer. Yet, amongst the haze there was a shard of amazingly singular clarity. A voice. Me, telling the observer that a decision had to be made. “This will create you or kill you.” I immediately knew that this experience before me would either be the biggest learning tool and leap forward in consciousness OR would become something that destroys me. Something that I take with me the rest of my life and use it in the best or worst ways possible. It had already happened. Collin was gone. There was a decision to make.
I believe less than two weeks later we played a gig. Everyone wanted to cancel, but I knew I had to play. Those weeks were filled with family, friends, and fans giving me more support than I could have ever imagined. People I barely knew showing up on the doorstep with kind words, flowers, and cookies. If I didn’t play then, I felt I might never get back to it. I cried for almost every second of that gig in Fairfax. I kept getting odd sensations of Collin being on stage, of Collin sitting next to me as I played telling me it was ok, juxtaposed with the reality of him being gone and replaced with a sub. I can only imagine that it was the toughest subbing gig imaginable.
Months later, in an Ashtanga class in Georgetown, I had the most amazing Savasana of my lifetime.
Dead or alive they are all there, smiling, and calmly observing me. From this gray haze of comforting smiles, one person steps forward. It is my friend and former band mate Collin Watson. He approaches me with a big smile. I am unsure of what is to happen next. We are face to face and inches apart. I smile back. There is an overwhelming sense of understanding between us. So much so, that no words are never exchanged. They would be of no use here. He reaches out and we hold a long and warm embrace. The detail is amazing. I can feel his beard against my cheek and his black dreads come to rest on my shoulder. After a moment we step away from each other and I am holding him at his waist. He feels so light. I lift him up and gently let him go. He smiles again as he slowly floats upward and fades away. With a lighter heart and eyes full of tears of gratitude, joy, and love, I again look to the crowd standing in front of me. Smiling at each other, I know I will be back to this space. I know someone new will step forward. We will smile, embrace, enjoy the silence of love, understanding and forgiveness and then I will let them go.
**As a brief side note. I have always wanted to write about this experience and the yoga related release/epiphany that followed. It took weeks/months/years to remember details about the accident. At first there was a big blank spot. Much of it I heard for the first time through police reports and others folks. To this day many of the details are very fuzzy whilst some things are crystal clear. Much of it I still keep to myself. It took a long time to drive again and I am still never that comfortable driving at night. I thought the dreams and sleepless nights would never end, but they eventually faded. For years I awoke every day with this experience being my first thought. I wanted to remember it constantly. I wanted so dearly to make it worth going through for the both of us. What could I do today to honor that experience and his memory? My life changed drastically. I still think about it fairly often and hope I am living up to the person Collin would have been proud of. It is less of a weight now, and more of an inspiration. Through tragedy we can gain so much understanding, for the only other option is to let it destroy and weaken us.