It all started after i woke up…

i woke up at 1am in the middle of the interstate to chilling wind on my skin, clouds of gray smoke rising and the smells of burning rubber and gasoline sharp in my nostrils. Moments before, a bush that grazed my windshield jolted my heavy eyelids open for me to witness the dizzying spin across four lanes, a tight, uncontrollable steering wheel, and then within a blink, crashing metal and shattered glass. i fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into the center divide while driving home from San Francisco to San Jose after a long and supposedly successful day…

September 6, 2011: Young, promoted and disembodied

September 6, 2011: Young, promoted and disembodied

Twenty eight hours prior, my morning began with a sunrise hot yoga class. Feeling rather accomplished by 8am, i went to my corporate job as a manager of a high-functioning team. After work, i drove the hour-long stretch from the south bay to the SOMA district for a celebration i co-organized for my part-time job. i received a promotion at this party, and accepted it in gold heels that hurt my feet and with a smile that was supported more by the two Moscow Mules drank prior. i was living the dream on paper, earning a six-figure salary, collecting stock options, saving for retirement, exploring the urban scene, and getting promoted.

Though beneath the surface, there was a gaping presence inside of me; i found illusory purpose in busyness, distracting myself with all that i was doing as a promising woman in her early 20s. Weekends were often spent hazily giving my body away to appealing bachelors who expressed superficial interest in me while relying on cannabis joints and juicy cocktails to provide me with joy- however fleeting and delusional.

When mum expressed concern over my social life because of all the time spent away from my family, i responded to her feelings with agitation and dismissal, “there she was again, being overly sensitive and ruining my fun”, even bringing her to tears when i told her that i wanted to move out. Being a collectivist South Asian mother, it made no sense to her why i’d want to leave home to live in an expensive metropolitan apartment with strangers at age 24. Rather than evoking compassion or understanding, her tears angered and frustrated me. This was six days before i found myself alone on that highway…

So there i was, a swollen face from the airbag that had just hit me, shocked before the sight of blinding headlights on cement and thinking, “is this a dream? Pleeease let it be a dream...” The loud cars behind passed me by, my body ridden with pain thrust me back into the realization that this was not a dream. Lifting my leg in throbbing agony: a heavy, disconnected foot with orange toenails, dementedly hanging like dead weight.

The police officer that found me came by to peer apprehensively into my car through the wreckage, his flashlight burning into my squinting eyes. He told me that the ambulance was on its way and asked if i had been drinking. “Yes… earlier,” i confessed before he went back to his patrol car that felt miles away from me. In that moment, i worried that he moved so far away in case my car exploded; my fear of dying there wrapped in flames on that freeway crept in as i sobbed and waited...

The blinding sterility of the hospital emergency room ‪at 2am was cutting- cutting of the green chiffon dress i had just celebrated some success in; torn straight up the middle. Cutting open my underwear without remorse, cold scissors sliding over me, leaving me vulnerable and without voice. i was exposed on a cold, hard table overlooked by shadows of examining strangers. One kind ER nurse took some time to tell me, “everything will be okay,” and i held on to his words for my dear life. After hours of tests, drugs, and incomplete memories, i discovered my fractured left hip, broken right ankle and need for emergency surgery.

The call to my parents at 6am that morning was the hardest one i’ve ever had to make. i woke them up at 6am to tell them that i had been in the hospital for the last four hours, was in horrible shape, and needed emergency surgery which they needed to be present for. Dad also had to track down the ‘95 emerald green Civic that they gifted me as a first car; impounded somewhere unknown and unrecognizable to us all.

i survived the crash, though my first car, a 95’ honda civic, did not

i survived the crash, though my first car, a 95’ honda civic, did not

In the months following, i was in a wheelchair, non-weight bearing on both legs, and unable to independently bathe, go to the toilet, or prepare food myself; forced to slow down, reflect, and tune in with an ailing body and spirit. In doing so, i began to see more of the support, love, and presence of my family who rallied to take care of me, my friends and colleagues who offered their patience, visits and bouquets of flowers that adorned our living room like a florist's shop.

This is when i first began to meditate and to pay attention to and study my thoughts and emotions and what it was producing in my life. i began learning how to find wisdom and peace in empty space, to not fill it with busyness or incessant chatter, and to listen. i saw my legs and arms atrophy and thin out with flesh hanging. i began to find small joys in the mundane: the luxurious feeling of cleanliness after taking a “bath” in the kitchen sink with a wet towel and my mother’s assistance, the fresh breeze on my cheeks when i was taken out for a walk, the thoughtfulness and hospitality of my younger brother who prepared fresh fruit bowls for my friends and i when they visited.

At the same time, i was facing the repercussions of my actions. When the officer presented a breathalyzer to me that night in the emergency room, i blew a .08 BAC, the cusp of a D.U.I. Not only had i consumed a couple drinks at the party- which I wrongly assumed would wear off by the time i began the drive home- but i had been awake that day for 19 hours. Lessons in my D.U.I. class later confirmed that, “moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to alcohol intoxication.” i spent over $12,000 in legal and fine fees, countless hours in counseling and courses.

i healed to accept the ramifications of falling asleep- literally and metaphorically, i began to recognize and question our culture’s propensity for compulsive doing over being filled my critical mind, and noticed the values that i had internalized which were not true to my heart. The messages of Eckhart Tolle, Carl Jung and Thich Nhat Hanh came into my life; as well as the notions of mindfulness and self-realization. The identities i had carried like designer purses were suddenly made irrelevant; the superficial relationships i lent my body to felt wasteful; and my loneliness was alchemized into gratitude as i sat with my self through this transformation. And over six challenging months in a wheelchair and out into physical therapy, i witnessed my body heal itself.

modern-day medicine gave me my ankle back with a plate and two screws

modern-day medicine gave me my ankle back with a plate and two screws

i’ve grown to realize how disembodied i was before crashing my life away as it was. Busy living on autopilot, leaving little time to check in with myself, I was acting like i was in the passenger seat of my own life. If i had paid a bit more attention to my body, i would have likely realized that i was tired, in need of rest and nourishing ways to express my feelings. i wouldn’t have made the decision to go to yoga at 5am the same day as a work celebration that was expected to go into the night; or i would have found a safe friend to stay with in the city. i wasn’t listening to the wisdom my body was giving me and i wasn’t listening to anyone else, my mother included, who expressed love and concern. Little did i realize that i was in the driver’s seat, literally and metaphorically, holding the power to destruct my life in the blink of an eye.

Seven years later, i think back to this time of trauma and healing often. Since gaining my capacities and independence to walk, run, bathe, and feed myself again, i’ve also studied my body with psychological training, intuitive movement, and somatic therapy. i’ve become deeply attuned to my physical and psychic senses. Whenever i fall back into old patterns of giving myself away to external factors in hopes of being filled, i remember this time of my crash. The pain and fear on the faces of my parents and brother when they arrived at the hospital to see me for the first time after the crash is especially seared in my mind. i remember too that this precious body is telling me something with every step taken, and that it’s up to me to listen and take care of it with attentiveness and devotion.

This experience has catapulted me into the work that i do today- using my expertise in my own life to be a kind, challenging and compassionate mirror and collaborative gardener for the well-being of others in the expansion of self-awareness; to plant the seeds of trustworthy spaciousness, to bring in knowledge through education and reflection, and to ask questions for deep introspection and self-realization.

My given namesake, Chetna, means "awareness" or “consciousness” in Sanskrit. i use my name and my life as a guiding light and reminder of my purpose: to unfold + expand awareness of the wisdom within us so that we may each be more embodied, attuned and compassionate citizens of the world.