Being With What Is—A Thanksgiving Prayer.

Via Benjy Wertheimer
on Nov 18, 2011
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Badlands Sunset

One of the events I always fear most while on tour  just happened to us here in South Dakota en route to the final three dates of our national concert tour (that were to be in Jackson, WY, Sun Valley, ID, and Boise, ID).

In brief, we hit a deer shortly after dusk yesterday on a remote road in northwestern South Dakota going about 65 miles an hour. I was sleeping as Heather drove, and was awakened by the impact, which wrenched the hood of our car open and sprayed coolant all over the front of the vehicle (obscuring the windshield), destroyed our grille, front bumper, radiator and … well, we don’t know what else yet. Fortunately, there was a small sliver of visibility through my side of the windshield (to the right of the crumpled remains of the hood) and, between Heather’s narrow view of the road’s center line and my glimpse of the shoulder, we were able to slowly make our way to the right shoulder of the road.

It broke our hearts to find, shortly after the accident, that we had killed the deer – probably instantly.

And, suffice it to say, with over 230,000 miles on our van, it is probably a total loss.

That’s the bad news.

Remains Of Our Beloved Touring Van


The good news: All of us in the van (Heather, Barkley, and I) were completely unscathed.  None of our instruments, gear, CDs or other personal belongings were damaged at all. In addition, our insurance company may still repair our beloved 2004 Nissan Quest even though the cost of repairs could exceed the Blue Book value of the van.

The Last Photo I Took From My Van

Perhaps the best news of all is the way that we were treated by the people we encountered as a result of the accident.

First of all, the South Dakota Highway Patrol officer John Deuter was incredibly friendly, engaging and helpful, inviting us to stay in the warmth of his office (aka the patrol car) as we waited for the wrecker to drive the 100+ miles from the nearest town with a towing service. He shared quite a bit about himself, unraveling many of my stereotypes about the cold, unreachable figure behind mirrored sunglasses that many of us associate with state troopers. He told us with a broad smile and twinkling eyes about his expansive experiences traveling in Japan while he served in the Army, and we continued to pass the time very amicably discussing our world travels, our backgrounds, even the unique landscapes inherent in each of our respective lines of work. In short, it was an honor to meet him, and I was reminded in very tangible ways about the blessings that come about when someone chooses to embark on a life of service, which Officer Deuter clearly has done.Black Hills Twilight Cloud Bank

It’s easy to take the presence of such people for granted in our lives, and one of the unexpected upsides of our experience was being reminded that, even when we don’t think about it, there are great souls who have chosen a life of service that surround us. I’m immensely grateful, and in this time of Thanksgiving, I want to acknowledge these great hearts with the loving gratitude they so richly deserve.

The End of the Second Day in South Dakota

Our next encounter with this greatness came in the form of the wrecker driver Mike, who was incredibly personable and upbeat – not such an easy thing to achieve when you consider that his work is among the most dangerous professions anywhere, and he must always come into his interactions with those he serves knowing that they would MUCH rather not need his services. He has cheerfully chosen a job that, especially during the winter months in one of the most brutal climates in the lower 48 states, requires him to be on call 24/7 two weeks each month, and a job that involves a degree of death and destruction that most of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, try to pretend isn’t part of life. Once we arrived at our hotel in Sturgis, having just driven over 200 miles round trip to come to our aid, he helped us unload all of our gear into the lobby of the hotel.

Then there was Stacey, the clerk who greeted us at the front desk of the hotel. Treating us like longtime friends instead of the frazzled road-weary strangers that we were, she put us instantly at ease.

Barkley Checks In
Barkley Checks In


Stacey went out of her way to find us an unused room (at no charge) for the storage of the considerable amount of gear in our car in addition to the room where we would stay until all of this is sorted out.

She happily took care of Barkley as we went back and forth to our van and to the two rooms that contained our belongings.

She steered us to an excellent local Asian food restaurant (we hadn’t eaten in a LONG time) and loved Barkley up almost as if he were her own beloved dog. The power of her kindness, warmth and friendliness provided us with a welcome soft landing in very adverse circumstances.



So, at this point, what will we do next?

Quite honestly we don’t know.Dusk

Among other things, we may have a very long unplanned stay here in South Dakota when we want nothing more than to share our Kirtan practice with enthusiastic hearts in Wyoming and Idaho, and to make our way back home after 9 weeks of continuous travel.

But what I have received is a powerful object lesson in a great teaching I first heard from the great author and teacher Catherine Ingram: “Peace is being with what is.”

And this is the challenge I face as we look at financial loss, our remorse at the impact of the modern Western traveling lifestyle on wildlife, and having to cancel events with communities we love that we’ve been looking forward to for our entire tour.

But even more importantly, I believe I have been invited to challenge the usual nonchalance with which I treat the day-to-day presence of the greatness that lives in the hearts of “ordinary” people – people like John, Mike and Stacey who so beautifully embody the heart of Hanuman.

It has been said that “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.”

In this case, my experience makes me want to commit to honoring such people even when I am not suddenly and unpredictably in need of their help.  It instills in my heart a prayer that I may walk this world with an ongoing awareness of (and gratitude for) the presence of these beings in all of our lives.

It is my hope that this tale may inspire each of us to do the same. Happy Thanksgiving.




In the time that has passed since I originally posted this, many things have happened.

First of all, Heather and I both have been moved beyond words by the loving energy people from all over have been showering on us… we are SO blessed by our community!

Heather also added a beautifully written post (see the Comments section below) that very powerfully reflects her experience of our accident. Both of us have found ourselves shaking as we write about this experience, and more and more saddened as we think about the deer; it was, as Heather says, so beautiful, wild and sweet.


Yesterday, our vehicle was declared a total loss by the insurance company, so we had to let go of the hopeful dreams we had of restoring our van – it has felt like our home away from home for nearly eight years, and a trusted friend as we traveled nearly a quarter of a million miles in those years together. As the snow began to fall and darkness descended, we said a final goodbye as we unpacked the van for the last time.

Finally, we have put together plans to leave South Dakota and head for home tomorrow with all of our luggage, instruments and sound gear in a rented Budget truck.  Today we’re waiting out the snowstorm here in Sturgis, breathing, singing, meditating, writing …


… though clearly Barkley is ready for whatever is next, exuberantly embracing the snow and all that is in this moment. We have a lot to learn from him …



About Benjy Wertheimer

Born and raised in Boulder, Colorado, Benjy Wertheimer is an award-winning musician, composer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist equally accomplished on tabla, congas, percussion, esraj, guitar, and keyboards. Benjy has toured and recorded with such artists as Krishna Das, Deva Premal and Miten, Jai Uttal, Walter Becker of Steely Dan, virtuoso guitarist Michael Mandrell, and renowned bamboo flute master G. S. Sachdev. He has also opened for such well-known artists as Carlos Santana, Paul Winter, and Narada Michael Walden. Benjy is a founding member of the internationally acclaimed world fusion ensemble Ancient Future. / Beginning his musical studies at age 5, starting with piano and later violin and flamenco guitar, Benjy has studied Indian classical music for over 25 years with some of the greatest masters of that tradition including Alla Rakha, Zakir Hussain, Ali Akbar Khan and Z. M. Dagar. Along with the Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart, Benjy was a contributing composer and member of the Zakir Hussain Rhythm Experience. / For over five years, Benjy scored music for the internationally syndicated NBC series Santa Barbara. His CD Circle of Fire reached #1 on the international New Age radio charts in 2002. Now living in Portland, Oregon, he now tours around the world leading kirtan with his wife Heather (as the duo Shantala). /


43 Responses to “Being With What Is—A Thanksgiving Prayer.”

  1. Bohemianrapsudsy says:

    If you read this artical you can put 2 and 2 together, it was injured and died.

  2. I appreciate that you brought this to my attention, and yes, we went back with the state patrol officer to look for the deer and found it about a quarter mile back on the side of the road.
    We did want to go back right away to see what happened to the deer, but we were amazed that the state patrolman came almost immediately after we called 911.
    The deer was almost certainly killed instantly – and I think my reference to our feelings about this were just a little too deeply buried in the article (I wrote this very off-the-cuff, wanting to trade my usual perfectionism about writing for capturing the immediacy of the moment).
    I am deeply disturbed that the deer was killed … that's what I referred to (albeit too briefly, perhaps) when I wrote about "our remorse at the impact of the modern Western traveling lifestyle on wildlife". So no, it was emphatically NOT just a minor detail … the way in which our western transportation system of cars, trucks and roads affect ALL of the beings in this country (not just the people, though, depending on which statistic you follow, deaths through accidents of this kind are either the 4th or 5th leading cause of death in humans of all ages) is something that concerns me greatly … all the more so when we are the ones who killed the deer…

  3. Ana Holub says:

    Thanks for the update on the deer. I was reading your post, thinking – and the deer??????????????? You go on and on about humans, cars, etc. But the deer lost its life. Adding something about how Heather felt upon impact and afterward would be great to include. That said, thanks for your thoughts. All blessings to you, Heather and Barkleyl and your travels!

  4. Thanks for your kind words, Ana! I have updated the article – which I really just blurted out as soon as I could after the events it describes – to include what happened to the deer. Because of our circumstances (including fears of fire when we noticed the engine was smoking), it did take a little while before we were able to go back a quarter mile or so and check on the fate of the deer.
    I really DO wish we could find ways to decrease the negative impact that our means of travel have on not only deer but myriad other creatures with whom we should more graciously be sharing space …

  5. Many thanks to you, Joseph! It turns out that our van was indeed a total loss, so now we're making plans accordingly. It helps us greatly to know that you are sending such great energy and love our way!!!

  6. Posted to Elephant Main Facebook Page, my Facebook page, Twitter, StumbleUpon.

    Bob W. Editor, Elephant Journal
    Yoga Demystified
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  7. Betsy Toll says:

    Ooooh Benjy and Heather and Barkley. Oh oh ohmmmmm. Metta metta metta.
    Anyone who knows you knows your hearts broke to have ended the life of a deer. Sending tenderness and embraces, and warm wishes for a safe journey home. And SO grateful you three are okay, and all have each other's love to carry you home. Ram Ram. Jai Jai Hanuman.

  8. Betsy Toll says:

    Thanks for this post, Heather. Warm hugs and tenderness to you. Yes to simply be loving, mindful, and compassionate to all beings – wild ones, kind ones, difficult ones, and ourselves included – is a practice for a lifetime. I know how this must have frightened, rattled, and hurt your heart. I'm so glad you and Benjy and Barkley were physically fine and that Baba and Bhajrang bali came to you in the dear folks who helped you in those first hours. All blessings to you guys. Jai Gurudev.

  9. Betsy Toll says:

    Ooooh Benjy and Heather and Barkley. Oh oh ohmmmmm. Metta metta metta.

  10. Donna B! says:

    Moved to tears by the depth of your feelings that come pouring off the page (or computer screen in this case). We will put up some prayers for all of you — the two leggeds and four leggeds. Blessed be…

  11. What a beautiful, sad, and poignant story. Thanks so much for telling it. I love what you wrote about honoring animals and all of life . . . one of the greatest gifts of Native American spirituality as well. Many blessings to you!

  12. Thank you Betsy! Much love!

  13. Wow.
    I greatly appreciate your sharing of this story … and am honored that you chose to share it here.
    And may each of us, day to day, find ways to more deeply "honor animals and the whole hoop of Life ever more sincerely."
    Beautifully said…

  14. Jody, this is an incredible story … though I must admit I shuddered when I thought about you having this experience right after we were with you!!
    Heather & I are overjoyed that you emerged from this accident unscathed – and indeed, the "seat belt mantra" (Om Dum Durgaye Namah" has proven itself to be very powerful for others we have known. Babaji Bob Kindler, a great friend, musician and Advaita Vedanta scholar and teacher, was the one who first described it to us as the seat belt mantra. He says that he uses it each time he prepares to travel.
    When I think of Durga, who is so fearsome in appearance, I am reminded that this fierceness is focused on decimating the illusion of our separateness, and the ferocity with which a mother will protect her own. When we chant this mantra, much like playing or listening to the raagini (literally a female raga ) that bears her name (probably the most peaceful of any raga in the North Indian classical literature), we can bask in the warmth and peace of her protection.
    Thanks again for sharing your story with us …
    Jai Ma!!!

  15. SO many thanks for your love, light and good wishes, Betsy! Hope we get to cross paths with you soon again… Jaya Hanuman!
    Much love always,
    Benjy, Heather and Barkley

  16. … and blessed we are by your prayers!!! Thank you…

  17. Patti G says:

    Namaste! So happy that everyone was unhurt, what a miracle. I hit a stray dog several years ago and am still haunted by it to this day – he ran out into the road and looked up and into my eyes just seconds before I hit him. He was with a "buddy" who was unhurt, thank goodness. I was terribly upset, as you can imagine. When my husband went back to move the dog's body off the road, his "buddy" was there by the side of the road, waiting…even more heartbreaking to me. But isn't it wondrous what happens when we learn – again and again! – that we are not in control and that there is so much to learn?! The kindness you were shown will never leave your hearts. Peace and joy, love and light to all of you, I know you will love your new vehicle (van) just as much as your beloved Nissan! 🙂

  18. erika l disalvo says:

    Holding you 3 in the warmth of peace and i am ever grateful for your safety. May your hearts be nurtured in Love. Every moment is such a gift. Sending you both a tender embrace from Maui…

  19. sarodiya says:

    Dear Benjy, Heather & Barkley – very happy to know you are safe albeit somewhat shaken. For some inexplicable reason, the same divine force that created that magnificent sunset chose that deer to give it's flesh to other hungry creatures, it's remains to enrich the winter soil. Perhaps high-speed modern conveyance hastened it's demise but it could have as easily been savaged, and perhaps more painfully, by a pack of coyotes. I recognize and honor it's value as a living creature but it's death was as inevitable as the next sunrise. One can make an effort, everyday, to see even adversity through the lens of positivism. What if an alternate fate led to a bad accident an hour later that could have had a far worse outcome? I am content to know that you will honor the deer spirit as you continue to share and expand the bhakti path.
    Peace, Rick Henderson

  20. Brian Smith says:

    Benjy – sorry to hear about the accident. I am glad to hear you are safe. It is uplifting to hear about all the people who came to your aid. I wish we had known about this earlier, we are just down the road from you in Rapid City and could have helped out. It sounds like you are heading out today, but if you don't, give us a call.

    Brian Smith 605-718-0334

  21. Clair Oaks says:

    What a beautiful account of your "experience" I am a fan of your music Benjy – i met you at the first Chant Fest at Omega so many years ago -You were so kind and it was so awesome to see you play your many instruments!!! I don't know if Heather was there – never got to meet her, or Barkley. i am so very glad you all are unscathed. You know, we can never have too many reminders about "being with what is". I am a kirtan artist, mother, wife, painter…My band was to play at the Boston Chant Fest in June and just before, my husband found out that he had thyroid cancer. I am happy (and feel blessed) to say he is doing so well, they think they have removed all the cancer along with all of his thyroid. Anyway – it's been an eventful summer/fall – with so much suffering in the world – and with people close to us. All of it has gone to making us, my family, – more grateful for what we have and at the same time, recognizing that this life is temporary and such a gift – so keep your heart open and LIVE and LOVE in joy and doing what we can to bring peace and kindness and appreciation to others – sharing what is our true essence – staying in touch with THAT.
    THanks for your post, your music and your awareness – so glad you all are doing well – there must be an even better van or such in your future! since you had to let go of the one you had and that had served you so well. Have a wonderful adventure finding it!

  22. Clair Oaks says:

    oh, you can find me at

  23. Jody G. says:

    Jai Ma, Benjy!! Thanks for this wonderful and juicy explanation of Durga and the Seatbelt Mantra! Can I find this on one of your CD's? I hope you'll be back to Atlanta soon. I have a sweet, intimate yoga studio here and would love to host Shantala. Much love. ♥

  24. Jody G. says:

    Beautiful. ♥

  25. A quick question: Does anybody involved in this discussion know why replies to a comment thread disappear after such a short time (less than 24 hours)?

  26. Hi, Benjy. Replies are automatically hidden, but you can show them by just double-clicking on the "Replies" button after the comment.

    Other than being hidden, replies should not be disappearing ever. If they are, please e-mail me with details.



  27. blissdog says:

    Wow, thank you so much for posting. This experience took you both deep deep deep into what's real and true. I'm sad for the losses, and humbled to hear of all the love and gratitude you experienced. Peace….. Kit Muehlman
    I love your music and play it in yoga classes.

  28. Barbara and Steve says:

    Benji and Heather –

    thank you for this full and deep telling. We feel you both moving through the world – with love – and open eyes – and sadness for harm caused – and gratitude for the whole journey . . . and of course that goes for Barkley too !

    bb sg

  29. Theresa Tripp says:

    I love you both and Barkley too! I am happy to hear that you all escaped injury…sad about the deer but I am glad he/she was killed instantly. I had an experience like that but it was a cow and the officer had to shoot it in front us and the sound it made because of it's awful injuries still sticks with my mind when I hear of things like this. Thanks for sharing your experience…Big HUGS! Theresa

  30. I too am grateful for the breath and depth of the comments … and I greatly appreciate the clarity of your statement: "Life is even bigger than we sometimes think." Our experiences of late have been a clear reminder of this truth.

  31. Hello again, Jody! Heather & I would love to find a good time to return to Atlanta – we'll definitely be looking for a way to facilitate coming there again!
    As for the Durga Mantra, it is on our "LIVE in love" CD …
    With love & gratitude,

  32. SO many thanks, Erika!! We could use some of that Maui warmth right now … we've been through a few days of heavy snow and subzero temperatures … and quite honestly can't WAIT to be home.

  33. Rick, thank you for your loving, supportive and extremely thoughtful words! MUCH appreciated in a very trying chapter in our lives …
    It's our hope that we get to see you again before too long … be well, my beloved friend!

  34. Thanks so much, Bob!! That worked just fine … I think I also had a somewhat buggy internet connection when I was trying to access the replies.

  35. Thank YOU so much for your post, Clair! It's a VERY welcome perspective in a trying time … and please know that we are sending you and your family our prayers … not only for your husband's remission, but also in the hope that the clarity of your openness (and sharing of your true essence) may inspire all who come in contact with you.

    With much love & gratitude always,

  36. Clair Oaks says:

    My pleasure – great sharing with you! I can spend too much time on the internet but this is a great use of it!!

    …I would love to send you and Heather some of my music – I can send you a download code if you like it – you can listen at <a href="” target=”_blank”> – Lila is my new album – all the best to you as you sort things out!! – so just send me an email address and I will send you the code xo

  37. Thank YOU so much for your thoughtful words, Kit … and, now that we're home, I find that the process continues – not necessarily in an easy way. My reptilian brain keeps playing reruns of the accident each time I close my eyes, and, as I mentioned in other posts, I find myself questioning the assumptions that we make whenever we get into a car …

    I also want to thank you for what you say about our music … putting the music into the world is a kind of birthing process, and it means a great deal to us when you choose to share this music with students in your yoga classes. Our intention in releasing this music is always that it would help to enliven, uplift, or relax the listeners, and your sharing of it makes this possible.

    With much love & gratitude,

  38. Theresa,

    Now that we are home, the full magnitude of what happened has really sunk in … not necessarily in an easy way. But the arrival today of my brother-in-law and his family brings immense joy – joy that I can play with his boys, joy that I have the incredible good fortune to experience the love of home, love of family, and love of God and nature that lift my heart even in the drippy gray of November in Oregon …

    I have a lot of compassion for what you experience when you hear of things like this … I am so sorry … and still, at the same, time, both of us share the good fortune of having gone through such a difficult experience and living through it. It's my prayer that the gift of surviving tragic events may help us to be more grateful, more compassionate, and more loving to those we have the privilege of sharing our lives with.

    Big hugs back to you, and thanks for posting!

  39. steph says:

    Benjy and Heather…
    SO glad you are unharmed, and your precious instruments and dog are unscathed.
    However, all collisions are traumatic—so take good physical and psychological care in the aftermath…there is always a lesson about SLOWING DOWN after a car accident, no matter what the circumstances….I've been there.
    Look forward to hearing you again in Olympia or Seattle.
    Namaskar, Steph in Olympia (sitarist)

  40. I want to say something deeply insightful about gratitude, teachings, presence, Love but it all comes out just looking like words on a page.
    My inner mama bear voice has this to say: You guys are grounded! No more road trips!
    Gratefully breathing this moment with you.

  41. Thanks so much for your kind words, Steph!! And yes, the PTSD elements of our experience have recently been making themselves more poignantly felt … for many nights, my brain was playing reruns of the accident over and over as I was falling asleep. I think that, because I was asleep until the impact occurred, my mind has been trying to understand the experience and reconcile it with my subconscious …
    I'm grateful also for your advice, and I have been really trying to be more measured in my approach to all that I do – in many respects I'm a classic "Type A" personality, and I'm endeavoring to use this experience as a lesson in slowing down, appreciating my life and circumstances, and in general to live as mindfully as possible.
    With love,

  42. Wonderful to hear from you, Leela … Heather, Barkley & I are sending you MUCH love!!!

    Somehow, though, I have a feeling that more road trips are in our future …

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