Commusings: Grace by Allison V. Thompkins

Feb 16, 2024

Dear Commune Community,

Davidji, the great spiritual teacher, once told me that meditation is like brushing your teeth. Vigorously brushing your chompers for two hours after ignoring them all year just hours before your dentist appointment will not yield great results. Similarly, you can’t “crisis” meditate. It’s a practice. And, over time, the practice spills over into your quotidian existence.

Inevitably, in life, an obstacle appears — perhaps a constellation of circumstances conspires against you.

This is where the practice is useful. Instead of panicking, you inherently find the space between stimulus and response. Your hippocampus outmuscles your amygdala in the tug of war between reason and fear. The aperture of your mind remains wide and open to creative solutions.

The harrowing story of today’s essayist, Allison V. Thompkins, reflects the utility of practice. Through meditation, we can find peace of mind even in the most tempestuous blizzard.

Navigating the cyclone of IG @jeffkrasno.

In love, include me,

• • •

Grace by Allison V. Thompkins

Excerpted from Spirituality Is for Every Body

During the fall semester of my fourth year of graduate school at MIT, I took development economics. In the days leading up to my final exam, local meteorologists forecasted a light snowfall would begin a few hours after my exam ended. The snow would amount to about one or two inches. Since it was December in Massachusetts, a light snowfall was nothing of note. I love watching snow as it falls, so I was excited by the prospect of having a picturesque snowfall to look forward to after taking my final exam.

The morning of my exam, I got in line to board MIT’s shuttle bus. Once the bus driver, Kent, saw me, he deployed the ramp so I could get on the bus.

“You’re up and at ’em early today, Allison,” Kent said as he secured my wheelchair to the floor of the bus.

“Yeah! I have a 10 a.m. final,” I replied as I settled in for the 15-minute bus ride from my dorm to the economics building. When we arrived, Kent wished me luck, and before I knew it, my clock read 10:00 a.m. and my scribe arrived with my exam in hand. We exchanged a few pleasantries and then it was time to bust a move . . . exam style.

Three hours later, with my exam complete, I bundled up to catch the shuttle back to my dorm. After locking my office door, I drove my power wheelchair down a windowless hallway and pressed the button to open the automatic doors that led to a hallway with floor-to-ceiling windows. As soon as I got to the first window, I stopped dead in my tracks.

The light snowfall that was supposed to start after my exam ended had already started. And it wasn’t a “light snowfall.” It was a bona fide blizzard!

“How could I tell that we were in the midst of a blizzard?” you might ask.

Well, normally, you could see the Charles River and the entire Boston skyline through those windows. On this day, however, the snow was coming down so hard that all you could see was a wall of white. You couldn’t even see individual snowflakes. It looked like someone had draped a white sheet over the window.

After taking in this sight for a moment and not completely believing what my eyes were seeing, I cranked the speed dial on my wheelchair’s controller as high as it could go and drove my chair at top speed back to my office. Mario Andretti had nothing on me that day! I’m pretty sure I left a few skid marks on the floor as I raced back. Once in my office, I logged into my computer and opened the Internet browser to MIT’s homepage only to have my worst fear confirmed.

In bold, large letters read the following words: “EFFECTIVE AT NOON, MIT IS CLOSED. ALL OFFICES ARE CLOSED.” It was currently a little after 1:00 p.m. This meant that MIT’s transportation department, which ran the shuttle that I depended on to get around campus, was closed and there was no shuttle service!

Why was this a big deal? During my first summer at MIT, I decided to drive my power wheelchair from my dorm to the economics building. About 10 minutes into the jaunt, I realized that I had made an error in judgment. The sidewalks were so bumpy and at such steep angles that my chair almost tipped over a few times. To prevent my chair from tipping over every time I rolled over a steep angle, I leaned forward with all my might to counteract the force pulling my chair backward or sideways. Whenever I drove over a bump, a jarring sensation would travel up my back and down my legs, causing my muscles to tighten and then spasm. As I drove over more bumps, each spasm became more intense and lasted longer. Some sidewalks lacked curb cuts, which meant I had to drive my chair in the street for part of the way.

The trip involved almost an hour of driving my chair over such difficult terrain that by the time I got to the economics building, my muscles were hurting as though I had just run the Boston Marathon and were spasming uncontrollably. And this excursion was on a sunny, warm day with no precipitation. Based on that experience, I knew that driving my chair over the same terrain in a blizzard would be downright dangerous, if not impossible.

Although my mind kept saying, “Can I panic now? Please let me panic now! Isn’t this the perfect time to panic?” I knew that there was a solution to this situation that didn’t involve me sleeping in my office or driving my chair through a blizzard. The disciplined attitude that my daily spiritual practice cultivated in me came shining forth. When my mind wanted to go into panic mode, I refused to let it. Because I consciously refused to panic, my spirit was able to speak to me. That quote from the Bible came to my awareness: “Be still and know that I am God.” In an instant, I knew I needed to be still by quieting my mind.

Even though the situation appeared to be that I was stranded in a classroom building an hour away from my home with no one to help me get there, the truth of the situation was that God was right there with me, in me and around me. Because God was with me, I was not alone in handling this, and the solution to this situation was right there. I just had to sit quietly and trust myself to find it. I had to embody my oneness with the Divine by expanding my consciousness beyond the worry of this seemingly impossible set of circumstances into the consciousness of the Divine, where grace flows freely and unceasingly.

Consciousness has more than one meaning, but metaphysics teaches that consciousness

is the sense of awareness. . . the knowledge or realization of any idea, object, or condition. The sum total of all ideas accumulated in and affecting man’s present being. The composite of ideas, thoughts, emotions, sensation, and knowledge that makes up the conscious, subconscious, and superconscious phases of mind. It includes all that man is aware of—spirit, soul, and body.1

Had I panicked, I would have experienced the results of being in sense or material consciousness, which is “a mental state formed from believing in and acting through the senses.” Sense, or material, consciousness leads to a very constricted way of experiencing the world, because this state of mind rests upon the belief that things are always as they appear, and since the Divine is not observable by the senses, it is not present. When you behave from this consciousness, you believe that the only objects that exist are those that you can see, touch, hear, smell, or taste— depending on your physical abilities. Because humans are so sense oriented, we can move ourselves out of alignment with the Divine—or the realm of the nonphysical—and cut ourselves off from the flow of grace. I had to choose to expand my consciousness beyond sense consciousness and into Divine consciousness.

When we’re experiencing a challenging time, it’s very easy and quite tempting to become myopic—that is, to focus exclusively on the untenable nature of the undesirable situation, think of every single worst-case scenario, and lament about how bad the situation is. However, when we focus exclusively on that, we constrict our consciousness to sense consciousness, which causes us to be aware of, and open to, only a tiny sliver of the brilliance, beauty, and love of the Divine. From such a consciousness, we cut ourselves off from the grace—the giving nature of the Divine—that is always flowing. We don’t need to earn grace, for grace is a gift from God that is always flowing to each and every one of us.

However—and this is a crucial “however”—we must be receptive to the grace that is always available to us. We cannot experience grace if we do not open ourselves up to receive grace. The way to open yourself up to receive grace is to expand your consciousness to Divine consciousness. In the state of expanded consciousness, you are able to receive what is always enveloping you: the generous and constant presence of the Divine.

Thus, as I sat quietly, trying to determine my next step, I consciously chose to focus on the spiritual truth that there was a solution for this situation. By choosing to focus on the existence of a solution, I caused my consciousness to expand until I became receptive to the grace that was surrounding me. And, eureka—I received a memory. Not just any memory. A memory that held the key for me to unlock and experience the grace that encompassed me that day. Through God’s grace, I remembered a meeting I had with the operations manager of MIT Parking and Transportation, Adam, and the director of MIT’s Office of Disability and Access Services to discuss my transportation needs. Since the meeting took place during my first year at MIT, I hadn’t thought about it in a few years.

However, on this day, once I had expanded my consciousness enough, I remembered that at the end of the meeting, Adam programmed his phone number into my cell phone. He told me to call him if I ever had an emergency. I considered my current situation for a millisecond and determined that yes, this indeed was an emergency. So, I whipped out my cell phone and called him as quickly as my fingers would move.

“Hi, Adam. This is Allison Thompkins,” I said, trying to stay calm.

“Oh yes. Hi Allison.”

“I’m calling because I just finished taking an exam in the economics building, and I just read that all of MIT’s offices are closed. Is there any way someone can help me get back home?”

“We’ve been waiting for your call. Kent stayed in the transportation office so he could bring you home. I’ll let him know you’re ready. The roads are bad, so it’ll take him an hour or so to get to you. Sit tight. We’re going to get you home, okay?”

I breathed the loudest sigh of relief in my life. “Sounds great! Thank you.”

After we hung up, I stayed in my office for a while and then made my way down to the lobby of the economics building, where I waited for Kent. Approximately 30 minutes after I got to the lobby, MIT’s shuttle bus slowly pulled up to the economics building. After the bus came to a full stop, I ventured out of the building and, very slowly, made my way to the bus.

Once I was on board, Kent quickly closed the door, turned on the heat, and began securing my chair to the floor of the bus.

“How did you know I was still here?” I asked.

He smiled and said, “I knew I dropped you off for your exam, but I hadn’t driven you home yet.”

“Thank you for waiting for me.”

“You know we’re going to make sure you’re okay, Allison. Now, these roads are really bad. So it’s going to be a good two hours before I can get you home.”

“That’s okay! As long as I have a safe way to get home and heat, I’m great!”


Allison V. Thompkins, Ph.D. is a spiritual practitioner who was born with cerebral palsy. Passionate about creating inclusion within spirituality and helping others live joyous lives, Allison develops personalized spiritual practices for clients with disabilities. Her writing on spirituality, inclusion, and disability culture has appeared in New Mobility magazine, the Boston Globe, and her own blog, Rolling With The Spirit. Visit her online at:

1. Both quotes in this excerpt come from the following source: Fillmore, Charles. 1959. The Revealing Word. Lee's Summit, MO: Unity School of Christianity.

Excerpted with permission from Spirituality Is for Every Body: 8 Accessible, Inclusive Ways to Connect with the Divine When Living with Disability by Allison V. Thompkins. Available wherever books are sold.

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