In Zen, there is a saying: ‘If you understand, then everything is as it is. If you don’t understand, then everything is still as it is.’
In two weeks time, I will have been paralysed for 28 years. And it’s difficult to explain in a few words all the things that being paralysed as taught me.
My rock bottom was nearly 5 years ago. I was sat in a shop doorway crying because my electric wheelchair had broken down. This was probably the lowest point in my life. For several reasons, partly because I felt completely out of control, hopeless, and part of me felt like I had created it, like I was to blame.
There was an internal battle going on in my mind; I was either blaming myself or blaming the situation and others involved. Whether it was the government, benefit system, or my ex, I was certainly playing the blame game. Blaming myself as well made me think this was a noble pursuit.
While I was blaming myself, I was justifying being a victim. It wouldn’t have been right for me to totally blame external circumstances, and I knew that.
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A wire had gone through the tyre on my electric wheelchair, it had been scraping on the inside for a while. I hadn’t noticed it until I got into town that day, so I quickly did what I had to do, hoping to return home. I was about to leave a large store and head home. That’s when the chair stopped; the wire wrapped itself around the main part of the wheel.
There I was, in my early 40s, sat in a busy doorway, crying because I felt so much shame for the position I was in. I had too much pride to ask for help. I had too much fear to actually do something with my life at that point. I was still grieving a relationship that had ended a few weeks ago, and that was the catalyst for my current painful and clear breakdown.
I had so many emotions going on, from shame to anger. I knew deep down that I had created most of this, I just did not want to admit it. Admitting that I was partly to blame for my circumstances would mean taking responsibility, and the thought of that sucked.
The security guard came over; he placed his hand on my left shoulder and squeezed it gently as if to comfort me, remaining silent.
After what seemed like a long time, I took a single deep breath, looked up, and said ‘thank you.’
‘How can I help?’ he asked in a really gentle manner.
So many times in my life I would give a habitable response to questions like this. It would range from ‘I’m okay’ to ‘I’m fine’. This time, however, the broken wheelchair and the tears did not allow me to deny his offer of help. I couldn’t look to my pride and say I’m fine.
Circumstances led to this moment when I had no choice but to tell a complete stranger what I needed.
We eventually got hold of one of my friends; they went to get my van and they reversed it down through a very pedestrianised part of my town. They opened the back door, lowered the ramp, and then came to assist me.
It was a very busy afternoon. The shop, as well as the pedestrianised street, was pretty packed. They had to push the wheelchair, with me still sat in it, out the shop across the street and into the back of the van. I had no reason to feel any shame, embarrassment, or any other negative feeling. Mechanics fail; my electric wheelchair had broken and everybody would understand. But that’s not how I felt. It was embarrassing, almost to the point of humiliation.
I borrowed the money to get a set of new tires, and, eventually, I started sorting my life out.
This article is about the things I’ve learnt being paralysed.
One of the main things I’ve learnt being paralysed is that life is the way it is, and sometimes there’s not a whole lot you can do about most of the things that happen. Yes, I could have bought new tyres earlier, but I did not think I had the money. I could have stopped the chair earlier that day and got help before it got too bad. I could have… I could have… and that game continues.
How far back do we want to go?
Playing the “I could have” game will literally destroy your future. I could have been an astronaut, perhaps even the president given the circumstances at the moment. Perhaps I might have been faster than Usain Bolt.
All in all, when some circumstances come, there is nothing we can do about them. That afternoon, when the chair broke down, at that moment, there was nothing left I could’ve done to prevent it because it has already happened.
Everything is in this moment, and there’s nothing you can do to change this moment. You can only take a deep breath and accept this moment for what it is, and then it gives you the power to respond to the next moment.
And that’s my biggest lesson in life: accept this moment for what it is so that you can be ready for the next moment when it arrives—that’s where your power lies, not in trying to change everything to fit your expectations of how things should be. So, whether you’re sitting in the dark, or wishing for there to be light, or the other way around, it is still what it is. Do not wish for your present circumstance to be different from what it is now, accept it instead.
Accept the present moment, and embrace your ability to remain compassionate and understanding so that you can live the life of your choice rather than continuing the fight we so often think we can win.
You can hate the rain or love the rain. It is still raining.
You can hate the pain or love the pain. It still hurts.
You can hate to be lonely or embrace your desire for connections.
Whatever you do, don’t get attached to any of it.
Embracing the moment does not mean everything is fine. It means you understand the present moment for what it is. So you invest your power for the next moment, rather than waste it on what has already happened.
Would I change my accident if I could? I get asked that all the time and that was why I wrote 23 Years Being Paralysed, would I reverse my accident? My answer has still not changed: ‘I wouldn’t!’ If anything, it has reinforced my belief that having this outlook on life brings me less suffering compared to thinking about what my life could be without the accident.
Remember, pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. Pain will always be there because of the impermanent nature of life. In order to love, there must be grief at some point. Don’t avoid the pain, avoid the suffering by embracing the pain and loving why that pain exists.
Today, I live my life embracing as many moments as I become aware of. Staying mindful and present in any situation is not too difficult. It is remembering to do it that is difficult, and most of my days are still on autopilot. And that’s okay because it is what it is. Instead of letting it go, let it be.
It really does not matter whether you understand the current situation in this moment or you don’t. It is still going to be what it is. Embrace that.
This philosophy alone has changed my life and given me more peace than anything else. I understand now that I am not in charge; I am part of the river, not the banks controlling the direction of the river.
If you would like some more peace in your life, download my 3 guided meditations. There is a short meditation to help you quickly relax when you are feeling anxious or stressed. A couple of meditations to help you if things are a little difficult.
Let me know in the comments below if you have any thoughts about what you have read here.