About a year ago, i spoke at the International Conference for Disability and Diversity in Honolulu and one of my commitments, while there, was to sit on a panel of 'experts' to discuss and field questions about innovations around the world for access for people with disabilities. One person was a literal ambassador. Next to me sat the president of something important at Sprint and a handful of other very positively influential people. They all had something very poignant to contribute and delivered quite eloquent presentations.
Then there was me. I was actually pretty bored. I mean, the innovations these people were discussing are very interesting, but thats just not who i am. I appreciate innovations, making my life easier (My incredible mountain bike is a very interesting innovation. So is my new surfboard that is being shaped this week! Woohoo!) but on a daily basis i adopt a philosophy that directs my attention elsewhere...to myself. I know that sounds elitist and self-righteous, but bare with me. And i know what the law says...The American Disabilities Act of 1978 and my civil rights and all the other very liberating steps the world has taken to make sure i'm not excluded. I appreciate a cutout in a curb or a ramp or bathroom stall i can get into. They make my life easier, BUT i live my life day in and day out under the umbrella understanding that LIFE IS NOT GOING TO BE COMFORTABLE, nor is it supposed to be. I don't like the phrase supposed to because it implies a certain state of predestination or set standard. By using supposed to i'm merely pointing to the thought that maybe this is what i wanted. I'll leave you with that thought to ponder...
As part of this philosophy i also believe that it is not the world's responsibility to adapt to me, but my responsibility to adapt to the world. When i shared this thought, during the panel discussion, i felt 100s of beaty little eyes squint in my direction. I saw scowls form and a wave of angry red energy rush towards me from the audience. I was contradicting everything that was being discussed but I couldn't sit there and listen to people complain anymore! All i heard was "We need this!" and "We need that!" and then the world will be a better place. I actually agree BUT in order for these things to happen, we need PIONEERS! A pioneer paves the way. That means getting out there in the world and putting yourself in uncomfortable situations before things like we were discussing are in place, not for the sake of 'paving' it for others, but merely because you want to be there. Call me crazy, but i believe we are called to something above the laws of this world, above the ADA or anything else. That is the law of self, where you create what you want though the power of the entire collective consciousness within you. Like Dr. Bronner said, "All-one". And this law drives me to not hold the world responsible to enable me, but that i am fully enabled already. I believe that where i am at, being paralyzed, is all my choice and anywhere i go with it must be reached via my effort, under my responsibility. The question i always ask myself, "How uncomfortable are you willing to get?" Getting, or not getting, to where i want to go is determined by my answer to that question.
Well you could imagine how this did not go over so well. The entire conference was about inclusion and changing the world, while i was telling people, with much 'greater' disabilities than myself, to change themselves. Whoa! Some very diplomatic sweeping of me under the carpet was deployed by the real live ambassador/moderator and the day saved. I scuttled dejectedly out of the room to the bathroom when the panel discussion ended and was met outside by two people who had connected with what i said. Relief! Yes, from what i did in the bathroom, but also from the support i felt from these two people. Thankfulness flooded me! However, in speaking with them, i realized what i did not say up there. During my share time on the panel, I touched on the point that i have it easy. I have a disability that allows me to do anything i want. I'm relatively young and strong and not limited at all really. I wholeheartedly admitted that i am not an authority on 'greater' disabilities and therefore could never understand. Well, by not taking that statement a step further, i pretty much succeeded in discrediting myself. What i did not say up there, was that there is always someone with a 'greater' disability. When we start to see our disability (Everyone has one. Physical or not. It just might not be as visible.) as something that 'happened' to us, then we set ourselves apart as an individual needing something else other what we have...which, i believe, is what we CHOSE! When we accept any given situation as what just is and simply choose to put one foot in front of the other from there, then we step into a provoked life. Provoked because THAT is actually what you came here to do. That is, WALK YOUR PATH. Thats it. Regardless of any law or preconceived notion or other people's thoughts or anything.
One person who has helped me realize this is my good friend, Anna Young. In order for me to explain what she means to me, i need to rewind a little bit...
You see, I'm a fraud. I don't surf and bike and adventure because i have some special, above and beyond motivation i've discovered. my athletic endeavors, a lot of the time, are more about survival. On any given day, the major emotional emotional issue i deal with is feeling claustrophobic. You can imagine that not being able to get up and run, or even get up for anything, can feel very literally binding, like you're bound up. So i relieve myself of this feeling, and my anger, by getting out in nature. I have this deep seeded need to prove to myself that i am not bound and when i'm out there, i feel healed in a way. Sometimes i feel motivated and sometimes i don't, but. all the time, i feel 'stuck' and adventuring is my greatest coping mechanism.
Then i met Anna. Whats the ultimate thing that could happen to you to instill a critical level of claustrophobia? Being buried alive? Well, thats how Anna feels all day, every day. She has a rare lung disease that makes breathing literally almost impossible for her. Every breath is arduous. She lives in constant pain, near death, in and out of the hospital, in a constant state of being buried alive. If not being able to run feels binding, how does not being able to breathe feel?
So Anna's life has become a source of REALITY CHECK for me. I don't like the word inspiration. I don't know if i believe in it and it is definitely over-used. I believe in REALITY, in the here and now, and my choice in how i deal with it. I could feel sorry for myself. I'm paralyzed for god's sake! Or i could look at Anna, battling every second. At least i can lay at rest and sleep! Imagine what trying to sleep is like for her. I should have told everyone in that room about her. Thinking about facing your actual survival every minute of the day, puts things into perspective.
Now, I accept my path. No inspiration or motivation. It just is what it is. I came here to walk it. One foot in front of the other. It is MY responsibility to endure, not yours or the government's or the world's, based on some law. I accept help (sometimes), but when it comes down to it, if i want to get somewhere, the responsibility to enlist the help i may need and anything else falls on me. "Adapt. Overcome," Marine Sargeant Thomas Highway (Clint Eastwood, Heartbreak Ridge). The human will to survive is a very powerful thing, living in all of us, and you are capable of enduring so much more than your protective left brain allows you to believe. Odds are, at some point in your life, you will face your worst fears. They are your worst fears for a reason. That reason is very simple. You chose them. I always said my worst fear was being paralyzed and i speak to you now from experience: You are capable of rising from much greater depths than you ever imagined. There is no secret. There is no need to 'accomplish' anything. YOU are perfectly you, perfectly on your path. We all have days where we feel motivated and not so motivated. Don't seek inspiration, just walk your path. THAT is the provoked life. Thank you, Anna!