Counting Whats

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What do you do? What kind of car do you drive? What clothes do you wear? What is your education? What house do you live in? What, what, what, what what!!

My life was a pile of whats. Everywhere I looked there was a what. I was surrounded by whats. What I ate, what soap I washed with, what kind of gas I put in my car. I had plenty of whats to think about. Then, one day, completely out of the blue, I had a sudden physical challenge - two strokes - paralysis - injury. And I discovered that the huge pile of whats I thought I had was tiny compared to the whats that arose when I had a big physical catastrophe. Then it was: WHAT happened to you? WHAT part of you is paralyzed? WHAT have you lost? Big WHATs

But here's the funny thing I have learned about whats. The size of the what doesn't matter. A what is still just a what. Whats are history, a done deal, over, complete, in the bag. By the time something becomes a what - in order to even be a what - it's already in place. No matter how much I might want to I can't un-what it. There it is.

Focusing on what had happened to me doesn't change a thing. The more I focus on what happened the more stuck I become. I can sit and look at myself and all the things that I already have or don't have and wish them to be different but counting my whats doesn't take me anywhere. It just leaves me helpless. I don't know about you, but I am not all that fond of helpless.

I realized that there must be something else in this world driven mad by what counting, something else I could do, and there is. In any circumstance there is content (the what) and there is process (the how). There is the thing and how you work with the thing. The two are related but they are not the same.

Think basketball. Two basketball players are practicing and each one of them has a what - each is holding a basketball. One of the players focuses on using the ball with creativity and attention. The other one focuses on how much he or she wishes for another ball. They each have the same kind of ball but they use it differently. One makes great plays. The other doesn't. It's easy to see in basketball, not so easy to see in the middle of our lives, but it's the same.

Focusing on the how - the process - brings me into the present moment - right here - right now - no excuses. It asks me to pay attention and calls for a creative response. Therein lies the magic. If I can take what happened to me, no matter what that is, pay attention to it and respond to it creatively, I open up possibilities in all directions.

Fine, you say. Sounds good but how can I make the shift towards that creative response? I start by examining what I believe. If I realize the truth of these four things, I can begin:

1. Change is possible. I can become unstuck.

2. I can influence the course of the change. I am not helpless and what I do matters.

3. Change takes time. Persistence is important; and

4. My life can be savored and enjoyed all along the way.

I work with people with serious injuries, long rehabilitations and major life adjustments. I am often surprised that these simple messages are not given more clearly. They are fundamental. Once we learn them, we can apply them in any situation, big or small.

Over and over again I watch people change when they learn to let go of counting whats and begin to focus on how they will work with the challenges they encounter. Deliberately shifting our view away from what happened to us towards focusing on how are we going to work with our challenges changes everything. It's not that we find some way to "accept" our problems. We literally change the outcome of our problems by the way we work with the challenge.

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