Rough Seas: Time to Adjust Your Sails

It is great to be out there, interacting with the world again. A few months ago, I was involved in a car accident that made a really good point about symbols and how we perceive them. Semiotics, or the study of signs and symbols, could be applied to something as simple as traffic signs and lights. Or even brake lights on the car(s) in front of you! Though afterward, I also got a good reminder of why beliefs are so important.

I was in Tampa and was heading back to my hotel for the night, and I exited the freeway. Ahead, I noticed that the cars had all stopped. How did I notice, when this was still at a distance ahead? The brake lights. Being of at least average intelligence, I saw the lights ahead and realized that all the cars were either stopped or were stopping. I slowed, as this response made the most sense to me. As I drew closer, it became obvious that indeed all the cars were stopped for a stop sign at the cross street. I stopped as well, and waited for traffic to advance.

The Jeep behind me also seemed to notice the significance of the red lights and slowed as well. Strangely, rather than stop, the driver behind me actually tried to pass me on the left. This made no sense to me at the time, as it was a frontage road, I was in the left lane, and traffic was stopped. As I heard the screech of brakes, however, it made some sense (at least later). The car behind him had not noticed the red lights at all and was driving far too quickly into the rear of the Jeep. That driver, in turn, saw that the advancing car would not be able to stop in time and was trying to pull out of the way. He underestimated just how fast Mr. Distracted was going, however, and he only succeeded in making the collision more artistically stimulating. That is, instead of a simple front-end-to-rear-end, front-end-to-rear-end domino effect, he managed to create an interesting pattern: the Jeep angled around my rental car, then as Mr. Distracted hit him, he was pushed alongside my car, enabling the Jeep to sideswipe the left rear corner of my car, while Mr. Distracted still managed to then hit my rear. The resulting collision left cars glancing off in various directions, almost as though Godzilla had picked one up and tossed it into the others.

At the time, I dug my phone out of my pocket and called 911 to report the accident, then the car rental company. It was odd to be coherent, as I was in a great deal of pain at the time. It was later, after the adrenaline had leveled off, that I was diagnosed with a concussion, a relatively common injury. The commonness of the injury, by the way, did little to comfort me. For at least a couple months afterward, I found it impossible to concentrate, work became impossible, and even something like reading a book or watching a movie proved too challenging. Either would result in a severe headache, nausea, vertigo and lightheadedness. I also discovered that it is possible to sleep twenty hours in one day. This is something I never thought possible, and I certainly had never approached such a feat. While healing from the concussion, I decided that it was easy. I’ve since reconsidered it, however, as I no longer can sleep more than seven or eight hours. That magic power vanished as the concussion healed.

I mentioned that a concussion is a fairly common injury. At least for people likely to get struck very hard in the head. For professional fighters and football players, this happens all the time. But the brain is as delicate as it is hardy. That is, the tissue of the brain has proven to be able to recover from a surprising amount of trauma. Though if that trauma is sustained, there is little ambiguity in the outcome. Remember Muhammad Ali’s latter day interviews?

I confess that for a time, I was humbled by the awareness that if I did not make a full recovery, I might not be able to do the things in my professional life that bring me the most joy. It was frightening to imagine not being able to write, or to read and learn new complex tasks.

While following the doctors’ orders, and getting lots of rest, I worked with my beliefs, understanding that our beliefs largely dictate our reality. It’s not what happens to us that matters most, it’s how we respond. A wise man once said, “You can’t control the wind, but you can control your sails!” That’s absolutely true. There will always be people like Mr. Distracted out there, and if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, you may encounter some heavy winds. But you can adjust your sails, leveraging the winds, or if they prove too unpredictable, draw your sails in until the storm passes. A common example in yachting is heaving to in the face of a bad storm. Too often, we try to control that which we actually cannot. This expends a lot of energy, to little or no effect, resources which could have been used to adjust the many things we can influence.

So I spent a few months with my sails hove to, I healed, maintained a healing mindset, continually coaching myself with beliefs that supported returning to 100%.

Note please that I didn’t do belief work instead of working with medical professionals. Beliefs are incredibly powerful, and can do nearly anything. But if you’re broken a bone, your beliefs aren’t likely to set it or ensure that it heals correctly. I’m not saying you couldn’t do it – only that its success is nowhere near as certain as if you have a doctor set the bone, place it in a cast, and give it time. What I am saying is that the two together are a fantastic recipe for healing.

Another note: Just as I wouldn’t go about healing a broken bone (or a bruised brain, as in my case) with beliefs alone, I also wouldn’t do it with medical attention alone. Any qualified doctor will tell you that once all the medical steps have been taken, it’s up to the patient. If the patient believes that his life is over, he will not heal, the body will not repair, healing tends to be a slow process – and at times doesn’t ever happen. We need both.

So I got checked out of the ER, made an appointment with my own doctor the next day, and began working with healing metaphors, thoughts, and addressing any beliefs that might impede my healing.

Why do beliefs matter so much? There are a thousand theories, but the very least that a common-sense-wielding individual must notice is that a belief limits or permits progress. You can call this progress “energy flow” (which is scientifically measurable, by the way), or “potential”, the metaphor isn’t as important as what we do with it. We look out at our world and decide what’s possible. Why would an intelligent person consistently and seriously strive to do what he’s certain is impossible? Oh, I hear you, Positive Thinkers, Great Achievers: “Nothing’s Impossible”. I get it. But notice that we’re talking about beliefs. It’s not as important whether or not the task in question really is impossible – only that the person in our example believes that it is. Meaning when we decide the boundaries of the possible for ourselves, we are simultaneously allowing ourselves or denying ourselves access outside those boundaries. If we believe it is not possible to have a fulfilling relationship. that all people will let you down, you are not likely to give your all to a relationship. Why bother if it’s destined to disappoint you anyway? Similarly, a person who believes that the amount of money he earns is all that is possible (or deserved, or fair – we all choose our own predicates!), he is not only unlikely to look for opportunities to earn wealth, he is in fact likely to unconsciously sabotage any efforts to do so.

My beliefs said that I not only could heal entirely, but that I would. I’m grateful to be back at 100%, able to work, create, write, read, and to concentrate without the challenges introduced by the concussion.

Please consider this as you encounter challenges in your own lives – storms will come, that’s inevitable. I don’t ask you to deny the storm’s reality, only to take out your umbrella when it rains. And if the seas get stormy, heave those sails in and relax – it will pass, and you will be back to smooth sailing before you know it. Believe it.

And by all means, look for signs around you to indicate what’s going on. Semiotics are there to serve us! Don’t ignore the clouds (or the brake lights ahead) and only discover the challenge when it crashes into you – or you into it.