Us Plus

by Jennifer Paros

For everything that’s taken away, something of greater value has been give.

                                                               --  Michael J. Fox 

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2012

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2012

I was watching an interview with Michael J. Fox and he spoke of the early days of living with his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.  He described sometimes hitting the wall (literally) and said, “I just couldn’t get my brain around it.”  But over time, he realized it was about him “plus” the condition.  The condition wasn’t diminishing him but was part of the context in which he was experiencing himself.  His life expanded and incorporated another area.  He was who he was – whole and complete regardless - and the situation he found himself in was just that (despite any judgment upon it): a situation. This kind of thinking keeps him away from identifying himself as a victim and continuing to embrace who he really is.

Many of us fear living with something that might make us less, might subtract from us.  And we often support each other in this fearful perception of loss.  But Michael J. Fox points to an important truth: our true value, the actual self, cannot be made less.  It is a structural impossibility.  The structure of life, including us, relies upon both what we can see (form) and what we cannot (energy).  Form and the form of our experiences changes; it is not ultimately stable. Stability is a factor of an inner connection, not an outer one.

There is an argument that to be able to walk smoothly, talk easily, think clearly and then experience oneself without those abilities must mean a lessening of what one is. But this deduction only reads as the truth when we define ourselves in too narrow and limited a way, by our physicality or the physical reality of our current situation. 

My youngest son has been labeled Special Needs, on the Autism Spectrum. One recent evening, we were watching a film with a scene that involved a special-ed short, yellow bus and jokes at the expense of those riding it.  He turned to us in horror, remembering the bus he once rode.  “Was that a special-ed bus?” he asked.  It had never before occurred to him. Suddenly he saw himself from the outside-in, along with all the implications.  

To some degree, he had been living himself plus the situation.  But the film implied that the situation defined the characters. Suddenly what had once been only transportation became a symbol of something wrong with him.  Now the bus and all it represented seemed to diminish him.  And he had to consciously decide if he was that diminished image, or if he was still he – whole and complete – who had simply ridden a short yellow bus.

You must always learn to see yourself as a great and advancing soul.

                                                    --  Wallace D. Wattles 

There are different forms of awareness a person can bring to life. In situational awareness we recognize the mechanics of what’s happening, the physical realities.  A non-situational awareness is recognition of life without form, structure, stuff, or story. It’s an awareness that expands beyond what’s happening into pure energy. Situational awareness is the most practiced, often using judgment of our situation as the barometer by which we measure our lives and ourselves. The situation starts seeming more important, more powerful, and more determining than the person. But it never is. 

In my writing work, I have lived varied situations.  I’ve had an editor’s support; I’ve had a book contract and a book published.  I’ve also lived without an editor’s support, without a book contract, and with a book rejected.  Though most of us judge the acceptance letter as better than the rejection, all that has actually occurred is a momentary rearrangement of elements. 

Without interpretation, evaluation or projection, situations are all strangely equal: “a set of circumstances in which one finds oneself.”  We’re so used to fearing bad situations, we’ve forgotten that regardless of our opinion of them, the same process takes place.  Despite the arrangement of specific components, we always have the opportunity for expansion and to “find ourselves” in any context. 

Fear is anxiety about living a situation we think might be bad. But when we suddenly discover ourselves riding the short yellow bus, diagnosed, or rejected, we have a choice.  We can believe situations have the power to add to us (Make us great!) or subtract from us (Make us crap!).  Or we can see life as always Us plus what comes. 

With a non-situational awareness of life, we can find ourselves on any bus at any time and still know who we are and where we’re really going.

Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at

Jennifer ParosComment