Most people in life will experience trauma, it is how we proceed afterward that makes all the difference.
Trauma may stem from childhood; it can be from violence, from injury, from death of a loved one. It can feel frightening and shameful. It usually results in anger and resentment. What should be acknowledged however, is how it can also propel people into a new perspective, a higher state of self-awareness and can ultimately change their lives for the better.
In 1999 I broke my neck in a motocross accident and was diagnosed as a complete quadriplegic. Multiple neurosurgeons gave me a million-to-one chance of ever feeding myself again.
This is my trauma.
As I lay like stone, trapped in a paralyzed body, my lungs began to fill with fluid causing me to suffocate—to literally drown and flat line. That moment, which is still vivid in my mind today, is the basis for who and what I am now. When I finally was resuscitated I was met with two choices: I could either believe in the projections of doctor’s and skeptics, or I could believe in myself, my family, and an ambiguous, unknown future.
Now I’m not suggesting that the trauma didn’t have its own idea about what I should think or feel. No matter how hard I tried, at times the traumatic experience seemed to have a gravity so strong it would crush the light from my eyes until the dark became black. I experienced severe depression and a lost sense of self; the kind of despair that drove my wheelchair wheels to the edge of infinity; to a crystal clear, warm and inviting swimming pool. But it was at that edge where I remembered my choice; the choice to believe in the power of possibility.
Here are a few things I learned when I emerged from the darkness:
Live in Gratitude
After the accident, when I inhaled my first conscious breath it was an immediate reminder of how f*cking miraculous this life is! I was immediately brought into the now and as this ‘ah-ha’ moment distilled, the only thing left was gratitude. Gratitude is the foundation beneath every proverbial step that I take.
Focus on Being Before Doing
Generally speaking, I feel we are living in a society that promotes constant activity and mindless movement. We find it difficult to slow down even when the body is at rest. However when one is physically paralyzed it forces one to practice being. I admit that even being frozen in place, mastering a mindful calm was, and still is my biggest challenge. What can I say? I love doing. I love the action and intensity of adrenaline. But I have learned that by being present first—mindfully aware of myself and my surroundings—my acts of doing become more purposeful.
A few years after the accident I continued to progress. I could pedal a bicycle again, and even though I couldn’t balance safely enough to ride solo, I was ready to combine the being (mindful-self-awareness) with the doing (focused-willed-intent).
Together with my mother, Laquita Dian, I rode a tandem bicycle across the United States.
Most recently I set myself in motion again by walking 20 gruelling miles across Death Valley, California. The only way I have been able to set and achieve seemingly impossible goals as a recovering quadriplegic, has been by conscious application of being and doing.
Cultivate the Mind-Body Connection
Spirituality speaks often of oneness. Today, modern quantum physics continues to prove that everything is interrelated. For me, my near death experience was my proof that everything truly is connected.
When in the hospital, my sister painted my toes rainbow colors, and before I could flicker even a finger, I would stare at my toes and visualize them moving. I envisioned the vibrant colors traveling through my body, swirling through my mind and amplifying my will to move.
From that first twitch, I had a tangible understanding of just how deeply my mind and body are one.
With this awareness, I now cultivate my thoughts more carefully and make choices and decisions based upon a powerful notion that I am a creator. We’re exceptionally powerful beings, with the ability to shape our reality. My intention now is to create, build and share my experiences with the world.
In 2011 I decided I could help others improve the quality of their lives through exercise and education, by opening a one-of-a-kind, fitness and performance facility, the Center of Restorative Exercise (C.O.R.E.). Our clientele range from disabling conditions, chronic illness, elderly, veterans and even elite athletes, all of whom work side-by-side, facing their adversity, pushing each other to overcome.
I have now teamed up with my friend and Director, Dominic Gill to create a documentary “Coming to my Senses” of my life to date and my walk across Death Valley. Please view our Kickstarter campaign and help us spread the message.
Check out the trailer for our documentary!
Author: Aaron Baker
Editor: Renée Picard
Photos: Used with Permission via Dominic Gill