March 10th, 2020
Maureen McCarthy has the solution to all her problems. She makes them disappear.
Maureen is supposed to be dead (she’s not). She’s supposed to be suffering (she’s isn’t). She is having the time of her life.
Maureen’s lungs are only 10% functional. At age thirty, she was given six months to live. She’s now 53. She is not supposed to be unable to speak any louder than a whisper, yet she’s a keynote speaker. How does she do it?
Maureen has a migraine that has lasted, 24/7, for seventeen years. She is allergic to all pain meds. She has undergone 12 surgeries without anesthesia. Doctors call her “the miracle lady.”
Listening to Maureen speak, if it weren’t for her oxygen tube, you wouldn’t know any of this. She never complains. In fact, she doesn’t think she has a problem. Come again?
Faced with her diagnosis, Maureen developed what she calls “Collaborative Awareness.” It means working with your situation, not against it. Collaborative Awareness is not just creative problem-solving. It’s not “making lemons into lemonade.” It’s loving the lemons.
As Maureen explains, when you welcome your circumstances (which she calls “the landscape”), you don’t see any “problems” in it. This isn’t just wishful thinking. Things still bother you, but you’re glad when they do. In fact, you look forward to being irritated because whatever pushes your buttons shows you where your buttons are.
Unlike the situation, your buttons are something you can always do something about. Like Maureen, you can reduce your problems by reducing your buttons. And if she’s any proof, they really might “disappear.”
The less triggered you are by situations, the less you label parts of your life as “good” or “bad.” When you have preferences rather than requirements, you don’t have “problems.” You can like things to be different while loving them the way they are. That may sound paradoxical, but parents do it all the time. They would like it if their kids cleaned up after themselves, but they love them either way.
The same goes for any loved one. To truly love someone is to embrace them just as they are.
We’re all seeking that special person who is right for us. But if you’ve been through enough relationships, you begin to suspect there’s no right person, just different flavors of wrong.Why is this? Because you yourself are wrong in some way, and you seek out partners who are wrong in some complementary way. But it takes a lot of living to grow fully into your own wrongness. And it isn’t until you finally run up against your deepest demons, your unsolvable problems, the ones that make you truly who you are, that we’re ready to find a lifelong mate.
Only then do you finally know what you’re looking for. You’re looking for the wrong person. But not just any wrong person: the right wrong person. Someone you lovingly gaze upon and think, “This is the problem I want to have.”
What if having your buttons pushed, just like finding your own “wrongness,” your own “unsolvable problems,” is the best thing you can ask for? What if life, whatever it brings, is the problem you want to have? Spiritual teacher Nirmala says, “whatever you are experiencing right now is your true love.” Wouldn’t that be convenient?
Loving lemons is like the excitement of getting a letter in the mail, except in this case, you don’t care whether it’s from an old friend or a collection agency. Either way, it’s more information, another opportunity to come to peace with life, to learn to love it.
Do you love life, even with the ups and downs? If you like roller coasters, it’s probably not just for the ups. How can we enjoy life’s downs? That is what Maureen has learned. Maureen has lived twenty years longer than anyone thought possible. She enjoys her life more than anyone thought possible. She enjoys it because she’s not attached to it lasting any longer. And it lasts longer because she enjoys it.
What if this is how life really works? What if things go more “our way” when we enjoy them — not the other way around? You learn to appreciate your cancer and it goes into remission. You decide to love someone that you can’t stand and suddenly their behavior changes. I’ve heard many stories like this, not just from Maureen.
It certainly sounds miraculous, and we can’t count on it working every time. But that can’t be why we do it anyway. This isn’t “the secret” to getting what you want. It’s about wanting whatever you get. How many of us can do that?
When Maureen was invited to submit a book proposal to a major publisher, she was told, “you need to describe the problem your book purports to fix.” She laughed. Her goal is to help people see beyond that way of thinking! She likes to say, “there is nothing to fix; what do we want to create?”
For how to handle “lemons,” Maureen talks about “using stress to find clarity.” She and her husband, Zelle Nelson, run The Center for Collaborative Awareness, where they teach how to be grateful for difficult coworkers, family, circumstances, even dislikes and fears — rather than seeing them as “problems.” They show people how to literally change their brain. And when you change your brain, you change your pain.
Maureen and Zelle teach internationally. Their collaboration design process, The Blueprint of We, is currently being used in over 130 countries. They have consulted for Dropbox, BP, and the World Relief Fund. And Maureen does this all with 10% lung capacity, a constant migraine, and a terminal diagnosis.
What if our happiness really is in our hands? Maureen McCarthy seems to be living proof. If we can “see past our no’s,” perhaps we can live longer — and happier — lives. If we can learn to love the lemons, maybe we’ve got it made.