Wheelchair Wisdom: A Short Course on Perception and Projection

08/14/2014 03:36 pm ET | Updated Oct 14, 2014

"In any given moment we have two options:

to step forward into growth or

step back into safety." -- Abraham Maslow

Like any prejudice, our perceptions about what it means to be physically challenged are filled with beliefs and interpretations that begin in our own minds. If you understand how this works it's a lot easier to move beyond any self-limiting illusions and judgments we might have, and go forward to live successfully with your illness, injury, or attitude towards the aging process. For example, the last time I moved my home was twenty years ago and I got very sick with a stressful MS exacerbation. I remember it as if it was yesterday.

For a moment, think of your mind as being something like a motion picture production studio. Every moment of our lives we are filming our experiences; we are recording in our minds volumes and volumes of images, conversations, thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. It is from this huge library of experiences that we interpret or "make sense" of new opportunities and situations as they come into our lives. Now that I am planning to move again, in order to downsize, I am conscious of these outdated lurking thoughts and fears and choose inner peace in this unsettling time rather than automatically giving in to my past crippling experience. I have gained altitude.

In fact, we make sense of the world around us by largely projecting our own films or memories outside us and onto other people and situations. It is as if our minds find a close match between the outside world and the films we have stored in our archives; then we project our own images onto that external situation. While this process is the source of many conflicts and misunderstandings in our lives, it also gives us some place to start. Knowing this, I let go of films and memories of the past and welcome the pure expectations of the future.

Because our perceptions and projections rarely provide us with anything but a rough set of guidelines for responding to new situations, we have our greatest range of choices when we don't insist that what we perceive "out there" is our only alternative. These guiding perceptions only tell us what we have previously experienced in similar situations.

They are like maps we've drawn up after traveling to places that were somewhat like this new territory we entered--but only somewhat like them. We have the choice to transform our past and step free and create and ask for what we want. I will ask for stress-free assistance when organizing and packing up twenty years of "stuff."

Where do we start with this new process of learning to ask for what we want?


Use a recording device or a journal to record your thoughts and feelings in response to the following questions:

  • What is it you want that you aren't asking for now?

  • What prevents you from asking for it?

  • If you did ask, what's the worst that could happen?

  • If you did ask, what's the best that could happen?

Being completely honest with yourself, what do you really believe is likely to happen if you ask?

To what extent is your sense of unworthiness or distrust determining your reluctance to ask?

Having asked yourself these questions, and thought about your replies, take just a moment to suspend your self-judgments.

In this frame of mind, loving yourself unconditionally, write down exactly whom you would ask and what you would ask for.

Clear up anything that stands between you and your dreams.

Your gifts are needed in the world.

With love,


Linda Noble Topf is a bestselling author and lecturer