Susan Henkels
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I've been a psychotherapist for over 45 years, listening to everything that's wrong with people. And I was listening to a woman once talk about her whole list of what was wrong with her, and I thought, in the middle of this litany, What if there's actually nothing wrong with her? Could that question clear the way for her to have anything she wanted? anything she wanted to have? anything she wanted to do? Well, I'm not saying that there isn't anything wrong with you right now; I'm just saying, What if there weren't? (Laughter) So could you have more confidence and courage to do something that you have always been passionate about? I'm learning how to play the banjo, and it's been on my bucket list for years. So I've always been kind of bored with hearing people say, "It is what it is." It just sounded like, first of all, it was the most used cliché in 2006. Everybody was saying, "It is what it is." And I hated it. It was like there isn't anything you can do about it; it was total resignation. But what if "it is what it is" is really just that? No judgment, no blame, no criticism. What if you could just have a full plate of just "it is what it is"? Not all that story we tell about ourselves to justify, to, you know, to make other people wrong and ourselves right. I mean, could we have anything other than that? We have the film festival every year. I had the fortune of meeting the most fabulous director of documentaries, and he said to me, "When you're not watching movies, what are you doing?" So I said, "Well, I'm writing a book. It's called 'What if there is nothing wrong with you?'" And he looked at me, and he said, "I can tell you right now eight things that are wrong with me." (Laughter) So I said, "Name one." And he said, very defiantly and certainly, "I have oppositional defiant disorder." (Laughter) I'm like, "Like I couldn't tell, right?" So I said to him, "What's wrong with that?" He said, "Well, I, um, I would always defy my parents and teachers." "Well, what's wrong with that?" "I wouldn't comply with any of the rules at school, and I didn't do anything I was told to do at home." "What's wrong with that?" He said, "Well, I was always in a bad temper. I argued with my parents all the time. I never had any friends, and I loved being alone." I said, "Well, what's wrong with that?" And we had several interactions like that, and at some point during the interactions, he said to me, "Hmm, you know, actually, I really like being alone. And I was able to write stories, write film scripts in my head. Come to think of it, I think oppositional defiant disorder has me be the great film director that I am. He said, "I actually like not having a right or wrong diagnosis about this, just accepting it is what it is." (Laughter) The next day, he found me, he came up to me, and he said, "I slept through the night for the first time in years, not having to make myself wrong, decide what I should be doing and shouldn't be doing." He said, "You know, I'm going to look at those seven other things that I was so sure were wrong with me." (Laughter) That was really fun; that was really fun to interact with him like that. Let me see. What do I want to say next? What if there's nothing wrong with not knowing what you're going to say next? (Laughter) I was at a swimming pool once, and the woman next to me said, "What are you writing about?" I said, "I'm writing a book called 'What if there's nothing wrong with you?'" She looked at me, and she said, "Well, now, we wouldn't be very interesting, would we?" (Laughter) And I thought, how much time and energy we spend talking about what's wrong, and actually we really do create this whole list of what we think is wrong and then create an entire life around decisions we made probably when we were five years old. So that was another interesting thing that I discovered, that all this time we spend just talking about what's wrong. So wouldn't it be nice if we could stop fighting ourselves, stop being our own worst enemy and go do something that, really, we really want to do? That would really be great. So this is all about the practice of dissolving judgment, blame and criticism and just replacing all of that with what is. And that makes "What if there's nothing wrong with you?" an inquiry worth having. This part is a little difficult. I know that this concept came to me early on, when I was four and my brother was seven, and my father had a massive stroke. My father was a dominating, charismatic, self-centered man. He had a massive stroke, which left his entire right side paralyzed. His ability to speak coherently was gone, and his brain was clearly severely damaged as a result of trauma from the stroke. After six months of rehabilitation, he came home in a total rage and with just more abusive physical and emotional punishment. And up until then, I had been a happy, carefree, outspoken little girl. And with the abrupt shock of this event, it completely closed me down. For six months, all he could say was "Goddam sonofabitch shit." (Laughter) And there's a story still alive in my family where I was six and my parents were having an anniversary party, and I went around and no one saw me, and I started draining everybody's half-filled champagne glasses. I went to the center of the room, did several circles around, said, "Goddam sonofabitch shit," and passed out. (Laughter) Clearly, I wanted someone to pay attention to what was happening in our family. Our mother disappeared into the daily work of taking care of his every need, and with no encouraging parent in sight, I was left to decide all the things that were wrong with me. In fact, I would look in the mirror in the morning and start counting all the freckles, the new ones that were popping out. My teeth stuck out, my hair looked funny - I was like a weird-looking kid. So I looked bad, I was terrified to open my mouth for fear of another round of screaming and harsh punishment. It felt much safer to keep my mouth shut, and I lost my voice for my need to feel safe. So you can imagine where I went when I was asked to do a TED Talk. (Laughter) So this requires forgiveness for how bad a person we think we are. And how do we forgive ourselves for all the things that we've done or felt or thought or said or had done to us? How do we do that? I had a client who wanted to stop smoking. She'd been smoking for 15 years and couldn't stop. She had tried nicotine patch, nicotine gum, Chantix, quitting cold turkey. She'd even did a hypnotherapy session that promised she would quit smoking in an hour. She called me after she went to this hypnotherapist. She said she got in her car and lit up, right after the session. She came in so hard on herself, so mad that she couldn't quit this "nasty habit," so upset with herself. I listened a while. I finally said, "Stop. I have an assignment for you. Go home and smoke your cigarettes. Just smoke as much as you want to smoke. Every time you think about having a cigarette, just light it up and smoke it. The only little trick here is you have to get rid of all judgment and criticism about yourself. So when you think about smoking, smoke your cigarette. Just let go of all the nasty things you're saying about yourself and what a bad person you are. Just smoke your cigarettes." She came in six days later. She'd quit smoking for the first time in 15 years. She was so excited and so proud of herself; she'd completely forgiven herself for all the horrible things that she'd said about herself. So how do you forgive? How is that possible when you have been so mean and so hard on yourself? How do you do that? Well, it's a choice. It's a choice to let go of all the ways you've made yourself wrong. So it's just a choice; it's really just a choice to let go of all you say is wrong and choose to have something way more powerful

for yourself in your life. I know I want to leave something that will outlive me. I want to live in a life where hearts are open to acceptance and inclusion, where judgment is - we've dissolved all judgment, blame and criticism, and relationships are open to break through the barriers of hate and mistrust. So how do we work this practice? How do we do that? Well, one practice I have is I look in the mirror in the morning, and I say, "Susan," - you can use a different name if you want to - (Laughter) "Just for today, what if there's nothing wrong with you? And live your day into that possibility." So that's what I offer today, just as a gift, and there's a quote in my book - do you have a copy of my book? thank you - "I'm always amazed by how readily people judge the right and wrong of things they know only from the outside. Honestly, it kind of pisses me off." And this is written by David Clawson, who wrote "My Fairy Godmother is a Drag Queen." Thank you. (Applause)