There’s nothing like gathering with a group of people for the sole purpose of questioning our stressful thinking.
Our autumn retreat collected last night in a cozy, gorgeous living room with soft light, a fire place, big comfy chairs, and a piano in the corner.
The rain had drummed down all day long, and still it hadn’t stopped. People arrived in dripping coats from Florida, California, Arizona, Whidbey Island, Oregon, Olympia, Idaho, Seattle. Cups of tea, introductions, and then….the Judge Your Neighbor worksheet.
Spending time with the very first step, the one where we identify the thoughts that bring us pain, is soooooo powerful to do slowly….and difficult, too.
We’re visiting a scene we don’t like. Perhaps a scene we wish had never, ever happened. Sometimes, the memory is so painful, we feel disturbed right here in this moment now, the one where we’re writing these thoughts down.
Last night I shared something I recalled Byron Katie saying once, although I don’t remember the exact quote: I’m asking you to go to hell. It’s not easy.
I also know, from experience, that it’s not easy NOT to go there.
If you try to plug a hose, it’s going to eventually burst the faucet, and before it gets to the bursting point, the pressure will be enormous, right? To suppress, repress, hold down, or hold back the emotions that want to be expressed from that troubling situation is really hard. It takes work, energy, and “keeping it together”, as they say.
It’s very stressful. Full of Stress.
The way I see it now, after doing The Work so often in my life, is how much better it is, every time, when I take the lid off and write honestly on a situation that hurt.
For a long time, I didn’t know what Katie was talking about when she said she began to get excited if she had a “thought” that was in any way stressful, even just a little.
I did The Work, but I never thought it was exciting that I was having a stressful experience I could now investigate.
I mean, really?
This sad memory is NOT exciting. Nor is this one where I felt betrayed. Or that one where I felt terrified.
Yet something in me knew I had no choice but to do The Work. It was either that or become an addict of some kind to keep the memories and emotions at bay.
But somewhere along the way, miracle of miracles, I had the thought one day when I had a difficult exchange with someone I loved….”Hmmm, this is exciting. Let’s take a look.”
And then “wow, did I just say that”?
I felt that last night when everyone was sharing their first Judge Your Neighbor worksheet….the depth, the heartbreak, the courage to sit with a painful moment in their lives, and write about it.
So profound, such a privilege, so very moved by these human conditions and situations, and knowing what can become of exploring them with The Work.
It is exciting. I want to know about every single person’s situation and what they share. It’s like I feel a surge of thinking “oh my, yes, we have to look at that moment, that is an amazing human moment and it sounds so tough….let’s find out what’s true and see what happens.”
I don’t even know where it will go. None of us do. You have to “do” The Work to see.
But it’s always fascinating, interesting, and very often inspiring, and life-changing.
“It takes an open mind to question your certainties. It takes a mind that is fearless in its journey inward, a mind willing to go to places it has never been before.” ~ Byron Katie
I love when people appear in my world, ready to show me such fearlessness to take a journey inward. Where they are willing to go where their mind has ever been before. So grateful.
Lately I’m doing a ton mega-work on looking at eating and compulsion (or really any addiction of any kind) issues.
(Haha, not really….well, OK, maybe now that I’ve investigated stories and beliefs, it really kinda is my favorite, but in the thick of it, not so much).
One thing I’ve realized in the experience of whatever addiction actually is…..it’s never hopeless.
(News flash: if you’re interested in Eating Peace, you can download the new eating peace ebooklet with a seven-day-practice guide to daily steps to inquiry and peace: HERE.)
Once I had a young man come to work with me who felt excruciatingly fearful about avoiding drugs when he felt drawn to them, but also living his life each day in a new location where he didn’t know anyone, and no family was around.
He felt utterly hopeless one morning. Like he couldn’t leave his apartment. HOPELESS.
And yet, when we took at look at what actually happened, he left. He didn’t THINK he could leave, but he did. He called for help.
Something happened, then something else. Change unfolded.
It wasn’t entirely completely absolutely hopeless, even though he THOUGHT it was for awhile. (And I remember having this same kind of thought myself).
If you think it is hopeless, you can question this belief. It’s just a belief, an idea, thrown out by the mind.
Is it true?
I could never, even in the worst nightmare of addiction, find that it was absolutely true, without any doubt at all.
Even if my mind was churning out devastated, furious, vicious thoughts about life, it was never true.
Thoughts like: you are all alone, you are a piece of shi*t, you are unloveable, the world is a terrible place, you’re a failure.
I mean, that thing can get nasty, right?
But who are you, without the belief you your situation is hopeless?
Your addictive pattern, your income, your location, your life…who would you be without the bitter thought that it’s hopeless?
Without the thought?
I don’t even know what to say.
But it does make me pause a moment. Whatever “me” is. And whatever “pausing” is. And whatever “hope” is.
I can wonder….who would I be?
Sometimes this Question Four: who would you be without your story….is a strange act of imagination.
When you’re in the thick of fear and dread, you have no idea of the answer. And yet the mind can STILL WONDER who you’d be?
You might come up with possibilities, ideas, you might even be able to paint a picture of what Someone (not you) would be like without that dreadful story.
That’s YOUR mind, able to imagine and come up with answers.
You’re good at the opposite, dark, haunting, violent, horror imagined stories….why not use your imagination for a little of the opposite for once?
Turning the thought around: it’s hopeful. It’s not hopeless.
Whatever “hope” is, is not actually required (the biggest turnaround). My thinking is hopeless….not me, not the world, not everything in my life. Hope is not a “thing” and not even important.
Can you find examples, no matter how small, of how things are rather hopeful around here? Or how whatever they are, hope isn’t needed?
Autumn late afternoon sun beaming on fresh green wet grass. Wild bunnies racing down the road to escape the car. Traffic sounds from rush hour people driving from work. Silence in the evening air.
People I worked with today feeling different than they felt last week when we met. Two days from now, all the people coming for retreat here in Seattle–everyone coming to join with me (amazing) to question thoughts, and change our world.
I took a tour of the retreat house I’ll be teaching at two evenings from now. I was so grateful for the beauty of the place, how gorgeous it’s set up. The location is stunning, and it supports the process of inquiry. Almost no profit for this retreat, due to expenses.
Why not. And right now, what’s true is quiet tapping of fingers on keyboard. No retreat in sight. Beautiful kitchen table. Friendly laptop. Pretty pink phone. Calendar open to November since that’s the next time I can make any client appointments.
This moment, glorious.
“Hope means intentionally using the idea of a future to keep you from experiencing the present. It’s a crutch, but if you feel lame, use it.” ~ Byron Katie
Hope is not required for happiness right now, I notice. Strange, but true.
And, I can open up to hope, if I feel lame, like I’m limping, like I’m not making it, like I keep dropping into my addictions, like I fall in the hole 50 times a day.
Then maybe the future looks better. But right now? Maybe it’s not as bad as you think. No, really.
P.S. Last minute thought to join retreat? You’d be welcome. Reply to this Grace Note. Join us–4 days in The Work.
P.P.S. If you have special interest in ending eating battles of any kind–obsessing about food, body, weight, exercise–then download this guide and let me know if it’s helpful. I’d really love to know. Download it HERE. Share it with others who you think would benefit.
Something made me chuckle about “Friday the 13th”.
Movies, old lore, tales of witches, dark nights, bad luck, hatchets. In Italy they are afraid of Tuesday the 13th. And the tales of war, loss, and battles extend back to both Greek and Roman lore.
Someone, or a horror movie, told me that bad luck was MORE possible on this day….and I believed it, or worried it might be true.
So here we are on Friday the 13th. Any bad luck happening for you? Is it because of the date today? LOL!
Who would we be without our stories?
This is a genuine, sweet question. This date, another date, who would I be without my story about it? What if this was a brand new day, today, right now, the first time I ever saw a day?
Turning it around: Today is lovely, golden, and good luck. My thinking is bad luck.
How could these turnarounds be just as true, or truer?
(Or not even true, at all).
My thinking has always preceded, or followed, my thoughts about What Is. I’ve decided something is good news, or bad news, based on hearsay, or the Romans passing it along for centuries. Some ancestor said it to their offspring because a big battle didn’t go in their favor, and they said it to their children, who said it to theirs.
“Thirteen”. A sweet, quiet, soft fall day where I live.
Teleclass, client, meeting with a friend for coffee, gym, dishes, writing, client, writing again, music selection creating a set list for a dance tomorrow. Reflecting on seeing Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell last night across the street, literally, from my house and how sweet they were right in my neighborhood.
Who would I be without my story?
“You project meaning onto nothing, and you react to the meaning you yourself have projected.” ~ Byron Katie
If you have some bad luck stories to question, a wonderful time to do it is in the company of other inquirers, doing the same.
We have a beautiful gathering about to begin starting Wednesday evening here in northeast Seattle, Weds evening through Sunday late morning. There’s room for more. In fact, someone wrote yesterday saying she’s driving from near Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She’s got space in her car. If you’re anywhere between her area, and Seattle….she’ll pick you up on your way! (Hit reply and I’ll connect you).
If you have always wanted to sit in The Work for several days with others (what a gift of support) then come, come. If you really can’t afford it, ask me about partial scholarship. Read about it here.
Who knows what kind of luck can be changed, by doing The Work together. Just saying.
And me? I have no idea where to start when there’s so much for someone else in their life….except….
….”what if you started right where you are?”
As in….it’s not worth living. It sucks. Nothing is working. I’m doomed.
Is it true?
Well, duh. That’s what I’m saying! Jeez!
Can you absolutely know it’s true that it can’t go on, it sucks, it’s not worth living, you’re doomed?
Sometimes, when people are in this place (as I have been, by the way) then you might want to say YES. It’s absolutely true. It is awful. It’s horrible. It sucks. And this is not “worth” living.
It’s not wrong to have that answer.
I notice, so far, I’ve remained alive. So I guess there’s been a shadow of doubt about the value of being alive. I’ve continued. Or something else has, despite my depressing thoughts in the past.
How do I react when I believe I’m doomed?
Worried. Fretful. Not sleeping well. Lashing out at the people I love. Watching Netflix for escape. Holding steady and waiting for the next shoe to drop and wondering, how many shoes are there, anyway?
Are we working with some kind of octopus? Or milli-peed?
Who would you be without the thought that you’re doomed? Without the belief you need to escape, this is intolerable, nothing is working, you’re stuck in a pattern that doesn’t shift?
This is only for a few minutes, to wonder what it would be like without the thought? Without the thoughts about this life not being worth living, and everything in it offering trouble. All those details that aren’t working? Who would you be without them? What do you see, in this moment right now?
Who would you be without the story you’re doomed?
I’d notice this aliveness right now, even though I’m sure one day this won’t be so anymore. But I’d notice this place, here, now. Table, soft glowing light without sun, white blinds on window. Dusk. Flower bouquet from gathering last night where hostess was sending people home with extra flowers. Rain pattering. Grey pillow tipped over on couch. Quiet room. Heart pumping. Words from friend in inquiry saying how sad she is.
All without the story, we’re doomed….what is this all like?
Noticing how it’s not blackness and darkness and nothingness and death. Not at all. This room is full of stuff. People are writing and calling. There are humans, genuinely saying what’s so for them. Honesty is rising in the air. Truth is being shared.
Without the belief in doomsday, I am here. I lie here. I feel.
Turning the thought around: I am not doomed. Life is worth living. I can go on. We are going on.
How could this be just as true, or truer?
I’m still here. And without a thought about it, I’m looking around, noticing. Nothing is required. Nothing is expected. NOTHING.
I can lie down on the floor all day, and I won’t die most likely. Isn’t that fascinating in itself? Could it be that would be worth it? Why not? What’s “worth it” mean anyway? How would I know?
I see pictures of giving birth to my kids, sharing brilliant conversations with friends, reading incredible books, sobbing at the bedside of my father, feeling the sadness of conflict, running races (literally), pushing to accomplish, seeing a foreign land….all amazing experiences, all drifting into life and then back again into nothingness.
I notice going on is happening, without me having anything to do with it. I notice being doomed is not occurring NOW, in this moment. I notice I find many things in life worthy.
Turning the thought around again: My thinking is doomed. My thinking is not worth living. My thinking can’t go on. My thinking is NOT going on.
I see my thinking stops sometimes. I can see this. I go to sleep for awhile. I forget about my problems for a moment. I notice my thinking can’t be sustained, even the desperate or upset thinking.
Kind of absurd to think about….but what if I was forced to think about how doomed I am, and if I dropped the thought for even a second I’d be eliminated from planet earth (or some other terrible threat)? I still couldn’t do it. I might forget after awhile, by accident.
What if this “thinking” that I’m believing is true is not all there is? And what if it IS doomed? Always coming to an end. Always surrounded by silence.
Another turnaround: Nothing is doomed, including me. What’s important continues, without end. Life goes on.
And, everything is doomed. It all comes to an end. Everything is constantly changing and on the move. All appearing, then returning from whence it came.
Could it be just as true, or truer, that this is OK? Even better than OK?
The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski
your life is your life don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission. be on the watch. there are ways out. there is light somewhere. it may not be much light but it beats the darkness. be on the watch. the gods will offer you chances. know them. take them. you can’t beat death but you can beat death in life, sometimes. and the more often you learn to do it, the more light there will be. your life is your life. know it while you have it. you are marvelous the gods wait to delight in you.
With a bit of shuffling around recently, there are 4 spots open in the upcoming autumn retreat October 18-22. While this isn’t entirely abnormal or unusual, a thought appeared that is so common, it would almost be weird if it didn’t run through my mind:
More people should be signed up by now.
You can do this work on anything you think isn’t meeting the “best” conditions, or the highest expectations, or the greatest achievement. Something where you need more people.
Perhaps you’re putting on an event to celebrate. My 50th birthday party fell on a late weekend in January and I swear half my friends literally had pneumonia that year. I had the thought “more people should be coming”.
Weddings, memorials, marches, work-parties, moving help. We want all those we want to come, to come.
People in business of course have this thought with respect to people showing up at their restaurant, or store, or fair, or event, or class. Sometimes we need more applicants, more advisors, more employees.
It’s so great to consider why, without simply assuming you know.
What do I hope will happen, if more people attend, or if more people are present, or more people are drawn to whatever it is you’re doing or offering?
So great to ask and wonder….do I really need that (energy, appreciation, etc)? Would I be fine without it?
You need more people to come, or different people….or heck, maybe you need fewer people depending on your situation.
Notice the thought looming or crossing into your mind.
Is it true?
Are you sure you need people to do something different than what they’re doing?
Oh. Hmmm. No.
It seems like it would be more fun, more fulfilling, more filled with laughter and excitement and insight…but I’m not sure that’s true.
Even if you say “yes” I need more people to show up….are you absolutely fundamentally sure this is true, without a shadow of a doubt?
How do you react when you believe you need more or less people than are actually there?
I believe there’s a problem. I wonder if I’m doing everything I can. I get snappy. I don’t take time to relax. I feel a little anxious. I worry. I hear the news someone else is out with pneumonia and I feel sad and disappointed, like I wish I wasn’t having a party in the first place.
Who would you be without your thought “I need more people” or “I need fewer people”?
Oh! Well then!
That’s sure different.
I’d feel soft within. I’d think about how fun it’s going to be and have an excited sense of what’s to come, no matter what. Maybe something would come to mind that’s active, and if not, that’s OK too.
Last weekend at the East West bookshop small event, the man who is always there at the cash register said “I noticed there was not as big a turnout as you normally have. Did you go deep?” I answered yes. He responded with a twinkle in his eye “I thought so. Sometimes a smaller group appears when people need to go deep.”
Without the thought that I want more people to be signed up for the retreat by now, I’d hear the gorgeous rain pouring outside the open window nearby. I’d notice how much I adored an epsom salt soaking bath just now, and how grateful to have the bathtub. I’d notice how I never thought one single time during the lovely dance I did this morning with so many beautiful dancers of the upcoming retreat and who was coming. LOL.
“When you believe a thought that argues with reality, you’re confused. When you question the thought and see that it’s not true, you’re enlightened to it, you’re liberated from it….And then the next stressful thought comes along, and you either believe it or you question it. It’s your next opportunity to get enlightened. Life is as simple as that.” ~ Byron Katie
Turning the thought around: I should be signed up by now. YES! I should be fully engaged, working on the flow of the retreat, noticing the joy of imagining 4 days in The Work.
Turning it around again: No one else should be signed up by now. It’s brilliant the way it is. All things are unfolding in just the right timing, and the right way, and already a fabulous group is assembling and I can’t wait to see everyone.
How is it a good thing that no one else is signed up? Well, I don’t have to explain the details or send directions to anyone. I don’t have to help anyone else find a place to stay. I can stop, and enjoy the peace of the rain this afternoon, and my questioned thinking.
“The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.” ~ Thich Nhat Hahn
Surprise news that what I thought I was offering in Year of Inquiry for “credit” was not the case inside Institute for The Work.
I hear a story about a very close friend from his family member that’s sort of shocking and weird.
Violence in Las Vegas.
Someone sends a really direct, cold email asking “Why did you do that? Don’t ever do that again!”
Weird, abrupt commentary and communication. A lot of it.
I notice I feel a little taken aback. Something’s shaky. The world seems a bit wobbly, or my feelings about the future. I sense things moving away from me. I feel like sadness is behind things, surprise and hurt, and grief.
I’m now anticipating something else could be incoming. I’m bracing myself. Storms.
I have an image of someone getting beaten up or kicked and they just go into a protective ball and wait until the one doing the kicking stops. (And I suppose the one kicking is the world, reality).
Kind of dramatic. Definitely Not Friendly.
I note that none of the incoming pieces of information are unmanageable all by themselves. I even laughed when one of two of them first arrived. Chuckle…that story about my dear friend can’t be true, can it? Haw…that’s bizarre with the whole credit-offering process for my year long immersion program getting withdrawn.
Yikes…that person’s email is so over-the-top. Ouch, in-breath gasp, more shootings. Ack, so many people without shelter.
It’s just they started adding up.
The reason I could tell I was getting a little over-filled with some dramatic or sudden incoming information or cold human behavior?
I had the thought “I’m shutting everything down.”
When I have this thought, it means I’m believing something’s too much, too heavy, too chaotic, too difficult….and one of my Go-To thoughts is STOP IT ALL!
In one hour I imagined selling my little cottage, breaking up with my husband, leaving the city I live in, canceling my plans to build a cottage for my mom in my back yard, quitting my business, and ditching town for another continent.
I know I need to do The Work, when this happens. Even if I’m not believing everything I think.
This is too much. I can’t take it anymore.
Have you ever had this thought? You’re getting pushed to the limit. Not one more thing.
An inquirer the other day in our Year of Inquiry group was just feeling liberated after doing a month of The Work around his separation from his wife. Then they skyped, she told him some different news, and he had the thought “Not more of this! I can’t take it!”
Another inquirer I once worked with had done several years of The Work around her suicidal teenaged daughter. The threats were in the past, she felt alive and free again. And then her daughter said she was pregnant. “Noooo! I can’t take this! I’m pushed past my limit!”
One of my relatives had a fender bender, and hours later had her purse stolen, and a few hours after that her toilets overflowed in her house. “This is too much! Why me?!”
It’s funny how sometimes the stress piles up. It’s one thing, then another, then another. Piling up to feel like the water’s getting too deep and we’re going to drown.
Let’s do The Work.
Is it true?
Waaaah. Yeeeesssss. It’s too much at once. Nooooo moooore!
Can you absolutely know it’s true?
How do you react when you believe it’s too much and you can’t take it!?
I feel smaller, closed in. I have images of the collapse of life as I know it. Doom. Gloom. Scary pictures. Separation. I don’t feel helpful to other people. I pull in and do Sea Anemone Pose. (That’s the yoga pose of those little sea creatures when they squeeze into a tiny ball because something threatening is swimming overhead).
Who would you be without this thought that it’s just too much?
Noticing how life has gone on, quite fully.
Someone else sent a beautiful, friendly, kind email. Someone called and left a lovely message. Someone pinged facebook messenger with a sweet question about a mutual friend. One of my favorite broadway guys raised a ton of money for Puerto Rico.
I hear the dryer full of laundry rolling around, comfortingly. The quiet sun coming through the blinds. The soft eyes of an inquirer who came to spend 3 hours of time (a mini-retreat) with me yesterday afternoon who shared so honestly.
I consider the profound sorrow and courage of the Year of Inquiry group this week going deep, deep, deep as we entered our Family of Origin topic and people did The Work on their childhood despair, violence, fear, suicide, uncomfortable sexual moments, feeling shame.
Hmmm. Holding all this is a lot.
But not too much. I’m breathing. I’m writing. I’m here.
Turning the thought around: It’s not too much. My thinking is too much. “It” is too little.
Could these be just as true, or truer?
I see that “it” (reality, the world, all these communications, what I’m going through) is not too much. I’m alive. I’m still upright.
My thinking is the thing filled with images, threats, future fears. It repeats the same concerns over and over again. Someone wrote me one cold email, and I consider it 12 times more. A friend gets sick and dies, and I feel the whole world is sad. I see images of terrible weather patterns increasing.
What about the turnaround that “it” (reality, all the incoming experiences) are too little?
Too little to change the inner sense of being here, feeling alive. Too little compared to the vastness of all I can be aware of, which is much more than all these things.
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its
heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the
daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem
less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart,
even as you have always accepted the seasons that
pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the
winters of your grief.
Much of your pain is self-chosen.
It is the bitter potion by which the physician
within you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquillity:
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen,
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.
Who would I be without my story? Doing what I can to help. Connecting with other people. Feeling peace, silence, being.
Watching how things come, and go, like waves or the tide.
I sat on my couch in the dark month of November 2003, the huge cedar tree just outside the picture window of my old living room, leafing through the book I had just finished; Loving What Is by Byron Katie.
I was looking for the page that said how to actually DO this transformative work, and how four questions could change my life.
I found the Judge Your Neighbor worksheet template.
Answer the six questions on this sheet, thinking of a situation with a person where you feel stress, anger, disappointment.
Um. My mind went blank. There were so many stressful thoughts, how could I even begin?
Plus, what was it going to offer to write all those judgments down? It felt terrible. Ugly.
I’ve done enough therapy to last a lifetime. I’m not bugged by people anymore. I’ve raged, talked about, resolved, and discovered how to handle all my old troubling stories. Let’s let sleeping dogs lie! I know it’s all about me, anyway, handling myself from this point forward! I’ve been handling myself for a long while! I’m a grown woman, with two young kids (at the time my children were 9 and 6).
But I kept thinking about the book, and I wanted to try this exercise and actually DO The Work.
I stared at the page referring to starting The Work. Judge Your Neighbor.
OH! Light Bulb! My neighbor! She IS pretty annoying! OK then!
“I’m upset with my neighbor because she comes knocking on the door too often or calls me too much. I want her to stay away and leave me alone. She shouldn’t come over. I need her to stay away and not come over. She is imposing, rude, a pest. I don’t ever want my neighbor to come over again.”
Yes. It was a little repetitive, and not very contemplative. I had no idea how to ask myself what I really wanted, or what my advice to her would truly be so she could change, or what I needed for happiness in this situation.
It was basically crude in the form of one belief. Never come over.
I didn’t take myself very seriously, or think of this as a moment worthy of deep consideration, and certainly not transformation.
I leafed through the pages again of Loving What Is. What do I do next?
Oh, the four questions, right.
Question One: Is it true?
Is what true? The neighbor? Her coming over? Me being bugged? me not wanting her to ever come over again? Grrrrrr.
I read in the book again.
Pick ONE stressful concept I wrote from the worksheet.
How do I pick one? They’re all kind of stressful, aren’t they? But maybe they aren’t, come to think of it. This is not that big of a deal. This situation isn’t a matter of life or death, that’s for sure. I don’t think of my neighbor very much, honestly.
Actually, I need to get the laundry going before the kids get home from school.
And then, gone like the wind, my attempt at doing The Work was over. All I left was a few repetitive sentences about my neighbor who I didn’t know very well, or care about much, and who certainly didn’t concern me deeply…..who really shouldn’t ever come over.
But there was something about that book.
I really was so moved at the words I read. I was incredibly curious about the idea of questioning beliefs about a situation. Even horrible, violent, awful situations.
How did I know what was true?
I wasn’t sure.
I had enough “personal growth” workshops to realize that what I thought was true in my past, turned out to be survivable, and something I might stop thinking or worrying about so often. I had learned I could change extreme behaviors; I no longer binge-ate food, or smoked cigarettes. I knew change and maturity was possible because I had experienced it.
In a very tiny amount and unsatisfying, mind you, but change was clearly possible.
And it appeared Byron Katie was saying our perceptions, beliefs, assessments of every worrisome incident or situation in life, and becoming very aware of these conclusions, could offer a liberation and definition of “change” I never imagined possible.
I thought you just survived and got over your rough times or terrible situations by talking about them and noticing they were in the past.
I thought you survived by forgetting, or telling one sympathetic person about it, or by getting group support, or by learning new skills and techniques for managing difficult emotions.
This was different. I wanted to understand more.
It wasn’t until I gathered for a weekend in a group, and wrote a new Judge Your Neighbor worksheet, that I understood what The Work could offer.
The fourth question in The Work is “who would you be without your thought?”
I didn’t know. I wasn’t sure who “I” was, or who I would be, or what I’d act like. I couldn’t imagine not having the thought.
What am I supposed to do with this question??! It almost frustrated me.
Until I sat in that big group, listening to others do The Work, so I didn’t have to.
People used their brilliant imaginations to wonder what it might be like to NOT THINK their terrible conclusions. Just one thought at a time.
It takes holding still for a moment. You have to get quiet. You have to be WILLING to wait a second and not decide you’re bored, or annoyed, or scared (which was me almost all the time).
With question four we get to wonder what it might be like without a belief? You don’t have to get rid of the belief, or drop the belief, or erase it from your mind, or chant opposite affirmations to oppose the belief.
No fighting energy is required, just a willingness really to sit with the thought and listen to what it could be like without it.
Or in my case, listen to other people doing THEIR work so I could begin to get the hang of it.
Which is what we’ll be doing in a few weeks in Seattle, Washington for four days.
A small group will be gathering in a beautiful private home specifically run for personal, inner work.
Everyone will be guided to walk through the work, one step at a time, so you don’t have to sit on the couch by yourself the way I did feeling like there was a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon between me and understanding my own mind or what this process even is.
It felt almost impossible for me, the way my mind was so frightened, or anxious, or closed, or opinionated, or nervous, or critical.
But that wasn’t true. It was possible.
It was just like learning to walk….learning to inquire.
One step, then I would fall down; laundry more important than inquiry. Another step, then falling down again; trying to get comfortable from feeling sick and feverish was more important than inquiry. Another step, then falling down again; not leaving my family and traveling far away was more important than inquiry.
Little did I know, every step was closer, in a circling kind of wonderful, unplanned way….to ending the drudgery and pain of believing what I thought was true, that wasn’t.
Doing The Work has become a practice of wondering in a way I never imagined would bring such happiness, sorrow, heart-break, wisdom, joy, clarity and humanness to my life. The full range of human. Not a numb human or a hurt human, but a human with so much more available. And still in process, always.
Which brings me to my invitation. To come join me for The Work. A dedicated time to meditate, follow the steps, and deeply imagine who we’d be without our suffering.
If you need some friendly, supportive hand-holding in this powerful form of inquiry, we meet Wednesday evening October 18th right here near my cottage in northeast Seattle (Lake Forest Park neighborhood) and end Sunday October 22 at 11:00 am.
Four days together in The Work. We’ll walk, sit, write, identify our beliefs, dance (yes, one movement session is planned for any ability), and share inquiry together.
“When I first discovered The Work, I wanted to get as close as I possibly could to understanding the thoughts that the mind was ceaselessly producing. This is the only way to control the uncontrollable mind. I got very still with these thoughts. I met them as a mother would meet her confused child….I wrote down everything the child said about the nightmare, and then I questioned it.” ~ Byron Katie in A Mind At Home With Itself
To read more about the autumn retreat in The Work or to sign up, visit HERE. Commuters OK. One bed still available at the retreat house as of this moment.
Noticing a disturbance in the force when it comes to a relationship in your life?
Sometimes you forget all about those difficult memories of that troubling relationship, and it’s of no concern, but other times it’s constantly reappearing in your consciousness….
….But one thing is for sure: when you think deeply of that person, you feel pain, angst, sadness, conflict, fear, anger, upset, trouble.
You might even see goodness in that relationship or person. You’ve analyzed them and been aware of the experiences they’ve had that might make them be that way. You’re trying to go easy on them. You want to understand!
But it just never gets settled, or resolved.
Relationships. You can’t live with ’em, you can’t live without ’em.
Our partner drives us nuts, our mother makes us wince, our siblings break our hearts, our children push our buttons.
And then love relationships….couples seem happier. Singleness appears lonely. Or perhaps we strategize that multiple relationships would be the best way to get our needs met and be comfortable.
We have many stressful beliefs about relationships, partnering, friendship, and family.
We all know that self-inquiry leads to self-awareness, and self-awareness allows us to soften and alter our behavior with ourselves and with others.
Where do we begin, though, when a relationship is really driving us mad?
Here’s an exercise you can do that I’ve loved. I call it the Top Five Exercise. It’s a pre-work piece of work, to help you land on one moment in time and write a worksheet on something that really bugs you.
1) Get out a pen and paper or your device, and think about one person you’d really love a better relationship with. Write the person’s name at the top of the page. Then write down five situations you found troubling when in contact with that person. It could be something that person said, something they did, a face they made, something you heard about them from someone else, a way they treated you.
These five situations will be snapshots in time. A ten second memory of a moment you felt was difficult, hurtful, upsetting, disappointing.
An example from my own work: Man I Was Dating.
a) I’m sitting at the airport in his town, having waited for two hours in the pick-up zone for him to come. He arrives and doesn’t seem very excited to see me.
b) We’re walking on the beach and two teens walk by in bikinis. He turns his head to watch them fade into the distance while saying “wait a moment, I’m distracted…..OK now proceed with what you were saying”. Then turns back to me.
c) We’re in a coffee shop. He looks up from his cup and says “I’m really not attracted to you. You’re not my type.”
d) He pushes the gas pedal because we’re late. I look at the speedometer and see it says 85 mph in a 30 mph zone.
e) We sit at a concierge desk at a hotel speaking to a woman with numerous pamphlets for tours and activities in front of her. He asks about each and every activity. For 1.5 hours.
2) Now consider the five situations or moments in time you’ve identified. Which one has the most emotional charge right now? Which one do you find most distressing? Pick only one of them. This will be the situation you’re investigating for now. You can always come back to the rest later.
3) Get a Judge Your Neighbor worksheet and hold the situation you picked, only that one, in your head. While you look at that difficult memory, answer the JYN questions without editing, suppressing, or making your thoughts about it sound nice. Be petty, childish, judgmental, hateful, mean, non-politically-correct.
4) Ask someone to facilitate you, or begin to move through your worksheet in writing on your own (use the One Belief At A Timeworksheet if you do it on your own). Answer the four questions and find the turnarounds on the concepts you’ve written on your Judge Your Neighbor worksheet.
Now here’s one interesting thing that happens sometimes when you do the Top Five exercise: you may realize there are more than only five.
Like, a lot more.
That’s OK. Keep going then. If you start to have memories flood in of ALL THE TIMES that person irritated you, then capture these on paper the same way as the rest of the list. Write a short sentence on what was happening in the moment. Go ahead and be thorough.
Sometimes, people begin to remember things from waaaaay back, like age 6 or age 10, then also events or moments from age 15, 20, 25. If you’ve known someone your whole life who saddens or upsets you, which is not uncommon, then go ahead and make a long list.
You then have your evidence for all the reasons why you feel troubled by this person. Your proof!
And you can begin a thorough investigation.
All it takes is beginning with ONE situation. One at a time.
If you have thoughts like “this will take forever” or “this can never be resolved, there are so many hurtful moments” or “it’s not possible to find freedom from this” or any overarching global thoughts like these about that person….you can question these.
This will take forever. She’s just too difficult. This relationship will never change.
Is it true?
Who would you be without that story?
I noticed the way I would be, was I’d be taking on ONE situation at a time. Trusting the process. Contemplating and looking at only one place I’ve felt oppositional to what is.
That’s all this mind can do at once.
“People don’t have to get along with me. Do I get along with them?–that’s the important question. People don’t have to understand me. Do I understand myself? Do I understand them? And if I understand myself, I understand everyone. As long as I remain a mystery to myself, people remain a mystery. If I don’t like me, I don’t like you.” ~ Byron Katie in A Mind At Home With Itself
I would love to have you at the Breitenbush HotSprings Winter Retreat. It’s worth the drive into the wilderness of the Oregon Cascades. It’s the same as your drive into the wilderness of your mental angst about those people who bother you.
Make the trek. Reserve your cabin. Come cozy up to your thinking. Find the freedom of self-inquiry on an important topic in your psyche, in your life. Soak in the hotsprings, and soak in The Work.
Three days. A beautiful mental cleanse, physical cleanse, pre-holiday cleanse.
To read more about this very inexpensive way to dive deeply into The Work, visit this link HERE. Early bird special lasts until Halloween (10/31) or first come, first served. Limited to 20 people total.
Have you ever witnessed two people arguing with each other, and you wind up feeling super uncomfortable, sad, disappointed, frustrated, furious, or even scared?
Two siblings are fighting over a toy. A couple you know is arguing again over which music to play during the party. Your mom and dad are yelling at each other about who’s responsible for the broken dish. Your grandpa and your dad (hmm, sounds familiar somehow) are furious with each other about where the money went. The two political candidates are interrupting each other constantly.
They shouldn’t be fighting. Hands over ears. It’s driving me nuts. (I remember having this thought once when my kids were little).
Someone I was working with recently knows a guy and his mother-in-law who constantly bicker. At a family reunion, they yelled in the kitchen. One threatened to leave the event. For good.
They really shouldn’t be fighting!
Is it true?
Yes. Come on people. Let’s be civil! You don’t have to fight! Jeez!
Can you absolutely know it’s true, though, that they shouldn’t be at each other like that?
Hmmm. It feels true. It was very alarming for the entire group, for the other people in the room, for the kids, for the neighbors.
It seems absolutely true. This is a deep one. People really shouldn’t fight. Wars happen….people get killed.
How do you react when you believe they shouldn’t fight, when….they’re fighting?
I start to get furious myself. When my kids were little, they were in the back seat of the car, and I screamed so loud all of the sudden they gulped and went silent.
I feel frightened.
I think “those people are wrong! They should Grow Up!” I get very judgey. I might take sides. One of them is a problem. The other should never react. I discuss strategies for helping everyone with the outcome called Project Stop Fighting. I’m on a mission.
But who would you be without this story?
Oh. Wait. You mean, it’s OK that they’re fighting? Because people are getting hurt and….
Just pause. It doesn’t mean, without the thought, that you love war and you’re letting it happen, or that it will never end unless you believe this thought. You aren’t condoning the fight.
It’s just wondering what it’s like without the belief they shouldn’t be when they are.
People fight sometimes. Humans get hot-headed. We tend to feel passionate about our position, or what’s right and what’s wrong. It does seem to be the way of it. And there are many ways to address that fighting feeling. Communicating with some openness, and willingness. Sharing honestly. Expressing our needs and wants. Saying what we fear. Doing The Work.
Who would we be without the belief those other people shouldn’t fight?
Noticing they are, and not fighting myself.
Turning the thought around: They should be fighting, I shouldn’t be fighting THEIR fighting.
They are feeling threatened, and some kind of opposition. They don’t know another way to protect, defend, find resolve, be OK with what is. They’re raising their voice in order to be heard, to say what they need to say. Animals do it, too. Why would I argue with reality, with nature?
Fighting also helps people draw lines, create boundaries when they feel frightened. It may not be the easiest way, or kindest way, but it’s what they know best.
And oh man oh man, I definitely shouldn’t be fighting. I get all riled up, tense, angry, and join in the energy to blow the whole fight up. Violently. It doesn’t feel so good.
I should be peaceful, and when I’m not, I can question my thoughts about fighting.
“I saw that the world is what it is in this moment and that in this moment people couldn’t possibly be more loving than they are. Where reality is concerned, there is no ‘what should be.’ There is only what is, just the way it is, right now. The truth is prior to every story. And every story, prior to investigation, prevents us from seeing what’s true.” ~ Byron Katie
It’s funny (sort of) how we humans tend to move towards things we think will benefit us, individually. Nothing wrong with it, but it can be very stressful if you think that without it, your life won’t be as good, or isn’t as good already.
I need or want “x”….and I’m sure I’d be better off with it. So I go a-hunting for it. I try to acquire it. I try to earn it. I bend over backwards for it.
I’ve seen other people with the thing I want. But not me.
Relationships can be presented in this way. The belief for some is that it’s better to have one. When you get a good, close, committed love relationship….then you’ll be happy. You’ll be secure. You’ll have companionship. You’ll get things, like a house or status, or cash, or attention, or fun, or someone to talk to.
It’s such a strong desire for many people that matchmaking businesses make a lot of money connecting people. People just feel so very certain if they find someone and call them their special companion, move in together, get married….
….they will get what they want. Then they’ll be happy.
An inquirer once came to me to work on his beliefs about couples.
He wasn’t in a relationship. But he thought he should be. He really thought he needed a girlfriend. He had enlisted in many services to help him find a mate.
And yet, so far, he was single basically his entire life.
I asked him what he thought couples had, that he didn’t?
And since we were doing The Work, which is all about your real thoughts on the subject without editing, I asked him also what was the worst that could happen if he was in a primary relationship with another person and it didn’t go the way he liked?
So he thought about what he believed he would have, if he had a girlfriend (and then a wife) and he said he’d have sex, and someone better at cooking than him….so, meals. A welcoming kitchen. A companion for trips overseas.
Another time, I was working with a woman who had been married for ages. She felt bored and tired of her husband of 30 years. Uninvolved in his life, disconnected, uninterested, uncaring.
What made her NOT leave or move to South America where she longed to go? She also answered honestly, since we were doing The Work.
Money. Security. She didn’t have to work at a job as long as she remained married and didn’t disrupt the status quo.
What I see in what people bring to relationships, is extreme amounts of stress when they expect something in return for being in the relationship, or expect they owe something for being in the relationship.
I give you “x”, you give me “y”, we have a deal.
Problem is….humans aren’t that reliable.
Life itself isn’t that reliable, or known, can’t be planned, can’t be controlled, isn’t a trade agreement. It’s also not All About Me. Making sure “I” at least get some, even if everyone else doesn’t.
But let’s do The Work, and see where this goes. Nothing like inquiry to open up the awareness and the gate of understanding.
What do you believe a love relationship will give you? If you’re already in a committed relationship, what do you believe your relationship ensures?
You need that relationship in order to be: wealthy, free to not work, adventure, expand emotionally, feel loved, grow, be seen as cool, feel safe.
Is this true?
If you say “yes” see if it’s absolutely true for all time that you need that relationship in order to be ______ (fill in the blank).
How do you react when you believe you need a relationship in order to feel or get or be loved, rich, safe, honored, comfortable, enlightened, seen in a good light?
The man who came to do The Work was looking at this pay-off for having a relationship: sex, companionship, meals.
How he reacted was he dated many, many women and broke up with them if they didn’t like to cook or want to keep house. He paid for elaborate adventures and bought gifts for the ones who did. He constantly wished for the ideal woman. He felt critical and angry when someone he thought might be the “one” didn’t do it the way he preferred.
He treated himself like his own company wasn’t that great–and being with another was better. He always felt restless and frustrated. He said he felt resentful if the sex wasn’t right.
Who would you be without your story?
We do place so much on relationships. It’s in the love songs, and our language. We project feeling supported, loved, valued because of that other person’s actions, or what they say.
But who would we be without our story of relationship?
Sometimes, I’ve had the thought I’d be alone. It doesn’t mean that at all.
Without the stressful story of relationship meaning we’re loved, safe, secure, wealthy, compensated (and the story that without one it means we aren’t or we’re not)….
….I find I’m free to love unconditionally.
Truly resting in love. No deal-making. No trades. No focus on myself and how this is all about me and “my” relationship. No expectations. No hardness. No risks. No scarcity.
Without my story of relationship being necessary in order for me to feel safe, for example, I notice the joy of how much safety I’ve experienced whether in relationship, or not. I survived, so far. Someday I won’t.
And it won’t be because I wasn’t in a relationship (LOL). It will be because it’s my time to go. I’m not in charge.
The sweet inquirer who did The Work noticed that without his thought of needing a relationship for sex, companionship or meals….
….he could see how much he loved going to restaurants all the time, and all the servers he knew like friends. He could enjoy the company of many kinds of people, in wide variety. He loved his alone time and the simplicity of life without focus on anyone else. He paid for pornography that had no attachment. The trade was money. This felt really easy for him.
Turning the thought around: I do NOT need a relationship in order to be _______ (wealthy, safe, loved, comfortable, grow, etc).
Can you find advantages of not being in relationship, if you aren’t?
Can you find advantage for being IN relationship, if you are?
How exciting, thrilling and fun to explore whatever is here, and to appreciate it without expectations, demands, control, or neediness.
“When you say or do anything to please, get, keep, influence, or control anyone or anything, fear is the cause and pain is the result.
If you act from fear, there’s no way you can receive love, because you’re trapped in a thought about what you have to do for love. Every stressful thought separates you from people. But once you question your thoughts, you discover that you don’t have to do anything for love. The fact is that when I have my own approval, I’m happy, and I don’t need anyone else’s.” ~ Byron Katie in I Need Your Love–Is That True?
Turning the thought around again: I need a relationship with myself in order to be ______ (fill in the words you’ve been looking at). I need a relationship with my own thinking.
I’ve often thought about how this doesn’t mean I live in a bubble and never ask for a thing. Not at all.
If I’m thirsty, I go get some water or ask for it or buy it. But I don’t believe I need a special relationship to quench my thirst. I’m an adult, with an open mind. I can move to care for myself and all connect with all life, with ease.
I find when I am accepting of myself entirely, why would I ever “need” to receive compliments, money, companionship, love, growth, praise, nurturing, safety through any relationship. I’d have all these things available to me already through the whole world.
If you want to really work on relating and relationship in your life, and clean up your stressful thinking when it comes to what you think you need from someone else….come to Breitenbush in December. Watch here for the short invite my husband Jon and I made for you: