OK, I’m gonna do this. Where’s a pen and paper?
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).