Doing The Work for me this weekend…some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me.

I opened my eyes this morning, and heard the deep breath four other women sleeping in the same room with me, lined up on the floor on mattresses, dorm room style. The light was  just dawning in the sky out the window.


We’re on the third floor of a huge house. A big open space with wooden floors, a gas stove in the corner and a few chairs around the perimeter of the room.

I’ve slept deeply. So far, I’ve had two full days and two nights being with my slumber party mates, plus 8 other people who are also in this same house (or nearby in an AirBnb), in focused self-inquiry.

This is a kind of inquiry combined with an invitation (not a requirement) for each person present to express any emotions felt in question three: “What happens, how to do you react, when you believe this thought?

Wow.

This is the kind of emotional release work I used to do in group therapy for three years. Telling the honest truth about feelings. Saying thoughts out loud. Losing our shame. Showing how we live and act and see and feel when we believe our stressful thought.

Roxann is our facilitator. As Byron Katie’s daughter, she’s been in the work for 30 years.

It shows. She’s not had such a disturbing awakening as her own mother who went a bit mad with having no more identity (you can read more about Byron Katie’s shift of consciousness in 1986 in Loving What Is).

Roxann got to learn self-inquiry in all its various forms from observing her mother’s life, and from coming along with her own experience.

Kind of like all of us are doing here; you, me, anyone interested in this “quest” of living with questions. We’re continuously practicing identifying and then wondering about our experiences, and our reactions to reality. 

It’s sweet and humbling and joyful to be able to sit in retreat and not be the one leading the group. I have the thought every facilitator or leader in any position benefits from this….all the beautiful learning, receiving, awareness that happens when we hold different roles in groups. When we’re open to how Not Done we are.

At least it’s good for me.

After my eyes opened this early morning, and I heard the sound of other bodies breathing deeply, I heard in my head this song playing:

Sun’s up, mmm hmmm, looks okay. The world survives into another day. And I’m thinking about eternity. Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me.

I didn’t try to think it. I didn’t plan on recalling it.

It just popped in.

A joyful, brilliant message of grace by musician and songwriter Bruce Cockburn.

It came out in 1979 the year I graduated high school.

That was the last year anything appeared to be ecstatic for a long, long time. I felt lost, stuck, insecure, confused, addicted to drama and self-criticism, tortured for about ten years. College drop-out, father dying of cancer, boyfriend gone, over-eating, over-drinking, over-training, over-smoking, over-anxious, over-dreading.

Over-Thinking.

Not enough feeling.

It struck me this morning, as I dressed with joy, picked up my laptop, and went downstairs to set out breakfast for the group before writing to you here….that simply feeling without reservation, feeling without terror of judgment about feeling, feeling without shame, feeling with freedom to let it rip, let it be there….

….is such a beautiful allowing of What Is.

People on this retreat are all experienced in The Work. Everyone’s done it, practiced it, walked through it maybe hundreds of times.

And here we are together, sitting in Question Three and BEING who we are with our beliefs, letting them live….and THEN (and just as important) sitting in Question Four and imagining who we are without our story. 

Feeling who we are without our story. Remembering being in that situation, being with that difficult person without our story.

How?

By slowing the whole process down and letting the images, scenes, memories, feelings, words, silence….giving it all time to be there and be shared and witnessed.

I am stunned in this process that when we humans tell our story of pain, the feelings come alive. The vibration of feeling moves through the body, the limbs, hands, heart, chest, arms, throat, face. 

When we have the opportunity to be witnessed in this story and experience, the story can move, shift and transform into a healing one, not a victim one.

Sitting in the circle, every time someone does their work, I’m gazing into the face of someone absolutely brilliant: someone who knows their own inner life, and has their own inner guidance (without even knowing it sometimes), someone who’s following the simple directions to be themselves with a story they really want to understand and contemplate.

It’s always a story that’s caused deep distress and pain.

So yeah.

I had a story. 

I know I’ve written about it before so if you’ve read Grace Notes for awhile, you may have even read about it for 2 or 3 times.

Sometimes….a story takes time to crack open all the way, all the way. The story has its own timeline, its own pace. Some stories are with us for a lifetime, but the perspective alters.

There I was, jumping into my story of being abandoned, discarded, actually thrown away by my first husband.

Yes, I have spent time in inquiry and found miraculous advantages for everything happening as it did.

This work was about what was left.

He threw me away.

A scream came out of me that later, I noticed, hurt my throat. “Come back!! Come back!! Don’t leave!! I can’t do this on my own!! Nooooooo!!!” 

The scream reached back in time to my father and his cancer, and all the goodbyes from anyone or anything I had ever encountered that brought me support, help, strength.

The scream even reached into the future when my mom will die, or a good friend, or any friend who’s ever vanished, or maybe my current adorable husband.

Right now, I’m amazed at the core belief that just doesn’t quit in the mind: 

“I can’t”.

I can’t live well, I can’t do it, I can’t make it, I can’t succeed.

Who would we be without this story?

This weekend, by being here in the presence of these lovely willing humans, I’ve gotten to do The Work alongside them and they with me on boyfriends, ex-partners, father, mother, brother, sister, abandonment, betrayal, disgust, cancer, hatred, rage, terror, fighting, withholding, body, stalking, boss, service, duty, loyalty- gone-overboard.

I’ve gotten to un-crack more remnants of victimhood. The harshness of feeling like a victim.

The voice that says “I can’t”.

I notice right now, as I gaze for a moment out a beautiful French door with glass, a balcony, and still gray water lapping on the shore through the trees down below; I notice that except for my thinking, there is nothing terrible happening right now

Absolutely nothing. 

Turning the thought around: I can.

I can go on. I can live. I can succeed. I can make it. I can survive. I can do it. I can love. 

I already have–haven’t you?

And here’s a turnaround I love so much, and we don’t always find this turnaround in every inquiry: YAHOO!!! YIPPEE!!! I can’t!!!

Because here’s what I notice; When I can’t, something else happens, someone comes in to help, I wind up somewhere unusual, I get surprised (in a good way). 

I don’t even need to believe I can….I just am. I’m being it. I’m being breathed, as Katie says. I’m just here.

I can’t, so hooray and halleluia! 

I can’t….so that thing I pictured was unnecessary, it was a lie. I can’t, because I was needed elsewhere achieving something different. I can’t become an orthopedic surgeon because I’m busy facilitating The Work and writing this note. I can’t make a million dollars because I’m busy learning how fundamentally supported I am without the cash. 

I can’t stay married the first time because I’m of far greater service to the world, and a thousand times more connected to other people (my favorite) after being “left” and getting divorced. 

Reality is always kinder than the stories we tell about it. ~ Byron Katie

You can do this work, too. 

Find a witness, one friend, a family member, someone who can listen closely to you or maybe two or three. Invite them to gather. Tell them you want to share your story, Have them listen honorably, without interruption or advice. Then, wonder what it would be like to NOT have your belief in this identity, this “I can’t” story. 

There is something so very healing and liberating about sharing what’s true in your heart–the good, the bad, and the ugly. All the explaining you want to do about how you can’t and how sad or unhappy you are about it. 

Who would you be without your story right now in this moment that you are Not Able or You Can’t and it’s bad, sad, frightening, wrong?

Maybe a smile comes to your face. Maybe you get a little charge f Can-Do. Maybe you feel a whisper of inspiration, or patience. Or if you feel like me in the moment, some kind of ecstasy takes a hold on you. 

If you want to tap into this process of doing The Work (not necessarily in the same format of spotlight focus on feelings: beginners to experienced are all welcome) then join me on spring retreat in Seattle at our beautiful retreat house May 15-19. A few rooms left for those who’d like to stay onsite (ask about the fees for rooms). Register.

I Wonder Where The Lions Are–Thinking About Eternity by Bruce Cockburn. 

Much love,
Grace

2 Replies to “Doing The Work for me this weekend…some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me.”

  1. LOL, I love this “blessed relief to live each day without worrying about the damned lions”…so true. Thank you for your comment.–Much love, Grace

  2. Wow, so THAT’S where the lions are! Who knows? But wherever they are, they’re not at my door anymore! Thank you for pointing me back at this song; now I like it even more. And what a blessed relief to live each day without worrying about the damned lions.

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