Terror, ugliness, unacceptable, unbearable….doing The Work on the worst that could happen

When you spend 4 days doing The Work with a group, something happens to everyone’s perspective. Instead of the daily routine of life, our view shifts into a broader awareness.

It’s like the feeling you get when watching a magnificent sunrise.

Or receiving and giving a hug. Holding someone’s hand when they’re ill or dying. Being at the birth of a baby. Suddenly being startled at a gorgeous lush tree full of blossoms.

Everyone has these kinds of moments, where you’re startled by the beauty or insight that’s just inserted itself into your present moment.

In this retreat, we looked and sat with one important question, pens in our hands, blank paper on our laps.

The question: what’s the worst thing that could ever happen in your life?


What a question, right?

Holy smokes.

I watched as all the participants closed their eyes, wrote in their journals and notebooks.

Now….what do you think it would mean, if this terrible thing happened?

What would it mean about you, about them, about life?

For me, I’ve thought about a dreadful image when I’ve answered this question. The worst thing ever happening? My children dying. Oh jeez. Not that terrible image again. Ugh.

It’s almost weird to write about. Why go there? Why event mention this dreadful, horrible, ridiculous, not-true scenario? Is there something wrong with me? Why would I give this possibility the time of day? I must be some kind of masochistic weirdo to want to sit with this terrifying disturbance of losing my kids.

But it’s there, nevertheless. A fear. I think I couldn’t go on if this happened. I notice sometimes in the world, peoples’ kids die.

So I’m willing to take a look, since the thought scares me.

Which is what I love about The Work.

The invitation is to open up to the underworld, the terrifying, the thoughts already present, the worries, the fears, the dread.

Let’s get them HANDLED…says The Work. Even if you think four questions couldn’t possibly “handle” your greatest fears.

I invite you to see.

Write down what you think is the worst thing ever that could happen in your life. It’s often about some kind of deeply troubling loss. A relationship, an inability to function, rejection, abandonment, betrayal.

Let’s inquire.

It would be (or, lets face it…it already happened and it WAS) the WORST thing ever.

Is it true?

(First question of The Work).

We’re inquiring. In the grand scheme oft things, we’re opening up to the choice that we’re believers, or we question what we believe….there’s no other possibility.

So let’s question, since it’s an option.

Is it true this would be the worst thing ever?


Hands down, yes.

I couldn’t live life ever again in the same way if my kids died.

But can you absolutely know it’s true that it’s the worst thing? Can you absolutely know you couldn’t go on living? Can you absolutely know you’d lose your mind in grief, or freak out, or NOT be able to handle it? Can you know you’d be engulfed in sorrow and wither away into nothing?

How do you react when you believe in this possibility? When you think this is the worst? When you scream at yourself not to think this thought, ever EVER (because it’s so scary)?

I gasp. I try to stop thinking it. I bat it away. I tell myself positive things. And I feel underlying fear. I see images of my kids dying. I think I’m the kind of person who might go through this horrible event, so I brace myself. I don’t know how to prevent it, so I feel frightened. I feel like the future is dim, not bright.

I start imagining that if I think this thought…I’ll invite it. Which just exacerbates and threatens even more, and brings on self-criticism in addition to the original fear. (What’s wrong with you? Stop thinking this!)

But who would I be without the thought my kids will die?

It’s a worthy question. To consider what it would be like to NOT THINK that dreadful thought?

This is not about pretending or denying they’ll die. It’s wondering who I’d be without the thought pounding in my brain that they will.

I’d be relaxed. I’d see what else is going on. I’d open up to other ideas. I’d notice what’s working, even though this could (or has) happened.

And what about if this terrible thing that COULD happen or already did happen…what if it’s OK that it happened? Or the best thing that could happen, instead of the worst?

I know it’s a little abrupt. I know the word “best” is a little weird. But in this world of duality, we’re interested in worst/best, good/bad, terrible/wonderful.

And we’re interested in shaking things up. Considering what good could come out of the “worst case scenario”. Is there anything you can think of that might be GOOD about that horrible thing happening?

Several years ago, I got cancer.

I had surgery, and was lying in bed at home one day later with 50 stitches in my thigh, doing The Work. I looked at my leg, and was amazed the place where the tumor was removed looked like a piece of pale cream-colored leather with a huge gash in it, stitched with a gray colored thread evenly spaced.

How could I think of this situation as the best thing that ever happened? Really? What? I couldn’t find it. There is NO turnaround for this. It’s awful, there’s no reason. Cancer truly sucks. Nothing good can come of this. All awful, all the time, 24 hours a day. It shouldn’t happen. I’ll probably die of cancer, even if it’s not THIS cancer.

Who would I be, without this story though, that it’s the worst thing ever?

Oh. You really want me to do The Work on THIS situation too? Seriously?

Yes. Because you can question anything. The Work is here to open your mind, no matter what’s going on. It doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care what situation you’re looking at.

Who would I be without my story, in that moment I was lying in bed with stitches in my leg from my cancer operation?

I’d notice when my estranged husband knocked on the door, with our two very young children, holding two-dozen pink roses.

We hadn’t been talking closely. He had left the marriage and we were on the way to divorce. And here he was, showing up while caring for our kids because of my surgery, bringing this gift of flowers. Caring.

Ah ha. I just found my turnaround inquiry.

Since this happened, the BEST thing that happened came next. Sweetness. A show of caring, when I thought he didn’t. (And we still got divorced, and that turned out to be a good thing too).

And so can I find a turnaround example for it being OK that my kids die?

Well….I wouldn’t have to worry about them going through global warming and suffering immensely because the earth is dying. I wouldn’t have to worry about them at all, in fact. They’d miss old age, which appears to be difficult at times (unless you do The Work of course). I’d be off the hook for leaving any inheritance. They’d enter the Great Beyond before I even did, wow. They’d get there without all this wondering and incessant seeking for Enlightenment and Truth.

This work is a little strange. I admit. Noticing your most resistant fears and thoughts about life.

But oh so worth it.

Because in the end, what I discovered I’m really worried most about it ME dying, if THEY died.

Me dying, however, may not be the troubling event I anticipate. Even if my body lived….my heart might mend in such a powerful way, I would recognize that what died was my ego, not love.

And just like my father who died so many years ago of leukemia, I’d notice he may not be here in physical form, but I think of him often, I consult with him, I feel his presence, he’s part of my DNA. So did he even die?

Who would I be without my story of WORST or BEST?

Unafraid. Free. Curious. Open.

“The Tao Te Ching says that the source of everything is called ‘darkness’. What a beautiful name (if we must have a name). Darkness is our source. In the end, it embraces everything. Its nature is love, and in our confusion we name it terror and ugliness, the unacceptable, the unbearable. All our stress results from what we imagine is in that darkness. We imagine darkness as separate from ourselves, and we project something terrible onto it. But in reality, the darkness is always benevolent.” ~ Byron Katie in 1000 Names For Joy

Spring Mental Cleaning Retreat Seattle 2017 (Next retreat is Breitenbush in Oregon June 21-25, 2017 and Fall Retreat in Seattle is Oct 19-22, 2017)

Much love,


4 Replies to “Terror, ugliness, unacceptable, unbearable….doing The Work on the worst that could happen”

  1. Yes, makes great sense to me. Love it! I do get that some, and many men for many reasons, will respond to tough + compassion together very well. Appreciate your input and comments here. –Grace

  2. Perhaps this is going to sound odd. I think that it’s a matter of presentation. Men might respond better to the exact same questions being asked in the voice of a marine corps gunnery instructor. A tell it like it is boot camp might actually make sense. Progress isn’t made until we stop bsIng ourselves and there is a case to be made for getting the mules attention with a 2×4 across the noggin. in our culture men show respect for tough. Tough with compassion is powerful. If this is making any sense to you, I’d love to take it further.
    With great respect

  3. Yes, I often wonder why more men are not present. There are wonderful regular men participants at some of the retreats I offer, and small groups, but they are by far outnumbered. My husband and I are co-leading a retreat at Breitenbush Hotsprings in Oregon in December, hoping for more men to participate since we will have both genders leading. We will see what happens! The first Year of Inquiry group I ran also had 2 men, who were a delight, and so many of the women present would also like men to enroll and very much enjoyed the perspective and presence of those two. Good ideas here and I also agree, if a male certified facilitator wanted to run a program for men, this might be very helpful! Any thoughts from your end about why more men do not sign up? Warmest, Grace

  4. Hi Grace,
    The picture included here of the retreat in Seattle hit my awareness button big time. There is not a single man in at picture. Is this a unique occurrence or is, in your experience, the lack of male participants the rule and not the exception. Given the power of the Work, it seems to me that a workshop for men, presented by a man or a man/ woman team, could be of immense value to the community.

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