Today is the anniversary of my father’s death.
It was a very long time ago, and I’m so used to living without him being physically present in my life, there is no dreadful pain about his absence.
But it wasn’t always this way.
When he first got diagnosed with incurable, terminal cancer, a wave went driving through me of deep fear, anguish, and grief.
It was terrible, horrible news.
I was filled with dread.
I remembered vividly, when I heard someone else’s work on the fear they had for their own child’s safety….
….the fear I felt when I learned my father was going to die.
Worrying about someone else is so stressful.
But here’s what I absolutely love about inquiry. It can open up your mind to seeing clearly, and seeing beyond the fear.
What is safety? Why do I feel so unsafe, in this situation? What am I expecting of myself, or of others, or of life….when I think it’s threatening?
And hey, wait a minute!
Where did I get this idea anyway, that something’s OFF and unsafe or dangerous?
Is it this situation, or Reality, that is off? Or my thinking?
We know intellectually that Byron Katie and other thought leaders and spiritual teachers are offering perspective on this whole “mind” and “thinking” thing, right?
Katie suggests our thinking is the cause of suffering, not the actual conditions of reality. She invites us to look, over and over, as a practice.
“Nothing terrible has ever happened, except in our thinking. Reality is always good, even in situations that seem like nightmares. The story we tell is the only nightmare that we have lived.” ~ Byron Katie
Holy Smokes….let’s test it out.
Let’s look at this very common and VERY troubling belief: I am not safe.
Notice you can only think you should be experiencing something different, this “safe” thing, if you believe you aren’t and it’s bad, bad, bad.
I am not safe (TERRIBLE)!
Is it true?
To really dig into this inquiry as you read, find a situation in which you felt unsafe. Emotionally, physically, spiritually–whatever your circumstance.
Is it true, you’re in danger?
I remember the circumstances, many of them, when I felt unsafe.
The doctor is telling me the tumor on my leg is cancer. I’m in full-stop traffic miles away, with my 5 year old standing in the rain in the dark by himself, waiting. I’m reading an alarming text. I’m reading an email that says someone’s coming over NOW and they are desperate. I’m hearing a phone message where someone implies I’m a liar, and another phone message where someone says I’m not being a good friend.
I learn someone very close to me (like my dad) are very sick or going to die. I’m suddenly at the scene of a car accident right after it happened. I can’t reach the man I have a crush on, he’s not ever calling me back. I open the trunk of my car and see it’s empty–all my luggage has been stolen.
Not safe! Surely!
You are not safe.
Is it absolutely true for all time, beyond all doubt?
I pause, wondering about this moment, holding still.
Astonishingly, I notice I can’t know it’s absolutely true I am not safe. Even though I just injured myself, even though someone I love just received a diagnosis, even though my stuff is apparently gone (stolen) and I feel energy coursing through me. I can’t absolutely know I am not safe.
How do you react when you believe “this is a threat, I am not safe, this is dangerous”?
I clench up tight. I stop breathing deeply. I want to quit everything, why bother trying in this dangerous world? I see pictures of how things will go (badly) and terrible scenes I imagine for the future, and sad memories from the past. I attack myself, or I attack the attackers in my mind.
I condemn nervousness or anxiety as bad and wrong, and I act tough. I avoid any place or any person who threatens me. THEY are the one making me feel this terrible feeling of danger, after all.
I treat myself like I’m meek and tiny, and unable to handle these feelings or this threat. I run.
So who would you be without this thought, this story of the lack of safety? What if you didn’t know this person, this situation, was dangerous?
Some people think, with this question….my God, I’d be crazy! I’d be walking right into something without fear, and not even know it.
And this isn’t about being passive, or being stupid and defying gravity or something.
You can still follow traffic rules, make lists of pros and cons for spending money, notice you drop everything and leave your house when you learn your kid has a broken wrist at school.
But you’re taking action without terror. You’ve moved, without personally believing it MUST go a certain way, or else.
You do the most efficient, kind, loving thing. That’s who you are, without panic. Someone who cares. Someone who moves to help, if you’re able.
I once remember Katie facilitating someone through their thought “I’m afraid of the cancer in my body!”
She asked the person; “Do you think the cancer is more likely to go away…if you hate it and fear it, or you don’t mind it’s there?”
Without the belief that I’m threatened…..WOW. I’m wondering where this is going? I’m open. I’m stepping forward, even if it’s in the dark. I’m feeling about, I’m curious, even excited.
Even about the Big Fears, like death and loss and change.
Turning the thought around: I am not threatened in this situation, I am not in danger, I am safe.
Could this be just as true, or truer?
What part of you is OK?
I notice, I’m alive, I’m unhurt physically, I thought I was threatened but actually I only read words, or heard words. Bodies are temporary, and some last longer than others. Things are temporary, too.
Without the belief that I’m unsafe, as I hear troubling news from someone else, I might just sit, stay connected to the person, notice I have only kindness to offer and speaking isn’t necessary.
Turning it around even further: I am supported, all is well, everything is not only OK but brilliant, loving, wonderful.
I know that sounds a bit over the top, considering some of the human situations we find ourselves in. I’m not saying I’d be happy in some very grave, shocking news.
And yet….who knows what is possible?
I notice I would live, even if my child died. I notice I lived, even though my father did die. I notice I’m sitting in a very quiet room, with a heater humming hot air into the space, and a beautiful orange lamp shining, with a cup of peppermint tea and some apple slices sitting within reach. It is extremely safe.
It is as if, right now in this very moment, nothing terrible HAS ever happened, unless I remember or think about it.
It is true that I am only threatened if I THINK.
What I notice, too, is when I was in very apparently dangerous situations, I did not actually “think”.
Thinking happened afterwards. I took in what was happening, I moved, I ducked, I ran, I waited, I showed up, I left.
Who was I without my story?
Life in action. Human, being itself.
Human learning something different. Human discovering what it’s like to not believe it’s thoughts.
Human living with no requirements, conditions, demands (except in thought)….or true lack of safety, ever.
Human spinning through space on a small planet called earth, here for a few seconds by comparison to Reality.
Here, noticing what is sweet and lovely, and bitter and difficult, and noticing I’m not running this joint.
“The Master acts without doing anything and reaches without saying anything. Things arise and she lets them come; things disappear and she lets them go. She has but doesn’t possess, acts but doesn’t expect. When her work is done, she forgets it. That is why it lasts forever.” ~ Tao Te Ching #2 (Translated by Stephen Mitchell)
P.S. If you notice anxiety, fear, nerves, emptiness, boredom, anger when it comes to eating, food and body….I’m offering a MasterClass on Wednesday, November 23rd 1:00-2:30 pm. Eating Peace: How To Question Your Thoughts That Drive Off-Balance Eating. Register here.