Everyone just leave my boobs alone, Goddamnit! That was the thought I was having several times a day. Of course, when I sat down to confront my problem, Byron Katie-style, I wrote something a bit more restrained.
I hate breastfeeding, I wrote. I’m sick of it. It bugs me. I hate the boredom, the discomfort. The whining for “boo-boo,” “boo-boo.”
It was June, and I’d recently given birth, and my barely-turned two-year-old nursed, too. At the time, breastfeeding was–no exaggeration–a part-time job. More than thirty hours a week I was spending with a person (sometimes people) fully attached, often doing nothing but waiting to be done.
Which is why after discovering The Work it was one of the first thoughts I brought to the method; it seemed like a pretty good test. CBT couldn’t touch it. At least that’s what I believed. And I doubted The Work could, either. But I’d just read another book of Katie’s, my third, I Need Your Love – Is That True?: How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation and Start Finding Them Instead, and cover to cover, it was super inspiring. So one afternoon I got my pen and paper, and after writing down my negative feelings on the subject, I answered the four requisite questions.
Is it true? Yes. Obviously. Duh.
Can you be absolutely sure it’s true? Uh, I guess not.
How do you feel when you think this thought? Terrible. Trapped. On the verge of a scream.
How would you feel if you couldn’t think the thought? Well, I guess I’d feel … fine?
And then I turned the statement around to the opposite and found examples to confirm.
I love breastfeeding, I wrote. I don’t hate it at all. Look at all the benefits it provides my kids. Not to mention the benefits to me–all those burned calories while just lying on my side, doing nothing. And when the baby cries, it always makes her feel better, which of course makes me feel better, too. Plus, what other activity in my life will I ever do that is this easy and yet this important? It’s, like, the best-ever excuse to be lazy.
Then, as Katie does in several examples in her book, I returned to the first question: Is it true?
Well, no. I mean, not entirely.
Hmmm. That’s interesting.
Later that day, I thought about the exercise and checked in, asking myself if anything felt different. It didn’t, I concluded. I felt just the same. But then something strange happened: nothing.
The following morning when Jack, the two-year-old, woke me while groping for my breast, I didn’t feel the extreme annoyance I usually felt.
In fact, I didn’t feel much at all.
Holy crap. I smiled. Holy crap. I think it worked. I didn’t think it’d really work. But it did.
After this experience, my interest in The Work quickly increased, and soon I found myself substituting my CBT practice with the new method. Every few days or so, I’d jot down the thoughts that came to mind, then select the most troublesome to move with through the process. Here are just some of the feelings and ideas I successfully distanced myself from during that first incredible month:
- I’m bloated.
- I should go on a diet.
- David should have [fill in the blank].
- My friend should not have [fill in the blank].
- I can’t sleep.
- Caring for a baby is too hard.
- All parenting is too hard.
To say the least, dealing effectively with these thoughts rather than letting them run amok was an improvement. So it wasn’t very far into July before I started hatching a plan.
That plan: this book. This serial. This story. About doing the Work for a year. Not much more to it than that–no detailed list of rules. Just dedicating myself to the practice and seeing where it takes me. Along the way, I’ll question my current life philosophy, too, since without that intention I’d likely focus only on the day-to-day stuff. I want to see big changes, big shifts, major differences in perspective.
I want the Work to be the game-changer I’ve been seeking.
Here are my six basic spiritual beliefs, which I will write about at length in this serial.
- Spirituality is good.
- People are holy.
- Life is a game. There are no rules.
- God is reality.
- People have power.
- My religion is peace, pain, hard work and appreciation.
I know. Scary, right? This is good stuff here. I like every single one of these. I’ve come to each of them like a child comes to a rock lying on the beach: I pick it up, turn it around in my hand. I notice the color, the uniqueness, even the flaws–but they don’t seem like flaws to me. After a moment of inspection, I might throw it back, but more often than not, I don’t. I put it in my rock bag and refuse to leave it behind, though on the car ride home it already seems out of place.
Beliefs are interesting. They’re important. They stabilize us. They help us relate to other people. We like our rock collections. We really, really like them. We carry them wherever we go. Sometimes, when we find other people whose rocks look a lot like ours, we even meet every Sunday for a while to describe them.
Rock collecting is a wonderful hobby. Spirituality is a noble practice. But do we have to take it quite so seriously?
Do our beliefs have to be so darn firm?
Which brings me to the first Byron Katie quote of the series–one that I’ll probably revisit later on.
“God is everything, God is good … Ultimately, of course, even this isn’t true … All so-called truths eventually fall away. Every truth is a distortion of what is. If we investigate, we lose even the last truth. And that state, beyond all truths, is true intimacy. That is God-realization. And welcome to the reentry. It’s always a beginning.”
The quote is from the second book I read of Katie’s, Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life. It was co-written by her husband, Stephen Mitchell. The sentiment is puzzling, yet it rings true to me, especially since it echoes the Buddhist view of ultimate truth. I start with it this year for several reasons.
The first is that if Byron Katie is known for one thing, she is known for eradicating belief. To her, belief is dangerous. Undesirable. Scary. Belief is the root of all suffering, of every problem we have. Which is why her four questions encourage us to question our thoughts so relentlessly.
If you’re not familiar with this teacher, the above probably sounds a bit strange. Don’t worry. Hang in there. We’ll get to your questions. For now, let’s move on to the second reason.
The second reason the quote is so appropriate here at the starting line is that it makes me wonder what my time with The Work is going to bring. If nothing is true, really and ultimately true, where will that leave me by year’s end? Will inquiry excise my favorite, most comforting beliefs–steal my precious rock collection like a school bully? Or will my spiritual beliefs hold up, at least for now, and continue to help me get through this earthly adventure?
The final reason I chose this quote first is that it’s Katie’s direct answer to the first of my seven beliefs, namely, spirituality (God) is good.
Sure, she says. Sure, you can think that. But ultimately, no–spirituality isn’t good.
Like everything else, spirituality is nothing.
Welcome to the rabbit hole that is Ms. Byron Katie.
All this said, I don’t regret—not for one moment, not for one second—any of the years I spent as true believer.
It was the start of everything to come.
Read the rest of the series at My Byron Katie Detox: One Year of Questioning My Unhelpful Thoughts.