Tara: My partner and I are minimalists who live in
a tiny home (a converted fifth-wheel)
nearly off-grid on the side of a mountain. We’ve been here for
years and love it. We’ve condensed so much of our lives to make
this our truth. Not only are we tiny house minimalists, but we don’t
have running potable water and heat with wood.
Mollie: What was your decluttering and
simplifying process like?
Tara: My first decluttering process
happened while I was living in a 1400 square
foot house. I donated, gifted or threw away 365 things in my home
that I no longer needed. These items ranged from old cleaning
products and makeup to pairs of earrings to clothing to a piece of
furniture to kitchen supplies and books. It’s amazing how fast you
can rid of items no longer used.
This became a ritual I continue to do about every
other year, even while living in a tiny home. Most of the items I
release these days are small things like pens or pencils, makeup,
notebooks, accessories, old food and clothing items. It feels good to
have a fresh start every now and then.
365 things clears the mind and gives us one less object to worry or
think about each day for
Mollie: What are your most prized beliefs
regarding minimalist lifestyle? What ideas you want to spread?
Tara: Living a minimalist, off-grid, tiny-home
life is extremely important to me. I enjoy being immersed in
Nature. I depend on snow for water to do my dishes and to boil water
for tea. I depend on dead standing wood to heat our tiny home during
the harsh 9,000-foot winter
months. Living with Mother
instead of carving space into her creates a wealth of gratitude each
day. Even living the primitive way I do is still very abundant, as
I’ve experienced harsh survival situations in the past. Coming home
to a cozy, safe space warms my heart.
I also believe living with less helps me with my
ADHD. Since my mind is cluttered most of the time, living in a space
with less to clean and to worry about simplifies my life even more.
Living with less is also a mindful life choice and practice.
Consciously choosing what we can live without opens the spirit to
reconnect with intuitive choices about what we truly need in order to
instead of being more mindful of tasks we look
for an easy way out. Thinking this way sometimes isn’t a big deal;
however, the more we develop an attachment to objects for meeting our
needs, the more we look for answers outside instead of within.
Mollie: Can you share a few very specific tips
for cleaning, organizing and simplifying a home?
Yes. First, if you haven’t used something in a
little over a year, you really don’t need it so get rid of it.
Second, if you bring a non-perishable item into the house, release something else as an exchange. For example, if you buy a new pair of socks, donate or gift a pair that has never really fit right. If you receive a fancy new air-vacuumed mug for your birthday, donate the plastic one that doesn’t keep coffee warm as long as your new one.
Also, remember that linens and towels can add up quickly. We only need one to two sets of sheets per bed and one to two bath towels per person. Depending on the family size, three or four kitchen towels is plenty. People often accumulate too many linens because we don’t like to do the laundry. This accumulation also happens with clothing. The more we are able to be mindful with laundry, the less we actually need on hand.
My final tip is to rent a storage unit. Seriously. If you are uncertain about releasing a number of items, rent a storage unit and place those items in it, then see how often you return to use them. For the items you truly need, you’ll be willing to drive to the unit, use it and drive it back. If items stay unused for several months or they aren’t worth the rental fee, then you’ll learn that those unused items aren’t worth the money and effort to keep around.
Haley Gallerani runs The Vegan Abroad, a
website about traveling sustainably and as a vegan. Visit it at
Have you ever significantly minimized your possessions? What led to
the decision and what did you change?
I would say that I officially became a minimalist in 2018 when I
moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand. I brought two suitcases with me and
two suitcases back. I knew that I wouldn’t be living in Thailand
forever so I didn’t want to purchase too many things while I was
there. I did have to purchase a few things for my apartment, but it
came furnished so my purchases were minimal.
biggest way that I minimized my possessions was with my clothing. I
used to own so many clothing pieces that I hardly ever wore. I now
around ten different outfits. My biggest tip for simplifying your
wardrobe is to only purchase neutral
colors. This will allow you to mix and
match more than if you own clothing with different colors and
What is your life like now? How often do you travel and for how long?
Do you still take only two suitcases?
I have been in the United States for the past few months, but I will
be moving to Europe in January 2020. I am a big believer in slow
travel. That means that I spend a long time in one location before
moving onto the next. Europe is a bit more complicated than Thailand
because of visa issues. I will start in Italy where I will stay for
three months: one month in Rome, one month in Florence, and one month
in Sicily. Then I will be going to Croatia for three months before
finally settling in the Czech Republic where I will get a visa.
I am planning on only bringing one suitcase and a
backpack with me to Europe because I will be moving around so much. I
know that this is going to be even more challenging since Europe has
four different seasons that I need to pack clothes for whereas it was
almost always summer temperatures in Thailand. I am excited about the
challenge, though, and I think that I will grow even more minimalist.
What are your most prized beliefs regarding minimalist lifestyle—the
ideas you most want to spread?
My most prized belief regarding a minimalist lifestyle is that there
isn’t a one-size-fits-all for minimalism. I think that you have to
find what brings you joy in life and focus on that. Clothing doesn’t
bring me joy, so that is a very easy area for me to be a minimalist
in. I do love cooking, though, so someone could look at my kitchen
and think that I am not a minimalist, but then look at my closet and
think that I am. Ultimately, I think that minimalism is about
focusing on the things that matter to you, and spending less time
(and money) on the things that don’t. When you find the things that
don’t bring you joy, get rid of them.
try to find ways to simplify the things that do bring you joy. For
example, I am an avid reader. I only purchased physical books prior
to moving to Thailand. I decided to purchase a Kindle before moving
to Thailand so I could easily purchase books in English while I was
abroad. It ended up being one of the best purchases that I have ever
made because I no longer have the clutter of books anymore, and I can
fit hundreds of books on a very small device.
Any final thoughts?
Haley: Becoming a minimalist can be scary at first as you are getting rid of a bunch of your possessions. The thought of “What if I need this in the future?” may show up. My advice would be to keep the item that you are questioning for six months to a year depending on what the item is. If you haven’t used it in that time then you should probably get rid of it.
Pablo and Beverly Solomon have been minimalist designers for over forty years. Their work has been featured in over forty books as well as numerous magazines and newspapers; on TV and film; and on the radio. You can see examples of their fashion and home designs at PabloSolomon.com and BeverlySolomon.com.
What is the essence of your minimalist design philosophy?
You have so often heard it said that the core of minimalism is the
concept of “less is more”. We would modify that a bit and
say that putting quality over quantity is also minimalism.
Minimalism is also the recognition that simplifying your life and
achieving a harmonious balance between things and experiences,
between your comfort and respecting nature, between activity and
rest, etc. are also goals. Minimalism strives to be a physical
representation of a serene, uncluttered mind that lives in harmony
That’s an interesting idea. What does minimalism have in common
with living in harmony with nature?
Beverly is part Native American.
One of her core beliefs that we try to follow is that we are just
passing through this life and should leave the smallest negative
marks behind—that we respect nature by using only what we need and
protecting the rest. Minimalism design not only tries to blend the
architecture into the setting, but to do the least amount of damage
in the process. The concept of your home blending into the setting is
representative of your being part of nature, not at odds with nature.
Can you share a few specific tips for living a successful minimalist
It really begins with choosing to live in harmony with nature and to
create a setting for yourself that puts you at peace. Keep the things
that you cherish, that bring you happy memories, that make your life
more pleasant. Eliminate those elements that just fill space for the
sake of filling space. Learn to embrace the concept that voids can
give meaning and emphasis to chosen elements. And it is okay to
be as minimal or non-minimal as makes you comfortable.
How do voids help give meaning? Can you give me an example of how you
would use a void in an interior or exterior home design?
simple example would be a wall. Having one valued painting is
emphasized by the blank space around it. Were the wall to have as
many paintings as you can cram on that wall, no one painting would
have much impact.
Any other thoughts?
Pablo: Like so many truths in life, the journey is often more important than the destination. Just considering the mindset of minimalism and taking the first steps in simplifying your life and calming your mind are worth it. Just let go of one thing today. Tomorrow is another day.
Clark is the owner or Ever So Organized®️, a full-service home
organizing company based out of Orange County, California. They
specialize in decluttering and creating beautiful, functional and
organized systems for homeowners. See eversoorganized.com
for more information.
Have you ever significantly reorganized and decluttered your home?
What led to the decision and what did you change?
A few years ago I moved into a new home, more than doubling the
square footage of the previous home. I did not declutter before the
move because I was pregnant with my third baby and fairly immobile. A
month into the move my third baby was born and I decluttered my
entire house during my maternity leave. I no longer wanted to
organize and re-organized the amount of stuff I knew I didn’t even
need. I wanted to enjoy the expanded space without adding more stuff
So now you actually have a large home that is spacious, too? What is
With more space in my home comes more space in my head; a weight has
been lifted. I’m extremely proud of my house and it has been
featured in a local publication. That never would’ve happened if it
was filled with stuff.
Can you share your process for decluttering?
Look at one area at a time. For example, a pantry,
closet, or even a drawer.
one: Remove everything from the space. That means everything!
two: Wipe down and clean the surfaces while they are empty.
three: Sort like items together. You may be surprised at how many
black socks, tubes of toothpaste (you can never find) or cans of
beans you own.
four: Declutter. Be ruthless. Do you love it? Does it improve your
life? Can you purchase it in twenty minutes for under $20 if you need
five: You are now allowed to shop for those pretty containers only
after you know what you have left. Can risers, plastic dividers for
drawers and matching slim velvet hangers really can make a big
difference organizing your space. Go wild on Pinterest for ideas or
check out my Instagram @eversoorganized.
six: Use containers to separate items and label everything.
the space as a defined perimeter for how much you can keep. Don’t
cram more stuff in the space later on. Use the one-in, one-out rule
to keep it under control.
Any more tips?
Turn all of your hangers backward in your closet.
As you wear something replace the hanger with the cleaned item as
you normally would. At the end of the season you can clearly see
which clothes you have worn and which you haven’t. Consider
decluttering those never-worn items.
Have a pretty bin, basket or container in a handy
area. Put your mail, to-do items and even broken items you’ve been
meaning to fix inside the container. Set aside time every single
week to work on those actionable items. If you are consistent, very
few things will fall through the cracks.
File fold your clothes in your drawers.
This will change your life.
What is file folding?
File folding is a simple way of folding your clothes in a square or
rectangle shape and then placing them in the drawer on their
sides instead of flat. It
looks similar to folders in a file cabinet. No more forgetting about
what’s on the bottom of your pile: now there is no bottom.
Any final thoughts?
Amanda: Less stuff truly means more time, more money and more freedom: less time maintaining the stuff, more money in the bank account because you are buying less and more freedom from consumerism.
When it comes to algebra and geometry, most schools emphasize skills practice while spending almost no time helping students understand the ideas they are putting to use. Studying the definitions of commonly used higher-level math terms might help further your grasp of these subjects and allow you to converse about them more easily. Fluency in these ideas might also ease transitions between math teachers and curriculum and shorten your review time before exams.
Note that calculus and trigonometry terms are not included in this book, as these ideas require the kind of in-depth explanations that aren’t practical in this format. Also, this treatment of algebra and geometry focuses on the ideas and processes that are most useful for a general audience.
Algebra: An extension of arithmetic in which unknown numbers can be represented by letters
Variable: Any letter that stands for a number
Expression: Any string of numbers and symbols that makes sense when placed on one side of an equation; for example 5x + 4x
Term: Any part of an expression that is separated from the other parts by either a plus sign or a minus sign; for example, 3x and 5x in the expression 3x – 5x
Coefficient: The numerical part of a term; for example, the term 3x has a coefficient of 3
Constant: A number without a variable; for example, the number 2 in 6m + 2 = x
Like terms: Terms whose variables (with any exponents) are the same; for examples, 3x and 5x
Order of operations: The correct sequence of operations to use when solving an expression with multiple operations. Mathematical symbols are often used to indicate this sequence; for example, in (3x + 5x)/2, 3x and 5x are to be added before that number is divided by 2.
Theorum: A mathematical proposition that has been proven true, such as the Pythagorean Theorum
Rational number: A number that can be made by dividing two integers (an integer is a number with no fractional part)
Irrational number: A real number that can NOT be made by dividing two integers (an integer has no fractional part)
The Commutative Rule of Addition: The rule that states that when two terms are added, the order of addition does not matter
Commutative Rule of Multiplication: The rule that states that when two terms are multiplied, the order of multiplication does not matter
Associative Rule of Addition: The rule that states that when three or more terms are added, the order of addition does not matter
Distributive Rule of Multiplication: The rule that states that when a number is multiplied to an addition of two numbers, it results in the output which is same as the sum of their products with the number individually. The equation for the for this is: a × (b + c) = (a × b) + (a × c). For example, x2 × (2x + 1) = (x2 × 2x) + (x2× 1).
The inverse property of addition: The rule that states that for every number a, a + (-a) = 0 (zero)
The inverse property of multiplication: The rule that states that for every non-zero number a, a times (1/a) = 1
Factorization: The mathematical process of breaking a number down into smaller numbers that, multiplied together, equal the original number
Prime number: A positive number that has exactly two factors, 1 and itself
Square root: The number that, multiplied by itself once, equals the number of which it is a root. For example, the square root of 16 is 4 because 4 x = 16.
Root: The number that, multiplied by itself one or more times, equals the number of which it is a root. For example, the number 2 is a cube root of 8 because 2 x 2 x 2 equals 8.
Radical: The symbol √ that is used to indicate the square root or nth root of a number
Exponent: A number that indicates how many times to multiply its associated number. An exponent is written in a smaller font at the top right-hand corner of its associated number.
Exponential growth: The rapid numerical growth that occurs when numbers are multiplied, then multiplied again, with each iteration folding in the previous total and multiplying it by x number.
Second-degree term: A variable raised to the second power, like x2, or the product of exactly two variables, like x and y
Linear equation: An equation in which the highest power of the variable is always one. The standard form of a linear equation with one variable is: Ax + B = 0. These are some of the easier algebraic equations to solve, and are introduced early in the subject.
Linear model: A model that assumes a linear relationship between the input variables (x) and the single output variable (y)
Quadratic equation: An equation that has a second-degree term and no higher terms
Quadratic formula: A formula that provides a solution to the quadratic equation ax2 + bx + c = 0. The quadratic formula is obtained by solving the general quadratic equation.
Polynomial: A mathematical expression with one or more algebraic terms, each of which consists of a constant multiplied by one or more variables raised to a nonnegative integral power (such as a + bx + cx2)
Monomial: A polynomial with only one term
Binomial: A polynomial with only two terms
Trinomial: A polynomial with only three terms
Degree of a polynomial: The sum of the exponents of variables that occur in that term (if there is no exponent written on a variable, such as in 3x, the exponent is one). The degree of a polynomial is the greatest degree of any term in the polynomial (for instance, for the polynomial 4x2 + 7xyz, the degree is 3 because of the last term).
Function: An expression that states a relationship between one variable (the independent variable) and another variable. These expressions can be graphed on a coordinate plane.
Nonlinear function: A function whose graph is not a line or part of a line
Vector: A quantity that has both magnitude and direction but not position. Examples of such quantities are velocity and acceleration
Simple interest: Interest that is calculated on the principle amount only
Compound interest: Interest that is calculated on both the principal amount as well as the interest accumulated over the previous period
Amortization: A method for calculating interest payments wherein a much higher proportion of the total interest is charged first, and reduced at a regular rate over the life of a loan
Scientific notation: A way of writing very large or very small numbers in a shorter form, using symbols; for example, 650,000,000 can be written as 6.5 ✕ 10^8
Relation: A collection of ordered pairs containing one object from each set
Transformation: A general term for four specific ways to manipulate the shape and/or position of a point, line, or geometric figure
Simultaneous linear equation: The two linear equations in two or three variables solved together to find a common solution
Other Algebra Skills
Using algebraic symbols
Solving for variables
Solving and graphing inequalities
Calculating ratios, rates, percentages and proportions (as when finding taxes, discounts, markups, gratuities, commissions, simple interest, the percent rate of change, exponential growth and more)
Finding prime numbers and square roots
Solving quadratic equations
Working with radicals
Plane geometry: The mathematics of flat, two-dimensional shapes like lines, circles and triangles
Solid geometry: The mathematics of three dimensional objects like cubes, prisms, cylinders and spheres
Point: A specific position on a line, plane, or in space. A point is a theoretical construct. It has no dimensions, only position.
Line: A one-dimensional figure that features length but no depth or height. A line is a theoretical construct.
Plane: A flat two-dimensional surface. A plane is a theoretical construct with no depth whose height and width are infinite or indefinite
Solid: A three-dimensional shape
Polygon: Any two-dimensional (plane) shape with straight sides, such as triangles, rectangles and pentagons
Quadrilateral: A polygon with four sides
Pentagon: A polygon with five sides
Hexagon: A polygon with six sides
Septagon/Heptagon: A polygon with seven sides
Octagon: A polygon with eight sides
Rhombus: A quadrilateral with parallel and equally-sized opposite sides; a diamond
Parallelogram: A quadrilateral with parallel but unequally-sized opposite sides
Trapezoid: A quadrilateral with two parallel and two nonparallel sides
Isosceles triangle: A triangle with two sides that are of equal length
Equilateral triangle: A triangle with equal sides and angles
Scalene triangle: A triangle with unequal sides and angles
Right triangle: A triangle with one internal 90-degree angle
Cube: A three-dimensional square
Cone: A three-dimensional triangle with a round base
Cylinder: A tube-shaped object
Sphere: A ball-shaped object
Pyramid: A three-dimensional figure on which the faces are triangular and converge to a single point at the top
Prism: A three-dimensional figure with identical ends of any shape. For example, a rectangular prism has identical rectangles at each end. Note that a cube is a prism.
Angle: Two lines that meet to form a corner
Parallel lines: Lines that do not intersect
Perpendicular lines: Lines that intersect at a 90-degree angle
Vertex: A corner point
Right angle: A 90-degree angle
Acute angle: An angle less than 90 degrees but greater than 0 degrees
Obtuse angle: An angle greater than 90 degrees but less than 180 degrees
Diameter: A straight line that passes through the center of a circle or sphere and ends at the circle or sphere’s outer edges
Radius: A straight line that extends from the center of a circle or sphere to the outer edge; half of a diameter
Chord: The line segment between two points on a curve
Face: A surface plane of a three-dimensional shape
Edge: The meeting place of two faces on a three-dimensional shape
Slope: The steepness and direction of a line as read from left to right
Transversal line: A straight line that intersects two other straight lines
Coordinate: Two numbers (or a letter and a number) that signify a specific point on a coordinate plane
Coordinate plane: A grid with a horizontal x-axis and a vertical y-axis that meet at a center point, with the center point value being 0 and each line on the grid representing whole numbers as they increase or decrease along each axis. The plane has four quadrants: quadrant I, with a positive x value and a positive y value; quadrant II, with a negative x value and a positive y value; quadrant III, with a negative x value and a negative y value; and quadrant IV, with a positive x value and a negative y value. A coordinate plane is used to graph points, lines and other objects.
X-axis: The horizontal axis in a coordinate plane
Y-axis: The vertical axis in a coordinate plane
Congruent: The same shape and size (though not necessarily positioned the same way)
Similar: The same shape, with the same angle degrees (though not necessarily the same size)
Pythagorean theorem:The rule of mathematics that states that the square of the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle equals the sum of the squares of the lengths of the other two sides. Written as a formula, this is: a2 + b2 = c2 (for a right-angled triangle).
Proof: Statements that prove that a mathematical concept is true
Formula for calculating the area of squares and rectangles: Multiply height by width: hxw. Note that some areas can be divided into multiple squares and rectangles and the results can be added together to find the total area.
Formula for calculating square footage: Use the same formula as for finding the area of a square, using feet as the measurement: hxw
Formula for calculating the area of a triangle: Multiple the height by the width, then divide by two: (h x w)/2
Formula for calculating diameter: Multiply pi by radius, then square this number: πR2
Formula for calculating perimeter: Add length and width, then multiply this by two: 2(length + width)
Formula for calculating the volume of a cube or rectangle-based shape: Multiply width, length and height: l x w x h
Formula for calculating the volume of a sphere: Cube the radius, then use this formula: 4/3 × π × R3
Formula for calculating the volume of a prism or cylinder: Find the area of the end shape, then multiply by its depth
Formula for calculating the volume of a cone or pyramid: Calculate the volume of the base as if the base were a square, then divide by 3.
Formula for measuring an angle: (n – 2) * 180
Trigonometry: The branch of mathematics that applies algebra and geometry skills to circular and periodic functions. It includes the use of sine, cosine and tangent.
Calculus: The branch of mathematics that works with series and sequences; probability and statistics; and limits and derivatives.
Other Geometry Skills
Calculating arc length
Graphing lines and slopes
Working with coordinate planes
Proving simple geometric theorems
Making geometric constructions based on a given set of numbers
In a past installment of this serial, I shared my own worksheet for the Work, a longer version of Byron Katie’s. Recently, I decided to add another section. Over and over again, I come to the Work with only an undesirable feeling–no thought, nothing to blame. My need to excavate the feeling further before doing the Work led to my adding a new subset under Step One. I share the entire revised worksheet here.
As I noted previously, this information is not Byron Katie or Byron Katie Foundation approved.
A Complete Revised Worksheet for The Work of Byron Katie
There are three main steps to The Work of Byron Katie. First, find the thought that is causing you pain. Then question the thought as directed. Then turn the thought around–find evidence for it’s opposite and discover what it’s trying to teach you about yourself.
Step One: Find the Painful Thought
Painful thoughts are thoughts that judge a person or a situation unfavorably, causing negative emotion.
First, identify who or what you judge to be your problem.
Is your problem (apparently) an undesirable situation or event, the undesirable behavior of another person, or an undesirable, unexplained feeling? Move to the relevant section below. (Note that if the thought appears to be about yourself, it can and should be reworded to be about a situation instead. For example, “I am lazy” can be “I have a problem with laziness” and “I feel depressed” can be “I am experiencing depression frequently.”)
Thoughts Concerning a Situation or Event
1. What situation or event angers, confuses, saddens, or disappoints you and why?
I feel (emotion) because (situation).
2. How do you want the situation or event to change? What would you prefer instead?
I want (action/change).
3. What is it about this situation or event that you don’t ever want to experience again?
I don’t ever want to experience (emotion and/or action).
4. What does this situation or event say about you? What is the hidden meaning behind it?
This situation shows that I am (descriptor). This situation means that (hidden fear).
5. What difference would it make if you got what you wanted in this situation or event?
If I got what I wanted, I would feel (emotion). If I got what I wanted, I would experience (result).
6. What is the worst thing that could result from this situation or event?
Due to this situation, I could experience (result).
7. If your emotion about this situation or event was a small child, what would it be screaming out?
My (emotion) would be screaming out (unrestrained illogical conclusions).
Choose the thoughts from your list above that deeply resonate and do steps two and three with each.
Thoughts Concerning Another Person
1. Who angers, confuses, saddens, or disappoints you and why?
I feel (emotion) with (person) because (reason).
2. In this situation, how do you want them to change? What do you want them to do?
I want (person) to (action).
3. In this situation, what advice would you offer to them?
(Person) should/shouldn’t (action).
4. In order for you to be happy in this situation, what do you need them to think, say, feel, or do?
I need (person) to (action).
6. What is it about this person’s actions that you don’t ever want to experience again?
I don’t ever want to experience (emotion and/or action).
7. What does this person’s behavior say about you? What is the hidden meaning behind it?
This situation shows that I am (descriptor). This situation means that (hidden fear).
8. What difference would it make if the person acted the way you wanted them to?
If (person) acted as I prefer, I would feel (emotion). If (person) acted as I prefer, I would experience (result).
9. What is the worst thing that could result from this person’s behavior?
(Person) could cause (result).
10. If your emotion about this person was a small child, what would it be screaming out?
My (emotion) would be screaming out (unrestrained illogical judgments and descriptors).
Choose the thoughts from your list above that deeply resonate and do steps two and three with each.
1. What undesirable feeling are you experiencing?
I am experiencing (emotion).
2. What emotion would you like to feel instead?
I would like to feel (emotion).
3. Why don’t you like the feeling? What aspect of the feeling is undesirable to you?
This feeling is undesirable because (reason).
4. What difference would it make in your life if you never had this feeling again?
If I never had this feeling again, I would experience (result).
5. What is the cause of this emotion?
I feel (emotion) because (cause).
6. What life change could get rid of this emotion?
If (event), I would not feel (emotion).
7. What should you do differently in order to avoid this emotion?
I should always (behavior). I should never (behavior).
8. What do you lack inside yourself right now that might lead to this emotion?
I lack (personal or physical quality).
9. What does having this feeling say about you? What is the hidden meaning behind it?
This situation shows that I am (descriptor). This situation means that (hidden fear).
10. What is the worst thing that could result from your having this feeling?
With an ongoing experience of this emotion, (result).
11. If your emotion were a small child, what would it be screaming out right now?
My (emotion) would be screaming out (unrestrained illogical statements).
12. What are the benefits (seeming or actual) you receive when experiencing this emotion, either from others or from yourself?
When I feel (emotion), I receive the benefit of (benefit).
Choose the thoughts from your list above that deeply resonate and do steps two and three with each.
Step Two: Question the Thought
Slowly, carefully answer the following questions about your painful thought, whatever kind of thought it is.
1: Is it true?
2: Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
3a: How do you react—what happens—when you believe the thought?
3b. Can you find one stress-free reason to keep the thought?
4a: Who would you be without the thought?
4b. Can you find a reason to drop the thought?
Step Three: Turn the Thought Around
Finally, find evidence for the opposite of your statement and discover what your negative beliefs can teach you about yourself.
1. Turn the thought around to the opposite. For example, “Melody is rude” becomes “Melody is not rude.”
2. Turn the thought around to yourself. For example, “I am rude.”
3. Turn the thought around to your thinking. For example, “I am rude in my thinking.”
4. If the thought is about another person, turn it around by switching the names. For example, “Melody is rude to me” becomes “I am rude to Melody.”
5. If the thought is about another person, turn it completely to the self. For example, “I am rude to myself.”
6. If the thought is about another person, turn it completely to the other person. For example, “Melody is rude to herself.”
7. If the thought is about another person’s negative quality, turn it around by finding similar qualities you see in yourself. For example, “I am selfish when I . . .” or “I am impatient when I . . .”
8. If the thought begins with “I don’t ever want to,” turn it around by replacing that phrase with both “I am willing to” and “I look forward to.”
9. For each turnaround that resonates, find three pieces of evidence for the truth of the thought. For example, “Melody is always nice to my children,” “Melody is always nice to her children,” and “Melody was nice to our waitress.”
10. Finally, ask yourself how the experience or situation might be the universe’s way of bringing about your your highest good. If you do nothing else on this worksheet, ask this question.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a bit hard to pin down. It’s a lot of things to a lot of people. The common thread is that it’s a therapeutic technique that teaches people how to identify “inaccurate negative thoughts” that can cause depression and anxiety and find “healthier ways to view the situation” (WebMD). Put simply, it’s talking yourself out of your negative beliefs. “I am stupid,” then, becomes “I didn’t study hard enough for the test,” and “No one like me” becomes “I haven’t reached out to new people and offered friendship.”
Sound familiar? Sure it does. The Work is a lot like CBT. Some might even argue that it’s a subset or an offshoot. Who can trace the history of an idea? In any case, in this, the first of several special sections for this serial, is a list of the major differences between these two great practices.
CBT Versus The Work
1. CBT is widely used by professionals and non-professionals worldwide. According to Wikipedia, CBT is “the most widely used evidence-based practice for treating mental disorders.” So there’s that.
2. CBT is well-studied and proven to be effective. It’s the therapeutic technique with the most proven results. The National Institute of Health and many other respected organizations claim that it both alleviates depression and prevents relapses, and does so as well or better than medication.
3. The Work is simpler. In spite of my musings on the complexity of Byron Katie’s process, it is as simple as it can realistically be. CBT can be simple, too; there are many, many versions of it. But Katie went to great effort to reduce the process to a teachable form.
4. The Work has the guru. And I like a guru. There’s something about a truly inspired teacher that sets a fire in you, the believer. Byron Katie is beautiful. She’s a human, but superhuman. She convinces us that deep, abiding inner peace is possible.
5. The Work is more dramatic. In doing the Work, we question everything. Anything and everything, even the reality of our own firsthand experience. This leads to some really deep, really insightful conclusions–conclusions we never see coming. An example: In CBT I might take the thought “I am depressed” and change it to “I feel some depression now, but it will pass. I am very good at finding new and creative ways of coping, and I’m very good at taking care of myself.” All good stuff. While working through Katie’s turnarounds, though, my results look much different. They cause me to examine the basic truth of the negative thought. “I am depressed” might become “I am not depressed in any essential way. My natural self is joyful and at peace. I am not suffering from a condition called depression. I am merely experiencing a temporary feeling that is the natural result of my habitual thought patterns up until this time.” Big difference. When you’re able to see that not only is your thought not true, but the exact opposite is true, something does shift inside you.
6. The Work feels more spiritual. While the Work can be done from an agnostic perspective, in practice it often brings us back to our core spiritual understandings. Many of the thoughts we want to get rid of have to do with death, loss, and animosity. When we believe, as Byron Katie does, that there is no death, and there is no loss, and all animosity is just misdirected ego . . . well, it really puts things into perspective. I’m not sure if you’d be able to completely turn around a thought about a seemingly undeniable factual experience if you didn’t believe, as Katie does, that reality is an illusion and truth is relative.
The way Byron Katie looks at things—the perspective you get from her while reading her book—is based on the idea that in the end, we’re really all okay. The stock market crashed? You lost all your money? Your wife is cheating on you right now, as we speak? Welcome it. Welcome it all. There’s even an analogy she gives about the peace people feel while plummeting to the ground with a broken parachute. And she’s right—that really does happen. Even in life-or-death circumstances, she says, the only real problem is our mind. And it’s that ultimate view of reality that in the end, none of this shit really matters that makes her often extreme positions on temporal pain tenable.
Far be it from me, though, to recommend one process over the other. I like both. I do both.
And now, I leave you to it. But first, the final special Byron Katie section of this serial: A Byron Katie Q and A. Here, I take on some of the hang-ups people experience while doing the Work and some common difficulties in understanding the process itself. Note that the questions are mine and the answers are, too.
Q. Byron Katie says that all “should” statements are inherently not true, because everything that is, should be. So why does the Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet specifically instruct us to write “should” statements? Isn’t that sort of stacking the deck?
A. Technically, yes. And if you don’t actually have a “should” thought, don’t write one down. But the reality is that most of us do. And the Work isn’t only for the thoughts that are logical. It’s for any stressful thought–even the ones we already know aren’t true. Because they’re there, hiding just beneath the surface and affecting us more than we realize. By working on them, we bring them into the light.
Q. What about when someone really should do something differently? For their own good, and all that?
A. This one is easy. Byron Katie often reminds us to stay in our business and let others stay in theirs. “Do you really want God’s job?” she asks. So sure, offer advice. Give them a friendly suggestion. Just don’t get attached to the results. Spend your energy doing the Work on your thoughts about the person instead.
Q. Byron Katie says it’s best not to have any goals regarding the Work as we’re doing it–not even the goal of feeling better, finding emotional relief. What is the reason for this? And is it even possible?
A. Every single time I do the Work, I have a goal: I want to get rid of that ugly thought. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing the Work at all, would I? I suspect if you’re at a certain so-called “level,” spiritually speaking, you know what Byron Katie means by having no goal. I suppose you’re able to comprehend the idea of total acceptance of all outcomes, all negative thoughts, all of what comes into your experience, even suffering. I’m not quite there yet. In one video I watched, Katie says that if your Work has goals, your Work will reflect those goals and, I suppose, yield results that are less honest. I see how that could happen. I’m not sure if it happens to me or not.
Q. We’re supposed to love our negative thoughts? Why?
A. Stressful thoughts are like alarm clocks, Katie teaches. They wake us up to reality, take us out of the dream. This is an important function, and if the thought isn’t lovable for it, it can still be worthy of appreciation.
Q. Byron Katie teaches us that stressful thoughts are never the truth. But how can we know that assumption is true? As long as we’re questioning things, shouldn’t we question that?
A. I don’t claim to know how Byron Katie would answer this question. It is a hard one for sure. My best guess is that she’d say that stressful thoughts always involve a story, an interpretation. No matter what happens to you, it’s the story that causes the stress, not the situation itself. If there is no story, all we’re left with is our true nature, which is to love what is. Two quotes on this that relate:
“Love is not a doing. There is nothing you have to do. And when you question your mind, you can see that the only thing that keeps you from being love is a stressful thought.”–I Need Your Love–Is It True?
“The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with what is. When the mind is perfectly clear, what is is what we want. If you want reality to be different than it is, you might as well try to teach a cat to bark. You can try and try, and in the end the cat will look up at you and say, ‘Meow.’ Wanting reality to be different than it is is hopeless.”–Loving What Is
Q. The Work isn’t as simple as I thought it would be. There are a lot of tricks to it. Why is that?
A. Such an interesting question. Again, my answer is just a guess, but here’s what I think right now. The Universe is such an amazing thing–so simple and at the same time, so complex. We look at the human brain, for example, under the microscope and all we see are clumps of cells operating on simple principles of biology and physics. But what those cells do is beyond our comprehension. No one understands what makes them work.
In the same way, the Work is simple yet complex and profound.
Q. Why does Byron Katie recommend that we only do the Work on other people, not on ourselves, until we’re more experienced with the process?
A. I hate this rule. It bugs me. I don’t have a ton of judgments about other people. Mostly, I have general negativity. My stressful thoughts usually have to do with slight annoyances that are no one’s fault or stuff about myself, usually bad feelings. When working on these thoughts, I sometimes write about them in the third person. It helps.
That said, there’s a decent argument in favor of this guideline. Other people serve as mirrors into ourselves surprisingly often. Also note that TheWork.com suggests that if you want to start by working on thoughts about yourself, you can call an experienced practitioner. (There is a free service available through TheWork.com.) Also not a bad idea.
Q. What if The Work doesn’t work?
A. How do you know it didn’t? The change in your thoughts and feelings can be subtle, and can take time to make themselves obvious. Try not to get too wrapped up in your preferred outcome. Trust there was an effect, and if the thought comes back, do the Work on it again and again–as many times as it takes. Another of my favorite Katie quotes: “No one has ever been able to control his thinking, although people may tell the story of how they have. I don’t let go of my thoughts—I meet them with understanding. Then they let go of me.”
Q. Regarding the JYN worksheet and the four questions: Do you have to ask the questions in the order given?
A. No. Use your intuition. Byron Katie recommends not skipping straight to the turnarounds, especially if you’re new to the process. Elsewhere, though, she says that you could spend a long time just in question one, and at other times the Work will be almost automatic. Generally speaking, when in doubt, go through the process step by step. But don’t feel boxed in by that rule.
Q. Byron Katie sometimes suggests we make amends to those we’ve hurt–for our own good, not for them. What if the person is gone or dead?
A. There are many ways to make amends: not repeating the action; asking for forgiveness, even if they aren’t there to hear you; offering some sort of material recompense. My favorite, though, is Katie’s suggestion that we do random acts of kindness every day–and if someone finds out it was us, it doesn’t count. I love it.
Q. What if I really, truly want to change myself, to become a better person in some way, but I can’t? I try and try and just fail?
A. What you can’t do, you don’t need to do, Byron Katie says. No matter how important that thing seems to be. In one video Katie tells a man who thinks he’s not successful at his career that he should be glad that the work is getting done without his help. It’s getting done and he didn’t have to do it. Interesting.
Q. I have so, so many negative thoughts. How can I do the Work on all of them?
A. To this, Katie might say, “Do the Work on the one that comes next.” However, I’m too much of a planner for that. I like to keep a list of thoughts to do the Work on. I also like to play with them a bit till I find the one that packs the biggest emotional punch. Neither technique is wrong, and either way it’s the doing of the Work, not the specifics, that matters. The more you do it, the more automatic the process will become, until one day you realize you’ve fully downloaded the program. When stressful thoughts come, the four questions meet them immediately and without much conscious effort. When this is where you’re at, everything gets easier–even the stuff you haven’t worked on yet. It becomes habitual, ingrained.
Here, I might also suggest a non-Byron Katie-approved technique, which I’ll call the Quick Stop. As soon as a stressful thought comes, something like “I am so sick of doing the dishes,” take just a second to tell the thought to stop. Then find one reason–any one reason–the Universe is bringing you this inconvenience. Maybe the dishes are teaching you to slow down. Maybe they’re giving you an opportunity to serve your family, show appreciation, or contribute. Maybe they’re revealing to you that it’s time to do the Work on your stressful thoughts again, or teaching you a bit of patience. Maybe doing them allows you to experience anew the pleasure of a clean kitchen. Maybe the dishes give you an excuse to avoid other work or a chance to watch the birds out the window. Or maybe they simply remind you to get some more soap next time you’re at the store. Maybe you’ll have an important insight during this time, or a short mental break. Any reason your perceived inconvenience is working for you, not against you, is fine. No need to list more than one or two.
I know, I know. Being an optimist is such a pain. But it’s worth the effort, I swear.
Q. What if I don’t want to let go of a stressful thought since if I do, I will lose the motivation to act?
A. The final question, and for good reason. It’s one of the most common, and a particularly difficult one. I mean, Katie’s answer isn’t complicated. She says that we won’t lose motivation to do anything that is good for us and others that we’re meant to do. Our nature is love, she reminds us. If your child is hungry, you’ll feed her. If you need money to live on, you’ll go to work every day, and if you need a good friend, you’ll be one. So what about the other stuff, you might wonder. The stuff you don’t need to do, but should do? Katie would say, If you’re meant to do it, you will. But if you’re like me, that answer isn’t good enough.
I should play with my kids every day. I should drink more water. I should jog. I should read instead of watch TV. All these thoughts stress me out for sure. But do I really want to give them up?
Because I haven’t found my answer to this question yet, I’m going to leave it unanswered. Something for you to think about on your own.
Okay. Let’s take a minute here. Things are about to get complicated. You’ve heard this God-is-all-there-is theory before, but have you ever really unpacked it? Well, Byron Katie has. And in a way I hadn’t heard–really heard–until following her on her unique trip of the mind.
Before discussing this idea, though, let’s do something else. Let’s break down her entire philosophy of life–all the basics. I told you before that I wrote a few sections for this book concerning Katie’s actual teaching and concerning how to do The Work. This is a fun one of those. I call it A Byron Katie Metaphysics.
If this were a college class, here’s how it would start: the professor would watch the clock, waiting to begin. As soon as the second hand reached the twelve of the appointed minute, he’d say, “Byron Katie isn’t a spiritual person.”
Laughter. “Huh?” one student might say.
Another: “Okay. Then who is?”
“According to her, no one,” the professor would reply. “There’s no need to be; spiritual ideas are just a layer, an interpretation. Reality isn’t spiritual. Reality just is. What do you think? Does that make sense?”
“Are you saying that God is like reality? But God isn’t like reality. God is an unknowable, non-physical concept.”
“Are you sure? Byron Katie believes that God and reality aren’t only similar, but they’re exactly the same thing.”
“Yeah. Kinda changes everything, doesn’t it?”
The discussion would continue for forty minutes or so, and just before the end of class, the professor would hand out a piece of paper.
“Here are our topics for the semester.”
The students would then begin to read.
Byron Katie’s Philosophy of Non-Belief in Three Parts:
Part One: There Is No Knowledge
God may or may not exist. Truth may or may not exist.
If God does exist, He is unknowable. If truth does exist, it is unknowable.
Reality exists. However, it is experienced subjectively and thereby distorted.
In sum, there is no true or objective knowledge, either of things seen or unseen. There is only subjective knowledge.
Part Two: There Is Only Reality, and Reality Is Perfect
If there is a God, God is just another name for reality. If there is a truth, truth is everything that is.
Reality is perfect. Everything that is, is exactly as it should be. Always.
For this reason, whenever you argue with reality, you suffer. In fact, all suffering results from believing a thought that argues with what is.
It is possible to be completely free from suffering.
The process of ridding ourselves of our suffering is self-inquiry.
Part Three: Experiences Are Not Reality
Reality and experiences are different. Reality is objective. Experiences are subjective.
Our experiences are a mirror of ourselves, of what we are believing about who we are and what the world is like.
Therefore, when you judge another person, you are actually finding that same quality in yourself.
By changing your beliefs, you change our experiences.
Part Four: Twelve More Surprising Beliefs
The universe is friendly. Reality is much, much kinder than the stories we tell ourselves about it.
Love is what we are made of. We can’t help but love, and we don’t need to try. If we want to feel it, we just have to uncover it.
There are no legitimate “shoulds” in the world. Not one. Everything should be exactly as it is, because it is. Even things like death, anger and abuse.
All thoughts are a gift, even the really awful ones. By listening to them, even loving them, we give them room to teach us, then leave us alone.
Intuition is more reliable than planning. Listen to your inner guide, not your mind. The right decision will come when you need it.
There is no such thing as a victim. You can only suffer if you believe a painful thought or tell yourself a painful story—not a moment sooner. Therefore, the only person who can hurt you is yourself.
“Letting go is an outdated concept.” It is impossible to drop a thought on purpose; it’s just not the way the mind works. Instead, the beliefs we don’t want let go of us after we question them honestly.
There is no reason to defend yourself. “Defense is the first act of war,” Katie famously says. Avoid starting wars.
There’s no such thing as enlightenment. And even if there is, simple kindness is a more noble goal, anyway.
The thoughts we think are not observations of facts. They are only suggestions. No need to take them seriously.
Negative thoughts about an incident are often far more injurious to us than the incident itself ever was.
Since God is reality, if you want to love God, just love what is.
Don’t you wish your real college courses had been this thought-provoking?
And now, time for the wrap up of this serial. Here are just some of the changes I noticed in myself over the past year.
I’m less judgmental. One of the first changes I noticed in myself after starting this detox was that I didn’t come down as hard on other people in my thoughts. I still judge, but right on the heels of my judgment is often a benefit-of-the-doubt type modifier. She’s lazy, I’ll think. But hey, I get that. I’m lazy, too, when I think I can get away with it. I complain to no end about housework and cooking, for instance. . . . He’s negative, I’ll think. But I’m negative, too. I focus way too much on what I don’t have. These reminders take much of the bite out of my thoughts, which helps me see people more clearly. And I think they notice the difference.
I am more fair-minded about myself. As described previously, I’ve found a great deal of freedom from the belief that I should be perfect and that I have to accomplish something significant every day (or ever, for that matter). I write when I have the time, energy and desire to do so, and I’m usually surprised by how much ends up getting done.
I feel more secure in my friendships. Byron Katie says that the relationship you perceive yourself to have with someone else is the true relationship–even if the perception and reality of it is different for the other person. One of my favorite Katie quotes: “I like to say that I have the perfect marriage, and I can never know what kind of marriage my husband has.” In the past, I’ve often tried to analyze a friend’s feelings for me–take her temperature, so to speak–then grade our relationship accordingly. Lately, I’ve felt a much reduced compulsion to do so. When the temptation comes, I say to myself, “I love her. That’s my only job here.”
I enjoy motherhood and marriage more. I love my family the same as ever, but now I appreciate them more. I understand that they’re not the source of my unhappiness–or my happiness, either.
I feel less attached to my positive-feeling beliefs (including my spiritual beliefs). I’m humbled knowing I could be wrong about every last one of them.
When a stressful thought arises, I feel a great sense of relief when I remember that I have the Work. I wrote about this realization early on in this serial, and it remains one of the most significant advantages of the process for me. The Work calms me, even before I begin.
I am more grateful for challenges, more accepting of pain. I’m reminding myself often that the worst is really the best. Doing so has become a new spiritual practice.
In the beginning of this serial, I hoped to make major inroads against my depression, to get rid of my negativity and maybe even to experience a glimpse of the nonbelief state in which nothing is known. I also wondered if the Work might be my so-called One Great Spiritual Practice–my go-to strategy for feeling better when everything else fails. I did not accomplish most of these goals. As I said before, I am still depressed. I didn’t glimpse the nonbelief state and truth be told, I’m not sure I want to anymore. I’ve decided I no longer believe in a One Great Practice; to the three I’ve been doing this year (mantra meditation, following my inner guidance and the Work) I’ve added two more: reminding myself in difficult moments that pain is a gift and taking time to feel my feelings of sadness. All these practices are helpful, and I don’t plan to prioritize the Work over any other of them. I’ll admit, though, that I have no desire to add another to the list. It just gets hard to keep track.
But there’s the negativity thing, too, and in that the improvement is significant. I didn’t realize how much victim thinking I’d fallen into until this year. As I wrote down my negative thoughts one by one, self-awareness crept in. Then, as I worked through them, my head cleared.
I called this process my detox, but do I feel detoxified? Honestly, not as much as I’d like. One year is a long time, but the thirty-eight and a half that came before it have taken their toll. My detox continues.
So, it’s June. June 12, my phone says. I find myself, suddenly, at the end of my detox. But it’s not done. I’m still going.
Though I appreciate the freedom I found this year as often as I remember it (which is often), as I told you before, my depression did not improve. I don’t know why this is, though I don’t think it’s a failure of the Work.
Depression is complicated. No one really understands it. Is it genetic? Is it reversible? We don’t know. I do know that I’ve now spent a year dealing with my negative thoughts using the primary non-medicinal treatment, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and another process that’s similar. I’ve dealt with my negative thought patterns, untangled a lot of brush. I feel like I’ve cleared a pretty nice path and found a great amount of peace.
And my efforts, of course, were not limited to this year. The last decade of my life has been devoted in part to overcoming depression through spiritual and other means. And though I’ve had some significant successes with the spiritual stuff, it’s the non-spiritual methods that have worked the best so far.
So, this month, I return to my full dose of my antidepressant. Too, I recommit myself to frequent heart rate-raising exercise. I’m not giving up spiritual techniques; I’ll definitely continue doing the Work on depression. But I am giving up the idea that in order to be mentally healthy, I can’t rely on medication. I’m giving up the idea that antidepressants are a weakness, that I could do this on my own if only I were perfect enough.
I am not perfect. I am not always strong. And even if I were, I might not be able to cure my depression. “Even if I were.” How profound. How ridiculous. I’m not perfect. I’m not always strong. And because I’m not, I don’t need to be.
There are no “shoulds,” remember? There’s only what is. There is only each of us, doing the best we can. Right now, as I sit here, on the twelfth day of June, the best I can do is exercise and medication.
And more Work.
In May, I did the Work on twenty-one stressful thoughts, and I did a handful of extras so far this month as well. Here are a few significant examples of my turnarounds.
Thought: My husband doesn’t appreciate me. He takes me for granted.
Turnarounds: My husband does not take me for granted. I take him for granted. I take myself for granted. He respects me. I don’t respect him. I don’t respect myself. He was mad at me about an action. It was me who made it about not appreciating me and not acknowledging me, me who started looking for evidence of that.
Thought:My depression is deeply ingrained and will take a long time to undo.
Turnarounds: My depression is not deeply ingrained and it will not take a long time to undo. It will take the right amount of time to undo. It is not ingrained at all. It is a result of my stressful and untrue beliefs. Maybe a different medication will help a lot very quickly. Just exercising helps me immediately, too, almost every time.
Thought: I am bored with life. Motherhood is so boring.
Turnarounds: I love being a mom. Love it. I can write, read, watch TV, talk with friends, make art and more if I feel bored. I am not bored with life. Motherhood is good to me. Life is good to me. Motherhood is quiet sometimes, but not boring.
Thought:I should not be depressed.
Turnarounds: I am meant to be depressed. There is a reason for it. I should be depressed. It is teaching me a lot. It makes me more compassionate, more caring, more sensitive, a better friend and a better human. I will be able to help a lot more people because of it.
Thought:I want to help more people in my life. I am not helping other people enough.
Turnarounds: The right opportunities to help others come along when they come along. What’s meant to be will be.
Thought:I cannot handle this much depression.
Turnarounds: I can handle this much depression. The nanny comes tomorrow and after that I’ll take a nap. I have things to look forward to. David is helping me greatly with the kids every day. I will get through, like I always do.
Other thoughts I worked on:
I am not a very likable person.
There is something about me that is unattractive to other people.
I am bossy, opinionated, uncaring, a loudmouth and judgmental.
Several years after first learning about the power of the mind, I, too, was finding my way. For a time, my main spiritual practice was saying mantras and affirmations in an attempt to change my life circumstances. The strategy worked; things I wanted came to me. Then, the rate of change slowed. I became interested in other ways of improving myself, an interest that led to my writing the first two books in this series. During this time I learned several new spiritual practices, including meditation and following my intuition, practices I value to this day. By the end of the second of these spiritual memoirs, though, my focus began to shift. Rather than seeking enlightenment, I started seeking acceptance. And I don’t think it’d be an overstatement to say that since completing that book, acceptance has been the theme of my life.
One afternoon during this difficult time my Buddhist friend came to my house for a visit. She let me sit on the mattress on my living room floor–practically at her feet–and ask her what she thought of my life goal to live in a state of meditation (which for me is spiritual-ese for “continual bliss”).
“That’s a good goal,” she said. I was buoyed, but she wasn’t done. “You will still feel pain, though, you know. The waves won’t knock you over, and whatever happens, you’ll have peace. But sadness? That’s still going to happen.”
“Even if you’re perfect, if you do everything right?” I asked. “Even if you’re in touch with the Divine at all times?”
“I think so,” she said. “I think you always will.”
“You’re probably right,” I said. “But part of me is convinced that if I’m spiritual enough, pain will be impossible. I’ll be able to return to my spiritual high, no matter what happens–at least most of the time.”
“Well, that’s what you’ve been taught. As a Buddhist, I’ve been taught something different. Buddhists seek to be at peace in the midst of all circumstances. But we don’t try to maintain an emotional high. The body can’t handle it. It wouldn’t even be healthy.
“The high is temporary. The high is a buzz. When you seek to sustain it, you create attachment.”
Byron Katie disagrees. “Peace is our natural condition,” she says. When we’re free of our limiting beliefs, we can’t help but feel good; it’s who we are. The discomfort, the pain–they’re not the truth. They’re the result of our fears. As we do the Work and the untrue thoughts dissipate, we free ourselves from suffering. This is my experience, and yet–there’s still pain. Lots of it. Even after a year of the Work. Maybe a year isn’t long enough to find freedom. Or maybe my Buddhist friend is right, and as long as I’m still on earth, I’ll have suffering.
I don’t know. I wonder. I don’t know.
But I know what I know, which is that when you can’t avoid pain, you can still appreciate it.
Appreciation is a shortcut to acceptance.
A few days ago, a blog reader asked me how we can balance our need to change difficult life circumstances with our need to accept them. It’s a great question, and when I began my response, I didn’t know where it would go. I made a few general statements, nothing particularly insightful. Then I decided to speak of my own experience. This is what I said:
“Personally, I don’t leave much to fate. If I want it, I go after it. I simply try to do so in an detached way, with the attitude that if it’s not meant to be, well, I’ll be fine. Does this ‘going after’ of something sometimes feel like non-acceptance? Surprisingly, not really. Think of it this way: Acceptance is not liking something. Acceptance is looking at something you don’t like and realizing that it is the very best thing for you right now.
“Acceptance isn’t liking something. It’s not liking it and appreciating it, anyway.”
At the start of this serial, I described my struggles with motherhood, perfectionism, depression and more. And since writing those words, little in my external reality has changed. Ellie is over a year old now. My boys are five and three. I still don’t get much time to write, and I’m still depressed.
And yet. Things have changed. Internally, that is. Somewhere along the line–I believe it began in the fall–I started interrupting myself during tough moments to remind myself to appreciate difficulty. “This is the good stuff,” I tell myself when I find myself bubbling with annoyance or anger. “This is the best part, the part that helps me grow. If I didn’t have challenges, life wouldn’t be worth living. If everything was always perfect, what would be the point?”
It’s a great habit. No–it’s a great spiritual practice. One of the best.
These days, I still seek to maintain a state of continuous meditation. I still try to use my intuition for decisions large and small. But when it comes to spirituality, I’ve shifted focus significantly. My new form of spirituality isn’t seeking bliss, or enlightenment, or a continual experience of the Divine. It’s less lofty than that, more practical. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like spirituality at all; instead, it’s just a philosophy that helps me get through the day. Put succinctly, my religion is peace, pain, hard work, appreciation and acceptance.
Pain is a gift. It’s the greatest teacher we’ll ever have. Inner peace is our truest compass. Hard work reminds us of our humanness, but it’s appreciation that does the heavy lifting. When I appreciate something without liking it is when I’m really being a master. Then, at the right time, acceptance follows.
Appreciation leads to acceptance, which leads to peace.
Like Kuffel, I’m not everyone’s idea of a success story. She’s still fat. I’m still depressed. But I’m starting to see my way more clearly. And for now, that’s enough.
Frances Kuffel is not a fashion model. She’s a literary agent, an author and a struggling overeater. She’s written two memoirs–both excellent, I might add–and she’s both your most smartest and your most understanding friend. In Passing for Thin: Losing Half My Weight and Finding My Self, Kuffel recounts her journey from a size thirty-two to a size six. In Eating Ice Cream With My Dog: A True Story of Food, Friendship and Losing Weight . . . Again, she details her way back up the scale, and her attempts–and those of four of her friends–to regain control. In the end, none have met their goals.
And there is good reason for that, Kuffel writes. Everything from depression to hormonal imbalances to family to habits. When Kuffel attends a week-long weight-loss retreat, she follows the strict diet almost exactly . . . and loses two pounds. By the end of the book, she’s found acceptance for herself at her current weight, an example many of us would do well to follow. Of women who manage to maintain their hard-won weight loss, she says, “They are either biologically lucky or work so hard at it that it’s become their life.”
I have to agree. For some people who are temperamentally and evolutionarily predisposed to easy weight gain, being thin is worth the effort it takes. For others, it really isn’t. I wish more people would make the decision to maintain healthy eating and exercise habits, as Kuffel tries to do at any size, then let the numbers fall where they may.
It’s a bold decision, this cross-current choice. Many fat people feel constant pressure to force their bodies to change. I don’t know Kuffel’s thoughts about her body today and how much of that pressure she feels. But from her writing it seems that she’s found her own kind of happiness, her own way through it all.
Byron Katie isn’t the only one out there screaming about questioning one’s established beliefs. Lots of people are–people of all kinds. Most aren’t quite as awe-inspiring as Katie, but they’re pretty cool anyway. Here, a small list of people I find myself thinking about long after reading their stories.
Gary Taubes argued convincingly against the health and effectiveness of the low-fat diet and quickly became a polarizing figure. (See Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease.)
Timothy Ferris rethought work efficiency and built a huge, loyal following and a global brand. (Read The Four-Hour Work Week.)
Josh Waitzkin came up with a unique learning strategy—and won both the U.S. Junior Chess championship and the world champion title in Taiji Push Hands, a martial art. (See The Art of Learning: A Journey In the Pursuit of Excellence.)
Social media marketers Seth Godin and Jeff Jarvis were among the first to realize the potential of online social media-, gift- and content-based marketing. (Read anything by Godin and What Would Google Do?: Reverse-Engineering the Fastest-Growing Company in the History of the World by Jarvis.)
Robert Kiyosaki redefined wealth as the ability to live off the interest of your assets (Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!).
Chris Anderson predicted the future of purchasing patterns (The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More).
Tony Hsieh created a company devoted primarily to its front-line employees (Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose).
Then, of course, there’s Todd Beamer.
When United Airlines Flight 93 was hijacked on September 11, 2001, this all-American hometown boy from Flint, Michigan helped deflect a terrorist attack. The Wikipedia article on his life tells the story:
“United Flight 93 was scheduled to depart at 8:00am, but the Boeing 757 did not depart until 42 minutes later due to runway traffic delays. Six minutes later, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center’s North Tower. 15 minutes later, at 9:03 am, as United Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower, United 93 was climbing to cruising altitude, heading west over New Jersey and into Pennsylvania. At 9:25 am, Flight 93 was above eastern Ohio, and its pilot radioed Cleveland controllers to inquire about an alert that had been flashed on his cockpit computer screen to “beware of cockpit intrusion.” Three minutes later, Cleveland controllers could hear screams over the cockpit’s open microphone. Moments later, the hijackers, led by the Lebanese Ziad Samir Jarrah, took over the plane’s controls, disengaged the autopilot, and told passengers, “Keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board.” Beamer and the other passengers were herded into the back of the plane. The curtain between first class and economy class had been drawn, at which point Beamer saw the pilot and co-pilot lying dead on the floor just outside the curtain, their throats having been cut, as a flight attendant informed him. Within six minutes, the plane changed course and was heading for Washington, D.C.. Several of the passengers made phone calls to loved ones, who informed them about the two planes that had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City and the third into the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. Beamer tried to place a credit card call through a phone located on the back of a plane seat, but was routed to a customer-service representative, who passed him on to GTE airphone supervisor Lisa Jefferson. With FBI agents listening in on their call, Beamer informed Jefferson that hijackers had taken over United 93, that one passenger had been killed, and mentioned the dead pilots. He also stated that two of the hijackers had knives, and that one appeared to have a bomb strapped around his waist. When the hijackers veered the plane sharply south, Beamer briefly panicked, exclaiming, “We’re going down! We’re going down!”
At this point, Beamer and several other passengers and crew members decided to ignore the threats of the hijackers and face near-certain death by storming the cockpit and steering the plane into the ground. “The plane was twenty minutes of flying time away from its suspected target.”
Beamer, a baseball player and Sunday school teacher, was survived by his wife and two sons, aged three and one at the time.
What inspires me most about Beamer, and about all of the people in this list, is realizing that at some point, they all had to make a decision. A window opened–whether for minutes, as it did for Beamer, or for months, as it likely did for some of the others–during which they had to define who they were, no matter the consequences. And each of them was able to get it right.
By a general standard, I’m not a fearful person. Not shy. No huge paranoias or looming existential concerns. And yet, the opinions of others–or, more accurately, the possible opinions of others–give me pause on a nearly daily basis. Talking to other moms about various parenting decisions, for instance. Talking about a controversial book I like, or the fact that I’m a libertarian. Just earlier today I found myself seriously considering what my neighbors would think if I plant a bunch of new trees in our yard. Twenty trees, but still. They’re just trees.
What the heck?
I don’t know what it’s like to be Gary Taubes or anyone a tenth as influential as he. But if he can face the ire of entire organizations devoted to vegetarianism, grain production and nutrition information dissemination, plus a lot of reputable scientists and in-person hecklers, I think I can plant any damn number of trees I want.
I can make my yard into a damned forest.
I can question my beliefs–even the ones that people swear are healthy and important.
Is it true? I’m getting a yes. I know that we often feel unable to change our bad habits, our bad feelings, our unhappy life situations. But when I close my eyes and question the belief, all I can think is, “Yes. I can feel it. My inner body, the energy inside myself that I feel when I’m meditating, is part of the rest of the world’s energy. I may be in this body right now, but the essence of me is power.”
Can I absolutely know it is true? No.
How do I feel when I think the thought? When I feel that I have power, I also feel that what I do, say and think is important. I remember that my thoughts create my reality, and even affect others around me and beyond.
How would I feel if I were unable to think the thought? If I thought I was powerless, I’d probably feel that life is meaningless, that nothing I did mattered.
The Turnaround: We don’t have power. This statement is also true. We don’t have power over God or other people. Also, though we do create our realities, the vast majority of that creation happens subconsciously. With years of spiritual practice, we can change our beliefs and brains somewhat, but most of us will never get around to doing the Work on them all. Which is why Katie tells us to focus on the thoughts that cause stress. The others just aren’t the priority.
So again, is it true? Yes and but. People have power, and yet, we can’t always access it. That is the truth, and it reminds me to have compassion for those among us that feel stuck in a pattern they don’t like.
Since my last personal update, three breakthroughs, no breaks. Three months with some good news, some bad. February was slow, with only nine worksheets. In March I did thirty-three and in April, twenty-eight. As promised, I addressed the thought “I am not accomplishing enough” and “I have depression.” I also did excavations on my feelings of depression and guilt. I’ll start with the good news: I discovered that I am accomplishing enough and that I don’t have to be perfect (a thought I found to be at the core of my guilt). So, yeah–good stuff. Significant.
I share shortened versions of my Work on the latter statement below. It shows how I turned the thought around, but it doesn’t show my inner shift. It would be impossible for me to accurately assess the changes that have occurred, much less describe them. I suppose I can tell you that I no longer have these thoughts every day. And when they do come, there’s the Work, following right behind. Saying in my ear, “Is it true?” The Work is never a one-time healing session; it’s a living creature with a specific, ongoing job to do. It gets assigned to a thought much like a blocker would be assigned an opponent in basketball. It follows the thought up and down the court, sometimes stealing the ball, sometimes missing. Even when it gets outmaneuvered, it’s never far from its player.
Now for the bad news. While I feel secure in my progress on my guilt and my compulsive need to achieve, my depression–that beast–is unchanged. In my last update I mentioned it was still with me and since that time, not a damn inch of ground gained. If anything I would say it’s worse than it has been all year. An example of my Work on the topic is below, and though as I was writing these turnarounds I believed them to be true, I’m really slogging through these beautiful spring days. The skeptic in me would say that the Work is inadequate; I seem to abolish one stressful thought only to replace it with another. On balance, I am less happy than I have been since starting this detox, even though I’ve made lots of progress.
I’m not feeling guilty. I’m not hating motherhood. I’m not obsessing about how much writing I’m getting done. I’m more at ease in my relationships, and generally less negative.
But for all that, I’m not feeling good.
Here, my Work examples for February, March and April.
Beliefs Behind My Sadness: An Excavation
I am heartsick. I am lonely. I have depression. I am depressed due to a genetic predisposition towards depression. I have negativity. I have stressful beliefs. I don’t love myself. Others don’t love me. I am incomplete. My life is incomplete. I am lacking. I am deprived of love, fulfillment, beauty, accomplishments, fun, ease, relaxation, the state of meditation, friendship, caring, yummy food, goodness, enoughness. There’s something I am missing. There’s something I need to do have or be that I am not doing having or being right now. I need to do more, have more, figure out more, change, be different. My life is not perfect yet. I am not perfect yet.
The thought from above that resonates the most: I am depressed due to a genetic predisposition towards depression.
Is it true? I don’t know.
How do I feel when I think the thought? Stuck. Conditioned. Hopeless.
How would I feel without the thought? Free to feel any way I feel, without judgment of that feeling and without identity creation around it.
The turnaround: I am not depressed due to a genetic predisposition towards depression.
Evidence: I can be and regularly am free or partly free from depression. When I’m immersed in something enjoyable, I’m not depressed. Also, I have experienced true, pure inner peace at certain moments in my life. This couldn’t occur if I had a permanent physical condition. My depression may be a result of lifelong thought habits that I can change over time. Or it may be a result of my current belief system, which can change in just a moment.
Beliefs Behind My Guilt: An Excavation
I should: take more walks with the kids, drive the kids more places, visit friends more, be a better person, be a better friend, be perfect, be less judgmental, do the work more, eat much less, eat healthier, not let baby cry, be more sympathetic to my kids, not take on so many outside projects, take day each week to just play with and read to kids, not give the kids so much candy, help the kids through their fights more carefully and thoroughly, meditate all day, embrace boredom, give the kids more vegetables, be cooler, be a loner, be self-sufficient, be more caring and giving, be less selfish, be in the state of meditation all day long, do my own projects only when I have a nanny, sit more, walk more, nap more, smile more, write more, get more accomplished, do the Work more, and be more in control of my kids.
The thought from above that resonates the most: I should be perfect.
Is it true? No.
How do I feel when I think the thought? Absolutely frustrated with myself.
How would I feel without the thought? I would be able to forgive myself for wasted time and other mistakes, small and large.
The turnaround: I don’t have to be perfect. I shouldn’t be perfect. I am perfect enough. I am entirely perfect. All of these statements feel more true to me than my original thought.
Evidence: No one is perfect. Imperfect people still have wonderful, close relationships, fulfilling jobs and meaningful, happy lives. People forgive them, and they forgive themselves. In fact, if someone always did and said the right thing, it would hinder their ability to learn and grow and help others do the same. It would probably mean they weren’t taking on any challenges.
Author Rachel Bersche is a woman after my own heart. She’s a doer. A planner. A fixer. A solver. Someone who doesn’t wait around for results.
Someone who takes charge.
(Someone, also, who writes memoirs about her one-year self-improvement goals, but that’s sort of beside the point.)
All this to say that MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend is my kind of book. The premise is as follows.
After a move to a distant city to be with her boyfriend, Bersche realizes something: she really needs some new friends. So, she hatches a plan uniquely designed for the Generation Y’ers among us: She’d go on fifty-two friend dates—one each week for a year. She’d meet the women online, of course, as well as in the traditional ways—an improv class, book clubs, parties. Her motive wouldn’t be a secret; she’d blog about her experiences and tell many of the women what she was up to. After all, as she argues in her book, if people can admit to looking for a partner, why can’t they admit they want a new best friend?
Cute stuff, right? So practical. So original. And pretty challenging, too. But she did it. She accomplished her goal. And these days, it’s the Rachels of the world I most want to emulate–not the visualizers, manifestors and conference attendees.
Mostly, I just want to work hard.
The law of attraction is a useful concept. The problem is that it’s a bit . . . limited. When Jane died, I didn’t see it coming; it just happened. Life happens. Sometimes we don’t get what we think we want; instead, we get other circumstances that better serve us.
That’s right: we get what we need.
The spirit has goals that the mind knows not of. And I’ve decided I’m okay with that. Hard work is it’s own religion. So is neuropathway rewiring, whether Byron Katie-style or otherwise.
Often, changing our perspective on our circumstances, rather than changing the circumstances themselves, is enough.
In recent years, the field of neuroscience has benefited from greater interest and better technology than ever before; “I’m a neuroscientist” is kind of the new “I’m a doctor.” Once a little-understood region of the human anatomy, the brain has become the ultimate research tool, providing clues to some of life’s biggest questions. Brain activity scans have been used to help scientists learn how the human mind responds to stimuli of every kind, leading to new ideas about how pleasure works, how addiction works, how people learn and make decisions–even why they believe in God.
One of the main insights from recent years: The brain is not an unchanging entity, the pattern of which is encoded once and for all by genetics. Instead, it is a highly malleable organ, reorganizing itself moment by moment. As each of our thoughts occur, our brains either create a new neural pathway (arrange multiple axons in a way that allows them to send neurotransmitter chemicals back and forth between two remote areas of the brain), or strengthen pathways that already exist (build up myelin around the axons). The pathways that don’t get used eventually die. Even more significant: Neural pathways continuously send out chemical requests for more of their kinds of thoughts to travel their way–and the stronger they get, the more requests they’re able to send.
All this to say, we can change our thought patterns, the physical ones.
We can change our brains.
Since learning meditation and other spiritual techniques, my appreciation of the mind has only grown. However, there’s another type of human power I mentioned that’s equally important.
I I first read the story of the Yale University torture study shortly after my New Age conversion, around the time that I first learned about the law of attraction. And though I’ve heard it several times since, I just can’t resist a retelling here. It’s just so darn . . . poignant. You know?
Beginning in the year 1961, Yale University conducted a set of frightening psychological experiments on a mix of average people. In each iteration of this study, three roles were played: the subject, the button pusher, and the director. The idea was simple: the button pusher would attempt to teach the subject, who was sitting in a different room, a set of word pairs. Then the button pusher would test the subject’s learning ability. When the subject responded incorrectly, the director (wearing a white lab coat) would tell the button pusher (the actual subject of the experiment) to deliver electric shocks of increasing intensity to the subject by—you guessed it—pressing a button.
Of course, the setup was a bit of a sham. No actual electrical current was delivered, but the subject made a convincing show of suffering, anyway.
The results of the study and subsequent studies shocked the researchers and the public alike: 65 percent of the button pushers complied with the researcher’s demands and pushed the torture button until the highest level of pain (an excruciating 450 volts) was delivered repeatedly—despite the fierce cries and protests of the subjects.
When the results of this study were announced to the public, they apparently caused quite a media frenzy. Respected analysts and psychologists made pessimistic observations about the evil inherent in human nature and in society. What the journalists apparently did not reveal, however, was this: the button pushers were in absolute anguish a great deal of the time.
They paced. They protested. They cried—even grown men cried. They begged not to be required to go on.
They didn’t want to do it at all.
People aren’t bad. We’re just . . . well, team players. We’re built to thrive best in healthy hierarchies. The real problem comes when the hierarchies malfunction–which of course they often do. Then, it’s time for some independent thought. It’s time to remember that we have power, even in seemingly hopeless situations.
When I think about it now, it seems pretty sudden. On my thirtieth birthday, I was recently separated from my first husband, living in the spare bedroom of an ant-infested, cat-run house on the wrong side of El Paso. I was only a month in to my writing career, working at a small ad agency for less money than I’d made as a part-time waitress. I had no friends, no car, no television and no family within several hundred miles. Yet somehow, four years later, four days after my thirty-fourth birthday, I was lying in a hospital in one of the wealthiest suburbs of Seattle, giving birth to a surprisingly good-looking and perfectly healthy baby boy, Xavier. My home, which I lived in with my new husband, David, was down the street from the Microsoft world headquarters in a neighborhood that boasts the best schools, the best parks. I had a small group of friends, and my writing career was everything I wanted it to be. I was running my own business, and I was succeeding.
Four years. That’s how long it took for everything to shift.
Xavier was born a year to the day after Jane was born, and in the years following his birth, the circumstances of my life continued to improve. Newly indoctrinated with New Age philosophy, I began to credit not just luck and hard work with the turnaround. Surely, the power of the mind was at work here, too.
The law of attraction isn’t a particularly intelligent-sounding theory; to many, it sounds pretty silly. In spiritual circles debates over the exact mind-over-matter equation abound, but I won’t get into any of that here. I’ll just note that almost every modern non-Judeo-Christian spiritual teacher discusses the idea, whether or not they use the now-unfashionable term. We laugh about the book The Secret and it’s materialistic promises. But Matt Kahn, Eckhart Tolle and even Byron Katie mention similar ideas. They don’t make it their focus, but all of them and many others, including whole Eastern religions, believe in the mind’s ability to radically, even wholly, affect one’s life circumstances.
But even if you don’t love the idea (I get it, believe me), it’s hard to deny that people have power. We have the power to change our circumstances directly. The power to change our beliefs about those circumstances. And sometimes–maybe more than sometimes–we get a law of attraction-type superpower, and we get to change our circumstances by changing our beliefs alone, no special action required.