So, I get that tons of people will disagree with me on this. And I’m fine with it. Personal preferences, and all that. But when there’s a TV show that addresses the One Question—or at least one of the One Questions—namely, what happens when we die . . . well, that show should be pretty well-known. Like, more well-known than “Survivor.”
Well, as it turns out, there is such a show, and ironically, the name is similar. It’s “I Survived . . . Beyond and Back.” It recounts the experiences of near death experience (NDE) survivors, albeit in much less detail than one might prefer.
And it’s not really that popular. Go figure.
In any case. For me, discovering the show was a solid three-star experience. In other words, a pleasure less than a day at the beach and greater than a great meal. (Also a full star less than a single smile from a baby, but that’s not a fair comparison.) It was before I had kids, when I could take half a day off from adulthood pretty much whenever I wanted, so that is what I was doing. I turned on the TV, and got hooked by the premise. And from there it only got better.
The show is made in that classic TV documentary style, complete with dramatic reenactments and black-backdropped narratives by the real-life participants. Three stories mixed in together: First, a teenage SCUBA diver who gets decompression sickness after his suit malfunctions. Then a bedridden patient who dies due to a hospital error and finally, a bus driver who has a heart attack during her rounds. All three enchanting, and horrific, and consequential. But it was the second one that really got me.
The SCUBA diver–he looked like a nice guy. Could’ve been religious. When he dies he has a positive experience. Then the bus driver–a woman. She sees her ex-husband and is overcome by how pure he looks. She floats toward some bright lights, but is told it isn’t her time. She’s disappointed; she doesn’t want to come back.
Then there is Barbara, the bedridden patient.
She’s just had spinal surgery, which has gone well. Then she’s put on a respirator, which doesn’t. It malfunctions, and internal swelling stops her blood flow and her heart, and before the error can be corrected, she is gone.
Barbara moves over her body. At first, she feels at peace. Then suddenly, she becomes confused.
“But the next thing I knew,” she says, “I was in total darkness.”
That can’t be good.
Cut to commercial. The perfect time. Two happy TV endings, one hook.
Holy crap, I thought. I have got to finish this. No snack. No phone. Just wait.
At the time, see, I was still in limbo–that am-I-still-a-Christian phase I described earlier. I had David, and I loved my life, and I’d found a way to bring meaning to it. I no longer truly believed the salvation story. And yet, I hadn’t yet made a clear pronouncement regarding my new faith.
Can I call myself a non-Christian? Yikes. That sounds . . . scary. Maybe this show can help me overcome this fear.
Yeah. I took TV a little too seriously. (Still do.)
The show came back from commercial, as these shows do. And the ending was appropriately predictable. The darkness again. Then, slowly, Barbara’s actress representative reappears, and she is happy–even radiant.
In the narrative overlay, Barbara says that for a moment, she wondered what was happening. Then she realized what it all meant. It was dark because her face . . . was buried in the bosom of her grandmother.
Yes, you heard that right.
It was a bosom.
I’m not one for tears. Really wish I were. Maybe I could’ve had a nice cathartic reaction. Instead, I muted the next commercial and just sat there in the quiet, contemplating the ramifications a bit.
Of course she didn’t go to Hell. What was I thinking? They’d never show that on Lifetime. But she didn’t mention Jesus. None of them seemed religious. Maybe it’s okay to just . . . let . . . go.
Then again, I already had. I just hadn’t totally admitted it yet.
The Statement: Life is a game. There are no rules.
Is it true? Yes.
Can I absolutely know it is true? No.
How do I feel when I think the thought? I feel at ease. I feel less pressure to be perfect, to perform, than I do when I don’t reflect on this idea.
How would I feel if I were unable to think the thought? I would take life much too seriously. I would be too hard on myself.
The Turnarounds: Life isn’t a game. Life is serious. Life is consequential. There is only one set of rules in life and they cannot be chosen or changed; they’re set in stone. This is the belief that many people hold, and their belief isn’t any more or less valid than my own.
So again, is it true? Yes. It’s true for me. The only rule is that there aren’t any rules, as the kids say. But no, it is not true for everyone. Life is not a game for everyone.
I love the belief that life is a game, even though there’s no objective evidence that it’s true. As much as I’d like to hold my ideas as lightly as Byron Katie does, I’m definitely not there yet. I’m not even sure I’m headed that direction.
The belief that life is a game doesn’t cause me any suffering that I know of. Still, I’d love to get a glimpse of Katie’s clear-headedness, her total detachment from certainty.
Here are some other thoughts I did The Work on this month and last:
1. M. embarrassed me.
2. M. made me question and doubt my parenting style instead of showing sympathy and support.
3. M. acted badly because she wanted an excuse for not wanting to be told what to do.
4. M. is a lower-level human being who blames, criticizes and condescends rather than being honest with herself.
5. M. is condescending, insecure, judgmental, authoritarian, terrible with children, uncaring, unenlightened, a victim of her religion, easily annoyed, lazy, unhappy, mean, dishonest with herself, entitled, controlling and superior.
6. My husband isn’t helping me with the kids enough.
7. I’m sick of holding the baby.
8. My life is boring.
9. I hate mornings.
10. I am working too hard. I’m going to burn out.
11. My life is not relaxing enough.
12. I don’t have enough time to write.
13. I’m not getting enough done.
14. I have to get all my books done in case I get a long case of writers’ block or die.
15. If I could just catch up on my writing, I’d be happy.
16. If I don’t take enough long walks, I’ll get depressed.
17. My face is too round.
18. N. screwed me over by not showing up to work.
19. Dave should not have gotten rid of the vacuum.
20. I can’t remain in a meditative state.
I also did a mental excavation as follows using the method previously described. This time I examined the thoughts behind the thought “I have depression.”
1. If I didn’t have depression, I wouldn’t take care of myself with long walks, close friendship and much more.
2. Without depression, I wouldn’t know who I am.
3. If I didn’t have depression, I would have to face other scary feelings that I’ve been suppressing like anger, grief, fear and even joy.
4. No one wants to be friends with a happy-go-lucky Pollyanna type. If I didn’t have depression, I would be a more emotional person and embarrass myself.
5. Depression makes me a better writer.
6. If I didn’t have depression, I wouldn’t do spiritual practice.
7. Depression gives me an excuse for being weak and imperfect.
8. If I didn’t have depression, I wouldn’t feel compelled to do my writing.
9. Depression gives me a challenge and a purpose.
10. Depression helps me stay in control of my feelings.
In September, I worked through fifty-three stressful thoughts and limiting subconscious beliefs. In October, I worked through twenty-six. So I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me too much that as I come to the end of this month, I feel the best I’ve felt in over a year.
I’d even say I’m in the state of meditation.
In the previous books in this series, I discuss this phrase at length. Briefly, it’s the feeling you get when you’re listening for your inner guidance moment by moment, when you’re accepting what is and when you’re pretty much at peace. Lately, there have been times when I’ve tried to come up with a stressful thought to work on but can’t, which I consider an interesting marker of progress. And this despite several major parenting challenges. Triggered by whining, I screamed at my four-year-old (twice, I think). The baby cried inconsolably for several days. My exuberant two-year-old found a million creative ways to wake a sleeping baby. And yet–yeah. State of meditation, here I am.
It’s astonishing, really, how consistent my results have been with the Work. And yet, I still have quite a way to go. As you may or may not have noticed, several of the thoughts on this month’s list aren’t new; there are about five or so that I’ve dealt with several times each month since starting this process. I’m not surprised by this, nor particularly discouraged; some thoughts are more stubborn than others. Often this is because I’ve practiced those thoughts more. Other times it’s due to who they’re about. In my experience, the closer you are to someone, the harder it is to let go of a negative judgment against them. You’ve spent more time on the thoughts, gathered more evidence for their veracity. Plus, you just have so much more invested. If your friend or acquaintance is miserable and mean, it doesn’t affect you so much. But when your kids or your partner does something you think is unfair, it feels like your happiness is on the line.
“I can’t be happy if they aren’t treating me well,” we think. But is that the truth? Of course not. If Byron Katie’s husband didn’t help her as much as she preferred, or if her baby cried to be held all day long, she’d just sit back and enjoy it.
I am looking forward to being able to say the same for myself.
As I said: Maybe someday.
Meanwhile, I’ve decided to choose several thoughts to pay special attention to this year and to report on regularly. They are: “I’m not getting enough done,” “Motherhood is difficult,” and “I have depression.” I would absolutely love to make a huge dent in any of these this year and for me, doing so would really prove the value of the Work.
If the Work works on my biggest thought monsters, it definitely does work.
One of my favorite stories about viewing life as a game is also one of the most well-known.
In 333 B.C. Alexander the Great was just twenty-three years old, just starting his campaign for domination of the known world. He was still fresh, still optimistic, still sober–well, semi-sober–and his soldiers were still in awe of their leader. So when he commanded them to veer off course and stop by the legendary Gordian Knot, an intricate knot that held a historically important ox cart to a post, they presumably complied easily.
Alexander had hubris. Lots and lots of it. What better test for him, then, than this fabled knot? According to the tradition, the person to untie it would someday rule Asia. (Didn’t happen, but he got pretty close.)
When Alexander arrived, he tried several ways of untying it. Predictably, however, he failed. And so, he took matters into his own hands. He stared at the great historical and religious artifact for a moment. Then he took his sword . . . and cut the knot.
He cut the knot.
Following this incident, Alexander tore through the Hellenistic world, enacting ingenious plan after ingenious plan to take new lands for Macedon. Often outnumbered and seriously low on provisions, the army was nevertheless seemingly unstoppable. By the time exhaustion, disillusionment and distrust finally set it, the army was in India. They were getting trampled by elephants, but that doesn’t change the fact that they were the most successful warriors the world had ever seen.
And Alexander was the greatest king.
The man knew how to play his own game, how to break the rules.
One afternoon, I was taking a walk with a friend I’ll call Julie. Julie is beautiful, out and in, and I think highly of her. Despite this, we have a problem: sometimes (okay, more than sometimes), I feel compelled, almost beyond my ability to control it, to give her advice. (She is not the only person I have this problem with.)
On the day in question, Julie was upset, which to me is a wide-open invitation. Walking is a great activity for conversation, and that afternoon, a secondary benefit didn’t escape my notice, either, namely: the person you’re with is basically trapped.
You’re walking already. What’re they gonna do, run?
So, Julie was upset, and I was talking and talking, trying to come to some useful conclusion. Then suddenly, it hit me: this time, she had real problems. Problems I had no idea how to help with. So I stopped mid-oration, and tried to listen instead.
It was her job, she said. She hated it but she’d hated all her other jobs, too. She didn’t know what she wanted to do. Plus, she was broke. And her roommate was annoying her, and she disliked her apartment, and last week she’d run out of her medication.
It was rough.
As she continued to describe the situation, we passed the last stand of trees and I realized that soon, we’d be at our cars. I wanted to say something, offer something—anything. So, I threw out the only relevant remark I could come up with.
“There’s no right way to do this, to figure out what you want to do, you know? There is no blueprint for life. Life is like a game. You just try shit, and see what works. That’s it. You try shit, and see what works.”
I don’t know what effect the words had on Julie. But I do know what effect they had on me. Right after I said them, a bunch of my memories rearranged themselves in my brain, memories like the night in Bogota with Dave. I thought, too, about the spirituality books I’d been reading since my deconversion, books like Conversations with God and The Power of Now, and even some law of attraction stuff.
That’s it, I realized. Life is a game. There are no rules. You just try shit, and see what works.
And with that thought, my new life philosophy had words.
I met my husband, David, on my first night in Seattle, after moving here to start my freelance writing career. On our first date we went to a coffee shop, then to a restaurant, then to a beach, then to another restaurant, then to a park, and since that night I’ve never been alone.
From the start of our relationship, everything was easy—talking, not talking, going places, staying home. It didn’t just feel good to be with him; it felt right.
I had never felt that way about a partner before.
There was only one problem: David was an atheist. And dating him made me question my faith even further. How can I marry someone who isn’t going to heaven? I wondered. Someone who will teach our children there isn’t a God?
It was a tricky situation, but not an unexpected one.
Many years–crucial years–had passed since those lovely evening talks with my dad, and many more lessons had been learned. In college I let go of the belief that the Bible was the literal truth and that it contained no mistakes. And in the years since, I started questioning the idea of Hell, too. I’d also stopped attending church regularly, and on the rare occasions on which I did, it no longer felt like it used to feel. It didn’t feel authentic.
And now I had David. And so, after five years in that nebulous non-practicing state, it was time to figure this religion thing out. So, I returned to church. I joined a Bible study. More important, I started asking questions.
Maybe I went to the wrong church. Maybe I asked the wrong questions. Whatever the case, I didn’t like the answers I got. After a while, I started feeling it: awkward tension. Judgment. Even fear from people who barely knew me.
A few months later, I stopped going to that church, and the battle between religion and boyfriend came to an abrupt end.
My boyfriend had won, and easily.
I’m still not sure if it was dating David that caused me to give up on Christianity for good.
But it definitely didn’t hurt.
A year into my relationship with Dave, we took a bus to Bogota, Colombia, our seventh city in as many weeks. We were on an extended backpacking tour of South America, and it was a rough patch–several months in, with both my tolerance for foreign discomforts and my Spanish skills strained to the breaking point.
As our bus neared our hostel, I had to negotiate yet another Spanish conversation involving complicated (okay, not that complicated) directions. I was hungry and tired and way out of my language depth. And so, right there on the bus, I lost it.
Tears don’t come easily to me. When minutes before arriving at our stop I started crying in front of this stranger, it took me by surprise. I was embarrassed, but the teenager who’d been helping me—one of those kids you just know has a very proud mom somewhere—was amazing. He looked at me with the most understanding eyes. No awkwardness. No awkwardness. David said, “She’s tired,” and the man nodded and said, “Yes, I know.” When we got to our stop, he got off and walked us to our hostel.
Before going in, we sat on a nearby bench to rest, and David held me a while without saying anything. I still wasn’t ready to talk, but I felt much better.
My mini-breakdown was over.
David and I liked the hostel we’d found—in fact, it was our favorite of the trip so far. We decided to slow our pace a bit, stay for at least a week, and spend more time hanging out there rather than traipsing the streets, crazed tourist-style. We cooked all our meals in the hostel kitchen, ate in the large shared dining room. We talked to fellow travelers, read a few books.
It was the respite I needed—until it wasn’t.
On our second evening there, Dave and I got into a fight with a stranger about politics.
I’ll spare you the details. Here’s what you have to know: Dave isn’t shy, and neither was she. Also, she was a feminist and didn’t appreciate—okay, hated—everything either of us said about gender differences.
Yeah. It was one of those conversations.
The conversation involved both of us, but it was mostly Dave’s argument (and it’s worth noting that he never raised his voice or even got upset, and I admired him so much for that, and still do). So, after a while, I left him to it and went back to our room to take a break and journal. The heightened emotions I’d been experiencing of late, combined with my physical exhaustion and the adrenaline rush from the conversation, necessitated some quiet alone time. I started writing.
I wrote about how even though the past year, my year with Dave, had been the happiest of my life by far, I was a little lost, too. Was I still a Christian? Was I still spiritual? If not, what was I living for? Our future family? My career? Nothing in particular?
I thought about Dave defending our traditional she-cooks he-works relationship to the woman in the other room and her shocked, judgmental reaction. I thought about how much my love for Dave had given me already—how much it had changed my life to be his partner. Other than my short marriage to my first husband, I’d been single nearly all my life till then (thirty years).
Finally, I had someone to love, and it was so nice.
I loved the companionship, the feeling of being loved, but more than all that, I loved being needed. I loved making David’s dinner, getting him glasses of water without being asked, scratching his back, listening to his stories.
I just really loved loving him.
And that’s when it dawned on me. Oh. Oh, wait. Maybe that’s my purpose in life. Maybe I don’t need to be spiritual anymore—not if I don’t want to be.
Maybe I just need to love.
Here’s part of my (admittedly dramatic) journal entry from that night:
“Religions fail. Utopias fail. Ideas and ideologies fail. Even friendship fails. I will just try to live well.
“In fact, that’s my new philosophy—my new purpose in life: to live well, no matter how different from other people that is.
“I don’t need a religion. I don’t need a theology. I don’t need to understand everything or even to try to understand everything. And I definitely don’t need to be perfect.
“I just need to take care of myself and the people I love. And for me, for now, that is enough. In fact, it’s more than enough; it’s all I can do.”
Echoes of Dad’s advice from over a decade prior. And yet, this realization went beyond simply loving and accepting myself. In that moment, without knowing it, I came upon a whole new-to-me fundamental spiritual belief, the second of my list of seven.
It is that life is a game.
Admittedly, it was several years before I found the words for this philosophy. But that moment at the hostel is when it became part of me. When I decided not to float anymore, to pin down the meaning of my life, what I was really doing was finding a new game. For two solid decades, my game had been religion, and that wasn’t cutting it anymore. I had to live for something, though. Everyone has to live for something.
Everyone needs some kind of purpose.
The quest for ultimate truth? Naw. Too frustrating. People who make finding it their purpose get closer than the rest of us, but I don’t think they ever grasp it. Money wouldn’t do. Service was close. But love—well, that felt more doable. So, that’s what I’d be about. Loving David. Loving people. That, and working really hard.
The process is simple. It’s just four questions and the turnarounds. How many times have I heard you say this, Katie? Yet you know as well as I do that these aren’t just any four questions. And truth be told, there aren’t only four of them, either.
There are lots more.
In the many demonstrations of The Work that I’ve come across, Byron Katie often clarifies and enhances the process with additional questions and techniques. It’s okay, though, Katie. You’re allowed to reinforce your teachings. We appreciate that The Work is simplified for beginners, and we’ll handle the more intricate instructions as we feel ready.
With that, here are some of the follow-up questions Katie often uses, plus other 200-level techniques I like.
Tips for Using the Four Questions and Turnarounds
1. Take your time. When asking whether or not the thought is true, get quiet. Meditate on the thought for a moment. Does your deepest intuition tell you the thought is true? Or is there a “no” that comes up, even if you don’t logically know why it does? The same goes for the other questions and the turnarounds. Be open to whatever ideas come up. As Byron Katie says, “The Work is meditation.”
2. As I said before, use the Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet (or my revised version). They’re full of helpful enhancements to the process, including a list of the three main ways to turn around a statement.
3. Follow up the question “How do you feel when you think that thought?” with “Can you find one stress-free reason to keep that thought?”
4. Follow up the question “Who would you be–how would you think and act differently–without that thought?” with “Can you find a reason to drop that thought?”
5. Turn each statement around to the self, to the other, and to the opposite. All thoughts can be turned to the opposite. (“Melody is rude” becomes “Melody is not rude.”) Thoughts about other people can be turned to yourself (“I am rude”). Thought about relationships can be turned around by switching the names. (Melody is rude to me” becomes “I am rude to Melody”). Thoughts about relationships can also be turned completely to the self (“I am rude to myself”) or completely to the other (“Melody is rude to herself”).
The Worksheet also lists two additional ways to turn around a statement. For “I don’t ever want to” statements, try substituting “I am willing to” and “I love forward to.” In this way, “I don’t ever want Melody to be rude to me again” becomes “I want Melody to be rude to me again” and “I look forward to having Melody act rude to me again.” Byron Katie explains these turnarounds like this: Negative thoughts are good for us. They bring us back to The Work. Also, it is very likely that even if you never experience the situation again, you will relive it in your mind many more times. By allowing that and dropping resistance to it, even welcoming it, your fear is lessened and you become open to the lesson the thought is trying to get across.
6. Don’t try to force a turnaround to feel true if it doesn’t. Try the possible turnarounds one by one and see how they fit, and if one doesn’t feel accurate or helpful, just move on to the next. No hard feelings.
7. Enhance the turnarounds with evidence. Turnarounds aren’t just the thought flipped around. They also include any other thought that provides evidence for the turnarounds. For example, “Jack is a nice person” will bring up examples of nice things he does or has done.
9. When you can’t find good turnarounds regarding your behavioral actions, find the turnarounds in your thinking instead. For example, when turning around the statement “Melody is rude” try “I am rude to myself in my thinking” or “I am rude to Melody in my thoughts.” The very thought of the damage Melody seems to be doing in her behavior is doing damage to you. You can also try substituting “rude” for another similar quality you see in yourself, such as “I am judgmental toward Melody” or “I am unloving toward Melody.” Notice how similar you are to the other person.
Okay, so far nothing I’ve said contradicts Byron Katie’s advice in any way. But now I’m going to take a sharp left turn–commit Byron Katie sacrilege. I’m going to share my own version of the revered Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet. Not only that: I’m giving it a new name.
Here, a more complicated but more thorough worksheet for The Work that incorporates all of the tips and tricks in this compilation.
Filch as desired.
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, or is it the undesirable behavior of another person? 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.
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.
“I get it” and “I got it.” So close, yet lakes apart, the letters e and o like distant symbols on a map. “I get it” is quick. It’s “Oh, shit. That rocks.” “I got it,” though? That can take a while.
When three months ago I began my Byron Katie resolution, I was delighted just to say “I get it.” These days, however, my goal is higher.
I want to look back and say, “I got it.”
Distance myself from self-consciousness, from loneliness, from depression? Yeah. That happened. I did that. Cast aside jealousy, comparison, ego-driven goals? Yup–made a lot of progress there, too.
Needless to say, I’m not there yet.
The Work is hard. Harder than I thought it would be. And not just the facing my emotions part. As I’ve nibbled away at my negativity one thought at a time, I’ve realized something: Byron Katie’s reality is a lot different from mine. Sometimes I truly don’t know how to do The Work most effectively.
So, I study. I read her books, watch her videos. I do everything I can to get inside Katie’s head. Because for me, unless I understand it, it isn’t fully happening. I can’t just do The Work–I have to analyze it.
And I don’t think I’m alone in this endeavor. Don’t you, too, love the intellectual trip? We join the online groups. We comment on the blog posts. We even shell out hard cash for conferences and retreats. Just maybeif I can say “I get it” one more time, we think, I’ll soon be able to say “I got it.”
Which is why for this serial, I’m contributing to the conversation not only by sharing my own experiences, but by creating a few knowledge collections, too. Keep in mind that these pieces are mine alone–I haven’t sought or received the Byron Katie Foundation’s approval. They’re based on direct quotes from her books and videos, nothing secondhand. (I don’t think anything like this yet exists to filch from, anyway.) Also note that I’m not a trained Work practitioner (though what a worthwhile achievement that would be). I’m just a person who uses the process.
Hope my conclusions aren’t too far off.
Up first: Tips and Tricks for The Work of Byron Katie.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about The Work so far this year, it is that The Work works. There’s just one problem: you have to do it right. I mean, I hear the point Byron Katie often makes that the process is a simple one–just four questions and some turnarounds. But within the confines of that seemingly straightforward process lurk unexpected ambiguities, complications. Some of these are explicitly addressed in Katie’s books. Others are merely hinted at. Still other challenges I’ve come across in my own Work and found various ways to get through. What follows is a list of tips and tricks I’ve used to better ferret out my issues and find more freedom.
Tips for Finding The Stressful Thought
When I first started doing The Work, my biggest challenge was pinpointing the exact thought that was at the root of the negative emotion I was feeling. I tried really hard to figure out what exact belief was causing me stress, then often gave up in frustration.
When asked how to know which thoughts to do The Work on, Byron Katie often tries to simplify the matter for people. Work on the thought that you’re thinking right now, she says–the very first one that comes up. This isn’t bad advice and yet, I’m going to disagree; personally, I prefer to be selective.
Here are a few ways to make this process a lot easier.
I. Fill out a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet (or my revised version in the next installment of this series). On the worksheet, there are six well-thought out questions that help bring your buried beliefs to light. If you have a specific situation already in mind, ask yourself these questions, then do The Work on the statements you write that resonate:
1. In this situation, who angers, confuses, saddens, or disappoints you, and why?
I am (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).
5. What do you think of them in this situation? Make a list. (Remember, be petty and judgmental.)
(Person) is (descriptors).
6. What is it about this situation that you don’t ever want to experience again?
I don’t ever want to experience (emotion and/or action).
II. FIND THE HIDDEN MEANING. Ask yourself what it means to you that you don’t have or feel what you think you want to have or feel. Once you’ve identified a situation you don’t prefer, add “. . . and it means that . . .” to find the underlying belief behind your negative feeling. Fill in either this statement: “I feel (emotion) and it means that (painful result/consequence/circumstance)”, or this statement: “I experienced (situation) and it means that (painful result/consequence/circumstance).” For example, “I feel hatred for someone and it means that I will never be able to forgive them and we will never be friends again.” And: “I experienced abuse and it means that I am unlovable.” Don’t do The Work on an emotion alone. Emotions are just alarm clocks, says Byron Katie. They’re there to wake us up to our false beliefs.
III. FIND THE GREENER GRASS. Ask yourself what difference it would make if you got what you think you want. Once you’ve identified what you don’t like or what you want to change, ask yourself why you want it to change. What difference do you believe it would make in your life? Would you have more money? More respect? And would those things make you happier? How? Do The Work on all of these ideas. For example, if you’re stressful thought is “I should weight 150 pounds” or “For me to be happy about my weight, I would have to weigh 150 pounds,” then ask why exactly you should weigh this amount, or any amount other than what you are. What are your deepest beliefs about how people would respond to you, how you would feel physically, etc.? Then do The Work on those thoughts.
III. FIND THE WORST-CASE SCENARIO. Ask yourself what the worst thing that could result from your unwanted circumstance might be. Make a full list, then do The Work on all individual fears that resonate.
IV. FIND THE SCREAMING CHILD. Pretend that your negative emotion is a small child and ask yourself what he or she is screaming out. Byron Katie says that our thoughts are the beloved. They’re our children, and only when we stop and give them the attention and love that they need are they able to grow up, let go and move on. But we have to let them speak unreservedly, without logic, with raw emotion, in order for them to feel fully heard. When I first started doing The Work, I tried very hard to come up with statements that made sense, that I could get behind. I thought doing The Work on thoughts I already knew weren’t true would be a waste of time. After seeing Katie work with more people, though, I realized that my seemingly nonsensical thoughts are important, too–sometimes the most important of all. Our minds may not believe them, but our emotions do–and only when we look at them honestly and inquire can they lose their power.
V. FIND THE CORE NEGATIVE BELIEFS, those that lie underneath many different painful thoughts that come up. Once you start doing The Work regularly, you’ll occasionally catch a negative core belief. These are the beliefs that have been with you for a long time, and are at the root of much of your mental and emotional challenges. Some of mine: life is hard and always will be; happiness isn’t for me; happiness is shallow; life is work; and, if I’m enjoying myself too much, I’m doing something wrong or avoiding doing something I should do. Other common core beliefs: I am not good enough; I am not lovable; I am sinful; I have to do this perfectly or not at all; and many more. Write these down as they come, then work on them at your convenience, even if they don’t directly relate to your current life situation.
VI.If all else fails, free journal for about ten minutes. Barf it all up and when you’re done, dredge it for the grossest, most substantial chunks. Then do The Work on those pieces. I use this technique when I’m just generally upset about everything and nothing in particular. It’s great fun.
Next up: “Tips for Using the Four Questions and Turnarounds” and “A Complete Revised Worksheet for The Work.”
Recently I had an experience with The Work that highlighted to me a lesser-known trick to successful inquiry. And I’m hoping it’ll be the key to going deeper.
It happened late one evening when the kids were at the pool with David and I had a few rare hours to myself. I was sitting on the couch (okay, a mattress on the floor that I call a couch, because it is a couch, even though everyone else in my family insists that it’s a bed, which it isn’t). The lights were low. The TV was off. There wasn’t even sound coming from the heating vents. If I were being picky, I’d say that the refrigerator’s low hum broke the silence, but I’m not being picky.
It was silent.
And so, I did what any lover of quiet and her own company does.
I promptly logged onto Facebook.
There, several good articles. A few unusually good. I made some comments, reposted a few highlights. Then, amid the clutter, it reached out to meet me: a still shot of Rachel and Monica of Friends sitting on the Central Perk couch, deep in conversation.
Yes, a GIF. It was a GIF that got me.
Okay, so I probably hadn’t exercised as much as usual that week. Maybe I hadn’t gotten enough sleep, and was primed for a rough night. But the emotions that came over me as I looked–no, stared–at that simple photo were unexpectedly painful–pungent, even.
Oh, I thought. Here’s a moment for The Work.
I didn’t click away. I keep looking at the picture, thinking about what it meant to me. I remembered all those Friends reruns I watched alone in my college apartment during a time when my relationship roster should’ve been the fullest, but wasn’t. It was a decade of my life when I actually had the time to sit on couches in coffee shops, to do “study dates,” to go to parties on the weekend and to hang out–well, pretty much whenever. But because I was too shy and awkward and didn’t live in the dorms, I didn’t. And apparently, part of me still regrets that.
I turned off my phone and lay back (because I can do that on my couch). I noticed the mix of emotions, meditated on it a while. Then I realized what I was feeling.
It was grief.
Friendship is a right, my thoughts were telling me. Especially friendship in college. It’s one of the most essential human experiences, and I was largely left out of it.
And I’ll never, ever get those years back.
I’m forty. Almost. It’s been a lot of years since college. I have my best friend, who’s also my husband, three kids and a supportive immediate family. I’ve taken to texting my dad and my sister almost daily, and writing letters (actual letters!) to my brother and mom. I have a whole list of family friends and host at least one dinner at our house each month, and I see a mom friend at least once a week. I have two good friends from my neighborhood–very sweet women–and several other close mom friends I don’t see as often.
So what the hell is my problem?
But that isn’t the question, I realized even as I had that thought. The Work isn’t about talking myself out of anything. The Work is about simply bringing your false beliefs to light, and seeing if they hold up to scrutiny or fall apart.
The Work is about being curious.
Which is why that night, I switched things up a bit. Rather than finding a stressful thought or two, then jumping into the four questions right away, I spent a great deal more time trying to pinpoint the exact belief I was suffering with. And I’m glad I did, and I’ll do it this way in the future, too; it felt a lot more productive.
Here is part of what I wrote while sitting on the couch . . . bed . . . couch that evening, using a process I later called “emotional excavation” (basically just free-writing all my negative beliefs and thoughts on the topic at hand).
Emotional Excavation of the Thought “I Should Have Had More Friends When I Was in College”:
I should have had more friends when I was in college.
Friendship is a right, and that right was taken away from me.
I’ll never get my college years back. I’ll never have the fond memories I could have had.
I should have tried harder to make friends, joined more clubs.
I should have more close girlfriends now.
I wish I had a best friend other than my husband.
I don’t have enough friends.
People don’t like me. They just pretend to.
People think I’m weird.
People think I’m judgmental.
People think I’m a show-off. Full of myself.
People think I’m a bad listener.
People think I talk too loud.
People think I don’t like them, care about them.
People don’t like my conversational style.
People are uncomfortable with me because I’m uncomfortable with them.
I have nothing to offer other people.
People hate hearing my advice.
People feel defensive whenever I give them advice.
People misunderstand my intentions whenever I give them advice.
I need people to listen to me.
I need people to like me.
After I found all of these thoughts (and a few others) within myself, I chose the two that most resonated with me–tugged at a heart string, so to speak. Then I did The Work on those thoughts rather than the first thoughts I had, the ones specifically about college.
And it worked. There was a lightness that followed this experience. The grief didn’t go away completely, but I was able to detach from it somewhat. The following day I found myself feeling more grateful than usual for my husband and for the other wonderful people in my life. And over the past several months, I’ve actually made three new friends.
The moral of the story: there’s more in there, people. More negativity, more false beliefs, more . . . dirt. If I have deep sadness or deep anxiety or deep anger about something, anything–well, I have to just keep digging. I can’t just do the work on a single thought and call it good. I have to take the time listen to the feeling. Ask it questions.
In none of the Byron Katie books, videos and articles I’ve encountered has Katie ever advised someone to do inquiry on a pleasing thought. Though she teaches that nothing is ultimately true and our life experiences are all an illusion, if a thought makes us feel good, she says, just leave it alone. In her words: “I say keep it and have a wonderful life.” (–Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life)
I like her honesty here. Hey, it’s not the truth, but who cares? If it ain’t broken, don’t get out the hammer! But I also like the idea of questioning all my beliefs, not just my stressful ones. If I never rethink my underlying principles, how will I grow?
I love a challenge. Always have, always will. And so, I present last month’s Work on the belief that I discussed in the past few installations of this serial, namely, people are holy.
A Byron Katie Worksheet
Month Completed: August
The Statement: People are holy.
Is it true? Yes.
Can I absolutely know it is true? No.
How do I feel when I think the thought? I feel a lot of love for other people, a lot of forgiveness, and self-love and self-forgiveness, too.
How would I feel if I were unable to think the thought? I would feel as I used to feel: ashamed for every mistake I ever made.
The Turnarounds: People are unholy. People are sinful. People are bad. Or: People are not holy, because there is no such thing as holiness. People are just what they are–good, bad or indifferent.
So again, is it true? Yes and no. It’s true for me. But an atheist may not like the word “holy.” They may prefer a similar but different sentiment, or not agree with it at all.
And with that I conclude the first Byron Katie failure of this series. However, it’s a qualified failure. And one that I welcome.
The qualified part: I like the reminder that some people don’t believe there is such a thing as holiness. Words matter, and to an atheist or an agnostic, the word may be worse than misleading or baggage-laden. It may be plain wrong. Even Byron Katie, a person who doesn’t consider herself spiritual, would likely see the complications with a word like this. However, for me, the belief still rings true. Like I said, this Byron Katie failure is one that I welcome.
Here’s the thing: I don’t want to let go of this spiritual belief–or any of my other ones, either. Questioning them is an exercise in humility, a way to put myself in someone’s else’s head–someone with a perspective that’s different from my own. When it comes to my painful beliefs, though, I’m far less detached.
I want to get rid of them–and fast.
Last month I wrote about some of the progress I’ve made during my detox, particularly in the area of my relationships. I told you about how after doing The Work on a close friend I was able to let go of some criticism and judgment. The good news since then is that this trend has continued; whenever I do The Work on another person, I see progress. The not-so-good news is that the areas I feel I need the most help in don’t concern other people. They concern myself.
And when I do The Work on myself, change seems slower.
Here are some of the thoughts I’ve questioned regarding my life and attitudes that continued coming back, despite repeated attempts at inquiry:
I hate washing dishes.
I’m sick of cooking dinner every day.
Parenting is difficult.
I’m sick of holding the baby all the time.
I want to be accomplishing more.
I have no energy.
I’m feeling compulsive about food.
I want everyone to leave me alone.
I am feeling sad.
I am feeling annoyed.
Yeah. Sticky ickies, every one.
In all, I did the Work on twenty thoughts in August. Added to the 25 in July, the 34 in June and the 47 in May (before I officially started my detox), I’ve put in a decent effort (though I could’ve done better). And yet, as I reflect on what I’ve learned so far, it’s hard to assess where I’m at. I know the process is working–at least some of the time. But is it healing me deeply? Is it getting at the root of my depression? What I’m hoping for this year is a fundamental change in who I am, in how I feel inside my own head. I don’t want to just get rid of certain obsessive thoughts only to see them be replaced by new ones; I want to notice a major reduction in the frequency of all stressful thoughts, period.
Mollie: I want to talk to you about a huge topic, depression. So many people experience this, some for many years. I have struggled with it my entire remembered life, and am currently seeking total recovery. My first question is, what is depression, exactly? What causes it?
Anonymous: Depression is caused by pushing down your energy, suppressing it.
Mollie: What is the primary technique you recommend for overcoming depression?
Anonymous: Meditation is essential. The kind I practice is dynamic meditation, which incorporates physical activity and helps us expand our energy. This expansion and release can help with depression.
Mollie: Some people say it helps to welcome the depression, to allow it rather than to fight against it. What do you think? Does this work? Or should I just ignore it, not give it a voice? For me, it always seems to get worse when I focus on it, but maybe I need to do so anyway as a first step towards acceptance?
Anonymous: Don’t suppress it. Give it a voice, but don’t give the labels and thoughts that accompany it a voice.
Mollie: So I should meditate on the depression?
Anonymous: Don’t meditate on depression. Meditate on what we call depression–the physical and other sensations you are experiencing in that moment–without labeling it. Don’t make it into something. Don’t put mind on it. The mind is creating the depression, and the mind is trying to get rid of it? No. That can never work.
There’s a saying I like: Not knowing is the most intimate.
Mollie: So do you think that if I do what you’re saying to do–meditate on the primary feeling of the depression, without suppressing it–that I will eventually overcome the depression?
Anonymous: I believe that this and active meditation can help people in your situation. But ultimately you need to do what works for you.
Meditation teacher Osho once said, “If you don’t feel much better after having meditated regularly for a time than you did when you started, your meditation practice isn’t working.” When I heard that I remember thinking, “What do you mean? Of course my technique is working. I feel better–a bit.” Later I understood what he meant.
Don’t stick with a practice for thirty years hoping that one day you will start feeling what you want to feel. Try something else.
Mollie: What if I can’t find something that works? Should I just accept that I am a depressed person right now, and make peace with it? Sometimes I’m able to do that.
Anonymous: I would tell you to work toward true acceptance, which comes when you disidentify with the mind. Not mere acquiescence.
Acquiescence is not acceptance. Acceptance is open arms. A full embrace. It is the knowledge that this condition or situation is an absolutely essential part of your healing. If your life was totally working the way it is right now, you wouldn’t be seeking the way you are right now.
Nothing fails like success.
Mollie: So, this disidentifying with the mind stuff. Can you tell me more about that?
Anonymous: The mind is an optical illusion. It feels like there’s a thinker, a mind, but really there are just thoughts. The mind is not real. You are real.
Mollie: What does it feel like to lose your mind identification?
Anonymous: It feels like you’re floating. You’re not pushing, you’re not pulling. But as long as you’re identified with the mind you are not floating. You are pushing and pulling.
Mollie: So the mind is this huge, powerful force that works against our emotional well-being nearly every moment of our waking lives. This just seems seriously unfair. Why does it have to be this way? Why does life have to be so full of pain?
Anonymous: Because it is. And so, you have two choices. You can choose to be a victim. Or you can choose not to be. You can believe that life is working against you. Or you can believe that you are just unconscious, and the Universe is doing everything it can every single day to wake you up.
Most of us receive our spiritual truths secondhand. We find them in books and in other people’s stories. A fortunate few, though, get to learn them firsthand. One such lucky person is Anita Moorjani.
As you may know, Moorjani wrote a best-selling book called Dying to Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing. It recounts the experience leading up to and following her near-death from cancer (so yeah, I consider her a credible source). The story is remarkable and includes a total healing of all her tumors within weeks of her returning to her physical body. But what I love most about the book is her discussion of what she learns from it all.
As someone who’s never felt the kind of Source-consciousness that she felt (in this lifetime, at least), it fascinates me to hear her takeaways. I love her realization that heaven isn’t a place but rather, a state of being. This makes sense to me and is confirmed by teachers like Byron Katie. Most of all, though, I was inspired by her understanding that her greatest purpose in life is merely to express her uniqueness in the world. She describes in detail how hard she worked in the past to please others and make decisions they felt were right. Today she knows that people’s differences are a good thing. More than good: beautiful and important.
“I began to understand that while I may have only been a thread, I was integral to the overall picture [in the tapestry of all life]. Seeing this, I understood that I owed it to myself, to everyone I met, and to life itself to always be an expression of my own unique essence.” ― Anita Moorjani, AnitaMoorjani.com.
In his book Bluebeard, Kurt Vonnegut says something I think Moorjani (and Byron Katie) would like. The awareness of God isn’t the source of enlightenment, he says. To the contrary, it isn’t until we entirely let go of the idea that we need God and just let ourselves be human that our greatest epiphanies occur.
When I first read this, I didn’t understand what Vonnegut meant. Being more human makes us more spiritual? After thinking it over for a few days, though, I got the point.
He was saying that people are holy.
Not God. Not the angels. Not the minister. Not the church.
People. Just people. Just as we are.
We’re not special because we’re spiritual, even if we are spiritual. We’re special because we’re human. Because we’re us.
Dictionary.com offers seven definitions for the word “holy.” The one I like best: “Having a spiritually pure quality.” My atheist friends Susan and Michaela qualify under this parameter. So does the late Maurice Sendak.
The author/illustrator whose works include In the Night Kitchen and Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak was a steadfast atheist his whole life. In Wild Things, his beloved character, Max, found that even though he didn’t always get along with his family, they were more important to him than anything–even than being the king of a faraway land.
In an interview Sendak did shortly before he died (read the whole thing here) in which he talked about how much he appreciated the beauty of the world and what a privilege it was to be alive, you can almost hear a grown-up Max speaking his words.
“. . . I am in love with the world . . .” he told Terry Gross, the interviewer. And his parting advice was, “Live your life. Live your life. Live your life.”
Living life. Ultimately, that’s our most sacred duty, don’t you think? That’s the greatest epiphany we can have.
We’re meant to be human. We’re meant to be ourselves.
If God made us for anything, He made us for that.
It’s the kind of thing a holy person would say, isn’t it? Yeah. Maurice Sendak, an atheist, was definitely holy.
And so it’s a bit strange that last month, as part of my year of Byron Katie-style inquiry, I questioned my long-time belief that people are holy. But I suppose if Byron Katie tells me to turn it around, I’ll give it a try. No harm can come from taking a second look.
My father is an intelligent man, and an eccentric one, too. He’s a hermit, by shyness and by choice. His home is filled with model trains, cats, books and, well, garbage, frankly. His only heat source is his wood stove. (Yeah. I come from good stock.) Though college educated, he’s not a fact person. What he is instead is deep.
Dad has instinct. Though he believes come crazy shit, every once in a while, when he’s in just the right mood, he’ll stun you. You’ll be sitting in front of the fire together or walking down the train tracks that abut his backyard, and he’ll suddenly come out with something that you know is true, even though at the same time you’re sure it’s not, because it can’t be.
One of these conversations happened when I was in high school. It was a quiet moment, and I was feeling kinda melancholy. Dad puttered in the kitchen a bit, then brought me a cup of watery coffee with lots of powdered creamer and one sugar cube. I took it, then gathered the courage to ask him a question.
“Dad, do you think I’m a good person?”
He stopped puttering and looked at me. Then he started washing a dish. (He always washed each dish right after using it.) When he spoke a moment later, there was a rare quality to his voice: gruffness, I guess, but the kind that covers up emotion.
“Yes, Mollie, you are a good person,” he said. “One of the best. But don’t worry about that.”
Okay, I thought. That makes no sense. But I kept listening. He wasn’t done.
“Mollie, you don’t need to be good to anyone else. You don’t need to do good deeds or be a good person. The only thing you need to do is to be what God meant you to be. He made you just like you are with your own DNA, because that’s the way he likes you.”
Sometimes I wish I would’ve asked him to explain a bit, to tell me how his words squared with what I’d heard in church. But at the time I didn’t want to reward his honesty with stupid, mundane questions.
I wanted him to know I understood.
A year or so later, another evening talk, this time while snacking on candy from the candy drawer that in my memory had never been anything else and had never been entirely empty.
I ate a mini Snickers bar, then another, and another. Dad was just getting out of bed after a long rest. Wearing only underwear and socks, he came to where I was sitting and added another board to the fire. Then he started his waking up routine.
On this day, unlike the previous one, my mood was optimistic. I’d just gotten a high score on an essay I was proud of. I told Dad what it was about, then dropped another tough question.
“Dad? Do you think I’m going to be a writer?”
“Is that what you want to do?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“And do you think you can?”
“Yes. But what if I’m wrong?”
When I got home that night, I wrote down his reply.
“I failed as a writer. I don’t regret it. I regret some things–bad things I did to people. Those are the things you should regret. But I don’t regret failing.
“It took me fifty years to figure out that what you accomplish doesn’t matter. And I’ve only known that for fourteen years, but it was worth the wait. Now that I know this, I have peace inside. And it’s okay that it took fifty years to learn. Because that’s all I needed to do.
“Give it a shot, Mollie. You’ve got a good shot. But if you fail, don’t worry about it. It doesn’t matter.”
It was some of the best advice I’ve ever heard, including stuff I’ve read in books.
He really could’ve written more books.
There was only one problem with my dad’s unconventional wisdom: at the time, I didn’t quite believe it. I was still caught up in the fantasy of religion, the idea that if you input x you’ll get y. And nothing I’d experienced yet had convinced me otherwise.
Need more inner peace? Stop sinning, go to confession and attend church three times a week.
Want to get rid of anger? Pray for deliverance. If that doesn’t work, try a Hail Mary.
What my dad told me on these and other occasions contradicted this lifelong perspective. If you fail, he was saying, if you don’t do everything you’re supposed to do, it’s kind of . . . okay. Despite what you’ve been taught, you don’t need to be a good person all the damn time, Mollie. Just be who you are and the rest will work out all right.
And even though part of me didn’t believe him, part did.
The Christian in me said, “Yeah, Dad, that’s okay for you. You’re old, and you’re ready to make peace with your mistakes. I’m not there yet. I’m not ready to give up. If I don’t constantly work on myself, improve myself, achieve things, I won’t please God and I won’t be happy.”
A deeper part of me, though, knew he was right.
On both occasions, I thanked Dad for his suggestions. I didn’t mention how they differed from my spiritual beliefs. He was being vulnerable, I realized–letting me see the parts of himself that didn’t quite jive with his religion. The least I could do was accept the gift graciously, without judgment.
I did more than that, though. Not only did I accept his gift that day, I held onto it for a very long time. I carried it with me from college to college, apartment to apartment. Then later–much later, after the dust settled following my deconversion–I revisited Dad’s words, reopening them like a dusty letter found in an attic.
Hey, whaddya know? I thought. Dad was right the whole time. People don’t suck; in fact, they’re pretty great. They’re unique and beautiful and most of the time they’re doing the best they can.
I’d even say that people are holy.
Later, I read about a few other people who agreed.
I officially began my Byron Katie detox at the start of this month (June), just a week after having Baby Elanor. Other than the near-constant nursing, things were going pretty well. No baby blues, a beautiful child to kiss and cuddle, and Elle wasn’t even that much work yet; she slept over half the day. All in all, I was feeling way better than I did when I was pregnant. Still, life will be life, and when mid-month my friend Christine called late at night with upsetting family news, I found my reaction to be rather extreme.
“Jonathan smoked,” she told me, fighting back tears. “The thing I’ve always told him never to do. He smoked. He’s only fourteen. How could this happen?”
“Oh, wow,” I said, taken totally by surprise. “When? How did you find out?”
“He did it at school. I think in the bathroom. His friend ratted him out, and the teacher called me. We’re going to have a conference.”
“I’m sorry, Chris,” I said. “This is horrible.”
“I know. And I thought we were doing so good.”
I was following the Friendship Rule Book, trying to be sympathetic. But for reasons I didn’t fully understand, mostly what I really felt was anger.
Of course he smoked, I wanted to tell my friend. You nagged him about it so many times. Then when he started hanging around that guy, Tracy, you didn’t do anything about it. He’s not in sports or clubs. What did you expect would happen? He’s bored and feeling rebellious, and you don’t take him places to meet new friends. Of course he’s going to do stuff like this.
“Did you hit the roof like you always said you would?” I asked, just to keep the conversation going.
“No. I just grounded him. Not sure what else to do at this point. I know yelling won’t help.”
A short time later, after we hung up, I tried to return to my book but I couldn’t focus. Hmmm. I’m really upset, I realized, putting down my Kindle. Why am I feeling this way?
Because Christine is a terrible mother, the answer came. And then, Bingo. There’s a judgment. Game on.
I got out of bed and went to the office for my notebook. Sitting at my desk, I wrote it all out. I asked the four questions and created my turnarounds, and by the time it was over, I not only had a more objective view of the situation and of my friend, I had a better attitude in general.
The stress lifted. The anger was gone. I was able to get back to my book.
That felt good, but then something else happened that surprised me even more: I started having spontaneous loving thoughts about Christine. One of the characters in the book I was reading had blond curly hair that made me think of her, and every time I did, the judgment was gone. In its place was a simple sweetness I’m not normally prone to. I found myself sending loving thoughts her way to comfort her through her difficult time.
And the change in perspective didn’t end that night. Several times during the week that followed, I noticed a slight difference in my thoughts about other people, too. There was a new understanding in the way I viewed others around me; as the saying goes, everyone’s fighting some kind of battle, and I was able to keep that in mind even during mundane moments.
It was such a small thing, really, that led to the change–just a moment of anger and a bit of self-reflection. Even so, somehow by freeing myself of that ugly, harsh criticism that day, a profound inner shift occurred.
Somehow, my subconscious got the message.
It was my most significant experience with The Work this month, but it wasn’t my only success. Here are a few other thoughts I was able to turn around during my first official month of mental detox:
I should always be accomplishing something.
I shouldn’t indulge in enjoyable activities too often.
I shouldn’t multitask when with my kids.
My kids aren’t getting enough attention.
Life shouldn’t be too easy.
I can’t ignore my kid while they’re throwing a tantrum.
There are so many annoyances to deal with all day long.
I am so sick of hearing crying.
It’s basically my job to be annoyed.
I’m not getting enough writing done.
I want more computer time.
I’m not spiritually advanced enough.
There were many more, of course, some too personal to confess here. Every time I worked on a thought–even if only in my mind, as during a walk–I wrote it down. For fun and for journalism, I kept a running tally on the number of beliefs I dealt with, and this month the total came to 34 (though I did only part of the process, not a full worksheet, on many of these).
About half of the time that I worked on a statement, I noticed a change (if only a slight one) in my mood or attitude right away. About a quarter of the time, I noticed the change only later, after encountering the person or situation again, and about another quarter of the time, I noticed no change at all. In these cases, I did what Katie says to do and worked on the thought again (and maybe again after that).
My most important takeaway from my first month (plus my previous month after first learning of the technique): The Work really is better for depression than anything else I’ve tried. Better than CBT. Better than meditation.
The Work is special somehow.
Byron Katie has said that meditation is great, but not if after the meditation you just return to your old thoughts. I see her point; I’ve known people who have meditated for years and seen great benefit, yet those benefits have come to them very slowly. Maybe I’m impatient, or just too American. But I don’t want the slow starvation of my ego. I want the surgery. I want to cut out my negativity, dump it in the trash and sew myself back up.
It’s cancer, man. I’m not playing around.
That said, it’s worth mentioning for the purpose of this serial that I am continuing my longtime meditation practice (described in The Power of Acceptance) this year. It’s easy–just a mantra that I can say anytime, anywhere. I can’t do The Work all of the time, but I can do that. I’m also occasionally listening for moment by moment guidance from the Divine, a technique I wrote about in You’re Getting Closer, the first book in this series. As corny as it sounds, both of these spiritual practices hold a special place in my heart; I’m picky about this stuff, and when I find something I love, I keep it. That said, I’ve always harbored a desire to find what I call my One Great Spiritual Practice–a go-to process that helps me feel better every single time.
On the list of my most memorable life experiences is a rather unexpected entry. I was in high school, and it was a week like any other boring, school-and-TV week, except for one thing: how I felt. I’d just returned from a Christian youth retreat (yes, another retreat) during which I’d spent three days on a spiritual high that resulted in a recommitment to my faith. It was an awesome time with friends, but the best was yet to come: for seven straight days following the event, I was truly at peace. As I moved through my routine, I was quieter, more withdrawn. But in a good way, like my ego was on vacation. I became an observer of my own life. I was just . . . blissed out. It felt a lot like falling in love, but without all the nerves.
It was the best feeling I’d ever had.
Which is why these days, when I look back on my time as a Christian, I don’t question my self-awareness (much). If that had been you–if you felt what I felt when I prayed back then–you may have been a believer, too. I mean, sure, experiences like these may not be evidence of the Divine–just evidence of heightened emotion. But I don’t think so. Even today, I think they are spiritual.
Fast-forward to now. It’s August, twenty-three years later. I’ve completed the first month of my one-year inquiry resolution (which I’m now calling My Byron Katie Detox–like it?). When a week or so ago it came time to question my first spiritual principle, namely, spirituality is good, I thought I already knew the answer. Of course it is, I told myself. At least, it can be. Even religion is good–for a while. It gives us purpose. It gives us hope. And it helps us . . . well, feel good.
And let’s face it: we all want to feel good.
But it wasn’t just the emotional benefits of spirituality that I reflected on before I began my work. There are a ton of practical ones, too.
In the best-seller that laments the loss of human connection in modern society, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert Putnam writes that churchgoers are “. . . much more likely than other persons to visit friends, to entertain at home, to attend club meetings, and to belong to sports groups; professional and academic societies; school service groups; youth groups; service clubs; hobby or garden clubs; literary art, discussion and study groups; school fraternities and sororities; farm organizations; political clubs; nationality groups; and other miscellaneous groups.” Many studies show that religion benefits the non-religious, too, by lowering crime- and health-related costs dramatically. People who attend services have stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure. They drink, use and smoke a lot less. They get more education, give more to charity and take less than their share of welfare and unemployment benefits.
In America’s Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists, sociologist Rodney Stark makes similar points, and adds that religious people add significantly to our nation’s GDP. But an even more interesting argument in favor of religion comes from James Hannam, who says that the historical contributions of religion have been vastly underreported and underrated. In The Genesis of Science: How The Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution, he writes, “The Church has never taught that the earth is flat and, in the Middle Ages, no one thought so anyway . . . No one . . . was ever burned at the stake for scientific ideas . . .” On the contrary, “Until the French Revolution, the Catholic Church was the leading sponsor of scientific research.”
There’s more, but suffice it to say that if you were ever ashamed of Christianity’s scientific contributions, don’t be. This and other major world religions have helped us make a lot of intellectual progress.
Which is why when this month I took the belief “spirituality is good” to inquiry, I was a bit surprised by what I found.
A Byron Katie Worksheet
Month Completed: June
The Statement: Spirituality is good.
Is it true? Yes.
Can I absolutely know it is true? No.
How do I feel when I think the thought? I feel justified in my beliefs. Maybe a bit superior. I feel a bit guilty for not spending more time in meditation. And I feel grateful to have spiritual tools to use when I need them.
How would I feel if I were unable to think the thought? I would feel free of my own expectations to continue spiritual practice throughout my life. I would feel that spirituality may be good for me at times and not others, and that spiritual tools are just that: tools. Nothing to feel guilty about not using.
The Turnarounds: Spirituality is not good. Spirituality is bad. Non-belief is good. Spirituality isn’t good or important or healthy for everyone, just for some people, some of the time. I see truth in these statements when I remember my agnostic and atheist friends who get along fine without spirituality, and when I remember the harm that spiritual beliefs often cause.
So again, is it true? No. Not entirely. Religions often fail us, and in pretty major ways. We’re always making stuff up, getting misled.
In short: Spirituality is good? Hmmm. Not so fast.
When it comes to belief, the normal human tendency is to throw blankets on everything. We like simplicity. We love generalizations. And we really, really love being prescriptive. After looking at this belief, what I realized is that for me, spirituality really is good. But there’s a softness to the edge of that statement that wasn’t there before. Sure, I’m a New Agey type, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I understand that God-philosophizing doesn’t work for everyone.
A final thought this month, before closing out this section: In spite of my healthy realizations and my enjoyment of The Work, a good bit of skepticism has crept in. How can nothing be true? I find myself thinking with some frequency. Maybe in an ultimate sense nothing is true, but subjectively, it has to be, right?
What does this process look like , then, when dealing with more concrete, substantial thoughts? Stuff that’s harder to deny the reality of? Will The Work work on those, too?
Of course, it happened in Southern California. Where else would something like this happen? A wealthy middle-aged woman. A mid-life crisis. Extreme depression. A rehab clinic. Then, an awakening, New Age-style, and a spiritual phenom was born.
The story had all the makings of a movie–a TV special, if nothing else–but this wasn’t a screenplay. This was real.
The year was 1986. On the floor of a halfway house, having lost all hope of happiness, Byron Kathleen Reid woke up–in more ways than one. The details are few and impossible to fully explain, but in that moment, the story goes, Katie lost herself. The sense of who she was when she fell asleep the night before was gone, and all she was aware of was joy.
She laughed. She laughed some more. She no longer knew anything for sure, but she didn’t care.
She was completely happy.
It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? And of course it must have been. But given the choice, how many of us would willingly sacrifice everything we know about who and what we are just to feel at One with the Divine? I think I would. But I’m not sure. Maybe I’d rather wait till I die.
After all, I’m a mom of three kids. I’m a writer. I’m my husband’s wife. Someone with a wonderful, full life. And according to Byron Katie, and a lot of other great teachers, too, in order to become enlightened, I have to let all that go.
I have to choose to know almost nothing.
I don’t know how long Byron Katie truly knew nothing. A month? Several months? Several years? But little by little, she was taught the way things work again–what it means to own something, for example. Now she straddles both worlds–the known and the unknown–though she’s never forgotten which her real home is.
But back to that floor. Because it was there that Katie suddenly understood the source of all suffering, and conversely, the key to happiness. Suffering comes when we believe our stressful thoughts, she realized–and not a moment before. By questioning all thoughts that cause us pain, we find there’s nothing real to them; they’re just thoughts. As a result of this inquiry, pain goes away.
If you’re familiar with The Work, I regret boring you, but I do feel the need to explain it briefly here.
According to TheWork.com: “The Work is a simple yet powerful process of inquiry that teaches you to identify and question the thoughts that cause all the suffering in the world. It’s a way to understand what’s hurting you, and to address the cause of your problems with clarity. In its most basic form, The Work consists of four questions and the turnarounds.”
I’ve mentioned the questions before, but in the interest of completeness, they are:
Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
Who would you be without the thought?
And the turnarounds are what they sound like: statements that mean the opposite of the stressful thought. The idea is to find several of these and see if there’s some truth to them that you’ve previously missed.
The technique is deceptively simple; there is an art to it, for sure. For instance, when doing the Work on the thought “I feel depressed,” I realized “I am depressed” or “My thinking is depressed” works better. Feelings are feelings, and we can’t really argue with them. It’s the belief behind the feeling (“I have depression” “I am depressed,”) that needs to change. An even better choice: Add “. . . and it means that . . .” to the end of the statement. “I am depressed,” then, becomes “I am depressed, and it means that I’m unable to hold a job.” This is how we get underneath the surface.
Many more specifics in later serial installments (including a Q and A section, a Tips and Tricks section and more), but if you want to jump in right now, watch at least a few YouTube video examples of The Work.
In these videos and in her books, Katie guides people through The Work, and as she does so she gets pretty creative. It’s a skill, for sure, which is why it’s so awesome that TheWork.com coordinates with trained practitioners who are willing to offer their services for free. Please make use of this resource, found on thework.com/en/certified_facilitators. I have, and I will again. Also, do see the full description of the process on thework.com/en/do-work.
Okay, then. Introductory explanations: check. Let’s get back to my personal experience of The Work.
When I was in Junior High School, I had one of my first conscious experiences with what I now call the Divine, and predictably, it happened at a retreat. (Those places. They know what to do.) It was a Christian thing, one of those pray-all-day gatherings at a large conference campground featuring a cabin for every family and clean, hot showers.
Luxury, really. Luxury made to feel rustic.
We were there to hear God, so I shouldn’t’ve been surprised when I did. And yet, I most definitely was.
Prior to my moment of clarity, I’d been finding the experience rather . . . underwhelming. Lots of speeches and long, drawn-out meals with strangers. I distinctly remember participating in a friendly debate the evening of the meeting in question about the rapture. So far, it had been the highlight of the trip.
After dinner we gathered in the main conference room yet again, and about two hours into the service, it happened. I looked over at my mother and in the brief moment that followed I went directly from annoyed boredom to deep emotion–no transition.
It was her face. There was a look. It was sadness–real pain. Church has a way of helping our vulnerabilities rise to the surface–I guess that’s why we like it–and as I watched she started sobbing, then knelt down next to her chair. Immediately, my defenses collapsed; how could they not?
I really, really loved my mother.
I knelt down, too, and reached out for her. We held each other tightly for a long time. I said all the things I should’ve said so much more often: how much I loved her, how sorry I was for the times I’d hurt her. We cried.
Then the night ended, and it was over. And that’s when the interpretations began.
In the Christian circles we moved in at the time, it was popular to create tiers–levels of closeness to God. It was a game we played; after all, we were going to church multiple times a week. All that praying had to be getting us somewhere. For us, it wasn’t enough to say we felt a sudden realization of love; love is great, but anyone can feel that–even nonbelievers. No; what I experienced had to be, must be, religious in nature—something only Christians can experience. My mom even had a term for it, which she told me at breakfast the next morning. It was “the baptism of love.”
“Last night, you received the baptism of love,” she pronounced, but it didn’t make me feel special. There was a look in her eye that said, “You’re different now. I respect you more because you experienced this.”
I really didn’t like that look.
She went on. “This is the true salvation. It’s beyond the simple John 3:16 prayer. You were saved before. Now, you’ve been chosen.”
I nodded, understanding, but I didn’t want to talk about it. I wanted her to forget it ever happened. I wanted to remember the experience my way: an innocent, loving moment without strings.
I just wanted to love my mother.
But I didn’t. I mean, I did–I did love my mother, and I trusted her opinion. I believed her when she told me I was meant to be “used by God,” and so, from that day on, I started my journey to discover what the hell that meant.
It was a very long journey.
I won’t go into the messy consequences of this self-aggrandizing belief. I’ll merely say that through the rest of my school-aged years, I wasn’t the most pleasant person to be around. I had few friends and none that weren’t equally religious. And for good reason: I was a judgmental jerk.
And that’s the way it goes when we recall the experiences that shaped us, isn’t it? Nothing is as straightforward as we’d like. That night at the retreat I felt the most compassion I’d ever felt in my life. And the next day, it turned into pride.
The results of this spiritual experience weren’t all bad, of course. Most of them were pretty positive.
That summer on, through the end of high school, I tried as hard as I could to be a good person. I went to church twice a week. I devoted myself and my future (Christian writer? Missionary?) to the saving of souls. I learned about honesty, failings and forgiveness. Then there was my real talent, one perfectly suited to a spiritual type: when it came to self-improvement, I was relentless.
At the time, if pressed, I would’ve admitted that my faith sometimes made me a poor confidante. But I would’ve also said it made me a better person. Looking back, not much has changed; my brand of belief is different–I’m no longer a Christian–but I still think that spirituality is good.
“Spirituality is good.” It’s the longest-held and most fundamental tenet of my personal faith. But does it stand up to inquiry?
Before I delve into that central question, though, a bit of Byron Katie background seems appropriate.
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 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.
A lot of times, when you discover something great, you overestimate its greatness just a bit. Well, okay, sometimes more than a bit.
Sometimes you get way too excited.
Every once in a while, though, your excitement proves justified. And when that happens, you cross the line. Before you were a fan, a follower, an advocate.
Now, you’re a believer.
Granted, when I discovered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, my hopes were high for good reason. According to articles by the National Institute for Mental Health, the National Center for Biotechnology Information and, of course, Wikipedia, CBT is the most-practiced evidence-based therapy for tons of emotional and personality disorders.
More important, when I tried it, it worked.
Unfortunately, I was late to the party; I’ve had depression my whole life, but didn’t learn about CBT till age thirty-eight. Yikes, right? I often wonder what I was thinking, not looking up popular depression therapies sooner. Then I remember exactly what I was thinking.
I was thinking spirituality was the answer.
I mean, spirituality is great. Spirituality works. But sometimes, other stuff works better. And every once in a while, you hit the proverbial jackpot, and you find a regular therapy that’s spiritual, too.
Which is where Byron Katie comes in.
Soon after discovering CBT, I found this teacher, and when I did, the above process repeated itself. Excitement. Enthusiasm. Fandom. Advocacy.
Then, full-on belief.
Here’s how that happened.
It was one of Those Moments. You know the kind. They feel normal at first, then later earn an unexpected spot on your greatest-hits playlist. It was evening, and I was depressed—much more so than usual. Worse, earlier that day I’d taken a three-mile walk and even that, my go-to strategy, hadn’t helped. I didn’t get an endorphin high. I didn’t clear my mind.
I felt just as bad after as before.
If you struggle with a mood disorder I don’t have to tell you what a frightening realization this was. Will I have to starting walk more than three miles now? I wondered. Has my body acclimated to this level of exercise? Heavily pregnant, with two other children in tow, I couldn’t imagine putting more time and effort into walking than I already did. And so, after dinner, after my husband had taken our two boys to the mall, I decided to try something different. Desperate, I went to my office to scan the titles on my bookshelf, looking for anything that might help.
I didn’t actually believe I’d find something.
But I did. I found The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns.
One year prior, I’d bought the Handbook on the advice of my doctor and then, after a brief review, dismissed it. Platitudes, I thought. Nothing new here. Nothing I haven’t heard a million times before. I had no idea it was a psychotherapy classic. (Why hadn’t the doctor told me that? Sheesh.)
That day, though—that greatest-hits day—I sat on the couch and for the first time, gave the method a chance. After reading a few chapters, I took its suggestion and started writing down every negative thought in my head. When I couldn’t think of any more, I stopped writing and counted the pages.
I’d filled seven pieces of paper on both sides.
Okay, I thought. Maybe the book is right. Maybe my depression really is caused by my thoughts.
Prior to that time, I knew negativity played a role in depression. But I had no idea how big that role was. I’m a positive person, I thought. I’m hopeful about the future. It’s a chemical imbalance that’s to blame.
And I still believe that. I’ve been moody my whole life—never lighthearted, even as a kid. But maybe, just maybe, there’s more to the story. Maybe part of the problem is solvable.
Because, it turned out, I wasn’t the optimist I thought I was. I was actually sort of the opposite, but in a different way. The kind of thoughts I wrote down that day had nothing to do with my faith in God or my many dreams of success. They weren’t about my overall health, or my financial or familial satisfaction.
They were about the little annoyances of life.
They were about the way my clothes fit, the kids’ morning moods, the tyranny of my family’s need to eat. Only a few of my troubles even mattered long-term. And yet, when I emptied the contents of my head, these silly little details were what I found. Obviously, my pessimism wasn’t as much about the significance of my negative thoughts as it was about the sheer number of them.
I had accumulated a bunch of mental crap.
And so, that night I began the process of excavation. And I haven’t stopped since.
Even after that first writing session, I noticed a change—a lifting, even a slight high. I felt the way I feel after a thirty-minute jog, or a long talk with a friend, or an especially enjoyable night out.
Holy crap, I realized. It worked.
And it did so when I was at my very worst.
And so, like I said before, after discovering CBT, my hopes were ridiculously high. Somehow, I knew that this was my game-changer, my next major level up.
Somehow, I knew it would be epic.
The cool thing is that I was right. During the month that followed the discovery, I was the most hopeful I’d been in my life regarding my ability to deal effectively with—maybe even overcome—my depression. Then, a shocking twist: I found another strategy, a variation of CBT. And for me, it was even more powerful. You probably already know what that method was. It was Byron Katie’s process of self-inquiry called The Work.
Byron Katie is a spiritual teacher, someone you may have heard of before. I had, too; the previous fall I’d even read her free ebook, The Work of Byron Katie: An Introduction. At that time, though, her ideas didn’t particularly appeal to me.
Truth be told, I wasn’t desperate enough to try it.
But after practicing CBT for a while, her name came up again, and I thought back on what I’d read. Wait a sec, I realized, Now that I think about it, The Work is a lot like CBT.
I decided to look into it again.
More about Byron Katie’s method later, and how it compares with CBT. Suffice it to say here that it’s a way to look objectively at your favorite (or not-so-favorite) thoughts. It gives you four questions to ask yourself that help you realize, deep down, what is true and what is, well, a bit crazy.
And as with CBT, my first experience with The Work didn’t disappoint.
Once upon a time, I thought I was a positive person. Wow. How delusional was that? Then one day, I decided to actually write my thoughts on paper.
To say my results were surprising would be an understatement.
Soon after that, I discovered Byron Katie, and, well, I’m really glad I did.
Byron Katie is a guru. Let’s get that out of the way. She’s a spiritual teacher, one I admire the heck out of.
Which is why recently, I decided to devote a year of my life to her.
Okay, well–not to her, exactly. But to the spiritual practice she teaches. It’s called The Work, and it’s a way to question and change your negative internal beliefs.
And it’s powerful. Explosive. I don’t want to say “mind-blowing,” but I will. It’s similar to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the most well-researched and effective depression therapy, but with a spiritual bent, too.
Read My Byron Katie Detox: One Year of Questioning My Unhelpful Thoughts right here.
Contributor: Gary Leigh. Gary offers energy cleansing, past life therapy, Bach Flower Remedies and more. Visit him over at psychicsupport.net.
When I was around nine years old, I began to hear thoughts in my mind that were talking independently. I would have conversations with them and eventually they got to the point where they would talk full-time. I don’t recall what was said now, but I do remember there were a lot of them and that they all became overwhelming.
As you can imagine, I assumed I was making this all up and it was just in my imagination.
Then around age eleven, I started to feel what I can only describe as a clawing sensation in my mind. It’s a very difficult thing to put into words, but it was highly unpleasant. It felt like something was trying to take me over. Not so much possess me, but eradicate my being.
Every day this would grow stronger until I was constantly engaged in my own hidden, private battle. As I could not really explain what was going on, I never told anyone around me until one night, when I was thirteen, I was staying with my mother at a friend’s place. I told her what was going on and instead of dismissing it as rubbish, she took it seriously. She had no answers, though.
But a month later, we went to visit these people who also happened to be Jehovah Witnesses. One night, she told them what I had told her, and the next day, they sat me down and told me that Satan was trying to get my soul and I needed to ask God for help.
So I began to do that and the attacks would stop for a short while, only to return a little stronger. So many times a day, I would say, “God help me, Satan be gone.”
In the meantime, I would carry on with my life as normal, and no one ever knew what I was battling. Over the years, I started to become weary and at the same time, more persistent with fighting Satan and attacking him back as best I could.
It was an ever-perpetuating circle and I was losing. Eventually, at age twenty, I had an epiphany that if fighting Satan with hate made him stronger, then maybe love would have the opposite effect. So I said to him in my mind, “You can join me, but only in love.” Then I sent him thoughts of love, compassion and peace.
The change was instant. The attacks stopped immediately, never to return–something I had never imagined was possible. At first I was cautious, just in case they returned, but instead of my old mantra of “God help me and Satan be gone,” my new one was a constant “Love and peace, love and peace.”
And that’s when my spiritual journey really started to take off.
Incidentally, this is a perfect example of the saying “What you resist, persists and what you look at and make your own disappears.”
What began after that was years of spiritual study and pursuit. I read everything I could find for answers to how the Universe worked, but true information was limited back in the 80s. Still, I slowly began to piece it all together. It took decades before I finally started to really remember who I was and why I was here and most importantly, why those attacks had happened.
Today, I practice sending love out daily. It’s a state of being now. It’s a message I’ve been trying to get out there for a long time. Especially for those so called spiritual warriors who believe that attacking and destroying the darkness is the answer. It’s not. You’re just feeding them a feast.
But love is only one part of the solution, which is why it doesn’t always produce the serenity that you desire. You also have to heal from past traumas and shift your perspectives.
True love is unconditional. It’s not judging others. It’s being there for all regardless of who they are. It’s compassion, healing and caring. But that does not mean you allow others to use, abuse or attack you. It’s standing in your own power and healing the lines that cause the attacks to begin with.
P.S. I can often do in a session or two what others tell me they have not been able to achieve in years of therapy. I heal the soul rather than treating the symptoms. If you would like to learn more about my services, visit psychicsupport.net. For full details of my journey and experiences, visit thephoenixarchives.com.