Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Wednesday: May 17, Chapter 17: The Work of Byron Katie

The Work of Byron Katie is simplicity itself, and came from a woman’s discovery that she need not suffer any more emotionally. Byron Katie had spend ten years of her life in depression, alcoholism, chain smoking, raging at her family, and just in general being miserable. Then she “woke up,” to a clarity in which nothing was bothering her, in which everything was wonderful.

This waking seemed to be connected with a clarity that her suffering came from her attachment to certain thoughts, be they “My husband should love me more,” or “My daughter should listen to me more,” or “I shouldn’t weigh so much.”

She discovered that if she wrote her thoughts down, when they snuck back in to disturb her new blissful peace, that helped capture and slow them. This slowing down is necessary for all real learning, whether in Feldenkrais, in spiritual work, or in emotional work. Writing down slows down the thoughts, puts them in front of us on paper, makes them blunt. Oh, my: this is the source of years of suffering, “My father shouldn’t have been so critical.” Seven words.

Writing down is a start and then questioning begins. We don’t reject the thoughts, we don’t overcome them, we don’t shout them down with positive affirmations. We just bring our minds to look at what our minds have come up with. The thoughts come. We judge. We love to judge.

Write the thoughts down. There are the judgments.

Now, ask four questions.
1) Is it true?
2) Can I absolutely know this is true?
3) How do I react when I attach to these thoughts?
4) Who (or what) would I be without these thoughts?

There’s a finally phase, the “turn around,” which is an opportunity to examine if perhaps what we are preaching to another might be good medicine for ourselves. It’s one more opportunity to create differentiation in our stuck thinking, so that instead of going around and around for years, “My father shouldn’t have been so critical,” I can test out, was I critical of him? Am I critical of myself? If the answers are both yes, maybe I can ease back from my demands on him.

And what of these four questions.

IS IT TRUE? This sometimes drives people crazy. Because according to convention, someone shouldn’t lie to us, say, so the statement, “So and so shouldn’t have lied to me” seems straightforward and true. But this is the truth of reality, not the truth of how people “should” behave ( and even that can be tempered when we think back on the times we have lied, or at least fudged truth.)

If so and so lied, our opinion is that they shouldn’t have. Our belief is that they shouldn’t have. Social convention might agree (then we are Right!) that they shouldn’t have lied. And yet, the reality might be: they lied. (Then again, they might not have lied. We might have gotten that part wrong. This is weird and amazing work, a lot like the Feldenkrais work in that the more we can find that we aren’t doing well, the more we can grow and change, rather than the usual trying to hide behind having it all “together” instantly.)

IS IT ABSOLUTELY TRUE? Okay, okay, this is for when we dig in our heels, and it’s true that so and so shouldn’t have had an affair behind our backs. Absolutely true, means in the scheme of the whole universe, such a things should never have happened. Even this can be hard, sometimes, not in personal matters, but with corporations, say, whipping out whole species with their callous actions. Well, maybe we can say it’s absolutely true, there. I don’t know. The goal is to examine things.

HOW DO I REACT WHEN I ATTACH TO THIS THOUGHT? Now we start to take total responsibility. If the words, “My father shouldn’t have been so critical,” make me bummed and angry and defeated and resentful, I can start to wise up: it’s not my father bothering me. It’s my thoughts about my father that are bothering me. Same with the liar or the adulterer, their actions are over. That’s reality. My conviction that reality should have been otherwise brings up the list I write down as the answer to this question.

This is the consequences of my thinking.

If I keep thinking these thoughts, I will keep feeling these feelings.

Does that mean I “should” stop having these thoughts? Not necessarily, but I can temporarily, at least, go to the fourth question to try out the world without the thoughts. So:

WHO OR WHAT WOULD I BE WITHOUT ATTACHING TO THESE THOUGHTS? Same critical Dad, lying friend, adulterer mate, and yet, what is my experience if I don’t attach to these thoughts? Notice, there is no command: don’t attach. Just an experiment. What would it be like?

So we have our feelings and they either start from our thoughts or get caught up in our thoughts and are kept alive by our thoughts. Now we have a marvelous tool to begin to examine the thoughts, and, like good scientists, or seekers of the truth, discover what happens when we pry open our closed and fixed minds.


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