The fourth question to ask when you are doing inquiry (i.e., “The Work” of Byron Katie) about a situation that is emotionally painful is this:
Who would I be without the thought?
Applying this question to my statement that my father didn’t care about me is astonishing.
Without the thought, I am free of these painful feelings. When the thought leaves, the feelings leave.
What’s left is an empty openness. I feel it in my chest. There’s a freedom there that wasn’t there before. It’s as if that thought never existed.
Who would I be? Well, I experience myself as more expansive, more open, lighter.
“Who I am” is my identity, composed of my thoughts, emotions, sensations, and emptiness or spaciousness. Who I am is pretty much how I experience myself in each moment. (Everything else is about me, not me.)
What are you experiencing this very moment as you read this?
It’s so easy to think that who I am is my story: “the woman whose father didn’t care about her” or “the woman whose father had Asperger’s” and so many more stories I’ve bought into and perpetuated about myself. Whenever I think a thought that’s accompanied by emotional pain, I can do inquiry, starting with question #1.
Who I am is not my story.
My father is also not who I formerly believed him to be. When I think of him without this thought, a series of images comes into my mind. Without my story and its emotional baggage, they are neutral snapshots: my father sitting on the sofa, my father at the dinner table, my father driving, my father standing outside his office building waiting for his ride home, my father kissing my mother.
These are much kinder images than those of a father who didn’t care about his daughter.
Man, where did that thought ever even come from? Never mind. Who cares? I’m just glad to have busted this painful, limiting story.
To recap, I’ve already asked:
- Is is true? (if no, skip to #3)
- Can I absolutely know it’s true?
- What happens when I believe the thought?
“Who would you be without the thought” can also be asked “What would you be without the thought?” And whatever your answer is, you can ask again, “What would you be without that thought?”
See where that takes you! (It takes me into a vast experience of empty presence where anything can happen.)
Next: the first turnaround.