Lessons from the 21-day Byron Katie challenge

The challenge to focus on The Work of Byron Katie for 21 days was worthwhile. I examined a painful thought that has been a thread running through my life, that my father didn’t care about me.

I subjected that belief to inquiry, and it did not hold up. My father did care about me. I know that deeply now. The way he chose to express it — nonverbally, without physical, verbal, or visual signs of affection, without playfulness, and pretty much without much eye contact or much facial expression at all — was not a way I understood or valued when I was young and first had this thought.

I realize now that he showed his caring by simply being there with his family and not somewhere else, supporting me from infancy through adulthood, reading aloud to his children, helping with homework, and creating order through daily rituals (dinner time, bath time, bed time). He wasn’t really that different from many men who were fathers in the 1950s and 1960s — who had been through sobering times (the Great Depression and World War II). He was not frivolous, not expressive, and a man who had lost his own father at age 9.

I took him for granted.

I did this challenge a bit differently than I initially envisioned doing it. I had thought that I would do one worksheet a day, answering the four questions and doing the turnarounds for 21 days.

That would have been extremely time-consuming. My blog posts would have been quite lengthy, and I fear you, dear readers, might have completely lost patience and interest.

So instead, I worked on one issue, my relationship with my dad, which even though he’s been dead for years, I still felt some tender sensitivity and pain about. I liked doing it slowly and deeply like this. Sometimes at Katie’s workshops, there just isn’t time to really go deep with my own stuff. This was satisfying and memorable. I feel like I got the process in my bones and now find myself asking, “Is that true?” and “What happens when I believe that thought?” Just noticing…

I have turned over that rock and examined the ground under it, the creepy-crawlies, the shadow, took a good thorough look, and then put the rock back and moved on.

Of course there are more rocks to investigate, but I can see that each time I do inquiry, the remaining rocks are perhaps fewer, lighter, and smaller.

And wow. Would I ever like to get to the bottom of how I create my own suffering with my thinking! That would require a lot of discernment. Speaking of which, this great quote on that topic came up today on Tricycle Daily Dharma:

The fundamental aim of Buddhist practice is not belief; it’s enlightenment, the awakening that takes place when illusion has been overcome. It may sound simple, but it’s probably the most difficult thing of all to achieve. It isn’t some kind of magical reward that someone can give you or that a strong belief will enable you to acquire. The true path to awakening is genuine discernment; it’s the very opposite of belief. ~ Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche, “The Seeds of Life”

So yeah. Enlightenment comes through examining illusion, that is, using inquiry and discerning the truth. This is how it works in real life.

In filling out the worksheet, I went back to the last years I lived at home, when I was in high school, and how it was then between my father and me. I remembered yearning for his positive personal attention, and it never even crossing my mind to just ask him for it! Because “we didn’t do that in our family,” it wasn’t even in my realm of possibilities back then.

I am so grateful to have busted out of that prison. I’m not sure when that happened.  At some point, I gained the quality of brashness. It usually works, too.

I think it’s a great idea for people to ask for attention when you need it. If the person who is asked can give it, fine, and if not, fine. There are always others, and of course, there’s the self. Doing The Work is a fine way to relate to the self. Quality time.

My relationship with my father, which transcends his death, has expanded. It’s become lighter and broader. I can consider other possibilities for his behavior than the narrow, joyless ones I laid on him.

This opens me up too. My hurting self, the wounded child, has healed (at least about this topic). It’s a memory now, in the past.

After having done the work, it doesn’t matter whether my father did or didn’t have Asperger’s Syndrome. That’s only a concept, just a theory to explain his behavior.

When I ask, “How do I react, what happens, when I think that thought?” I realize that it just doesn’t matter that much to me. I wonder more how he would have reacted had he known, fully aware that whatever I think is idle speculation, just opinion. It was his business, not mine.

I like to think that if he wanted help with it, which he never asked for, I would have gladly been willing to give it.

Just like he would have been glad to give me more attention, if I had asked for it.

People are like that, aren’t we.

Day 19 of The Work: Do you believe life should be free from pain?

This Tricycle Daily Dharma quotation reinforces Byron Katie’s work:

We suffer because we marry our instinctive aversion to pain to the deep-seated belief that life should be free from pain. In resisting our pain by holding this belief, we strengthen just what we’re trying to avoid. When we make pain the enemy, we solidify it. This resistance is where our suffering begins. ~ Ezra Bayda, “When It Happens to Us”

Next time you’re feeling emotional pain, I invite you to examine whether a “should” is involved. “Shoulds” are always beliefs, as far as I can tell.

Imagine (that is, make up stories about) what you believe should happen.

Now think about what you believe shouldn’t happen, and create two stories. In one, imagine having no resistance to what shouldn’t happen. Just let it unfold and witness it. In this scenario, if there’s pain, there’s pain, but there’s no drama or story.

Then create a worst-case scenario, complete with lots of drama and a compelling story!

Just see if you can do this. Now you have three options.

The point is, how much do you add to your own suffering? Without the story, the pain can just come and go, and that’s it. It hurts. You move on.

How we got the idea that life should be free from pain is something to be curious about. It seems to me that if you have a nervous system, pain is inevitable. (Although I have gone to great lengths to avoid it myself!)

Day 17 of the Work: turning around question 6

There is one last turnaround in Byron Katie’s The Work. This one is sometimes overlooked. Back on Day 1, I filled out the Judge Your Neighbor worksheet. Question 6 asks:

What is it in or about this situation that you don’t ever want to experience again?

I responded:

I don’t ever want to feel so disconnected, frustrated, and helpless about someone I care about [as I did with my father].

Question 6 has its own turnaround, which is:

I am willing to feel as disconnected, frustrated, and helpless about someone I care about [as I did with my father].

I look forward to feeling as disconnected, frustrated, and helpless about someone I care about [as I did with my father].

Whoa. I definitely feel a lot of resistance. Those statements are not true!

So let me inquire more deeply. I’m going to consult my worn, autographed copy of Loving What Is and see what Byron Katie has to say about this turnaround:

This turnaround is about embracing all of life. Saying — and meaning — “I am willing to…” creates openness, creativity, and flexibility. Any resistance you may have is softened, allowing you to lighten up rather than keep hopelessly applying willpower or force to eradicate the situation from your life. Saying and meaning “I look forward to…” actively opens you to life as it unfolds.

It’s all there in the title of her book, Loving What Is.

So my understanding now is that it is entirely possible in my future that I will again feel as disconnected, frustrated, and helpless about someone as I did with my father. Do I know my future? No. So to resist a possibility in advance is to cut myself off from potential reality. What will happen will happen.

The truth is that if this does happen, I don’t have to respond the way I did in the past. I don’t have to fear it or repress it or even suffer at all. I can embrace whatever feelings arise and do inquiry on them if painful. I can embrace that person.

I can recognize the similarity with my old story about my dad and know this person is not him but could definitely have some similar characteristics (which sooner or later everyone will, because the common denominator is being human).

I can get fascinated with that.

I can even thank them for bringing me something to do The Work on.

Another approach to this statement is to ask question 3 again, “What happens when you believe that thought?” When I think about feeling like that in the future, I feel disgruntled, unwelcoming, armored.

I can not only let that thought drop me, I can embrace that possible future! It’s one of many!

Does anyone’s future hold only that which they want? Probably not. So get ready. Shit happens. I am willing to experience conflict, to feel pain and suffering, to be confused, even to be mortal and to die.

I am going to do those things anyway, so I might as well be willing.

I can even look forward to doing these things with as much serenity, acceptance, wisdom, and equanimity as I can muster.

~~~

I originally wrote this post two days ago, and then I lost it somewhere in the ether. So this is the second time I’ve written it. It was a struggle the first time, less so this time, and I got even more out of it by doing it again.

Day 13 of The Work: turning it around to the opposite

Today in The Work, I turn my statement “my father didn’t care about me” around to the opposite:

My father did care about me.

I need to think of three specific examples of how that could be true.

  1. He supported my very existence from birth until college by working and providing for my sustenance in the form of food, housing, clothing, and so much more: health care, dance and piano lessons, braces on my teeth, and so on. That’s caring.
  2. He (and my mom) cared about the cultural literacy of their children enough to read books aloud to us. When I tell people that my parents read aloud to us after meals, and that they read A Child’s History of the World (still in print and used in home schooling) and a wonderfully illustrated oversize child’s version of The Iliad and the Odyssey (sadly out of print), they are amazed. Both of my parents loved books, knowledge, language, and learning, and they passed that love on. I had no idea how good I had it. That’s caring.
  3. I could ask him questions about English and other languages, math, science, history, baseball, college football, politics, religion, and current events, even chess, and he gave me information I could rely on as accurate. I don’t recall him ever saying “I don’t know” or ridiculing me for my interest in all manner of nerdy, brainy topics. In fact, that was how we connected, through sharing information. He supported the development of my curiosity and my intellect. That’s caring.

I have turned my judgment completely around, from “my father didn’t care about me” to “my father did care about me.” Even though I knew it wasn’t true from question 1, this turnaround provides the proof.

I feel grateful for remembering these specific examples.

Next: the turnaround for statement 6.

Day 12 of Byron Katie’s inquiry: turning it around to the other

Today I turn my judgment “My father didn’t care about me” around to the other. This is the second turnaround, following the four questions of Byron Katie’s inquiry process called The Work.

This statement, turned around to the other, reads like this:

I didn’t care about my father.

Whew. Boy, that takes me out of “being the victim,” doesn’t it?

I need to think of three ways that I didn’t care about my father.

  1. I’ve already mentioned this, but I did not tell him that I wanted more positive attention from him. I did not give him a chance to step up to the plate, successfully or not. I did not tell him what I needed and wanted, and so he never had a chance to even try to meet my needs for fatherly affection and attention. I missed out, and so did he. That’s a big loss.
  2. When my dad was sitting on the sofa disconnected from everyone around him, I not once asked him what was going on. I didn’t ask him what he was feeling, or what he was thinking. I didn’t ask him if he was depressed or sulking, which is what it looked like to me. I didn’t engage with him at all. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe that was the only way he could get some solitude in our crowded household. Now I’m wondering if maybe he was an introvert like me, someone who needed some daily solitude to recharge his batteries. I just remember feeling disappointed when I saw him doing that and avoiding interacting with him. I wonder what his internal experience actually was. Whoa. I just had a thought. Maybe he needed attention and didn’t know how to ask for it. Wow.
  3. Even though I was the child and my dad was the parent, parents don’t always know what their children need. I’ve experienced this as a parent myself. I didn’t understand that since my father’s own father had died when my daddy was just a little boy of 9, he had no fatherly role model for parenting teenagers. He didn’t know what to do. I can view my dad’s human life in a much more compassionate way now than I could as a teenager. In that way, I didn’t care about him back then.
  4. Okay, I’m adding a fourth reason. I didn’t care about my father all the time because I had my own life to live. No one can care about someone all the time. It’s physically impossible. They have to sleep, eat, drive, decide what to wear, work out, take classes, hang out with others, go to the bathroom. Their attention simply cannot be on caring or on another person all the time. In fact, if it was, think of how impaired they would be, doing nothing but caring about someone! This idea that someone should always care about another is actually like a prison. I could not have cared about my father all the time, and he could not have cared about me all the time, and lived any kind of good life.

I so wish he was here right now so we could talk about these matters and heal. I’m just going to assume that my healing is his healing, even though he’s on the other side. How could it not be, when the ties that bind us are what exist now?

Wow, this Byron Katie Work has a way of really workin’! My interpretation of a situation has just been busted wide open, and all kinds of new possibilities — a new openness and mystery — are at play.

It reminds me of how much I don’t know, and of that little part that likes to know, that believes that knowing will somehow make me feel more secure.

And you know, that’s cool, as long as I remember that my knowing is really just a hypothesis, a temporary truth in the void that allows me to get on with my life (like believing the sun will rise tomorrow), that it’s nothing to write in stone.

Next: the last turnaround, to the opposite.

Day 10 of Byron Katie’s inquiry process: turn it around to myself

I’ve asked the four questions about my judgment “my father didn’t care about me”.

I continue the inquiry process about this painful thought, which I’ve already established isn’t true, by turning it around. There are three turnarounds in The Work. The first one asks me to turn the statement around to myself.

“My father didn’t care about me” gets turned around like this:

I didn’t care about me.

How did I not care about myself?

Katie asks for at least three instances of each turnaround, but even more important is that the turnarounds penetrate and set you free.

  1. I did not ask my father for more attention. How could he have known I wanted it if I didn’t say so? I didn’t care about myself enough to make this request. I didn’t even give him a chance to respond (or not).
  2. I kept my feelings completely to myself. I did not tell anyone that I was unhappy about my relationship with my father. I was clueless about what I could have done about it, and I assumed others would be clueless too. That might not have been the case. This is a new realization.
  3. Because my father didn’t care about me and I was therefore unworthy, this low self-esteem spilled over into other areas of my life. I can see that now with hindsight. I was rather troubled back then and did not pursue living up to my full potential. I did not believe in myself or my abilities back then. This realization is also a new insight.

It takes self-respect to ask for attention, to tell someone when feeling troubled, and to deal with a problem before it grows.

Next: turning it around to the other.

Day 9 of The Work: Who would you be without the thought?

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:

  1. Is is true? (if no, skip to #3)
  2. Can I absolutely know it’s true?
  3. 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.

More wit and wisdom from Byron Katie, and a 21-day challenge to do The Work

Byron KatieThis weekend I got to experience the wonderful presence and work of Byron Katie again. I’ve lost track now of how many times I’ve seen her. I love The Work, her four questions and three turnarounds that you can apply to any thought you have that causes you to suffer.

This time my friend Glenda drove down from the Metroplex to attend with me, and I reconnected with several friends who also hold Katie’s work in high esteem. I remembered to bring my copy of her book Loving What Is: Four questions that can change your life. She signed it for me, and we chatted a bit about using The Work in trauma recovery. (She says it works well.)

Glenda bought her book for children, Tiger-Tiger, Is It True? Four questions to make you smile again, to use with her young grandson as well as an audiobook of Loving What Is and some cards.

My dear late Neuro-Linguistic Programming teacher Tom Best included The Work in his master practitioner training. Even though The Work is not NLP, it is very NLP-like in that it uses questions to induce profound shifts at the belief and identity neurological levels of experience. Tom thought very highly of it, and I cannot think of any other non-NLP techniques that made it into his practitioner and master practitioner trainings.

I’m feeling inspired to start a new 21-day challenge: 21 days because that’s how long it takes to develop a new habit, because I would like for The Work so become so ingrained that as soon as I even start thinking a thought that is less than loving, I can ask “Is that true? Nope! What happens when I believe the thought? Who am I without the thought?” and immediately shift my state.

When I discard painful thoughts, I always feel “returned to myself” with a sense of peace, pleasure, wonder, and expansion. Imagine: We could live from that state nearly all the time!

Katie is onto something of huge importance, in my opinion, with her distinctions between what’s my business, someone else’s business, and God’s business. If what I cannot control is either someone else’s business or God’s business, then what is my business? It is being present in my own life, attending to my own experience, knowing and doing what is right for me, letting go of all stories about how things “should” be.

For my challenge, I need to make 21 copies of her Judge Your Neighbor worksheet (available online if you would like to participate too — I invite all readers willing to do the inquiry of The Work to join me). I plan to blog about it occasionally.

Here are some of her memorable words from the weekend (and here’s a link to the last time I noted her wit and wisdom if you want even more inspiration):

In my world…

Are you being thought?

You can’t feel my pain and vice versa. It’s a projection. I’m the only one who can hurt me.

We’re all innocent.

I asked with the intention of really listening.

They will or they won’t mind you.

I want to know what’s real and what’s not.

Nothing has ever happened, except I believe it happened.

I love everything I think. I’m the best company I know.

Who needs God when you have your opinion?

The ego loves to play.

Apologize to yourself.

You said thank you, so I’m thanking me.

Smoking quit me as I became sane.

Live in your own business.

Prior to thought was pure awareness, joy, the unnamed.

Inequality is not possible when the mind is right.

We’re a human race. We need your help.

Would you hold me now?

I’m always asking what I want.

The mental produces the physical.

NO HOSTAGES BEYOND THIS POINT: Teaching Magical Viewpoints to female sex offenders

A sign on the main entrance gate to the Hilltop Unit, part of the Gatesville, Texas, prison complex, says “NO HOSTAGES BEYOND THIS POINT”.

It appears twice, on each side of the gate, so visitors see this message as they enter and as they leave.

These signs provide a strong clue that you’re entering a different world at Hilltop, and that you will leave it changed.

Ann, the social worker who runs the Sex Offenders Treatment Program (SOTP) for women, escorted my friend Peggy Lamb and me to the dorm where the women in the program live. Peggy is a facilitator for Truth Be Told, a nonprofit working with women behind and beyond bars. She teaches movement and also brings in presenters for Truth Be Told’s Exploring Creativity workshops at the Hilltop Unit.

I was there at her invitation to teach an Exploring Creativity class called Magical Viewpoints, a basic skill in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) where it is also called “triple description”.

Ann led us through the dorm. I’ve visited prisons several times over the past 10 years for Truth Be Told events and graduations. This was the first time I’ve seen the inmates’ living quarters. It’s about as basic as you can get at Hilltop. In one big room, each inmate has a space about 6×4 feet in which there is a single bed (looked like 3-4 inches of mattress on a wooden platform), a storage locker under the bed, and perhaps a small table and chair. These “cells” are separated by wooden partitions about 3.5 feet high, so there is very little privacy. Everything looks old and is painted white. There is no decor. There is no air conditioning either.

We walked to the common area behind the sleeping quarters where the women were waiting for us. The inmates wear white uniforms and choose from a couple of styles of standard-issue shoes (sneakers or short boots). Those who wear eyeglasses wear a plain no-nonsense unisex style that harkens back to the men’s eyewear of the 1950s. No one is wearing makeup. Hairdos are plain and simple.

This room had murals and posters on the white walls, which I was told is not so in other units at Hilltop. A humongous fan was blowing, making a loud racket, along with a couple of smaller fans. We turned that big fan off and used an old, temperamental PA system to make ourselves heard.

Peggy introduced me, and it was obvious that these women love Peggy. (I’m feeling very pleased that I brought Peggy into Truth Be Told. That worked out well. She has made the most of it.)

I taught the women about using first, second, and third position to understand an event from their own eyes and through another’s eyes and to view it as a camera would. First they remembered looking at a piece of art they had created in the previous Exploring Creativity class taught by Peg Runnels, seeing it through their own eyes. Then they remembered seeing another artist creating their art and making those same movements. Finally, they imagined seeing the art, with the artist putting the finishing touches on it, and seeing themselves viewing it.

I did a demo using these three viewpoints on a conflict situation with a wonderful volunteer, Carla, and then I led them as a group through the process, watching them step into imaginary circles for each position. I watched very carefully, and it appeared to me that each woman got it.

Then they journaled about the experience, made art about it, and a few of them shared their art and their experience of doing the exercise. Their homework was to do it with a different event in mind and journal about it for Peggy. Their six opportunities to learn and deepen this skill will serve them well, perhaps for the rest of their lives.

I asked them for their feedback on the three magical viewpoints. Which one gave them the most new information? It surprised me that second position was so powerful for them. I had expected that third position would be the real revelation (the cool sense of detachment often is), but Ann told me that a major goal of the SOTP is learning empathy for the victims of their crimes, and so learning about and experiencing second position strengthened that goal.

Then our time was up. They honored Peggy by giving her a sweet, gigantic homemade card on which each woman had written a personal thank you to her for volunteering with them.

I’ve heard many women tell their stories at TBT graduations over the past decade. Chaos is in every story. Prison provides the security to examine their lives, something many have never done or even been exposed to before getting involved with Truth Be Told’s programs.

That’s the first step toward true rehabilitation. Then there’s the support and learning and accomplishment they get through connection with Truth Be Told.

I’m feeling very lucky and grateful to have had the good fortune to connect with Truth Be Told when it was an infant nonprofit, to have helped nurture it into stability, to step back when life had other plans for me, and to reconnect via teaching a useful life skill.

I want to thank Keith Fail, NLP trainer at NLP Resources Austin, for his support. He and I (mostly he) taught Magical Viewpoints at the Lockhart prison in the fall of 2011. He was training people in Europe when this teaching opportunity came up. I winged it as well as prepped myself, learned a lot, and had a blast!

The Goddess in Prison, by Peggy Lamb

The Goddess in Prison.

My friend Peggy Lamb wrote this blog post for Truth Be Told, a nonprofit working with women behind and beyond bars where we both volunteer.

She works with bodies, movement, dance, helping these wounded women heal from the traumas and tragedies they’ve experienced in their lives.

“I never heard anybody refer to God as a woman.”

Peggy replies, “Something to think about,” and leaves it at that.

She writes:

Feelings, traumatic events, images, joys and sorrows are danced. The bandages get ripped off, blood flows, and channels are opened in all of us as we witness a woman uttering the unspeakable with her dance; her body expressing what she has no words for.

In a sense I am a missionary for the Goddess. Without saying her name I invite these women to meet the Goddess in their belly.