Become a living question for Halloween!

 

 

I’m adding this to my Favorite Quotes page here on my blog:

 

 

 

The most important part of the practice is for the question to remain alive and for your whole body and mind to become a question. In Zen they say that you have to ask with the pores of your skin and the marrow of your bones. A Zen saying points out: Great questioning, great awakening; little questioning, little awakening; no questioning, no awakening. ~ Martine Batchelor (from Tricycle Daily Dharma)

 

Try this: Sit in an upright posture. Chair, zafu, floor, doesn’t matter. Spine straight but not rigid. Breathe. Get yourself centered.

 

Zafu. Roma

Zafu. Roma (Photo credit: Roberto Poveda)

 

Ask yourself this question:

 

 

 

Who am I?

 

Ask very slowly and don’t expect an answer, but really, really listen.

 

 

 

What do you notice?

 

 

 

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 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.

Day 5: What happens when you believe that thought?

Yesterday was a very busy day. I didn’t have an opportunity to work another question, but I did notice that I was applying The Work.

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a presidential election coming up. There is a lot of talk in the media about it. I notice myself hearing soundbites from the candidates and their supporters or opponents and asking myself, when someone says something disturbing (that is, full of fear, contempt, hatred), “Is that true?” and “Can you absolutely know that it’s true?”

The third question to apply to the statement “My father didn’t care about me” is this:

How do I react when I believe that thought?

Okay, I’m thinking the thought and believing it’s true. Something happens. My state changes. I feel very, very contracted. I feel sad. I feel hurt. My shoulders round into a forward slump. My head drops. I feel heavy, slow grief. I feel like I want to cry.

My self-talk adds, “…and that means I’m worthless, if my own father doesn’t care about me. I feel ashamed of who I am. Something must be wrong with me.”

It also reminds me of other times when I felt hurt that someone didn’t care about me. Images of a few faces pop into my mind.

My dad died years ago, but if he were still around and lucid, given who I am now, I’d want to tell him, “Do you know that for much of my life, I felt like you didn’t care about me?” It wouldn’t necessarily be angry, accusatory, or blaming on my part. He’d be a very old man, after all.

I imagine he’d ask why, and I’d tell him “because you didn’t make eye contact. You didn’t look me in the eye, and I felt like you didn’t really see me, like I was invisible, like you could not ever give me your full attention, and therefore, I was unimportant to you.”

Honestly, I have no idea how a conversation like that might have gone. If he were still around, he would know whether he had Asperger’s Syndrome. Aspies have difficulty with eye contact and social norms. But even if he didn’t have it, that all of his children think he probably did says something about his social skills.

When I think that thought, “My father didn’t care about me,” I don’t like how I feel. I don’t feel much like going out and being sociable myself. It puts me in a funk.

Can you see how I’ve spun off into my own little mental and emotional world here? I’m deep in my story about “my father didn’t care about me.” I am not present.

I’ve already answered question one, “Is it true?” No, it’s not true. But when I try on believing it’s true, I understand that my belief that my thought is true causes me to pain.

Wow. I can really use this tool. Any time I am feeling unhappy or stressed about something, I can investigate what I’m thinking and do inquiry on it.

Before I started writing this post, I gave a massage, and that felt really good. I was peaceful and happy. Now, believing this thought has brought me down, disturbed my peace, brought unhappiness into my day. I’ve entered a world that isn’t real, that’s in the past or the future, that’s anywhere but here, sitting here in my trailer on my sweet new sofa with my laptop, drinking delicious cold homemade pomegranate ginger kombucha, feeling the fan blowing.

A follow-up question to this is:

Can you see a reason to drop that thought? (And please don’t try to drop it.)

Yes. Before the thought, I felt peaceful and happy. After I believed that thought was true, I felt unhappy. Reason enough.

I don’t need to drop the thought. The thought drops me because I know it’s not true.

Another follow-up question is:

Can you find one stress-free reason to keep the thought?

The only stress-free reason I can think of for keeping it is to put it on a shelf in my Museum of Old Beliefs, where it can gather dust peacefully.

Next: the fourth question.

Day 3: Can you absolutely know that it’s true?

Two days ago I started this 21-day challenge of doing The Work of Byron Katie by filling out the Judge Your Neighbor worksheet.

Yesterday I asked the first of the four questions.

Today I’m asking the second question. This is a little tricky. If the answer to the first question is no, you can skip this and go directly to the third question. I answered no.

I wanted to include it in this modeling of the process, being online and all, so for demo purposes, I’m going to re-answer the first question by saying yes, it is true that he didn’t care about me, and ask the second question:

Can I absolutely know it’s true?

(It really doesn’t matter what the answer is to the first two questions. This is just for the purpose of inquiring within about what is true.)

Can I absolutely know that he didn’t care about me? This question asks me to go deeper, to go into what I absolutely know. I wonder what I do absolutely know. It seems like there’s a lot I do not absolutely know.

I could not read his mind to know what he did and didn’t care about. He didn’t say he cared about me in those specific words (that I remember, anyway), and he didn’t say he did not care about me. I don’t know. Feel the doubt?

As far as his behavior goes, I suspect he believed that doing his job as the breadwinner of the family was how he showed that he cared. Hmm. Maybe when he got home from work, he was drained and didn’t have anything more to give.

That’s a new thought.

A way to go even deeper is to add “…and it means that _______” to the statement.

I could say “He didn’t care about me, and it means that something is wrong with me.” Or it could mean that something is wrong with him, or it could mean that he didn’t know how to express his feelings very well, or it could mean that he didn’t know how to relate to me.

Then for any of these interpretations, I could go back to question 1 and ask, “Is that true?” Probably not anything major, maybe — and I feel my compassion for him building. I have a new understanding of him.

A second way to go deeper with this question is to ask if you had that, what would it get you. So I could say, if my dad truly cared about me, I would feel connected.

Then I could go back to question 1 and ask, “Is that true?” Hmm. Not necessarily.

A third way to go deeper is to imagine the worst outcome reality could hand me. What all might happen that my dad didn’t care about me? Hmm. Worst case scenario? I guess that would be that I committed suicide. Is that true? Nope. The worst didn’t happen.

Fourth way: You can also look for the “should” or “shouldn’t.” My father should have cared about me. Is that true?

Well, I can’t make him care about me. It has to come from him. So if he didn’t care, he didn’t care. But shouldn’t fathers care about their daughters? Well, some fathers don’t, and to say they should is to argue with reality. I always lose that argument!

And…to expect someone to care about another all the time is insane. No one could be caringly on another’s mind 24/7 in a sustainable healthy way, when I think about it. You have to brush your teeth and go to the bathroom sometime. 

So maybe sometimes he cared and sometimes he didn’t. It’s not true that he should have cared about me.

The last way to deepen inquiry is to ask where the proof is. Where’s the proof that my father didn’t care about me? What’s the evidence?

  1. He didn’t ever actually say “I care about you” (that I can remember).
  2. Sometimes he withdrew from social contact.
  3. He often didn’t notice what was going on in my life: who my friends were, what I was doing outside of school, what my hopes and dreams were.
  4. He didn’t ask me questions about myself and my life.
  5. He didn’t spend time with just me, getting to know me, having fun, or being closer.

Are any of these proof that he didn’t care about me? Are they true? No.

I hope you’re beginning to understand how this works! You don’t have to go this deep, but it’s good to know you can deepen your inquiry if you want.

Next: my favorite question, #3.

Day 2 of The Work: the first question, is it true?

Yesterday I filled out the Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet. 

Today I start asking the four questions. I apply the first question, “Is it true?” to my statement that my dad didn’t care about me.

Well, no. It’s not true. He did care about me.

He didn’t show that he cared the way I would have liked him to show it, which would have been by making a personal connection through attention, eye contact, hugs, and showing interest by asking me questions like what did I think about something or how my day went.

But you know, I didn’t ever tell him that that’s how I would have liked for him to show he cared. Those were things my mom did. Maybe he thought she did enough for both of them.

Or maybe he had Asperger’s, high functioning autism. He died before it was ever a diagnosis. People with Asperger’s have difficulty making eye contact, making small talk, understanding social norms.

The ways he showed he cared about me was by being a reliable breadwinner, going to work, making the money to pay for our home, car, food, bills, clothing, vacations, and so on. He occasionally made remarks that showed he had been paying attention, though they were so rare, it surprised me when he did. Several times I heard him praise me for the grades I made in school.

In Loving What Is, Byron Katie advises when asking whether a statement is true that you get very still and let the answer come to you.

It doesn’t matter what your answer is. The process works if your answer is yes or no. The point is to discover what is true from the deepest part of yourself. Listen for your answers, not someone else’s answers.

Another way to deepen this question is to ask “What’s the reality of this situation?” If you  think Paul shouldn’t watch so much television, but the reality is that he does, then you saying he shouldn’t is arguing with reality, an argument you can never win. It doesn’t do you any good, and it doesn’t change Paul’s behavior. It only causes you stress.

Katie says,

In reality, there is no such thing as a “should” or a “shouldn’t.” These are only thoughts that we impose onto reality. The mind is like a carpenter’s level. When the bubble is off to one side — “It shouldn’t be raining” — we can know that the mind is caught in its thinking. When the bubble is right in the middle — “It’s raining” — we can know that the surface is level and the mind is accepting reality as it is. Without the “should” and “shouldn’t,” we can see reality as it is, and this leaves us free to act efficiently, clearly, and sanely. Asking “what’s the reality of it?” can help bring the mind out of its story, back into the real world.

Katie also says that there are three kinds of business in the universe, mine, yours, and God’s.

When you think that someone or something other than yourself needs to change, you’re mentally out of your business…. Ask yourself, “Whose business is it how much television I watch?Whose business is it how much television Paul watches? And can I really know what’s best for Paul in the long run?”

This is another way of expressing the message of the Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.