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.

Many different flavors of joy

Today’s post centers on a quotation I received this morning via email from Tricycle magazine’s Daily Dharma subscription service. I subscribe to several of these — The Universe, Tricycle Daily Dharma, and Ocean of Dharma are the main ones, and I’m currently testing one for my Enneagram type that I’ll write about later.

I enjoy opening my inbox in the morning and finding words of wisdom.

This is what I found this morning:

Joy has many different flavors. It might overflow from us in song or dance, or it might gently arise as a smile or a sense of inner fullness. Joy is not something we have to manufacture. It is already in us when we come into the world, as we can see in the natural delight and exuberance of a healthy baby. We need only release the layers of contraction and fear that keep us from it.

The author is James Baraz in Lighten Up! 

Joy. I seem to be in a groove in my life in which I often experience joy. It’s delightful and welcome.

Here are some ways joy has shown up for me recently:

  • Singing along with remastered Beatles songs in my car brings me joy.
  • Responding to an invitation to improvise my movements to music (aka dancing ecstatically); to seek a groove, release it, and find  another groove; continually discover the balances between ease and stamina, attention inward and attention outward, and staying in one place and circulating through the space; of connecting with others and choosing how much to engage; lying in a circle on the floor afterward in silent community.
  • Laughing with a certain friend whose laughter is loud, full, wild, and raucous. Her laugh makes me laugh.
  • Taking two road trips with dear friends recently. Road trips engender good conversation while barreling down the highway and exploring the destination.
  • Making chicken soup for my visiting grandchild who had a fever and sore throat and being comfortably together sharing our lives while it cooked.
  • Attending a house blessing for my friend who is bringing her aged parents to live with her until they pass or need more assistance, and literally filling the house with didgeridoo and rainstick and human sounds, filling every room, closet, and space with our presence and love and joy, decorating altars, and inviting our parents and grandparents, living or dead, and others with similar caretaking responsibilities to benefit from our work together.
  • Massaging people, experiencing the difference between before and after, and knowing I made a difference.
  • Waking to the sound of rain on the roof of my trailer.
  • Having Mango curl up on my chest and purr and put his “hand” on my face when I visit, knowing that my friends who gave him a home love us both. Yeah, kitty reiki!
  • Experiencing a long close embrace with someone special, breathing joy.

Being present and allowing life to unfold as it will inevitably brings moments of joy in some way, shape, or form. Letting joy go when it’s over instead of trying to hold onto it invites it back.

May your day hold many moments of joy, and may you savor each one fully, and let it go.

Hot buttons, EFT, and self-compassion

Ever get a whiff of your own craziness, the things you do or say that are less than kind? I did today. I caught it myself — I see myself writing that like I caught some kind of fish. Yeah, a stinky fish.

In an attempt to be thoughtful, I actually was thoughtless. When I perceived that, I felt so remorseful my heart ached.

Then I found this quote from Tricycle Daily Dharma in my inbox. I’d saved it for several weeks, not knowing why.

We all have personal sensitivities—“hot buttons”—that are evoked in close relationships. Mindfulness practice helps us to identify them and disengage from our habitual reactions, so that we can reconnect with our partners. We can mindfully address recurring problems with a simple four-step technique: (1) Feel the emotional pain of disconnection, (2) Accept that the pain is a natural and healthy sign of disconnection, and the need to make a change, (3) Compassionately explore the personal issues or beliefs being evoked within yourself, (4) Trust that a skillful response will arise at the right moment. – Christopher Germer, “Getting Along”

I want to add step 2.5 to the above. If you are feeling the pain, and you know there’s a need to make a change but the feeling is so sticky, you can’t detach enough to explore your issues, you can do the Emotional Freedom Technique (several times if needed) to reduce the pain enough to get to step 3. It helps us feeling types move on.

In step 3, I discovered that I projected something onto another that was really about me. I’m looking at a big owie in my life head on.

I’m not to step 4 yet but it feels good to just know it’s there waiting, whatever the outcome. All I can do is trust.

The acrobat and the meditator

Here is today’s quote from Tricycle Daily Dharma, to which I subscribe.

We are so used to projecting our attention out into the world around us, it is a noticeable shift when we face inward and feel the subtle swaying of the head on the shoulders, along with all the muscular microcompensations keeping our body centered in gravity. The acrobat, like the meditator, is bringing conscious awareness to a process that is always occurring but is generally overlooked, which is a vital first step to learning anything valuable about ourselves.

Andrew Olendzki, “Keep Your Balance” (my bolding)

Might as well say “the yogi” rather than “the acrobat”.

From what I’ve read and understand, the very simple act of shifting one’s attention from “out there” to “in here” actually changes one’s brainwaves from beta state to alpha, from stressed to more relaxed.

So you can try this right now, if you like. You’re reading this blog post, which is an “out there” experience.

Read the following sentence, do what it says, and notice how your experience changes:

Bring your attention to the space between your eyes.

What happened when you did that? Did your breathing change? Did your sense of pleasure change? What else did you notice?

It could be your left pinkie finger or the top of your head or the soles of your feet or the center of your belly. Anywhere on or in your body suffices.

It’s not about how far you can back-bend, it’s about harnessing your attention within, which is, as Olendzki says above, “a vital first step to learning anything valuable about ourselves.”


Insight into internal and external awareness

Tricycle magazine’s Daily Dharma quote (see below) addresses the nature of reality.

It all comes from the mind.

I’ve been interested in the mind and how to use it for a long time. Learning about the 12 states of attention (taught by Nelson Zink) helped me recognize how habitual we often are in how we use our minds — and how we can regain access to neglected states.

One of the characteristics of every state of attention is whether it is internal or external. Some people are more externally focused, while others attend more to their internal experiences. Internal/external are metaprogram sorts in NLP and pertain to Enneagram types as well.

One of the directions to wholeness is to seek more experience with the awareness that you use less often. When an externally referenced person begins to notice more of her/his internal experience, it can be mind-blowing!

Notice how often your mind attends to external matters and how often it attends to your actual experience. Are you more internally or externally referenced?

Tibetan Buddhism weighs in on these states:

The Root of Everything

The mind is the root of everything. In the Tibetan teachings, it is called kun je gyalpo, “the king who is responsible for everything,” or in modern translation, “the universal ordering principle.” Mind is the creator of happiness and the creator of suffering, the creator of what we call samsara and the creator of what we call nirvana. As Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche used to say, “Samsara is mind turned outwardly, lost in its projections; nirvana is mind turned inwardly, recognizing its nature.”

-Sogyal Rinpoche, “A Mind Like a Clear Pool”

Yes, nothing exists outside awareness. Therefore, the mind is the root of everything.

Wikipedia says samsara is “the continuous but random drift of passions, desires, emotions, and experiences.” In other words, suffering.

Nirvana, on the other hand, is said to be beyond suffering, the mind free of attachment.

These are new connections for me today. Thank you for that, Tricycle!

Noticing space, chunking up

This dharma talk by Ajahn Sumedho, published in Tricycle, brings attention to something we often ignore: space. It is one of the first steps in seeing things differently.

The space in a room is peaceful. The objects in the room can excite, repel, or attract, but the space has no such quality. However, even though the space does not attract our attention, we can be fully aware of it, and we become aware of it when we are no longer absorbed by the objects in the room. When we reflect on the space in the room, we feel a sense of calm because all space is the same; the space around you and the space around me is no different. It is not mine. I can’t say “This space belongs to me” or “That space belongs to you.”

Space is always present. It makes it possible for us to be together, contained within a room, in a space that is limited by walls. Space is also outside the room; it contains the whole building, the whole world. So space is not bound by objects in any way; it is not bound by anything. If we wish, we can view space as limited in a room, but really, space is unlimited.

Noticing the space around people and things provides a different way of looking at them, and developing this spacious view is a way of opening oneself. When one has a spacious mind, there is room for everything. When one has a narrow mind, there is room for only a few things. Everything has to be manipulated and controlled; the rest is just to be pushed out.

Noticing space reminds me of a concept in NLP called “chunk size”. Noticing space would be a relatively large chunk size. Just noticing objects and ignoring space would be relatively small.

Many of the characteristics of becoming enlightened, from what I can tell, have to do with viewing the world with a larger chunk size. Big Mind. Big Heart. NLP calls that “chunking up”.

To move in that direction, begin to notice space. Notice that it’s empty. Notice the space between thoughts, between breaths.

Notice that space connects us all.