December 27, 2006

If I Loved

If I didn't have a care in the world
(And truth be told, I don't have one),
How freely I would love you...if I loved.

I would love you even as
You say what I don't want you to say,
Do what I think I don't want you to do.
Like a mother observing her child in tantrum,
I would know that this is merely movement,
That who you are
Is always unmoving,
And I would not move from my love...if I loved.

If I didn't have a preference in heaven or on earth
(And behind the mirage of this and that, I don't),
I would always, always choose you...if I loved.

I'd be clear that you are always my favorite,
However darkly cloaked you appear.
I would see only radiance,
I would see you as the mystic's vision of the Divine,
As a mirror of my soul,
Not separate from love...if I loved.

If I didn't have an agenda for my life
(And of course, we all have the same one),
I would want nothing from you—no thing...if I loved.

What can you give me
That I don't already have?
And yet you are the one
Who gives it all.
If you didn't exist, I would have to invent you,
As perhaps I have,
For in a world of "me's" and "you's"
I will always seek until I find myself.
That is why True Lovers say
"Beloved...I am you."
And I would say it too, to you...if I loved.

©2006 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

December 19, 2006

Book Review: The Tao Te Byron Katie

A Thousand Names for Joy: Living in Harmony with The Way Things Are
by Byron Katie with Stephen Mitchell
February 2007; Harmony Books

Eureka! Once and for all, Byron Katie has proven that enlightenment is not waiting on an oxygen-deprived mountaintop in Tibet, nor hiding in some mysterious, inaccessible cave of the heart known only to Yogis and Kabbalists. It's available right here while we're doing the dishes.

The sales copy for A Thousand Names for Joy calls it "a portrait of the awakened mind in action." I'd describe it as "The Tao for Dummies," a truely useful manual for "the rest of us" who want to live a peaceful, happy life. You may have heard that the conversations in this book are Katie's responses to verses from the Tao te Ching, an ancient text on the art of living by the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. (Katie's co-author and husband, Stephen Mitchell, wrote one of the most highly esteemed translations of this text in 1986, coincidentally the same year of Katie's now famous "moment of clarity.") This volume is much more than that. Like so many spiritual classics, the Tao wisely tells us what we should be striving for, but not how to get it. Katie, through the alchemy of self-inquiry, always tells us how.

At the same time, this truly is a portrait of an awakened mind. We get to see life through Katie's eyes as a seemingly ordinary person who, like us, endures many of the kinds of experiences we may wish we didn't have to. We witness her as a woman whose purse is stolen, whose husband ate the snack she'd bought for herself and was so looking forward to having when she got home, who watches as the birth of a granddaughter becomes a medical emergency, who gets a diagnosis of cancer, who takes care of her dying mother, who is threatened at gunpoint, who looks into the eyes of a dead friend, having arrived "too late"...who endures a painful, degenerative disease of the cornea which leaves her largely blind and vulnerable to falling (though she's since had fairly successful eye surgery). Katie describes these realities with no more drama and no less joy and gratitude than in other scenarios where she plays with her grandchild, prepares a salad, speaks onstage before an appreciative audience of 350, or receives her husband's caresses.

But this is not "the lives of the saints." Katie also provides examples of "people like us" who have come to know, through a simple process of self-inquiry called The Work, what Katie knows...for instance, a man who, although he loved his wife, was able to celebrate her decision to leave him for another man because he had questioned his anger and fear about his marriage. He stayed in his wife's life as a best friend to whom she could tell everything. (She eventually returned to him; who wouldn't want to live with someone that clear?) In this way, Katie makes the ancient teachings of the Tao come alive for us in the contemporary world.

A Thousand Names for Joy
is also teeming with what could be seen, on the surface, as esoteric teachings. For instance, Katie makes statements like "the darkness is always benevolent"...which appears to go against everything we've been taught. But Katie never leaves us in the dark. She has tested out everything she teaches in her own life and shows us, through The Work, how we can know the benevolence of darkness for ourselves.

Katie asks, "Could it be that whatever seems bad to you is just something you haven't seen clearly enough yet?" Could it be that what we call "taking action" is really inaction, the same, not ours to control, just a natural flow, "the way of it" as Katie says...and therefore we can never do it wrong because "we" never did it in the first place? Self-inquiry is the way to answer these questions, and while A Thousand Names for Joy is rich with the knowledge of the nature of thought—a knowledge that leads to the infinite, self-realized mind—Katie never claims to give her readers "the Tao." The Tao of self-realization, Katie-style, demands the practice of inquiry. "Realization," she tells us, "has no value until it's lived."

In this book we have both the what and the way; A Thousand Names for Joy is not merely inspirational, it is practical, and always brings us back to the questions which provide our own answers. As Eckhart Tolle said of Katie's first book, Loving What Is, "You have the key. Now use it."

Order your copy of A Thousand Names for Joy.

©2006 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

December 15, 2006

What I Do/Don't Want You To Know About Me

As a writer, I like to think that my life is an open book; I tell people there's not much I haven't revealed in articles and essays that have been published to wide readership.

However, when I really sit with this question—is there anything I haven't told and don't want to tell?—I see that I can come up with a few missing pieces...oh, okay, a few dozen!

My friend Mona Grayson recently tagged me in a game of "Blog Tag" that's making the rounds. Now that I'm "It," I'm challenged to write five things about myself that others might not know about me...and in turn, to tag five other bloggers, inviting them to do the same in their weblogs.

This is a wonderful opportunity to stretch. An inquiry exercise I love is to admit to something you don't want others to know about you and then to turn it around ("I do want you to know..."). Confession is good for the soul, especially if you let yourself off the hook for being human.

So...deep breath...what I don't want you to know about me is:

1. I didn't lose my virginity until I was well into my 24th year. I'm not sure why this is still so sticky for me; some might consider it rather sweet, because I was holding out for love. The truth is, I was terrified of being used, abandoned and I held out until I became tired of holding out and found someone who I considered "safe." (He was; in spite of my not loving him, we stayed together for four years.)

2. I lie. I say I'll call or visit people with whom I really don't want to be that close, then I just conveniently "forget" or "something comes up." I fudge with the truth when I feel that telling the truth will make you like me less. I exaggerate or don't tell the whole truth...for example, on my website I say that I have worked with hundreds of people. I have, in workshop and volunteer capacities, but someone reading this might think I've had hundreds of private paying clients, when in truth, as of this writing I've only had a couple dozen at most since 2002!

3. Bad vision is not the main reason I don't drive; it's my convenient excuse and it's a good one because I don't have good depth perception and perhaps shouldn't be behind the wheel, ideally. But the main reason I don't drive is that in spite of spending a lot of money on driving lessons, I failed eight road tests before the age of 23, had a couple of minor but scary accidents more recently and am easily demoralized by well as frightened by machinery and traffic. I actually have nightmares about driving a car and being out of control. (Not that I've ever died or hurt anyone or totalled a car even in dreams. Hmm.)

Now I will turn these around. What I do want you to know about me is...

1. I didn't lose my virginity until I was well into my 24th year. I was a sensitive young woman and this was a way for me to be kind and gentle to myself.

2. I lie. I want you to know this because I'm not a very good liar...and if I'm setting myself up as perfect, it's going to be hard for clients to relate to me. I like to let people know that I'm just like them, not some enlightened master. I am still doing my work and very likely always will. I believe that this levels the playing field and therefore brings us closer.

3. I am scared to take driving lessons again. I don't want fail again and I don't really want the responsibility of driving either. I want you to know this because I am tired of making excuses about it; and I'm working on my fear.

I feel better now!

Here are two more things about me that you might not know:

I am a wickedly good mimic. My favorite impressions are of Julie Andrews, Mae West, Dr. Ruth Westheimer and...Byron Katie! I can do a little smidgen of Barbra Streisand, Dolly Parton, Ethel Merman, Dionne Warwicke, Shirley Temple and Diana Ross well as Lionel Barrymore and my seventh grade math teacher. While this can be seen as poking fun at people, I can only do impressions of people I love.

I have a left-right learning disability that makes travelling with me an adventure that is not for the squeamish. "Turn left, right, right, I meant right!" (Swerve!) (Another good excuse for not driving!)

Now that you've learned a bit more about me, you might enjoy visiting the blogs of these five friends and colleagues:

Annie Newman: The often hilarious as well as thoughtful "Annie's Day" blog features, by her own account, "Life, as played by a middle-aged woman with a vivid imagination."

Jody, whose guru-busting blog Guruphiliac will disillusion you in betweem guffaws.

Dawud Miracle, who blogs about marketing, customer service and the integration of life and work on his website. (He's my miraculous web designer and that's his real name.)

Jamie Reynolds is just following the Simple Directions.

Lisa Biskup: "Thoughts appear—and I put them here."

You may also like to subscribe to my newsletter, Transformational Inquiry, in which I tell on myself quite often, while tying my experience to the process of The Work of Byron Katie.

©2006 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

December 8, 2006

Should I Quit My Day Job?

by Carol L. Skolnick

"Do what you love, the money will follow" is a theme that comes up a lot in "right livelihood" circles. We almost never hear "Do what you must do AND do what you love." Instead, we demand that money come primarily or exclusively from what we love. This—like other beliefs characteristic of the "manifestation" mindset—can be a set-up for disappointment. "I must only work at what I love" is a symptom of a closed, unexamined mind. It doesn't allow us to be content doing what we do...and it doesn't allow reality to guide us to the perfect work.

The day job I'd had since 1993 didn't "quit" me until 2006, although my freelance copywriting business had virtually died by 2001. For six years, I still called myself a copywriter (who did this other "coachy-kinda-thing" on the side), even though I wasn't writing much copy...nor was my heart into re-building my business.

Trying to stay in the creative services business was a struggle. I was invested in being a free agent and didn't want to go back to a 9-to-5 office job. However, I wasn't getting juicy, lucrative assignments from places like National Geographic and Doubleday Book Clubs anymore. I loved facilitating The Work more than anything but with a mortgage to pay, a medical condition and no spouse-with-a-job, it didn't feel like the right time to reinvent myself.

Finally I took a temporary position at a large company in crisis. Ironically, the temp job was my ticket out of copywriting, but not for the obvious reasons.

The company that hired me was experiencing their umpteenth reorganization in ten years. Nearly everyone there (except the new crop of powerful, well-paid top executives) seemed depressed. When I arrived (the result of a firing), longtime employees were being demoted as new people and pricey consultants came in over them. The "old-timers" were resentful and dared not speak up because they were getting older and wanted to keep their pensions (which had already declined in value due to a new investment plan). Department heads reduced to middle managers were trying to assert themselves and, in the process, alienating their direct reports. With so many new chiefs, lower-level workers were downsized and the remaining ones had to absorb the workload with no pay increases. Some of the temporary staff were invited to come on board full time at low salaries. Not surprisingly, none of us bit.

Stressful, demanding and low-paying, this job was not one I would have taken or stayed in if I didn't know how to question what I believe. However, it bought me some time to figure out what I wanted to do...and it afforded me an unexpected bonus.

I had been facilitating The Work after hours and on weekends for several years, often with clients who had work-related issues. The office became my inquiry lab; as an employee, I was in the perfect position to collect data as both scientist and test subject. How do I react in stressful work situations? How do I treat the people I work with and for? How do I treat myself when I think the work is boring, that my boss should be different, that the employees have victim mentality, that upper management doesn't care? What am I avoiding, assuming, projecting? Who would I be without my story?

As I applied The Work to my "insane" work life, I became better at handling the demands of the job and the reality of the workplace. In addition, I became better equipped to work with others experiencing stressful employment situations. This was facilitator's training at its best.

Not surprisingly, soon after I started the job, reality shifted. I received requests to go to Latin America to give workshops...and because I was "only a temp," I could take time off to do it. I got phone calls and emails saying, "I just read Byron Katie's book and I heard about your workshops. How much would you charge to work with me privately?" Clients and others who knew of my work began referring their friends and colleagues...which was the very same way that my freelance copywriting business began, years earlier.

If I love The Work and I don't make a living from it, it doesn't mean I don't get to do The Work. It might mean that I flip burgers at the fast food emporium with the consciousness of one who does The Work. It might mean that I become a wonderful burger-flipper because I have learned to love flipping burgers...even though I don't eat beef. They promote me to supervisor and I use The Work to manage disgruntled or untalented burger-flippers...and to manage myself managing them. With a clear mind, my creativity naturally emerges. I design a more efficient process for flipping burgers and get promoted to the front office of Burger Flippers International. I write a bestseller about my days as a burger flipper, it gets optioned for a blockbuster film, I consult on the screenplay and my day job quits me. What if I'd believed flipping burgers was beneath me and that I should only do what I loved?

This doesn't mean you have to stay at a job you don't love. If it doesn't in any way serve you to stay, why would you? (And you may want to inquire into that unless you are stress-lessly certain the job has no value for you.). It also doesn't mean you'll get to live your dream of being a full-time sportscaster right away (or ever)...but what you might learn hawking popcorn in the stadium stands could bring you riches you'd never receive all alone in the announcer's booth.

Deepening Transformational Inquiry: How it Would Look

1. Imagine applying your "do what you love" skills to the work you are doing now. Examples:

*How would a relationship coach working as an HR administrator help employees who are experiencing fear and resentment about a takeover?

*How would a television actor working as a waiter handle a cranky customer?

*How would a Reiki master working as an executive assistant approach a stack of correspondence and a deadline crunch?

*How would a shaman run an ad agency? (Here's one who does!)

*How would an ad agency executive driving a taxi face traffic with a carful of anxious passengers in a hurry?

2. Inquire: "I'd be much happier/much better off if my day job were also my passion." Can you absolutely know that it's true?

©2006 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

Carol's new eBook, Transformational Inquiry: Working on Your Work, will be released early in 2007. Preorder your copy here.

December 7, 2006

The Rocky, Horrific Picture Show

by Carol L. Skolnick

One of the subquestions of The Work of Byron Katie is, "What pictures,
if any, come to mind when you think that thought?" Sometimes when I ask
that question, I get a funny reaction from my clients. "Pictures?!?!!"

Actually it's a really good question. We all know about running "tapes"
in our minds (although soon that term is going to be as extinct as the
dinosaur. There are audiophiles alive today who have never even laid
eyes on a cassette tape or a reel-to-reel.) Many of us also run films (or
insert your favorite and more up-to-date visual media here).

Think about it. Your partner says or does something that irks you. If
you don't inquire into your thoughts about what he or she said or did,
doesn't your mind revisit past irksome episodes? That's how we come to
form core beliefs like "She never misses an opportunity to criticize me"
or "Men always leave the seat up."

What about self-judgments? You hear the internal tape-loop of thoughts
like "I'm not good enough." When that happens, do you flash on specific
incidents of feeling that way? Last one picked for the school
volleyball team? Stammering repeatedly during your big presentation? Beloved
leaves you for someone else?

Sitting with the images of your past that come to mind when you attach
to a belief is a most effective way to deepen Transformational Inquiry.
Let the movie of your life be your guide to other subquestions, such as
"How have you lived your life because you've believed that thought?"
"Is this where addictions kick in and you reach for food, alcohol, credit
cards, the TV remote?" "Where does your mind travel when you think that
thought?" "Does this thought bring peace or stress into your life?"

"Work of the eyes is done,
now go and do heart work on
all the images imprisoned within you."

—Rainer Maria Rilke

Deepening Transformational Inquiry: The Horror Show of the Future

Let's look at a stressful thought about someone in your life who upsets
you. "Always" and "never" thoughts are great ones for this exercise.

If you have children, you might relate to this one: "My son/daughter
never listens."

If you've ever had this thought about your child, probably you can
concoct an image very quickly of your offspring preoccupied with a game or
with internet chat when you've told them three times to come to the
dinner table or to go to bed.

Now put this thought into the future; what pictures do you see when you
think of your child years from now and you hold the belief "He/she
doesn't listen"? What do you fear will happen to your child?

Child rolling eyes as you lecture them about how they need to pay
High school dropout?
Unresponsive spouse whose wife/husband/partner leaves him/her in short
Clueless parent?
Total failure?

What do you assume will happen to you if you didn't believe this
thought? Watch the images:

Screaming yourself hoarse for years until the kid grows up and leaves
Called into school for conferences with disapproving teachers.
Old and alone and begging your child for assistance...and your pleas
fall on deaf ears?
The "coulda/shoulda/woulda" scenarios of what an ineffective parent
you've been all these years and how you might have done it differently?

Are you enjoying these movies?

If not, what do you get for holding this belief? Can you see a reason
to drop it?

Turn the thought around: "My son/daughter always listens."

In what ways is that turnaround as true or truer? What pictures come to
mind when you see, perhaps for the first time, the listening, attentive
child in your life?

©2006 Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

December 5, 2006

The 20-minute Test

by Carol L. Skolnick

Why do we believe what we think? Often it's reflexive; we've just always felt this way. We don't question it. However, there are times when we believe something that might be worth looking into...such as those things which we procrastinate about or want to avoid. Why haven't we taken care of that? The stock response: "Because I don't feel like it."

If "I don't feel like it" feels stressful, there's a clue that it's not true. You do feel like it because you think you ought to be doing it.

Lately I've been applying something called "the 20-minute test" to The Work. The test was created by a life coach named Bruce Elkin, author of Simplicity and Success: Creating the Life You Long For [Trafford, 2003].

I have a gym membership and sometimes when I say "I don't want to go to the gym," I am lying. I do want to go; I joined the gym because I understood it was good for me. I truly enjoy doing things that are good for me and besides, it has a swimming pool and I love to swim. Staying at home in the moment to rest, work or catch up on my phone messages sometimes seems better and more important than sweating for two hours plus a half-hour of travel time round-trip.

In truth, it's fine not to go to the gym as long as it's fine with me. When it's really fine with me, I feel great. If not, I know I'm attaching to an untrue belief. In this instance, is definitely worth taking 20 minutes to "ask me" if I can save myself from 24 hours of self-flagellation for not going...even if it means deducting 20 minutes deducted from my time at the gym or from my time working on the Great American eBook.

"I don't feel like vacuuming the rug now." "I don't feel like sending out my e-zine." "I don't feel like making love." While it's true that I don't have to do any of these things ever again in my life, it has served me to ask myself if it's true that I don't I feel like doing them now. What are the underlying beliefs? I find that if I take just 20 minutes to find out, the answers are often very juicy. After inquiry, it could mean I get to have a clean floor, an e-zine (I took the 20-minute test today!), or a happy partner. If not, at least I'm very clear about my decision.

Here's a good one, one of my favorites: "I have nothing to write about." I've used that one, not only when I have a writing deadline, but also when I think I don't want to write out The Work. My reasoning: "Nothing's bothering me."

Is this one of yours? It may be true that nothing is bothering you right now and if so, bravo. You can always go back to the place in your life where something was bothersome. If there's any residue left there, don't you want to clean it up?

In fact, it's actually easier and very desirable to do The Work when there is no extreme stress in the moment. (I'll cover this in more detail in a future newsletter.) The great thing about self-awareness is that it compounds, like interest. If you can do 20 minutes of inquiry now, you may find you have a reserve of sanity for a "rainy day."

What a great deal: 20 minutes of your time here and there in exchange for a happier life and a clearer head.

Deepening Transformational Inquiry: Take the 20-minute Test

I like to put off doing things because "the weather's lousy." The other day I did not bring my water bottles to the store to refill then because it was cold out. Today it is a sunny day. What great excuse will I come up with this time?

"I don't feel like taking the bottles to the store." Is that true? Yeah!

Absolutely? Well, no. I'm running out of purified water, I'd rather not drink or cook with tap water, the empties are lined up by the door and it looks messy. So I really do want to go to the store. I just wish my triceps didn't hurt from working out yesterday, that I didn't promise myself I'd set up the new TV today, that my client had kept her original appointment, that there were more hours in the day, blah blah blah.... Okay, there goes the mind, which I steer gently back to inquiry. How do I live my life when I believe the thought that I don't want to go to the store...and I want water?

The bottom line is, I don't have to go to the store—and I'm going to. I do feel like it, because I want a neat kitchen and a well-stocked supply of water more than I want to avoid what I'm avoiding.

©2006 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.