July 25, 2006

Goldilocks, the Two Bears and the Master of Nonduality

Once upon a time there were three bears...

A Papa bear...
A Mama bear...
And a bear with Beginner's Mind.

The three bears apparently sat down to have breakfast one morning. Papa Bear declared, "My chair is too hard."

Mama Bear sat in her seat and complained, "My chair is too soft."

And the open-minded little Baby Bear who attached to no such concepts as "too hard" or "too soft," happily pronounced his little chair to be "just right."

The bears shifted their attention (for that is what mind does) to the bowls of cooked cereal that lay before them.

Papa Bear declared, "My porridge is too hot!"

Mama Bear tried hers. "My porridge is too cold!"

Baby Bear, whose understanding was prior to the world of opposites which is the world of suffering, had no such polarity of mind. "My porridge is just right," he said, totally loving what is.

Stunned by that koan, the ursine elders stopped eating and their attention moved to taking a walk. Imprisoned in the "I-Know" mind, they hoped that when they returned, things would be more to their liking. And Little Bear ambled along behind them, in flow, completely in the Now.

While they were gone, life happened, as it is wont to do. Goldilocks, who was making her way through the dense forest of her beliefs, had the stressful thought that she was tired and hungry, and attaching to that thought, she compromised her integrity by breaking and entering the bears' home. Her belief in "fatigue" led her to the bears' chairs. She found Papa Bear's chair to be too hard, and Mama Bear's chair to be too soft. Mind's job is to be right, and Goldilocks did not know how to question what she believed. Had she done so, she might have realized she was not tired at all, since a truly tired person would have gratefully sunken into any chair. Alas, she who knows, knows not. So the unknowning Goldilocks, who "knew" that Baby Bear's chair was the one for her, sat in it and broke it.

Suddenly forgetting all about her fatigue, her thoughts turned to food. Rather than welcoming and feeling the sensation of hunger or investigating the thought prior to the feeling, she un-mindfully tucked into Papa Bear's porridge. As she did so, she felt her mouth on fire and, like Papa Bear before her, christened the cereal "too hot." The whole world might agree, and yet she did not ask herself if it were true; thus, she suffered.

Goldilocks moved to Mama Bear's porridge, which she found to be too cold. So many conditions! Was she hungry or not? No matter, for Goldilocks was at war with reality, convinced that there was something better than This Now. Holding that belief, she polished off Little Bear's "just right" porridge and called it wisdom.

Sated (for the moment, because the feeling of fullness would soon pass and the wheel of samsara would spin once more), Goldilocks remembered that she believed she was tired and she moved to the bears' bedroom. She found Papa Bear's bed to be too hard (was she tired or not?), and Mama Bear's bed to be too soft (too soft to support her body? Too soft to be a bed? Too soft in this moment? Nothing exists that is not Shiva, except for this bed???). The last stop was Baby Bear's little bed, and the I-Know mind, needing proof and running out of alternatives, deemed it "just right." Soon Goldilocks, already asleep, was asleep in a different way, dreaming a different kind of dream but no less of a dream than the waking one.

Soon afterwards, the Bear Family returned to their ransacked home. Papa Bear growled, "Someone's been sitting in my chair." Could he absolutely know this was true? It wasn't the way he remembered having left it, and mind is an unreliable narrator. On borrowed interest, Mama Bear said, "Someone's been sitting in my chair!" This brought her the strange satisfaction of agreement, which only serves to validate the ego...until the first argument, that is. Then the story changes to "My husband doesn't understand me," "I want a divorce," and "Who keeps the house?"

Baby Bear, noticing his broken chair, exclaimed, "Somebody's been sitting in my chair (true enough, for he had sat in it himself just prior to leaving their home), and it's broken!" (Which it was, in the sense of relative reality where things are said to be broken or whole.)

Then Papa Bear looked into his bowl of porridge. "Somebody has been eating my porridge," he roared. ("Who is it who has been eating what?" He neglected to ask himself, in all innocence. We all would ask these questions if only we knew how.) An adherent of Bear Lore, Mama Bear repeated his mantra, "Somebody has been eating my porridge!" Baby Bear, seeing that his bowl was empty, had no proof that his portion of porridge had in fact been eaten all up or that it had ever existed in the first place. However, out of kindness, he spoke as if he too believed in the illusion, because true Love joins with its mirror image. Between "porridge" and "not porridge," Baby Bear's life flowed peacefully. It was not for him to push others beyond their evolution.

Not so with his parents. They proceeded to the bedroom, still wanting to be right. Papa Bear, noticing his quilt was askew, accused someone of having slept in his bed, though in fact no one had; Goldilocks had only tested it out and found it lacking. Mama Bear, too, was taken in by the world of appearance and exclaimed, "Someone's been sleeping in MY bed!"

The little Baby Bear, fully awake, said, "Someone's been sleeping in my bed (the sleep of the one who lives in the dream) and here she is!" The wise little bear had no problem with there being someone in his bed; he was simply making an observation. What is, is. And in fact there she was, the Someone in that bed, in that moment...but only in that moment for in the next moment she took off like a shot, frightened out of her wits because she believed her thoughts about bears. ("Bears are dangerous;" meanwhile she was the intruder, the thief, the destroyer of chairs.)

Goldilocks told the story of her "narrow escape" far and wide, and that story has been told over and again ever since as if it really happened as she perceived it. In that way she created her reality as a victim, in danger, who emerged victorious as a hero. And the bears? We could say they carried on with their lives, but since no one observed them and came back to tell us, that would be just another fairy tale.

©2006 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved. (Is that true?)

July 1, 2006

Relationship Troubles? "You're Just Not That Into You!"

(Note: This book review is over a year old and was never published. I put it here to encourage you to read Byron Katie's unsung second book. Very different stylistically from Loving What Is,it is nonetheless extremely powerful. I found myself on every page and could hardly talk to anyone for a couple of weeks, so aware was I of dishonesty and manipulation in my actions and communications, romantic and otherwise. —CS)

I Need Your Love—Is That True?
How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation
and Start Finding Them Instead

by Byron Katie
written with Michael Katz
Harmony Books, April 2005 , 288 pages, $24.00

While reading Byron Katie's new book, I was reminded of a Hindu teaching story about a monk who yearned for a vision of the Divine Mother. For many years he prayed, worshiped and performed so many austerities that he became self-realized and forgot about his quest. It was only then that the deity finally revealed herself to the monk, who regarded this miracle with the same peaceful equanimity in which he had been living for some time. Already merged in her supreme love, he no longer needed to see the Goddess' form. Why, then, did she wait so long to appear? She didn't; she was always there. Until the monk came to know his own divine nature, he was unable to see her.

Similarly, in the provocatively titled I Need Your Love—Is That True?—a book of revelations cleverly disguised as a relationship guide—Byron Katie writes: "Without the stressful thoughts that separate us from one another, there is only one mind, and it's everywhere. Bodies can't be connected....There's no point in trying, because you're already connected. You can only connect with yourself and find that out."

Not too many relationship experts will ask you to question the very existence of your partner; it's not the kind of strategy that sells self-help books. But in a sense, that's exactly what Byron Katie, author of the best-seller Loving What Is, proposes in her latest offering. And why not? If the endless proliferation of psycho-spiritual guides is any indication, no one else has succeeded in providing us with a proven formula for having a happy life and finding the perfect partner. Furthermore, Katie is famous for saying that she doesn't have the answers at all, just the questions. Therein lies the difference: self-realization—emphasis on "self"—is a much easier way of relating to others than manipulation, people-pleasing or isolation.

In fact, we don't relate to people, Byron Katie tells us, but to our thoughts about them...and it is our thoughts with which we manipulate ourselves when we try to impress, attract, seduce and control. With Katie's simple process of self-inquiry, called The Work, we question what we believe about others in order to get what we have always wanted...from ourselves.

"My mother didn't love me." "My girlfriend shouldn't leave me." "My husband wants too much sex." Thoughts like these depress us and keep us jumping through hoops to please others; we end up making war, not love when we don't get the desired results. Ironically, Katie points out, the struggle to win people over (or to bend them to our will) makes it nearly impossible to experience the love and support we most want, not just in romance but all relationships—familial, convivial and professional.

Katie's first book, Loving What Is (Harmony Books 2002) is an eye-opening guide to self-knowledge through The Work, a sequence of four simple life-changing questions followed by a thought-reversal technique called a "turnaround." (The Work is so simple, in fact, that our complexity-loving minds find it easy to dismiss.) I Need Your Love–Is That True? stands on the shoulders of Loving What Is by applying Katie's self-inquiry technique to the stress-inducing beliefs we hold dear about the people to whom we are closest. Through real-life examples of people doing inquiry on their objections about their loved ones, Katie shows us how we live when we dwell in a world of unfulfilled needs, wants and shoulds...while pointing us towards a way out of that hell.

For the willing, using Katie's process can rock your world...but even just reading her pronouncements can stop the mind dead in its "I know" tracks. Katie has a way of sneaking in the Great Truths of the Ages when speaking of the most mundane things, such as whether or not husbands and children should pick up their socks. If you read I Need Your Love with an open mind—whether or not you do The Work or play with the easy and enjoyable exercises sprinkled throughout the book—you may find yourself questioning everything you've ever said, every move you've ever made to secure love, approval and appreciation from lovers and other strangers.

That's one of those Great Truths that are so easy to miss when we're focused on the socks on the floor (or on money, sex, or your favorite "need-want-should"): our loved ones are strangers. They have to be, because they are our projection in the moment, and the projection changes based on whether or not we are pleased with it. On every page of I Need Your Love, Katie demonstrates how questioning our most stressful projections (we get to keep the peaceful ones) results in knowing our partners (and ourselves) as we never have nor could before. (Think of the Goddess vision.)

If this sounds like spiritual woo-woo, the proof is in the process and its founder. I Need Your Love—Is That True? is based on Katie's own experience—and that of hundreds of thousands of people who use The Work—of meeting thoughts with understanding. Katie's life story, briefly recounted in the book's introduction, is compelling: marriage and family life, successful business, all's well...followed by many years of crippling bed-ridden depression, addictions, agoraphobia, rage, paranoia, hitting bottom and then a depth-charge when Katie realized she no longer had to attach to every dictate and opinion of the mind...that finding one's own truth is the end of suffering. Katie's "moment of clarity" as she calls it sounds a lot like the Buddha's awakening, but it happened in a Mojave desert backwater to a woman with no religion, teacher or interest in psychology...in the midst of a familiar-sounding American life story. And, as Katie experienced, your teacher is the one you're living with. That s/he doesn't give you love, approval and appreciation is part of the divine teaching. "People go to India to find a guru," Katie says, "but you don't have to....Your partner will give you everything you need for your own freedom."

"What could anyone call me that I couldn't find at some time in my life? If you say one single thing that I have the urge to defend, that thing is the very pearl waiting inside me to be discovered."

Katie's Work is a surgery and in I Need Your Love—Is That True? she dispenses with the anesthesia and wastes no time in asking us, "Do you believe everything you think?" As anyone who has ever lain awake at night knows, we don't even think our own thoughts; they're rather like the CNN ticker, always going, ever-changing, about the lover, the wife's lover, the boss, George W. Bush, Uncle Bill. Believing our thoughts may give us the illusion of being right, but at what price? And while the mind loves to be right, it also loves to be understood. This is why Katie's written inquiry method (visit www.thework.com online for a complete overview)—in which you privately sound off on your partner, on paper, in order to learn about yourself—can change your life if you let it, but it is not for the squeamish. It is for those who are ready to know the truth.

What is the worst that could happen if you follow Katie's lead? "Won't I become complacent?" you may ask, or "What if my partner leaves?" One of the remarkable things about I Need Your Love is the way Katie addresses every possible objection to merciless mental investigation, honest communication and living authentically in relationship. In one of the more radical passages, she says:

I can close my eyes and see my husband in the arms of a woman loving him, and I want that if it's what he wants, and I also see my life without him and how full that would be. I always have an abundance of love in my life. Everyone does. There is never a shortage and never too much.

Sometimes Katie asks us to do what seems unimaginable...for example, to picture how life might actually be better if our children died. "Be a traitor to misery," she says. "There's nothing macabre about this. The point is to break the grip of a fearful belief." We make pronouncements all the time about how we cannot go on...how we can't take anymore...and when we believe this, it becomes our reality. "Is that true?" Katie asks, inviting us to get very literal and realistic. "Are you still breathing?"

As for criticism, Katie says, it's a gift...and if it hurts, they're right. "What could anyone call me that I couldn't find at some time in my life?" she asks. "If you say one single thing that I have the urge to defend, that thing is the very pearl waiting inside me to be discovered."

However, Katie never condones staying in an unhappy or abusive union; she simply suggests ending it as a sane person. "Whether you stay in or leave a relationship, there are always two ways to do it," Katie writes. "One way is in peace, with love; the other is at war, with anger and blame." Which do you prefer?

Simply put, I Need Your Love—Is That True? is for people who don't follow The Rules, don't live on Mars or Venus and who prefer being themselves to using sales techniques for winning friends and influencing people. Katie's Work takes the drama and mystery out of living happily on a planet populated with apparent others; it results in a kinder, gentler way to exist, sans neediness and insecurity, deception-free. In the end, as the fabled monk discovered, mature and authentic relating is all about you, and that doesn't mean that your God or Goddess won't come. "When you have that sweet relationship with yourself," Katie tells us, "your partner is an added pleasure. It's over-the-top grace."

©2005 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.