December 25, 2007

Why Am I Not Surprised?

Of course I can't really know that this is true, but what the heck. Purple is my favorite color. I love what this quiz purports to say about me. Try it, it's fun!

Your Aura is Violet

Idealistic and thoughtful, you have the mind and ideas to change the world.

And you have the charisma of a great leader, even if you don't always use it!

The purpose of your life: saying truths that other people dare not say

Famous purples include: Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Susan B. Anthony

Careers for you to try: Political Activist, Inventor, Life Coach

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

December 24, 2007

Carol's Apartment Roasting on an Open Fire (not really!)

Well, last Friday night, I found out the hard way that my fireplace works.

After several hours of donating to charities online, I noticed I was chilly and that it would be lovely to have a warm fire in the fireplace. It was my first time using it, after I'd ascertained from my landlady that it was indeed wood-burning even though it has a (disabled) gas starter. So...

I built a beautiful pyramid of logs, newspaper, and fire-starter chips...

Opened the flue (or so I thought...turns out it had been opened ever since I moved into the place)...

Lit the wood...

And smoke proceeded to pour out of the fireplace and up to the ceiling. (First belief: I should have known better!)

Then I went about doing several things wrong and a couple of things right:

1. Opened all the windows and doors (you're supposed to contain fire and smoke; now I know.)

2. Called the fire department.

3. Grabbed my handbag and got out.

4. Asked the firefighters sitting in the truck on one end of the condo complex (we have two entrances) why the hell no one was in my apartment yet. (They said someone was already there, and of course they weren't or I wouldn't have been out there.)

5. Went back to my front door and waited for the firefighters who soon entered from the other side of the complex...and urged them to hurry, which they weren't doing. (Second belief: firefighters should move quickly.)

6. Wondered why four or five firefighters were standing around studying the damn thing instead of putting it out immediately with the fire extinguisher they'd brought—and said so—therefore not trusting that firefighters know how to deal with fires. (Third belief: they're not helping.)

7. Watched helplessly as the wall above the fireplace started to turn black. (Fourth belief: my landlady will kill me.)

9. Had thoughts of the whole building burning down because of me. (Luckily it was clear that I couldn't know this was true.)

10. Thanks firefighters profusely for closing all doors and windows, discovering closed flue, opening it, checking on neighbors' apartments, remaining calm and professional, and telling me that everything was working well—the smoke alarms did what they were supposed to do, the sheetrock (which is apparently flame-resistent) did its job, the fireplace was working great, and that there was no reason to put out the fire in it because it was burning nicely and no further harm would be done.

11. Vowed never to light fire alone again, even though gracious firefighters said there was no reason I coudn't or shouldn't. (They're right, and I have some work to do on this.)

12. Tried to clean scorched wall and ceiling with mop. If this happens to you, don't do this; I spread the sooty stuff around further and made a mess. Sand the black stuff off first, then clean what's left. (Oh well.)

13. Re-opened all windows and doors (again, not a good idea; I got a smokey office for my trouble).

14. Cleaned up all smoke residue elsewhere, which was, amazingly, minimal.

15. Counted my blessings a thousand times over.

16. Primed burnt wall the next afternoon, all by myself, and, seeing as I usually see myself as so inept, am feeling extremely proud of this and happy to have blown that story.

17. Went about my life without further drama.

What is interesting to me is that while all this was happening, the worst of it was a bunch of scary thoughts, and I knew it, even when I was getting in the firefighters' business. It's just so ingrained to say and do certain things...and I watched myself do it, and at the same time, I could see everything was being handled and that I was fine. I even saw how, if the apartment had sustained real damage, and uninsured, underemployed moi would be responsible for it all, that would have been fine too; in reality, I have never emerged from anything unscathed, and I've had some interesting experiences, especially in the last decade.

I'm about to turn 50. In my 40th year, I lost my mother, and shortly afterwards, when my immune system crashed, I lost my health; in the years that ensued, I lost my business, my home, and a relationship that I thought was "the one." While I still lived there, just a couple of miles down the road from Ground Zero, my hometown lost nearly 3,000 people and the Twin Towers in the terror attack of 9-11, and we lost our innocence as a least I hope so.

A scant decade ago, this little smoke incident would have derailed me; one more thing to prove that my life sucked.

Ah, 2007. I experienced an earthquake and a fire, and there's no harm done; I am blessed. Would I be any less blessed if these had resulted in major loss? I can't know. I know now that nothing terrible has ever happened to me.

I have gained so very much too; the independence I sorely wanted...a new home state, which I adore...much of my health...The Work. My old best pal from high school came back into my life, and I can't count how many new friends I've made. I went back to doing improv and acting after many years. I have written prolifically, and been published some. I've got a new career which is the best of the best. And there's more, too much more for this small space.

Happiness is at hand.

And how was your year?

Merry happies to all, and to all, an open flue.

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

December 20, 2007

From the "Wish I'd Written That" Archive: How to Drive Yourself Crazy

Anyone know the author of this?
Anyone know why we don't all live the opposite of this, all the time? :)

How to Drive Yourself Crazy

These thoughts provide an entertaining twist on the stress management and positive thinking literature encountered so often these days. Looking at suggestions from an opposite angle often gives them new meaning!

* Save your major worries until mid-night, then start in with some heavy thinking. Suggested topics include old age; losing your job; the mistake you made at work last week that they haven't discovered yet; and that serious wart you've had for five years. You can work up to a good panic by 1:00 a.m.

* Keep an inventory of your faults. Ignore all your strengths; focus only on your bad points. Try to select friends who will remind you of them. If you don't have such friends, you probably have some relatives who can point out your weaknesses.

* Set unreasonable goals. No matter how much money you're earning, remember that there are always others doing better. Try to name three of them, preferably younger (and better looking) than you are. Think how others could do a better job than you.

* When your kids screw up, don't accept it as normal. Regard it as the first sign of impending moral decay, delinquency and a wasted life. Imagine them as shiftless bums at age 30, scrounging off of you.

* Put off everything until the last minute. In this way you can create a sense of frenzy and chronic stress, no matter how much time you had in the first place.

* To create enhanced stress, try to sleep as little as possible. Eat junk food, drink a lot of coffee and never, ever exercise.

* Don't let others know how you feel or what you want. You shouldn't have to tell them. They should be able to read your mind. If you can do this, you stand a good chance of feeling really deprived.

* Don't trust anyone. Struggle with problems. If you feel the urge to confide in someone who seems to care, remind yourself that people are basically no good and looking out only for themselves.

* Never take a vacation or rest. It's a luxury you can't afford, especially if you are working up to a fine state of exhaustion.

* Above all, never seek help. No matter how serious the problem, convince yourself that asking for help is a sign of weakness, and that you can always tough it out alone.

* If you follow this program, you have a good chance of feeling really rotten in no time at all. Good luck!

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

December 16, 2007

Focus on Facilitation: The Subtle Seasoning of Sub-questions

At the School for The Work, facilitators-in-training are not introduced to sub-questions (questions that deepen the experience of answering the basic four questions) until about midway through the nine days. Especially as new facilitators, we're encouraged to trust in the "basic four," and to use sub-questions when the client needs a little help in reaching within themselves.

Sub-questions are also extremely useful when self-facilitating our own beliefs in writing. You can see these on the One-Belief-at-a-Time worksheet, available for download here.

The following sub-questions are additions to and variations of the ones that Katie and others have provided over the years. Experienced facilitators may find them useful, particularly with "difficult" clients. I also like to ask them of myself; try them first with your own written work, and see how they feel to you.

I love the elegant simplicity of the four questions. Do not use these, or any sub-questions, if they seem to complicate the process for you or your client. The idea is not "whoever uses the most sub-questions wins." Eventually, as a facilitator, you will have an instinct about when to use sub-questions, and which ones to use. I encourage you not to over-salt the Work soup: add sparingly, to taste, only when appropriate. Listen deeply to your clients and notice when you want to manipulate their answers...or impress them with your vast knowledge of Work tricks (speaking from experience).

Questions One and Two:
*(Thanks to Celeste Gabriele for this one) "Before we begin, I invite you to answer these questions as if you've never done The Work before." (Not a sub-question, but a great way to prepare one's mind and hold the space for an honest and clean investigation.)

Question Three:

*What assumptions are you making when you believe this thought?
*What are you avoiding when you believe this thought? ("What are you avoiding?" is a question my former therapist used to ask me, cheekily, when I was being entertaining during our sessions...bless his heart!)
*How has it served you to believe this thought? And how is that working for you now? (Thanks for the inspiration, Dr. Phil!)

Question Four:
*For self-judgments: If you were meeting yourself for the first time, how would you see yourself without this belief? Look at yourself without a story, as if looking at someone about whom you have no prior knowledge or history.
*If this person where not who you say s/he is, how would you respond to her/him now? (In other words, there is no prior "evidence" with these person, there are no labels or diagnoses; there's just a human being in front of you.)
*Who were you prior to this thought? Go back to a time before the belief ever occurred to you.
*Without the thought, do you feel more peaceful? If not, can you identify what still feels stressful?

For the turnaround to the opposite (paraphrasing Katie): If this terrible person or thing, appearing in your life as it is, puts you on your perfect path to self-realization, would you still want it to be different? (This may also be used along with Question Two if the answer to Question One is "yes.")

If you have any "signature sub-question seasonings" in the spirit of The Work (in other words, without mixing modalities), feel free to share them in the "Manifestations of Mind" comments.

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

December 11, 2007

A Perfect Universe: The Tao of Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

When I was a teenager, nearly every sensitive kid I knew had a parchment paper poster of the poem Desiderata up on their bedroom wall. Max Ehrmann's writings spoke to me then, as now, even though I didn't begin to understand most of it. (Glimpses are good.)

Recently I was invited to write a piece about the 19th verse of Desiderata, which for me is the essence of what The Work, the Tao Te Ching, and my entire spiritual path. I am reproducing it here for those who have not seen it on my friend Bob's very fine blog, Every, Every Minute.


A Perfect Universe: The Tao of Desiderata
by Carol L. Skolnick

"And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should"
—From Desiderata

"Open yourself to the Tao,
then trust your natural responses;
and everything will fall into place."
—Tao Te Ching, Verse 23

Albert Einstein is said to have told a reporter, "I think the most important question facing humanity is, 'Is the universe a friendly place?' This is the first and most basic question all people must answer for themselves."

Einstein likely felt this question was so important because he knew that to believe in an unfriendly universe is to be at war with it. Einstein was all about understanding and working with, not against, what is.

The literature of spiritual wisdom from time immemorial points to this peaceful viewpoint as well, perhaps most significantly, the classic Chinese text, Tao Te Ching ("The Way") of Lao-Tzu, said to be a sixth-century contemporary of Confucius. In the 1920s, Max Ehrmann, a poet and lawyer from Terre Haute, Indiana, wrote the prose poem Desiderata, which was rediscovered and popularized by anti-war activists in the 1960s. The line, "no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should" crystalizes the message of Desiderata and is an echo of the Tao's wisdom. It is a reminder that we live in a perfect world, as long as we do not dwell in what Erhmann calls our "dark imaginings."

More recently, my mentor Byron Katie has expounded on the real-life application of this simple wisdom in her book, A Thousand Names for Joy: Living in Harmony with The Way Things Are. In this book, the Tao and "the Now" are translated into "the How." "The universe is perfect" is a concept until and unless it is experienced. The good news is that it can indeed be experienced, by questioning the "dark imaginings" that, believed, give rise to suffering.

In A Thousand Names for Joy, Katie writes:

"The burglars have taken my money, my jewelry, the television, the stereo, my CD collection, appliances, computers; they've left just the furniture and some clothing. The house has a clean Zen look. I go through the rooms and see that this possession is gone, that one is gone. There's no sense of loss or violation. On the contrary, I picture the recipients and feel what joy these items will bring them.... My gratitude comes from the obvious lack of need for each item. How do I know I don't need it? It's gone. Why is my life better without it? That's easy: my life is simpler now. The items now belong to the burglars, they obviously needed the items more than I did; that's how the universe works.... I find it odd that the way of the world is to try to retrieve what is no longer ours, and yet I understand it. Filling out the police report is also the way of it. If the items are found, I'm ready to welcome them back. And because they are never found, I understand that the shift in ownership is the best thing for the world, for me, and for the burglars."

Whatever happens—whether it is a birth or a death...war or peace...that ship finally coming in, or a business in ruins...a life lived with a soul mate, or in solitude—we can know that the universe is unfolding as it should because it is unfolding as it does; what is, is. When we believe that the universe is not unfolding as it should, we are arguing with God, reality, what is...and this does not make for a happy life.

This doesn't mean we sit back and do nothing; Ehrmann's message to "go placidly" is not at odds with being proactive and productive in our personal lives, or with social justice. It is not about being aloof, or a victim. It is, like the Tao Te Ching, an invitation to expand our awareness, to strive for clarity within, to open our eyes to the natural flow of things, to see reality in between and beyond the pairs of opposites, and to become the Taoist Master who lives in perfect harmony with a perfect world.

"There's no mistake in the universe.
It's not possible to have the concept 'mistake' unless you're comparing what is with what isn't.
WIthout the story in your mind, it's all perfect."
—Byron Katie, A Thousand Names for Joy

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

November 29, 2007

When We Change Our Thoughts, Our Memories Change

Last week, I stayed with friends over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and found myself reminiscing about my parents a lot, telling uplifting and funny stories about our lives together. My friends found this remarkable; they have known me for years and never heard me say so many nice things about my mother and father. (I haven't heard me do that very much either!)

Apparently, in recent years, there has been a shift in the way I remember life events. In the past, the sad stories crowded out the happy ones. I knew I had an unhappy childhood, that nobody loved me, that there was something wrong with me, that my parents did everything wrong, and that I was scarred for life by broken romances, physical problems, nasty bosses, cult brainwashing, emotional and sexual abuse, the 9-11 terror attacks. These days, I remember a lot more of the "happy dreams" much so that, when I'm reminded of my former ways of being and thinking, it's as if I'm experiencing my life as a movie I once saw, or a book I once read, in which there was a character I no longer recognize as myself. There's no denial in it; it's just that I don't see a problem. You could call it "post-traumatic peace order." And that's amazing, because for about 30 years, I was a poster child for PTSD.

Why are upsetting events generally more memorable than happy or neutral ones? I just read this in the December 1, 2007 issue of Bottom Line newsletter:

"Negative emotions, such as fear and sadness, cause increased activity in a part of the brain linked to memories, so bad memories are recalled easily. Positive emotions don't have the same effect. Possible reason: In evolutionary terms, it makes sense to focus on potentially threatening information to protect against future dangers." —Elizabeth Kensinger, PhD., assistant professor, department of psychology, Boston College

A subquestion of Question Three of The Work, "What do you get for holding this belief?"—what is the payoff, or how does believing this thought serve you?—speaks to this phenomenon. The most common answer to this question is, in a word, protection. "I don't have to face the unknown," for example, or "I reject myself before he rejects me," or "I'll be prepared for the worst," or "It motivates me to work hard and avert disaster," or "I shield myself from blame."

Perhaps when we realize that the motive for holding stressful beliefs doesn't eliminate the fear—and therefore, the beliefs don't actually protect us from anything—there's no real reason to cling to them. At this point we can also notice that there was nothing to protect against: in this moment, all is well, unless and until we say differently. The "negative" memory loses its power to direct the course of our relationships and our lives.

We get further reinforcement from the turnarounds, where we provide genuine examples, from our experience, that demonstrate the opposite of our original beliefs. As we continue to inquire, thoughts that used to be habitual don't arise as frequently or with as much "charge."

I'm no neurobiologist, but I'd wager that this process of inquiry somehow overrides or re-circuits the brain's hard-wiring for memory so that there is no need to vigilantly refer to what was previously so upsetting. That is why the memory itself can appear to change.

Case in point: while staffing the School for The Work not long ago, I heard Byron Katie give some specifics about how confused she had been before "getting a clue" in 1986. She said, for example, that if she moved one hand one way, she would have to move the other hand the same way; otherwise she felt unbalanced. She also shared that there was always a song in her head. She mentioned a few more OCD symptoms she'd had, and as I listened to her, I remembered, as if in a dream, a miserable and frightened 43-year-old woman attending her first School for The Work in 2001, who'd had the exact same "quirks" since childhood. Katie was describing herself prior to her "undoing," and she was also describing me, prior to questioning my thoughts. I'd forgotten some of those behaviors and symptoms I used to have.

Later I told her this, and also that I used to have to breathe in rhythm to the songs in my head.

"Oh, sweetheart," she responded, with tears in her eyes, "the breathing thing." She'd had it too...and, like me, she had forgotten.

Lately the "earworm' (repetitive song in the head) has come back to visit; triggered, perhaps, by a few weeks of rehearsing tunes for a show I performed in. As I lie awake at night, waiting for sleep to come, a song is there, or it's not; it's not a problem. I am being breathed; there's no rhythm to it, I'm not doing it. The memory of a song sings itself. I see my mother and father in my mind. They are doing what they did—is it true?—and I notice, as I never did when they were alive, how much I love them.

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

November 27, 2007

Labels Lie

I am... author.
...a six on the Enneagram.
...Jewish. Ashkenazi Jew.
...very allergic.
...a woman.
...a kapha-pitta.
...beautiful. to be with.
...a spinster.
...phony. enigma. ex-cultist.
...half deaf in one ear.
...a daughter.
...half blind in one eye.
...a friend.
...a former junk-mail writer.
...a lover.
...dyscalculic (the math equivalent of dyslexic).
...a killjoy. American.
...of Russian-Polish descent.
...a sybarite.
...a masochist.
...a neurotic with depressive tendencies.
...a "Workie."
...a native New Yorker.
...a Californian by choice.
...a know-it-all.
...young at heart.
...a Certified Facilitator.
...a spendthrift. actor.
...a singer.
...a comedienne.
...a wannabee.
...a has-been.
...a worrier.
...not working up to potential.
...old. pain.
...always p.o.'ed about something.
...a cousin.

Is it true?

And you are...?

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

November 21, 2007

Getting More out of Question Four: "Fear of Four"

Question Four of The Work of Byron Katie is, "Who would you be without this thought?

Sometimes it feels difficult to answer this question. When inquiring into a particularly old, sticky, and fear-based belief, even after some inquiry, we may still believe it. In some cases, we are virtually identified with it. As anyone who dragged around a ratty security blanket in early childhood knows, it can be frightening to move away from something we've held onto for so long.

Let's look at a universal belief: "Something terrible is going to happen." Often, we'll have that thought after something "terrible" has already happened, from an argument or an earthquake. Some of us are anticipating having a bad time over the holidays, whether we're going to be with family, or on our own, based on past experience. (Mom and Sis are going to fight; Uncle Joe's going to get drunk and make a pass at me; I'll be miserable here at home by myself, and my depression will return; the traffic out of the city will be horrendous, and it means that we're going to be late, and it means that...blah, blah, blah.) Remember, fear is always a story of the past, projected into a story of the nonexistent future...and neither past nor future exist now, so when we're afraid, we are by-passing present moment awareness, and making a lot of assumptions.

A "payoff" of holding a stressful thought might be preparedness, or protection. Without this escape clause, we think we won't be okay. So if we're believing what we think, "Who would you be without this thought?" could look like, "I would be toast...completely vulnerable and unprotected." "I would be a stupid doormat; they'd walk all over me if I didn't believe this." "I'd be in denial, and then I wouldn't know what to do if something goes wrong."

That's the good old reliable "I know" mind, doing it's job...which is to resist looking at any possibilities, for fear of annihilation. If mind questioned itself, it may come to see that it doesn't exist. That's more frightening to the mind, or ego, than any other disaster.

I like to remind my clients that they don't have to drop their beliefs, that this is not even possible; at the end of the session, they are welcome to gather up their toys and take them home, if they still want them. This reassurance helps some of us to feel safer to take a peek behind the barriers of "yeah but," "what if," and "I already know that/I tried it before and it doesn't work." The point of no-return only occurs right on time. Tattered and useless as it is rapidly becoming, no one's going to wrest the security blanket away before we're ready.

So if there were no adverse consequences to simply taking a look, who would you be without the thought, "Something terrible is going to happen?"

Some possibilities: I'd be out of another's business. (God's/reality's business, in case of earthquake; other person's business, in case of an argument). I would notice I am okay in this moment; still breathing. I would show up fully, available, present, a listener, an observer, a student. I would be creative, open, curious, positive, proactive.

In these possibilities, in the absence of the stressful belief, there is no resistance, and with no resistance, there is no fear. And now we can take an honest look at the turnarounds, which provide the rest of the story, the part we could not see before inquiring into the truth.

NOTE: In future posts I will continue to discuss how to get more mileage out of Question Four. I welcome your comments and suggestions.

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

November 16, 2007

Love Without a Story?

I love this Gershwin tune, how about you? :)

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

November 13, 2007

Mind-blower for Facilitators

"The more enlightened you get, the less you believe your client believes [their thoughts]." —Byron Katie


©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

November 12, 2007

I Want Out!

Have you ever had the thought, "I want out!"—out of your job, your relationship, your neighborhood, your country, parenthood, your commitments, prison, the hospital, the laundromat, your family reunion, this life in the body, any place or situation where you feel trapped, obligated, dead-ended?

Do you really want to know the truth? Ready to take a trip? Let's do The Work! You may want to say your answers to the questions below out loud, or write them down if it helps you to hold your realizations (I've answered the first two the way I would if I believed my thought, and you might say "no" instead).

If having a facilitator helps you to answer the questions honestly, you can pretend I am in front of you or on the telephone with you, asking them.

"I want out!"

Is it true?
Hell, yeah!

Can you absolutely know that it's true?

How do you react when you believe this thought, what happens?

Some questions you may wish to answer:

Can you know what's best for your path in the long run?
Can you know more than God/Reality?
Where do you feel it in your body when you hold this belief?
What pictures come to mind?
How do you treat people when you think the thought, "I want out"?
How do you treat yourself, how do you live your life? What's the self-talk? Do you turn to addictions: comfort foods, the gym, drugs, oversleeping, alcohol, video games, TV, the telephone, shopping, trashy novels, self-mutilation?
Who and what are you avoiding when you believe the thought, "I want out"?
Who are you attacking mentally, and how do you do that?
Where do you feel it in your body when you think and believe the thought, "I want out"?
When did the thought first occur to you; go back to that time and place, and re-experience it.
Whose business are you in, mentally, when you believe this thought...yours, theirs, God's/Reality's business?
Where does your mind travel when you hold this belief; what thoughts of the past and future arise?
What terrible thing do you fear would happen if you no longer believed you wanted out?
Why do you hold this belief, what does it bring you, how does it serve? Is it a motivator? Is it protecting you? Does it give you a sense of control? How's that working for you?

Who would you be without this thought? (Please don't answer blithely, "I would be love, I would be peace, I would be freedom." Ugh! Instead, feel it; get a picture of yourself, in the same situation, or with the same people, and notice how you would live life—how you may already have lived life—without this thought. How would you feel, physically and mentally? What would you do differently?)

Turn the thought around. (To the opposite, and to "my thinking" if it works for you.) Is the turnaround as true or truer? Give three specific, genuine examples from your life for each turnaround.

Go deeper. If the universe is friendly, why is it a good thing that you are not "out" but "in?"

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

November 7, 2007

What Changed, Besides a Thought?

Babies with chubby legs are cute. Case in point; moi, 49 years ago.

Adults with chubby legs, or any other "imperfect" body part, do everything in their power to hide or get rid of them. Moi, 49 years later.


P.S. My Aunt B. says I haven't changed a bit.

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

November 6, 2007

Why Fear Isn't Real

I bought a bicycle the other day. I haven't ridden in many years, so I didn't think about such things as, "Santa Cruz is hilly, and bikes go very fast downhill." The bicycle is very basic; no bells and whistles, and it has only foot brakes, which, as I discovered, are no good at all downhill, and I don't have the world's greatest sense of balance. In addition, at 5'2", my feet don't quite touch the ground on a 26" bike, even with the seat lowered all the way down.

As I was catapulting down what has always seemed, by foot, like an innocuous incline, my mind entertained thoughts like, "I'm going to fall." "I'm going to crash into something." "I'll be injured." "I'll injure someone." "This isn't safe." All thoughts of a nonexistent future, and, when believed, very frightening.

There were thoughts of the past as well. "They should have sold me a better bike." "I made a mistake." "I am too clumsy to ride." "Accidents are always terrible." These in themselves were not frightening thoughts; however, they were circumstantial evidence that bolstered my fearful, future beliefs.

The good news is, it's impossible for fear to be about anything real. Fear is the story of a future, always. And, if you've noticed, the future doesn't exist. So there's nothing to be frightened of.

This is "Quantum Physics 101." It's even "Spirituality for Beginners." Many of us "know" this, intellectually. Why, then, do we fear? Because very few, if any, of us live with present-moment awareness all the time. As illustrated above, I sure don't.

I experienced my first California earthquake last week. I haven't been afraid of earthquakes, because I've had no personal reference for them, other than a little bitty wall-shaker in New York City back in the early 1980s. I'm told there are little quakes all the time in California, and mostly we don't notice them. You can't feel a small one happening if, for example, you're riding in a car and the road doesn't buckle. You might notice a slight tugging, as if you have a flat tire, but otherwise life goes on, the birds sing, the dishes don't fall out of the cabinet.

At 5.6 on the Richter scale, this quake registered as "moderate," and we all felt it here in Santa Cruz even though the epicenter was northwest of San Jose, some distance away. Before I realized it was an earthquake, I had no fear at all. I thought my neighbor upstairs had overturned over a bookcase or something! My thoughts, after the fact--about things like potential aftershock (and possible loss, damage, costs, injury)--were much more frightening than the quake itself, which was over in seconds. Once the thoughts kicked in, the body went into fear response: numbness in the extremities, pacing, loss of appetite. It didn't last, because I have some practice in noticing the thoughts that give rise to the reactions.

I've noticed a belief that the worst thing that could happen to me, or another, is death..which is the one future thought that is a guarantee. Nobody makes it out of here alive. What's truer is, the worst thing that could happen is a stressful thought about that death. Our fears about it can never be the truth. We can't know we won't be okay.

All fear is the fear of death: death of the body, death of the dream, death of the ego. When I noticed was that I was very much alive and well, and that I could neither know anything about nor control a nonexistent future, my fear disappeared, and I had a late lunch. I even got some sleep last night, even while my thoughts said, "Hey! Look at me! Possible aftershocks!" "We'll talk about it in the morning," I told them, "If we're still interested." (We weren't. There were other things on my mind, such as the imminent spraying of carcinogenic pesticides on Santa Cruz County, and whether or not I was ever going to get my thoughts and notes together in time for my upcoming classes.)

I continue to question what I believe, because I want to know that all is well in my last moments of life, whenever they are. They could be now, for all I know...and if that thought frightens me, it takes me away from living; I am dead already. The worst that could happen is happening already when we attach to our stressful thoughts: a fearful end to life.

Questioning and understanding fears means to have the presence of mind to live fearlessly. This doesn't mean you won't equip your bike with hand brakes, or that you'll blow your retirement account on a fancy car because there's no future. For this reason, some people are reluctant to question fearful thoughts; it's as if the thought itself were some sort of protection against disaster, and if we weren't fearful, we'd be inviting calamity. If you've noticed, "disaster" happens, whether we fear it or not.

I'm enjoying immensely my cute new bike helmet, which is white with magenta pikake flowers. It's supposed to protect me against some terrible head injury that could happen, but I don't think about head injury when I put it on. Similarly, now that I've done some inquiry about my bike not being safe to ride, I'm loving the thought of getting hand brakes so that I can ride with fewer restrictions. That's different from doing it because something terrible could happen if I don't.

I like having a retirement account; it feels right to me. However, I get nuts when I think the retirement account won't be enough, or that I need it at all. See the difference?

Based on these glimpses of "all is well, until I say otherwise," it seems to me that it is entirely possible to live a practical, sensible life without being ruled by fear. In fact, I'd say that's the only way to live a life that's truly sensible, practical, and loving.

That's what's real; not fear.

Deepening Transformational Inquiry: "Yeah, But...My Fear Is Real."

1. Write down your worst fear of the future, the one you really believe and don't want to work on because you KNOW it's true! Write it with this sentence construction: "I am afraid of ______ , because ______ ."

Example: Highway 17 is the commuter road that takes you out of Santa Cruz, California and "over the hill" towards San Jose. Many people really hate driving on the 17 because it is narrow, often congested, and has numerous hairpin turns and blind spots. Accidents are fairly common on this road.

So you might think, "I am afraid of driving on Highway 17, because I could have a terrible accident." (Possible proofs of truth: I'm a new driver; my car's too old; other drivers are careless, don't look, don't obey the speed limit; I had a bad accident on the 17 once before; my best friend died on that road; etc.)

2. Look at the statement you've written, and circle the fear itself.

Example: "I could have a terrible accident."

We're not going to question this belief just now, or the "proof" of its validity. Let's assume it's "true."

3. Now ask yourself:

What's the worst that could happen if your fear of the future came to pass?

If there's more than one "worst" thing, make a list. Depending on the fear you're writing about, your answers might look like some of these:

* I'll lose my relationship.
* I'll be homeless.
* My family will suffer.
* I'll total the car.
* I'll lose my job.
* I won't have enough money when I'm old.
* I'll hate myself.
* Everyone will be angry with me.
* I'll be disabled.
* I'll die.
* I'll be in anguish forever.
* My reputation will be ruined.
* I'll cause harm.
* God won't forgive me.

Your list will reveal more "future" to you...and more beliefs to work on. Good! Beginning with the one that scares you the most, hold each stressful belief up against the four questions and turnaround of The Work. Explore how you might live your life differently (in actuality, or even just mentally, as you may not need to change a thing that you're doing.) Discover what's real for you, in this moment, now. Is there any fear in it?

"The fear of death is the last smokescreen for the fear of love."--Byron Katie, Chapter 12, "Making Friends with the Worst That Can Happen," from Loving What Is

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

November 4, 2007

The Work and A Course In Miracles

I hear this over and again from students of A Course In Miracles: "When I got The Work, I got the Course." So I finally got myself a copy of the book a couple of years ago, even though I've long had a personal bias against anything purported to be "channeled," by Jesus or anyone or anything else. (Even some channels come to see that tapping into wisdom is nothing mystical, magical, special, or personal; a friend of mine who used to "channel" seven distinct "entities" realized, after doing The Work, that the source of their wisdom was none other than herself, and she retired, leaving a large following baffled.)

While I am not a student of The Course, I like what it says, and have gleaned insights from it as well as from other books that deepen understanding of Course principles, such at Gary Renard's The Disappearance of the Universe.

A Course in Miracles (or ACIM) provides readers with a way to look at reality from a different perspective, which is of course what inquiry does as well. The Course's author (or channel, if you prefer), Helen Shucman, says in the Preface of the text, "[ACIM's] only purpose is to provide a way in which some people will be able to find their own Internal Teacher." Similarly, in her book A Thousand Names for Joy, Katie says, "Everyone has equal wisdom. It is absolutely equally distributed. No one is wiser than anyone else. Ultimately, there’s no one who can teach you except yourself."

The Course teaches that access to this internal teacher (that means you) is the path to forgiveness, which is defined as recognizing that what you thought someone did to you never occurred. From the Course Workbook: "It does not pardon sins and make them real. It sees there was no sin. And in that view are all your sins forgiven. What is sin, except a false idea about God's Son [all people]? Forgiveness merely sees its falsity, and therefore lets it go. What then is free to take its place is now the Will of God." (p. II.1)

Byron Katie says the same, in essence, and provides us with a means to seeing this falsity: questioning the thoughts (as we reveal them on the Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet.) that cause all the suffering in the world. When written down and questioned, the stressful story eventually falls away in the light of truth, so there is nothing to "let go" of. In calling the mind's bluff, we are able to step back from a stressful belief. This is impossible without questioning the mind. The big "duh" of our minds is this: we can't stop believing what we believe until we don't believe it. (This too, is reality, or "the Will of God." Self-realization comes in its own good time.)

ACIM says, "An unforgiving thought is one which makes a judgment that it will not raise to doubt, although it is not true." In other words, there has to be willingness to investigate our beliefs. "The mind is closed, and will not be released. The thought protects projection, tightening its chains, so that distortions are more veiled and more obscure; less easily accessible to doubt, and further kept from reason....Distortion is its purpose, and the means by which it would accomplish it as well." (Workbook, p. II.1)

This is the essence of question three of The Work: "How do I react when I believe this thought?" The "I" of this question is the ego, the body-identified self. The "I's" job is to protect itself and the way it does this is to be right, to refute evidence what might cause it to disappear. Its job is also to create "Other." Without a You, there cannot be a Me. As we answer this third question of The Work and its specific subquestions, what we witness is the self-protective, unforgiving ego in action. Clinging to a self-preserving belief may appear to feel better than the alternative...but at what cost?

Question four, "Who would you be without this thought," is the stepping back suggested by ACIM, now with a clear picture, after inquiry, of the way our attachment to thought kicks us out of heaven.

The turnarounds could be seen as "the Will of God," free to be expressed in a dream ("Life is but a...") where there are no consequences to having an open mind where multiple possibilities can exist at once...except for the death of the limiting story of self that, as we've learned in the process, no longer serves us.

I welcome your comments and specific references to ACIM lessons that you have understood in the light of inquiry with The Work.

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

November 1, 2007

Focus on Facilitation: Being Deleted

What my clients bring to sessions of The Work of Byron Katie is as much for me as it is for them, if not more so. If I experience clients or their issues as challenging in any way, I can get very confused and tired if I'm not actively working on my thoughts about them...or if I'm not tuning into where their work is my work.

As a facilitator, it is not my job to impose my beliefs and values onto my clients; I'm here to ask questions, and hold the space for them to find their own answers. It is also my job to take my thoughts about the client to inquiry after our session. For example, if I think my client is a liar, how do I treat him, and where do I lie (in my life, or to him)? If I believe he is a womanizer, how am I a "manizer?" If the client is a "tough case," am I being a tough case with her? Where am I not seeing that I am just like the one in front of me? Where do I not want to let her be as she is?

Years ago at an event with Byron Katie, a wonderful couple who were new to The Work and reluctant to air their laundry in public asked Katie to hook them up with a facilitator who would work with them privately, out of the main hall. For reasons I couldn't fathom at the time, and which I now see as perfect, Katie directed them to little ol' me.

This was my first time working with a couple. Their story was...well, for the sake of total confidentiality, let's say they were living in a way that was counter to my sense, at the time, of "normal."

The session was intense. I found myself inwardly siding with one of the spouses, especially since the other one did not seem terribly interested in inquiry; s/he was there for the sake of the other partner, s/he said. It wasn't easy for me to muzzle myself, or to stick to the questions...but I did.

We proceeded in the classic way of mediation or partner work: each client writes and then reads their Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet to the other. The one being read to takes in what the partner is saying, and whether or not they agree with what they're hearing, they respond with "thank you." The facilitator then takes each client through their worksheet in turn, while the other listens.

We were together for at least two hours, and for most of that time, there was a lot of strong emotion in the room. Admittedly, my attention was more on my judgments about the couple than it was on the process, and I worked hard to quell my urges to lead them, agree, or disagree.

They didn't seem to notice, thank goodness; no thanks to me, The Work worked! The more recalcitrant partner really got into the process after all. Each spouse had wonderful realizations. As a couple, they were hearing and communicating with each other about their issues in ways they had been unable to before, when each believed s/he was right. Both were grateful to tap back into their love for each other, and they were very enthusiastic about continuing with The Work when they got home.

As for me, I was exhausted.

The next day, Katie, with what I projected to be a knowing twinkle in her eye, asked me, "How did it go with that amazing couple?"

"Oh my God!" I exclaimed. "How do you do this day in and day out, and not get depleted?"

"I don't get depleted," Katie answered, "because I'm deleted."

Sometimes as facilitators, we may experience clients who live or think in ways that are diametrically opposed to our own ways. They may not share our values (she doesn't believe in toilet training or weaning her children before the age of five; he works for Internal Revenue, the CIA, Amway; they practice polyamory, or celibacy, or they believe in marriage, or they don't believe in marriage; he belongs to a sect you don't like or understand, or the same church as your parents, or no church at all), or they do or have done something that goes against our personal integrity (for example, a woman with three lovers, none of whom know about the others; a man who, at age 40, doesn't work and lives off his parents; someone who feels she is underpaid and therefore justified in stealing supplies from the office or sneaking out of work early). If you work in prisons or treatment centers, you will certainly encounter differences (and similarities) with those who have broken the laws of the land; and if you don't work with these populations, you will certainly encounter differences and similiarities with people who do not live according to your personal laws of "people should..."

Our clients are here before us for our sake, for our freedom, and so that we can become better facilitators. Any judgment we hold about them—any separation we experience between them and us—is going to be uncomfortable, and the discomfort means there's attachment to an uninvestigated story. This is wonderful to notice, and a great opportunity to cleanly and clearly delete any "I" thoughts that are not true...stressful thoughts that, when we are in session, get in the way of our ability to be be present, open, available, in service, and always a student in the presence of the master.

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

October 30, 2007

Love Your Work, Today...Cheap!

NOTE: OFFER HAS EXPIRED! but at $19.95, I'm told this eBook is still more than worth the price of admission. Thanks to all you early birds who ordered before Nov. 1. —CLS

Just a quick reminder (because I nearly forgot myself!) that there's just one more day left to receive my best-selling eBook (meaning it sells the best, out of the three I have available now :-) ) for the original "seriously under-priced" price of $14.95.*

Transformational Inquiry: Working on Your Work is transforming my friends' experiences of work and career from the East Bay to Estonia.

"My boss should..." "My clients don't..." "I have no skills." "I should be doing something else." What keeps you from "Loving What's Biz?" With The Work, you can create lasting and radical change in the workplace by addressing the beliefs underlying the way you relate to your colleagues, your supervisors, your clients, your direct reports, and to yourself. 95 pages.

"Transformational Inquiry: Working on Your Work went beyond my expectations and thoroughly covered the topic with amazing clarity and insight. I found all the help I needed there. Your material is a great addition to Byron Katie's."
—Sandra Khoury, Certified Substance Abuse/Co-occurring
Disorders Counselor
Middlefield, CT

*"My only complaint about Transformational Inquiry: Working on Your Work is that it is seriously under-priced. This little gem is a delight to read as well as a practical guide to healing your heart and regaining sanity at work. It is rare for an eBook to be as lucid, complete, and practical as this one. It will repay your thoughtful, open-hearted attention a thousand fold."
—Molly Gordon, Shaboom Inc.

The price of Working on Your Work increases to $19.95 on November 1, so don't wait to let this practical PDF guide enhance your experience of The Work as it applies to your professional life. Order before Nov. 1 and receive the as-yet unpublished report, "The Top 10 Erroneous Business Beliefs" as my early holiday gift to you.

To get your copy, click here:

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

October 27, 2007

Best Reason Someone Unsubscribed from My Newsletter

In my inbox:

"This lead has unsubscribed by following the link at the bottom of one
of your AWeber messages, and decided to provide comments.

Name: xxx
Email: xxxxx
Signup Date: 08/30/07 09:44 PM Eastern

Carol's sanity is in question."

I couldn't agree more. I question it daily.

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

October 25, 2007

Is The Work Nondual?

I used to say that The Work is a process leading to the state of nonduality as sought by students of Dzogchen Buddhism or Advaita Vedanta.

We could also say that Byron Katie is not a nondualist because she uses terms like "joy" and "happiness" to describe her existance, rather than the more advaitin terminology of "nothing" and "emptiness," thus making "nothing" into "something." ("No thing" is the optimal experience of advaita, by the way).

The trouble with the idea of nondualism is that it has to be demonstrated through language and concepts, which of course create more duality and separation.

However on a practical note, a book title like "No Identity and No Attachment to What Is Not," or "A Thousand Names for Nothing" probably wouldn't sell many copies to folks like you and me who still believe we are not awake. :0)

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

October 23, 2007

Are Preferences a Problem?

A client once asked me, "How can we do The Work and realize that 'God is everything,' that this is equal to that...and still have a preference. This is a tricky area."

I don't experience it as tricky. What's tricky is mistaking a problem for a preference.

There's that now-famous Byron Katie-quote about ordering filet of sole in a restaurant, and the waiter brings braised ox tongue. Katie says it's not a problem: "What is is what I want. It doesn't mean I have to eat it." This confuses a lot of people.

Personalities have preferences. Ask Katie what she wants for lunch today: chicken or fish? I'm sure she'd have no problem saying she prefers to have fish, with hot tea not iced. I've witnessed this. And if the kitchen has run out of fish, perfect; obviously we're not to have fish today. It doesn't mean I won't order it next time.

I seem to prefer The Work to other inquiry processes. No problem. When I have to put down the other processes and their teachers so that I can justify my preference, that's a problem (and in the past, it has been). If I want to convert them to my religion, it's not a preference, it's a control issue.

If we want someone or something to be different and we say it in the name of preference - that's a lie. If I prefer not to be with a partner like mine, and yet I'm living with him, hating him, there's something off about this. If I prefer not to live where I do, complaining every second that I live there rather than doing something about it or admitting that I want to live there, it's not simply about preference, it's about being at war with reality. If my preference is to work with people, and I continue to work in isolation, I'm lying to myself. Obviously, in this moment, I prefer to work alone, because I don't see anyone else in this room.

So it's not that preferences are a problem; we make it into a problem when we stressfully refuse or refute anything that is not our preference. As in the case of braised ox tongue, it doesn't mean we have to eat it. It doesn't mean we have to sleep with someone we're not attracted to, it doesn't mean we have to order the Rotten Eggs Ripple ice cream because in God's perfect universe, it's just as good as the Double Dutch Cocoa.

My general preference is to swim outside rather than indoors. So even though it's late October and chilly, I'm still swimming outside. Usually, I prefer to swim in a heated pool. The pool at my condo complex is solar heated, which, at this time of year, means not warm at all.

I almost got out of the pool the other day, because my story was it was too cold. I noticed I preferred to keep swimming. After my body adjusted to the water temperature, I had a moment of recognition: I felt terrific. The water felt a lot like it does when I'm swimming in the ocean back home in New York. I never expected the ocean to be warm in the North Atlantic; it never is. If I did not have expectations for this body of water in Northern California to be different, couldn't I simply enjoy paddling around and deriving the benefits of swimming? As I discovered, yes, absolutely! So my preference was to swim: no problem. And when I was finished, my preference was to get out of the pool.

If I'm submerged in the cold water, wanting it to be different, I'm either insane or a masochist. I always have a choice not to swim, or to go elsewhere. And here's what I noticed: that I prefer not to take the time it takes to go to the gym to swim. I prefer to keep up a quasi-regular schedule of swimming outdoors than not to swim outside at all. In the middle of winter, when I'm craving the sensation of freedom I get when I'm in the water, this preference not to swim in an indoor heated pool could very well change.

Does this mean that once we have questioned our stressful thoughts that we would no longer particularly enjoy chocolate...that we would be omnisexual...that we wouldn't make taking care of our own children a priority over other peoples' kids...or we'd be unable to vote because all the candidates running for office are perfect?

Katie says,

"I'm a lover of what is, and what is is what I always have....And it appears that I always have a preference for the thing that is happening now. I prefer the sun in the morning, and I prefer the moon at night And I prefer to be with the person in front of me now....Whatever I'm doing: That's my preference. How do I know? I'm doing it! Do I prefer vanilla over chocolate? I do, until I don't."

--Byron Katie, Loving What Is

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

Desiderata Unfolds (As It Should)

Have you seen the Desiderata Project at my new friend Bob's website, Every, Every Minute?

Bob asked a number of "personal development' bloggers to comment on a verse from the famous poem which begins with these words:

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

Nearly every sensitive kid I knew had a parchment paper poster of this up on their bedroom wall when I was a teenager. Max Ehrmann's writings spoke to me then, as now, even though I didn't begin to understand most of it. (Glimpses are good.)

Check out my contribution to the project, "A Perfect Universe: The Tao of Desiderata," invoking The Work, The Tao te Ching, Katie's "Tao," and Professor Einstein, as related to this verse of Erhmann's great poem:

"And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should"

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

October 18, 2007

Oh, No, Your Majesty!

Another one of my icons has passed away. Deborah Kerr starred in of some of my favorite movies, including Tea and Sympathy ("Years from now, when you talk about this—and you will—be kind."), An Affair to Remember, From Here to Eternity (oh, that kiss on the beach!), the 1967 Casino Royale, and my very favorite musical, The King and I, of which I am reminded at every School for The Work, because (as Katie sometimes likes to sing to us), it's all about "Getting to know you, getting to know all about you."

As Anna Leonowens, Deborah Kerr portrayed the very best kind of teacher in that film: dedicated, engaging, elegant, smart, a bit edgy...and really sexy without giving away the store. I wanted to be "Mrs. Anna" (and Miss Jean Brodie) when I grew up. (I think in some small way, I have achieved this, although I could never have kept up that plunging neckline, nor that polka with Yul Brynner.)

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

October 17, 2007

Ask a Facilitator: Self-incrimination Using The Work at Work?

A fellow facilitator of The Work writes:

"Hi Carol,

I've been given the opportunity to introduce The Work to a department of our local council. One of the considerations they have is that it might be dificult to do it 'for real' because of the possibility of staff 'incriminating' themselves with their bosses and colleagues.

"I have introduced The Work to groups locally before but never had to consider anything like the above scenario, because the people the clients were doing The Work on were not physically present at the introduction.

"As I'm typing this, I'm thinking, 'Steer clear of work-related issues at the workshop and just use examples from participants' lives.' However, any tips would be appreciated."


Dear T.,

The issue of self-incrimination is so pervasive for so many people, I would address precisely that fear with your group!

You could have participants work on hypothetical scenarios like, "What's the worst that could happen if you told your boss/colleague/employee the truth?" Provide the group with a list of "universal work beliefs" like "My staff doesn't respect me," "I could lose my job," "My boss/colleague/assistant should listen to me," "There's not enough time," or "I need to earn more money." I'd give them a list of basic universal beliefs as well (thoughts like, "The world is a terrible place," or "Parents should love their children"), so that they will see the crossover applications of The Work to "real life." And they may feel safer to work publicly with those thoughts, as you suggest.

However, this need not even be public work. Invite participants to write down their answers, and then see what happens. I always like to model my own work as an ice-breaker. If no one volunteers to share, have them facilitate you on your beliefs. Afterwards, see if anyone wishes to share what they've written. When people see how candid I am (I might direct my thought at them: for instance, "I want you to like me."), and that there has been no terrible consequence for doing so, you open a door for others to do the same.

Who knows? They may relish the opportunity to work on someone present, or to be worked on by someone else. I've seen it happen many times; it is healing. If it's worrisome, you might ask group members to respect the 12-step suggestion, "What happens here stays here."

When we as facilitators have a concern like this for our groups, it's great to work on our own beliefs. "It's not going to go well." "The Work isn't safe to use in business." "I can do it wrong."

Warm regards,

P.S. The price of my very popular eBook, Transformational Inquiry: Working on Your Work goes up in two weeks, on November 1. Order it before the deadline for just $14.95 and I will send you a heretofore unpublished report, "The Top 10 Erroneous Business Beliefs: Are They Holding You Back?" as an early holiday gift.

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

October 13, 2007

Byron Katie Takes Fun Out of Arguments, Says Teenager

You really must read this funny little article, written by young Santa Cruzan Kyle Abbott, on the Abbott Family Blog, which is all about playing music, being Taoist, and living the weird Santa Cruz life. Kyle manages to good-naturedly indict both Byron Katie and his mom, Leslie (a really nice lady!) in one funny breath.

"In the beginning of this year, Mama has discovered this Dr. Phil-ina who looks like a slim Paula Deen from the Eating Channel. Anyway, this gal Byron Katie has a life-changing way of taking the fun out of arguments. How? Well, when you feel negative feelings towards somebody, you take those feelings and turn them around. Let’s role play here: So, think, 'That guy is stupid!' Well, when you Byronize it, it sounds like this, 'That guy is not stupid! I think he is but it turns out it is a reflection of my feelings towards myself which I am projecting onto this Starbucks clerk who gave me a Double Cha-Mocha Ascretymbia instead of my regular Grimbles Coffeeprimonade.' Sure, it puts a more Taoist Perspective on life, but it’s hard to have a good argument with Byron-Vision turned on."

For more digs and laughs, see Byron Pusher (

He's right; arguing is no fun anymore because I can't make anyone wrong, not even a barrista...darn it.

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

October 12, 2007

I'm a Featured "Fun Shui" Friend!

My friend Stephanie McWilliams, host and Feng Shui designer of the new HGTV show, "Fun Shui" is a longtime friend of The Work, and has designated me a "Featured Friend" at her blog.

To read my first article there, "Inquire Your Way to Internal Feng Shui," visit

Steph's main website is

Fun Shui airs on Friday evenings, 9:30 pm.

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

From Depression to Decompression

Here's a story, purportedly mine, that is only a couple of weeks old, yet it already feels like it happened to someone else.

One night, I did The Work with a friend on the thought, "I am getting depressed again." In spite of all the inquiry I have done and continue to do, and even though I no longer see myself as "a depressive," depressing thoughts return sometimes. Every now and then I get mired in them, temporarily.

I called my friend because I didn't even know what I needed to work on at first. I'd been afraid and bitchy for days. Sitting with my thoughts alone was excruciating. Sitting with others, the people I work with and mentor, I was concerned that if I were to be self-relevatory, I'd be taking away from their time, their needs.

Perhaps I had been overly honest while participating in a recent conference call; with the exception of writing, I'm not yet entirely comfortable with public vulnerability. Perhaps it was because, with the seasonal changes in temperature and light, I was experiencing a rerun of my old Seasonal Affective Disorder story. Maybe it was because I hadn't gone swimming outdoors in a few days; I get off track when I don't eat well, rest, and exercise in addition to working with my thoughts. Also I haven't slept well in over a year. When sleep doesn't happen, other things tend to go out the window.

Blah, blah, blah, and on the thoughts go.

While believing the thought "I am getting depressed again," I started back-tracking in many ways: punishing myself for being human, blaming the old brain chemistry story for my recent outbursts, feeling yet again that I ought to throw in the towel, take down my blog and website, get a "real" job, stop pretending that I am in any way qualified to do what I do. I was either forgetting to do simple self-care things, like brushing my teeth or eating breakfast, or putting them off until uncomfortably late in the day.

I revealed all this in the course of inquiry. And then came the turnaround: "I am not getting depressed again." It could be as true, I reckoned; I was not too depressed to reach out to my beloved friend, to stop being available for my clients, to recognize I was "off" and in need of inquiry.

Was there another turnaround, my friend wanted to know? My mind went to the opposite of "depressed." "I am getting elated again," I told her, and immediately burst into gales of laughter! In that moment, simply being a woman sitting in a couch taking on the telephone to her friend, there was absolutely nothing depressing. Even as I questioned my fear of returning to a painful story of the past, it ceased to be as powerful or compelling as it had been. Just naming the feelings, and the thoughts preceding them, began to take the edge off.

It's not a mere flick of the mental switch, mind you; without the deep education of the four questions and turnaround, to move from "I am getting depressed again" to "I am getting elated again" would be nothing more than an affirmation, largely meaningless.

In The Work, we don't exchange one thought with another, more uplifting one. The Work is a reductive process, what a therapist friend of mine calls "cognitive de-structuring" as opposed to, say, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is a re-structuring of thought patterns. When we inquire, we gradually work our way to the opposites, after calling the mind's bluff about what it habitually has held dear. Otherwise, there is no proof that anything else could be equally true or truer, and the mind needs concrete examples in order to shift its loyalties.

To move from depression to elation wasn't a goal in doing this inquiry, and I didn't even know it was possible. All I knew was that I was caught in a story that was excruciating and therefore may not have been entirely accurate, I recognized a certain stubbornness in clinging to my belief, and at the same time, the curiosity and wilingness to see if there was anything else available to me. I was tired of beating myself.

In retrospect, I am not surprised that I became elated after questioning my thoughts. Depression is compressed, heavy, dense, low. When we question our depressive thinking, we are left with less gravity, nothing to cling to, nowhere to go but up.

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

October 9, 2007

The Worst/Best Thing That Could Happen

Charles Dickens said, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us..." (From A Tale of Two Cities.)

Byron Katie tells us, "The worst that could happen is the best that could happen, but only always." (It's that "the universe is friendly" deal.)

If this reasoning makes you feel a little schizophrenic, you're not alone. We don't call it The Work for nothing.

Here's my recent encounter with that thing I call hellacious grace:

Thursday night, Sept. 27: I perform a routine software upgrade on my already troublesome new laptop. The machine makes an eerie noise, the screen goes black, and it shuts down. Naturally, it is fifteen minutes past the time my computer's manufacturer's customer care reps shut down for the night.

I try all the rebooting tricks I know. Look up user forums on my spare (very spare, and dying) older computer. Try calling my friend Loren, who knows everything about computers and most other things; he does not return my call.

I am up all night obsessing.

Friday: After a long time on hold, I manage to get ahold of telephone service representatives at Lemon Computers, Inc. Not one, but several of them, since the first one sends me to a "specialist" who knows no more than the first rep, and then, finally, to "customer care," a.k.a. "Where we send the irate customers who won't be appeased by us underpaid kids."

The news is not good. I have to send the computer in for repairs, which could take a few weeks, or get to the nearest Lemon store, a half hour away, and me with no car or public transportation option to get there. My data, I'm told, is likely lost. Lemon's warranty does not cover data loss or retrieval, even if the computer's malfunction is caused by a faulty product or the company's negligence. I look into nearby data retrieval companies; if they can even do the job, they will charge me almost as much as the computer itself cost. Most months, I don't earn what a computer costs.

I reach several friends, who commiserate or give redundant advice. One asks if I want to do The Work; sounds great, but my story is, I don't have time, I have more important things on my plate here (and besides, I'm right, damn it).

Friday evening: Loren finally calls back, and says he supposes he could take me to the store in Los Gatos the next day, but suggests we try a few other things first.

I am overwhelmed, and at a loss. I hadn't gotten to figuring out a system for backing up my files, because I was spending most of my computer time trying to coax out or exterminate the software and hardware bugs it shipped with. I don't have my precious manuscripts, my workshop notes, my online address book, or my client data, and I have a full schedule ahead. How will I be present with my work, for my clients?

I go to the movies, see a weepy chick flick, eat pizza (my first meal since lunch the previous day), and try to forget.

Friday late night through Saturday morning: I toss and turn. Finally it comes to me that I could be doing The Work as long as I'm not sleeping or tinkering with my Lemon laptop. Investigating the belief, "I am dependent on my computer," provides me with some enlightenment. I don't take care of my business or myself when I believe this thought. Obviously I can't sleep. I hate the people at Lemon. I hate the very machine I feel dependent on. Without this thought I would not presume disaster; I would do what's in front of me; non-computer tasks. I'd do all the research I've been doing but without all the drama. I turn the thought around. Wow. Truly speaking, I'm not dependent on anything; I'm still breathing. I can reconstruct whatever information I can. Creative oeuvre? I must not need it anymore. If the universe is friendly, what wonderful thing will take its place?

I don't feel better, but I do have some perspective; enough to get a couple of hours of sleep.

Saturday morning: I am, if not joyous, amazingly and entirely surrendered to what is. Que sera sera. I am going to live my life in the meantime. I go to my improv class; it is entirely enjoyable. Loren is there; he comes home with me to examine the "patient." After awhile, I ask if we could please just go to the Lemon store; he hesitantly, but kindly, agrees.

It's a perfect day in the South Bay. There's no traffic on the way to Los Gatos, taking us only 20 minutes. The Lemon store is hopping with young people needing their mp3 players fixed. The technicians can't see me until 3:30. Perfect; obviously it's now lunchtime. I treat Loren to delicious Vietnamese food, we window shop for housewares and clothing in funky-chic boutiques, and I purchase a half pound of some of my favorite childhood treats—mocha coffee beans, red Swedish fish, "likkerish" whips, and Sourpatch fruits—from the penny candy store.

We return to the computer shop. The tech, God bless him, gets me up and running in minutes. I get my data backed up on the spot, and my future backup solutions are mapped out for me. I tell the tech genius about a wireless problem I've been having, unsolved several attempts earlier by the phone "specialists." My Genius diagnoses the problem in a flash, and takes my computer to the back where it will be sent to the "depot" and returned, all fixed and cleaned up, straight to my door in a week's time at most.

Without my computer taking up most of my time, I clean my apartment, swim, use the phone, watch Netflix. The mended laptop arrives in just five days. My business survives, as does my life's work, without my even needing any of it

Is there an example from your life of "The worst that could happen is the best that could happen?" Send me your comments; I'll compile some of your stories for a future post.

P.S. Upon reading this, my friend, Rev. Tami Coyne wrote, only half joking: "Wonderful article. There's something about computer problems that make major existential crises--like the inevitablitity of death--seem irrelevant."

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

October 5, 2007

Molly Gordon Was RIght

Yup. Molly Gordon was correct. I've been getting a lot of eBook offers in my in-box lately, and it seems that my popular and well-reviewed eBook, Tranformational Inquiry: Working on Your Work is indeed seriously underpriced for the marketplace, where eBooks of this magnitude are going for upwards of $50.00.

So on November 1, I'm going to raise the price of Working on Your Work to $19.95 (still seriously underpriced, I'm told, and that's fine with me).

That still leaves you a couple of weeks to order it for $14.95. And when you do, you'll receive the as-yet unpublished report, "The Top 10 Erroneous Business Beliefs: Are They Holding You Back?" as my early holiday gift to you.

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

October 2, 2007

More Depth Than I Thought

Here's one of those forwards we all get a gazillion times apiece, created by Aude Oliva, PhD. of M.I.T.'s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.

Look at the pictures of "Mr. Angry" and "Ms. Calm" close up. Then stand back a few feet and look at them again. They will appear to have traded places. (I discovered this also works when you look at the images from a side angle.) The email asks, "Does this prove that things (or people) aren't always as they seem?"

I was ready to simply delete this email yet again, but something prompted me to research the picture, if only to assign proper attribution. When I did, I found Dr. Oliva's website of cool hybrid images, including the hilarious "Marilyn Einstein," at

According to Dr. Oliva: "Hybrid images change interpretation as a function of viewing distance. Hybrids combine the low-spatial frequencies of one picture with the high spatial frequencies of another picture producing an image with an interpretation that changes with viewing distance."

You knew I was going to find something analogous to The Work here, didn't you? Here goes: everything we think we know is an interpretation of what is real. Inquiry is a way of stepping back from what we appear to see, or know. Questioning what we believe and turning our thoughts around provide us with a different perspective, in which both the original perception and the new one could be equally valid. Let's say I think I'm Ms. Calm. I look at the gentleman on my left and I perceive him to be one angry dude. Is it true that he's always angry? Yes, I have proof, look at that face. Can I absolutely know that it's true? I've just stepped back from the "I know" mind. No, in fact, I can't absolutely know this; he doesn't appear to be angry any longer. How do I treat him when I see him as angry? I feel separate from him. I can't meet him where he is.

Turn it around: "He is angry" becomes "He is not angry." Turned around to the self, I can see where I am angry sometimes, especially when I am judging "Mr. Angry." I turned out to be just like him, and with some perspective, I am able to see that he is not so different from me.

Cool, huh?

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

September 27, 2007

The Work Is Child's Play

Here's some video of the Children's Workshop for Kids, Teens, and Parents that was held last weekend in Ventura, California; kids getting clarity and having fun doing it. Fun is actually an enormous part of the experience of this investigation. It's a kick to see the correlation between thought and feeling, and to discover "that snake is a rope." And children, not having lived long enough to gather as much evidence as we can, don't put out as many "yeah buts."

I especially love hearing the mom at the end, who says that an eight year old was the best facilitator she ever had. (Perhaps I should take down my shingle!)(NOT!)

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

Vintage Katie Video with Kate Wolf Music

I just love this interview with Byron Katie from October, 1998, where she beautifully and lovingly recounts her "moment of clarity" and explains The Work. The interview is interspersed with video clips of the singer/songwriter Kate Wolf, performing her original songs including "Give Yourself to Love."

"Just hear the heart, hear what you know," Katie says in this video. "People don't want to hear what they know; they think it's going to cost them something. But if they hear what they know and they honor it, it will give them everything they ever thought they ever desired, only the desire stops, and just when you don't need anything, it floods in. People call it a letting go, but for me it's just following the heart, the thing that I know."

I found "it" letting go of me as I experienced this tender hour of hearing the heart.

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

Loving the Questions

When Byron Katie suggests we not do inquiry with a motive to resolve a problem, or to feel better, she may be saying the same thing as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke did regarding writing:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” —Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, 35

No session of The Work goes to waste, in my experience. Epiphanies happen in amazing places, and in their own time: during your 100th worksheet on your wife, six months later in the bathtub, while you're sitting with the next belief after you felt unresolved working with the first one.

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

September 26, 2007

All In the Family

Note: Names and some details have been changed to protect the innocent!

When my friend Eleanor came to The Work, she was just about ready to run away from home. In the past year, she has written dozens of Judge-Your-Neighbor worksheets on her husband and kids, most especially on her 12-year-old daughter, Ginger, whom she has found particularly challenging ever since Ginger was a colicky baby.

Not long ago, Eleanor wrote:

"Hey, Carol, thanks so much for yesterday. Things feel much clearer. And the funniest stuff has been happening since we worked on my one-liner 'Ginger's rudeness disrupts our family.'

"Last night, Ginger was going downstairs for a snack, and she voluntarily picked up her little sister's evening snack dishes which were on the linen chest in the hall, took them downstairs, and put them in the dishwasher. This morning, while I was making breakfast for the girls, Ginger got out stuff to put on her oatmeal, and also got the stuff that Margaret likes on her cereal, without being asked. She was incredibly sweet last night, she hung out with me for awhile late in the evening, and she was very sweet this morning as well.

"So I don't know exactly what happened yesterday--are you sure you didn't call her up and do The Work with her while I wasn't paying attention?"

Yes, I'm sure, and I wasn't surprised to hear this. When we do The Work with a modicum of willingness, we can discover that we don't need our children to change in order for us to be happy. When we realize this, things often change in the family. The children seem to pick up on our energy.

Amy came to The Work at the end of her rope. Her adopted daughter Bianca, age seven, has a diagnosis of detachment disorder. One of Bianca's "symptoms" is that she usually refuses to do anything Amy asks her to do, whether it's brushing her teeth, eating her lunch, doing her homework, or going to bed. Often Bianca reacts by hitting Amy or destroying things in the house, showing no remorse. Amy and Bianca have had a battle of the wills from the time Bianca was a toddler. Nothing they had tried previously, from therapy to forging agreements, from screaming fights to medication, seemed to make much difference.

One day, Amy worked with me on her beliefs about Bianca's homework. Amy believed that if she didn't sit with Bianca and "make" her do her homework, it would never get done. Even with this belief, Bianca was not completing her work, often furiously scribbling in her notebook in the early morning on the way to school. Amy began forbidding Bianca to do her homework in the car, resulting in more battles, sometimes physical.

Seeing Amy's frustration and anger about the homework situation, Bianca's teacher had told Amy to back off and let the homework be a matter between the teacher and Bianca, but Amy would not let go. She felt strongly that it was her job as a mother to make sure Bianca's homework was done. We worked on that thought, and Amy left the session feeling she had gotten nowhere; she needed to be right about this one! Something terrible would happen if Bianca didn't do her schoolwork; she'd fail at school, have early sex, take drugs, drop out, live on the street. (I am not making this up; Amy really believed this.)

Later that day, Amy sent me an email:

"Good news...amazingly, effortlessly I gave up getting involved in Bianca's homework today. I didn't do The Work on it at all after our session, but something from talking with you this morning slid into place. One big thing I realized is that I have been holding back doing fun things with Bianca--such as reading aloud to her--until her homework was done. I saw that I didn't want to punish myself, so I decided to go ahead and offer to read, and see what Bianca said. She could have said she had to do her homework, but she didn't say that, so I read aloud to her, and enjoyed myself. She enjoyed the reading too. She will have to deal with the teacher on Friday if her work isn't done!"

How did The Work help this situation? Without realizing it, Amy became aware that night of Question 3, "How do you react when you believe that thought?" She realized that in being rigid and controlling with Bianca, she was being rigid and controlling with herself. There was no way for Amy to have a happy family life if she couldn't allow herself to be happy until all conditions were met. When I last heard from Amy, sometimes Bianca was doing her homework, sometimes not. Amy was still stressing about it, but less. It's a beginning.

What if your issue with your child has nothing to do with behavior? Corinne wrote to me as ask if she should use The Work with her young daughter, who was experiencing night terrors about death. If the child were interested in inquiry, she could certainly benefit from The Work, I told Corinne, and she might benefit most from having a mother who works with her own fears. I suggested Corinne work with the belief she was voicing, "My daughter is suffering," with her own thoughts about death, and with her beliefs about her daughter: "Allison is fearful and withdrawn, and it means that..."

Corinne wrote back to say that she understood she could not expect her daughter to overcome her fears if she as a mother wasn't willing to face her own. She discovered she was holding beliefs that were at least as terrifying as her daughter's fear of death, such as "I am the cause of Allison's suffering," and "I am responsible for my children's happiness." About death: "If I died, no one would love and care for my children as I do."

Children--like our neighbors, spouses, bosses, parents, siblings, friends, perceived enemies, cats, dogs, and elected officials--are here to support us, to point us toward the way to freedom. Whose business are you in mentally when you believe the thought, "My child should...?"

If we can look to ourselves for our happiness, it doesn't mean the kids aren't going to behave, or thrive, or grow up to be good citizens. It's like that old saw about the oxygen mask on the airplane: in case of emergency, affix your own mask before attempting to assist another. We can be of no use to our children if we are suffocating in the name of love.

Byron Katie has said,

"You live as the example of how lovely it is to serve yourself, to create for yourself the world you want to live in, by cleaning up what you want cleaned up. If you love it, [your children] begin to love it also. They become attracted to you and how you live, and all the while you can lovingly ask for what you want, and that is their help. You can ask over and over and over, from a place of love and gratitude for your own life lived well. And they will help you or not. And that is what is happening anyway. It's just, how are you going to live out what you are doing? In peace and joy, or in resentment? If doing what you do brings unhappiness and resentment, why would they want to do it? Notice what you are teaching--is it joy or grievance?"

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

If you were a subscriber to Transformational Inquiry, today you would have received an en excerpt from an exclusive and unpublished interview I conducted with Byron Katie in 2003 about The Work and parenting issues. Transformational Inquiry is my ezine, and subscriber benefits include a free report, subcriber-only discounts on my products and facilitation, and news of my teleclasses and in-person events. It arrives monthly (or bi-monthly, or weekly, or sporadically, truth be told), at no cost. To subscribe, visit my website, or go directly to