January 31, 2007

The Law of Attraction, or the Lull of Distraction?

Lately many people I know have been super-excited about a DVD called The Secret.

According to The Secret's official website, the movie reveals how to have "unlimited joy, health, money, relationships, love, youth: everything you have ever wanted." Furthermore, "The Secret...utterly transformed the lives of every person who ever knew it... Plato, Newton, Carnegie, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Einstein." Not to mention real people interviewed for the film who have applied these principles and found true love, big bucks and perfect health. Add to this the testimony of a quantum physicist from the equally popular film What the Bleep Do We Know?, along with some of today's bestselling spirituality and prosperty authors—household names like Jack "Chicken Soup for the Soul" Canfield and Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale—and you've got a bestseller. (The older version of the film, now out of print, also contains footage of the popular Abraham/Law of Attraction channeler/teacher Esther Hicks, deleted from the most current version due to "differences" with the producer.)

Examples abound in The Secret of ways to attain money, cars, homes and other items of material wealth through "attraction principles" (which involve using autosuggestion techniques such as "treasure mapping," affirmations, visualizations and setting intentions). Some material is included about achieving spiritual growth, bringing about world peace, the importance of gratitude and "loving what is" (most notably those sequences with Dr. Michael Beckwith of Agape Spiritual Center in Los Angeles)...but these areas are not given nearly as much airplay in the film as the commodities are.

I have some issues with The Secret. First of all, The Secret is no secret. Books about manifesting abundance and success have been around since the early 20th century; my mom had a little booklet in her night table called "It Works!" which was published circa 1925 and is still available today. Other books like Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich appeared around the same time and continue to be popular.

Another issue I have with the film lies with its promotion of magical thinking: keep focusing on that Rolls Royce and one day it will be yours! I know of no one who has materialized a car out of belief alone. If you want a car and someone gives you one, that's wonderful...and it could be that your neighbor, who has no car, has chanted many more attraction mantras—and with more faith—than you. Some would say the neighbor must not be vibrationally aligned to get the car. I'd say she's not supposed to have a car now...which could change tomorrow. (So could your current automobile ownership.)

This is not to say that belief isn't powerful. When we believe something terrible will happen, we live in a world that is already terrible; we're terrorized. When we have the mindset that reality is kind, we don't experience anything as terrible, with or without riches.

The Secret is about a story of a nonexistent future in which we will have something we want, which may create stress in the present because that something is not here now. There is nothing in The Secret that shows us how to be satisfied and happy and rich in this moment. For that we must question what we believe.

Focusing on material gain may indeed get you a Rolls Royce if that's what you truly desire. However, based on this philosophy, you'd better make sure to include in your treasure map that you want to be able to keep your Rolls Royce once you get it...or to keep it in perfect condition...and to not soon grow dissatisfied and needing something else in order to be happy! There's the flip side: if you don't get what you want, you're just not doing it right. You weren't specific enough. You didn't do your due dilligence, metaphysically.

The Secret does not open us to something greater than the temporary pleasures of "stuff." What if a Rolls Royce is not for your highest good? What if something other than that could lead you to your perfect path? Would you still want that Rolls more than you want what you have now? Can you know you'd be much happier and better off if you had it? (That doesn't mean you won't get the car; it's just that the car is a bonus.)

A recent New York Times article entitled "Do You Believe in Magic?" (January 27, 2007) revealed that the human brain is wired to buoy itself with claims of specialness as a way to ward off fear and distress. This is the same brain circuitry that imagination comes from, but in some cases the propensity to create specialness can result in counterproductive magical thinking and disabling compulsive behavior, ranging from mild superstition to major delusions to obsessive-compulsive disorder. The more we are under stress, the more desperate we feel, the more likely we are to espouse magical beliefs. War zones are full of such things.

Can belief really keep you safe? (Safe from the pain of unfulfilled desires, for example.) Not if you still think there's such a thing as "unsafe." The mind that understands that all is well may not see so-called poverty, illness, or even death, as awful. This doesn't mean we lay down and do without and die. Without that fear there may be presence of mind to get out of the war zone, be it physical or mental. We can remain open and available to having and enjoying a Rolls Royce, even though we're just fine with our used Prius.

In order to know there are no limits, we must question the beliefs that stand in the way of our perceived limitation; acting "as if" has never worked; there must be deep conviction, which self-inquiry provides beyond a doubt. What arises from this simple exercise in discovering our own truth—answering four questions and turning our thoughts around—is often sheer gratitude for "what is."

Imagine the freedom to be rich right now with things just as they are! That is a symptom of an open mind...and an open mind is much more likely to "attract" all the wonderfulness available to us in this universe. As Byron Katie says, "Just when you think life can't possibly get any better, it does; it's a law." And that's not a secret.

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

January 30, 2007

I'm One in 2000! Brag, Brag, Brag...

Heard about the 2000 bloggers viral marketing experiment? Tino Buntic of the TradePals business-to-business directory created it as a tribute to the social blogosphere. The only requirement was to have a photo of oneself on the blog (thus I've added mine), and to get Tino's attention before he reached his limit. Since hundreds of people like myself were included along with better-known bloggers like Rosie O'Donnell, Donald Trump and Seth Godin, it doesn't make me special, but it's fun to be included and traffic here has increased somewhat as a result.

Okay, so why am I reluctant to say this IS special, since it is, sort of? I'm reading a book called Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn without Blowing It by communication coach Peggy Klaus and it seems that "self-praise stinks" is a myth we could question. Deserve some credit and too shy to ask for it? This could result in some resentment. If you think others should be praising and promoting you instead of you...you can wait for the testimonials to roll in, or you can get the ball rolling.

See if you can find yours truly in the grid...and anyone else you know.

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

January 23, 2007

What do Robin Williams, Maui, a Manuscript and an Elevator Have to Do with Inquiry?

So there I was with a friend in a fancy hotel elevator—I had been excited to show her the elevator, it was ornate and beautiful—when the comedic actor Robin Williams entered and I was dopily star-struck. He was always my fantasy choice to play the role of my father if ever my magnum opus about our relationship got published and optioned for a film. (It's probably the best thing I have ever written. The New Yorker even rejected it with a handwritten "Sorry.")

Williams, as it turns out, is a lovely man, friendly and helpful. In my nervousness at being so close to him, I was dropping things and he kindly assisted me by taking my tote bag. Out tumbled a typed and bound copy of my "Daddy" story. R.W. picked up the manuscript and noticing the title ("The Ride of His Life"), became interested and told me (he didn't ask) that he was taking it away with him to read. I was hesitant but my friend, suddenly acting as my agent, overroad my modest protests and told him where we could be reached. "How incredible was that?" I asked as we left him in the elevator and entered our beautiful suite. "Not incredible," she said, "It's a great story, he should read it!"

As is my habit/addiction, I immediately plugged in my laptop to check my email. There was a message, complete with lush photos of my last visit, from my friend on Maui who was urging me to move there. "Come on," she wrote, "Look how happy you look in these photos. You know you've always wanted to live here so why not just do it?" As I read her words, I thought about how much I hold back my own happiness and that it was high time this behavior stopped.

Soon afterwards, Robin Williams dropped by our suite, told me that he loved my "Daddy" story and would be discussing it with a big Hollywood producer later that day. My friend received this news as an "of course." I thanked R.W. profusely and when he left, I plopped down in a big cushy chair, amazed and elated. "Wow," I thought, "Even if it doesn't happen, what an honor that he is even interested in this."

That's when I woke up from my night dream (you may now groan). Yes, this was but a dream...I have never met Robin Williams, never had a story optioned for a film, have never considered moving to Maui (I've never even visited the island) and I have no idea where that ornate elevator came from.

Why, then, days later, do I still feel so great about this dream? I think it is about being open to something wonderful being possible while remaining fully content with what's happening now, which is also wonderful until I say it is not.

I had a similar reaction, in waking life, to seeing a townhouse I fell in love with some months ago: it had a fireplace, a skylight, the kind of live and work space I required and it overlooked a lagoon with wonderful aquatic birds. It was conveniently located and the complex had a beautiful swimming pool. I spoke to the neighbors; they all agreed it was a great place to live. There was no way I could afford it and yet I walked away from the place smiling; I was so open to having it, or something like it, when and if the time is right...and I was so open to returning to my own home. I felt privileged even to see the townhouse and joyous to know it existed.

Huh? What about the "Law of Attraction" and all that? Shouldn't I have done some incantations or created some treasure maps to make that townhouse happen for me? And what about that dream, wasn't it a sign from above that I need to move to Maui, ride up (how symbolic that we only rode upstair!) in fancy hotel elevators more often and make sure I get that story into Robin Williams' hands?

Apparently I shouldn't, for I am not feeling compelled to move on any of this at the moment. I might look into contacting R.W (I can't see why not)...I have a hunch that I might like to live in San Diego someday if not Maui...and meanwhile, the sun is shining today in Santa Cruz and I'm having a wonderful time here spinning this tale, although I understand there is a gunman situation happening in the restaurant downstairs while I write this and all sorts of interesting things are happening in the world/my mind that could shake me from my peace if I attached to them.

As for opportunities, they are everywhere and an open, inquiring mind realizes this. In my dream, "I" demurred when R.W. wanted to read my story; my "friend," who I see as myself with some awareness, couldn't see a reason why he shouldn't read it nor could she fathom that he wouldn't love it. The mind questioned later in the dream ("Why not just do it?") revealed how I react when I believe my thoughts of "not good enough," or "nothing wonderful ever happens to me." I don't do the things I say I want to do; I find excuses, "yeahbuts." It's because I am attached to outcome. What if the T.V. producer says no? An open mind sees this as an opportunity also; something else, something as wonderful or more wonderful, is supposed to happen instead.

And I am so open to running into Robin Williams in an elevator, I cannot even begin to tell you.

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

January 17, 2007

Loving What's Moi

That wascally wabbit Jamie Reynolds went and tapped me back for another game of "blog tag," albeit with another rather Workie twist. This time I was asked to name five things I love about myself. Not to boast, but when I do my work and take a time-out from my second career as a self-flagelator, there's actually quite a lot that's pretty darn cool about me. Here are a half dozen instead of five, because, as Byron Katie might say about those genuine examples of each turnaround, "If you can find five, you can find six," and so on. I invite you to do the same, especially if you are Stephanie, Annie, Nancy, Patty, and

1. I love that I'm so entertaining. Sometimes this bites me in the butt—I've been known to get "schticky" when I'm feeling too vulnerable...and I'm working on it—but you can almost always count on me for a song, a quick and clever quip, or to leave you winded and aching from laughter after you've heard me sing "Oh What A Beautiful Morning" as Julie Andrews...or "I'm Zo Ex-zited" as Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

2. I love my willingness. Self inquiry isn't always a picnic in the park, but more often than not I am willing and often excited to upend those big rocks and find the slimy stuff beneath them. It frees me and I love that. I think I am most courageous to go to the places I go, to feel the feelings after so many years of trying to override them or stuff them down.

3. I love my writing. Don't all writers write primarily for themselves? I do...and I think it's good stuff! If I didn't, I'd never post it here. And if I didn't write for myself, I'd still be writing junk mail, or perhaps penning potboilers (under a pseudonym) for big bucks. As a youngster I wanted to be the next Rona Jaffee, but these days, though I think I could easily learn the formulas and get someone to photograph me for the dust jacket in a negligee through several layers of Vaseline, it's not in my integrity to do so. Except...it would almost be worth it to have a book called The Mistress of Arts, about a slutty Master's candidate at a prestigious university who sleeps her way to the Ph.D. (I first thought of this when I was a virginal albeit lustful Master's candidate at a prestigious university who did no such thing.)

4. I love that I have made friends with depression.
No more victimhood, yippee! It has been a most interesting spiritual path, having depression as a guru...and truly I would not trade in this life for another. Transformational Inquiry: Working with Depression is soon to be a major eBook, available at clearlifesolutions.com.)

5. I love myself when I love you. I love the openness of it, the joy, the connection, the kindness and gratitude. I love the sweetness and consideration and compassion of showing up as love embodied. I am so nice to be around when I'm that way! I'm totally enjoying my own company and calling it "you." It just brings home the whole nonduality mirror thing: how could we recognize wonderfulness in another if we weren't that?

6. I love my vulnerability. Sometimes. Still working on it. I still think, at times, that I should suck it up and deal...that I shouldn't be so sensitive and take things so personally. But gosh...I get more fan letters when I open up here. And it is such a relief to be able to do that.

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

January 16, 2007

Hot Tub Facilitation: Tips for Facilitators and Coaches

Last summer, I asked someone new to The Work to facilitate me in a hotel hot tub.

She and I were alone in the Jacuzzi and while we were soaking, she introduced herself. Seeing an opening, the woman began pouring out her heart to me. She was in town to help her college-age daughter, a violent young woman who had recently dropped out of school, started hanging out with criminals and was now addicted to chrystal meth. The daughter was living with the woman's elderly parents, stealing belongings and money from them and possibly from other peoples' homes. The young woman had already threatened to kill her mother and had broken into her computer and stolen her credit card passwords; that's why her mother had moved into the hotel.

My new friend was deathly afraid her child would do something permanently self-destructive, go to prison or get herself killed. She was also a cancer patient and certain that the situation with her daughter was making her sicker.

I told her I had something that had helped me and that might help her to stay sane while dealing with her daughter. She was anxious to hear about it. As I described The Work, she nodded a lot and said she was already enlightened to what I was saying. I said that was wonderful...and since I happened to have Byron Katie's "little book" with me, would she ask me the four questions on a one-liner of mine? She was delighted to be of service. I was delighted too; I got to work on a "sticky one."

The woman was impressed by the process of The Work...so we worked a bit on how she wanted her daughter to change. She shed some tears over her turnarounds: "I want me to change." (Especially with regards to my daughter; not to be an enabler, not to be afraid.) "I want my thinking to change" — the thinking that made her ill and unable to properly help her daughter or herself. My friend took the booklet back to her room and expressed interest in Byron Katie's "Addictions" CD, which I promised to send her. Later that day she called me; she had read the little book and felt that God had sent her an angel.

I figured if having someone in a hot tub facilitate me so effectively moved The Work, taking on the client's role would be a wonderful way to involve newcomers at workshops also...as well as on the DoTheWork NetWork hotline. At an introductory program I gave at a bookstore the following September, instead of first asking for a volunteer to do The Work, I requested that someone facilitate me. It was a wonderful way both to level the field and to model the process of "client." People eagerly volunteered to be facilitated after that. This has worked so well that I have been the "client" at the start of every workshop ever since.

Coincidentally, not long afterwards, Hotline volunteers were asked to invite "newbies" to facilitate us. I had that opportunity recently with someone who is very new to The Work and who has a very quick mind. (My sister!) She didn't have a one-liner handy because her mind was filled with issues about so many things: her family, the cult she had just left, her finances. She began to tell her stories and when I requested we do The Work on one of them, she only wanted to work on herself because "I know it's all about me."

I asked the client if she would ask me the four questions first; she agreed. I worked on the one-liner “She is shallow." In this way, she saw the value of "judging your neighbor."

After some probing, we found a one-liner for the client to work on: “My sister tries to take over my life,” which we navigated rockily! She still wanted to tell her stories and to defend and "yeahbut." However, at the end of the session she said she could see that the work was valuable and that it would serve her.

The client sent me an email later that day to let me know she appreciated the opportunity both to facilitate The Work and to answer the questions. She was off to buy a copy of Loving What Is and to delve more deeply into the process.

When a new client has the opportunity to be the facilitator right away, there are multiple benefits. The client gets to observe the power of The Work when there is willingness to go deeply and find the truth. As questioners and listeners, clients quickly discover The Work's simplicity: four simple questions and a turnaround. At the same time, the facilitator is seen as someone like them, not as some "grand inquisitor" who knows something the client doesn't know. This levels the field.

How does this benefit you, the facilitator? You get a more receptive client...and a golden opportunity to do The Work yourself!

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

January 13, 2007

Do You Need Trust?

"Trust what is. Resist it—terror!"
—Byron Katie

What if:

You have never been used.
You have never been abused.
You have never been betrayed.
No one has ever lied to you.
No one has ever taken anything from you that you needed.
No one has ever left you.
No one has ever hurt you.
You have everything you need in every moment.
You never made a mistake.
All is well.

"Trust" in our language usually means, "I have every confidence that you will do what I want." It's a nice fantasy; if you believe it, I have a bridge in Brooklyn you might like to buy.

Do you trust God, the Universe, the All-That-Is? Really? Deeply look within. Ask yourself if you still trust the Universe when your stockbroker makes off with all your money or when a hurricane destroys your home. God is everything but not your stockbroker? Not hurricanes? Could it be that God's busy and created crooked businesspeople and earthquakes and tsunamis to show you that you didn't need all that money or a home or your kids?

Radical, isn't it? Who wants to think about these things? I didn't. And in recent years I've had to. I hired that stockbroker. I lost loved ones...we all have. We've all seen the footage of war and natural disaster in the past few years. Some of us were there. For months I couldn't get the smell of 9/11 out of my nose.

Why should we trust? One reason: for our own sake. Trust is not about "other."

True trust is the knowledge that what's here now is perfect, appropriate, just and exactly what you need at exactly the right time. (Even if all that changes five seconds from now.) Byron Katie says, "What's fair is what is." If you don't believe it, look at your life. Look at your bank balance. Look at the world. Try arguing with it. Does it change because you argue? Does the wind change direction when you say so?

Are any of us lovers of what is? Not I. Not yet. But sometimes, yes. That love comes from trust. That trust is not a given. It's not particularly "spiritual" as it requires no faith...only presence. It is a gentle and true state of being. For me, it has come out of inquiry.

In this new year, are you willing to really go for it?

What if nothing terrible has ever happened or ever will?

What if the perfect life you've been resolving to have is here now?

"Expectation is premeditated disappointment."
—Byron Katie

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

Register here for the January 2007 teleclass series "Transformational
Inquiry: Your New Year's Revolutions"

January 10, 2007

Four Agreements...or Just One?

Don Miguel Ruiz's book The Four Agreements is a distillation of life lessons the author learned on the path of self-inquiry. Like so many wise teachers--and like many of us--it took a catastrophe in don Miguel's life to get him to look within...and he did so within the tradition of his Toltec ancestors. His conclusions are remarkably similar to those of the Eastern nondual teachings and as such are not dissimilar to those reached through Byron Katie's Work.

Don Miguel tells us that unhappiness comes from our clinging to old agreements made under the influence of outmoded beliefs and that the key to a happy life is to make four new agreements: be impeccable with your word; don't take anything personally; don't make assumptions; always do your best.

The third agreement, "don't make assumptions," resonated within me in a way the other three agreements did not. Indeed, the book's cover copy asserts, "With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life." Here, don Miguel gives a wonderful explanation of what we do to ourselves when we attach to thoughts that are not true for us. (Sound familiar? Hint: Question 3 of The Work: "How do you react when you believe that thought?") The way to stop making assumptions, says don Miguel, is to question our thoughts...because it is human nature to automatically assume that every belief we hear is the truth, even if the source of the belief is gossip. Good information, although like so many other authors of spiritual guidebooks, don Miguel does not share in his book the process of self-inquiry that helped him to stop believing his assumptions; he just tells us to stop. And if you've ever tried to stop believing what you believe, you know it's not so easy.

It's because we haven't known how to "ask us" that Byron Katie gives us what she received...the simple inquiry mechanics of four questions and a turnaround. We might say that "ask you" is the "One Agreement" of Katie's Work. Even the thought "I should stop making assumptions" can be questioned. People make assumptions; that's our nature. To say, "don't" doesn't stop this from being so. It's an assumption to say that I should not make assumptions!

Once we do the simple work of noticing and questioning for awhile, inquiry comes alive in us. We still make assumptions, but assumptions no longer make us. The "don't know" mind that results from inquiry cannot continue to create a world based on uninvestigated beliefs. Once we notice how these beliefs affect our minds and our behavior, the code of conduct prescribed by don Miguel comes naturally because it feels more peaceful.

With The Work, our word becomes impeccable because we have questioned our motives before speaking. We take things less personally because in the oneness that results from losing our stressful stories, we realize that nothing is personal. When we question what we believe, we can see that everyone--ourselves included--is always doing the best he or she can in the moment.

And we assume that none of this is true...until it is.

Deepening Transformational Inquiry: One Agreement

Here's a gentle agreement to make with yourself in the new year: "I invite deeper awareness in my life." Exciting! Who knows what that will look like? It might mean that you'll take time to smell the flowers, taste your food, notice the color of the sky, feel the support of your chair, or revel in the soft texture of your clothing. It could mean that you listen literally to what your children or partner or boss is telling you, experiencing true intimacy with them for the first time as you discover that their opinions and criticisms and desires are not personal to you. Perhaps it means you will be open to sit with your feelings and actually feel them, rather than stuff them down with food or cigarettes or affirmations meant to banish the "negative."

Notice I did not say, "Resolve to meditate/contemplate/do The Work every day." Resolutions imply promise...and promises are difficult to keep; things (and minds) change beyond our control. What if reality has a better idea than the one we've resolved for ourselves?

On the other hand, an intention is like the gentler twin sibling of a resolution, inviting you to open your mind and consider the possibilities. It is not a task or commitment to add to your list of "shoulds." It allows for creativity and natural flow.

Will you invite yourself into this sweet intention along with me...and let me know what happens?

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

Register here for the January 2007 teleclass series "Transformational
Inquiry: Your New Year's Revolutions"

January 9, 2007

Want a Great Facilitator? Just Answer the Freakin' Questions...

Over the years as a practitioner and facilitator of Transformational Inquiry with The Work of Byron Katie, I've formed very definite opinions of what constitutes "good" facilitation. I thought I preferred experienced facilitators to newcomers...or the personality of one experienced facilitator to that of another. When I have swapped facilitation with a partner in the past, I have sometimes rather impatiently felt the need to direct his or her facilitation and to "salvage" the experience for myself as a client.

At the most recent School for The Work, staff and participants were invited to take part in an aftercare exercise, where, in order to keep The Work working in our lives, we rotated facilitation partners in seven four-day shifts after we returned home. Even though we had all been to the school and learned the same process, everyone (me
too) has their own way of asking the questions; Katie calls this our "fingerprint." All month, as I worked with different people, I watched my mind concoct its preferences and objections and make its comparisons: "He doesn't give me enough time." "She's doing therapy." "They should follow the facilitation guidelines as written." However, I soon realized that no matter what I thought, each partner was holding the perfect space for inquiry if only I did my part, which is simply to go within and answer the questions.

I'm not sure how to explain what happened except to say that in each case, as long as I was willing, mind always enlightened itself in the presence of apparent "other:" and it could not have been better if "they" had done it differently. It was as if different parts of the brain were stimulated by those different facilitation styles; I experienced deep eepiphanies and deep peace with each of my partners, without having to micro-manage them or myself.

I have a little sticky note over my desk that I glance at when I'm facilitating, which says "Ask the questions, hold the space." I could post another that says, "The space is held; answer the questions."

Thanks to all of my facilitators who so lovingly held the space.

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