July 19, 2007

Bad Hair Daze

Uninvestigated, a bad hair day can plunge me from Loving What Is straight to heck.

Rick Watson of Portland, Oregon, has done an inquiry on haircuts at his blog. (Why not? Every stressful belief is good grist for the mill, however petty it may appear.)

While Rick began by stating that haircuts are too expensive (they should only cost about $12 and should always look good!), he realized, after questioning his thoughts, that it's not the price of the cut that bothers him as much as his expectations of the results.

Those of us with hair may relate. (The rest of you have your own inquiry work cut out for you.)

Haircuts rarely meet my expectations either. I expect improvement. I've always believed that this was what I was paying for. I've seen, after reading Rick's piece, that in reality, I'm only paying to have my hair made shorter in length. The rest is a story.

I'm about to go on the road for several weeks, and I thought I'd be clever and have my hair cut a week in advance, so as not to have that just-chopped-and-still-in-shock look when I arrive at my first stop. By the time I leave, I thought, those stressed tresses will look gorgeous.

So far, not so good.

My moderately expensive coif is now shaped into a tres trendy shag style, which just looks messy to me. My beef is not so much with the stylist's cost (I've had good $75 cuts and good $15 ones, and really bad cuts all over the price spectrum as well); rather it concerns beliefs that I need my hair to look gorgeous, that I have "bad" hair, that my hair should cooperate, etc.

This is ultimately about control. In order to be satisfied with my haircut, I'd have to be the puppet-master of my stylist ("I want her to create a miracle"), the climate ("It shouldn't be 'frizz weather'"), the amount of minerals in the H2O in which I wash it ("California water is too hard"), female hormonal changes ("I look like crap for half the month"), my genetics ("My hair should be thicker"), and of how everyone else sees it ("They won't think I'm attractive").

Remember how it was to be a teenager with a zit...how less than a millimeter of skin eruption could become the entire focus of our lives? It's not quite that bad, but when I think my hair looks awful, I've been known to show up feeling a bit apologetic for my very existence. I've been known not to show up, period. Because, heaven forbid, you might see me as I see myself. (Some friend you turned out to be!)

All this angst and hopelessness over some silly dead cells.

Now it's your turn: What's a petty irritation of yours that creates a "ripple effect" of other stressors? What are the beliefs that lay beneath your original stressful thought?

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

July 15, 2007

From Suggestion Box to Question Box

Are you open to a suggestion? Maybe it's time to chuck your suggestion box.

Organizational psychologist Bruce L. Katcher strongly suggests we jettison the suggestion box in business. "There is no better way I know of to stifle openness," he says, "than to tell employees to 'stuff' their suggestions in a box. The use of such a policy clearly signals to employees that voicing their suggestions openly to their manager or senior management would be unacceptable or ineffective."

How so? Because suggestion boxes are rarely solutions-oriented. The suggestions therein are treated as opinion. The contents of the suggestion box may never make it past the first reader, who also has an opinion as to the suggestion's validity. There's no dialogue...which may be just fine with employees who fear retribution for speaking their minds anyway.

Lack of openness—whether in the workplace, socially, or in our families—is where gossip and backstabbing often begin. If we foster a climate in our homes, relationships, and offices of "shoot the messenger," who would want to risk being shot? It's not that we won't communicate our needs, ideas, or grievances; we'll just do it in some interesting ways...revenge, avoidance, passive-aggression, irate letters to the editor. In fact, at the moment I'd love to take revenge on my upstairs neighbor, who brushes his dog and scatters the fur out his front door to land on the tree—and my doormat—below. And because I have the tools of self-inquiry, I have a better place to put my aggression; on paper.

The homeowner's association where I live has a policy of neighbors not discussing their grievances with neighbors. Instead, we are to submit any ongoing complaints to the management association, lest we be accused in turn of harassment. Since most of the world does not have a Judge-Your-Neighbor worksheet handy, perhaps this is wise. It is, however, the equivalent of stuffing the suggestion box.

I don't know how he would feel about it, but I would greatly prefer to be able to speak directly to Mr. Neighbor, who I've never even met. I'm sure we could come to some understanding without the management company's intervention. For all I know, he may be innocently unaware of how his actions affect other people in the complex.

Meanwhile, I can look at where I'm still deliberately putitng a "suggestion box" between myself and others. Is it safe to tell me the truth? Not always; especially if you are a family member or very close friend, and you are critical of me "after all I've done for you!" (Hmm, I'd better read and do the exercises in my Mothers and Others eBook again!)

Is your suggestion box cramping your communication style?

Can your children tell you the truth without consequences? Your siblings? Your friends? Your partner? Are they afraid of how you'll react? Must they act through an intermediary in order to be heard?

Are you uneasy about telling your boss how you feel? What do you assume about how she'll hear you (or won't hear you)?

Do you really want to know what your employees think of you and the company, or do you ignore or punish them?

Does someone filter suggestions before they get to you? You may see this as a time-saver, but you might also be avoiding something. If so, what is it?

When you receive feedback, do you really receive it...and act on it?

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

Did It Happen?

I was in the first grade, so I was six or seven years old, depending on the time of year.

A tall man in a suit came to our classroom, and spoke to our teacher, Mrs. Berger, for a few minutes. I'd never seen him before; he wasn't one of the parents, one of the teachers, nor was he the principal.

Mrs. Berger asked John Doria and me to go out into the hall with the man.

The man spoke nicely to us. He must have told us his name, but I don't remember. He asked us our names.



"Do you want to marry her?"

"Nooooo!" (Giggles from both of us.)

"Do you want to marry him?"

"Nooooo!" (More giggles.) (I probably would have answered "yes" if John hadn't answered "no." He was smart, super-cute, and already knew now to play the guitar.)

I don't remember what else he asked us before thanking us, shaking our little hands, and sending us back to class.

I never asked our teacher what that was all about (most likely I was too busy learning how to read and such)...I never told my parents about it (I had bigger fish to fry, such as whining for a pair of "go-go" boots)...but I never forgot the incident either. Years later, I had lots of thoughts about this brief, enigmatic encounter.

-We were being auditioned for the TV show, "Candid Camera."
-The man was a school psychologist, and our teacher thought John and I were "troubled."
-He was a researcher, tallying first-graders' responses to the question, "Do you want to marry her/him?"
-They should have asked our parents' permission to speak to a strange man.
-John and I were special.

It's amazing how the mind travels for years around something seemingly insignificant, lasting no longer than five minutes, more than 40 years ago.

Then, there's the nature of memory and it's unreliability. Did this happen? Did it happen as I remember it? Why, out of millions of five-minute scenarios in my life, do I remember and focus on this one? What's unresolved about it for me?

We could say I missed my chance at TV stardom...if in fact there had ever been a chance. Or, that if I'd been on TV, it would have made me a "star." Does anyone today—other than their families—remember any of those little cuties saying and doing wonderfully bright or outrageous things on Candid Camera? (If not, it could be a huge relief to those 50 to 60-year-old children today!)

"John didn't love me." Now there's a stressful thought! Sigh...the story of my life, "The men I like don't like me." But I've only believed it for 49 years.

It could be that my teacher thought I was troubled. So what? She wouldn't be the first, or only one, to believe this. My mother kept me out of school a lot that year, initially because of an intense and lengthy allergic reaction I had to a gamma globulin shot...later because she didn't have the energy to make sure I went to school. There was plenty of drama at home, and in my head.

The real question is, did I think I was troubled? I remember feeling scared of some adults, being insecure around other children my age, and getting very angry with my parents for infractions "real" and imagined. I was sassy, headstrong, bratty, and funny; by five or six I was already a great mimic, doing impressions of my grandfather snoring, and of characters from the Bugs Bunny cartoons. I was very interested in reading books, play-acting, singing, watching television, playing with my older cousins, visiting my grandparents, and drawing pictures. I liked school; I also liked staying home, whether sick or pretending to be. When I go back in time to re-experience my six-year-old self, I can't honestly find a troubled child. I find someone startlingly like the person writing this today, albeit lots smaller, and a bit more confused.

"He was a researcher." No biggie, except I might think that research on the things children say is a silly waste of time. Mind likes to qualify everything.

"People shouldn't talk to kids without their parents' permission." I knew not to talk to strangers in the street because, you know, something terrible could happen. Not that it couldn't, but this was a school corridor in a benign section of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, not Belfast, Bosnia, or Bedford-Stuyvesant...and even if it had been one of those places, where's the proof of imminent danger?

A lot of thoughts flow from being "special," mostly ones that result in feelings of regret ("I didn't live up to my potential"), separation, and loneliness ("I wasn't like the other kids"; "I am smarter than others").

Today I am seeing this memory as a sweet visitation of what is not. The memory has brought some friends along this time. The doorbell rings, I answer it, welcome my visitors, hear them, love them, and say goodbye, until we meet again.

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

July 13, 2007

"We'll Just Set Aboot Ye"

John Smeaton is the Scottish airport baggage handler who was involved in thwarting the recent terror attack at the Glasgow airport. A friend who was born in Scotland sent me a funny email comparing a hypothetical American's (sounds like a fellow neurotic Noo Yawkuh) eyewitness account to a Glaswegian's. Example:

America: "I'm too traumatized even to speak, I thought I was gonna die."

Glasgow: "'Ere mate, gies two minutes till ah phone ma auld dear, if ahm gonna be oan the telly ah want 'er tae tape it."

When asked by ITV news for a message for the bombers, Smeaton replied,

"Glesgo doesna accept this. Tha's just Glesgo; we'll set aboot ye."[ (Translation: "We'll deck you.")

Smeaton has become an icon of no-victimhood worldwide. Even Weegies, not always fond of their city's reputation as a rough, Trainspotting kind of place, are adopting Smeaton's words as a motto.

There are those who would say that Smeaton's reaction was not a peaceful solution and therefore not the best solution (while he pulled someone out of the way of a burning vehicle, he also "set aboot" one of the attackers who was going after a policeman), and I would say that right action is determined by what is needed at the time. I probably would have run screaming, myself...and I am thankful that this man—who did what he knew to do, and does not see himself as a hero—did not, possibly saving lives.

But what about the rest of the time? Must we always be armed to the teeth, threatening consequences, in order to feel safe? How can we put a halt to violence without being poised for violence?

When I facilitated a two-day workshop in Cali, Colombia several years ago, I thought it would be a good idea to spend some time talking about terrorism. However, we may have spent about ten minutes total on the drug lords, kidnappers, and guerilleros that are the daily reality in this turbulent country with its 50-plus year history of crime, violence, social injustice, and political unrest. The participants mostly wanted to talk about their spouses, their bosses, their health, and their kids. That's where the threat of war felt closest to them.

I had the same experience at my first School for The Work in September of 2001, right after 9-11, as a downtown New Yorker with the sights, sounds, and smells of the terror attack on the World Trade Center fresh in my senses and psyche. I was having some cognitive dissonance about the event, feeling an unreality about the whole thing that may or may not have been shell shock (I'll write about that another time), but I thought I still needed to "process" it, as every other New Yorker of my acquaintance was doing. After a day or so, I was judging my body, my parents, and my cat along with the rest of the group. Byron Katie tells me this happens all over the world, whether in comfortable living rooms or in more obvious war zones.

War means that we want situations and people to be different so that we can be happy. All large-scale wars arise out of this. What "should" our parents, partners, teachers, friends, children, colleagues, supervisors, direct reports, vendors and clients do differently? Do we work things out peacefully, or "set aboot 'em"? Does living under the threat of attack of any kind bring peace or stress into your life? If the answer is "stress," welcome to The Work of Byron Katie.

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

July 10, 2007

I Am A Nutcase

Let it be known to all that I, Carol L. Skolnick, today have been a complete loony-tunes, that I am a few cards short of a deck, and that I am, as the publisher of a website that has an article of mine on it called me, "a nutcase."

Yep. I got officious over what I thought was a copyright infringement without having all the facts (turns out the web guy bought the content, I just never got paid by the content-selling website, and it could be that they tried and failed because I moved, I don't know yet)...made not-so-veiled threats about siccing a writer's watchdog website on him...copied the letter to that website...made assumptions based on past experience with my articles being "borrowed" without my permission...and in short I got it entirely wrong.

I am so wrong and so painfully aware of it that I have admitted as such to the webguy, who it could be said overreacted to my overreaction—and I just justified and defended, so scratch that last part. The guy's right about me, period. I was wrong. End of discussion.

Should I turn in my facilitator's credentials, or what? (Not to scare anyone in the BKI Certification Program; total sanity is not a requirement of any certification, degree, or profession: thank God or we'd have no philosophers, physicians, counselors, teachers, or grocers.)

Well, I'm not going to, because my recovery time was so damn quick...and that's what inquiry is about, my friends. Forget the hyperbole you hear about The Work, including any inadvertently coming from me; this stuff will not make you into a rational, balanced saint if you're not the rational, balanced, saintly type (and I'm not). What it can do is get you back on track so that you don't have to stew endlessly about silly things like the horror of being wrong, or of a ruined reputation. In fact, in our friendly universe, someone totally trashing your good name could be the best thing that ever happened. Who wants their self worth to be based on what the world thinks of you? How stressful is that, to have to live up to some good reputation, or overcome a not-so-good one? (I have lots of experience with this, believe me.)

Here's the best part. The guy wrote me, "Before you get your your bloomers in a bunch and start screeching like a black crow in heat, why don't you perform an inquiry first? Wow, that's an idea!"

There are gurus everywhere. That's a good thing for us nutcases with our knickers in a knot.

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

July 9, 2007

Near Life Experience

Shelley Yates is a woman who had a "near death" experience in which she saw seven-foot "light beings" who advised her, as her lungs filled with lake water, to relax into the experience. This is the first of eight YouTube videos in which she describes her experience, and what came afterwards.

She survived the drowning, as did her young son, who was at first diagnosed as brain dead. It's an extraordinary story, and you can learn more about it by watching all of the videos, and visiting Shelley's website, Fire the Grid.

Shelley's one of us: a gal with stories. Hers include repeated sexual abuse, difficult family relationships, being a struggling single mother of two on Welfare. Her experience did not change her personality, she says, but they did open her, in a very big way, to seeing that all is not as it seems. She's now interested in letting people know, as she does, that there is no separation, with the intention of healing ourselves and the planet. She feels that her dying son was healed as a result of others' focused attention on replenishing his life-force, and that the entire planet's energy can be renewed in the same way. As agendas go, it's a nice one.

Some people will see Shelley's story as a miracle, and as proof of the existence of spirit guides. They will be inspired to join her on the 17th of this month in a one-hour meditation. Other people have also had similar "near death" experiences, and have reported seeing these tall, luminous friends.

I don't talk about it much, but I, too, saw light beings as described, many years ago. Even though I saw them with my own eyes—an endless procession of them walking through the walls of my friend's upstate New York bungalow one dark, pre-dawn morning—I can't say they were "real" or not, just as I cannot say that any person in front of me is real, or not. Everything is projected; everyone is who we say they are.

I was neither afraid of the light-beings, nor particularly drawn to them, but I was fascinated by them. They didn't speak to me. I perceived them as benign, and I saw there was no end to the procession, so I went back to sleep, reassured by their momentary presence in a life that often felt lonely.

I never saw them again. The experience did not make me believe in light-beings. You can't believe what you don't believe, even if it appears to be right in front of you.

So what happened to Shelley? I think—and I can't know this—that as the oxygen left her brain and bloodstream, she also lost access to beliefs such as "I don't need anyone" and "I need to breathe." These thoughts could not be true in the moment, because she wasn't breathing, and help did come to carry her and her boy out of the lake and get them medical care.

Because mind needs some proof of something tangible, it could be said that the light-beings are an ego-manifestation of infinite mind. Infinite mind would not have a form, but it appeared in a way that Shelley could see and hear. And what great advice it had: "Relax." This is what it looks like to love what is. We've all had glimpses of this "peace that passeth understanding." It's who we are without a story. There was no time to question beliefs here, and no need; any limitations were instantly seen to be untrue.

I applaud Shelley's efforts to bring people together for the highest good. It's something that will resonate with many, and make it easy for them to feel aligned, safe, purposeful, and whole.

As for the world meditation convergence at 4:11 AM on PDT on July 17...well, my thought is that I will be peacefully asleep in my bed. Since time, like everything else, is a mental construct, and meditation is a "doing." it's fine to participate in this endeavor, and it's also fine to hold the intention for healing and wholeness at any time at all. I am the world I project. It is my job to restore energy unto myself.

For me, now, this very moment is a good time to fire my grid.

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

July 3, 2007

On Midlife Opportunity

I once remarked to a fellow fortyish friend that, since so many of my acquaintances of a certain age are making huge changes for the better in their lives, it seemed to me the term "midlife crisis" was a misnomer. She reminded me that in Mandarin Chinese, the words for crisis (weiji, pronounced "way-gee") and opportunity (jihui, pronounced "gee-hway") are almost mirror images of each other.

Crisis; opportunity. These words are mirror images in any language, in meaning if not in pronunciation. Each is nothing more than a reaction to a new situation, or a falling away of the familiar.

We don't like to see the familiar fall away. We become attached to what we think we need, what we believe gives us security: our jobs, our homes, our identities, the people in our lives. But oftentimes, and particularly at midlife, what's familiar may not be what's best for us. And once we realize this, we may react differently to change.

Put simply: if you find yourself on an airplane that's about to crash, you have a choice. You can stay on the plane, and wish it weren't going to crash, and lament your bad luck, and fight with reality. Or, you can enjoy the trip down, assume nothing terrible is happening, and not miss out on enjoying whatever time you have left. Or, you can grab a parachute, and jump. One choice creates a crisis; the other two create an opportunity.

Of course, a million things could go "wrong" if you jump; if, say the parachute failed to open, or you landed in a tree and got tangled in and strangled by the parachute's filaments. You might have a fear-induced heart-attack mid-air. You could break all of your bones upon landing, and be paralyzed or in terrible pain for the rest of your life. Or, you might make it back to Earth in one piece, and later get hit by a truck, or lose your job, or lose your partner, or....

But you could also survive all of these "tragedies," and get a brand-new lease on life...which, if you stayed on the plane with the failed engine, feeling doomed, you might never experience. And, if worse came to very worst, you still would have come as close as any human being ever gets to knowing what it feels like to fly. Weiji or jihui?

As we get older, we may lose a lot of things: our parents, our youthful physiques, our marketability in our chosen professions in today's youth-oriented culture. We may suddenly lose interest in our work, in our spouses, in the activities that used to mean a lot to us. Example: your partner of 20 years announces that she no longer loves you and she's leaving. But she is the love of your life, you bemoan. You'll never meet another to take her place. Though it's true that no one can take the place of anyone else, can you really know that this person who left you is the love of your life? Maybe you are being spared from future unhappiness. Maybe you have not yet met the love of your life. Maybe, as Byron Katie says, it's wonderful when a partner leaves, because you get control of the TV remote, get to see your favorite movies, eat your favorite foods, do exactly as you like. Isn't this what we claim to want when we're with our partners?

And maybe the love of your life is you!

Crisis...or opportunity?

Another example: after many years of success in your profession, your work dries up. You call everyone you know, you knock yourself out sending around your resume and knocking on doors, answering every want ad, and it just doesn't happen...not so much as an interview. If you get a phone call here and there from people who seem to need you, they later change their minds.

Crisis, or opportunity?

I'm speaking from experience here; it happened to me. I can't say as the end of my career always felt like an opportunity. Not having an income can feel like a crisis once the well runs dry. On the other hand, I had felt burnt out by my work, disrespected in the field, and frequently wondered what might have been had I chosen another career path. I often thought I wanted to do something else. I never had enough time or energy to write, and suddenly, I had nothing but time. Opportunity. And with this freedom from my former propensity to define myself by what I do for a living, who knows what further opportunities will continue to arise? I welcome them; I look forward to them. And I know I should not be working at my former profession now, because I'm not, and recently, that has been wonderful.

When our habitual identities, supports, crutches, and mirrors are removed, we may feel we are left with nothing. Others of us may feel we are left with ourselves. We may come to see that, in truth, we never wanted anything else. In losing Other, we gain Self. And the Self, coming into its own, is free at last to be itself, perfectly.

You may experience that in midlife, you have everything you want; it's just not what you always thought you wanted. An impending crash of any kind is only a crisis if you do one of two things: fail to act on what you know to do, or fret too much over the action you take.

Crisis or Opportunity. Which definition of a mid-life shakeup feels more comfortable, less stressful, to you? Why should we drag ourselves down with the idea of change as crisis when we can instead view it as an inviting new vista through a wide-open window?


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

One Person, Indivisible

In honor of U.S. Independence Day...a piece that asks the question, "Are you taxing yourself without representation?"


What is personal integrity? Mostly we think of integrity as obeisance to a specific moral or ethical code, or to a values system. Living with integrity implies honesty, trustworthiness, and adherence to responsibility. Sounds great on paper. However, you may have noticed that someomtimes, you can be "doing everything right," and still be out of your integrity.

The word integrity stems from the Latin root integrinter, which means "entire." So in its simplest sense, integrity is wholeness, oneness, being complete and undivided.

If you experience confusion or inner turmoil over doing "the right thing," it could be an indication that you are out of your integrity. The world might tell you that it's your civic duty to vote, for example...even if you disagree with the platforms of all of the candidates. Following orders and obeying the rules might make you a good citizen, a good son or daughter, a good student, a good religionist, a good employee...and it can also make you a blind, robotic follower.

Out of integrity, we can get caught up in rigidity posing as the moral or spiritual high road...and this can be contrary to our well-being and that of others. "Love thy neighbor as thyself" is a great commandment, and mightn't it be unloving to thyself and others to subject thyself to a neighbor who not only won't stop blasting the stereo after repeated requests, but turns it up even more...to stay married to a cheating spouse when infidelity isn't okay with you...or to spend time with family when you don't want to because a "spiritual" person should suck it up and deal, with the sort of loving detachment that you don't actually feel?

If "doing what's right" is not right for me, I get signals: sleepless nights, stomach aches, resentment. As Byron Katie says, stress is an alarm clock, letting you know it's time to wake the baby from the nightmare.

How can we really know we are out of integrity?

1. If something feels weird or off-kilter, even though it's something you have always done before
2. If you are acting out of guilt or obligation
3. If you don't like yourself when you do something
4. If you have to lie about what you're doing, even a "white lie"
5. If you're in a box, even if it's one of your own creation, and it's feeling stuffy in there

Trustworthiness and responsibility arise naturally when we are complete and undivided within. To be honest with others, we must first get honest with ourselves. To get honest with ourselves, we must first know ourselves. To know ourselves...we inquire.

Deepening Transformational Inquiry: Independence Day

Think of an uneasy situation that you've been living with for some time. Write down your reasons for staying in the situation. Some examples:

"If I don't stay in my relationship, it means I am weak."
"The guru is testing me."
"Change is too difficult."
"If I don't visit my parents every weekend, it means I don't love them."
"I should be more tolerant."
"I need to support my family.""
"He'd never get over my leaving him."

Take your thought to inquiry using the four questions and turnaround of The Work of Byron Katie:

1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it's true?
3. How do you react when you believe that thought? (What happens?)
4. Who would you be without this thought?
Turn the thought around; is the turnaround as true or truer?
Find three genuine examples of how each turnaround is as true or truer than the original statement.

Notice the physical sensations that take place when you attach to beliefs that are not true for you. See if these beliefs bring up thoughts of self-hatred, and if so, what do you do with those thoughts? Do you turn to addictions, compulsions, distractions? For instance, in order to deal with a work situation that isn't working for you, do you overeat, or drink a lot of coffee? If you feel your spouse doesn't love you, do you have affairs, or work late, or spend hours on the internet?

Take special note of any underlying beliefs that arise in the course of your inquiry, and write them down. (For instance, "Marriage is forever," "My family depends on me," "Spiritual people don't get angry.") Ask yourself what you are afraid of losing, or of not getting, if you no longer believed these thoughts. (Example: "If I stand up for myself, she will leave me." "I'm too old to find another job.")

Doing this work doesn't mean you have to leave the situation, or even that you will want to. This is about understanding your motives; no action required. Unquestioned beliefs can make us feel lonelier than we would on a desert island. Independence means releasing ourselves from the bondage of beliefs that no longer serve you.

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