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.

1 comment:

jimstoic said...

Wow. That's very well put. Thanks.