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.