December 25, 2007

Why Am I Not Surprised?

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

Your Aura is Violet

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 24, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

Lit the wood...

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

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

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

2. Called the fire department.

3. Grabbed my handbag and got out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15. Counted my blessings a thousand times over.

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

17. Went about my life without further drama.

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

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

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

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

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

Happiness is at hand.

And how was your year?

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

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

December 20, 2007

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

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

How to Drive Yourself Crazy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 16, 2007

Focus on Facilitation: The Subtle Seasoning of Sub-questions

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

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

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

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

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

Question Three:

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

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

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

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

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

December 11, 2007

A Perfect Universe: The Tao of Desiderata

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In A Thousand Names for Joy, Katie writes:

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

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

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

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

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