January 30, 2008

Oprah's New Earth?

How cool is this? Byron Katie's buddy, spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, is the new Oprah's Book Club author. There are free webcast classes on the book too. America awakens? It will be interesting to see.

You may know that Tolle's first book, The Power of Now, became a bestseller when Oprah said something about it on her show. Now, many more will be drawn to the simple teachings of A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose. I love this crystalline commentary on the mechanisms of the mind; it dovetails beautifully with The Work and is a fine companion volume to Loving What Is.

You can purchase A New Earth here.

Sign up for the book club webcast classes at oprah.com.

Are the End Times Near?

Fatalists as well as wishful thinkers awaiting the dawning of a new age have predicted "end times" almost from the beginning of time...or, perhaps more accurately, since the beginning of thought.

It's not something I worry or think about, usually. However, the other night, I had my own personal Armageddon.

Turning 50 years old has signaled to me the beginning of the second half of life, and with that, the end of some aspects of that life. It's for sure the end of my reproductive years, unless I want to resort to extreme measures (and for the record, I don't). It's the end of my 40s, according to my birth certificate, the only proof I have that I was born at all. It's the end of being too young to join the AARP. (That's great; I've been wanting to get their magazine for years!)

I was feeling pretty good about all this change; excited, even. Then, the downturn in the stock market happened, and I saw an end to my optimism about my portfolio, which, while on the small side, was doing well, on paper. That's the end of any chance for any kind of retirement, comfortable or not, I thought.

The other night, I dreamt that, while I was sitting at my computer, water began pouring out of it. The computer, with all of my creative writing and important data, was drowning; the machine itself seemed to be melting away. (If you've read some old blog posts of mine, you know that nothing derails me more quickly and thoroughly than a malfunctioning computer.)

I was awakened from this interesting dream by the most amazing—we could say magnificent—rain storm. The wind howled, "Hoo-hoooooo," and I could hear the sounds of heavy objects lifted by the wind, and falling back to earth. For hours, I lay awake as the water beat against my windows, pounded the grounds, roofs, shingles, and terraces of the condo complex where I live.

An ancient, recycled thought, "End times are near," occurred to me, and the inquiry was immediate.

End times are near; is it true? How could I know? No, it's not true; not in this moment.

How do I react when I believe this thought? Fearfully; as if endings are always bad things; as if it would be painful if life as I know it were to end; as if there were, in reality, such things as the concepts of beginning, end, time, and life.

I lie awake in bed, my body cold, my mind restless as it spins stories that I don't believe but can't stop from coming in...about the storm, and the damage it could do; it could be a natural holocaust, of which current events had been an inauspicious harbinger. What next? Blackouts? Electrical fires? Collapsed infrastructure? Earthquake? Tsunami? Nuclear meltdown? Who needs God, or nukes, or Armageddon, when we have my fearful mind as a reference for what's to come?

I look at my life and imagine it will soon be over, and that I haven't done enough with it. The thought renders my life—life itself—meaningless and lacking.

Who would I be without this thought? In an instant, as I reach for a bottle of water next to my bed, I can see it...I would be alive, and grateful. I'm amazed at the miracle of hand grasping container, pouring it, my head tilting upwards from the pillow, mouth opening to receive, thirst quenched. Am I even doing any of it? Even if I am, is this not enough?

The action itself is a beginning and an end, and it seems to have nothing to do with me; "she," the body-mind with which I identify, is always taken care of when care is needed. Life is complete if it ends now...and it does end, in each moment, just as in each moment, it begins.

Who would I be without my story? I would listen to the music of water and wind, feel the softness of the memory-foam mattress, the bed beneath it, the floor beneath that, the earth below that holds us.

All is well...and I would notice.

Turn the thought around:

End times are not near. That is truer; there is no end of time as long as thought prevails. There's no end of time as long as I still have an "I." There's no end as long as there are beginnings, which there are in every moment.

Beginning times are near...and here. Now. And now. And now again.

End times, beginning times: there is no difference. The end of an illusion means there is always something new, a birth, a freshness, the Creation itself.

©2008 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

January 25, 2008

Getting More out of Question Four: Imagine

Question Four of The Work of Byron Katie is “Who would you be without that thought?” Many of us have believed our stressful thoughts for so long, we have no idea of what it would look like to live without it.

Here are some ways to go more deeply into Question Four.

1. Travel back in time, mentally, to the way you were prior to the thought.
It might be infancy, or early childhood. Or it might be as recent as last week.

Who were you, then?
How did you see yourself?
How did you treat yourself?
How did you treat others differently; particularly, if you are working with a Judge-Your-Neighbor worksheet, how did you treat the person you are inquiring about?

2. Use your imagination.

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." —Albert Einstein.

I love to use the imagination when I answer these questions, because it gives me a break from the "I know" mind...which is the mind that says "Yeah, but..." or, "It won't work," or "I've already tried that."

If you can imagine it, then you are it. How else would you know?

So...using the power of your imagination, which may provide an accurate picture is who we are without a story...

How would you treat people differently, in the same situation?
How would you live your life differently?
If you arrived from the planet Mongo and had no preconceived notions of live on earth, how would you view this person/situation?
How do you feel physically with the thought? How would your body feel without it? How did it feel prior to it?

3. Lose the label.

If you wish to be free of whatever is painful in your past, you may want to ask yourself this interesting question:

"If this person were not who you say she is, how would you feel about her now?"

An example: “My brother molested me when I was a child" could be a fact; and not something to condone, ever. And if you are with your family and continue to treat him today as someone who hurt, or hurts you, how does this serve you? Short of never visiting your family, what can you do?

If you did not see him, today, as your perpetrator, how would you react to him the way he is today, and the way you are today?

Your co-worker took credit for your hard work. Today, she is your supervisor. You choose to stay in your job because you like the work you're doing, the benefits, the paycheck, your job security. And, you resent her. Who would you be without this thought that she took credit for your work? If you were meeting her today for the first time, and she were not the thief you say she is, how would you feel about her now that she has the job you wanted?

©2008 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

Up with Mothers! (And Others)

"I got from Working on Mothers and Others that forgiveness and amends are for me and I can tell my mother about it or not. That allowed me to be open to the possibility of doing it. And now I really want to."
—J.K., Yoga Instructor, Waco, TX

It's time. I'm going to raise the price of my popular eBook, Transformational Inquiry: Working on Mothers and Others (Second Edition) to $19.95 on February 1. But if you order it now before the end of the month, you can still pay $14.95.

Don't wait for Easter, Passover, Mother's Day, or your next visit home to question your beliefs about Mother; let this practical guide help you to heal your past as you unravel your most stressful thoughts about the parent you think you know so well.

(Note: this eBook is a PDF download; a link that says "Return to Merchant" will appear on the Paypal page once your payment has been approved, and that's where the eBook will be available.)

January 22, 2008

Carol Skolnick on Healthy Trends Internet Radio Show Jan. 25

I'm going to be interviewed on Healthy Trends with Dr. Romel Axibal, "Alternative Radio for the Mind, Body and Spirit," this Friday, January 25, at 1:30 pm Pacific Time. Please join me, and phone in if you'd like to do The Work on the air.

Visit www.iamhealthy.info to listen live
To do The Work, call 1-800-405-6425

January 21, 2008

Back to the School

I wrote this article some years ago, and for several years it was available at TheWork.com. It stands the test of tme with a few tweaks, so I'm rerunning it here to convey the School for The Work experience without giving away the store.

The Work, and the life-changing experience of the School (which I attended twice as a participant; I'm a tough case), are why I am who I am and do what I do today.


Extreme Internal Makeover: Nine Days to a Kinder Mind
by Carol L. Skolnick

"Is it true that you're too fat?' the silver-haired woman pointedly asks a thirtyish man who is quite large by the world's standards; it is difficult for him to walk upstairs or even to breathe, and he has never had a relationship with a woman. He has just revealed his despair and self-disgust to a gathering of about 300 strangers.

'Sweetheart,' the woman continues, 'Can you absolutely know that it's true? How do you treat yourself when you believe this lie, this mythology?' The man enumerates the sad details of a life of self-hatred. The woman, Byron Katie, understands—she's been there—but more importantly, the man gets it...that he's been beating himself based on erroneous beliefs about what constitutes self-worth. He comes to see, after answering a few more of Katie's questions, that the point is not to neglect one's body and health, but to be happy in the meantime. What hurts less, Katie asks: to be at war with reality or a lover of 'what is?' One way brings peace, the other stress. We can be overweight (or out of love with our spouse, or living with cancer) and be in hell, or we can question our thoughts and be in heaven...and it doesn't mean we won't diet (or get divorced, or get chemo). It's almost too simple.

"If I think I'm not beautiful," Katie tells the audience, "I'm confused. If I see someone's less than perfect, I'm insane."

Byron Katie specializes in extreme makeovers of the internal kind; she comes equipped with a surgical team of four self-inquiry questions designed with the purpose of helping people deconstruct their painful stories.

"Confusion is the only suffering," Katie tells rapt audiences all over the world, and she ought to know. She was one confused, suffering lady. "But," she says, "only for 43 years."

You'd never guess that this charmng, sixty-something Eileen Fisher-sporting grandmother—whose popularity in part lies in her unique ability to make a public program attended by hundreds feel as intimate as a coffee date—was once an obese, suicidal, pill-popping depressive who slept with a loaded gun under her pillow, unable to care for her family, afraid to venture outside. Prior to that she had been one of those suburban American Dream types: a gorgeous blonde with an adoring husband, three healthy kids, the finest home on her Barstow, California block...and a Midas touch with real estate.

But for Byron Kathleen Reid (everyone calls her Katie)—who began, perhaps, as a garden variety middle-class neurotic but became seriously unhinged over a period of ten years—nothing was ever enough, and no one understood her, least of all Katie herself.

"Love thy neighbor as thyself," she often jokes. "I always had. I hated me, I hated you."

One day in 1986, at the age of 43, Katie rose from the ashes like a suburban phoenix, as she lay on the floor (because she felt unworthy to sleep in the bed provided to her) of a Los Angeles-area halfway house for women with eating disorders. Only weeks earlier she had been diagnosed by professionals as mentally fragmented, a hopeless case. Suddenly, Katie realized she'd had it all backwards...that a thought creates a feeling, and a feeling based on believing a thought to be true creates a life...that when she attached to a self-defeating thought or a judgment about another, she suffered, and when she questioned the validity of the belief, she experienced a deep and abiding joy. Katie calls that life-changing instant her "moment of clarity," and she has been on the road cluing in others ever since.

Katie can't tell you exactly what happened to create such a sea-change, but she has devised a written technique, called The Work, so that anyone can experience, and maintain, the radical shifts in perception that she had. The method—consisting of four targeted self-inquiry questions, related subquestions, and a thought-reversal technique called a turnaround—is deceptively simple, surprisingly deep, free for the asking (see www.thework.com), explained in greater detail in Katie's book, LOVING WHAT IS: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life (Harmony Books, 2002), and expounded upon further in I NEED YOUR LOVE—IS THAT TRUE? How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation and Start Finding Them Instead (Harmony Books, 2005), and in A THOUSAND NAMES FOR JOY: Living in Harmony with The Way Things Are (Harmony books, 2007).

The Work bears some resemblance to cognitive therapies, to Socratic dialog, even to Zen Buddhism, although Katie had no knowledge of psychology, philosophy or spirituality prior to her metanoia. Her Work is based only on her direct experience of how suffering is created in the mind, and how we can end it—not by dropping thoughts, but by investigating them.

For those hearty souls ready for gut renovation, Katie offers weekend intensives and a nine-day School for The Work, a total immersion program with a demanding, interactive curriculum designed to directly impart her own experience of "waking up to reality." The School is attended in large numbers by all manner of truth-seekers as well as business people, educators, therapists, coaches, and anyone interested in meeting the mind (and the people and situations of their lives) with clear understanding.

Why should anyone go into lockdown for more than a week with some lady from the Mojave desert, just to explore why it hurts to believe that your partner should get a job, your mother didn't love you or that the government is corrupt? Graduates' claims of addictions falling away, relationships saved, and increased efficiency in their work lives are interesting...and the testimonies of trauma victims coming to terms with everything from incest to terrorism have drawn more than 100,000 people seeking their own relief to Katie's program worldwide.

Glenn Koshar, who used to counsel inmates at a Northhampton, Massachusetts state prison, initially wanted to bring the process into his profession...and discovered an even greater benefit of attending The School for The Work for his personal life:

"In my passion to be right, I often missed the bigger picture, the whole truth, even in situations I had gone over a thousand times before," says Koshar, a married father of two. "I was able to resolve issues with my father that had plagued me for more than a decade. I found forgiveness for his choices and forgiveness for my own blind rage and self-righteousness.

"I still have plenty to inquire about," Koshar readily admits, "but I have also found a deeper peace. While therapy, talking to friends and family was sometimes helpful, I never got the resolution I needed to let go and move on. The School allowed me to find forgiveness and gratitude, where previously there was only bitterness and self-pity."

Basking in Byron Katie's loving attention, and absorbing a week's worth of her considerable wit and wisdom, are bonus attractions of the School for The Work. Katie facilitates all sessions herself, assisted by a small core staff and a larger cadre of volunteer graduates. Being around someone with her degree of clarity can be very inspiring; Time magazine, in a profile of Katie, gushingly called her "a visionary for the new millennium." As for Katie, she makes no such claims, "I don't know anything about that," she says. "I only know the difference between what hurts and what doesn't."

"Reality is always kinder than the story we tell about it," says Katie. So perhaps the single most compelling reason to attend the School for The Work is the opportunity to learn how to fall in love with everyday life as it shows up. Once examined under the microscope of inquiry, annoyances major and minor cease to be a problem, people need not change to make us happy, obstacles become opportunities for self-realization ("Stress is a compassionate alarm clock, letting us know we're in the nightmare," Katie says) and a trip to the grocery store can be as exciting as a world tour.

As Paula Brittain from Colorado—a School for The Work graduate who now works with Katie's organization—puts it, "The School sends people out into the world, the real school, with tools to just watch life get better and better."


For more information about the School for The Work, visit TheWork.com.

©2008 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

Sign Me Up

Let freedom ring.

January 16, 2008

What 50 Looks Like

The feminist icon Gloria Steinem, one of my heroes, made famous the phrase "This is what 40 looks like." She may have said it to chastise those who think being a certain age means being old, unattractive, past-it. I've certainly had those thoughts about myself and others. As a young woman, I dreaded turning 30. Forty was a nightmare.

I turned 50 on January 6th. It happened just the way I wanted it to; in the company of beloveds, in a beautiful place (Ojai, California). Though not shot at the most flattering angle, I love this photo (taken by my friend Celeste Gabriele) because it expresses the happiness and gratitude I felt that day.

I keep hearing, "You don't look 50." I've never lied about my age because I've loved to watch peoples' jaws drop. I greatly enjoyed it when, on my 30th birthday, I ordered an alcoholic drink in a restaurant and was asked for my I.D.

When I look in the mirror now, I do see 50. My lack of gray hair, which some see as a sign of youthfulness, is genetic; both parents grayed late, yet at 40 my mother looked considerably older than I do now. Of course, unlike me, she had a husband and a child; I suspect we aged her a bit!

This body has plenty of mileage on it, which to me is visible and palpable. I have more chins than a Chinese phone book. I've got less hair in some places and more in others. My body feels 50; I am now aware of having hip joints, something I never used to think about. My memory isn't what it used to be, nor is my hearing.

I see 50 in my eyes as well; in the early morning, they can look world-weary...or maybe that's just the droop of my nearly-blind right eye, coupled with a typical change-of-life decrease in the amount of hours I sleep through the night.

Emotionally and spiritually, I don't feel especially 50, whatever that means. I remember my aunt Evelyn remarking, at 60, that she couldn't relate to that number. In my late 20s at the time, couldn't see her that way either; she was more adventurous, and fun to be with, than many of my contemporaries. As for me, I'm essentially the same person I was at 15. Except at 15, I thought I knew it all.

So, this is what 50 looks like, and it has nothing to do with looks. Fifty without a story looks happy to be alive, feels relatively healthy and sane, experiences a lot of love, and is living a most fulfilling life, right now.

©2008 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

It's Nothing Personal

We could say nothing is personal. It's just their opinion (you're fine just as you are even if they don't like people who are direct, you're gorgeous and yet he doesn't prefer blondes); or it's the luck (or lack thereof) of the draw (I was recently offered three roles in an upcoming short play festival, and the truth is that very few people auditioned; my article is fantastic, and the editor already bought an article like mine last week; the man I am most attracted to is happily married); or there are extenuating circumstances (the employee who doesn't show up on time to work after numerous requests that he do so is experiencing problems at home, your intractable child has undiagnosed ADD).

If we knew that nothing is personal, that we are not uniquely singled out because of some congenital or spiritual flaw, we'd all be totally happy all of the time, never resentful, never self-beating. God and everyone would be off the hook, because we'd be off our own hook.

Until then, everything's personal. It is, because we say so. We have said so ever since we acquired that "I" thought as a tiny child.

Once there's an "I," it is all about you; it can't be otherwise. If she thinks you're hot, it's personal. If later she changes her mind, it's personal...but only according to you.

It's personal because it's about your own personal beliefs...not your mother's, not your spouse's, not your employee's, not Society's, not the Universe's.

"Life," Byron Katie says, "is internal." So we do The Work on what feels personal. And as long as you believe you're a you, that would be every stressful thought.

The Drive-By Fat Shooting

Several years ago, I was leaving a community swimming pool in the suburbs with my cousin and her daughter. It was a short walk back to my cousin's home, a couple of blocks, and we were still in our swimming garb; I had on a bathing suit and shorts.

A car whizzed by, and out of the window whizzed a zinger: "Hey fatso, you shouldn't be allowed out in the street like that!"

I was not the only overweight person on the street that day, but I was the biggest of our trio, and least covered up. I knew that message was for me; and I was crushed. I would never leave a swimming pool or beach without abundantly covering up again.

Months later, I was walking around my Greenwich Village, New York neighborhood, this time abundantly covered up because it was chilly and I hadn't been swimming. Another car whizzed by, rolled down the window, shouted, "Hey fatso, you're a disgusting pig!"

As I was on home turf, I went into defensive Noo Yawkuh mode, fists balled for confrontation, about to retort with something like, "Oh yeah? Well you're a MORON, and I can diet!"

I stopped short; something bigger than the zinger hit me. I realized that maybe 500 cars had passed me that day, and only one passenger in one car expressed disgust. For all I know, 499 people thought I was a knockout, or too thin (say, an Italian great-grandmother proffering pasta), or couldn't care less what size I was, or never even saw me.

The zinger hurt because according to me, it was true; I thought I was fat and therefore disgusting. How dare this fellow think about me what I think about myself!

Recently, I was the recipient of a string of "pearls." They were a lot more personal-sounding than anything anyone could say about my body. These gems were about my character, as seen by this friend. I was shocked, at first. And then, I listened, and heard. And I saw where she could be right, according to her. And I saw where she definitely was right, according to me. Therein lies my work.

The shock was not about what she said; it was that she said it. How dare they think about me what I think about me?

Don't take it personally? Hopeless. That's what we do, until we don't.

Nothing is personal. And, ultimately, everything is. If life is internal, you, too, are my internal.

©2008 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

January 13, 2008

Excerpt from Thunderthighs: The Musical

At my pre-birthday party last December, I gave friends and family a taste of my 10-minute performance piece. We could say that the whole performance was a worksheet on "I hate my thighs because...." Thanks to my friend Larry Schwartz for making this available.

©2008 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

January 2, 2008

Cracking the Addiction Code

It has taken me seven years' attendance at Byron Katie's New Year's Mental Cleanse to get this...

For the uninitiated, the Cleanse consists of several days of inquiry, plus an optional juice fast, which I always opt for. And, every year, without fail, I have experienced some sort of existential crisis and resolution. Even with complete nourishment, there is something about the lack of solid food plus The Work that turns my perspective on my life into an absurdist drama...and then something breaks through, perhaps a glimmer of awareness that I am not this body, nor am I the labels that adhere to its surface, like travel stickers on an old trunk.

It's no secret that I like to eat; no secret to myself that I often turn to food for emotional reasons: boredom, greed, depression, wishing to fit in, or simply to give myself something to do.

After spending a couple of days feeling completely fraudulent and questioning my existence, my motives, and my relationships, I wrote a Judge-Your-Neighbor worksheet about people not seeing me (whether you see me as wonderful or terrible, you lose; it's not me), accusing them of wanting me to be "something" so they could have a reference point and some self-validation. It was all pretty cosmic, and the thoughts were getting in my way. A friend kindly facilitated me through the entire piece, and I emerged with the understanding that of course no one sees anyone; everything we see is projected. How do I see myself? This is a projection also; I have mistaken the stickers on the suitcase for the suitcase. When I say I am these labels, I have not unpacked the contents to discover the blessed emptiness.

I have come to see that addiction, for me, whether it's reaching for a substance or reaching for attention, is a distraction. It's not merely escapism; it's actually a way to cement the story of the self. It can feel un-grounded not to chew and swallow; the addiction, it appears, is not to the substance, but to being and doing. Why am I working so hard to hold onto this Carol-story that I don't even like?

Without our addiction to the story, we are left with nothing.

The good news is, there is an empty suitcase, roomy enough to hold everything.

This is not to say that I will never eat chocolate or drink coffee again; or that it would be wrong to do it. But when I make these things part of a routine and feel upset without them, what is it that I'm really feeling upset about?

Source has no need to escape itself, to compulsively check email, seek out new lovers, drink or drug to excess, numb out on TV. That would be the "I," the sticker. What's underneath? Do we dare to peel the labels and see? What if there's nothing, emptiness, no meaning? So what?

Let's continue the inquiry and the discussion. I am not an addictions expert, but I feel I've cracked the code for myself. It's a beginning, I realize...and I look forward to experiencing whatever happens next.

I am also interested to support others who wish to find out where their addictions come from; not so much to stop the madness as to understand and make friends with it.

Happy new year/new you.

©2007 Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.