May 29, 2008

Ask a Facilitator: Shouldn't You Be Happy All the Time?

Q: Wouldn't an expert in The Work such as yourself have fully overcome depression by now, rather than go into a dip such as you speak of in this post, if indeed, The Work is so powerful as Byron Katie claims it is—she who supposedly is always happy now? Shouldn't you be always happy now too, if The Work really works?

A: Thank you for asking, it's a great question.

Simply put, The Work works when you answer the questions. If I'm in a dip, that's a clue that I'm believing something that's not entirely true for me. It means I'm making a painful assumption that I haven't yet investigated.

"Happy now" is the point; we can only be happy or unhappy "now." Happiness, like sadness and everything else, is a moment-to-moment phenomenon; Katie says as much when she writes, "You don't wake up forever. It's now. Now. Now."

I don't see depression as something to "overcome." That's the old way, and the old way was disappointing; it didn't work. "Fighting" depression in order to eliminate it is violent. The key for me is to understand the root cause of my sadness, in order to meet sadness with understanding.

In a nutshell, The Work is a way to identify and question thoughts that cause stress, suffering, lack of inner peace. The Work is just some good, targeted questions, which we choose to answer or not; all of its power comes from our own answers. It stops working the moment we stop answering the questions and begin to defend the "negative" concept we're questioning. And, of course, like everything else—exercise, or meditation, or taking vitamins, for example—it doesn't work at all if it's not practiced consistently; you don't do it a few times and it's done for all time.

Back in 2001, the answers within me that met these simple questions ended my sense of myself as "depressive," and occasionally I notice that I want to be right when the world doesn't give me what I think I want. That's the minor tantrum that sometimes leads to depressive dips; sadness is not my true nature.

I have already been opened to what's true for me, so depression is no longer the default setting. It soon becomes really uncomfortable to stay in my stuff, and once again I inquire with an open heart. When I do—so far without fail, and I"m open to being wrong—I come to laugh at myself and to love my world once more.

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

May 27, 2008

Ask a Facilitator: Won't My Kids Run Wild?

Q: Carol, those of us with kids could use some inspiration. I've had trouble applying The Work here at home. We are such an applications-oriented society (well, we're an applications-oriented family, anyway) that if you don't have a solution/process/procedure/outline you can throw at a perceived behavioral issue, you're sort of left gasping. So doing The Work hasn't felt adequate or proactive enough.

I've often wondered if there are people who use inquiry in their family life with terrific results. (Yeah, I know about Katie's daughter Roxanne, but she seems like a special case!) I think many of us parents are afraid to trust The Work. I certainly have this feeling that if all I did was do The Work, instead of intervening and dealing out consequences for fighting and rudeness, our entire household would blow up, the kids would run wild, my marriage would end, and the dog would run away.

A: Who says you'd just do The Work? Questioning your thoughts doesn't mean you won't have rules in your home. Still, like it or not, kids—like every other human being—do what they do. Sometimes they smack their sisters and brothers, cut classes, experiment with drugs and alcohol, talk back, have early sex, don't do their homework, won't clean their rooms, prefer others' company to ours, cling too tightly to us, are colicky and fussy infants, grow up to ride motorcycles, become philosophy majors instead of going to law school.

If what we're doing doesn't "get results," at the very least, we can understand the reasons why our children's behavior is troubling to us...which may alleviate the reactivity that doesn't help them or us. Out of that clarity might come better solutions than the ones that haven't worked...including kids who feel loved and heard, and who might come up with solutions themselves.

This is what I hear most often from parents who do The Work: they come to realize they love their children as they are. In the peace of that discovery, as parents they are better listeners, more supportive, and less fearful. Behavioral changes (in themselves as well as their children) often happen in ways never brought about by punishment.

Sometimes these parents also end up with kids who, when scolded, love to admonish mom and dad to "turn it around." Let's face it: aren't they right? (And that doesn't mean there are no consequences for them when they knowingly do something that's not okay with you.)

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

May 22, 2008

Focus on Facilitation: Facilitating with a Motive (a.k.a. When Facilitators Attack!)

You'd think that trained facilitators would always do The Work straight-up, just four questions and a turnaround, no maneuvering and manipulating the client, no cross-talk, no inventive or invasive questions...just as you'd think that doctors would never lose a patient, mothers would always do the right thing by their kids, and politicians would always keep their campaign promises.

As we know, this is hopeless. Human beings doing their best can still be clueless sometimes.

That's why we Certified Facilitators of The Work, early in our training, are shown right away how to evaluate ourselves, and it's expected that this be an ongoing process. Hopefully we are always available to hear feedback from our clients and colleagues as well, and that we see ourselves as life-long learners. I observe this "student" quality among all of the exceptional and most experienced facilitators of my acquaintance, including my mentor, Byron Katie, founder of the process, who has of course been doing this longer than anyone. Continued self-evaluation, and receiving the observations of my clients and peers, have all been enormously helpful to me, as sitting with the reasons I may veer off course keeps me honest and in service as it "gentles" me.

Nevertheless, motive has a way of creeping into the work of even the best facilitators, particularly when we experience a client as resistant. We want our clients to "get it." We want them to see us in a certain way. We think we have something to teach. (I was guilty of that last one during a recent tele-seminar, noticing even as the words flew out of my mouth that I was over-explaining what I was doing "for the audience's sake," and in those moments, abandoning my client, the host of the call, rationalizing that he'd be okay with it. Whether he was or not, I acted out of motive, and that's good to see so that I can do a better job next time for my sake.)

Here's a sampling of what can happen when facilitating The Work with a motive:

1. The Mack truck thing; see illustration. Should our clients be "easy" or "get it" for our sakes? Aren't we supposed to be in service here?!!

2. Spinning. Example: "How do you react when you believe the thought, 'I need to make more money'?" "I get nervous and I worry about the future. I see myself as homeless." "Ah, that's the heart of the matter. You'll be homeless, is that true?" What happened to the client's original statement? Not good enough? Who knows what gold lies in them thar hills? How would the facilitator know what's at the heart of the matter, when the client has barely said anything? This hypothetical facilitator, so intent on bringing about a result, is not allowing the client to find their own answers, even though s/he appears to ask questions.

3. Negative self-talk: "Oh gosh, this isn't working. I'm doing it wrong. The client will think I'm incompetent. I'm not helping them." Believing thoughts like these, we may be more liable to pulling out all the stops, including excessive nodding and making encouraging sounds, or making superfluous bordering on arrogant remarks like "Good job!"...asking lots and lots of sub-questions, quickly, so the client can see how masterful we are at moving them towards a "big bang"...leading the client by peppering them with our own clever examples so that they can have the epiphany we think they need in order for us to look good.

Facilitating with a motive always means that we've made the facilitation all about us, even while we're in the client's business mentally. Whose session is it anyway? It's mine for sure, every time—I've never witnessed or facilitated anyone's work that wasn't also my own—and that's perfectly fine, as long as we don't make it ours at the expense of the client.

(Thanks to my friend D. over at the Institute for The Work community board for the lively discussion and wonderful subtitle that inspired this article.)

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

May 12, 2008

On Not Minimizing Human Suffering

"Confusion is the only suffering." —Byron Katie

Is that true? I am not sure of this when I read things like "China Quake Toll rises to 10,000."

I'm sure that many people in Asia whose lives are now unquestionably changed are experiencing what I would call "suffering." Who am I to say that if they suffer, they are confused?

I can't know that those who died suffered, true enough.
I can't know that death is a tragedy.
I can't know that earthquake devastation isn't for the planet's highest good.

And I can't know the opposites either.

Perhaps Consciousness doesn't give a damn about good and bad, right and wrong. Perhaps we are not the body, so if bodies die, it's fine. This is beyond me; I sure feel like a body today. Mine is tired and is seeing a cobweb in its right eye from what may be a retinal tear. I'm told I should do something about that right away, and I have also read on opthamology websites that seeing floaters and flashing lights doesn't necessarily mean the retina is torn, that people with the kind of eye condition I have (posterior staphyloma) will inevitably experience this kind of thing as they age, and that surgery can make it worse or do nothing at all. That's confusing.

I'm not joyful about it, but I'm not exactly suffering over it either...except when I tell myself stories about what I ought to be doing and am not doing, and what might happen whether or not I do something. Same old story, different armature.

It all seems terribly unimportant when I consider what has just happened in China and Myanmar.

Both earthquakes and and a messed-up macula seem terribly unimportant in the face of the unknown vastness.

Tonight, however, that feels a little too spiritual.

Am I suffering? Not right now.

Am I confused? Often.

Tonight it doesn't feel like confusion though. It just feels like not knowing...not knowing anything at all.

Far be it from me to say that anyone who suffers over these events is confused. I'll leave that to others...and I don't wish to hold it against inquiry.

I see suffering, and I understand. I think I can be there for you as you suffer, and grieve with you, and even suffer alongside you, and still be available, of service, and loving you. You don't have to end your suffering for my sake, or, for that matter, for yours. Suffering comes, and suffering goes, like everything else in this ephemeral existence.

Tonight, I honor those who suffer. Suffering is "what is" too. Can we—I—allow it and not try to push it away with what "ought" to be understood after all this meditation?

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

The Work LOLcats

Yes, I admit it, I love LOLcats, and I was feeling silly I found an LOLCat image builder and some royalty-free "kittehs" plus one of my friend Annie's chubby cats of yore, Eleanor.

Herewith, LOL Inquiry Cats, or The Work of Byron Kitteh:

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

May 7, 2008

Depression, or Correction?

(NOTE: I've been promising to release an eBook about living with and inquiring into depression for a couple of years now...but I kept changing my mind about the approach. I have done a lot of writing and I'm finally ready to commit. See the end of this post for a limited-time pre-publication offer.)

In spite of doing my "inquiry due diligence," I've been known to get quite attached to getting my way. Since reality hasn't cooperated recently, I've experienced a dip in my normal happiness lately that mirrors the current economy ("Down from the 52-week high"), if not its forecast ("Further declines projected.").

This has happened before. While it's no fun while I'm in the thick of it, it's nothing to be terribly concerned about; not a true bear market on happiness, just a reality check that sends me back to inquiry until I get right with myself and my world again.

When the stock market dips up to 20%, financial experts call it a "correction." The same holds true when home prices fall significantly; we can either see it as the bubble bursting, or a necessary adjustment. It means that prices were artificially high, and that the new values are closer to reality. It's probably not permanent, and it isn't a tragedy, unless you need to cash in on your stocks, or sell your home immediately, and you were counting on a windfall.

I have found it useful to see the dips in my emotional state (even the ones that feel like substantial drops) as a correction as well. To say "I'm depressed again" is to say that I'm a bear: not simply shying away from wanting to know the truth but buying into all of my old stories with the same pessimistic conviction as before. That's simply not true. "I'm believing what I think" is more accurate. "I'm having a tantrum" is truer.

Forest fires (other than those caused by arson or careless campers) are a natural phenomenon, and mood dips are too. A forest fire clears out deadwood, so that new growth may take its place. A return of depression for those who question their minds is also a natural occurrence; there's something here that isn't working for us anymore, and the dip is an opportunity to clear it out. This is why Byron Katie has included the "dreaded" Number 6 turnaround on the Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet: "I don't ever want to" becomes, turned around, "I am willing to ___," and "I look forward to ___." If sadness and despair return, they are not our enemies, and we're not failures; they have come back because of some internal deadwood-beliefs that no longer serve, waiting for us to discover and attend to them, if we have the willingness. Doing The Work in the midst of depression reveals the exact nature and location of the deadwood, which gets burned in the fire of truth.

An emotional "correction," like a market correction, is a time to regroup. If you become depressed, and you already have the tools of inquiry, you have the opportunity to examine your situation, turn your thoughts around, and develop "best practices" that you may have previously overlooked. The Work reveals these emotional benchmarks; your answers are your own prescription for inner peace.

When reality kicks in and appropriate actions are taken, both markets and home prices rebound. With inquiry, depressed moods can too...perhaps not to the dizzying heights of the happiness bull market, for that too consists of unexamined thoughts...but to a balanced, comfortable, and realistic outlook.

©2008 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.
TRANSFORMATIONAL INQUIRY: Working with Depression will, Universe willing, be finished by fall's end! Thank you all for your friendly reminders to "git 'er done." This will be the roundest, firmest, most fully packed of my eBooks, and as such, this labor of love be priced higher than the others: $24.95. However, you may pre-order it at my website for $19.95 by shooting me an email with the special discount code you'll find there. I'll respond with order instrucdtions This code also entitles you to a free collection called Three Realizations, good until June 30, 2008.

Copyright Violation Enlightenment and Other Odd Ways to Wake Up

I'm going to plug the blog of a wonderful writer who "borrowed" my content without askng me, without link-back, and without compensation. Unless s/he's reading this, I can't even let the blogger know, without raising some sort of stink with Blogger owner Google (a losing proposition anyway), because the comments at his/her blog are disabled and there's no contact link to the anonymous author.

Anyway, once I realized that I was about to go to war with reality, I saw how the friendly universe manifests so beautifully in this "violation." I mean, s/he does, in his/her blogroll, link not only to this blog but to my website; and s/he loves The Work, which can only do me a world of good as well as the author.

If I could, I would give him/her permission to quote the article that has already been quoted in its entirety, and I'd sure like another link-back and my apparently useless copyright info. tacked onto it. :)

Anyway, for your edification, I invite you to visit my anonymous friend's blog, the name of which is also "borrowed": (Katie isn't the author, for the record.)

I just love the way the author finds moments of satori in the mundane world of dead cats on the road, toileting, and a car accident. It's a bit like A Thousand Names for Joy Lite.

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

The Acid Test

"You asked me if I thought your visions were true,

I would say that they were if they make you become

More human,

More kind to every creature and plant

That you know."

—From the poem "Becoming Human" by Hafiz
Translated by Daniel Ladinsky

May 4, 2008

"You're Soaking in It"

In case, dear reader, you are not as ancient as I, here's a synopsis of a series of old TV commercials for Palmolive brand dishwashing liquid. These ads featured "Madge," a chatty manicurist, whose customer is bemoaning her "dishpan hands." Madge recommends using Palmolive soap. When the customer demurs, Madge informs her, "You're soaking in it." Naturally, the customer recoils and tries to remove her fingers from the moisturizing potion. "Relax,"reassures the manicurist as she pats her customer's hand back into the bowl of green goo, "it's Palmolive!" (The tagline was "Palmolive: Softens Your Hands while You Do the DIshes.")

Why did the client recoil? Because she was believing what she thought. It didn't matter that the liquid was gentle and moisturizing; at first, she associated it with the source of her rough cuticles and dry skin (the repeated scrubbing of plates in hot, soapy water, without gloves).

A stressful story of the past will make us recoil until it's investigated and understood. This response has its roots in the survival instinct; that's appropriate if we're talking about something truly harmful. For instance, fire burns flesh, so it makes good sense not to stick your hand into a flame.

However, what if we're recoiling from something that is not dangerous at all, but merely a projection based on the "fact" of memory? The old "that snake is a rope" story illustrates this tendency. Your "snake" might be a relationship as in the belief "Marriage is doomed to fail." You could have all the proof in the world that this is true, especially if you've been married and divorced a few times. You may believe this so much that you don't even want to think about it...although, if you examined the institution of marriage closely, you might find it to be benign at worst.

What if, instead of running away, you immersed yourself in inquiry? For example, If you are in a marriage and there are communication issues, you can soak awhile in the belief "Marriage is doomed to fail." In this way, you can see how you live your life when you hold the who you would be in the relationship if you no longer believed this thought...and ask yourself if the opposite could be as true or truer, with concrete examples to shore up your hypothesis. You may find yourself relaxing into your marriage, finding creative ways to communicate better within it; or, you may choose to leave it, but sanely, without recoiling in horror.

"My job is killing me." Oh my, it is so tempting to jump ship without inquiring...and if you do, the problems you experienced at this job ("There's too much work," or "No one listens to me") could follow you to the next one, or elsewhere in your life. What if the job is not the problem but rather, a caustic "substance" in the form of a core belief? Who would you be on the job without this thought? Relaxed and soaking in it. Clear-headed enough to do your job with pride, efficiency and joy...perhaps even while conducting a job search.

When you investigate your stressful belief, "you're soaking in it." You relive it, examining it from all angles, so that you no longer have to recoil in horror from what is. This frees you to do what you need to do (Katie calls this "doing the dishes"), without a story.

I can't resist ending this post with "The Work of Byron Katie: Softens Your Story while You Do the Dishes."

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

May 2, 2008

Inquiry in Education: The Work with Eight Graders

In April, I presented The Work to six classes of eight-grade earth science students at a local middle school—about 180 young "inquirers" in all, plus visits from a language arts teacher and the superintendent. The students are using The Work if they choose to, along with other attention-focusing tools (including breathing and meditation), as part of their inquiry process for a 21-day fourth-quarter project called "Random Acts of Kindness," during which they explore and track what keeps them from being kind to themselves, others, and the planet. We identified common beliefs about family, school, and friends, along with universal thoughts like, "What I do doesn't matter," and used the Yellow Card to question their thoughts. Their teacher created a rubric for them to record their experiences.

From where I sat, interest was mixed; some kids really got into it, others were neutral, others rebellious. (Pretty typical for 13-14 year olds, I'd say.) According to their teacher, they got into it more when she reviewed the process with them the next day, and showed them how to use it with their assignment.

Naturally, a couple of the students immediately began to tease their teacher with "Is it true?" :-)

I think it's fair to say that I was the one who needed this curriculum the most; I have been picking up trash in the street like crazy since discussing with the students thoughts that keep us from picking up trash. "I didn't put it there." "It's not my job." "I'm too lazy." "It won't make a difference."

I'll keep you posted about any feedback I get from the students.

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