This past April, I was invited by a middle school physical science teacher to present The Work of Byron Katie to all seven classes of her classes; about 180 eighth graders in all. During each class period, I had 40 minutes to introduce The Work (which was tied into their 4th-quarter project, “Random Acts of Kindness”), and have them practice inquiry as both client and facilitator using the “yellow card” with the basic four questions and turnaround. About two-thirds of the students thought this wasn’t enough time (I quite agree) and were confused by the exercise; most were also thrown by the announcement of their project, confused by the unannounced appearance of a guest speaker, and they weren’t sure how The Work tied in with their studies. Some thought doing The Work with others was too personal, and one girl said she wasn't comfortable examining "bad" thoughts because she thought she'd focus on them; instead, she tries hard to be "positive."
According to their teacher, some of the students have continued to do The Work using the Judge-Your-Neighbor worksheet. One girl wrote, “All I want to do now when I’m mad is go to my room and ask myself those questions.” About a third of the students wrote that they saw how when they believe stressful thoughts, they are not always kind to themselves and others. Some reported immediate improvement in their relationships with family and friends. “I learned that it’s better to question your thoughts before you go into action mode,” said one. Another reported, “Ever since you visited out class I have really looked into myself and realized how different I am than who I thought I was. [It] made me realize that whenever my dad says he needs my help around the house or something, I feel glad to do something for him.”
“I didn’t know that your thoughts and beliefs created your world. That must by why everyone’s world is a little different,” said one wise young lady. “I think the lesson has helped me already get in touch with myself…[and] helped me through some problems I was having,” said another.
However, this kind of insight was rare. Here are some more typical responses from the students who liked The Work:
“If I had a bad thought, I can now change it to a positive one.”
“I learned how to see the world positive by turning all my stressful thoughts around.”
“Stress is inevitable, but I have to turn my stress into peacefulness. And if I could do that then maybe I can become a nicer person.”
“By questioning our thoughts, we can turn them around.”
“I learned how to take a bad thought and turn it into a good though.”
“I liked the bad thoughts turning them to positive!”
“I learned that if you think bad thoughts you’ll have a bad attitude.”
“I learned that bad beliefs make bad thoughts and actions.”
“You shouldn’t think bad because then you won’t have an enjoyable life. It’s just always better to be positive.”
“I really liked it when you told us that we can make our beliefs whatever we wanted.”
“Now I know how to turn my thoughts around and make me feel better.”
“Thank you for teaching us how sometimes our thoughts can be bad for us.”
These responses are so interesting. I never once used the words “good,” “bad,” “positive” “negative,” or “change,” but that’s what these wonderful ones heard. I showed the students how to inquire into stressful thoughts; they apparently received a lesson in affirmations! Our students as young as 12 or 13 seem already to have bought the new-agey notion that they should always be happy and positive.
It got me thinking about people of all ages want to (or believe we ought to) feel better than we feel, or to be “better” than we are, in spite of all the self-esteem messages we’ve received in school, in our spiritual training, or in therapy.
Katie says “Do The Work for the love of truth.” And let’s be honest: how many of us came into The Work as truth-seekers? I know I didn’t; I just wanted my suffering to stop.
Still, who can know the ripple effects this very rushed introduction to inquiry might have on a young life (as it did on this older one)?
©2008 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.