December 22, 2009

A Happy New Year Within Reach

Dear Friends,

In honor of this holiday season, I want to share with you some words that touched me today from, of all things, a website advertising a recovery event in the UK where Byron Katie will be the keynote speaker.

Regarding breaking free from addictions, the author of the piece, George Williams, says:

"People try many things to fill that empty space in their lives, whether they are searching for happiness or a way to deal with pressures and disappointments....Sometimes we have to look back to move forward. Learn from our mistakes or shortfalls. For those taking those first steps, don’t be afraid, you have all the resources within.

"Imagine having the courage and confidence to follow your instincts and make positive decisions about how you want to live your life."

As I read this I was reminded of the following words from the "Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous, a great source of wisdom for coping with all of the addictions of being human:

"When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation—some fact of my life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment."

We humans tend towards all sorts of addictions—whether to substances, behaviors, or outdated modes of thinking—in an effort to feel better about ourselves and our lives. We want people to change, to love us, to appreciate us, so that we can be happy. "Skip the middleman," Byron Katie has said, "and be happy now." That is the only thing that has ever worked, and there is no way to do that on demand. We can't enforce serenity; we all would if we could. It takes self-understanding, present-moment awareness and great willingness.

Serenity is an inside job. Self-inquiry—whether you practice the written four-questions-and-a-turnaround kind that we "Workies" prefer, or you sit in the mystery of "Who am I?", or you take fearless moral inventory and make your amends-is the best way I know of to bring about the serenity that we all desire and deserve. We are living in interesting times; what is happening on the outside feels challenging and sometimes hopeless—from rampant unemployment to global warming. Some of us have experienced eroding relationships, deaths in the family, the death of our dreams. We can work to bring about positive change in the world, to better ourselves and our situations...but how are we doing in the meantime? Addictive highs always wear off and we become consumed by seeking more escapes when the ones we've tried cease to work. Trying to please others, change them, even "forgive" them may not result in lasting serenity.

In my experience, peace can only be found by meeting the stressed-out mind with a kind mind, an understanding mind; a mind at rest. In this way, instead of running away from what we fear, we move towards what we love and cherish. I invite us all to give ourselves this kindness in the New Year.

May all of your days be holidays and all of your years be happy, new ones.

With love,

December 10, 2009

What's So Bad About Negativity?

For years I was involved in a group whose adherents felt very threatened by any view of it that seemed to contradict what it was desperately trying to be: the "perfect" spiritual path. Any opinion (and the one who voiced the opinion) that could be perceived as "negative" with regards to the group was immediately attacked and blocked. You see, on a perfect path, the leader and those in high places in the organization could never make a mistake; were always doing what they did for our highest good; had no ulterior motives; were beyond reproach. If, and only if, you were a good devotee, had full faith and did everything you were told, you'd attract the all-knowing, unconditionally loving guru's grace (which, on the perfect path, you already have unless you do something to repel it), you would become self-realized (though as a good devotee, you could never acknowledge this as it smacks of dreaded "ego") and you'd have your heaven on earth.

If you doubted any of this—if, say, you dared to notice any inconsistencies, or refused to go against personal integrity...if you had questions about the teachings...or you had a problem with underage girls being used sexually by older men in power, or with goods being smuggled in and out of other countries...or with celebrities receiving V.I.P. treatment in a place where we were all told we were equal...or with blatant environmental violations, or with the presence of weapons and bodyguards in an ashram, or with "renunciants" sporting designer clothing and precious jewels—then you were deluded, had limited understanding, had fallen off the path, etc.

Oh the horror and danger of exposure to anything but positivity! Most of us suppressed or denied anything within ourselves that could be construed as anything less than 100% cheerful and agreeable. Needless to say, a lot of the devotees were secretly in therapy and taking anti-depressants...and doing more and more spiritual practices in an attempt to override our perceived impurities.

After many years and many experiences of being chastised for being "negative," I realized something: if our organization, its leaders and its teachings were sacred and sacrosanct, what could threaten them? And yet, there was a pervasive atmosphere of self-righteousness and unkindness which, beneath the surface, was pure, unadulterated fear. It seemed that what was going on in the organization was the exact opposite of one of the main teachings: that love was stronger than fear. Where was the love when all was not handled in an open and loving fashion?

Of course, religious organizations are not the only places where the fear of negativity reigns. Ashrams, like everywhere else, are filled with human beings; and human beings who have not questioned their stressful beliefs attack whatever appears to threaten their happiness (as if true happiness could be threatened). So we try to create safe havens for ourselves where sharing is welcome as long as what is shared aligns with the basic premise of our subculture. If anyone might burst our bubbles, indicate we could be wrong, or cost us our precious stuff, we tend not to welcome them with great respect and love. Places of business, family gatherings, groups of friends or neighbors and political parties are just a few of the places where individuals might not be embraced or even acknowledged—in fact might be shunned, shamed and shut up, even if we have to kill them—if they're not seeing our world through our particular brand of rose-colored glasses.

In the best-case scenarios, we close rank, turn off the TV, stop answering the phone, defriend our Facebook buddies who don't see things exactly as we do, avoid people or situations that might result in being "tainted" by another's "negativity." We have to call those people and things toxic, wrong, bad. We double up on our affirmations, surround ourselves in imaginary white light, run away.

That might work as a temporary measure. Until the bogeyman shows up at the door again. Or you think back on the person who threatened the sacrosanct belief that turned out not to be sacrosanct after all (at least not according to you), and you feel the fear all over again in the form of condescension, resentment, anger, sadness, disgust, stress, disturbance of your peace.

If you fear the "negative," it will appear to come a-calling for you in many guises: "negative" people, situations, thoughts. A loving universe won't let you get away with avoidance. It supports you instead.

What's the worst thing that could happen if you welcomed the "negative," sat down to tea with it, questioned it?

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

November 30, 2009

"So Don't Do That!"

There's an old Henny Youngman joke that I love: "I said to my doctor, it hurts when I do that [he lifts his arm]; he told me 'So don't do that!'"

As a facilitator, my "Don't do that!" for people who do self-inquiry is, "Don't use The Work as a way to beat yourself or others."

Here's an example; a quote from Byron Katie that gets misinterpreted, in my not-so-humble opinion:

"If I see an enemy, I need to take another look because that is my friend, not my enemy. Enemies enlighten me to myself; that makes them friends."

Some use this teaching as a way to make themselves wrong, bad and delusional if they aren't always open to or in agreement with another's criticism or if they can't shrug off slights or abuse with "it's all good." Please don't do that. Self-flagellation is not inquiry. Offering yourself up as a human sacrifice is not inquiry. Do your work, find ways that turnarounds can be as true or truer but not "instead of"—include everything. Finding your part in a situation is not making yourself wrong. It doesn't mean that you become a doormat. It means that you have ceased to be a victim of black-and-white thinking. And just because your enemies are your "friends" doesn't mean that you have to live with them, do business with them, never take legal action or stop locking your front door.

Others use this teaching as an excuse to behave badly. "It can never be my fault that you're upset. You're just angry because you didn't get what you want. I'm free, you're the one with the problem." Please don't do that either; it's using The Work as a shield and a weapon rather than a tool with which to discover your own truth. This is not inquiry, it's new age bull-dinky. Again, do your work, find your part, enlighten yourself. Fear of being wrong or of being blamed is natural...and it also comes from collusion. If they say you're wrong and bad, and it hurts, they're right...but only according to you.

So don't do that!

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

November 23, 2009

Why Do We Blame Victims?

You hear it in New Age circles, therapy groups and arguments between "friends" (I've done it myself) all the time: "Stop being such a victim!"

This stance smacks of a current, odious trend of faulty reasoning: if something bad happens to you, "you must have attracted it."

Why has victim-bashing become so fashionable? It may be due to a misinterpretation of karma, the spiritual law of cause and effect. A simple example of karma: if you stick your hand in a fire, you're going to have a burnt hand; if you break the law and you go to jail it was your own doing; you may be happier for continually helping little old ladies and blind men to cross the street than if you ignore them or run them over with your car.

The more complicated way to see karma—and a convenient way to blame victims—is to say, "If you fell into the fire and got burned, you probably did something to deserve it." According to this theory, your thinning hair, your low-paying job, your inability to find a life partner, the fact that you were raped, or your having being born with HIV in a rat-infested third-world prison is your fault. You have no right to complain! Find your part in your pain and unhappiness and move on! There's not even a remote possibility that life isn't always a bowl of cherries except for you screwing things up for yourself.

Why are we "spiritual" and "personal growth" types so intensely down on victimhood? Whatever happened to "we're all one and it's all good?"

I think it's because victims make us afraid. We fear them because we fear our own inadequacies.

Let's first look at the dictionary definition of "victim."

1. One who is harmed or killed by another: a victim of a mugging.
2. A living creature slain and offered as a sacrifice during a religious rite.
3. One who is harmed by or made to suffer from an act, circumstance, agency, or condition: victims of war.
4. A person who suffers injury, loss, or death as a result of a voluntary undertaking: You are a victim of your own scheming.
5. A person who is tricked, swindled, or taken advantage of: the victim of a cruel hoax.

No one can sanely deny that the blameless kinds of victims exist (definitions 1-3 and 5). What seems to make us so uncomfortable is not victims of disaster (we feel great about people like that because we can play superhero and help them) but the "victim mentality," the assumption that because something terrible has happened, that things will always be terrible. Those who we call victims appear to live out of fearful stories of the past. "I just lost my home to a hurricane" = acceptable victim. "I lost my home to a hurricane, my wife left me, my child is sick, I have no money and I can't get a job" = somewhat more difficult to deal with victim. "I've tried everything and my luck has run out" = VSM (Very Scary Victim).

VSMs bring out many unquestioned assumptions and fears in the suddenly ineffective, thwarted hero, such as:

"They want something from me."
"They are blaming me."
"I have to make it better for them."
"They're not doing enough to better themselves."
"They should be more positive."
"They pretend to be weak."
"They brought it upon themselves."

Barbara Ehrenreich has recently written a book about the cult of positivity. Curmudgeon though she may be, I think there's a lot of truth in what she says. Some of us don't pursue happiness for the joy of it but as a way to avoid pain. There is nothing wrong with that as long as a) you know what you're doing and b) you don't disdain another's (perhaps more realistic) path.

If your life is going great, or if you yourself have overcome great obstacles and found some measure of hope, you may find it hard to believe that this may not be available to everyone. If you feel your own happiness is on shaky ground, it may be especially hard to be around someone who is often fearful, angry or feels hopeless. We don't want them messing with our vibe. We don't want to see that, at any moment, we too could come down from our self-realized high. We don't want to acknowledge any family resemblance.

There's a Byron Katie quote that's become a big favorite among those who who are uncomfortable with others' unhappiness: "Victims are violent people." It's important to understand the spirit of this quote: it was never meant to blame the victim. Katie says this when she sees people lashing out at themselves or others...not to tell them not to do that, but to provide insight that may lead to a lessening of suffering. It's true that we are sometimes violent in the name of "violence was done to me." That's the nature of war.

When we inquire into our stressful thoughts about our own victimhood, we see where we have been overly harsh with our victimizers, with ourselves, with those we perceive are not helping us enough or at all. This is the first step in getting free of suffering. It's not something to prescribe to VSMs and even if they take the suggestion, it doesn't mean that these perceived victims will suddenly rise and shine and prove your spiritual theories of unlimited abundance to be correct, that they'll get happier so that you can feel better around them, or that they'll never ask you for anything that you don't feel like giving them again.

So that leaves us, the ones afraid of the VSMs, to do more of our inner work. Someone should stop being such a victim—why? Can you know what is best for them in the long run? If they did what you wanted, what would you have that you don't have now?

When you complain about someone being a victim, what are you reacting to...the victim, or your fear of being...victimized by them?

Could it be that the Very Scary Victims, like others we fear or resent, are here just for us, to take us ever closer to Home Sweet Home?

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

October 18, 2009

Why We Believe, Part 4: The "Dr. Phil" Question

Sometimes we just love our beliefs because we are convinced they are working for us, evidence to the contrary. Let's look once again at the belief, "My husband shouldn't have affairs." The client says that if she didn't believe this thought, it would be akin to condoning her husband's affairs. Therefore, he would only continue to have affairs, and she'd be a doormat.

Now for the "big duh" question: Does this thought bring peace or stress into your life? The client is aware that this is a stressful belief and yet she can't make herself not believe what she beliefs...which is as it should be.

I ask the question, "Why do you hold this stressful belief; how is it serving you?" This is a nicer, and more thoughtful, way of asking the famous Dr. Phil question, "How's that workin' for ya?"

Is the thought "My husband shouldn't have affairs" doing the job my client wants it to do?

It's not preventing her from feeling like a doormat right now, never mind the future.

It certainly isn't giving her any control over her husband's behavior.

It isn't providing her with a roadmap to the future.

It's not protecting her, because she's still married to a philandering husband.

So, while the core beliefs underlying this one—the ones about relationships being sacred and people shouldn't cheat on their spouses—may have served this woman in the past, it doesn't look like they are serving her very well now, except to hold that stance of "I'm right, you're wrong" with a husband whose behavior she is tacitly condoning for now. That's enough for some people. Those people don't bring this particular belief to inquiry.

"Is there a peaceful reason to keep this thought?" The client can't find one and is now ready to move to question four, "Who would you be without this thought?"

What she finds is, as a woman whose husband is having affairs in reality, she can be in charge of her own life (which is what she wanted frim the belief, and couldn't get from it). She is free to stay or to go, to discuss the situation rationally with her husband (whether or not he is rational is none of her business and, again, not something she can micro-manage). She can state her needs and observations without shame and blame (instead of "You cheating #(*$@(*&!!, how dare you? You are dishonest, you don't love me, you want to hurt me, you broke our vows, this marriage is based on a lie!"

Instead, her conversation with him might begin with "I am aware that you are having sex outside of our marriage. I value fidelity and honesty in intimate relationships. I want to stay married to you and I don't know if I can if you are not going to be monogamous. Would you be willing to discuss what's going on for you and how we can move on from here?"

Try asking "How does this stressful belief serve you?" the next time you hit a sticky one...and let me know how it's workin' for ya.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

October 14, 2009

Why We Believe, Part 3: Unmet Needs, or a Tantrum?

Our reasons (which are sometimes motives) for keeping a stressful belief can also be seen as a list of unmet needs: "I need to be right." "I need to be in control." "I need a purpose." "I need you to listen to me."

It's not a problem to have needs; it's fine to find ways to fulfill them. It's only a problem when we expect that the world will meet our needs when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary that this isn't going to happen. That's when you know that you're not experiencing the stress of an unmet need; you're throwing an inner tantrum.

Fighting with reality in the form of attachment to stressful beliefs that do not serve you (or no longer serve you) can never fulfill our needs. Identifying our needs (as opposed to our desires) is the first step towards understanding the source of a problem, as well as the first step towards the fulfillment of our needs.

Byron Katie likes to say that fighting with reality is about as effective as trying to teach a cat to bark. If you want a barking animal, how much easier would it be to simply get a dog! (Or, if you're allergic to dogs, a burglar alarm. Need fulfilled, cat off the hook!)

This has evolved into a cliche among people who do The Work: "How do I know I don't need ____? I don't have it, and I'm still breathing." That's true, but for most of us, it's not so easy to shrug off a perceived need with a "Katie-ism." We have to see it for ourselves. Still, the word "need" can be problematical.

I give workshops with a teacher of Nonviolent Communication who has a Buddhist background and also does The Work. In NVC, they use the term "need" a lot, especially around authentic communication of said needs. I told her that I wasn't comfortable with the word "need," as I could see where I always have what I need in the moment, that "I need" is a story of the future and therefore never real right now. She agreed that, from a Buddhist standpoint (and a Worked one), there are no real needs, so I could swap out "needs" with "values." For example, "I need connection" becomes "I value connection." That feels truer to me.

So, "I value a serene work environment," communicated peacefully, isn't "You play that stereo too loud! You should be more considerate of your neighbors!" That's a tantrum. Rather, as a practitioner of NVC, or anyone who has identified what they value, would say, "I am upstairs working and finding it difficult to concentrate. Would you be willing to lower the volume on your stereo? " This respects the needs, or values, of the person who likes loud music, without making them wrong. There's no manipulation in it; it's a request, one that may or may not result in the fulfillment of your needs.

If I've done my Work, and I'm clear that I don't need my neighbor to do what I want, and she doesn't turn down the bass, I have a choice to put on noise-reducing headphones, work somewhere else, ask her again...and not go to war with her or with my life, even if it means that eventually I will call the management company to let them know there's a noise "problem."

Next, how a TV cliche can help free us further: Part 4, The "Dr. Phil" Question.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

September 23, 2009

Why We Believe, Part 2: When the Payoff Is Hard to Find

When a client (or I myself) can't easily answer the Question Three subquestion, "Why do you hold this belief? How is it serving you?" I use this additional subquestion: "What do you fear would happen if you didn't believe this thought?" This is another way to reveal how the client has been using the stressful thought to attain or to avoid something.

Example: The client' statement is, "My husband shouldn't have affairs." After doing some inquiry, she still believes this is true. I ask her if the thought is peaceful or stressful and she says, "It's a peaceful thought. We took marriage vows. I didn't agree to his being unfaithful."

"Okay," I ask, "And what is the reality of it? Is he having affairs?" "Yes." "Is that peaceful or stressful for you?" "Well, of course that is stressful."

"It is stressful,' I say, "because it is what is true—he is having affairs—and you want that to be different from what it is."

"I can see where fighting with reality is driving me crazy."

"Then why do you hold the belief that he shouldn't have affairs, when he is? How is this thought serving you?" The client says the belief isn't serving her at all, and yet she believes it, and because she relies on her husband for financial support for her and her children, she won't leave him.

Mext, I ask her what she fears would happen if she didn't continue to believe this stressful thought. Her answer: "If I didn't believe that my husband shouldn't have affairs, I'd be a doormat; he'd just cheat on me forever and I would have to pretend it didn't matter."

Usually, the client's answer to this subquestion points to what is already happening, if only in his/her mind. In this case, my client is complaining about a man who is already having sex outside of their marriage. She already feels like a doormat with the thought that he shouldn't, because it flies in the face of what's true: he does. And she is already pretending nothing terrible is happening, so as to spare her children any grief.

So again, I ask, what is it the payoff for holding this belief? She hopes it will help her not to feel like a doormat. She thinks it gives her some control over her husband's behavior. ("He'd cheat on me forever" is another thought that the client could question.)

The client sees how she has been causing herself stress in the name of trying to get peace. It's an honest mistake, one that I daresay most of us make quite often. It doesn't mean she has to condone her husband's behavior, or divorce him, or stay with him. This is just a window on her inner world.

What followed was that the client realized she didn't really care that her husband had sex with other women (in fact she was relieved that he wasn't pressuring her into sex); only that his doing so would mean she might be deprived of his support. "If he cheats on me, he'll leave me, and it means that I will be without support."

Now, seeing that her "shouldn't" thought was a projection into a frightening and non-existent future (could it be that he wouldn't leave her, or that if he did, she would still be supported?), she was able to be, if not sanguine, at least saner about the situation, aware that she had choices and did not have to be a victim of her husband's behavior.

But what if you believe you really do need things to be different? In Part 3 of this series, we'll look at whether our thoughts are really about needs...or if they are merely tantrums.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

September 22, 2009

Why We Believe, Part 1: Are You Being Served?

In question number three of The Work of Byron Katie, "How do you react when you believe this thought?" we sometimes use a subquestion, "Why do you hold this (stressful) belief?" In other words, what is the payoff for holding that belief? How is that belief serving you? Is there a peaceful reason to keep this thought, one that does not bring you stress, suffering or pain?

Many times, a client's initial response to this subquestion is, "There is no payoff; it's not serving me." When I hear that, I ask the client to sit with that question for few moments and see if anything comes to them.

In my experience, we never attach to a stressful thought unless we believe it is going to do something for us. That "something" might not be a very good benefit, or it may be outmoded...but there always is some reason why we continue to believe what we believe, even if it feels terrible.

Here are some motives for keeping a stressful thought: (You may have others; if you do, and you'd like to share them, please write your motives in the comments.)

-I get to be right.
-I get to feel superior.
-I get a sense of control (over a person, a situation, the universe).
-I get to blame someone or something else for my unhappiness.
-I don't have to look at my part in the problem.
-I don't have to change.
-I get a sense of security or safety.
-I don't have to take responsibility.
-I get a purpose in life.
-I get to keep a familiar identity, a "me" by which I have always defined myself.
-I get to know something.
-I am protecting myself from future disappointment.
-I get an escape clause; I'm out of here!
-The thought may motivate me to do something. (Example: I think that believing "I am too fat" will motivate me to lose weight.)
-I will avoid further pain and suffering.

Some people don't like the word "motive." They think it is a "negative" word. I want to point out that I don't think having motives is inherently bad—a motive can certainly be sincere or for a seemingly kind reason—but it might also cause unnecessary stress.

In pointing out these underlying motives to the client (or to yourself, if you are doing The Work yourself), we are not setting out to make the client wrong for having them. A belief that no longer serves could well have served the client in the past. It may have been a matter of survival to believe, for example, "I'm not safe" if, as a child, you lived in a high-crime neighborhood, or if your parents were violent towards each other or to you. It probably kept you alert to some real danger. If you're applying it to your life now, when in reality you are just fine—and the belief causes you distress when it comes up as the story of a nonexistent past or future—
you may want to investigate the thought and see if you still need it.

What if you can't identify the perceived payoff? Stay tuned for Part 2 in this series: What We Believe: When the Payoff Is Hard to Find.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

Why We Believe: A New Series of Articles for Deepening Inquiry

Those of you who receive my newsletter may have noticed my Clear Life Solutions tag line, "Open your mind to a limitless life." That is an invitation to something I, as a work-in-progress, invite myself to as I invite you to it...and it is easier said than done!

As a practice for self-awareness , you won't find anything much simpler than the four basic questions and turnarounds of The Work of Byron Katie. But to say that something is simple is not to say it is easy.

It's definitely easy to ask oneself, or another, four questions. It's easy to answer questions. It's not always easy to open the mind as far as it can go, even when there is willingness. It's tempting to do The Work on the surface, to give obvious or easy answers, or to say, "Well, I've been over all this before and don't need to go there again." These are ways that I myself have let myself get away with crumbs and prevented myself from doing the real work of The Work.

Stressful beliefs can have incredible depth, which can, in turn, prevent us from fearlessly exploring and releasing ourselves from painful or limiting concepts that no longer serve us.

In a new series of articles on the Soul Surgery blog, I will explore the nature of belief—specifically why we tend to believe troublesome thoughts, even when we know they are troublesome. In doing so, I hope to make it easier for those of us doing The Work—whether as clients or facilitators—to untangle and loosen the tentacles of attachment to these thoughts.

As always, I invite your feedback, and your experience of deepening inquiry in your life.

You may also enjoy this post from a few years back, "What's the Payoff?"

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

September 15, 2009

I Am Crabby, Resentful, Jealous, Self-pitying and Totally "I"-identified Today. Is That Okay with You?

I wrote something similar to the title of this note as my Facebook status one day. The question was sort of a joke (and sort of not!), but actually it is a very good question! Is it okay with you if someone who you see as—well, I don't know how you see me, but some of the nicer descriptions I have heard include wise, self-aware, loving, resilient, someone who "gets it"—loses it sometimes? (Or, in my case, during this past year, rather often?)

The responses from my Facebook friends ran the gamut. Some thanked me for my honesty. Others asked me (in a well-meaning way, or not) if I could absolutely know it was true. A few hoped I would feel better soon. And still others asked me if it was okay with me that I felt the way I did. That is, of course, an even better question.

I can't imagine how not to be other than how I am in the moment, and I'm sure there are those who would expect differently, and might become disenchanted to learn that, simply because I facilitate The Work, write about it, and use self-inquiry as a personal practice, my life is not a choral reading of A Thousand Names for Joy. (If I were to write the story of my life, it would be a book of humorous essays more aptly titled "A Thousand Names for OY!" Or perhaps, "Eat, Pray, Love, Kvetch.")

I have some really good tools for getting balanced and happier in my life when I'm off-kilter, and I love to share those tools. I'm told I'm a good teacher of those tools. I'm inspired by the teachings that inspired those tools as well, even if I don't fully understand or embody them all...even when I'm resistant to using these perfectly simple and effective solutions.

Shocker: since I'm human and I don't always allow myself to "know what I know," I'm sure I have at least as many "bad" days as the average person! I don't always love that I have as many "off" moments, or days, as I do, but I'd rather be authentic and transparent about it than not. And it really is okay with me that I have them, otherwise, instead of sharing this, I would hide behind a happy-happy-joy-joy persona that isn't me 24/7 by a longshot!

So if I am miserable, and I know there is a way out of being miserable, that's how I know it's okay with me that I'm miserable. Nothing wrong with that. In my experience, when I allow myself to keep company with misery, rather than trying to banish it, I end up feeling somewhat less miserable. This allows room in my head and heart to meet misery with understanding. Once understood, misery seems to get bored with me and, eventually, it goes away.

One time I went to a talk by Marianne Williamson. Anyone who has met Williamson in person knows that she is not a happy-happy-joy-joy style spiritual leader; in fact, she's rather intense. She gets angry. During this talk, Williamson said that she was far from a finished product; but that the tools she uses, teaches, and delivers from her own experience (from various religious traditions and A Course in Miracles) have helped; she is better than she used to be. I know this to be true of me too, so I loved that she stood there in front of hundreds of people who paid to see her, and met us where we could really hear her, not separate from or above the rest of us. From where I sat, this didn't diminish the value of what she had come to teach us at all.

Years ago at a New Year's retreat where I was serving on the staff (and not doing a stellar job of it, in my opinion), I bumped into my mentor, Byron Katie. She said something complimentary to me and immediately, and with great embarrassment, I burst into great, sobbing, snotty tears. As she held me and smoothed my hair, she asked me, "What's the belief?" "I don't want you or anyone else to see that I'm not 'on it,'" I confessed. "No," she said, "You don't want you to see that you're not 'on it,' and that's where you mess yourself up." (She used a stronger word than "mess.") Clearly she wasn't at all bothered by my being off my game. Why was I? It felt so good not to have to hide my off-ness any longer, I probably did a better job. I know I found it easier to ask others for help.

Here's another reason why I'm a big fan of this kind of self-disclosure: if it's not okay for me to have days like this, then it's not okay for others to have them, and that would be unrealistic, unkind, and dishonest because everybody in the world, without exception, whether they admit it or not, has them.

I want you to be what you are, and not feel you have to push yourself to be what you are not; not for your sake, not for mine, not for the sake of the world. If I can extend that courtesy to myself, I have half a chance of extending it to my friends, mentors, mentees, clients and colleagues.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

September 3, 2009

Ask a Facilitator: Turning Around "Shoulds"

Q: I have been feeling depressed for some time now, and the fear of fear, anxiety and depression has come up for me. As I question thoughts like "I shouldn't be anxious," "I shouldn't be fearful," or "People shouldn't be fearful," I find it hard to find any turnarounds that are meaningful, and The Work doesn't seem to help here. Do you have any suggestions?

A: "Shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" can be tricky to turn around because sometimes we're approaching them with a motive to feel better or to talk ourselves into our out of something. When we do The Work with that kind of agenda, the turnarounds don't convince us; you may as well do affirmations and save yourself the trouble of The Work. (Just kidding.)

So let's start from the beginning, before the turnarounds, because that's where the majority of self-revelations appear; in your answers to the four questions. Without this, your turnarounds can never be meaningful. Turnarounds expand upon the self-awareness you have developed through the education of the four questions; I find they are not particularly useful in and of themselves.

How do you react, how do you live your life, when you believe thoughts like "I shouldn't be fearful," and the reality is, you are fearful? Isn't it something like compounding pain with suffering, plus interest? Does believing the thought "I shouldn't be fearful" lessen your fear, or result in more depression? I've noticed the "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" in my life result in self-flagellation, which is depressing.

Next, imagine how you would treat yourself differently if you didn't believe the thought, "I shouldn't be fearful." With more compassion perhaps? What else? I don't want to feed you the answers, because my answers can't be meaningful to you. Sit as in meditation and find your own.

Once you have done this, you are ready for the turnarounds, the opposites, the alternatives to what you have been believing.

"I shouldn't be fearful," turned around to the opposite is, "I should be fearful." That's what is; you should be fearful when you are. How can it be otherwise? It does no good to try and change it. You feel the way you feel. I would honor that.

To find specific examples of how you should be fearful, when indeed you are, takes a lot of willingness and an open mind. And this is not to cancel out your original statement; it's simply to see what other options you have, to expand your awareness. For instance, I can find "I should be fearful when I'm believing (uninvestigated) frightening thoughts, such as 'I'm not going to be okay.'" I would have to be fearful if I believe in terrible outcomes. "I should be fearful" because I haven't yet learned how not to be; my fearfulness may have been a survival mechanism in the past.

The longer you sit with "tough" turnarounds, the more examples of opposites you'll find. Some turnarounds will feel truer than others. Freedom lies in being able to recognize that nothing is 100% black or white...that there are always alternatives to believing or attaching to stressful thoughts in what I like to call the parallel universe of peace.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

August 13, 2009

The Julia In Our Heads

In case you've been living in a cave recently, let me bring you up to date on the bestselling book that inspired the current hit movie, Julie & Julia. It's the true story of Julie Powell, a woman who, on the cusp of 30, found something to take her mind off of her unsatisfying professional life and fast-ticking biological clock: she decided to prepare all 524 recipes in Volume 1 of renowned cooking teacher/TV chef Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in just one year, and to blog about it. She called this the Julie/Julia Project (you can still find the archives online, but I recommend you read the book instead).

In the process, Julie became very close to Julia Child, if only in her mind; in fact the two women never met, never even spoke on the telephone, and had but one brief correspondence.

My favorite part of Julie & Julia occurs when she discovers that her 91-year-old "guru"—whom she all but credits with saving her life—might have had feet of clay—or at the very least, was not exactly the person Julie thought she was. Yet, Julie comes to see that her relationship with the Julia in her head—the supportive teacher-narrator of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and the personable, bizarrely-voiced, often humorous Julia-persona on TV's "The French Chef," plus Julie's mental projection/construct that she calls "Julia"—has been the real relationship, the one that matters, the only place where the two women could have possibly met as friends.

Reading Julie & Julia, I recognized a classic thread that perhaps began with the story of the tribal boy Eklavya in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. Eklavya, who desires to study archery, is rejected by the master teacher Dronacharya due to Eklavya's low caste. Undaunted, the boy makes a clay statue of the master and teaches himself to shoot in its presence, imagining he has the teacher's guidance and blessings. Eventually, Eklavya comes to achieve a level of skill unsurpassed by Drona's star pupil, Arjuna.

However, the story of Eklavya and Drona ends badly, as the master somehow views this as theft of services and demands Eklavya give him his right thumb as gurudakshina (the teacher's fee). Eklavya, revering the teacher nonetheless, severs his thumb and renders himself unable ever to draw a bow again.

Julie, thankfully, does no such ridiculous thing; in fact, buoyed by and grateful for what she has learned/self-taught in the presence of the equivalent of a clay idol, she even makes a symbolic pilgrimage to the Julia Child kitchen at the Smithsonian. And, of course, she appears on TV, writes an irresistible and very successful book which gets made into a movie, and gets to quit her thankless job and move to a better apartment.

The Julie in my head instructs me so well on how to treat the Julias in my head. There have been more than a few people in my life who have been major influences, but with whom I have become disenchanted or who became disenchanted with me: friends, teachers, students, clients, employers, romantic partners, not to mention those people I've liked and admired who have not liked or admired me in return. Truth be told, I haven't forgiven them all. I'm frankly amazed by some of the ones I have been able to forgive and the gratitude I feel to them in spite of everything that went down between us, or that I imagined went down. And some who I imagined would never speak to me again made peace with the me in their heads and we're friends again.

I've been the ungrateful daughter/student/employee, the facilitator who didn't do a damn thing of value for you, the teacher who didn't care about you, the girlfriend who wasn't the person you thought I was, the fair-weather friend who didn't follow through on my promise. I've also been the one you think so highly of that it blows my mind and makes me wonder what drugs you're on.

For better or worse, the primary relationship between two people, whether it's a fan and a remote rock star, or two longtime companions who have shared a lifetime together, seems to be the relationship in the head. We can't control people, we can't make them love us, we can't take back what happened; so we may as well make it right with the one in our head. That's what so much of my self-inquiry has been about.

So, thank you, former spiritual teachers; because of my story of you, I learned how to feel devotion and reverence, how to listen and learn. Thank you, former lovers: because you were attracted to me until you weren't any longer, I learned to see myself as a beautiful, desirable woman. And thank you, those from whom I sought love, approval and appreciation. Thank you for giving it to me when you did, for I must have needed it. Thank you for not giving it to me when you didn't, because that left me with my one and only, the one who will stand with me till death do us part.

I'm happy for Julie that she didn't dismiss an amazing year of her life, put her life on hold, or discount and dishonor a beneficial relationship, just because someone withheld the approval she didn't have and never needed in the first place. I aspire to it.

"When I walk into a room, I know that everyone in it loves me.
I just don't expect them to realize it yet." —Byron Katie

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

August 3, 2009

Belieftown's Greatest Hits

I was just telling some friends that the other night while watching a PBS disco special (that is not a typo, my friends), I found myself singing along to all of the dance hits from the '70s, including the ones that I never even liked to begin with. I chalk it up to loving the familiar.

That's okay if it's just some silly old tunes. It's not quite as much fun when I start singing, once again, my old songs of sorrow and complaint. Sure, there was a time that I loved those old ditties, but today they are taking up too much shelf space.

And yet, don't you find yourself humming those greatest hits to yourself from time to time? Or singing them to others, much to their chagrin?

Who could forget (and who wouldn't want to?) these old-time extravaganzas and their catchy tunes that by now have become annoying earworms...

Blame—the rock opera best remembered for such toe-tapping favorites as "You Don't Know How to Love Me" and, of course, the title track. ("Blame! It's gonna live forever, baby remember your shame.")

Single! The Musical
—featuring the chartbusters "If I Were a Size Six" and ","

For opera fans, there's Boris Notgoodenough. Who could forget Pavarotti's rendition of "Messin' Dharma"?

In order to shake an earworm, they say you have to think of something else, but then run the risk of the replacement being an earworm as well. The fact of the matter is, everything repeated over and over becomes annoying.

So my recommendation is to deconstruct the same old songs. "He doesn't love me; is that true?" "If I were a size size I'd be married by now; how do I treat myself when I believe that thought?" "Who would I be without the belief, 'I'm not good enough'?"

Then you'll have more time and energy for going through those dusty old books on the shelf that are so hard to give away (because no one else wants them either) and that you find yourself flipping through again and again, including Gullible's Travels and Me: The Unauthorized Autobiography.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

July 8, 2009

Ask a Facilitator: Affirmations...Yes, or No?

Q: I do The Work and I also practice daily positive affirmations because I really believe in their power to attract good things to life; for example, "I am perfect just the way I am," "I am an-all loving being," "I have infinite patience and love for others." However, the turnaround portion of The Work seems to be contrary to these positive affirmations, since when I turn a judgment around to myself, I have to think that I am not doing something right, that I have the defects and bad character traits that I see in others. Is there a way to reconcile doing The Work with my practice of positive affirmations?

A: Affirmations work only if you believe them, and they don't work if you don't believe them. You can't make yourself believe you are all loving or patient if you have doubts about your loving, patient nature. Conversely, you can't make yourself believe you are unloving and impatient if you are indeed loving and patient at least some of the time. To do so produces stress.

Turnarounds can be positive too: "I am impatient" turns around to "I am patient." But without the education of the four questions, a positive turnaround is meaningless. Repeating affirmations that you don't believe will lead to disconnection, just as continually telling yourself you're not good enough doesn't give you the tools to see yourself as good enough.

I don't do The Work to be "positive" (or negative); I do it in order to reduce stress and understand and welcome all thoughts as friends. "I am impatient." Have I ever been impatient in my life? I can find it, so I can see why someone else might see me that way and call me on it. I am also patient; I have ample evidence for that as well. You would have to embody the traits you criticize in others at least in part, otherwise you wouldn't recognize them. The same is true for admirable traits. You are seeing your own reflection, always.

The Work is a way to identify and question stressful thoughts, period. We don't bother with the happy ones; we get to keep those! To put the stressful mind on paper and examine how we live life out of our beliefs is to see what else is available to us.

At first, I came to The Work in order to feel better, but that is doing inquiry with a motive to change myself or to change outer circumstances. When I do The Work for the love of truth, I notice I don't have to force affirmations on myself; my life becomes an affirmation.

And by all means, if affirmations or any other practices are working for you, don't give them up! I haven't yet seen a practice that couldn't be done in conjunction with The Work...except perhaps the practice of self-hatred.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

July 1, 2009

A Subtle Difference and Sameness

"There's nobody. There's nothing."

"There's nobody! There's nothing!"

It's just a matter of inflection.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

June 28, 2009

The (Wo)Man In the Mirror: Thanks, Michael

And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make a change

June 2, 2009

10 Ways We Make The Work into Too Much Work

Byron Katie is fond of saying, "I don't call it The Work for nothing," meaning The Work works best when we put in some effort to see things differently...and if we are willing to put aside what's comfortable in place of what's true.

This doesn't mean doing The Work is hard to do. If you're finding The Work to be too much work, you may be doing one or more things on this list.

1. Trying to work with complex, run-on sentences.
"Daniel should pay attention to me so that I can make him understand why I am so upset with him and what he can do to change." This sentence requires a meat cleaver! "Daniel should pay attention to me" is enough to work on all by itself. Other thoughts that can be worked on separately are "I need to make Daniel understand." "Daniel should understand why I'm upset with him." "I want Daniel to change." "I am upset with Daniel." "Daniel can change."

If you fill out your Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet in short, simple sentences, you'll find it's much easier to identify and work with your thoughts. A little editing in the beginning, a little less writing, can make for less work—and more meaningful Work—in the long run.

2. Writing a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet about yourself. Many people come to The Work saying, "I know I'm my own problem." Is it true that you know that? As Katie says, when you're new to The Work, it's better to point your judgments outwards. We've been beating ourselves up, judging ourselves, making ourselves wrong all of our lives. It hasn't changed us yet; it can, in fact be brutal. As you will see, some of the turnarounds on any worksheet will be "I" thoughts and you can sit with these later. Instead of "I should have more self-control," why not start with someone else about whom you have had the same thought? You'll see how you treat them, and in doing so, how you treat yourself when you believe that thought about yourself.

3. Spinning,
as in not taking your original belief all the way through inquiry in favor of switching to another. "Mary is needy. How do I react when I believe that thought? I avoid her, I don't want to be around her. I don't want to be around her, is that true?" You leave the inquiry when you switch beliefs this way; the original belief has not been fully understood. You lose your train of thought and you may find yourself back-tracking. That makes a simple process more complicated.

4. Spinning a turnaround.
This takes you into entirely different territory. "Mary is needy, turned around: Mary is not needy; I am needy." These are good turnarounds. "I am not needy" is a spin, not an opposite but an affirmation that has nothing to do with your original work. It may make you feel better, but it won't do the work of investigation for you and you may find yourself having no resolution.

5. Yeah-butting.
You leave inquiry when you stop answering the questions. "Yeah, but..." is a defense, an excuse, a block to learning the truth. It throws away any prior work you've done on the belief and you end up having to start over.

6. Changing your belief statement after a few minutes. "I need Daniel to change. Is it true? Yes. Can I absolutely know it's true? Yes. How do I react when I believe that thought? I get frustrated...I lean on him...I nag him...but you know, that's not really the issue, it's more like, I need Daniel to be more flexible...I want to work on that instead." Well, if you want him to be more flexible, it does mean you would like something to change. If you stick with your original statement, you may find what you were looking for when you began waffling. You can always go back to the other belief statement later, if you still believe it.

7. "Shoulding on yourself." "I should exercise" could be a covert way of trying to make yourself exercise, or excuse yourself from exercising. This work is about noticing how you live your life when you believe a thought that isn't true for you; it's not meant to be a motivator or to shame you into doing some or into stopping doing something. ("I shouldn't smoke.") So just notice your motives when you question "I should" thoughts. It may be easier to work on underlying beliefs here, such s "If I don't stop smoking, it means I'm weak" or "If I don't exercise, it means I'll die too young, and that means my children will be fatherless, and that means..." What is the core issue? The direct route would be to work on that one.

8. Using turnarounds as a medieval torture device.
"Mary is needy. Turnaround: I am needy - beat, beat, beat. Oh yes, I am, I'm a terrible person, no wonder no one wants me around! I have to stop being so needy!" Oh gosh, don't go there! Simply sit with "I am needy." Is it sometimes true? Have you ever been, needy, especially with Mary (needing her to stop being needy)? This is just an opportunity to notice, no shoulds, no judgments involved. The Work is about self-awareness...which is a gentle noticing and if indicated, a gentle correction. Most of all, with turnarounds like these, we see that we are not too different from the one we've been putting on the torture rack and we can let both them and ourselves off the hook. Whew!

9. Long explanations. Notice when you start using "because" when answering a question: "How do I react when I believe the thought, 'My partner lies'? I feel angry, because it reminds me of when I was a little girl, and my father used to lie about where he was, when we knew he was at the bar drinking anyway." Not only is this justification, it's story-telling, and it takes you out of inquiry. Then you get lost and you have to reel yourself back in. More work than needed.

10. Writing your worksheet in the past tense. It's not wrong or bad to write a worksheet in the past tense; however it can leave you feeling disconnected from the uncomfortable feeling that led you to write the worksheet in the first place. There will be less of a tendency to say, "Well, it was such a long time ago, I don't remember much about it," or "It's really irrelevant, it's over." Try writing in the present. Instead of "My father shouldn't have lied," write, "My father shouldn't lie." Even if the incident happened 40 years ago, writing your statements in the present puts you right back in the place where you first believed the thought. The experience will be more immediate and relevant to you and you won't have to dig so deeply to find your answers.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

ADDENDUM: My friend Nicole writes, "Thinking you have to answer all the subquestions on the blue sheet [facilitation guide] each time you do inquiry (exhausting!)." Indeed. If you have any others, I'll post them here.

May 26, 2009

Ask a Facilitator: I Shouldn't be Thinking These Thoughts!

Q: I love using The Work of Byron Katie. However, when I go into question three—"How do you react when you believe this thought?"—the array of underlying beliefs I carry shocks me and I find it hard not to beat myself up for thinking them. I can pull myself back to continue the worksheet, but I experience a lot of shame, despair and overwhelm about the thoughts I have uncovered. I'm finding it difficult to see that these are all "just" thoughts and not me.

A: I really understand; I used to react that way also and I, too had to learn how to be a gentle observer of my thoughts rather than to identify with them. As you continue to unravel your stressful thoughts through The Work, you'll see that all you are doing is noticing what happens when you attach to beliefs that don't serve you. It's what we all do, so innocently.

At first it can be quite upsetting to see what's been festering under the surface; even now after doing The Work for so many years, uncovering those thoughts can move me to tears. However, once you these thoughts see the light of day, they can be met with understanding and you may find you are left lighter and freer.

I hope you will continue to take the "juiciest" of these "nasty" beliefs to inquiry. They have come to your awareness so that you can come home to yourself. (I would also question this belief: You shouldn't be having thoughts like these; is that true?)

If your stories are very tenacious and painful, you might find it useful to work with a Certified Facilitator. You can also call the Hotline free of charge, where facilitators in training will walk you through any thought that is troubling to you.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

May 19, 2009

Addictions and Subtractions

I found and liked this definition of addiction on a coaching website:

"...behavior that does not create lasting emotional satisfaction. From this broad perspective, addictive behavior can be seen as habitual ways of thinking and acting that limit our possibilities and satisfaction in life--including drug use, eating, relationships, money, sex, entertainment, power, and work."

What a wonderful opening for questioning. "Drug use (drinking, power etc.) expands my possibilities." "Overeating (sex, money) satisfies me."

Seeing as I have been overindulging in my self-limiting behavior of choice lately, I took the opportunity to inquire into one of my may justifications for doing so.

I invite you to take the trip with me. What habitual, fleetingly satisfying behavior backfires or ends up being too costly for you to continue....and how would you answer these questions? Who would you be if you showed up in your life without your addiction?

"Overeating satisfies me."

Is it true?
No (not in any lasting way).

How do I react when I believe this thought? What happens?

I use food (especially foods that are better for me to have in moderation, very limited amounts, or not at all) to distract myself from other feelings or from my "to do" list, to self-medicate, entertain myself when bored, to keep others company when they're eating things I know not to eat and in amounts that I know not to eat.

I get upset when people question what I eat; then justify or tell them to butt out. I get spiritual or existential about the body (it's not who we are, we all have to die of something, etc.).

I substitute food for whatever is lacking in my life at the time: employment, sex, attention, busy-ness.

I get overly interested in food and eating to the exclusion of other things that could be equally if not more satisfying (long walks, creative writing, inquiry).

I justify spending large amounts of money on special ingredients where others would do and fit better in my budget. (Does someone with $1550 rent who rarely pulls in more than $1000 a month income need to buy a $10 per 2-ounce jar of salmon caviar on a regular basis?)

I make eating about taste sensations, fullness sensations, fun, socializing, guilty pleasure, etc. rather than about fueling the body. I don't take time to notice and appreciate my food, especially when I'm "limiting" myself to "healthy" eating.

I am greedy, needy and scared. I get anxious when I think I won't get enough of something.

I seek collaboration and affirmation from fellow big eaters. I prefer to dine with people who indulge in food--especially the ones who eat more than I do, and especially specially specially those who eat a lot and aren't overweight--so that I can continue to justify my actions to myself.

This belief started in early childhood when I always wanted a second cookie or a larger helping of a food I liked, especially if my mother said "no." It became a game, a strategy and a battle of wills to get what I wanted and I did not feel satisfied and didn't give up until I did. (Sometimes I'd just sneak the extra cookie.)

Alternately I have used dieting as a way to punish myself, to give myself no undeserved satisfaction.

Holding this belief "Overeating satisfies me" costs me health, peace of mind, money, integrity, individuality...and I could go on.

Who would I be without this thought?
As I certainly have been without this thought, as recently as last night, I can speak from experience: I would be most satisfied and happy with a wonderfully fresh California-grown salad in a reasonable amount.

I would eat only when I am hungry and in the amount I really want...with common sense, weighing the pros and cons of doing it differently and being very clear about what I want to eat - no shoulds, no shouldn'ts.

I would experience no guilt over an occasional slice of (fattening, allergenic) pizza. No need for a second slice of said pizza. Enjoying the hell out of every bite of it. Not beating myself if I go for that second slice as long as I'm conscious about my decision and loving it as equally as not eating it.

I'd ask myself what it is I really want and need in the moment I think I want to (over)eat. If it's really a big slushy umbrella drink at poolside that I want, that's fine...and maybe I want something else instead, such as the feeling of belonging (in which case, start belonging, Carol!). It's the way I stopped napping in the middle of the day. (I discovered years ago that regular midday napping would turn into two hours and made me feel sluggish for the rest of the day, so I found other things that were both restful and satisfying and better for me.)

I would stop to be present with my food, my body, my life...tapping into natural myself what I want from that extra food.

I might leave food over. (Gasp!)

Turn the thought around:

To the opposite: "Overeating doesn't satisfy me." Just as true. Examples:
1. Never for more than a few minutes.
2. It doesn't satisfy me that I've re-gained weight that I worked hard to lose.
3. It's often really uncomfortable in terms of feeling stuffed, logy, sugar-buzzed out, etc.

To "my thinking": "Overthinking satisfies me."
Not true, but that's what's going on when I think I want more of something. I think, "If I eat this, I will be happy, satisfied, mollified." When this doesn't work, then the thinking has to stuff itself with something else, whether it's food or another addictive item/action/thought.

To the opposite (another angle): "Overeating dissatisfies me."
1. I don't like myself when I overeat (and that's another worksheet).
2. I am dissatisfied with the resulting indigestion, fatigue or weight gain.
3. Going against my better judgment cancels out any satisfaction I might temporarily experience at the all-you-can-eat buffet.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

May 6, 2009

Why I Don't Work on My "Ego"

Teachers of nonduality and advaita advocate what they call "the direct route," meaning going directly to the source. They ask, "Who am I? Who is it that thinks, does, says this? What lies prior to 'I'? Go there!" People like this tend not to like the kind of inquiry we do with The Work of Byron Katie. They see it as window dressing, a mere "technique," too mental. They see the source of all of our unhappiness as the ego. Meanwhile these same people seem to eat, drink, speak and reproduce. What's telling them to do that if they are egoless?

In psychoanalysis, the ego is that which experiences, interprets and negotiates the outside world and other people (superego), and also acts as an intermediary between our impulsive side (id) and the actions we take. We could call it "mind." It's useful for those of us who inhabit a physical body. A mature, healthy ego makes healthy choices like eating and bathing, doesn't get destroyed if someone doesn't like our blog or our new hairstyle, doesn't rape or murder just because it wants to, knows not to stick our hand in fire or run into oncoming traffic.

The ego-self can also feel bruised and wounded when it doesn't get what it thinks it needs or wants, fears losing what it thinks it has, feels threatened or criticized; therefore, "ego" has bad connotations in spiritual circles. It's seen not only as conceit and inflated self-importance, but as the only thing standing in the way of our enlightenment or merging with God.

Years ago when I was on what I considered a spiritual path (as if we're not all on a spiritual path all of the time), I thought my job was to "work on my ego." As if an ego were something to obliterate or, at the very least, chip away at, like Michelangelo chipping away at rough, unpolished marble to uncover David.

My attempt at ego demolition was a frustrating, miserable, exhausting job that was never going to be done.

Why should an ego be worked on? "Ego" is simply a belief that there's an "I." It's a beautiful thing; it's also nothing permanent that "I" can rely on forever (as long as I believe in "time.") "No ego, no world," to paraphrase my friend Byron Katie. So here we are, until the day comes (and it may never come) that we don't need the story of a world. In the meantime, why wouldn't we love and enjoy all of this?

I live in the world of names and forms, until I don't. Using these things to understand what is (and what is not) ironically frees me from the perceived tyranny of names and forms, little by little. If I love and accept these things, I don't have to kill them off or bypass the physical world, which includes my beautiful ego which has served me so well.

It's the ego that says there's a "me" and a "you," and that story is very sweet to me. "This world is full of big egos." Yes, and how wonderful to see and hear them, to join them and love them! Enlightenment is not my business.

It's not that Michelangelo's David isn't beautiful; of course it is, and in "relative reality," few would disagree. But wasn't the marble beautiful just as it was? (Michelangelo surely realized that as he chose each huge piece of rock he sculpted.) Are the pieces and dust on the floor just useless garbage? Why wouldn't we love them as well? Didn't they bring us to David?

In addition, isn't the thought of working on the ego an ego thought? What else but an ego could have come up with such a story?

Until I love my ego, my work's not done.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

April 30, 2009

The Unfinished Line

(Note: at my workshops, I often use the metaphor of the loosening or loss of blinders as a result of inquiring into stressful beliefs.)

The Unfinished Line

by Carol L. Skolnick

At the starting gate, with blinders on,
My only direction is what I can see.

I ask, "Is it true?" and the blinders fly open.
And now, peripheral vision. Depth perception.

With each reversal, a wider horizon.
And something's behind me, above and below.
I can have this? And this? And this too?

The old path remains, if I still want to run there.
Everything is available...
Even not running at all.
Whose legs are these?

Funny thing...
This wider vista, dazzling, has no fuzzy edges.
Everything is so sharp and so clear;
So solid and so transparent.
It was always that way.

Why hadn't I noticed?

I close my eyes to the view.
The way home.
It doesn't go away.

The finish line.
The starting gate.


©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

April 27, 2009

Deadly Shoulds: "If I do my best for them, they shouldn't criticize me."

"If I do my best for them, they shouldn't criticize me."

Is it true they shouldn't criticize me? Especially since I've done what they wanted, worked hard to live up to everyone's expectations? YES!

And what is the reality of it? They're critical.

How do I react, what happens, when I believe that thought? Effin' A! I'm so p.o.'ed and resentful. How dare they be critical after all I've done, after I've been so agreeable, so accommodating, such a hard and dedicated worker?

When I believe this thought, I become a self-sacrificing doormat who is never appreciated for all I do. I don't want to hear their criticism; I block it, I deflect it, I put it back on them. I don't want to consider that anything they say might actually be true. I feel like an idiot for having done this "for them."

I keep score. I expect praise. I disappoint myself when praise is not forthcoming. I see them as nit-picky, impossible to please. I try to change their minds about me; I might be obsequious and over-accommodating so that they won't be critical. I step far out of my comfort zone, do too much, then hate myself for it. My happiness becomes contingent on their validating me. My love and approval for them relies on this also. I withhold love. I make them my judge and jury.

I expect them to overlook my flaws in favor of my efforts.

This one definitely has roots in my relationship to my mother, once young as age eight, lots more when I was a teenager. She was honest with me; if I didn't do a good enough job picking up my toys or washing a dish, she let me know, and I hated her for it.

When I was ten and we moved, at my new school I tried hard to fit in and when I didn't receive party invitations or Valentine cards, I "knew" I was disliked and that this should not be. I treated other children as my judge and jury; I had to be careful around them, always say yes to their demands, never be myself (which would be just too weird for them, I surmised). I began to be very concerned with appearances, what I wore, how I talked, right down to how I sat in my chair at school (I'd imitate the way the most popular girl in class sat, even though my legs were half the length of hers and it was impossible.) I lived in fear of being picked on; I feared them and disliked myself.

As a direct response writer, I took criticism and correction of my work very hard if I had already revised the project one or more times to suit the clients...especially if they dared to change their minds about what they wanted!

What do I get for holding this belief? I get to be a righteous victim. How's that working for me? Not so well, as I still feel victimized. There is no satisfaction in being a righteous victim, ever.

Who would I be without this thought? Open to criticism; it could be very instructive. Not taking criticism personally; it's their opinion, as valid (or subjective) as kudos. I could ask for clarification without defense; if I truly want to do my best for them (and not to manipulate them into treating me a certain way), this will help me to do that. I would be in my integrity and in my own business mentally.

Turn the thought around:
If I do my best for them, they should criticize me.
1. It can bring about clarity about what is truly expected and whether or not I'm up to the task or even want to fulfill that expectation.
2. If they are critical, it is their job. If I am hurt or angered by their criticism, my job becomes clear: work on my stressful beliefs.
3. How else was I to get out of that dead-end job and have not one, but two terrific new careers?

If they do their best for me, I shouldn't criticize them. Oh. Oops.
1. My father did his level best for me, always, and I always let him know he failed me.
2. My direct reports when I was a manager: I could have helped them to do a better job rather than be critical (had I known how to do that. And that brings me to another insight about the first turnaround: maybe people simply don't know how to help me do better by them.)
3. A great mentor of mine, in retrospect, gave me everything she had in the first five minutes of our acquaintance, but for years, I always wanted more and more and more. Since more was not forthcoming, simply because there wasn't anything else she could possibly give me, I found fault with her over and again.

If I do my best for myself, I shouldn't criticize myself. Yes, it would be good to be gentler with myself, let myself off the hook for not being perfect.
1. Being critical of my best efforts has never made me do better and in fact has been de-motivating.
2. When I recognize my best efforts as my best, given my resources at the time, I can honestly assess whether there is any room or possibility for improvement, and improvement is more likely to happen.
3. In looking back at my life, I can see my "mistakes" in a kinder light and even determine that the choices I made were perfect...they brought me to this, now. Now, without a story, is a place of peace, where no criticism of myself or others can stick.
So how could it not have all been for the best?

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

April 26, 2009

Deadly Shoulds: "If I work hard to please them, they'll like me."

Are you a people-pleaser? What is your motive? Do you believe that people should like you if you work hard to please them? I found this core belief for myself: "If I work hard to please them, they will like me." Cause and effect, right? Isn't that how we're taught that it works? Work hard in school, you'll get accolades. Work hard at the job, you'll get raises, promotions, recognition. Work hard at your relationship and your partner will love you forever. Let's see how that's working...

"If I work hard to please them, they will like me."

Is it true?

How do I react, what happens, when I believe that thought? I am out of my integrity. I say yes to things I don't want, and I forgo what I might want to have or do according to their wishes.

I don't give much thought to pleasing myself, other than believing that their love will be pleasing to me.

My work "for them" comes with conditions. It's not for them, it's for me. I don't realize this, so I blame them when I don't get the desired results. I see them as unkind, ungrateful, impossible to please, and as not loving me. Images: my mother, criticizing me for not being helpful after I've been on my hands and knees for hours cleaning cat hair and roach crap out of her apartment. Feeling devastated when my boyfriend left quickly after love-making in order to go be with his kids. Getting fired from the company where I'd worked for more than 10 years and after many raises, stellar reviews and several promotions. Hearing a speaker at an ashram program saying "There is nothing we can do to repay all that the guru has given us" and translating that as, "I need to work harder to be worthy of guru's grace."

I give away all my power and self-esteem to them. I need them to validate me, and I need this not just once, but continually.

What do I get for holding this belief? Another one of those insurance policies that don't pay out in the end due to some technicality.

Who would I be without that thought? Working hard for the joy of working, or not working so hard. Either way it would be with the recognition that I work to please myself. I would work honestly, doing my best because it feels right or to honor my commitmemts. I would not be manipulative, therefore I would be honest, saying, "No thank you, doing that won't work for me," or asking, "If I do this for you, will you love and appreciate me for it? I only want to do this as an exchange." (People don't talk this way. Why not?) I would not be afraid of losing validation; I would validate myself.

Turn the thought around:

If I work hard to please them, they won't like me. Just as true.
1. Mother: my efforts never moved her.
2. Others: they either like me or they don't, not based on what I do.
3. Job: even though I was a hard worker and bringing money into the company, when the new boss took over he preferred I not be there anymore.

If I work hard to please them, I won't like them. Oh, yeah. With every ounce of effort I put into pleasing people, there are two ounces of resentment.
1. My unappreciative mother; I couldn't stand her when I was working hardest for her.
2. Boyfriends. I didn't respect them when I was using my body as collateral.
3. My job. The harder I worked to keep that job by trying to make the new boss and his cronies happy, the more I hated my job, and resented them for not liking me.

If they work hard to please me, I won't like them.
Absolutely I can find that.
1. No man, for example, has ever made me love him by trying to make me love him; I love to receive flowers, compliments and favors as much as the next person; however no amount of flowers, compliments or favors has ever turned my head if the relationship isn't right.
2. I didn't appreciate many of my father's efforts to please me while I was growing up; in fact I found them annoying.
3. If I'm in a funk, efforts to please me are wasted. You think I'm wonderful, you want to buy me dinner? Thanks, I accept. Well, that didn't work. Now, go.

If I work hard to please myself, I will like myself. That seems like the truest turnaround. Ultimately I can only please myself, so I like myself when I do things to please myself.
1. I like myself when I no honestly and say yes only with integrity...and this is hard work for me.
2. I just love myself when I spend a lot of time to get my home, my desk, my computer files cleaned up and everything's just the way I like it.
3. If I throw a party and I'm very clear that I'm doing it out of joy, generosity, love and because I like parties, I just love myself for doing it. (If I expect people to help me, enjoy themselves, appreciate me and proffer reciprocal invitations, and they don't...I end up disliking all of us.)

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

April 25, 2009

Deadly Shoulds: "She should appreciate me for what I do for her."

(Note: This particular "she," while sparked by a recent incident, could fit any number of people in my life, past and present.)

"She should appreciate me for what I do for her."

Is it true?
No, she doesn't seem to.

How do I react, what happens, when I believe that thought? I expect payback, or at least acknowledgment of how nice I've been. I want her to refuse my efforts if she's not going to appreciate me. I resent her, feel used, see her as taking advantage of my generosity. I see her as a taker, a sponge, even a psychopath, someone with no feelings. I am hurt and I make my hurt feelings abundantly clear by being passive-aggressive, nasty, whiny, needy.

Sometimes I do even more things for her to try to garner love and appreciation.

I treat people as if there's a contract: If I do something for you, you will fawn all over me and/or do something for me. You will always include me, think of me, be indebted to me.

I want to warn other people about her. I see her as unkind, unfit to be a friend, unfit to be with people and I want everyone to know.

I see myself as a martyr or a patsy, like someone who is not lovable unless they buy love. I beat myself up for being so naive. I stop trusting people. I consider revoking all friendships.

I don't give to her, or anyone, with an open heart and hand.

I discount everything she's ever done for me.

I regret ever having done anything for her.

The thought first occurred to me when, as a child, I excitedly bought gifts with my allowance for my parents on Mother's Day, Father's Day, birthdays...and if they didn't like the gifts I felt hurt, angry and regretting having sacrificed my time and money on them. I felt they were rejecting me personally.

I remember being kind and nice to other children at summer camp, and then they turned on me or left me out.

Underlying belief: People should be grateful. It's wrong to receive without giving. I need people to be loyal to me. I need to be included.

Why do I hold this belief? To protect myself, so that she and others won't ever walk on me, disappoint me or leave me out again (though it doesn't appear to be helping as I had two more incidences of such things within a week's time).

Who would I be without that thought? No regrets Remembering how great it felt to do things for her, to give her something, to include her, prior to the thought that I needed something back. I would be my generous and open-hearted self and we'd still be friends. I'd notice that whenever I have done anything for anyone, I have done it primarily for myself. I would therefore not hesitate to continue to be kind and generous to others without trying to secure my future with them.

Turn the thought around:

She shouldn't appreciate me for what I do for her.
1. Not if she doesn't. I can't micro-manage anyone else's behavior towards me.
2. Not if I did things for her with ulterior motives.
3. Her not appreciating me leaves me with myself to validate me.

I should appreciate myself for what I do for her.
1. Yes, truer; I should love myself for giving and doing when I know to do that, when I do it out of love.
2. I should appreciate myself for knowing that this person does not always reciprocate or even acknowledge what comes to her, and yet not going against my giving nature and continuing to be generous with her even when I felt hurt.
3. I should pat myself on the back for doing what I did for my mother for the rest of her life after my father died; it was the most difficult thing I ever did, "unappreciative" is an understatement for how she was, and I knew it was the right thing and rose to the occasion.

I should appreciate her for what she does for me.
1. I should appreciate her for not appreciating me. It really shows me where my Achilles' heel is and where I have work to do.
2. I should appreciate the many ways she has encouraged me and held my feet to the fire when I was too tired, sad or righteous to do my inner work
3. I should appreciate her for inviting me to and showing me around her hometown, introducing me to some of her friends, arranging meetings for us, teaching me some great exercises, sending me photographs, driving me places...the list goes on. I haven't always appreciated these things and in fact expected some of them as my due.

I should appreciate her for what she does for herself.
1. Not only do I appreciate it, I'm jealous of it. She is really independent and self-sufficient, needs no one.
2. Because she does things for herself, she is low-maintenance, a great house guest for example.
3. I should appreciate that after I did something for her, she was done with me and thought only of herself and her desires, because it was unmistakeably what I needed. It really turned out okay; I was shown a lot of love and affection and caring that week and also had some good alone-time to see things about myself and my assumptions that I really needed to see.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

April 24, 2009

Question the "Seven Deadly Shoulds"

My friend Glenn alerted me to this wonderful list of beliefs from the book The Disease to Please by Dr. Harriet Braiker—a book about the addiction to approval.

"The Seven Deadly Shoulds"

1. Other people should appreciate and love me because of all of the things I do for them.
2. Other people should like and approve of me because of how hard I work to please them.
3. Other people should never reject or criticize me because I always try to live up to their desires and expectations.
4. Other people should be kind and caring to because of how well I treat them.
5. Other people should never hurt me or treat me unfairly because I am so nice to them.
6. Other people should never leave me or abandon me because of how I make them need me.
7. Other people should never be angry with me because I would go to any length to avoid conflict, anger, or confrontation with them.

After recently experiencing a week where I felt abandoned, unloved and unappreciated by some people who have been close to me for years, I saw myself so clearly in these thoughts. I invite readers of the Soul Surgery blog to do The Work on these issues along with me.

You can approach them either as universal beliefs—e.g. "People should love me," "I need appreciation for all that I do"—or specific to one person, for example, "My father should not have abandoned me."

Let me know what you discover. I will post some of my work here as well.

April 15, 2009

5 Ways to Misery

New Teleclass and Interview, April 30

Thursday, April 30, 5 pm pt/8 pm et

Loving What Is: Teleclass and interview with Carol L. Skolnick

"Change Your Chi™" Seminars with Stephanie McWilliams

10 Cutting-Edge Speakers for $1 Each

To register, visit

A note from Stephanie:
"This speaker's series is a very personal one for me, and I'm thrilled to include my gifted and beautiful friend Carol Skolnick into this dynamic line-up! I've hand-selected 9 insightful and gifted speakers, including myself, to present you with not only an incredibly well-rounded opportunity to learn and grow, but also one that is extremely affordable — just $1 for each call! My own healing path has included a huge variety of influential teachers, so I wanted to create the opportunity for everyone to have access to these cutting-edge philosophies, no matter where you live or what your income level.

"Along with this, I'm giving everyone who enrolls an added gift — a 2-month FREE membership into my new Change Your Chi™ Network. I'm created this community to help people get information, create community and begin taking action to heal their lives. This Change Your Chi™ Network is going to be an inspirational, life-changing space where you can:

• Hear great monthly speakers on a variety of incredible healing topics
• Get a monthly lecture and Q&A session with me (Stephanie)
• Chat with me live online each week
• Receive weekly homework and uplifting inspirations
• Meet new friends on our friendly Change Your Chi™ online community
• Enroll in our monthly Change Your Chi™ Challenge where you take action and get support in one area of your life
• Make lasting transformations in yourself, your family and your community
• And get the chance to win great prizes and have fun at the same time!"


April 7, 2009

Ask a Facilitator: The "Endless Three"

Q: I've been apprehensive to share this experience and ask this question as on the surface I interpret it as quite cold. I used to make myself available to facilitate my friends anytime, and it was almost always a deep and meaningful joy. I love the turnarounds, I love the Truth, Peace, and Love on the other side of our stories, but as I have lost more and more of my interest in my stories and the accompanying emotions, I'm having the same experience with my facilitation partners. I have little interest in their lengthy responses to "How do you react when you believe that thought?" I find myself wanting to move us more quickly through question three.

How do you handle "the endless three?"

A: After all these years, I continue to be very interested in question three. If you have no interest in those answers, perhaps what you're hearing (or saying) are not answers at all, but stories. I'm not interested in backstory, "yeahbuts," "becauses" either—mine or anyone else's. I am very interested in observing how I live life, how we all live life, out of beliefs rather than out of reality. The answers to question three are observation of my past behavior: how I treat people, how I treat myself, how it feels in my body and brain when I believe a thought that's not true for me. This is the setting that affords me a contrast for question four and for the turnarounds.

For me, without the education of the four questions, the turnarounds are empty; either unsubstantiated affirmations, or sticks with which to beat myself. I want more than that: I want solid realizations that will not leave me, so that the next time I think I see a snake, I can know without a doubt that it's a rope.

Combined with the observations of question three, question four and the turnarounds give me a personal prescription for how to live more happily, peacefully and authentically. Without question three, the turnarounds can leave me feeling disconnected when "real life" kicks in and I find myself in the same situation with the same feelings as before. I will stay stuck there if I haven't given myself all that's available to me through thorough, fearless, honest inquiry.

If question three veers off into a story that takes the client away from inquiry, I point it out: "Let's go back to the question [I ask it again], and see if you can give some specifics of ____ [for instance, how you treat other people] whe you believe this thought." Or, "Let's stop here for a moment. I notice that you stopped answering the question and moved into an explanation (story, defense, justification, made it about them and not about your reaction, etc.)" Or you can simply ask the next question.

Sometimes question three takes awhile because there really is a lot to say about it; what the client is saying may not be a story. After awhile, as a faciliator (as a client also), you learn to tell the difference.

I also err on the side of letting a client ramble on a bit sometimes, particularly if they are new to The Work and very confused about what's troubling them. Everyone wants and deserves to be heard. Also, if I am listening closely, I may identify some good core beliefs out of their stories to give to the client later for further investigation.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

March 24, 2009

Mediocrity In a Friendly Universe

I've done a lot of work on thoughts like "I'm not important" or "People should see me as important." Sometimes I find myself on the horns of a dilemma. If, on the one hand, people don't see me as important, then I don't get writing assignments, people don't reach out to me, my family doesn't invite me for holidays. Conversely, if they do see me as important, then I have an image to uphold, which is difficult. People depend on me when I'm not feeling dependable. I get attention all right...and sometimes—oftentimes—it's unwanted.

The word mediocre means "poor to middling." I can certainly find that in myself in many areas. I'm a mediocre housekeeper. I'm not a good improviser and comedienne when I'm performing my own creations, but I'm not a great dramatic actor and certainly not terrific at working with a director. I'm downright poor in some areas; I can't do math or put together a piece of furniture from a diagram to save my soul. I haven't been terrific at romantic relationships. Mediocrity seems good in comparison!

If, as Byron Katie asks, the universe is friendly, why is mediocrity a good thing? Well, I don't have to pretend myself beyond my evolution, so I can relax. "Mediocre" also means "barely adequate," but still adequate. Good. Enough. We'll do.

Besides, "mediocre" is a thought; no better or worse than "superior" or "inferior." The ordinary can be beautiful, whether it's a stray tabby cat happily rubbing against the fence, or one gray cloud among many in the South Bay winter sky, or an awkward painting of someone's grandchild displayed, slightly askew, on the wall of the senior center. We can tell the story of "mangy cat," or "bad weather," or "no talent," or we can appreciate what is: the behavior of a content animal. The earth's seasons. Familial love expressed.

Every so often, I love to make a Russian sorrel soup, called schav, a humble peasant brew of tangy field greens. I chop onions and sorrel haphazardly, throwing the mess into the pot of boiling water, cooking it down into a dark green sludge, adding a dash and grind of course salt and pepper, a squirt of juice from a bumpy lemon wedge, an egg added at the very end to "farveissen" (whiten) the dish. It tastes divine and brings back memories of my grandmother in her gray bun and faded apron, who served this soup with rye bread, sour cream and uneven chunks of cold potato. What an oxymoron: mediocrity at its best.

Grandma's schav was not the best, some would say. Gourmet magazines have updated versions of the grassy soup, garnished with a dollop of creme fraiche, thin slices of seedless cucumber and a side of brioche. In this picture, my un-photogenic grandma is replaced by a French chef in a toque. In another picture, we don't bother with the lowly sorrel at all, substituting spinach or cress. At my local farmer's market, what used to be seen as a weed now sells for $2.00 for a small bunch; to make a medium-sized pot of peasant soup now costs me $10. Mediocrity?

In a world of duality, where there are comparisons and opinions, we need placeholders such as these: excellent, good, not so good, terrible.

There is only a problem when we mistake mediocrity with "not good enough." Who or what cannot be good enough? Who or what can be?

A classically "mediocre" schav recipe can be found here.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.