February 19, 2009

An Interview about Using The Work with Depression

I was recently interviewed by blogger Jessica Alvarez Fernandez for her Live On Purpose newsletter, which has a wealth of information for people interested in becoming aware of thought patterns that cause stress, anger, depression and fear. The text of the interview, below, is now also posted at Jessica's website, Live On Purpose.

Jessica: What types of reactions/releases do you see from depressed people after they go through The Work?

Carol: Well, I'm one of those people, so I'll speak from my own experience. I received the diagnosis of clinical depression in my early 20s and I remember being depressed since early childhood. It didn't ever take much to send me into a spiral of hopelessness, disappointment, extreme sadness, resentment, self-hatred...and in adulthood, I had tried a lot of different things: therapies, meditation techniques, antidepressants, supplements, exercise, diet. All helped to some degree but never got at the source of what was troubling me. I tried to escape into food, relationships, spiritual woowoo. Shortly after I began doing The Work, a weight lifted from me and I began to experience the inner peace I'd been searching for all of my life and it wasn't fleeting; it continued, and continues, to deepen. I can tell you that the people in my life are very happy that I do this work; I think the acid test is that members of my family, who have no interest in The Work, sometimes ask me if I would please talk to Cousin So-and-so.

I've seen similar reactions in my clients and in people I know who have attended the School for The Work. They arrive because they've tried so many things and they don't know what to do any more; they exit transformed, sometimes unrecognizable. Where once they refused to let anything in, they become receptive, open listeners. They stop beating themselves. They forgive themselves and others. They don't get derailed when they don't get their way.

Byron Katie says, "All sadness is a minor tantrum." You know what happens when a child doesn't get what they want: they throw a tantrum. If a child learned that this brought about the desired results, he or she would throw one at every opportunity. What happens more often is that eventually, the child stops crying and screaming and gets up off the floor. Similarly, we may throw tantrums in our adult lives because we believe if we yell loudly enough, God or the Universe or our loved ones will hear us and things will change. With The Work, we come to see that tantrums only lead to more tantrums, and how exhausting and fruitless that has been...but only for our entire lives!

Depression for me is believing depressing thoughts; we can't stop those from arising, but we can meet them with understanding. Anyone, no matter how depressed, can answer questions, which is what The Work is: inquiry. It takes a little willingness, and sometimes when we're very depressed we don't have the willingness; we "know" we're right and that everything is terrible and always will be! The point is not to force yourself to do The Work but to do it when there is an opening and a desire for freedom from the bondage of depressing thoughts. Pretty soon I found that I very much wanted to do it; the willingness to consider I might be mistaken about what I thought I knew for sure, the willingness to try on different points of view increased with time and practice. The more willing I am, the happier I become. I don't relate to the label "depressive" anymore.

Jessica: What is the root of depression and how do we address it?

I'm not a brain scientist, doctor or therapist, so what I talk about here is in the realm of ideas. I encourage anyone who feels hopeless or suicidal to seek treatment with a licensed professional...and it if serves, do The Work in addition as it will dovetail with any treatment. That's how I addressed my depression; I didn't leave therapy. After just a year of doing The Work, my therapist of many, many years deemed it time for me to quit. That was in 2002 and I haven't felt the need to go back; I would if I needed to.

I work with people who are in therapy and take medications and who do The Work as well, with their doctors' blessings. They tell me it enhances their treatment, and why wouldn't it? With The Work, we do a kind of meditation where we sit with the thoughts rather than trying to override or change them. Putting the thoughts down in writing serves to stop a troubled mind long enough for some clarity to seep in. The questions keep the mind disciplined and focused in much the way repeating a mantra does. I like to say The Work is meditation for people who are too "mental" to meditate in the traditional way.

In my life, arguing with reality shows up as depression and I have done plenty of that! I had a challenging childhood to say the least, along with some depressing situations throughout my life, including a mentally ill parent, several career setbacks and an interesting immune system. I was also told that my depression was biological in nature, whatever that means, that it was hereditary and that I'd be living with it for the rest of my life. If that's the case, I'm wondering where it went, as I still have the same body and brain!

There may be different physical predispositions to depression: hormonal or physical changes, having a certain kind of brain chemistry where the neurotransmitters aren't doing what they're meant to do, a family history of depression. I don't know much about how that works, but I do know we can't do anything about those things with inquiry—the body is what it is. However, we can perhaps run a better software program than the one we've been running in the hardware we can't change. And the latter may not be true, by the way, as studies in neuroplasticity are showing us that biology isn't destiny and the brain is more changeable than we knew previously.

As for situational depression that seems to become hardwired over time: of course we can't take away a traumatic childhood, but we can look at that childhood in less traumatic ways. We can't stop depressing thoughts from coming in, but what we can do is say: "This is what happened, or this is what is happening, and what can I do now given the situation?" We can look at the thoughts that depress us the most, such as "The world isn't safe" or "I never get what I need" or "Nobody loves me" and see if they are 100% true for us. We can examine how we live our lives, not from reality, but out of belief. With awareness comes the possibility for change.

Whether or not if I start out convinced that a thought is true, I'm not out to change my mind when I question my beliefs; I'm developing self-awareness. How do I react when I believe the thought "nobody loves me?" How have I lived my life? Is this where any addictions kick in? How do I treat friends, family, partners, prospective partners when I believe this thought? When did the belief first occur to me? How has it served me to hold the belief? Who would I be, how would I live my life, if I didn't believe this thought? And notice I said "if." I never have to drop a stressful belief; but upon examination, seeing where I have been exaggerating or mistaken, seeing the cost involved in believing the thought, the thought might drop away of its own accord, or at the very least, have less "charge" to it when it comes around again.

Jessica: Can you give me some examples of common "escape clauses" people use to justify their behavior or beliefs?

There are only four, as far as I can tell: "Yeah, but..." "What if...?" "Because..." and "I know." These little phrases stop inquiry dead in its tracks.

Jessica: I've heard that to overcome resistance and help others who might be acting "stubborn" you have to know how to ask the right questions. When I struggle with relationships with other people, should I be asking them or myself these four questions?

Carol: To ask others these questions without someone's permission or interest would be unkind and unhelpful. If I think someone is stubborn, I may want to question that. Maybe they are right not to budge from their position. Maybe it's for my benefit. Where am I being stubborn in wanting them do to what I want? That's where inquiry is helpful. Their stubbornness is not my business. That doesn't mean that they will always be resistant, and it doesn't mean I will be their doormat either, but I need to examine my motives, my supposed needs, before entering into negotiations. I've seen people use The Work as a weapon; that, to me, is just the worst thing you can do. It leaves you with the idea that war and manipulation work. Sure, they do, until they don't. In the end you are always left with yourself.

Jessica: How do we turn around our thoughts? Have you seen people become freer when they open up to the possibility of the opposite?

Carol: I want to emphasize that the turnaround is the very last part of The Work for a reason. If we simply turn a thought around, it becomes either an affirmation (if it's a "positive" turnaround, such as "The world isn't safe"—"The world is safe") or yet another stick with which to beat oneself (if it's a "negative" turnaround, such as "Nobody loves me"—"I don't love myself.") When you jump to the turnarounds you leave yourself unconvinced, disconnected, dissatisfied. Give yourself the education of the four questions, and then when you reach the turnaround, it will have meaning for you.

Absolutely, people become freer when they open to the possibilities of the turnarounds. They begin to see what else could be as true or truer in what I call the parallel universe of peace. I call it a parallel universe because we're not out to wipe out the original statement; we're just seeing what else is available. (And afterwards, we may not want or need to return to that other universe.)

We don't just stop at the turnarounds; for each turnaround we attempt to find at least three examples of how the turnaround could be as true or truer. Often, someone who thought they didn't even have one example comes up with more than three as the mind opens.

We also keep an awareness of our turnarounds and see how we can live them out. What's different about our behavior, our relationships, our communication, our energy, when we live our turnarounds? "There's something wrong with me—there's something right with me." Even the body feels different. As I was writing that statement, I noticed myself sitting up straighter—body tends to follow the mind—and perhaps not coincidentally, one second afterwards the sun came out and flooded my office. I really noticed it, took it in and enjoyed the heck out of it; acknowledgment from the Universe? No, just appreciating what is always available...the support of the chair, the air I breathe that is freely given to all of us, the remembrance of a delicious and well-deserved lunch waiting for me in the kitchen.

Jessica: Can you tell a story about the epiphany of "what if depression is not the enemy? What if we don't have to fight it?"

Carol: My depression has always brought me home, every time. It's my teacher. I can recall a time when I was doing The Work for a couple of years and my depression came back big-time. I started doing all the things I had been doing before: blaming and hating myself, feeling hopeless and ashamed, isolating. The difference was that I was very aware of what I was thinking and how I was reacting. I continued to do The Work, not to feel better (because it wasn't making me feel better), but because I had developed this addictive love of the truth and would settle for nothing less. I had to drag myself to the computer (my preferred way of filling out the Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet) and force myself to call friends to facilitate me, but I did it. It took about six months for the fog to lift. During that time, I learned a lot about myself, and about how much love and grace were in my "terrible" life. If I had been happy-happy-joy-joy all that time, I wouldn't have the peace and clarity I have now. If depression returns, I know it is for my highest good; it's there to show me that I'm believing in nightmares. It's there to spur me to wake up some more.

Jessica: Can you tell us about your role as a facilitator of The Work?

Carol: I'm a Certified Facilitator with the Institute for The Work (see http://www.InstituteForTheWork.com), which means that I have been trained and approved by Byron Katie, the founder of The Work, to provide a pure experience of inquiry. I also serve as a mentor and instructor to facilitators in training. In my private practice, I hold a safe space for my clients to examine their stressful thoughts, express themselves openly and honestly and find their own answers. I help you stay on track when the mind wanders or wants to defend…point out underlying beliefs unearthed during sessions…and suggest different angles to the four questions that may not have occurred to you. This is meant to assist you in making your way to your own answers and tap into the knowledge we all have equally.

I see my role as an educator. As such, I provide my clients with clear, practical, individually tailored assignments designed to encourage and support you to inquire more deeply on your own. I have also created learning materials to help you on your journey. A new ebook entitled "Transformational Inquiry: Asking Depression" is in the works; if you subscribe to my newsletter you'll be among the first to know when it becomes available.

I facilitate The Work in person, by telephone, and through teleclasses, introductory programs and weekend workshops anywhere in the world. You can learn more about my services and contact me through my website, ClearLifeSolutions.com. Please also visit the official website of The Work of Byron Katie.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

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