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.