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.