Archives for April, 2011
A few posts ago, a reader named Karl asked a most excellent question about an experience I shared from my attendance last month at Byron Katie's School for the Work. Here it is, for those of you who may have missed it: Hi Shannon, one observation about the above post: it seems to me that to say that what is “should be” is an interpretation that is added to reality. For instance, if an earthquake happens and people die, do you just rejoice in it and go, “Great! People are dying!!” Is that loving what is?? It seems to me that loving what is means taking appropriate action when life demands it. Some of BK’s [Byron Katie's] concepts just occur as very confusing for me and I’m trying to understand. We also had several caring readers post wonderful responses, so just take this for what it may or may not be worth - my 2 cents as a School for the Work rank beginner, and coming simply from remembering Katie's own words on this very subject. When I arrived at the School, I had no idea what to expect. I had seen Katie speak all of once, for a good solid hour, and was flying in on fumes of fear and hope. I had arrived bearing a particular struggle in tow (as had many of the attendees, I later learned), and was there because - quite frankly - nothing else I had tried to fix it had worked.
Before I attended Byron Katie's The School for the Work last month, if someone had asked me this question, I probably would have responded with a knee-jerk "yes." After all, it's the polite thing to say. Even if someone had decided to hand over some unsolicited advice, I probably would have gamely tried it on for size, wriggling and scrunching in whatever way I could to reassure them that their words were both welcome and helpful. Today, I have a slightly different perspective. Have you ever stopped to really notice just how often you are handed advice you did not ask for, and do not want, which is not helpful (or often even relevant)? After attending Byron Katie's School, I began to notice. In the School, we were taught how to listen. I mean really LISTEN.
I don't know about you, but I have a list of "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" that grows longer every day. For instance - He shouldn't have cut me off on the freeway. She should be a better listener. He should pay me more for the work I do. She should exercise and eat better. There are plenty more where those came from too. Until I attended Byron Katie's The School for the Work last month, I thought this list was actually helpful. I thought it was a useful exercise to re-script the daily activities and choices of others. I quite naturally - without ever once questioning myself - assumed that if others would only seek out my input, their lives would instantly become so much more productive and enjoyable. I also assumed that if those around me understood that what they were doing was something they shouldn't be doing, or that what they weren't saying was exactly what they should be saying, then my life would become more productive and enjoyable too. Neither, I have discovered, is even remotely close to the truth.
This month I am sharing insights from what, to date, has been possibly the single most transformative 9 days of my life, when I attended Byron Katie's The School for the Work in March. This week I have been pondering how Katie continually reminded us during the course that she is a "lover of what is." When I first heard her say this, to say I was mildly confused would be an understatement. As the course progressed, however, and we began to gain practical skills for distilling the complicated dramas at play in our minds down to their essence, I slowly began to understand. To love what is is to understand that what is is what should be. For instance, when I wake up on a weekend morning to discover that my noisy next door neighbor is planning yet another outdoor get together around his large backyard pool, my inner dialogue tends to go something like this: "Oh god *$#! not again. Really? REALLY? You think (this directed at the oblivious neighbor as he happily putters about in his yard) that the ENTIRE neighborhood wants to listen in vicariously as your shrieking friends arrive yet again and party the night away?" Thinking this way is not restful, as you might imagine. It is also operating on the premise that what is taking place - yet another noisy backyard party next door - should not be taking place. Hmmmm.
Living inside your own skin can be a lonely, lonely place. At least once you realize you are there. The fact is that many of us spend so much of our time living our lives inside of others' skins that we seldom occupy our own. What do I mean by this? As Byron Katie often reminded us during the School for the Work course, there are only three kinds of business - God's (by which she states that she means "reality," or "what is"), mine, and yours. Guess how often we sneak out of our own business - which refers to the thoughts, events, and circumstances that we can actually control and actually have responsibility for - and into other people's business, or God's business? If you are anything like me, ALL THE TIME.
Last month I received the once in a lifetime opportunity to attend a unique course called The School for the Work. Founded by Byron Katie (known as "Katie"), the School is a 9 day adventure into the innermost workings of.....you. It was one of the scariest experiences I've ever had. And also - by far - the most appreciated. How often do we give ourselves the chance to go where no one else (including us) has ever been allowed to go inside of ourselves? How often do we say to ourselves, "Okay, that's it - I am not living with this fear/insecurity/prejudice/doubt/anxiety for one more second"....and then actually do something about it? When was the last time you challenged yourself to a thinking contest - and won?
I have so enjoyed contemplating and writing this series about 10 things my mentor taught me that I might just continue it again in the future! There are so many more things that Lynn has taught me - all worth discussing, all worthy of the highest contemplation. But for now, I will end this particular 10-part series with one of the most valuable lessons Lynn has taught me, which is that there is always another perspective. I will never forget the time, back in 1989, when I went to a therapist because I had sustained an injury that prevented me from playing music. The therapist told me that I would never play music professionally again - my injury was just too great. I ran out of the office and drove straight to the home of my mentor at that time, Annie. I walked in the door, sobbing, and burst out with the news, "That therapist said I would never play music professionally ever again!" Annie looked at me very calmly, and spoke these words, "Well, you don't have to believe her." This was the first time I had ever considered that perspective.
"The Subject Tonight is Love," as the poet Hafiz would say, is actually more accurately translated as "the subject of this life is love." A psychologist working with returning prisoners of war remarked upon her fascination with the subject matter her clients wished to discuss. They were not interested in discussing the horrors of the camps, the separation from their friends and family, the atrocities of war. Rather, they focused their time in therapy discussing the intricacies of love - and mostly in the format of their romantic love relationships with others, or lack thereof. The subject tonight is always love, whether we know it or not. Whether it is familial love, romantic love, friendship love, or self-love, love is why we wake up in the morning and what helps us fall asleep at night. Love is where our survival instinct comes from, and why we listen to it and heed its warnings and directions. Love is what gets us through a crisis, and brings us back to life when the crisis ends. Love is the only reason we can endure copious amounts of hate, anger, fear, and greed, yet still emerge with our hearts intact. If we have the love of just one other person, we reason to ourselves, we will be okay. But have we ever considered that that one other person could - and should - be ourselves? My mentor, Lynn, has never wavered from reminding me over the years that I deserve my own love and respect.