Some personal history
Don (not his real name) had been my friend for years. I married his brother’s ex-wife. It was a convoluted affair. My ex-wife and I had been divorced for only a short time after a tumultuous marriage we survived for nine years. Jenny (not her real name) and I were married seven months after her divorce from Don’s brother Ike, four months after our first date and just over two years after the death of my first wife. I had been a sober, recovering alcoholic for seven years when my first wife, Lori, died of a brain tumor the day after she turned 30 years old. I had an eight-year-old son and a nine-year-old daughter and didn’t think I would be able to take care of them without my wife.
Dealing with grief
After the death of my wife, people were worried that I might start drinking again. I never thought about drinking, but I couldn’t stand being alone. I became involved with a woman immediately after my wife died. Not surprisingly, that relationship ended badly a few months later. In less than a month I was involved with another woman. Over the two years after my wife died, I was involved with five different women. I proposed to two of them. I married Jenny because I was desperate to break the cycle. She sensed love was not the reason I married her. Although I didn’t understand this at the time, the distraction of a new relationship helped me avoid the painful feelings of grief. My new wife knew I didn’t love her no matter how hard I tried to convince her that I did. After I left the marriage, all the grief from the death of my first wife hit me hard. My second wife was angry, hurt and vindictive. I was afraid that if I spoke with her she would try to hurt me. I was a mess. My life was a series of avoidance and survival strategies.
When I met Byron Katie
After the divorce, my old friend, Don told me he would be driving to Seattle for a Bryon Katie event and asked me to join him. I had never heard of Byron Katie and he didn’t know much more than I did. But I was looking for some answers. When we arrived at the event, we were handed Judge Your Neighbor worksheets and asked to fill them out. When the event started, Katie stepped in front of the room and began to give some instructions for filling out the worksheet. She encouraged us to be petty and to avoid trying to be spiritual or nice. The first statement on the worksheet was “I am ___________(emotion) with __________ because _______________.” I wrote, “I am angry with Jenny because she is a bit#@.” When Katie asked for volunteers to read from their sheets, I saw an opportunity to get a laugh and to enroll others in my complaints about my ex-wife. After about an hour, Katie noticed I was raising my hand and asked me to read what I had written. A runner brought me a microphone and I read my first statement to her and the 400 or so in attendance. “I’m angry at Jenny because she is a bit#@.”
The moment of discomfort
I got my laugh and was handing the microphone back to the runner when Katie asked me a question. “What is it that Jenny does or did that has you think of her in that way?” I didn’t expect the question. It wasn’t part of my plan. My brain locked up. She waited and I just drew a blank. “Isn’t it interesting that you see her that way but can’t think of a single example to explain how you feel?” The microphone runner reached for the microphone just as I thought of an answer. Katie had already turned away and was looking for her next victim when I blurted, “She told me I destroyed the family!” “Was she right,” Katie asked. “No!” I said, feeling angry and defensive. In my mind, because of all that Jenny had said to me, all she had done, all of her sarcasm, criticism, bullying and hatred, Jenny was responsible for the divorce. The divorce was, in my mind entirely Jenny’s fault.
The discomfort continued
“Who left?” Katie pressed. “I did,” I said with defiant, justified conviction. “Who was in the family before you left?” “There was me, Jenny, my two kids, her son and our child together.” “So, she is right then. You left and destroyed the family.” My brain locked up again. All I could think was, “Now I think YOU are a bit#@!” Don and I had arrived early and sat in the front row. To leave at that point would have meant letting Katie and everyone else in the room see that she had gotten to me. I decided to stay put until the next break before leaving.
Is thinking believing?
Over the next hour or so, I watched Katie work with several people in the room. At one point I heard her ask, “Do you believe everything you think?” I hadn’t known there were any other options. I had lived my life up to that point believing every thought that crossed my mind and reacting to it. The Work of Byron Katie caught fire in me that day and changed every part of my life. It changed my relationships with people, money, time, the past, the future and with myself. I now experience disempowerment for briefer periods of time. I’ve learned to leverage my own suffering to access freedom, wisdom, peace, and joy.
The Work consists of four questions and a turnaround. When I am suffering; when I am experiencing disempowering emotions, I’m suffering because of a thought I am believing. By asking the four questions about my thought I see that my thought is not an accurate reflection of reality. And when I realize this, I can no longer believe the thought. Without attachment to the thought, my suffering disappears. Let’s use a thought from that day in Seattle when I first met Byron Katie as an example. One of my thoughts was, “Jenny wants to hurt me.” Here are the four questions and turnarounds with my answers:
- Is it true that Jenny wants to hurt me? (YES!)
- Can I absolutely know that it’s true that Jenny wants to hurt me? (No, I can’t absolutely know. There may be some other mysterious reason she is being such a bit#@.)
- How do I react when I think the thought that Jenny wants to hurt me? (I avoid her, I criticize her behind her back, my heart races and I have an anxiety attack when she calls or when I see a car that looks like hers. I yell at her when she criticizes me. I blame her for how I feel. I see her as a bully so I justify treating her badly. My energy is sapped. I can’t focus. I’m upset.)
- Who would I be without the thought that Jenny wants to hurt me? (Free. Peaceful. Focused. Responsible. A listener. Present.)
Now it’s time to turn the thought around and find examples to show how the turnarounds are true. Jenny wants to hurt me. Turnaround: I want to hurt Jenny. Yes, when I talk about her behind her back, when I ignore her calls, when I refuse to listen to her, when I yell at her. When I replay what she has done to me. Jenny wants to hurt me. Turnaround: Jenny doesn’t want to hurt me. Maybe. But why does she act that way? Maybe she’s just like me. She perceives that I am trying to hurt her and reacts to her own thoughts. She may not even know that what she says and does hurts me. Jenny wants to hurt me. Turnaround: Jenny wants to love me. Hmm. When she married me she said she loved me. Maybe that is why she is so hurt and acts the way she does. She wants to love me and I won’t let her because I think she wants to hurt me. Could that be true?
Finding My Inner Peace and Freedom
I probably did over 100 worksheets on my thoughts about Jenny. Gradually, my fear and anger receded and my self-honesty increased. By doing The Work, my judgments about her brought me peace and freedom that I may not have been able to access without Jenny’s help. When my phone would ring during that time, I would look at the caller ID. If it said, “Jenny” my heart raced and I felt panicked. Once I saw that my suffering was my path to peace, wisdom, and clarity, I changed the settings on my phone. After that, when she called, my caller ID read, “The Gift.” Katie says that there are only one of two things we can do with our thoughts. We can believe them or question them. I am happiest when I choose the latter.
To learn more about Byron Katie and The Work, go to www.TheWork.com
I’ve created an alternative worksheet with additional questions for doing The Work. To download a copy, click here.
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