Your situation is not the problem, your thoughts about the situation are the problem.
About a year ago, I was walking at Great Hollow Lake and instead of enjoying myself, I was fuming. I had just come from work and my boss had totally taken over the meeting I was supposed to be leading and spent hours preparing for. I kept thinking, “He doesn’t respect me. He wouldn’t have done this to my male coworker. It’s because I’m a woman.”
While I was walking, I was listening to the audio book, Loving What Is, by Byron Katie.
Byron Katie isn’t only the author but she is also the narrator of the audio book. While I was walking around the lake and feeling totally righteous in being incredibly angry at my boss, I heard Byron Katie’s voice suggest that when someone is upset about a situation to first ask themselves, “Is it true?”
So I asked myself, “Is it true he doesn’t respect me?” The answer came to me immediately and I realized, no it’s not true.
“Is it true?” is the first of four questions Byron Katie calls The Work. The 4 questions are listed below.
1) Is it true? (Yes or no. If your answer is no, move to question 3.)
2) Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
3) How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4) Who would you be without the thought?
Turn the thought around. Then find at least three specific, genuine examples of how each turnaround is true for you in this situation.
Next, I answered the question “How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?” My answer was “I get angry and feel like a victim with no control.”
Lastly I responded to, “Who would you be without the thought? Then find at least three specific, genuine examples of how each turnaround is true for you in this situation.” My answer was “I would look for another reason why he felt like he had to take over the meeting I was supposed to be leading. I would feel like whatever the reason probably had nothing to do with me.” The turnaround to this thought was “he does respect me” and examples were, not only he is the one who hired me, he personally recruited me for this position because we worked together at my previous job.
These 4 simple questions were so powerful and life changing for me that when I found out Byron Katie was hosting a 4-day retreat at Kripalu Yoga Center in Stockbridge, MA, I knew I had to go and see her in person.
There are situations unlike the one with my manager where you feel certain whatever you are upset about is absolutely true. Your answer to “Is it true?” will be an emphatic “YES!” It might be something like, “she shouldn’t have said that to me,” “my husband should know what I want,” “my kids should pick up after themselves,” “my family shouldn’t treat me this way.”
I’ll use a specific example to clarify. “Tom should quit smoking.” You might think, sure, that sounds right, smoking is bad for you so he should stop smoking. But this is only our thought, our thought about Tom that creates stress for us. Does Tom smoke? Yes. Then Tom not smoking (or shouldn’t smoke) isn’t reality, it isn’t what is true.
How about this one, “it shouldn’t be raining today on my wedding day.” Is it raining? Yes, it is raining. What is the truth? The truth is it is raining on my wedding day. Is it true that it shouldn’t be raining on my wedding day? No, that’s not the truth, in the sense of what is real. What is real is what is true.
Byron Katie uses a saying to drive this point home, “Dogs bark, cats meow” and you fill in the blank with whatever you are saying shouldn’t happen that is happening. So, “Dogs bark, cats meow and Tom smokes.” “Dogs bark, cats meow and it is raining on my wedding day.”
Byron Katie asks us to challenge our belief of the word “should”. It took me a little while to understand and fully accept this concept. Just because we want something to happen doesn’t mean that is the truth of the situation. The truth is the reality.
I saw miraculous changes come to those who stood up in front of a room packed with over 200 people during the retreat and answer these questions live with Byron Katie. People had been stuck in their personal drama, their stories for decades and decades of what should or shouldn’t have happened to them.
One example comes to mind. A woman about 40 years old, I’ll call her Deb, had been carrying around anger towards her father because of how he told her that he and her mother would be getting a divorce when she was 9 years old. Her Dad had cried and was absolutely devastated while he told her about the divorce. Deb felt that if her Dad cared about her, he would have been strong in the situation and that she shouldn’t have had to feel like she needed to comfort him.
Byron Katie got Deb to take the story out of the situation and look at the facts. To help do this, Byron Katie suggested thinking about the situation without the ability to think the thought, “my father should have been the strong one.” Without that thought, something miraculous happened. Deb remembers the situation again without her story. She is still 9 years old, and her father is still crying and telling her about the divorce. But she is able to watch this almost from above the situation and sees that her dad is so very sad. For the first time she sees that he is scared and is crying because he doesn’t want to lose his family. She sees he is crying because he feels so badly for the divorce but also for breaking down when talking to her because he wanted so badly to be strong. For the first time, Deb is able to experience empathy for what her father went through. I remember watching this woman, she was overcome with emotion crying and laughing at the same time, realizing that all these years she spent so angry with her father for thinking he didn’t care about her when the reason he was so upset is because he cared so much.
Throughout the retreat, this type of revelation happened over and over and over again to participants.
The hardest thing about Byron Katie’s work is letting go of our story. We hold on so tightly to our story because it has defined who we are up until this point. Doing Byron Katie’s work allows something so beautiful to happen, it opens space for empathy. It can repair relationships that have been filled with resentment for decades. It allows us to question our thoughts instead of always believing them. It allows us to realize that it is our thoughts about a situation that create our stress, not the situation that creates stress. If you want to get rid of your stress, you can get rid of your thoughts about the situation.
Do you have a story about something that has happened to you in childhood or recently that you are determined to hold onto even though it causes you pain? Did you have an alcoholic father and you define yourself around that story? Were you always overweight and made fun of so you define yourself around being bullied?
During the retreat, working with members of Byron Katie’s team, I learned how to facilitate these questions. If you would like to work through a situation and let go of the pain it still causes you, contact me for a free session.