Are there any monsters in your closet? What about in your head? The other day I realized I’ve been carrying around all kinds of monsters in my head…and I came to this conclusion just in time for Halloween.
My first book “What Is Stopping You?” is subtitled “Breakthroughs Using The Work of Byron Katie. The Work is a very simple set of questions one can use to question stressful thoughts and I have been using this form of inquiry since October of 2007. In fact, I did The Work every day for two years or more, and recently I have renewed the practice.
A few days ago I left home very early and began doing The Work in my head as I went for my morning walk. The stressful thought that came to mind was “It’s going to get worse”. Later on I wrote down the answers to the four questions in a notebook. When I was thinking about “It’s going to get worse” I was thinking in general terms about the future, and my future. This included the real estate market, my finances, our business, the economic climate, and a host of other things. Here is my inquiry…
It’s going to get worse. Is it true? Yes. It’s going to get worse. Can I absolutely know it’s true? No. And what happens when I believe that thought? I lose energy. I feel negative. I want to hide out. I am uninspired. My mind travels to some negative, imaginary future. I justify and further construct my negative future story. I don’t see opportunities in crises. I treat others as a means to keeping myself safe and secure. I want to give up. I focus on myself and not on what I am doing. I gather more and more evidence to prove I am right about how bad things will be. I look for, and find, negative future trends. I see no positive trends.
What do I fear would happen if I did not have this thought? That I would be in denial, wrong, or eventually blindsided by predictable, negative events. What is stopping me from giving up this negative thought? The belief that I need to be prepared. The belief that I need to be realistic, and that this would be better and smarter than being deluded in the positive.
Then I asked myself “Where and when did I first have the thought ‘It’s going to get worse’”? And I hung out with that question for a minute or so. Eventually it occurred to me that I had had a recurring dream when I was about 5 years old, of being chased by a werewolf around the island in our kitchen. I think I’d watched a scene from Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein’s Monster, or something, and was also convinced the closet in the back room in our basement was home to this scary beast.
So how would it get worse for me? The werewolf would catch me and I’d be no match for it. I’d be torn apart. Or eaten. Or both! I was terrified. Was there a real werewolf in our house back then? No. It was imaginary. And the things I think will get worse as an adult? Interestingly, in reality, they are ALL imaginary too!
Who am I without the thought “It’s going to get worse”? Focused on this moment. Able to appreciate this moment. Able to be thankful. With the thought I am pessimistic. I am less happy. Whatever happens doesn’t matter to my negative outlook. I think the werewolf is going to get me. I think the bad things I am thinking about will happen.
Again, who am I without this thought? Not only won’t the werewolf get me but there’s no werewolf. It’s entirely imaginary. I start to see that the imaginary monsters of my childhood are made of the same stuff that adult fears are made of. I’ve been afraid almost my entire life. I’ve had a negative future story for decades. Hearing about Nostradamus fed this story. Watching Jaws fed this story. Watching the news. Economic disaster, rampant crime, the Cold War, nuclear war. None of the things I’ve been afraid of over the years have actually happened. I wasn’t eaten by a shark when I was in the dinghy by the dock at age 12 after seeing Jaws. The many airliners I’ve been on have never crashed. Y2K was a non-starter.
So what is stopping me from letting go of my fears? (And let me add that I’m not wanting to be so fearless that I’ll freely and joyously leap to my death from some rooftop. - Fearless doesn’t mean stupid.) In some instances fear seems healthy. It is prudent not to leave money lying around in open view in my car, for example. Often fear masquerades as “healthy caution”.
Again, with this thought my fear actually closes my mind. I’m a victim. I have a victim mentality. I am helpless. I justify and explain my position and shut out opposing ideas. I need to prove myself right.
And without this thought? I am less concerned or preoccupied with the future. I am more present. I am living in a realm where I actually have some measure of control, impact, and power. I become open to seeing how blessed I am. I am better able to gain perspective on what ails me.
As a child I needed a parent to comfort me after I had a nightmare, and they usually said something like “It’s going to be okay”. I think most of us had that experience. But as adults, when we have scary future stories running around in our minds, there usually isn’t someone around to say “it’s going to be okay”. In fact, we probably don’t even want to admit how scared we can get about the future. And so it’s up to us to question our own story.
Who am I without the thought “It’s going to get worse”? No longer blackening the world all by myself. No longer filling my life and my head with monsters. Instead I am more excited. More productive. Less paranoid. Less neurotic. More realistic … not LESS!
The Work of Byron Katie involves asking four questions (and occasionally some sub-questions) which include 1.) Is it true? 2.) Can I absolutely know it’s true? 3.) What happens when I believe that thought? And 4.) Who would I be without that thought? The final part of The Work process involves looking for turnarounds to the original statement, and seeking genuine reasons for how those turnarounds are just as true.
The first turnaround I found for “It’s going to get worse” was “It’s NOT going to get worse,“ or “It’s going to be okay.” How is that just as true or truer? Well, I can’t actually know what the future holds. Worse is just a comparative label utilizing a limited amount of data. It won’t get worse because I can question my thoughts about things. Positive breakthroughs are actually possible in our business, with our finances, and in the economy overall. There are many people on the planet working to make things better. The interconnectedness of everybody (via the internet, Facebook, YouTube etc) means great ideas can spread quicker and easier. Many people are starting to actively question their own mental stories. I am having a breakthrough around my fears right now!
The second turnaround I found for “It’s going to get worse” was “It’s going to get better!” How is that true? Well, I can deliberately practice having a more positive outlook. I can deliberately practice being more present and less deluded and morose as a result of imaginary fears. We can take small, incremental steps to improve every aspect of our lives together. It really doesn’t matter much how it goes if I can question my thoughts about it either way. I can work the systems we have to improve our business. I can write my next book. I can play more with ideas like this and be the explorer I wanted to be as a child (ie. Cabot, Magellan, Cook etc). I can deliberately renew my enthusiasm and excitement. I can take on the monsters head on. I can improve my inquiry technique.
The third turnaround I found for “It’s going to get worse” was “I’m okay right now!” How is that just as true? I have pen and paper. I have money in my pocket. I have a chair. I am in out of the rain. Not only am I not going to be eaten by a werewolf but there are no werewolves. I’m just completing another great inquiry and it will make for a good, timely blog post. I can tie the monster theme to Halloween and post it on Halloween. I have soccer games to play today and tomorrow.
And so this is an example of my recent inquiry into the thought “It’s going to get worse”. I looked at how the thought affected me, and where it originated. I looked at the impact it has had over the course of my life, and how I would be now without it. This has been a stressful thought for me, and no doubt I’ll have further fears in the future, but for now the monster has been slain. If you are interested in finding out about The Work visit Byron Katie’s website at www.thework.com. I hope you have a great, scary Halloween, but beyond that you have peaceful thoughts about the future, and a peaceful future.
In my next blog post, I’ll be writing about what certain people do, automatically, when they end up in the woods. No, I’m not talking about being in the woods on the way to grandma’s house. There won’t be any wolves in the next blog post. Just a golfer or two.