the work

Loving What Is

Course: Loving What Is

Instructor: Byron Katie

Location: Esalen

Esalen is located about three hours south of San Francisco on a rocky bluff right above the Pacific Ocean. The workshop with Byron Katie, the reason that lured me to Esalen, began at 8:30pm on Friday night.

The workshop was held in a revival-like tent a good ten minute walk away from the main lobby area. I took a seat and immediately wondered as people poured into the tent, What am I doing here? On the seats were packets containing fliers for Katie’s other programs, a snippet from one of her books and a Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet. This is what it looks like:

JudgeYourNeighbor_Worksheet

Without any prelude, she started right in by asking us all to take out our Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet and began answering it.  I couldn’t come up with someone I was angry with so I chose myself. I wrote: “I choose Alicia. She’s pissing me off. I’m frustrated with her. Why can’t she get her act together? Why isn’t she married? More successful? Or why is she so anxious, fearful, vulnerable and stupid?” Then I stopped, Good Lord, I thought – who is this Alicia judging the other one?

As if on cue, Katie (what everyone calls her) quietly spoke into her mike, “there are no new stressful thoughts. We just recycle them. We attach and that’s how it becomes a belief. Anything you believe against your true beauty is what causes stress. It’s rough to believe some of the thoughts we’re believing. We either question what we believe or we live it out.”

Then audience members began to ask questions. Katie runs her workshops in a case study style. She uses the experiences and questions of the audience to demonstrate how her method of challenging painful thoughts works. This method is what is called The Work.

A mother stood up and related that she had overheard her daughter talking with school girlfriends and the daughter told them that her boyfriend had called her a bitch.  So Katie took it on. “Katie, you’re a bitch,” she said. Then she walked through the four questions with the first being, is it true?  She said, “I turn to me and ask myself that. And I think, Oh yeah, I can find some of that. Let me ask what pieces he sees where I’m a bitch because I don’t want to be that way. He’s my friend. I’m open.”

She went on to advise the mother to encourage her daughter to question the painful thought, I’m a bitch. Basically, inquire why the boyfriend was calling her that instead of fighting the statement. The mother sat down visually stunned.

Katie added, “Denial is the pain. What we deny is what we suffer. A true seeker goes to her enemies.”

She continued by saying it’s possible to never experience rejection again. Using the “bitch” example, she explained that you can choose to look at it like they’re not rejecting me – they’re enlightening me. When you feel defensive that’s a clue that you’ve got a wall up – why do you need it? Especially if you believe that person is there to enlighten you and not hurt you. If you think they’re there to hurt you – then you’re just projecting. A defense is the mind’s way of putting up a wall to a powerful wisdom, knowledge.

I agreed with her explanation of defensiveness though it is really tough sometimes not to be. But Katie seems to be truly open. She walks into every room with this thought, “I know everyone here loves and cares about me, they just haven’t realized it, yet.” Her goal is to never meet a stranger or fear another human being. “The only way I can feel alone is to believe something about you that would separate us. The moment you believe your negative thoughts there’s a separation. It drops when I question what I think about you,” she said. Which made me realize I was questioning a lot about her.

At the end of the first night all I could think was, I have so many beliefs to question. Luckily, a man in the crowd stood up and expressed the same sentiment, to which Katie replied, “I’d question that.”

Saturday

The crowd was noticeably thinner. She started the session by digging into the The Judge Your Neighbor worksheet. She explained that the worksheet is basically a written form of meditation. To judge someone else is the short cut to your own denial system. Your enlightenment lies in your answers – not the ones you hope they are or think they should be. She instructed us to listen and experience the answer to the question; “if you can hear it, it’s for you.”

The idea is to answer every question quickly on your Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet – don’t over think it. Then walk through the 4 questions for each question on the worksheet except for question #6. For that question the turn around should be “I am willing to…” and “I look forward to…” Doing this really gave folks a hard time. Katie said, “People are superstitious. They think if I say it, it will happen.” She challenges that by saying, “Good - if that happens to me it’s to show me what I’m not enlightened to yet.” She added it’s easier to welcome uncomfortable moments when you realize that reality is always kinder than your story. The only obstacles are what you are believing. Katie concluded, “It’s just an illusion and yet that illusion is creating your entire world.”

It seemed that not even small, seemingly inconsequential beliefs could get by without Katie’s scrutiny. When an audience member mentioned she was afraid of the dark walking over to the tent, Katie responded, “Of course you’re afraid of the dark because you’re projecting something into the dark. The dark was never that cruel. Can’t trust your thoughts? This is a way to find peace. What is real and what is not says you. Nothing terrible has ever happened; it’s what you’re believing in that moment.”

I have to say, it was pretty hard to believe that someone could embody this philosophy so whole-heartedly – could actually live it every moment of every day. But Katie seems to. There were many incidents that occurred that might have rattled a lesser person – like at one point the electricity went out, her mike didn’t work several times and an audience member called her out on having had a face lift. She was unmoved. She was placid and receptive to it all. I began to think she must have had a stroke.

The rest of the day she spent helping different audience members work through their Judge Your Neighbor worksheets.

Her response to a man who believed his father abandoned him: “If anyone leaves me, I’ve been spared.”

To a woman concerned about the recession and her retirement savings: “The retirement you’re going to have – you’re going to be left with your state of mind. Many people think money is the answer. They think I’m going to be safe, happy and secure. Is that true?”

One of the more powerful learning moments came when Katie worked with a woman who had been raped by two men 36 years ago. Katie asked the woman, “How long did the rape last?”

“Seven hours,” she replied.

“How long have you been raping that woman in your head?” Katie responded.

The woman looked struck. Katie continued, “Didn’t you say it’s been 36 years? Who then showed the most mercy – those men or you? Those men stopped.”

The bold statement sparked a turning point in that woman’s thinking that the whole room felt. It was a powerful demonstration of challenging beliefs.

Finally, after a long day of doing the work, a man stood up and said, “I’ve spent years working on myself and am frustrated.” She says, “Well yeah, considering there’s nothing wrong with you.”

Sunday

The turnout was even sparser. What Katie is espousing is not easy to understand or accept. Still, I found that I reached a level of peace when I started questioning my beliefs. It was as if, taking full responsibility for my life, though at times hard to do, was also a relief.

She helped additional people walk through the questioning of their painful thoughts. One of the questions that came up is what happens if the painful thought comes up again. She said, “Let’s say you’re at peace and then someone says something you experience as a criticism – the womp. Get excited for that because it’s an opportunity to access a piece of the puzzle. It will show you what you’re still believing that stands between you and loving what is.”

She left us with these parting words, “This is a full-time job. If there’s fear in you then it’s not done. If you can’t walk in the streets and feel connected to everyone then you have work to do. If you can’t find peace, how can you expect others to? Work on you – it’s your only hope.”

You Can Lead a Horse to Water or Can You?

Course: How To Make Things Happen

Institution: Martha Beck

Instructor: Martha Beck and Koelle Simpson

Location: Scottsdale, AZ

Alicia Morga white horse

For someone who grew up mainly cruising concrete sidewalks, I am often surprised how much I love the country.  Especially horses.  I don’t love horses in the My Little Pony style of 4th grade girls everywhere but I do have a very healthy respect for horses.  Frankly, I see and feel their sensitivity to the world and I can relate to that.

I hadn’t thought much about what horses could teach me, however, until I went to Miraval with my friend Beth a couple winters ago.  Miraval is a destination spa in Arizona that offers what they call the Equine Experience.  The “Experience” is basically a 2 hour class where you interact with horses and through your interaction you learn something about yourself.

Horses do not have an agenda.  They are pretty pure creatures.  They only reflect what you tell them not just with your words, but your tone of voice, behavior, and energy (not to mention your pulse, breathing and sweating).  All these things communicate something to the horse and based on what you’re communicating the horse decides whether to respect you and follow you or not.

During the “Experience” the facilitators ask you to perform a couple of tasks with horses, the main one being getting the horse to lift one of its legs so you can clean its shoe.  I’m not giving anything away by telling you this, because it’s a lot more difficult than it seems.  How you approach the horse makes all the difference in whether you will be able to get the horse to lift its leg.  On my first attempt, I could not get the horse to lift its leg.  Or on the second or third.  While I thought I was following the letter of the instruction, my body was communicating lots of other things to the horse.  Things like I’m scared, please do this, man I hope I can do this.  You get the idea.   It was a short interaction but one that left an impression.

This past fall, I saw that Martha Beck was leading a workshop called, “How to Make Things Happen.”  The class description included time with horses, so even if all she wanted to make happen was have folks clean her stables, I was in.

The workshop consisted of two full days with horses.  The first day, without much prelude, every participant was put into an arena with a horse by herself.  The exercise was to get into the arena with the horse and stay there for four minutes.  There were no instructions beyond that.  Of course, I volunteered to go first.

I walked into the stable, grabbed the reins and then I just stood there staring into my horse’s big brown eyes.  I was mesmerized.  So much so that I didn’t move for four minutes.   The horse didn’t move either.  Martha Beck from her perch above the arena called time and then questioned from above, “Alicia, do you have abandonment issues?”

“Why do you ask?” I retorted, thoroughly embarrassed.

After everyone had a turn, we all returned to a circle of seats outside the arena to decompress.  That’s where Martha broke it down for me.  She said she saw, “please love me” in my face when I was with the horse.  Um yeah, I didn’t want to be trampled to death.  Truth be told, I was surprised and relieved that I wasn’t.  And at the same time, in those moments that I didn’t feel fearful, I couldn’t send the horse away from me.  Okay, so Martha was right.   She’s annoying that way.

Martha continued and told me that by not sending the horse away I never created my own space.  You see, horses, like people, need room to be themselves and to get that they need clear and deliberate boundaries.  When I send the horse away I am creating space so that the horse and I can get to know each other and learn from each other; to see what it takes to earn my leadership position.  If I’m on top of the horse's space the horse thinks I have a hidden agenda - like a car salesman that is all over you.  It's an icky feeling - that trying to force a connection – even for horses.  The trick is to remember that the horse needs to earn being a part of my team and I need to earn being a part of the horse's team.

I’m sure you can see how this translates to the people world.  Giving space and creating boundaries actually helps you determine the trustworthiness of people.  For someone who has “trust issues” this is key.  People often don’t trust because they don’t have the tools for testing trustworthiness.  If you don’t have tools to deal with untrustworthy people it’s an all or nothing proposition.  Without tools to deal with untrustworthiness, your only reaction is either aggressiveness or meekness - two extremes.  Trust me; aggressiveness doesn’t work with a horse.  And as for meekness, if you can't set personal boundaries, then the horse will come in and invade them.

While I stood enchanted by my horse, my fellow students did all manner of things – they got too close and almost got kicked.  They stood too far away and the horse wandered off.  Every time and with each student, the horse responded to what was being communicated, even if the people watching couldn’t always tell.  After a while though it starts to be clear – especially when you watch the same horse have two totally different reactions to two people.

The takeaway is this: the horse will always reflect where you're at in that moment.  The objective is not to get the horse to follow you.  You decide where you're going and the horse follows because your energy is irresistible.

Later in the afternoon we got another shot in the arena with the horses to perform what is called a “meet up” or “join up.”  In this exercise, you get the horse to run around the arena and once you have that horse’s respect you bring the horse in close to you.

This time, I was ready.  Before I walked into the arena, I closed my eyes and tried to see the space between my eyes.  (Sounds strange I know but try it.  It’s very calming.)

 

Sure enough, I went in with a very calm but commanding energy and the horse responded.  As I worked the horse, Koelle (Martha’s co-teacher), said, “You can have the closeness any time you want.  There’s a difference when you know how to lead that versus lacking the trust because you don’t know how to teach someone how to treat you.  When you realize that you get to lead your experience and everything is giving you feedback, you stop swinging the pendulum from one extreme to the other.”  That really struck me.  I get to lead the experience.

The second day we worked with horses in an outside coral.  There we had to get the horse to run through various obstacles with a partner.  The catch was we could not speak to our partner.  This exercise is meant to show how you communicate in a team environment.  It’s one thing to communicate one-on-one but quite another when you have to do it with a partner.

This time we learned that when you’re relaxed and clear about what you want both your human partner and the horse will do what you want them to do.  If you try to force it, well, you get chaos.

Getting in the moment, relaxing in the face of fear and being clear about what you want are three things that are incredibly difficult to do but essential to communicating and leading our lives.  We didn’t get into why we were fearful or why we weren’t being present, etc.  The stories weren’t important.  We did spend a little time going over how to wrestle the thoughts that get in the way of clean communication via The Work by Byron Katie but the workshop was mainly about time with the horses.

Working with the horses was real-time practice in how to just do it: be present, relax and be you.  This is how we got the horses to do what we wanted.  This is how you make things happen.