Who would you be without your name?

Are you familiar with Byron Katie? She teaches a four-question method of inquiry for exploring and releasing yourself from suffering. She calls it The Work.

She came on my radar sometime in the past two years and although I haven’t read any of her books (yet), I have casually engaged with the free materials available on her website. And I have been listening to her podcasts and watching videos.

Fundamentally, to paraphrase what I hear Katie saying over and over in different ways is: ‘Did you ever notice that it’s not the world that causes your suffering? It’s your thoughts about the world. And that distinction means the end of suffering.’

And to quote her directly: “I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment. That joy is in everyone, always.”

Katie’s approach when she sits and talks with people is to directly engage with where they are at, with their specific thoughts, feelings and beliefs. I imagine it’s much like it is said that the Buddha taught: in direct response to specific suffering. As she guides individuals through the simple steps of The Work, its beauty and wisdom are revealed in the application of that inquiry. And she invites anyone to try it. To look clearly at what is going on in your direct experience, and to consider alternative interpretations.

So, since there isn’t an overall doctrine (in fact The Work functions to question ALL beliefs), I have struggled a little with what would be most useful to re-blog here. But while listening to a podcasted interview today, my mind was blown when Katie explained how she uses her method of inquiry to explore the most essential question: ‘Who am I?’ So I thought, why not go right to the deep end, I’ll write and re-blog about what excites me!

What she explores (very briefly at 30:50 minutes) that got me excited is: ‘Am I my name?’ If you’re already familiar with teachings on the selflessness of persons and phenomena — what is called ’emptiness’ in Buddhist traditions — you might really enjoy this fresh and direct approach.

If you want to play along at home, and engage in a little inquiry into your true nature, here are the four questions of The Work for you to apply to that one fundamental belief: I am [insert your name].

1. Is it true?

2. Can I absolutely know that it is true?

3. How do I react — what happens — when I believe that thought?

4. Who would I be without the thought?

The best way of engaging here is to be still and ask your heart. Sometimes you might take time to sit in meditation with the questions, and you might also gently inquire throughout your day whenever you notice the thought comes up.

There are other steps to engage fully with the process, such as filling in the Judge-Your-Neighbour-Worksheet and Finding the Turnarounds. If your interest is piqued, I recommend exploring the podcasts and videos where Katie works directly with people. That way you get a taste for how The Work works and how to work it (couldn’t help myself there). And you might see your own suffering and gain wisdom from hearing other people question their beliefs.

Everything you need to Do The Work is available for free.

Q_BurdenNeverLifeNEW

 

Email this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponShare on TumblrDigg this

Read More

Row, row, row your boat

rowyourboatYears ago, more than ten now, when I started getting into buddhist teachings, I recall listening to an hour-long discourse given by a monk on his interpretation of the spiritual meaning to be found in the children’s song:

Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream

It was a brilliant talk — simple, memorable. I was amazed. He layered meaning into words I’d known most of my life. Words I took at face value. It’s a boat and you’re rowing it down the stream. If I thought of the words, it conjured images of blue summer skies and light clouds. If I thought of the song, it reminded me of amusing ourselves on long car rides or around a campfire. There was some magic in it, a lyrical beauty; the wonder to my young ears, of songs sung in rounds.

For nearly a decade after the monk’s talk, I went regularly to what amounts to thousands of hours of dharma talks – evening sessions, weekend retreats, weeks-long festivals. But that one hour I remember vividly, perhaps because it was early days in my spiritual seeking. I hadn’t yet given up the hard cynicism, the burden, of my adolescence. It was some perfect combination of familiar words mixed with the wisdom of thousands of years of inner exploration.

Of course, his talk was more strictly tied to a formal buddhist practice, but here is my current (yes, that’s a pun) interpretation:

Row, row, row is putting one foot in front of the other, powering yourself. There’s not just one ‘row’ because there’s not just one time that you apply effort. You show up for life again and again and again. It pushes you around and sometimes you struggle and it’s hard work and the oars are heavy. But you carry on rowing because no one else can do it for you. Your boat is your life, your vessel. Row, row, row could also be said to be your body, speech and mind, the components of your boat. An ipso facto sort of thing: row, row, row is your boat.

Gently is how you treat yourself and others, and also how you treat thoughts and beliefs. Gently, with compassion: with a soft and loving heart. And also gently, with wisdom: hold lightly to what appears, because it’s nature is interdependent, changeable and open to interpretation. The stream is the path your boat takes. And travelling downriver is letting go of control. Use the power of the movement of the water itself. You apply effort by rowing – sometimes to correct your course, sometimes to add speed – but always with the flow. Gently down the stream is humility. Keep your mind and body easy, natural and supple.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily are the ‘four immeasurables’: equanimity, love, compassion, joy. In buddhist thought, our natural state — the ground of our awareness — is bliss, pure joy. When you stop discriminating good and bad (equanimity), and cultivate love and compassion, the mind is said to be naturally joyful. I think of it as a child-like grace. A small child has not yet made the myriad decisions, the thoughts that pile up and then calcify into a painful judgmental worldview. Be like that child, now, now, now, now.

Life is but a dream.

Let’s talk about that some other time. I have a day to get out and enjoy.

Happy Saturday morning!

Email this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponShare on TumblrDigg this

Read More