The reason I began this writing project at all, rather than staying in hiding and self-imposed captivity, is Thought Work. Thought Work is the process I use to question and then dismantle the thoughts that keep me in my mental cage. The result of Thought Work is one less bar, and in its place, a little more freedom, and room for inspiration.
Many of you, I know, are already familiar with Thought Work from any number of sources. In case you aren’t, the idea behind it is that, most of the time, our circumstances don’t cause us pain. Our thoughts about our circumstances cause us pain. My teacher, Dr. Martha Beck, has a great explanation of this in her latest (wonderful!) book, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World. She says if you can explain your problem to a wordless creature – say, your hamster or your pre-verbal child – it’s a real problem. If you can’t, it’s a story – a string of thoughts – that your mind is spinning and you’re believing. This is not to say you’re not in pain, quite the contrary. It is to show us that changing our circumstances is seldom needed to end our pain. Rather, changing our thoughts is usually more powerful.
There are many methods for doing Thought Work, but my favorite is The Work of Byron Katie, also called Inquiry. In The Work, you identify a thought that’s causing you pain and then ask four questions about it: Is it true? Can you be absolutely certain it’s true? How do you react when you believe the thought? Who would you be without the thought? Once you’ve done that process – and it must be experienced to be understood – you then turn the thought around to its opposites, to see if those might be just as true or truer. The process is simple and absolutely transformational. I’ll demonstrate The Work I did this morning below, but go ahead and watch the master, Katie, at www.thework.com. Watch videos, download worksheets, it’s all there.
To find a thought that causes you pain, ask yourself simply, “What sucks right now?” The minute I opened my eyes yesterday morning, my mind began spinning with Things That Needed To Be Done. Before my feet had touched the floor Monday morning, I already felt behind! I have a practice, though, that I have done every morning for about five years that grounds me. It’s the one I encouraged you to do yesterday: ten minutes of deep breathing. At the end of this ten minutes I usually drift into some kind of meditation – I can’t say I’m “good” at it, but I keep doing it, because I notice when I don’t. I feel like I might float away on days I skip it, so I usually don’t.
At the end of my breathing, I remembered Martha’s book, in which she describes techniques for falling into wordlessness – a break from thought – which I needed. One of the techniques is Thought Work, so I asked myself, “What sucks right now?” The answer: “I have too much to do.” I did The Work on that thought. This is how it went:
I have too much to do.
Is it true? Yes.
Can I be absolutely certain it’s true? No.
How do I react when I believe it? I feel heavy and frantic. I feel small, no match for the towering piles of What Must Be Done. I have no idea where to start, so I do nothing. It feels terrible, futile, lonely, cold.
Who would I be without the thought? I would be the still presence inside the storm. Curious. Open. Sensitive to The Thing That Wants To Be Done. I can feel where Flow is strongest and I can jump into it! I feel powerful!
Turnaround: I do not have too much to do.
How might that be true? I’m not doing a thing right now, and I’m okay. If I never do another thing, the world will continue and I’ll be fine. In fact, I’ll still love and be loved, what else is the point? Eckhardt Tolle sat on a park bench for two years and did nothing and look at him now!
Free from the thought, “I have too much to do,” I felt light and free. And when I sat down at my desk, the Thing That Wanted To Be Done was writing. So I looked at my cache of ideas for blog posts and found the dolphin. I had stopped writing the post because I didn’t know what I wanted to say, I didn’t know what it meant. But when I looked at it yesterday, I knew. Not only did I know what it wanted to be, but it inspired me.
All that freedom and inspiration from doing The Work on one little thought!
My challenge for you today is to ask yourself, “What sucks right now?” If you’re unused to noticing your thoughts, just noticing is enough for now. If you’re used to noticing, go ahead and do The Work on your thought. Then notice what inspiration spills in once you’re free from the thought.
2012 February 7