Saturday, July 14, 2007

Beliefs Lead to Suffering

I just finished a wonderful book called A Thousand Names for Joy. It’s by a lady named Byron Katie who is in her sixties and “woke up to reality” (a.k.a. became enlightened) back in the mid eighties. I was previously unaware of her work, but am grateful that a friend suggested this book. It’s so nice to get a female perspective, and an altogether different perspective, on what it’s like to be enlightened and how we can all get there. It’s also wonderful to see how much it agrees with Eckhart Tolle. The bottom line is that acceptance of what is will set you free.

Katie, as she likes to be called, had the following observation about life after she awakened, which, by the way, took place while she was living in a halfway house for women, depressed to the point of being suicidal (a state that many enlightened folks underwent before their transition).

“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.”

She quickly developed what she calls The Work, which is a series of four questions that she uses to put thoughts and beliefs to the test, thereby transcending their hold on us. The Work has gained widespread popularity and she has been traveling the world to bring it to people everywhere (see for more, as well as my example at the end of this email). The four questions are:
1. Is it true?
2. Can I absolutely know that it is true?
3. How do I react when I believe this thought?
4. Who would I be without the thought?

The steps are then followed by a turn around where various opposites of the thought are stated to see that there may be truth in the opposite of the truth, or at least see how we feel when we choose to believe the opposite of what we believe. The goal is finding the truth behind what we believe to be the truth.

I was lucky enough to see some real life examples of what I had learned from reading this book, as well as use the work on one of my long held beliefs, and what a wonderful thing it was. My wife and I were dining outside at one of our favorite local restaurants one evening. A couple sitting nearby on the patio had a couple of well behaved dogs with them (the restaurant typically allows dogs on the patio so it was not an uncommon site). At one point, one of the dogs decided to take issue with the waiter and began barking at him. The waiter quelled him with a treat and we all continued about our business. The dog barked a few more times at the same waiter, who continued to try to make friends with the dog. Eventually they figured out that it was the hat that was making the dog uneasy and eventually things settled down.

However, during this period of time one of the diners complained about the presence of the dog to their waiter. Management was notified and the staff, it appeared, were debating whether to ask the couple to remove the dog or just let them finish and leave (they were almost done with their meal). The dog had settled down and none of the other diners were really bothered by his occasional outbursts while he was having them. When the couple, who like most diners was unaware there had been a complaint made, finally left the man who had complained began clapping very loudly, I suspect hoping that he would be the start of a wave of applause throughout the patio. He was the only one who was so inclined and I suspect I was not alone in finding his behavior more disturbing than that of the barking dog.

As if that were not enough excitement for one evening, a little while later the couple at the table next to us began to wonder where their food was. They asked their waiter about the status and indicated that they were there before someone else who had just gotten served. He went back to check the status and came back empty handed. Before he could get the words, “Here’s what happened...” out of his mouth the man at the table stood up abruptly and said, “We have to leave! Come on, let’s go!” the waiter was trying to apologize for the mix up that had occurred in the kitchen, but the man didn’t wan to hear it. His female companion was calmly explaining that they were very disappointed while the man was saying, “And your food isn’t really that good.” or worth waiting on or something to that effect.

As you can see it was quite an evening. It made me tense witnessing both of these encounters and left me with an internal cringe that lasted a while. However, as I found myself confronted with passing judgement on these people, I immediately realized that their suffering was based on their beliefs about the way life should be. One man believed that the dog was a nuisance and that dogs should not be allowed on the patio. So it was not the dog’s presence that upset him, it was his thoughts about the dog’s presence. The couple next to us believed that they should have been served before someone who came in after them, which brought about their anger.

It helped me see that these real world examples of suffering are caused by all of the beliefs we have accumulated throughout our lives, but what’s more important is what I got to witness in myself (where it all begins). My initial impressions at the man clapping and the man leaving in a huff would have been, “What an asshole.” However, I accepted that they were doing only what they felt was right at the time thinking it would bring about what they wanted. Instead I had to look at the feeling of uneasiness that I had and see why it was there. I am obviously made uncomfortable by conflict but what thoughts do I have that might bring this about? Here was a chance for me to do the Work on myself.

It finally occurred to me that the reaction I experience had to do with the belief that people should be more tolerant. So, let’s put that to the test and see what happens.
People should be more tolerant.
1. Is it true? Yes.
2. Can I absolutely know that it is true? Well, it seems pretty true. The only thing that makes me hesitate from saying it’s absolutely true is that people are all on their own path and can not help it if they are not yet aware of the fact that their intolerance is causing them pain. So I guess I can not know for sure that everyone should be more tolerant even if it seems like a good idea.
3. How do I react when I believe that people should be more tolerant? I become uncomfortable with the way things are. I become worrisome. I get angry and indignant and judgmental.
4. Who would I be without the thought? I would be more accepting of others. I would not have internal conflict. I would be happier.

Now turn it around. People should not be more tolerant. They should be just the way they are now. People already are as tolerant as they should be. I should be more tolerant. The truth comes out in this step and the problem is realized to be one inside me and not caused by others. My lack of tolerance for less than tolerant people creates more intolerance in the world and makes me an unhappy camper when I am exposed to intolerance, thereby pushing me further away from my end goal. It’s simple but powerful Work that helps set us free from the thoughts that keep us from realizing our full potential. See what you think.
Take care,
PS - I’ll send you another email full of inspiring quotes from 1000 Names for Joy after this.


Anonymous said...

Trey, et al,
Thanks for sharing about your experience with Katie's book, and applying The Work in your own life. I am a big fan of Katie's, as I am of Eckhart. They are close "friends" as you might suppose. The way Katie puts it: "Eckhart shows how you can be (beyond judgment), and I show how to get there. (abbreviated: Eckhart is the What and I (The Work) is the How).

I mention this inpart because I will be extending a month-long intensive combining daily satsang with Eclkhart and two daily sessions doing The Work with a woman who is one of Katie's top trainers, just finishing a 6-month training at the end of this coming September. The combined intensive she (Elizabeth) and I will offer will most likely happen between Thanksgiving and Christmas of this year, in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

Anyone is your group who would like more details about this Intensive, please email me to let me know. Of course, the month-long Intensive would be open for those who come to participate for any part of the month, perhaps with a one-week minimum.

namaste, Louis

Lee Ann said...

Hey Trey!
Great email! But I have a question....then what? So you've arrived at the conclusion that your intolerance for intolerant people perpetuates the negative feeling within you (which you want to cease). The turn around requires that you become a more tolerant individual which WILL allay the negative feelings. But then how will you experience the next obvious example of others' intolerance? Lets suppose the 4 question + turn around exercise sunk in (you). If you have truly absorbed its lesson (value) how will the next "ass hole" effect you? What do you suspect the feelings will be? Will you have a feeling at all? Is it possible to ignore the "ass hole"? Is it possible that you will feel positive towards the "ass hole"? Will you not be annoyed at the "ass hole" on any level? I'm curious about the end result. If the only response to the "ass hole's" action is tolerance then how is it possible to contrast positive and negative? I think (therefor I do not believe hahaha) what I'm getting at is at what point does tolerance become ignoring? avoidance? can you elaborate on (if there are any within this suggestion) parameters of tolerance?

I'm holding an image in my mind of dancing and nancing about in the woods in a state of complete joy and happiness. However I am alone. I am alone because everyone else is an "ass hole". Am I making sense? Do you understand my question?
Looking forward to your response

Lee Ann

Trey said...

That's a great question and with your permission I would like to post your question and my response to the blog (with or without your name) for those who might also be thinking the same thing.

Let me start by saying that my explanation will likely fall short of the explanations given by Tolle and Katie. Once you have done the Work on a question and shed light on the real truth (for lack of a better word), you have broken that connection (for this specific issue). The next time I encounter an asshole, I can no longer just think to myself, "What an asshole," without immediately realizing that I am being judgmental. In a way, I have created an indelible mark on each asshole and now am able to see them through less clouded and more tolerant lenses.

To a certain extent, encountering an asshole will bring a smile to my face and I will see them as a personal gift. A gift given to me in order to further practice tolerance for those who are still living in an unconscious state. This is a technique Katie and Tolle speaks about directly in viewing certain negative events as opportunities for practice. Our ego thinks that returning the assholish behavior (maybe with a little more flair or sarcasm) is a more effective way to put the asshole in their place and discourage them from doing it again, but in reality we have given their ego exactly what it is seeking: justification for their behavior. When an asshole puts out negative behavior it is their ego seeking to create some form of drama (i.e. ego food), and when they don't get it the ego becomes confused. It's own stimulus response system becomes shaky and the lack of response has actually done far more to undo the other person's future negative behavior patterns.

Here's a quote from Byron Katie's explanation of the Work that might help. "If you feel any resistance to a thought, your Work is not done. When you can honestly look forward to experiences that have been uncomfortable, there is no longer anything to fear in life; you see everything as a gift that can bring you self-realization."

The effects may not be as immediate as I implied and there are a wide variety of situations that we encounter that may bring up the same judgments. We are just more apt to recognize them when they do once we have shed light on their origins. For example, I'm still judgmental, I just happen to notice it a lot more than I used to. I don't beat myself up when I notice it, just be thankful that it was noticed and realize that by noticing it I have succeeded in becoming nonjudgmental.

I love your image of dancing about in nature. Tolle points to nature as a key teacher and place to connect with the divine. And some people feel they have to leave society in order to live in a state of joy, which many great avatars have done (I've had the same desire myself). However, to some extent we would be taking with us the same issues we had at home, they would just be manifesting in different ways. Since we can't exist on this planet without being connected to and interacting with others, it's best to use them as our spiritual practice. Though Shelby doesn't know it yet, she is my key spiritual teacher who is always challenging me, pushing me, and pointing out my undealt with issues. As soon as I notice a feeling of disharmony in myself, I often see my ego at work wanting nothing more than to be right.

I hope this helps, but feel free to drop me a line if it falls short of answering your question. I love helping people :) And try doing the Work for yourself. I've just done the one issue and am no expert. Hope to see you soon.

lee ann said...

WOW! That was an awesome explanation! And I should have read your other email along with it before responding because it offered more insight into my quandary as well. You can repost my email however you want. I'm happy to imagine that it might contribute to positivity in some way.

And PS: I love the image in my head of you smiling at an "ass hole" (albeit in an old Trey smirky-smart"assy" kinda way...heehee...but the image itself is enough to remind me to respond in kind). Oh! And is it Titia who is credited with sharing Katie with you? She has shared the exercise with me and it helped me untangle a friend issue. Your examples though, intrigued me because they were more general and more pervasive.....

And I'm bummed that my copy of Power of Now got soaked with the power of a busted water main in the basement! It's drying in the sun as we speak...every moment...getting more dry all the time (and we know there is no such thing as time....the pages are wet but the text is clear therefor there is no problem at all! HA!HA! and besides I've already read it, just practicing the principals...)

And yeah, I put my ego on a diet a while back and I seem to be a lot healthier. I have setbacks when I'm with a smaller-thinking crowd, being judgy and ick etc...but if you are the only one in a group who thinks this way (Tolle et. al.) it can be a pretty dull exchange. Not always thankfully, but then sometimes one comes across as righteous and preachy...point and case with my sister's best friend last weekend who is a devout catholic and wants to travel but opts to suffer and blame her husband for not traveling....and she believes guilt has a good purpose in her wonder she argued so vehemently with me...but with hugs, laughter, and a agreement to disagree ). The exchanges can be very educational as well. But when conversation is so saturated with judgment and far from my perception (and the perception I'm working on) I feel sad all over again to watch others or participate in or not be effective to stop the judgmental avalanche. I think to myself, ooh! How great to feel enlightened by such and such (or event) only to realize after I've finished my happy dance that I am alone. Which is fine for a time. But then like you said we are meant to interact with one another so ..........? Maybe I've just described the outline of how this whole business of enlightenment unfolds,reveals itself. Like telling a boot-camper he's about to run 50,000 miles of muddy jungle trails and at the finish there's a keg of cold beer and a tap but he's gonna need three hands to get a sip. Eventually he'll probably find a mate to help him out right? .......I think I'm rambling now....

Want to see you soon as well! I realize I haven't given any input on a barn party. My schedule has been silly lately because I have moved again. What dates are you considering?

Best of Love,

Lee Ann

Trey said...

I very much enjoyed reading your email and yes, Titia is the one who recommended Katie to me. Do you have The Power of Now or Practicing the Power of Now? I've read both and got a lot more out of Practicing. It's a shorter book with more how to apply this to your daily life type of information. I'm reading it a second time now actually. I'd be happy to send you a copy if you don't have that one.

When interacting with others it is very easy to get sucked back into the "old" way of speaking and thinking. So it does take practice to bring awareness into everyday communications. I've experienced the same feeling of sadness when I witness others who are victims to ego identification. It wasn't until I read 1000 Names for Joy that I started to feel differently about it. She sees the beauty in everyone's destructive behavior and helped me begin to (not that I'm fully there yet). I think I will delve into this a bit more in another email to the group because it's something I need to sit with a bit more. However, I will say that taking things in from the perspective that you are the other person and that this world of form is your creation, put here by you and for you, helps in not taking in the negativity of others.

The real key is appreciating that all of these unconscious people are on their own journey, trying to get to the same place. Some are more confused than others, but their past has made them think that, for the moment anyway, this is the best way to deal. I once heard it said that if you were brought up in the same environment and had the same life experiences as a person you don't like, you would behave in the exact same way. So, if you are the other person (in the grand scheme of things) then you are getting to witness what you would have been like in a different life. I'll stop while I'm ahead here, but you should check out Katie's book for sure.