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 http://www.thework.com 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.
PS - I’ll send you another email full of inspiring quotes from 1000 Names for Joy after this.