By Kathryn Dixon
Hurricane Katrina brought all of us to our knees -- even the unsinkable Bush Administration.
Why don't we plan for the future effectively? Why do such things occur in this world? Why do our societal systems honor the rich and powerful and leave the everyday man to fend for himself, and the poor and destitute mercilessly abandoned?
What sort of God would act like this? Maybe Hurricane Katrina was not at all an act of God, but a reflection of the confusion inherent in people's thinking which has led us to believe we are separate from all else: neighbors, family, future, past, the natural world, God and even ourselves. Maybe it's time to see this world through different eyes.
Is there really any manner in which I can live that will relieve suffering in any lasting way? The best way I know of for people to access their deepest truths in life is through a very simple process of self-inquiry, most recently reintroduced to the world by a woman named Byron Katie. She calls it The Work (www.thework.com). It consists of asking oneself four simple questions around vexing concerns or frustrations in life. One's honest answers to these questions bring the self-inquirer to entirely new perspectives that increase clarity, freedom and awareness of personal truth, regardless of worldly circumstances.
You may want to take an extra minute as you read through the process below, to go inside of your own mind and heart and find the answers that arise within yourself to these questions. Discovering the truth within you is far more empowering that witnessing the self-discovery of another.
BELIEF: The hurricane was caused by forces external to me.
Question 1. Can I really know that it's true?
It certainly appears to be the case. It seems ludicrous and illogical to entertain the notion that I have something to do with all of this devastation. I was just here in Salt Lake City, minding my own business. How can it be that I am involved with these circumstances? I've never even visited the Gulf Coast, and I don't work for FEMA.
Yes, it seems perfectly clear that the cause of Katrina was well beyond my personal control. This question seems preposterous.
Question 2. How do I react when I hold the belief that the hurricane was caused by forces external to me?
I get to feel innocent and irreproachable in an extremely wild world filled with guilt, none of which belongs to me -- not this time. There's surprisingly little comfort in that stance. It actually makes me feel nauseated and quietly afraid.
I experience myself as a hapless bystander on a planet filled with meaningless and unconscionable victimization. I get to be mad as hell at FEMA, Bush, Congress or God. Somebody else has to be to blamed for this; someone MUST BE RESPONSIBLE. I live in virulent condemnation of the 'other.'
And while I sit physically unscathed in the high desert of Salt Lake City, I feel emotionally ravaged by my faith in injustice, my singular, unquestionable impotence, and my despair. In this belief I feel very, very small; vulnerable and insignificant.
I treat the victims like they are significantly less fortunate than I; the separation and unevenness of that belief leaves me feeling oddly unstable. Equanimity only lives in dreams and idealism, certainly not on earth. I treat the world like a nefarious place where anything can happen, and does, way too often. Safety is fragile at best -- intangible, ephemeral and maybe even delusional.
I treat the Divine like a sacred promise that doesn't deliver. Disappointment and confusion reign. I wonder when my time will come, too.
Question 3. Can I see a reason to drop the belief that Katrina was caused by forces external to me? (And The Work does not ask people to drop the belief, just merely can you see a reason to?)
Yes, I certainly can.
Question 4. Who would I be without the belief that Katrina was caused by forces external to me?
This is certainly right up there among the strangest questions I've ever considered. My initial impression is that I don't have a clue who I'd be. But let me just imagine what it might be like. First of all, I'd be less reactive and fearful and condemning of other people. I would slow down and be more curious. I would stop looking outside myself for people and circumstances to blame. I would quiet down a bit and open up to the unknown, the inconceivable mystery of life and death. I'd be more like a little child who sees suffering and feels only deep compassion and wants to give love instead of trying to figure the situation out and 'fix' things. My heart would be much more open.
I'd pay lots more attention to what's going on inside of me, in my own head, my own heart and my own life. It feels quite unfamiliar, but somehow truly present and accounted for on a core level. Despite the fact that there would be more focus on myself, it doesn't feel self-centered, but more self-responsible.
Peculiarly, while I might expect it to, it doesn't seem to me that without this belief I'd be likely to attack myself. It feels more like a wondering than an indictment, somehow. I'd be carefully looking for where and how to make the correction instead of condemnation.
Without the belief, nothing would be external to me any longer. I feel a strange expansion of my self-awareness. Everything originates inside me somehow, even and maybe especially God. I've heard people talk about this concept, but it has never really rung totally true until right now. I've had a smattering of revelatory experiences; however, this process brings the precept to me experientially in the course of daily living: a practical, pragmatic and practicable way.
After the four questions of The Work, we wrap it all up with what Katie calls a "turn-around" This is where we take the original statement or belief and turn it around in various ways, to discover other, often greater truths than the original statement posed. We can start with the exact opposite statement, switch subject and object around, make it all about us. It's sort of like trying on costumes, to see how they look, how they fit. Often the fit and feel is much more true than the original assertion.
BELIEF: The hurricane was not caused by forces external to me.
That could be. How would I know? I have no idea how this world really works. Those of you who have seen the movie "What the Bleep Do We Know" know that many branches of science give more than a nod to this possibility.
BELIEF: The hurricane was caused by forces internal to me.
Certainly my perceptual experience of the hurricane was an internal affair; I generated what it means to me and its impact in my life. It's been me telling stories about what I think all of this means; and every one of my stories is a function of my prior (and admittedly very limited) belief structures.
When the original statement is about a thing, another way to do a turn-around is to insert "My beliefs about??." and then finish the statement. Thus, we get the following:
BELIEF: My beliefs about the hurricane are caused by forces external to me.
This is an interesting turn-around. I can find that all reports of what has happened in the Gulf have been the result of external sources -- newspapers, Internet, CNN; that's real enough. I had no awareness of this conflagration until I turned on the news some time after the hurricane hit. However, it seems there is a far deeper message in this turn-around.
To take this deeper, it may well be true that these experiences of blame, fear and guilt are also external to my true nature. Maybe, just maybe, the truth of all of us is actually love. These other painful experiences may simply originate from a context outside of the truth of who all of us really are. If essentially we are love (which all perennial philosophies do imply), then this investment in blame, fear and guilt must be foreign or external to our true nature. Perhaps that is why it feels so awful when I believe all of this to be true.
"Reality is always kinder than our stories about it" is one of Katie's most often-used expressions. It certainly couldn't hurt to begin empowering the notion that we are essentially love rather than not-love. We know the results of its opposite all too well.
This has been a mind- and belief-bending journey. While it feels as though my mind has been turned inside out, this wild ride takes me to a brighter destination. The result is newfound clarity and trust in a larger and more loving reality than I'd known before the self-inquiry.
There are two ways to take action in this world: One is from fear, the other is from love. Do I write the check to the Red Cross or Second Harvest from a mindset of terrified horror, or am I inspired by an implicit awareness of my immutable connection with my fellow man which from which compassion flows effortlessly?
The bottom line for me is a growing awareness that as I am willing to relinquish my negative thinking, my experience of the world changes, too -- not just figuratively, but literally. In a situation where I once felt a debilitating powerlessness, I now embrace the very powerful possibility that how I see is the precursor to what I see.
Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows any evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it. Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves. (The Buddha, in Dhammapada; translation by Eknath Easwaran)
Change your thinking and you change the world.
Kathryn Dixon is the founder of Clarity Coaching, www.kathryndixon.com. She's a graduate of Byron Katie's certification program and has been a facilitator of "the Work" with individuals, groups and organizations for eight years.
Copyright © 2005 New Moon Press. Catalyst Magazine