“It’s not the problem that causes our suffering; it’s our thinking about the problem.” – Byron Katie
Last week, I made a strong determination to avoid watching the news, figuring maybe this would emotionally insulate me. However, I unintentionally read several provocative headlines over a 24-hour period -- stories about a government that has abrogated its responsibilities to protect its citizens from the coronavirus. This tapped into my existing 2020 corona-angst; then it broke my heart and I could feel myself sinking.
In addition, I became even more frustrated with the dangerous mistruths and distrust surrounding our nation’s recent election as well as the seemingly insurmountable political, racial and cultural divisions. I started having fearful thoughts of potentially disastrous future outcomes and was filled with despair. Fortunately, I knew from previous experiences that this was not something I could afford to take lightly.
I dug deeper for the wisdom to understand what steps I could take to “lighten the load” and, at the advice of our therapist, I decided to ask myself the four questions that form the basis of Byron Katie’s self-inquiry teaching. But first a few words about Katie.
Byron Kathleen Mitchell, better known as Byron Katie (born 1942), is an American speaker and author who teaches a method of self-inquiry known as "The Work." In 1986, when she was 43 with three children and unhappily married to her second husband, she reportedly suffered from depression, agoraphobia, overeating and addiction to codeine and alcohol (first prize in the misery department). She describes the epiphany she had at a treatment center in 1986 as follows:
“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.”
While I agree with most of her realizations, I think expecting to experience inner joy 'every single moment' is unrealistic, probably impossible and not even advisable. Plus, I definitely don’t need that kind of pressure!
Anyway, here are Katie's four very useful questions and my answers based on my thought that “There isn't much hope for our country.”
1. Is it true? Yes. Our country is fractured. There will be violent protests. There won’t be a smooth transition of power. People of opposite views will never listen to each other. We still won’t be able to see our grandkids. And we won’t be safe ever again.
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? No! There have been many other personal, political and social crises in my lifetime that we’ve individually and as a nation survived.
3. How do you react when you believe these thoughts? I feel scared, heavy and completely bereft of all hope.
4. Who would you be without these thought(s)? I would live more in the moment, accept life’s uncertainties, recognize my resiliency and have confidence in my ability to help others. And I wouldn’t believe all my thoughts or try to fix everything that pops into my mind. I would also remember that for good to triumph, evil must be brought into the light -- its true aspect revealed. I believe this has been happening all over the world and will be followed by a long overdue positive global shift in how we humans treat each other.
So, Voila! I'm feeling much lighter now and am once again mindful that all the insight and self-compassion I need is inside me. Most important, it isn't what's happening around me that will determine my happiness, but how I react to it. Now there's a news headline truly worth reading!
Thanks for letting me share with you and please do whatever is necessary to take care of yourselves and others.