So . . . we were now preparing for my daughter's surgery and I was still struggling with a lot of fear and foreboding. It was consuming too much of my energy. I knew it was not an efficient use of the life energy I had available to me, but my mind seemed to have a mind of its own and would wander off into concocting worst possible scenario stories. As I said in a previous post, I remembered a book (in my previous post I referred to it as "IT") I had read a few years back - appreciated and admired - but resisted the concepts because they just did not mesh with a lifetime's pattern of looking at the world. The book is "Loving What Is" by Byron Katie. I re-opened the book certain I could never get to "loving what is", but IF I could get to accepting what is I knew I would experience some relief.
So Byron Katie and her philosophy became my night-time reading companion. She says, "When I argue with reality, I always lose - but only all the time". I was certainly arguing with reality, but I did not understand how I could not. It seemed to go against all my conditionned patterns of interpreting life to contemplate "accepting what is" in the case of cancer. For a lifetime, I had divided events up into good vs. bad, acceptable vs. unacceptable, desired vs. not desired. This is how our limited ego mind works - it evaluates, assesses, categorizes, compares, contrasts and some of this serves to help us stay safe - but if that is the only way we approach life we are bound to suffer - cuz stuff happens.
Byron Katie has a simple, little formula for questionning our thoughts and beliefs about our situations. As Rudyard Kipling had stated decades previously, we would discover that our fears are the biggest liars - and, therefore, need to be questionned. Katie's formula is to ask yourself the following four questions:
Is it true?
Can you absolutely know that it is true?
How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
Who would you be without the thought?
Then, turn the thought around.
Examining your judgments, assumptions, fears with these four questions becomes a sort of meditative exercise in examining the stories we tell ourself about life - stories that often torture and burden us. For several of my assumptions, I resisted her insistance that one could "love what is" . . . but I kept on reading and re-reading anyway. There was something there that rang true for me and I felt I was on to something. I knew I had a lifetime's default position in my patterns of thinking to overcome. So I allowed the resistance to be there, and I just kept on reading and trying to apply her philosophy to my life. I noticed that even in spite of my resistance, I felt so much more calm and grounded after reading examples of her using the four questions with people, on a variety of issues. Their relief at moving past their oppressive thoughts was palpable. I read her books every night through the months of October, November and December 2008. I used the 4 questions on my own thinking. Doing so brought clarity and relief. Her explanations exposed the many layers of lies in my fears, and how in the here and now, in just this tiny moment, everything is bearable.
I had offered one of Byron Katie's books to Hope in October, as I saw how it calmed and grounded me. She was reading so many things at that time, she said she could not take on anything else for the moment. She was already so much more sanguine about her situation than I, so I did not try to persuade her . . . she was the captain of this cancer trip and whatever she wanted ruled.
The operation and recovery were a challenge. I left the hospital every day amazed by my daughter's courage, came home, crawled into bed and pulled out Byron Katie's books and read - instead of crying. Or I would cry and when I was done, wipe away the tears - and then pull out B. Katie's books and read until I stepped out of fear and into a place of love. Her words became a lifeline. Each night I was grounded, calmed, centered by her simple (but not easy) philosophy. Fortified at night by my reading, I was able to welcome each new day and the opportunity to help my daughter. The day she was released from the hospital, I kept going "Whoooooo Hoooooo" in the car. The prognosis was good, and now she could rest and recover enjoying her children and new lease on life.
In January 2009 I brought over a few books I thought she might like to read - one of them, again, was a book by Byron Katie. A week or so later we were talking about something on the phone when she interrupted the conversation saying "Oh!! That book! That book you left here! It is amazing! That was the way I was already processing these events, and Byron Katie affirms and amplifies everything I already felt! I have to get all her books!!! There is more for me to learn here." And so we embraced "the work" as Byron Katie calls her four questions, and we playfully teased each other with "Is that true?", when we noticed one or the other going off into some catastrophizing story, or some judgment about others, or some regret about the past. Brooke has integrated it much more than I. And I often consult her about how she would apply the philosophy in this case or that. Her equanimity about having cancer is a beautiful thing to see. She says, "This is my life - What is, is. I have no choice but to work with the life I have, and I choose to work with it in a spirit of acceptance and joy." Like so many other cancer survivors, she says cancer has been an incredible gift in her life - realigning all her priorities and pushing her to be present in, and value, each and every moment. She says life is full and rich when you are really present to each moment and accepting of what each moment brings. Her new partner has also embraced Byron Katie's simple philosophy of present moment awareness and is questionning the stories in his head too. "IT" has brought such elegance and grace to our process of living.
Whether you are dealing with life-threatening illness or not, I encourage you to check out Byron Katie. You can google her name, or "The Work" to get to her website. There you can choose from among several videos of Katie working with people who are stuck in their stories. It's delightful to watch people set themselves free from crippling ways of thinking about their life. You may be able to see Katie working with someone dealing with a similar issue to one in your life be it anger, jealousy, financial crisis, old childhood wounds, relationship problems, etc. etc..
Below are three of Byron Katie's latest books. However, the book I would recommend starting with is "Loving What Is". I did not have it here to take a picture of - my other lovely daughter is reading it.
My daughter's health situation is an on-going one, but one that seems infinitely more manageable when one accepts that life is change and willingly works with life as it presents itself. More unforeseen things will happen, as they do in every life and every family, but equipped with a different approach to what is, it all seems so much less threatening and so much more doable. Of course, there are still emotions to be felt. Yes, we still get caught in ego's fearful thinking. As parents, friends, partners we do not want to lose those we love, or see them suffer. But now equipped with this tool for cleansing our perceptions it is much easier to come to terms with the existential givens of life (what is) on this beautiful planet we call Earth.