This blog began life as a way to record my experience as a mother using The Work of Byron Katie to inquire into stressful thoughts – hence the title Inquiring Parent! (What – you thought it meant I rang up supermarkets to inquire about the price of butter, or inquired about the kiddie facilities in my area?) Anyway, life moved on, the blog moved on and I haven’t posted much about The Work for a while. I still use it, maybe not as often as I did, but probably more effectively. For anyone not familiar with The Work: to do it all you do is write your judgemental thoughts, question them (one by one), notice how believing that thought makes you react and what it would be like to not believe it. Finally, you try out the opposite of the stressful thought – the turnaround. (For a more detailed explanation of the work read this article of mine, or visit Byron Katie’s website thework.com.)
When you start doing The Work, it’s advisable to question your beliefs about other people, rather than about yourself. This is because it works best when we ask the questions with a view to finding the truth, rather than trying to improve ourselves – which is generally behind our self-judgements and so we tend to be attached to them. Katie (as she’s usually known) does include information on how to do inquiry on yourself in most of her books and I’ve been doing The Work for around ten years, so I’ve questioned many of the judgements I had about myself.
Recently, I watched a webinar with Katie, in which she again suggested that it’s best to turn our judgements outwards if possible. Since what we judge in others is also what we judge in ourselves, questioning those judgements of others, and allowing ourselves to let them go, will also lead to seeing ourselves in a kinder light. So this morning, when I noticed a self-criticising thought running through my mind, I decided to see how I could turn it outwards. The criticism I had of myself was that I should be more consistent. Taking a moment to look at this more deeply, I soon noticed that I also believed people shouldn’t judge me when I am not consistent. I noticed the annoyance I felt when I believed people judged me that way, and then noticed other related thoughts. Eventually, I saw that underlying all these beliefs was the thought: People shouldn’t judge me. So that was the thought I questioned, and this was my inquiry:
People shouldn’t judge me.
Is that true? (This is the first question of The Work.)
Can you absolutely know it’s true? (The second question.) Before answering, I sat quietly for a few moments, and allowed myself to consider whether I knew it was best for me that people didn’t judge me. I realised I couldn’t know that. I also noticed that almost always when I react to a judgement it is because I feel scared it is true. So my answer was:
How do you react when you think that thought?
- I feel annoyed. I resist them. I judge them! I pull away from them.
It’s very useful to notice the images that come into your mind when you have a stressful thought. I did that next, and this is what I noticed:
- I imagine people judging me, and in these scenarios I feel defensive. So I assume that if someone judges me in the future I will react defensively – based on memories of times I’ve reacted this way.
- I replay these memories in my mind, and it feels hopeless, impossible to change.
Who would you be without the thought?
- Open, relaxed, calm.
Sometimes it helps to focus on one specific situation and to ask this question in regard to it. I did that next, thinking about someone who I believed had judged me unfairly one time when I was feeling anxious. This is what I found:
- I’d see that she feels out of her depth and doesn’t feel able to cope with my feelings. I’d recognise her fear. I’d see that her judgement of me was a reflection of my own (in that situation, I also thought I shouldn’t feel so anxious.) In seeing this, I’d have compassion for us both.
When doing the turnaround, you first turn the thought to it’s opposite: People should judge me.
Now find three reasons this is true. Some people mistakenly think that this will just mean you now blame yourself, but The Work is not about blame, but about seeing innocence – both other people’s and our own. So if a turnaround feels stressful, it would be the next thought to question. This is not an exercise in self-flagellation, so reasons would not be: “Because I’m a worthless human being.” That just keeps the old patterns of and blaming ourselves and others intact. These are the reasons I found to be true:
- Because that’s the reality – people do judge.
- It shows me my own self-judgements.
- Because if they believe their thoughts they have no choice but to judge. It’s what the unquestioned mind does.
- Because they’ve learned to do it from an early age. It’s what most people do, so children learn by copying and by being judged.
The second turnaround is to yourself so: I shouldn’t judge people.
- When I judge others, it hurts. I’ve even noticed it hurts physically. So it’s kind to me not to judge others.
- I feel calmer when I don’t judge others – that’s kind to me.
- When I don’t judge, I notice what’s going on with the other person – their feelings.
- When I judge others, I lose awareness of my own feelings. When I stop judging I notice where I am hurting, struggling with feelings.
- I feel happier when I don’t judge others.
Seeing this gives me more empathy and understanding for the people who judge me – it hurts when I judge so it hurts them when they do.
Third turnaround: I shouldn’t judge me.
- It hurts.
- When I don’t judge myself, but just notice, then I feel more connected, more loving towards myself. I also feel more able to take any necessary action.
- When I don’t judge myself then I allow transformation. I have noticed this in the past, and I also feel it now. When I judge myself I get lost in trying to control my behaviour; when I don’t I can look beyond the behaviour to see the beliefs and fears that drive it. And then I know where to let go.
Immediately after this inquiry, I felt a sense of relief, as if a weight had lifted. That feeling has remained. Part of what I love so much about doing The Work is that there’s no need to now try to behave differently – the next time someone criticises me, either I will respond peacefully or I won’t. If I react with stress, I’ll know there’s more questions to ask.
Update 3rd May:
This morning I woke with several new understandings about the situation I’d had in mind when I answered the question, “Who would you be without the thought?” I realised that even though I’d felt hurt at what I’d seen as a judgement, I didn’t let the other person know how upset I felt. Without the thought “People shouldn’t judge me,” I could have done that, and asked for support in that moment when I felt so overwhelmed and anxious. This situation happened well over a decade ago, yet it still bothered me from time to time. Now I feel so much more empathy for how I was then and for the other person. That’s the thing about this work – it doesn’t necessarily bring the changes we might expect. But it does bring changes.