Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Forgiveness at Kripalu with Byron Katie - Day 3

I've been writing down snippets of what Byron Katie says when something hits me in a particular way.  As I look over the list, I realize context is going to be important with some of these, like a joke, some of them you just had to be there.

Others need the context of a quiet mind.  I think my first one is one of those, so let's see how it goes.  Every block-quoted (indented) phrase was something Byron Katie said, as best as I could record it at the time.
"There are (emphasis hers) things that are completely horrifying, but eventually they're not."
This one goes to the "not always so" of Buddhism and it goes to the vital importance of discerning the difference between what you're thinking and what is going on in reality at the moment.  911 comes to mind as an example.  That day, what happened was horrifying.  It's not anymore.  Now that area of the world is a quiet tourist attraction.  It's a park.

My story (and yours too, probably) of that day is still horrible.  My memories are of people jumping out of buildings to certain death by a 100 story fall in favor of waiting for certain death by fire or building collapse.  That's horrible, but the events upon which my memories are based are not happening any more.  There aren't people jumping from impossible tall buildings to avoid dying in a fire in downtown Manhattan today.  Nothing horrible is happening.

This extreme example illustrates an important part of what I have learned here.  Much of what angers, frustrates and saddens me concerns events that are over.  Everything else which angers, frustrates and saddens me are things I expect to happen in the future.  Right here, now, as I sit in a comfy cafe surrounded by athletic women in yoga pants, nothing is angering, frustrating or saddening me.

Remembering the past and anticipating the future are both necessary to living.  The important thing to notice here is that they are not the same thing as reality.  Remembering the past and anticipating the future are not real in the same way that what is going on around you is real.  There's not much else to do about that, but noticing it is everything.

And that leads me into how my life changed today.

In the morning session, I checked my phone (on silent) to find that I had received a call from a work colleague.  My first reaction was "screw that, I'm on vacation."  It was in the dead middle of the morning session, Byron Katie was lecturing, I paid a lot of money and went to some personal trouble to be in this room hearing the lecture, so work can take a hike (I think my internal dialog may have contained more colorful language).

Beyond that, I guessed that I knew what my colleague was asking about, it concerns a tired, broken project at work that I have worked and worked on until I am blue in the face and management intransigence has stood in the way of a solution, and still stands in the way.  It was the last effing thing I wanted to discuss.

However, I was in this room, doing this work, and I realized that I was seeing this call in the context of my past.  I asked myself how I would react if I dropped my story about it.  I thought for a second, how would I respond if I dropped the story about what I should and shouldn't do for work?

Instead of doing that, going with my prepared habitual answer, let's drop this story about work being this or that, the person calling being this or that, and just respond to what is happening right here right now.  I asked myself, what would I do without that story?

It's a human being asking me for help.  There's no question how I would respond to this request for a return call if I didn't have all this history and story connected to it.  When people ask me for help I listen.  That's who I really am.

I stepped out of the session and returned the call.  I changed my mind.  I did a kind of experiment.  What might happen if I took the advice I had paid so much for today?  What if I put both feet into the work instead of observing others do and talk about it?

It turns out my guess was correct, the call was about what I thought it was about, and frankly, between you and I, it didn't feel like much of an emergency.  I answered the questions, shared with my colleague what I was doing and returned to the lecture after a brief stop by my room to take the meds I forget to take this morning.

When I returned to the lecture hall, the lecture had ended and everyone was paired off in an exercise.  I didn't have a partner because I was out of the room when everyone was paired up.  I had some course materials I needed to read, so I sat down quietly and pulled those out to begin reading.

One of the people helping conduct the seminar came up and quietly inquired why I was not working with someone.  I explained the above, I had to leave during a lecture and when I came back this exercise had already started.  I assured her I was perfectly content to sit one out if need be, it was my fault anyway.

This person asked me to sit there while she tried to help.  I went back to my reading.  A moment later there was a tap on my shoulder, I looked up to see Byron Katie, the leader, founder, author and mother of this entire thing.  She asked me why I was sitting alone and I told her the same thing I told the other person.  She motioned with her hand and said softly "come with me."

Oh shit, I thought to myself.  I'm in trouble.

She moved to an open area of the room, dragged two chairs together facing each other and sat down, motioning for me to sit in the other seat.

"I'll be your facilitator" she said.

Oh. My. God.  This is like the Pope randomly offering communion to a Catholic.  Here's the person whose work I have been studying like textbooks for years, putting into practice an exercise which had already brought many welcome changes to my life, whose voice I have listened to for hours and hours and hours of podcasts, and she's sitting across from me offering herself to me.  Can this really be happening?

The facilitator is the person who helps the client, the person doing the work, do it.  They sit across and follow a systematic protocol of questions.  Generally, people pair up, one person acts as a facilitator and the other as the client, then they switch roles.

"It's a privilege." I answered, she smiled.  I wanted to exclaim and I can't fucking believe this is happening to me! but I didn't.  I let her have her humanity,and just treated her like i would anyone else.

She asked me to take out my "judge your neighbor" worksheet, a standard tool of this process, and begin reading to her from it, which is the exercise, but as I've said before you can read about that elsewhere.

I had filled out the written part of the exercise the night before, and the instructions were to use what comes to mind, not your biggest issue, or why you came here, or whatever, just use what comes up.  I wrote about my father and my dissatisfaction with our relationship because I regarded them as low-hanging emotional fruit.

not dead yet!
I had long regarded my problems and situation with my father to be a closed book.  He died ten years ago, and while we had a kind of polite detente at the end of his life, our relationship was never warm or close.  What I brought specifically to the process was the fact that I never heard him tell me that he was proud of me, a fact of our relationship that I frankly regarded as outrageous and tragic.  It would bring me to tears to even discuss it.

I didn't regard this as a subject that needed examination.  My relationship with my father was what is was, and now that he's dead, what can anyone do about it?  I had no idea what I could possibly discover that was new here, I had only put it on the worksheet because it was what came up when I had been asked the night before to write about what came up.

Byron stepped me through the work, very much proceeding according to the protocol, and our discussion of my answers changed 57 years of perspective on my life right there on the spot.  All these years I had paraded this notion around that asking that once, just once, in the 46 years I knew him, why couldn't he say "Richard, I am proud of the man you've become."

Was this too much to ask?  One brief, single, solitary expression of admiration for his son?  After all that bullshit he put me through?

After doing the work, I realized, yes, it was too much to ask.  The details for the explanation for that are personal and mostly not relevant to understanding the work.  I realized that what had separated me from my father all those years, and was still doing so now, was my thoughts, my story about my complicated and dramatic family history.

When I dropped all that and looked instead and the facts of what happened and what didn't, absent all of my victim commentary, my father had actually been wise, supportive, connected to me, and generously allowed me to make my own choices about my life.

I had been unwise, dismissive, withdrawn and I actively shut him out, on many, many occasions, because of the story I had in my head about what his actions meant about what what he thought of me.  I made it clear that I did not approve of him, was not proud of him and I had a dismissive explanation for practically every gesture of love and support he offered me.

I cried, for the first time in my life, for the pain my father felt because I pushed him away.  I realized, for the very first time, that what I thought had happened between us did not actually happen.

T H A T   I S   F O R G I V E N E S S .

Forgiveness isn't giving up, giving in, forgetting or rational diminishment of a past pain in favor of a present connection.  It's realizing that what you thought happened didn't.

My father faced a terrifically difficult situation as I was growing up even without a problem son.  I offered him nothing, worse than nothing, I treated him like a pariah.  He provided me with everything he was capable of providing me in spite of my ungrateful and unskillful victimhood.

He had my mother to deal with, a sadistic Marine Corp general at work who had it in for him, a family that was unsupportive and frankly tried to undermine his success and his marriage to my mother.  He was a narcoleptic who went undiagnosed for most of his life.  Did I mention he was married (and divorced, multiple times) to my mother?

On top of all that, his son, his only child, decided that he wasn't enough, that in spite of what he could do he wasn't sincerely interested in being a father, and that he actually preferred the company of other people's children to his own.  I decided every disappointment I suffered at his hand was a way to persecute me, and I angrily turned all of my resources as a child to punishing him for all these imagined offenses.

So, was it too much to ask that in addition to being there when I needed something time after time after time, despite all this rejection from me, was it too much to ask for him to provide me with my Hallmark moment of parental approval?  Was that so much?  Was that too much to ask?  One single sentence?

You bet your ass it was.

This is what healing via genuine forgiveness looks like, and in spite of the fact that he died ten years ago our relationship is brand spanking new today.  I have forgiven him, and I can now bring the part of him that still dwells within me along with me for the rest of my life as a trusted and valued internal advisor and companion.  I look forward to travelling with my father, learning new things with him, and relying on his advice.

Byron Katie sat across from me when all that happened.  I looked into her eyes, heard her voice guide me as I healed, or began to heal life-long pain that reaches into every single area of my life.  My relationships, my work, my money, my health, my spiritual practice have all been touched by this situation and because of that, they are all now transformed.

That's the work.  That's what is does.  That's why without Byron Katie trying to do it, there's a large international community around the work: institutes, residential programs and retreats for teaching this process all over the world.  It works.  It's amazing.

Now, let's go back to the series of events that led to all this happening today.

Remember, I got a phone call from work while I was on vacation.  My first and habitual reaction was to not take it, to claim the license of vacation-hood to not respond to another human being looking for my help.  Normally, I would not question any of that, or my response.  I'm on vacation, work can wait, I don't care. They work me too hard, they don't pay me enough, they don't respect me, I deserve to have my vacation in peace.

That's a story.

Reality tells me something different.  I do care.  I acted out of who I am rather than my work story that I didn't care, or shouldn't care.  I simply responded in that moment according to my own attunement to my own life.  I was Hank's son Richard, fully present and accounted for, in that moment when I decided to return that call.

This is my gift to you for reading to the end.

Notice.  Pay attention to this:  Where did listening to my real life instead of my internal story lead me today?  To having Byron Fucking Katie as my facilitator in the work today.  To forgiving my father.  To unburdening myself from decades of pain.

How did I get there?  By questioning what I thought was true about my life.  That's all.  I just stopped and asked myself what was really true right now.

Top that.