Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Forgiveness at Kripalu with Byron Katie - Day 4
I sit near the back because the front of the room is all people sitting on the floor on cushions. I sat that way for meditation practice for years and I never really found how to do that for much more than twenty minutes without having circulation problems in my lower legs.
Fortunately, zen practice is rarely longer than 40 minutes without having an opportunity to stand, so I made it work for a few years, but I finally gave up and sit meditation in a chair. Since we are sitting for three hours at a time for this work, I sit in a chair.
Katie Byron has an iPad on the table next to her, and there's a person off to the side in the room taking dictation for her so she can refer to what people said as she lectures. Much of the work is going over simple declarative statements made at the beginning of the process. I have found, along with everyone else, that as you progress through this process it is very hard to remember these seed sentences. Apparently, that fact doesn't improve with practice, she needs notes.
It's clear now that she is following a structured curriculum, but she does it in a way that it seems like she is just in dialog with the audience. There are two or three people running around with microphones, and the protocol is to raise your hand, be recognized, stand and wait for someone to hand you a microphone before you say anything.
Her teaching style is Socratic. She opens each session with an invitation for questions. She seems to trust that the questions will lead to the items she has on the curriculum and it seems to work. Today we really focused on forgiveness specifically. She "lectures" in this way for about half of the three hour session then she asks everyone to pair up with a partner for the work for the other half of the session.
The first day we paired up by just turning to people close by. As the program has progressed, she began to intentionally pair people who feel more experienced with people who feel less experienced. She invites the people who regard themselves as experienced to stand and then she invites the people who regard themselves as less experienced to point to someone standing. She has also done this in reverse, that is, having people who feel less experienced stand and ask the more experienced to point to them.
Sometimes this means I got paired with someone right next to me, other times it meant I got paired with someone across the room. I am one of those who regard myself as more experienced, but really the experience I am drawing upon is as a meditator, as a psychotherapy client, and finally from the hours and hours of experience I have had listening to her doing the work with others on podcasts.
Meditation is the most important of those skills. Why? Because a quiet mind (and being able to recognize a quiet mind in others) is almost essential to getting anywhere with the work. Ten years of zen practice have taught me to sit still, including cultivation of a (relatively) still mind. In the work, one must be able to sit still with a horrifying thought like "I wanted my husband to hit me."
Just as with meditation practice, sitting with a thought doesn't mean I agree with it or approve of it. I don't agree with everyone in my Buddhist sangha, for example, I can still sit in meditation with a Trump supporter, for example, while otherwise wanting to strangle their stupid little neck. So I can sit with a thought like "I wanted my parents to be unfair" without believing or accepting that it's true.
This is what I am finding is my most valuable new skill. I've learned that "trying on" thoughts is like trying on shoes. One can't really know that a shoe fits by looking at it. One has to put it on and walk around a bit before knowing if it fits. Similarly. one can't really know if there's any valuable information in a thought if one outright, prima facie, rejects it. One has to be with it like I can be with a Trump supporter in the zendo. Give it space to exist in an open mind for a bit of time and trust that realization of any useful information in it will arise (or not) on it's own. If there's nothing there, on to the next thought, just like you move on from trying on shoes that don't fit.
This process demands stillness and I feel that I have a significant advantage over people who do not meditate because stilling my mind is routine for me. I do it every day. I have a lot of practice. I can bring my mind to stillness whether I'm excited, upset, sleepy, distracted, or in an unfamiliar environment. I almost feel as if people should have some experience with meditation before attempting the work, but clearly there are many who don't and do fine.
The work IS a kind of focused meditation, but you will have to take my word for that (or read up on it in Byron Katie's books or website) because I'm not sure how to explain it beyond this.
I had two different partners today, but unlike yesterday, neither of them internationally known spiritual teachers. The morning person was less experienced than the evening person, but both sessions were really, really significant and powerful for me and for my partners. Today, I came to terms with an issue I have been struggling with for 27 years, too personal to blog about, but I will be taking action on this problem on Friday morning, my first chance to do so. I now know exactly what I want to do, why, and why I haven't done anything about this for the last 27 years.
The other issue concerned a very troublesome resentment connected to my professional life I have harbored like favored child for about five years. I also have a plan to deal with it (and the person connected to it) head on, but that will have to wait until I get back to work on Monday.
I will be leaving Kripalu tomorrow a different man than I was when I arrived.
My afternoon partner and I had a long discussion about how to discuss this event with others. We both agree that the descriptions that come to mind sound tired and cliche': "I changed my life. My thinking has been completely transformed. This is the most amazing thing I have ever done" etc. Ack, gag me with a spoon. No one's going to hear things that sound like promotional blurbs for a multi-level marketing seminar.
But, that's the truth, so we decided we just have to live with it. Personally, I'm just only going to discuss it in detail with people who genuinely ask (or people who click to read this blog). Casual inquires will be met with casual responses like "I had a great time. I found it very valuable. I learned a lot." All true, but those statements utterly fail to adequately describe what happened to me.
One thing that truly, deeply shocks me is that this event has caused me to once again consider termination of psychotherapy. About three years ago I put the question on the table for myself and seriously contemplated it. I no longer have the symptoms I began therapy to address (compulsive overeating). I am no longer dangerously undermining my life with unexamined habits. My therapist and I have long acknowledged that I don't "need" therapy.
I chose to continue therapy beyond that point because I find value in my relationship with my therapist. She knows me very, very well. Her advice is consistently on-point. I can rely on her to listen to me and tell me what she honestly thinks, particularly if she thinks I will find her input hard to hear. She is quite knowledgeable and experienced in both listening and giving advice. She is sincerely interested in my life and my desire for self-knowledge.
Most importantly, I know that if I get seriously confused or in trouble with something going on my life someday that she will be helpful. I was afraid that if I let her go I would someday again face something I can't handle alone. She is a reliable partner in my life-long journey of self-discovery.
But, I recognize that two of the breakthroughs I had in the last two days concern issues that I have been stuck on in therapy for many, many years. I'm not sure how, and perhaps I will finish up with her by exploring this, but we've made relatively little progress on these two issues despite affirmatively working on them for years. This suggests that she may be colluding with me on keeping me stuck, which also keeps me in therapy.
I don't mean to suggest she has that motive, not at all. I expect when I share the events of this week with her she will be completely supportive once she recognizes that all this is genuine. However, I used to be afraid that I might not be able to handle something in the future (presently unknown) if my therapist wasn't available.
No more. I am now fearless in that regard. That's absolutely incredible, one of those things for which I can't find adequate words to describe.
I don't have all my answers, I have not handled everything that bothers me, but I have a practice now. I have a way to understand myself, and the fear of giving up my psychotherapist has vanished. Poof! I didn't even really realize it was there until it was gone. Since it was precisely that fear that kept me in therapy, I am again considering termination of it.
That is 100% utterly and completely unexpected. I did not even have that issue on my mind, in fact, I believed the opposite. I believed that was a solidly closed question. No longer. I don't know what I'm going to do, but before I got here, the issue was closed for me, i.e., as long as I can afford psychotherapy, I would unquestioningly continue to do it.
Now, that seems disingenuous, not an authentic reflection of who I am.