Hearts at Work
A Column by Jim Tipton
“We are disturbed not by what happens to us,
but by our thoughts about what happens.”—Epictetus, Greek philosopher
Back in the mid-fifties, in the little town in which I grew up in northern Ohio, I read, between novels about Indians in southern Ohio and in the Rockies, the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, along with a little pamphlet, As a Man Thinketh, by James Allen. I returned to these authors again and again. They all wrote about how we are responsible for our own lives, and how our lives are literally determined by how we think.
In his opening chapter, “Thought and Character,” James Allen writes that “The aphorism, ‘As a man thinketh in his heart so is he,’ not only embraces the whole of a man’s being, but is so comprehensive as to reach out to every condition and circumstance of his life. A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.”
One sunny afternoon not so long ago I picked up in a little mountain bookstore in western Colorado, Loving What Is, by Byron Katie, a woman who, depressed and desperate, woke up one morning “in a state of absolute joy.” Byron Katie reminds us of what philosophers throughout the ages have understood: “It’s not the problem that causes our suffering; it’s our thinking about the problem.”
The subtitle of Loving What Is is Four Questions That Can Change Your Life. She offers us a few simple principles and then proceeds to demonstrate how these actually work in real life with real people who are struggling with all sorts of relationship problems. She suggests people go to her website, “The Work of Byron Katie” (www.thework.com) and download several useful forms, including: “Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet,” “Judge Your Body Worksheet,” and “Instructions for Doing the Work.”
Once you have identified a negative judgment you have made about others or about yourself, you then proceed through “Four Questions”:
Is it true?/Can you absolutely know that it’s true?/How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?/Who would you be without the thought?
For example: “Is it true that he should understand you? Ultimately can you really know what he should or shouldn’t understand? Can you absolutely know what’s in his best interest to understand? What happens when you believe ‘Paul should understand me’ and he doesn’t? Do you experience anger, stress, frustration? Do you give him ‘the look’? Do you try to change him in any way? How do these reactions feel? Does that thought bring stress or peace into your life? Be still as you listen.
“What would you be without the thought? Close your eyes. Picture yourself in the presence of the person you want to understand you. Now imagine looking at that person, just for a moment, without the thought, ‘I want him to understand.’ What do you see? What would your life look like without that thought?”
Following the Four Questions you turn your statement around in The Turnaround. “For example, ‘Paul should understand me’ turns around to: Paul shouldn’t understand me. (Isn’t that reality sometimes?) I should understand me. (It’s my job, not his.) I should understand Paul. (Can I understand that he doesn’t understand me?)”
Do you need a class, a workshop, a teacher? Byron Katie assures us that “No teacher is necessary. You are the teacher you’ve been waiting for. You are the one who can end your own suffering.” As you proceed to clean up your thoughts, remember that “Behind every uncomfortable feeling, there’s a thought that isn’t true for us.”
Begin filling out worksheets for people you haven’t yet totally forgiven. (That means if you’ve only forgiven 99% you still need to do it.) Be “judgmental, harsh, childish, and petty. Write with the spontaneity of a child who is sad, angry, confused, or frightened. Don’t try to be wise, spiritual, or kind.”
As you go deeper and deeper into the inquiry process you will begin to discover who you really are. Eventually “may notice that you’re meeting every thought, feeling, person, and situation as a friend.”
The Introduction, by her husband Stephen Mitchell (author of The Gospel According to Jesus), begins with these words by Baruch Spinoza: “The more clearly you understand yourself and your emotions, the more you become a lover of what is.”
Let’s all work harder to become “lovers of what is.”