A Valentine’s Exercise from Loving What Is

You either believe what you think or you question it. There’s no other choice.

-Byron Katie

Staying on our theme of love for this week, I want to share something I’ve been practicing that I learned form Loving What Is by Byron Katie. I’ve only just begun the book, but this one thing is something I’ve already found to be helpful in my daily efforts to remain the free, happy me that I am. We all want to be more free right? Free from the the ways (e.g., habits, ego, past fears) that we lose the beauty of individual moments as we get lost in regrets about the past and worries about the future.

One of the first exercises that Katie walks the reader through involves, in part, the question: What if you didn’t have that thought? It doesn’t matter that I give you the exact example from the book….honestly I don’t remember it and I’m listening to the book on Audible, so it would take me forever to find it. So let me just explain what I got from it.

Consider one of your habitual thoughts that always keeps you worrying about how someone else is going to judge or wrong you. Maybe the thought is something like, “He never listens to me,” or, “I wonder what she thinks of my new job,” or, “I’m so nervous about my presentation…what if everyone laughs at me.” We all have them. Pick one of yours. Got it? Okay.

Now, close your eyes, imagine yourself in exact same situation that led you to have that thought and imagine you didn’t have that thought. How does it feel to not have that thought, to not have all the worries and stress that follows it? If it seems impossible to even consider, try this: Imagine a fictitious person (we’ll call him/her Sam) in the same situation. Sam never has had that thought you just had. How does Sam feel? Sam probably feels much happier and much more free to just be Sam.

Katie isn’t saying that we can stop having certain thoughts.  On the contrary, she says that,

Thoughts just appear. They come out of nothing, and go back to nothing, like clouds moving across the empty sky. They come to pass not to stay. There’s no harm in them until we attach to them as if they were true.

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Her point is that we don’t have to attach to thoughts.

So I’ve been trying this out. During regular days I’ve been trying it out, while at work, at yoga, walking down the street, meeting new people, etc. Here’s what I’ll do. I will notice a thought that is one of my worry thoughts or fearful thoughts. (It’s worth noting also that this act of noticing thoughts ties in so nicely with what we’ve been practicing through the study of Singer’s The Untethered Soul.) I will then imagine that I just didn’t have that thought…that it is a thought that has never crossed my mind in just the same way that an alien language would never cross my mind…it’s just not a potential thought for me to even have. Or, if it’s easier, maybe I’ll imagine I’m Sam and I simply never think like that.

I have to say, the effect is instantaneous! When I don’t attach to it, the thought just drifts away like so many clouds in the sky. The worries and fears tag along and they just aren’t there. I have to work to find the worries and fears again, like trying to grasp for a balloon string as it drifts upward. When I just let it all drift away, I actually feel a bouyancy too, a greater lightness.

I’m going to keep up this practice and see what else I discover. How about you? Why not try to be Sam now and then. Try to imagine you didn’t have those thoughts of yours either. Feel it all drift away. Feel it. ….

With love,

~~~S Wave~~~

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Aside

The Gift of Hard Questions

There was an incident in Hawthorne, CA this week in which a man was being arrested for allegedly hindering an investigation. (He was taking video of police activity with his cell phone which I thought was legal. But I digress until the whole story is told.) While the police were arresting him on the sidewalk his rotweiller who was in his car became distraught and escaped from the car. The dog came near the police officers and when one of them tried to get a hold of his leash the dog snapped at the officer at which point they shot the dog. The whole scenario is on youtube and has received over 3 million views.

Source: NBC

Source: NBC

I guess we all have opinions about this, right? I’m sure there are lots of blogs being written about it and Facebook posts being posted for it. It’s one of those events that elicits lively debate and strong opinions especially because there is a video to make it “real” and because the dog is suffering in the video, not just falling over dead. Most of the commentary surrounding the event is regarding the officer’s action and whether shooting the dog was necessary. Were other options available? Was this a case of poorly trained—or worse, trigger-happy—police? Of course the wider discussions then can touch on police brutality, gun laws, and individual rights to record police activity. All valid discussions.

But there are other reactions elicited by this video that bring us to the topic of this post. When I watched the video, I was like many people rattled by the scene of the dog flailing on the ground after being shot trying to defend it’s owner. Many other viewers had similar reactions. “Poor dog.” “He was just trying to defend his owner.” “He didn’t deserve to get shot.”

I agree. Yes, of course it is sad. But what I noticed was that when I watched the video my physical and emotional reactions were similar to those I have while watching undercover vivisection videos or even watching fishing videos. I think my reactions are the same because no matter what the purpose of the activity, in my mind it is a moment of suffering without homage to the life that is being taken. This made me wonder if those who becry the suffering of Max have becried the suffering of the animals on their dinner plate or in their clothing. The fact that we tend to condemn some animal suffering while supporting others is interesting to me. You’ve heard the kind of question before…why do you care if someone hurts a dog but you eat pigs?

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It’s easy to answer that question: because we view dogs as family, as friends. Cultures in which dogs and cats are pets have occasional outcries against those in which cats and dogs are dinner, sometimes putting extraordinary efforts into having the practice banned. But really is there anything different about these two pictures of animals being prepared for slaughter?

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Photo: Reuters

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Sadly for our anthropomorphic tendencies which would like to say “yes,” when it comes to life being taken for pleasure no, there isn’t. In both cases animals will suffer and will die to sustain us. In both cases the person who eats the animal will be connected to its experience. I don’t see a way around our complicity in suffering when we eat animals and I have looked at it from many points of views. I chose at a point in my life that I didn’t want to be complicit in that kind of suffering anymore. It wasn’t for me.

That choice came after much self-reflection and honesty with myself. I am still in the process of that reflection in a myriad of other areas of life where my actions may be causing suffering. I had a friend who recently told me that he only buys clothes made in countries with strong labor laws and later he mentioned that he invests his money based on his requirement to know exactly what his money is supporting. No vague mutual funds for him. Honestly these are two things I have rarely and never thought about, respectively. 🙂 What a great moment that was for me. My mind had just been opened up to two new things I can be aware of in my own life and in the moment-to-moment choices I make. I might not overhaul my entire wardrobe and IRA portfolio tomorrow, but now I have placed my foot on the path toward that betterment.

Some people don’t question their own complicity in suffering–whether it be animal suffering or human suffering.  Some think a little. Some think a lot. Some probably even think too much to the point of self-induced paralysis. We’re all somewhere in the process of self-reflection about our choices. Taking an active role in that process is what is important. Asking ourselves the hard questions whose answers will possibly require us to change our behavior isn’t an easy thing to do. Those questions are easier to ignore. I’ve had many people say, “I just don’t think about it” when veganism becomes part of the conversation. But isn’t choosing silence complicity? Even silence within ourselves?

“An unquestioned mind is the world of suffering.”
― Byron Katie

I guess the lessons I have learned are 1) to be honest with yourself about where you are avoiding some hard but worthy questions, 2) to have the courage to engage with those questions and 3) to be prepared to make changes in your life knowing that it is can be a difficult process, but one with great potential for good.

The next time you talk to someone who is making one of those changes in his or her life, stop before you say, “Oh I could never do that” and contemplate the possibility….                                   “What if I did that?”

May we all keep getting better!

~~~S Wave~~~