How Does The Work Fit In With Meditation?

This is the second part of an excerpt from a book that I am writing called, Written Meditation: A Guide To Doing The Work of Byron Katie On Your Own. It should be available sometime next fall.

How Does The Work Fit In With Meditation?

Imagine you’re trying to take some photos at a party. The party is in someone’s home and the only lens you have for your camera is a 400 mm telephoto lens.

There is a group of people laughing and having a good time by the piano, so you take a peek through the viewfinder to see if you can get a shot or two. What do you see?

At first you see a hand. Just a hand holding a drink. So you decide to move the lens. A nose comes into focus. You move again, and this time someone’s belt is all that you can see. How frustrating! There’s no way to get a good picture of these people because you’re way too far zoomed in.

Do You Ever Get Too Far Zoomed-In In Life?

If you’re like me, you’ve honed your ability to focus on little bits of life. For example, you may go deeply into some project at work. You can go deep inside a spreadsheet, or into a specific goal that you’ve set for yourself. Life has taught you to focus deeply to get the things you want.

But There’s An Inherent Problem When You Do This

When you focus too deeply in one area, at the expense of everything else, life loses its balance. The project at work may be going great, but your home life may be falling apart. Or you may be taking care of your child’s needs, but forgetting about your own.

It’s easy to get thrown off balance when you’re looking through a telephoto lens. Someone bumps your lens and suddenly you have no clue where you are. Life takes your job away, and you are left floundering.

The solution to this problem is to zoom back out from time to time. That way you can keep perspective. That way you’re prepared when things change. If you’re familiar with the big picture, you always know where you are, and it’s easy to find another place to zoom in when you are ready.

This Process of Zooming Back Out Is Called Meditation

When you meditate, you expand the mind. You go from the fully zoomed-in, telephoto view of life, back out to a wide angle view that shows the big picture once again. It helps you gain perspective. It helps you see that the things which looked so big and overwhelming in the telephoto view of life are really not so overbearing after all.

Some people call this broad perspective enlightenment. Some people just call it sanity. However you want to name it doesn’t matter. But if you want to rise above the stresses and the bumps of life, you must have some access to a bigger perspective.

There Are Many Ways To Meditate

Some are more effective than others. Some require great effort, some are easy. Some require that you sit with your eyes closed, some give you an expanded view of life with your eyes wide open. Some ask you not to move, some use action alone. Some use the heart. Some use the intellect. Some use the body.

There are hundreds or thousands of types of meditation, each with its own merits. Some will resonate with your personality, and some won’t. But the effective ones all do basically the same thing. They will expand your mind beyond the limited perspective that you now have.

The Work Of Byron Katie Is One Of My Favorite Forms Of Meditation

The Work accomplishes exactly what you would hope from any good meditation practice. It expands your mind. It helps you zoom out from the places where you’ve gotten stuck, the places where you’ve gotten stressed. And in doing so, it helps you gain a perspective that’s more sane, more enlightened maybe, than where you started out.

The Work starts with stress. That’s it’s specialty. Before you do The Work, you must first identify some stressful thought. This is because a stressful thought is a sign that you have gotten zoomed in way too tightly on something. You’ve gotten fixated on it, and you’ve lost perspective.

For Example Consider The Thought, “He Should Respect Me”

It’s so focused on the other person and what they should be doing. And it’s stressful. It’s stressful because it has completely lost sight of the big picture.

When I believe the thought, “He should respect me,” I can’t see the whole situation anymore. I can’t see the sequence of events leading up to his loss of respect for me. I am blind to my part in things. I have drilled down to an irrational thought and gotten fixated on it. I just want to be right: he should respect me.

The Questions Of The Work Reverse This Process

They pull the zoom lens back towards a wide angle point of view. When you ask the question, “Is it true that he should respect me?” it pulls you back a notch. And if you’re willing, it can pull you way back to a perspective where the thought actually seems ridiculous.

“Of course he should not respect me,” you think. “He doesn’t respect anyone with my political point of view. And why would he respect me anyway, when I don’t respect him very much.”

This Is The Simple Power Of The Work

It is a way to zoom back out when you get stuck. It is a way to look at the same situation from a bigger point of view. The result is peace of mind.

And if peace of mind is a priority for you, I invite you to practice The Work regularly. For example, I do it almost every day. Not because I think I should. But simply because it helps me keep perspective. It keeps me out of feeling sorry for myself.

When I was a wedding photographer, I constantly zoomed in and out when I photographed a reception. I needed both the telephoto view and the wide angle point of view to tell a balanced story. Likewise, I use The Work to keep a balanced perspective on my life.

But How Does It Compare To Traditional Forms Of Meditation?

If you’re like some people, your initial reaction may be to simply dismiss The Work as just another modern fluke that was invented in California in 1986.

But is it really new? The main Sanskrit document on yoga and meditation, the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, written thousands of years ago in India describes the same process that Byron Katie calls The Work.

The sutra, or verse, goes like this, “In the case of negativity, think the opposite thought.” Like any sutra, it just gives a kernel of truth. It doesn’t describe the process in detail. But when you unravel the idea contained in this sutra, you can see how The Work is a perfect expression of it.

The idea of contemplating the opposite thought, or finding a turnaround, when you are bogged down in stressful thinking, has been considered a valid form of meditation for thousands of years in the yogic tradition of India.

And This Approach Works Just As Well Today

The Work is a way for the mind to shake it’s fixation with some small stressful area of life where it has become stuck. The questions of The Work invite the mind to consider a broader perspective, to zoom out as it were. And to consider points of view that expand the mind’s small focus.

When you use The Work to question your stressful thoughts and beliefs about any situation, you get a chance to experience the peace that comes from seeing a more balanced point of view.

It’s very frustrating to photograph people standing around a piano with a 400 mm lens. All you see is hands and noses. And it’s even more frustrating to live life without a form of meditation. Without meditation, life can become just a string of stressful situations.


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