The Danger of Questioning Certain One-Liners


If I want an apple, and I think, “I shouldn’t have an apple,” and then I question “I shouldn’t have an apple,” I can end up using The Work to justify taking one.

The Work Is Not About Justifying

The work is about taking responsibility. it is about coming back to integrity. But even The Work can be misused by the mind.

This happens most commonly when people are new to The Work, and most most especially when people are working one-liners in a free-form way. This is one reason why Byron Katie invites us to use the Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet as the primary way for identifying stressful thoughts to question. This problem doesn’t come up much when you’re using the Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet.

But when you’re working one-liners free-form, the mind can try to reverse-engineer things, or more commonly, step innocently into this trap.

This “Trap” Is Basically a Form of Spinning

Let’s go back to the apple analogy.

I want an apple, but I know it doesn’t belong to me. I’d have to get permission from the owner of the orchard to feel completely clear about taking the apple that I want.

That is integrity speaking. And sometimes integrity sounds like this, “I shouldn’t have the apple.” But the mind hears that and thinks, “This is a stressful thought. I should work it.”

So I question, “I shouldn’t have the apple,” and I end up turning it around to “I should have the apple.” And I end up justifying my taking the apple without permission, i.e. stealing it.

How Is This Spinning?

First of all, it’s spinning by the feeling it creates. It feels like the opposite of taking responsibility and being in my integrity. It does not match the spirit of The Work.

But secondly, on a more technical side, it is spinning because I’m basically turning around a “turnaround.” The mind forgets that the original statement was “I want an apple.” And before even doing The Work, the mind had already turned it around to “I shouldn’t have the apple.” This the natural balancing system coming into play within the mind.

So when I take the “turnaround,” “I shouldn’t have the apple” and do The Work on it, I’m basically turning around a turnaround, which brings me back to pretty much the same place where I started: “I want an apple, so I should have it.”

That’s why it’s a spin. It brings me back to where I started. You can always feel a spin because it doesn’t feel quite right.

It’s Not a Problem when You Have Experience

When you have experience doing The Work, you can question anything. You can question a turnaround of a turnaround and not get stuck in the mud. Because you are familiar with the spirit of The Work, which is about coming back to yourself, to your own truth.

And you also know that just because you question something doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not true. You can go anywhere when you’re clear about that.

When I’m holding the spirit of The Work, I can come across all kinds of strange turnarounds of turnarounds and they don’t throw me. I use my feelings to stay upright as I find my way through. There is a lot of freedom in this because there is nothing I cannot question.

For example, if I question, “I shouldn’t have the apple,” and I turn it around to “I should have the apple,” I can get really clear that there really are no shoulds in my life. I really am free. I can take the apple if I want—if for no other reason than to feel what it feels like to take something without asking. Crossing that boundary could be the best teacher I could ever have because chances are I would feel it as soon as I did it.

This takes the absolutes out of it. There is no right or wrong. There is only what works for me and what doesn’t work for me. Maybe stealing works for me but, if I notice a bad feeling inside when I steal, then maybe it doesn’t work for me. Or if I end up in jail, then maybe it doesn’t work for me. But throughout this grand experiment, I’m clear that there is no right or wrong, no should. This awareness comes from questioning “I shouldn’t have an apple.”

But When You’re New, This Can Be Confusing

In fact, whether new to The Work or experienced, I find it much more valuable to question the original want. I’ve never met a stress that didn’t contain a want: “I want an apple.”

Why bother with questioning, “I shouldn’t have the apple,” when I can question the original stressful thought, “I want an apple,” or “I need an apple”? The turnarounds for this statement lead me back home to the place of no needs, contentment, freedom, balance: “I don’t need/want an apple.”

And, ironically, this kind of work leads me a place of more willingness to go through the proper channels to get anything I think I want. After questioning, “I want an apple,” I’m not so desperate to have it, and I have more presence of mind to walk up to the orchard owner and ask if I can have one.

I Invite You to Keep It Simple

Question your motives (your wants and needs). Don’t question your observations and insights so much (which tend to be turnarounds already). You can question anything, but if you stick with questioning your judgments about other people and things, and your motives in your life, you’ll be on solid ground as you do your work.

This is especially important if you’re dealing with any kind of addiction. Because the mind is expert at justifying taking the next hit. And it will be happy to use The Work to justify continuing the addiction.

Have a great week,

“I strongly suggest that if you are new to inquiry, you not write about yourself at first. If you start by judging yourself, your answers come with a motive and with solutions that haven’t worked. Judging someone else, then inquiring and turning it around, is the direct path to understanding. You can judge yourself later, when you have been doing inquiry long enough to trust the power of truth.” Byron Katie, Loving What Is

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