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Too Much of a Good Thing Is Not Good

Cold is wonderful for balancing heat, but how much is enough?

I Burned My Arm Last Week

I touched a hot metal pot while cooking and burned myself. Luckily, I knew just what to do. When I was young my mom burned herself quite badly, pouring hot soup on her leg. I remembered how we all kept holding ice on her burn for an hour or more. After some time, the pain went away and she didn’t get any blisters from the burn.

I always remembered this, and I have applied ice to a burn many times in the past with great success. So last week I put ice on my burn right away.

You May Wonder Why I’m Sharing This

Putting ice on a burn is a perfect analogy for how a turnaround works when doing The Work of Byron Katie. By applying ice on a burn, you are simply applying an opposite. If there is too much heat (burn), then you apply a lot of cold (ice). The hot and the cold neutralize each other and the skin comes back to balance.

We do the same thing with the mind when doing The Work. When a particular thought hurts, like “She abandoned me,” I apply an opposite, “I abandoned her.” This is what we call a turnaround when doing The Work. And, as I find examples of how I also was abandoning her, my victim story (that she abandoned me) starts to diminish. 

This is the process of recreating balance. Opposites balance each other. Whether it is physical heat and cold or mental concepts, when I bring the opposites together they cancel each other nicely. This is why I often experience peace after finding turnarounds.

But You Can Go Too Far

Last week, I didn’t just use ice on my burn, I used a special frozen cold pack that we had in the freezer. It stays cold and doesn’t melt for a long time. In the past, when I’ve put ice on a burn, it would melt fairly quickly and I would have to get more ice to keep going. With this cold pack, I could hold it there for a long time without any melting.

As a result, I kept holding it on my forearm without thinking. It was easy to work at the computer with it there, and I just keep holding it on my arm. I think I held it on my burn for two hours, maybe more. I was operating under the idea that if a little is good, then a lot is better.

But it’s not actually true. In holding the ice pack on my burn for so long, I ended up freezing my arm. The result was that when I finally stopped, my arm remained numb. It’s been over a week and it’s still a bit numb, though getting better. I must have damaged the little nerves in my arm with so much cold.

The Same Thing Can Happen When You’re Doing The Work

If you apply too much of a turnaround, you can end up going out of balance in the opposite direction. For example, say you’re trying to turn around the thought, “She abandoned me.” If you apply a little of the turnaround, “I abandoned her,” you’ll start to feel some relief in seeing that we are both equals, I’m not a victim, we both have done the same thing. This is very freeing.

But if you go too far with the turnaround, “I abandoned her,” you can end up beating yourself up with the turnaround. Then the turnaround no longer balances the original statement, “She abandoned me.” Now, I am using the turnaround to damage myself in new ways: “I abandoned her! I abandoned her! Terrible me!.”

This is not the spirit of The Work. The spirit of The Work is simply to find balance and peace. When I go too far with anything, it takes me out of peace. So an important part of doing The Work for me is to apply my turnarounds in just the right amount so that I recreate balance but don’t create any new imbalances in the process.

How Do You Apply Turnarounds in a Balanced Way?

What works for me when doing turnarounds is to pay attention to what I’m trying to balance. I hold the original statement in my mind when I’m finding examples for the turnaround. The original stressful thought and the turnaround go together. They balance each other. So I need to hold the original to see how well the turnaround is balancing it.

Then I pay attention to my inner experience: is the turnaround bringing more peace? or has the turnaround gone beyond the balancing point and is now causing new stress? It’s a feeling. And you can feel it when you hold the original statement together with the turnaround. 

The dosage of the turnaround can be easily determined this way. And when it is enough, I stop. Or if I go too far, I back off of the turnaround a little. I may even need to do The Work on the turnaround statement itself if I go really far into new stress with it. 

What is important is how I hold the turnaround. If I hold it gently, then it doesn’t cause more stress. And when I’ve received the medicine I needed, I put the turnaround down. It has done its job.

Nothing In Life Is All Good or All Bad

Ice is not good and fire is not bad. Too much ice causes problems just as much as too much heat. But when they balance each other, then I have no problem. 

Likewise, the original stressful thought when I’m doing The Work is not bad and the turnaround is not good. Too much of the turnaround can cause as much pain as too much of the original stressful thought. But together they balance each other. That’s when I experience peace. 

So look for the balance. This is the razor’s edge that all spiritual traditions speak of. If you can walk more and more in that place of balance then you can handle anything. This is training the mind away from its all-or-nothing thinking and finding a new way.

As this ability to balance becomes more and more integrated, then there is less and less crisis. You start to walk with control, like a tight-rope walker who can maintain balance with only the slightest corrections. The Work is just a kind of training program for getting better at this.

I’m Available if You Want Extra Support

Sometimes, it helps to have some extra support as you start to learn how to balance the turnarounds with the original stressful statements. The mind is so used to thinking in terms of good and bad, all and nothing, that it may have trouble holding opposites together. 

This is where working with a facilitator can help. If you go too far, the facilitator can bring you back. This can prevent the mind from beating itself up until it becomes strong enough to do The Work in a balanced way without support.

Check out my availability and book a session using my online scheduling calendars (you can usually find an open slot just a few days in advance, or occasionally even on the same day). Book a private session here.

Have a great week

“Inquiry is more than a technique: It brings to life, from deep within us, an innate aspect of our being. When practiced for a while, inquiry takes on its own life within you. It appears whenever thoughts appear, as their balance and mate.” Byron Katie, Loving What Is.

Further reading: What Exactly Is Balance?

Todd Smith has been doing The Work of Byron Katie on an almost daily basis since 2007. He is just as excited about this simple process of self-inquiry today as he was when he first came across it. He also enjoys writing about The Work, and training others in the subtleties of this meditative process. Join Todd for The Work 101 online course, private sessions, virtual retreats, and his ongoing Inquiry Circle group.