Does The Work Point Us Towards Going into Denial?

3 peaches on a plate
You can’t deny the simple fact that there are three peaches on a plate. But you can still question even this fact. Who knows what you will find? You may get confirmation of the fact when you do inquiry, or you may find something unexpected. It’s worth exploring.

Someone Had a Great Question Recently

A participant in The Work 101 recently asked this question which I quote in full: 

“I am wondering about The Work’s value in questioning certain say “realities”, like death of a loved one, disease or diagnosis, etc. I heard Byron Katie do the work with someone on the thought “I have HIV”. This was a stressful thought for him. Byron Katie guided him through the 4 questions and turnarounds, and the turnaround was “I don’t have HIV”. For me this seems like denial of a hard fact. 

“Or Todd, I’ve heard you do the work with someone on “My mother died”. Sure it feels better to not think that you have HIV or to not think that your mother died, but these things are. I understand the “thought” about it is what we’re questioning and not so much whether there is HIV in me or mother is no longer physically here, but that does not change those facts. Any advice on how to think about this?

“Secondly, along these same lines, I think what is stressful about these thoughts is not that these are realities of nature, but that we infuse these things as bad. Like, “(It is bad that) My mother died” or “(It is horrible that) I have HIV”. If I can identify and include the implicit message within these types of thoughts, I guess what Todd you’re calling the interpretation, then I can see how to work with it. If not, it just seems like denial. If this is a valid point, then why wasn’t this step to identify the interpretation taken in the examples I gave above about HIV and mother died? Or am I missing something here?” 

Here Is My Response

You’ve basically uncovered two different ways to do The Work on something:

1. Question the fact itself 
2. Question the emotional interpretation

I used to always question the fact itself, and I got really good at finding the wiggle room even with hard-core facts. It’s amazing when you go through this process how often a hard fact is both true and not true. 

I usually would land on this balance: a coexistence, if you will, of opposites. “My mother died” and “my mother did not die.” Same with “I got HIV” and “I didn’t get HIV.” There are always two sides to even a factual thing if you really look.

But Your Caution Is Very Important Too

I also feel it is very important not to go into denial by using The Work. I’m not trying to fool myself with The Work, I’m looking for another way to see the same situation that is less stressful for me, but still true. That’s where I sometimes arrive at both things being true. 

More often than not, when I question a solid fact, my examples are soft examples. “My mother didn’t die because she is still alive in my heart,” for example. It is true, but in a different way. But even a soft example such as this can be very helpful.

There Is Not Just One Truth

I think one place we often get hung up is with the idea that there is ONE truth. We are trained to think objectively, and we look for one truth that we can all agree on. 

But The Work is mainly subjective. I’m looking for a way within myself to see it differently. Sometimes seeing “my mother is alive in my heart” can ease a huge feeling of loss on the subjective level. Who cares if it’s not true on the physical level? It still has its value experientially. 

And what shifts one person may not shift another. That’s why The Work is always a personal process. I have to move my own heart using evidence that is genuine for me.

Questioning Facts vs. Questioning Interpretations

It can be fun to question hard facts. You never know what you’ll find. But the question you bring up here is also why I usually now question my interpretation of a fact more often than the fact itself. 

It seems to get to the core of what is bothering me more, and it is easier to work and turn around. So I could work my interpretation that “It’s terrible that I have HIV,” for example, instead of questioning the fact, “I have HIV.” Or if I’m using the Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet format, I might write, “I’m angry at my mom because she abandoned me” (instead of writing “because she died”.) 

This is why I love brainstorming before writing a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet. It helps me to find a list of my interpretations first so I can choose one interpretation to write on Line 1 of a worksheet. (If you want more details on how to do this, use my “Getting Closer” template for writing a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet which is included in The Work as Meditation Start-up Kit.)

You can also use the prompt, “…and it means that…” For example, “I have HIV and it means that I won’t be able to live a normal life.” Now I’m questioning “I won’t be able to have a normal life” (my interpretation) rather than the fact, “I have HIV.” I often find this to be more productive.

I Encourage You to Try it Both Ways

Just explore. And trust your integrity. Don’t let the turnaround trick you into going into denial.  Listen to your own inner intelligence. The turnaround is just there as a pointer. 

Sometimes, when questioning a fact, it can be amazing how what you thought was hard evidence-based truth was not so solid at all. And other times, just throwing a shadow of a doubt on a hard truth can free the heart, even though it is still 99.9999% true, and everyone would agree about it.

The Work is just about loosening my grip on my story of my suffering. Anything that accomplishes this opens the heart. But you are in the driver’s seat always when you do The Work. It all must be tested against your heart, and your integrity. You can’t pull the wool over your own eyes (it is not freeing), nor is The Work wanting you to do that.

Join Us for The Work 101 in September

The next offering of The Work 101, my 9-week online course, starts Sep 14. If you would like to go deeply into the practice of doing The Work, I’d love to have you join us.

Have a great week
Todd

“A powerful way of prompting yourself is to add “and it means that _____” to your original statement. Your suffering may be caused by a thought that interprets what happened, rather than the thought you wrote down. This additional phrase prompts you to reveal your interpretation of the fact. The answer to the prompt, for the purposes of inquiry, is always what you think your statement means. 

” Let’s say you wrote, “I am angry at my father because he hit me.” Is it true? Yes: you are angry, and yes: he did hit you, many times, when you were a child. Try writing the statement with your added interpretation. “I am angry at my father because he hit me, and it means that _____.” Maybe your addition would be “and it means that he doesn’t love me.” 

“Now that you know what your interpretation is, you can take it to inquiry. Write down the new statement, and apply all four questions and the turnaround. You may come to realize that it’s your interpretation of the fact that is causing you stress.” Byron Katie, Loving What Is

Further reading: Taking Time to Identify What Is Really Bothering Me

  • Aliz says:

    Dear Todd!

    I am struggling with this: I find TW useful, but since I practice it (in the last couple of months) I tend to repress my emotions, thinking that if I don’t like what I get, then I am arguing with reality. And if I do TW on it, I will love it. I should love it…!
    For example, my relationship with my ex-boyfriend. We never actually broke up, just moved very far from each other. Now He is in the US and I am in Europe (permanently, as far as we know). I haven’t seen him since last August, but we still talk to each other often and I still have feelings for Him. Last month, He found an another girl, and he told me about her. I wrote at least 10 worksheets on this, on how hurt and sad I am that He is now into someone else, and I had some great insights, but the fact that He likes someone else now still makes me wanna scream.
    A couple of days ago (after the worksheets) I was on the phone with Him, and He was talking about the girl again. I was listening to Him, I stayed calm, I even asked some questions and was communicative and reassured Him that it’s all fine with me, He is free, it doesn’t hurt me if He is with someone else. But I was crying on the inside and I was devastated. The next day I decided that I am not gonna pretend that I am fine with this, I am gonna tell Him how I feel, and I sent Him an angry message that I don’t wanna hear about this girl ever again, and He shouldn’t discuss this with me, because it hurts me. It was freeing, and I feel so much better since then.
    I know, that by pretending that I am not sad I was practically lying and was trying to make the impression that I am over Him, but I heard Katie saying something along the lines of “If my husband wants to leave me, I am excited for him”. So I guessed this is what I should feel?

    How do you deal with spiritual bypassing? At this point, I just want to stop doing TW and erase it from my mind because these repressed emotions make me miserable.

    • Todd says:

      Thanks for your honesty, Aliz. This is exactly the sticking point I was addressing in this article. The Work is about one thing and one thing only: getting honest with myself. If I use “The Work” to pretend I’m fine when I’m not, I’m missing the spirit of The Work. The key belief that I suggest you question is, “If I do TW on it, I should love it…!” IS THAT TRUE? Just because Katie shares her experience, doesn’t mean I SHOULD have her experience. Her experience is useless to me, other than as a reference of possibility. I have to always stay with my feet on the ground, listening to my own experience, not hers. The Work allows me to find new options and new ways of seeing a situation, but it has to be a genuine seeing of something real for me. I can’t BS with The Work. I can’t fool myself. That is not The Work. I have to stick with my direct experience. From what you reported above, sharing your honest anger and setting a clear limit was closer to your truth than pretending you were fine. It was a turnaround for you to do this, it brought balance and peace. Turnarounds don’t have to look “nice” and “spiritual,” they just have to balance me. So you can literally feel your way in the dark by noticing what brings greater peace in you and what brings greater stress. The Work just provides a way to explore all sides of things. Only you can decide what insights resonate with you and what ones do not. You are always in the driver’s seat when you do The Work. It’s very important to remember. It does no good to imitate Byron Katie. The only peace comes from finding more and more what my own truth is. What I love about The Work is that it gets me to look for my truth in places I would never look otherwise (in the very opposite of what I’m believing). Who would you be doing The Work without any expectation of what the outcome should look like?

      • Aliz says:

        Hi Todd!

        Thank you so much for your detailed response.
        So The Work basically is for seeing other perspectives, if I get this right.
        (Hopefully, I do, this time.:) ) That’s interesting.

        Oh, yes. I have many expectations when I am doing TW. But without those would I even do TW?
        Maybe just for the fun of it… 😀 I dont know.
        Anyway, my next worksheet will be on The Work itself, and after that, I will see if I still want to do The Work or not.
        But even just thinking about it…it would be such a relief if I didn’t want to fix myself constantly and if I didn’t want to react “perfectly” in every situation so everyone can see how wise I am and how clear my mind is.

        With a teacher like BK, it’s hard to get rid of the expectations, I guess I’ve been trying too hard to be like her. She’s great, but maybe it’s time to stop watching her videos, listening to her podcasts, and believe that my truth is the best for me, whatever that means.

        Thank you so much for your response again, I love your blog!

        • Todd says:

          You’re very welcome, Aliz. Yes, that’s how I see The Work… as a way of seeing other perspectives, as a way of opening to new ways of looking, as a way of stretching, but always standing with my feet on the ground. I’m willing to stretch, but I’m not willing to step out of my integrity in order to stretch. I have to remain connected to my own experience even when I stretch. Otherwise, The Work becomes an exercise in denial, or somehow gaslighting myself, which is not what it was designed for. I love that you would do The Work on The Work. So perfect! Find your own truth about it. I love that Byron Katie showed up with a beautiful new perspective of living. And I’d love to be more like her too in many ways, but my life is much more peaceful when I put those desires aside and just take care of my own life one-step-at-a-time. I actually stopped listening to her years ago so that I could hear my own voice, rather than imitate hers. What I took away was a deep appreciation for The Work because it puts me in touch with myself, not with Byron Katie. It is self-inquiry. Not BK-inquiry. And that makes all the difference. Comparing myself to her is the old way. It is stressful. And anything stressful needs to be questioned. I also encourage you to do The Work on “I want…” and “I need…” thoughts connected to doing The Work. I have found questioning my motives to be so helpful. Here are a couple of related articles: https://www.theworkasmeditation.com/2016/06/20/its-hard-not-to-have-a-motive-when-you-do-the-work/ and https://www.theworkasmeditation.com/2014/09/18/question-your-motives/

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