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Getting Back to the Moment After Time Has Passed

Last updated on August 26, 2020

After months or years, how well do you remember the conversation sitting on this bench? Is it clear enough to do The Work? 

Memories Fade

Most of the time, I do The Work on situations that have occurred in the past. They may be situations from the recent past, or the distant past. Having a situation is very helpful when doing The Work of Byron Katie because it grounds me in something specific. I know exactly what I mean when I am referring to a specific incident. 

But what if it’s hard to remember the situation clearly? Can I still do The Work? And if so, are there any ways to help me get back in touch with the situation as I do The Work? 

This can even happen right after the event. Even just a few minutes after a stressful trigger, I may already not be able to hold the situation well enough to do The Work. It simply fades. What can I do if I really want to do The Work on it?

Can I Still Do The Work?

In my experience, The Work does not require a crystal clear memory of a situation, though it may help a lot. I know that when I have a text conversation to refer to it is easier to get back into the feeling I had when I was triggered. This makes it easier to write my stressful thoughts for doing The Work. 

But a text record, or voice recording, is not always available. Most stressful situations occur without such records. We have only our memories to rely on. Is this a handicap? Maybe a little. But I find it is still very possible to do amazing work with only a faint memory.

How To Do The Work on a Fading Situation?

In essence, all I need in order to do The Work is a feeling. I feel that something was out of place. Someone did something wrong to me. Something should have been different. I may not remember all the details, but I do remember the feeling. 

That is all I need. Contained in that feeling is the basic issue that is bothering me. It may be vague and indistinct because my memory is not so clear but still know that, for example, “She was mean to me.” 

As I meditate on that feeling, images start to appear. Some may be accurate memories, others may be more invented versions that I’m creating now. It doesn’t matter. 

I Can Do The Work on a Totally Pretend Situation

It doesn’t matter if I see the situation exactly as it occurred. I am in touch with the feeling. That’s enough. Maybe I have one memory: she said something (I don’t remember exactly) but I remember where I was standing, and I remember she was not treating me as an equal. It had something to do with her telling me how I should do something. 

For me, that’s enough to write a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet. I have a small reference point now, and I will find my wants (I want her to respect me) and my advice (She should put herself in my shoes) and my needs (I need her to admit to me that she is sometimes a control freak). 

Who cares if the situation is not 100% crystal clear. From that one feeling that she was not treating me equally, I can write a whole worksheet. And that worksheet will directly address the feeling I am experiencing. 

But What If I Don’t Feel Anything?

Sometimes it happens that my mind takes away the memory as quickly as it comes. The trigger happens, I become angry, and then the trigger stops and it all slips away, including the anger. 

Something emerged from the deep and then re-submerged leaving almost no trace. If I feel nothing at all, then I’m in a different situation. It’s just simply not the time for me to do The Work on this. 

Maybe it’s my own mind protecting me (pushing it down). Maybe I’m just not ready or open to work it now. That’s okay too. I trust life to show me what to work on next. If I really want to work on this elusive memory, I may sit and give it time to reemerge, but if it doesn’t, I simply mark it as done and move on. 

If it really is something for me to work, it will show up again, and I’ll have a chance then to write my stressful thoughts and question them. Everything in its own time. And in the meantime, I let it go and enjoy my life. 

The Allure of “The One”

It’s easy to get lured by the idea of “This is a really important one for me to work.” Then the mind gets obsessed with trying to remember it (if it has faded away). And there is no peace until I can do the impossible, remember what I don’t remember. This is unnecessary stress.

When it fades beyond reach, then not having to do The Work on it becomes itself a gift. I simply don’t need to do that work now. Can I let it go? Who would I be without that thought that I need to do this work? Or that this is a really important piece of work? Free. If necessary, I do The Work on “I need to do The Work on it,” and set myself free.

Instead, I love to turn my attention (if I still want to do The Work) towards something less important. Some of my best work has been done on the most trivial trigger moments. Tiny issues, hardly worth inquiring into can give huge insights and realizations. Because I don’t think they are important, I put no pressure on myself to figure them out. And they reveal their treasures with almost no effort.

So why bother about the big one that got away when there are more than enough little ones to work on for as long as I want? 

Another Related Issue

Sometimes, I may write a worksheet and put it away for later. Then when I come back, it’s hard to get back into the stressful feeling that I had when I wrote it. Again, if I’m really not drawn to it now, I may simply choose not to work it, and choose some other more relevant topic for me now.

But if I do want to work it, I hold it gently. I read the worksheet again and see if any memories come up. Those memories or images from the situation may start to show themselves if I close my eyes and put myself back in the situation. 

Or sometimes the situation has changed. New things have occurred that helped me to let go of the stress. But that does not necessarily stop me from doing The Work on it. I can still go back and do The Work from the place where I was when I originally wrote it, before I got more information. 

Writing Details of the Situation to Go with my Worksheet

Because memory tends to fade, I like to write a few details of the situation whenever I write a worksheet to help jog my memory if I plan to work it later.

You may appreciate my “Getting Closer” template for writing a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet for this reason. It has plenty of room for writing down the details of the situation in addition to the normal questions on the worksheet. 

You can find this template as part of The Work as Meditation Start-up Kit (free download).

Have a great week,

“People new to The Work sometimes think, “I don’t know what to write. Why should I do The Work anyway? I’m not angry at anyone. Nothing’s really bothering me.” If you don’t know what to write about, wait. Life will give you a topic. Maybe a friend didn’t call you back when she said she would, and you’re disappointed. Maybe when you were five years old, your mother punished you for something you didn’t do. Maybe you’re upset or frightened when you read the newspaper or think about the suffering in the world.” Byron Katie, Loving What Is

Further reading: Are You a “Work” Handicapped Person?

About the author

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.

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