What Images Do You See?

Last updated on December 11, 2020

ornate wood carving
This image brings back a whole host of memories: a tiny woodcarver’s shop in Ecuador, the feeling of awe that I had seeing his craftsmanship, the joy of being able to photograph it, the fun of being on an adventure with my partner, the smell of wood, the texture of sawdust on everything, even distant images from my childhood of my woodworking father, etc.

This Is One of my Favorite Sub-questions

The question, “What images do you see?” is a great sub-question of question 3 of The Work. 

Question 3 is, “How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?” The purpose of this question is to notice what happens when you’re believing a stressful thought. 

When I notice all of the reactions caused by a stressful thought, I naturally become a little less attached to it. For example, how do I react when I believe that I failed? I feel shame and anger, I treat myself like I’m not good enough, I feel heavy in my heart, I lose confidence, I pound my fist, etc. 

Seeing these reactions shows me that the thought comes at a high cost to my happiness.

What Images Do You See?

This question continues the thread of “how do I react?” Interestingly, one of the common reactions to thinking a stressful thought is to see images from the past or the future. They pop up automatically. 

In the example above, I see an image of the goal I was trying to achieve. I see so clearly what it would have looked like. I see myself enjoying the fruits of my labor. And then I see that I didn’t achieve it and I feel sad. I also see an image of when I failed in the past, thus bolstering my story that I’m a failure. I may also see images of others watching me fail.

The mind works in images quite a lot. That’s why this question is so powerful. A big part of my reactions to a stressful thought come from the emotionally charged images that pop up in my mind when I think that thought. Noticing these images can not only be insightful, but it can also help me to re-experience those reactions on a visceral level as I do The Work.

The Work Is Meditation

That means that it is done on the experiential level, not on the intellectual level. To answer the question, “how do I react?” as a meditation, I need to go back and be there in my mind, and experience my reactions again. Then I get it on a deeper level: “That stressful thought is not working for me.” And I’m much more open for question 4 and the turnarounds.

But What If You Don’t See Images?

In my experience, images are almost always there when I look for them, but they’re not always visual. To go a little more broadly, I sometimes expand the idea of “images” to “memories” for past images, and “fantasies” for future images.

These memories in the past, or fantasies in the future may indeed be visual images. The mind often works that way, showing a specific image—or movie—as the cornerstone for an experience. 

But memories or fantasies do not need to be visual. So I don’t let myself get hung up on the word “image.” Instead, it could be a memory of a sensation of touch, or a sound, or a smell (we all know memory and smell are connected), or a taste. Any of the senses can give a memory from the past or a fantasy in the future. 

For example, maybe I’m imagining sitting comfortably on the sofa for the afternoon and, while there is a visual component, maybe the feeling of the soft cushions is predominant in my mind. So when I think the thought, “He interrupted me,” the “image” I’m seeing is more of a feeling of pillows on my back (and how I now am deprived of that experience).

Another Way to Put It Is “Story”

What we’re really looking at when we ask ourselves “What images do you see?” is “What story are you experiencing?” A story involves all of the senses. It just so happens that many of us humans are predominantly visual, so the visual image is what ties the whole story together (as we say, a picture is worth a 1000 words). 

Noticing the image can be a shortcut for experiencing and becoming aware of the story. It’s a little vignette that comes to mind. But if it’s not visual for you, you may still notice a story showing up in other forms. 

The Bottom Line of Question 3 

Question 3, “How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?” is an opportunity to notice the effect of believing a thought. Images are one of those effects.

But don’t worry if images, or even memories, don’t show up each time you ask this question. The Work is exploration. You just never know what you will find. 

Join us in January for a nine-week course in The Work of Byron Katie. Dive into the nuances of this process with me in The Work 101 online course.

Have a great week,

“You could begin by putting those images in your mind up against inquiry. Because in reality, there’s no one in front of you covered with ash right now. It’s not happening here, except in your mind.” Loving What Is

Further reading: Using Sub-questions for Question 3 of The Work

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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