Deep Does Not Equal Free

Last updated on April 28, 2021

peaceful Oregon Coast
When I’m photographing, I’m looking for depth. That’s what appeals to me.

The Search for Depth Is Important to Me

Maybe it’s my scorpio rising sign, maybe it’s my love of research and things hidden from view. Maybe it’s just a natural interest and curiosity about life. Maybe it’s perfectionism. But whatever the reason, depth is what I hold dear in this life.

Give me a job and I want to go deep with it. When I studied mathematics and science I wanted to go as deeply as possible. I wanted to reach the ultimate truths. When I learned to meditate as a boy, I wanted to go as deeply as possible in my practice. I wanted to experience enlightenment.

When I started The Work of Byron Katie, I wanted to unravel the depths of my confusion, to do the job completely. And even now, as I study French, or play pickleball, or learn chess, I want to go deep with each subject.

If There Is a Place of Attachment in Me, It Is an Attachment to Depth

I do my best to achieve depth in every area of my life. But unfortunately, life does not fully support this wish of mine to go deep. Indeed, life fragments my life into myriad pieces, each of which calls to me to go deeper.

How can I divide myself and go deeply in each of these directions? Obviously, I can’t. But the attachment is still there. The problem is that with too many different directions, I reach no significant depth in any of them.

So my strategy becomes to eliminate more and more of the fragments of my life and focus on just a few of them.

I’m Reading a Book on This Just Now

I just started reading Deep Work by Cal Newport. I love his approach. He describes the value of weeding out things in life that are not so important to you and focusing deeply on the few things that are. This is my natural tendency already. I lived in an ashram for years focusing only on my meditation practice until life brought me out.

When I read this book, though I agree wholeheartedly with its premise of deep work, I feel a little depressed. Instead of being inspired to create more deep work time in my life, I see it as impossible to achieve. I see images of my past failures. I think that I can only be satisfied if I can somehow create an ashram for myself again, a monastery, a cave—and stay there for an indefinite amount of time going deeper and deeper.

In short, “deep” becomes “good” and “shallow” becomes “bad.” The polarities have been set, and unless I am experiencing depth, I judge myself as wasting my time.

This Is Not Freedom

This duality means that I am only happy if I experience myself as going deep. My happiness is therefore dependent on depth.

This is not a peaceful situation to find myself in. It is not “loving what is.” It is attachment in the extreme. Even “spiritual development” becomes framed in terms of depth. I believe I must isolate myself completely from the world and just focus on my meditation in order to be free.

I make freedom dependent on going deeply in meditation. And I suffer when I am unable to walk that path.

But Freedom Does Not Depend on Depth

Freedom depends on only one thing: letting go of attachment. If I’m attached to going deep, then letting go of the need to go deep can bring immediate freedom.

It may not be easy for me to let go of what I hold most precious, but you can be sure that it is my attachment to this idea of going deep that makes me miserable.

Who Would I Be Without My Story That I Need to Go Deep?

I would not be focused on my past, idealizing life in the ashram, glorifying the people in history who managed to isolate themselves to create great things, or to achieve spiritual heights. I would, in short, be free. There would be no neediness to go deep in me. I might still pursue depth, but it would be a natural curiosity not a compulsion.

I would be satisfied with a life that has both shallow and deep experiences throughout it. I would be patient with my path of evolution. I would not be so urgently moved to change everything, uproot everything, start over, run away to some remote place in order to go deep.

I would notice the depth that is here already in my life (what was once deep to me is now something I’m very used to and which I now call normal). I would see how much of my life really is working for me. I would be satisfied with where I am. Without the thought that I need to go deep, there is nowhere I need to go. That allows me to breathe deeply again, to relax, to sit in the goodness of where I am.

I See This Tendency in Others Too

I see people wanting to do The Work to “go deep.” I see people attached to finding a deep relationship. I share my experience here and invite you too to question the thought, “I need to go deep.” Who would you be without this story?

For me, deep will always be a draw, but does it need to be the basis for my happiness, my peace, my joy of living?

As I do my work on this attachment, I’m finding that the desire for depth does not need to be the center of my life. When it is, I suffer. That’s the simple truth. Instead, I’m starting to see depth as a luxury, provided to enrich life when it is available, but totally unnecessary when it can’t be found. That feels much more like freedom.

From this perspective, if I had to choose between depth or freedom, I’d choose freedom with all its superficialities.

Join Us a Weekend Zoom Retreat June 26-27

If you’d like to go a little “deeper” in The Work, here’s a way to do it: join us for a virtual retreat. Over the course of two days, we’ll meet for 20 hours covering almost all time zones. Join us for as many of the two-hour sessions as you like.

We will do group work, partner work, and there will always be the option for individual written work as well. I look forward to diving into The Work as always with you during this virtual retreat.

Have a great week,

“You can’t have an up without a down. You can’t have a left without a right. This is duality. If you have a problem, you must already have the solution. The question is, Do you really want the solution, or do you want to perpetuate the problem? The solution is always there. The Work can help you find it. Write down the problem, question it, turn it around, and you have the solution.” Byron Katie, Question Your Thinking, Change the World

Further reading: Diving Deeper Through a Portal

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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