I Collect Stressful Situations To Work

balsamroot flowers
As a photographer, I collect beautiful moments.

I Collect Stressful Situations Too

Collecting things is fun. Some people collect butterflies, others collect poems or music, others collect antique medical instruments as my step-dad did. There are so many things to collect.

One of the things I love to collect is stressful situations. It may seem strange to say but it is a genuine hobby for me. Have you ever explored the world of stressful situations? They are so varied and colorful. They touch so many intimate parts of ourselves. And when you do The Work of Byron Katie, they become doorways for deep meditation and self-learning. 

I Make Doing The Work a Regular Part of My Life

I do it because it fascinates me. I learn so much each time I sit with the four questions and turnarounds of The Work on some new stressful situation. 

In fact, I like to do The Work on one little situation for weeks at a time, questioning as many stressful thoughts as I can find within the situation. Each one, when questioned, leads me to some previously unexplored part of myself. 

With this approach, you could say that I don’t need a big collection of stressful situations for doing The Work because I tend to go deeply into one for a long time. However, that’s not the whole story.

I Love This Exercise

While the starting point for doing The Work is usually identifying stressful thoughts from within one chosen situation, I sometimes like to back up a step before I go there. I like to spend some time just identifying stressful situations. 

This has a very liberating feeling. I don’t have to work all of these stressful situations, I’m just seeing what’s there. I did this during our Inquiry Circle virtual retreat two weekends ago and here’s what it looked like.

Step 1

I took about 10 minutes just identifying stressful situations. Most of them were quite minor and had occurred within the past 48 hours. It was amazing to scan my experience and notice the stress indicator inside me as I did. When I saw some situation in my mind, I could feel if it was even just a little stressful. If so, I added it to my list. It was a great exercise in noticing. 

Here’s what I wrote (I’ve substituted “A,” “B,” “X,” “Y,” etc for real names):

Friday when X texts, “Who wants to know?”
Y was slow to respond on Thursday
Waking up a little stiff this morning – I’m going to be tired on Monday
Thinking of the pickleball schedule – there’s no time to use the backboard
A and B publicly shut Z down
I was telling C how it went with W, and he walked away like he didn’t care.
Onix and Mila barked at us again on our walk (yes, these are real dogs’ names!)

Step 2

The next step took another 10 min or so. I chose one situation and wrote a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet (sometimes I’ll write a list of one-liners instead). I wrote a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet on the first situation when someone texted me, “Who wants to know?” It turns out that what bothered me about that text was the tone I believed it had. I imagined that I was being barked at, just like the dogs on our walk.

Here’s my worksheet:

1. I am afraid of X because she barks at me. 

2. I want her to chill out.
I want her to thank me for the reminder.
I want her to not be defensive.
I want her to speak gently to me. 

3. She should see that she is trying to shift her guilt onto me.
She should realize that I was just trying to be helpful.
She should not think I was getting into her business.
She should see that I was only giving her feedback.
She should receive the feedback gratefully.
She should see how vulnerable it is for someone to offer feedback.
She should honor the courage I showed in speaking up. 

4. I need her to realize that her response was out of line.
I need her to say, “Sorry, I was feeling a little defensive.”
I need her to say, “I also was thinking I need to get it done.”
I need her to say, “Thanks for letting me know.” 

5. She is a bully, crude, intimidating, a bitch. 

6. I don’t ever want to be shut down when offering feedback again.

Step 3

I spent the rest of the retreat questioning different statements from my worksheet. I learned so much, not the least of which was the fact that I was not being honest with her. I was trying to hide who I was referring to because I knew she didn’t like him. In doing that, it turns out that I was defensive and manipulative. And that’s when her “bark” put me on edge. As soon as I owned it, my whole demeanor softened. 

My “bark” at her was not to answer her question—it had an edge. So interesting. And I could go on about all the other cool stuff I learned by doing this worksheet. 

Coming Back to My Collection of Stressful Situations

The nice thing about having a list of situations is that I can go back and pick another one now and write a different worksheet and work through it and learn new things. I don’t have to wait until there is a crisis in my life to do The Work. These minor stressful situations provide lots of starting places for this meditative practice called The Work.

I may never work them, all. I’m sure I won’t. But the practice of just spending time thinking globally to collect some stressful situations brings a lot of awareness. Try it sometime. I think you’ll like it.

Join Us for a Virtual Retreat Jan 8-9

One nice place to try this exercise is during a Virtual Retreat like we’ll be having in January. If you’ve never been on one of these virtual retreats, I think you will find a real momentum gets created for doing The Work. We have 16 two-hour sessions to choose from over two days covering all time zones and times of the day. 

Have a great week,

“Allow yourself to be as judgmental and petty as you really feel. Don’t try to be ‘spiritual’ or kind.” The pettier we can be when writing, the more likely it is that we’ll benefit from The Work.” Byron Katie, Loving What Is

Further reading: Can I Write a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet on Myself?

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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