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When Being Helpful Is Self-Indulgent

A street sign simply points out options. It doesn’t get in the car and drive there for you.

When Being Helpful Is Self-Indulgent

Many of us are drawn to the helping professions because we like to help people. It is satisfying to serve in this way and to see real changes as a result of this service. 

But it’s easy to cross a line. Being helpful feels good when I remain in my own business as I serve. But if I cross over into the person’s business, it becomes stressful for both sides.

This Comes Up When Doing The Work With A Partner

It is helpful to be there for someone when they’re stressed, to listen with compassion, and to ask them the four questions and turnarounds of The Work of Byron Katie. In all of these actions, I stay in my own business and it feels free and good on both sides.

But if I start to do The Work for my partner, or try to get them to see what I’m seeing, I’m actually interfering. And it feels stressful.

The Work Is Meditation

By definition, meditation is something you do by yourself. It is an internal process of accessing the quieter parts of the mind and tapping into more of the wisdom and peace that resides there. Even if you do The Work with a partner, it is still a solo process.

The reason is that no one can access those quieter parts of yourself but you. And if someone has done similar work and tells you what they found, it is not a meditation for you. It is more like reading a book—getting external knowledge. It’s not the same.

Life is lived from the inside out. So after doing The Work, when faced with a similar stressful situation, it doesn’t matter how much book learning you’ve done on the subject, you will react based solely on your inner world—a world often beyond the conscious mind. 

To Touch the Inner World, I Have to Respect It

To shift this inner field of being and seeing, I have to approach it with respect. Manipulation doesn’t work here. There has to be genuine listening, genuine asking, and lots of patience to let that inner wisdom come forth in a way that truly changes behaviour. 

I can’t rush it when doing my own work and I certainly can’t rush it for someone else. All I can do is keep holding out the signpost: “Have you checked over there?”

That’s what the four questions and turnarounds of The Work do. And when facilitating someone, my job is to keep inviting them to go there and explore within themselves. That is respect. And that allows for the possibility of first-hand discovery. That is being helpful.

What Is Not Helpful

It is not helpful to miss this key point that meditation is the sole responsibility of the meditator. When I forget that, then I barge in to “save the day” and it sounds like teaching, pushing, and pontificating. 

It’s like when someone is reading a good book or watching a good show. Do they want you to come in and tell them the ending? No, that ruins it for them. It is purely self-indulgent, not helpful at all. They want to go through the whole thing themselves and discover on their own the same ending that you want to describe. That’s when it touches them.

It matters not what the insight is, in doing The Work, but how it is discovered. Anything other than allowing the person to discover on their own is a form of interrupting the meditation.

One Exception

There are rare times when two minds are joined so closely and trust is so high between the two that for all intents and purposes it is functioning as one mind. You see this frequently with people doing The Work with Byron Katie. 

Because of that huge amount of mutual respect and trust, it matters less who discovers what. One person’s discovery is also the discovery of the other. In this case, interruptions are not really interruptions. 

It is a special kind of free flow that touches both hearts simultaneously and equally deeply. This too is meditation. But it is the exception, not the rule. 

Want to Practice the Art of Spoken Work?

Join us two weekends from now for the Autumn Virtual Retreat, Sep 23-25. You will get a chance not only to do The Work many times with a partner, but you will get a chance to discuss your experiences with the group and refine your ability to hold someone in The Work.

And the better you are able to hold someone else in The Work, the better you will be able to hold yourself in this meditative practice.

Have a great week,

“When someone is facilitating The Work, giving the four questions, he’s receiving at another level what I originally received in me. If he’s really facilitating from a neutral position, without any motive, then he’s in the place where I am on the other side. It just gains in its freedom. It’s in or out: unlimited.” Byron Katie, Question Your Thinking, Change The World

Further reading: Are You Making Facilitating Harder Than It Is?

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.