To understand this concept better, let’s transport ourselves to the great city of Los Angeles.
Have you ever driven in Los Angeles? The city is nothing but a huge spiderweb of freeways that requires both experience and alertness to navigate. I lived there for a year, and after about six months I was pretty confident about my ability to get to Hollywood without looking at a map.
From Canoga Park, you simply take Topanga Canyon Boulevard to the 101. And the 101 takes you, with a few twists and turns, right into Hollywood. No problem, right?
I had done it so many times that my car could almost drive there by itself. And this left me free to plug in my iPod and listen to some great audio learning along the way. In fact, the audio was so good one day that I was at least ten minutes past my turn before I realized my mistake.
Unfortunately, the only way to get back to Hollywood was to turn around.
When our thinking goes off in a painful direction, the only way to come back to peace of mind is to turn it around. If you’re stubborn like me, a turnaround may be the last thing that you want to do. But continuing in the painful direction can only yield more pain.
The Work is about noticing what hurts and what doesn’t. Some thoughts hurt. Some thoughts scare us. Some thoughts lead us straight into depression every time.
Doing The Work is a way to start paying attention to the effect that different thoughts have on our emotions. And when we see that we’re heading down the road in a direction that doesn’t work for us, a direction that causes us pain, The Work invites us to turn around.
The Work helps us get free of painful concepts like, “My mom shouldn’t have died.” And it accomplishes this in large part by means of the turnarounds.
If it makes me sad to think that my mom shouldn’t have died in a plane crash, then why do I keep thinking it over and over? Why do I do that to myself? It’s insanity to keep pushing in a direction that is hopeless. Mom died and there is nothing I can do about it. But does that stop me from going there? No. I keep right on trucking down this painful road.
The turnarounds of The Work show us options that we can’t see when we’re moving fast in a painful direction. They open our minds to new directions that are not so painful.
A turnaround for the concept, “My mom shouldn’t have died,” would be “I shouldn’t have died.” This is an opposite of sorts, a turnaround. At first, it looks like a strange way to think about my mom’s death. But actually, it wakes me up a little bit if I consider it. It gets my mind out of it’s obsession with mom’s death and shows me something about which I have more control.
When I try on the turnaround, “I shouldn’t have died,” I start noticing that ever since my mom died, I have let myself die in many ways. I sometimes make myself and others miserable in the process. Living this way, there’s not only a dead mom but there’s a semi-dead son as well. That’s just nuts.
This turnaround, “I shouldn’t have died,” gets me to notice all the ways that I have let myself die as a result of my mom’s death. Where have I become a drag on my own life? Where have I shed responsibilities and given up dreams because of this obsession with the thought, “My mom shouldn’t have died?” This turnaround, “I shouldn’t have died,” puts the focus back on my own life, and gets me out of my hopeless thinking about my mom’s death.
In fact, there are usually two or three turnarounds for each stressful thought that you bring to The Work. Another turnaround is “My mom should have died.” This may sound like sacrilege at first, but let’s face it, believing that she shouldn’t have died is an endless road of pain. The only way out is to turn around.
If I’m willing to consider this turnaround, I can start making a list of advantages for why she should have died when she did. The purpose of this is not to belittle my love for my mom. The sole purpose is to make peace with reality.
So my mom should have died. How could that be true? First of all, her death helped me grow up. She was such a shining light, and I loved to bask in her sunshine. Now that she’s gone, it’s up to me to make the sunshine in my life. Secondly, her generosity in life allowed me to collect life insurance upon her death. That gift has given me a huge freedom in life.
This is exactly what is meant by the idea that The Work is meditation. It is hard work to find these reasons why the turnaround is true. It is meditation. You have to open your mind and look fearlessly for proof of the very opposite of what you believe. You are looking for concrete reasons and examples why something that seems terrible is actually a good thing for you.
And as you look, a more balanced picture of the tragedy comes into view. Little by little the emotions start moving again in a direction that gets you excited to be alive. You have turned around and are driving back to sanity.
You might think that it would be quicker and more efficient to jump straight to the turnarounds when doing The Work, instead of going through the four questions first. Do you remember what the four questions are?
1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know it’s true?
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without that thought?
Why not skip these questions and go straight for the turnarounds? To understand why these questions are essential, let’s go back to our analogy of driving in Los Angeles.
Instead of listening to my iPod, I was having a conversation with a friend who was sitting in the front seat. Suddenly, he stops speaking and says, “Turn around!” but doesn’t give any explanation. Maybe he noticed that I took a wrong turn, but he doesn’t tell me that. Do you think I’m going to turn around for no reason, just because he says so?
Of course not. I’m not going to turn around because I’ve got a plan. As far as I know, I’m on my way to Hollywood, and traffic is moving well. What’s the problem? There’s no reason to turn around.
I don’t like to be told to turn around for no reason. I’m not taking commands here. This is my life. So I’d better see a darned good reason to stop going in the direction I’m going before I’ll turn around.
When you’re doing The Work, if you just go from “My mom shouldn’t have died” to “My mom should have died,” it can be quite a shock. Actually, we did just that in the description above. We jumped straight into the turnarounds. You might have even felt the shock of it.
You might have been thinking, “This is a crazy idea to think, ‘My mom should have died.’” You might have even thought, “This is cruel.” But what was missing in the explanation above was the four questions of The Work. The turnarounds were introduced for the purpose of explanation only. In real life jumping directly to turnarounds would rarely be helpful.
The purpose of asking the four questions of The Work before getting to the turnarounds is simple. The four questions open your mind to the possibility that there might actually be some valid reasons for turning around.
You have to first loosen the mind’s grip on the existing belief. The mind believes that it is going in the right direction. You have to question that belief before the mind will be willing to turn around.
One way to question what the mind believes is to ask, “Is it true?” and “Can you absolutely know it’s true?” These questions (questions one and two of The Work) make the mind stop and think.
“My mom shouldn’t have died, is that really true?” After all, she did die. This makes you go, “Hm, this crusade might actually be pointless. Maybe I should turn around.”
Question three is “How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?” and question four is “Who would you be without that thought?” These questions make you look at your life both with and without the thought, and see if the thought is making your life better or worse.
With the thought, “My mom shouldn’t have died,” I scan my life and find that basically, I’m miserable. If I imagine my life without that thought, I see myself much happier. When you see the comparison, your get a clear picture of how the thought is affecting your life, and how much better you would be without it. This provides a very clear reason to consider looking for a turnaround.
They make it easy for the mind to turn around. So, don’t jump directly to the turnarounds. Don’t try to force the turnarounds on the mind. The mind will reject them if you do, just as I rejected my friend’s command to turn around on the freeway.
The four questions of The Work make the turning around a stress-free move. There is no fight for the steering wheel. The four questions give the mind a chance to find good reasons before making a U-turn. When given a chance to see things clearly, the mind is happy to turn around and go back to a more peaceful way of life.
It’s just a way to help your mind do a 180 degree turn when it gets stuck. When the mind goes down the road that leads to nothing but more and more pain, the turnarounds help get it pointed back in a more healthy, happy direction once again.
But don’t make the mistake of skipping the four questions of The Work before finding the turnarounds. These questions help the mind to gently consider some possible reasons why a turnaround might be a really good idea.
When you ask the four questions first, the mind will turn around from the pain much more willingly. Just like me on the Los Angeles freeway. I didn’t want to turn around. But when I saw clearly that I was going in the wrong direction, I willingly turned around and headed back to Hollywood.
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