This is a Question to Byron Katie… we ALL have this question when we think with the ego mind… and Thoughts on pain and suffering… Spirit is waiting for US to be willing to HEAR the answer.. This is called “The worst thing that can happen” or as Paul Ferrini said in his book I am the Door “Our great fear will present itself” just not for the reason we think….
A couple of months ago you were in Berlin, and since then I’ve been “infected” by The Work! Doing the Work feels like an opening in my mind that all my other practices didn’t open.
However, I have one question or one barrier: When I saw the video about “the worst thing that can happen” and also when you said that if one of your arms were chopped off, you would be immediately grateful for having the other one, I feel a certain resistance and disbelief. The Buddha said that suffering is part of human life, of the human condition. And we are humans. Don’t we all suffer at least for a moment when something hurts or is taken away or is lost? Aren’t feelings of all kinds part of a human life that also make us grow? Yes, we don’t have to hold on to them, but also not jump over them or suppress them. I think I’m afraid that my ego takes The Work and uses it to avoid and deny suffering. That is an aspect I don’t get. Do you have some comments on this?
Thank you so much for this incredible Work!
You’re very welcome, sweetheart. I used to call The Work a virus, because it spreads virally. Then someone pointed out that viruses aren’t necessarily helpful to people’s bodies or their computers (though in one way, everything is helpful). So now, when the image comes to me, I call it an anti-virus. I love that it spreads virally.
I don’t know much about the Buddha. I am told that he was very wise, so when he said suffering is a part of life, he must have been talking about the believing mind, the mind that believes what it thinks. It’s very simple: When we believe our stressful thoughts, we suffer; but when we question our stressful thoughts, we don’t suffer. We end our suffering. I’ve been told that the whole point of the Buddha’s teaching is the end of suffering. It’s the Fourth Noble Truth, Stephen tells me. Yes, human beings suffer when they don’t know how not to, and yes, it is possible to end all suffering simply by waking up to the difference between what is reality and what isn’t. People used to ask me if I was enlightened, and I would say, “I don’t know, but I am enlightened enough to realize which thoughts hurt and which don’t, and how to question the ones that hurt.”
There’s a big difference between suffering and pain, and maybe that is what’s causing your confusion. My life has been free of suffering for 26 years now, and I am always open to suffering, but there is apparently sometimes pain. For example, when I had Fuchs’ dystrophy, before my cornea transplants, my eyes hurt a lot, and later there were five years of a painful experience with neuropathy that affected my ability to walk. If, even for a moment, I had thought that these things shouldn’t have been happening, I would have been in big trouble. That’s the beauty of the questioned mind. The thoughts simply don’t arise, or if they do, they are instantaneously met by inquiry. And also, I want to say that pain, just like any suffering, is a projection of mind. I often am supposed to be in pain and cannot ever honestly say that “I” am in pain at all.
Here is a passage from A Thousand Names for Joy that talks about the distinction:
“All suffering is mental. It has nothing to do with the body or with a person’s circumstances. You can be in great pain without any suffering at all. How do you know you’re supposed to be in pain? Because that’s what’s happening. To live without a stressful story, to be a lover of what is, even in pain—that’s heaven. To be in pain and believe that you shouldn’t be in pain—that’s hell. Pain is actually a friend. It’s nothing I want to get rid of, if I can’t. It’s a sweet visitor; it can stay as long as it wants to. (And that doesn’t mean I won’t take a Tylenol.)
Even pain is projected: it’s always on its way out. Can your body hurt when you’re not conscious? When you’re in pain and the phone rings and it’s the call you’ve been waiting for, you mentally focus on the phone call, and there’s no pain. If your thinking changes, the pain changes.
I have an Israeli friend who is paralyzed from his neck to his toes. He used to see himself as a victim, and he had all the proof—the mind is good at that. He was certain that life was unfair. But after doing The Work for a while, he came to realize that reality is just the way it should be. He doesn’t have a problem now. He’s a happy man in a paralyzed body. And he didn’t do anything to change his mind. He simply questioned his thinking, and mind changed.”
You asked, “Don’t we all suffer at least for a moment when something hurts or is taken away or is lost?” My answer is no. At least, that is not true in my experience. When something is taken away or lost, my reaction is “This is a gift.” It has to be, because I realize that I live in a friendly universe. Every loss has to be a gain, unless the loss is being judged by a confused mind. This is not denial. It’s the opposite of denial. It’s what happens when you look reality in the face, without superimposing your own thoughts about what it is or what it should or shouldn’t look like.
Here is another passage from A Thousand Names for Joy that you might find helpful:
“Once you question what you believe, you begin to see clearly, because the mind is no longer at war with itself. In fact, you become excited about reality, even about the worst that could happen. You open your arms to reality. Just show me a problem that doesn’t come from believing an untrue thought.
Whatever happens, I always look for the gift in it. I don’t have eyes for anything else. I know that if I lose anything or anyone, I’ve been spared. If my husband left me, I’d think, “How do I know that I don’t need him? He’s gone.” If I were to lose my legs, I’d think, “How do I know that I don’t need legs? I don’t have them.” Of course, freedom doesn’t mean that you let unkind things happen—it doesn’t mean passivity or masochism. If someone says he’s going to cut off your legs, run!
How do you know that you need cancer? You’ve got it. But to accept cancer is not to lean back and do nothing; that’s denial. You consult the best doctors you can afford, and you get the best treatment available. Do you think your body is going to heal most efficiently when you’re tense and fearful and fighting cancer as an enemy? Or when you’re loving what is and realizing all the ways in which your life is actually better because you have cancer, and from that calm center doing everything you can to heal? There’s nothing more life-giving than inner peace.
The only time you suffer is when you believe a thought that argues with reality. You are the cause of your own suffering—but only all of it. There is no suffering in the world; there’s only an uninvestigated story that leads you to believe it. There is no suffering in the world that’s real. Isn’t that amazing!”
Finally, you say, “Aren’t feelings of all kinds part of a human life that also make us grow? Yes, we don’t have to hold on to them, but also not jump over them or suppress them. I think I’m afraid that my ego takes The Work and uses it to avoid and deny suffering.”
Of course, “negative” feelings are part of most human lives, but I don’t see how, in themselves, they make us grow. How does feeling angry at my child or resentful at my husband or disappointed in myself make me grow?
Suffering doesn’t make us grow, though I am told that there have been, and still are, a lot of religious ideas about how suffering is good for us. What makes us grow is understanding our feelings, questioning the thoughts behind them, seeing the cause-and-effect of it all. That way, we know what to do the next time these feelings arise: anger, sadness, depression, confusion of any kind.
These feelings don’t come out of thin air; they don’t arbitrarily descend on us from some random universe.
They are always preceded by a stressful thought, and when the feelings come, our job (those of us who are open enough to take it on) is to isolate the stressful thought, idea, or assumption and question it thoroughly, find the turnarounds and turnaround examples, and watch how the feelings change.When we ask the third question—“How do I react, what happens, when I believe the stressful thought?”—we are not “jumping over” the feelings or “suppressing” them. On the contrary, we are fully honoring them, sinking into them, exploring, letting them have their own life, observing them without judgment and seeing how the thought that we’re believing produces these feelings as a direct result. Question three and question four (“Who would you be without the thought?”) allow us to sit with these feelings as they show us cause-and-effect, the cause-and-effect of all stressful emotions, so that we can finally understand what they are for.
I don’t understand how you are using The Work to deny or avoid suffering, but if that’s what you are doing, guess what? Suffering will keep coming back to remind you of what you haven’t questioned yet. Ultimately I couldn’t sweep this under the rug. There was no way to avoid suffering except by confronting it head-on, and The Work gives us a way to test that.
Loving what is, without choice,bk