Revelation from Within – Part I
July 28, 2010 § 2 Comments
It’s been hard to find the motivation to write lately. Montreal is in the full bloom of summer, and I have been enjoying every minute of it – the beautiful weather, the ripening tomato plants on my back balcony, the many new friends and acquaintances who have come into my life in the last while.
I’ve been spending my time with Sufi mystics, whirling dervishes, documentary filmmakers, sailors, seven-year-olds, qigong practitioners, Ra’da yogis, hula hoopers, new and old dear friends, and feeling truly blessed.
Not only have new people, new opportunities and new creative ideas been a welcome addition to my days this summer, so have new teachings and new insights.
I’ve come across the work of a woman named Byron Katie. Katie, as she likes to be called, while in the midst of a debilitating depression, became aware of a process of inquiry that can liberate our mind from habits of negative thinking. Blown away by her method, I have for the last two weeks been reading her books and working through the exercises.
The main premise for Katie’s work is that “when we believe our thoughts we suffer, and that this is true for every human being.” After doing her excercises, I’ve come to know that this is also true for me. When I believe my negative thoughts about people, about myself, about my world, I suffer.
And this is the root of all war. “Defence,” says Katie, “is the first act of war.” The thoughts that get stuck in our minds polarize us from the people we love, the people who love us, and from the beautiful, perfect world as it is in this moment.
There is a back story to this search of mine, and I’d like to share with you some parts of it.
When I arrived back to Montreal from my film shoot in Morocco in June 2008 (it feels like a million years ago now), I felt that everything I had wanted to accomplish had failed; that the goals I had wanted to attain on my journey had fallen apart. My efforts and hard work seemed to count for nothing, and the world, my relationship, my friendships, my plans, all appeared to have turned upside down.
Around that time I discovered the writings of Eckhart Tolle and I turned to his teachings for solace and understanding. I had studied world religions in university and had saught to find a spiritual home in many traditions over the course of my life: Hindu yoga philosophy, Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, but for some reason, despite my open heart and efforts, I felt that a block would always emerge from my total integration into one faith or another.
That summer, I read in great depth Tolle’s two books; first, A New Earth, and then The Power of Now. Poring over the pages and practising what he calls “stillness”, I was able to for brief moments cut through my pain and confusion and experience the world as it was: a living, magical phenomenon of timeless life, as it had always been, gentle and kind.
One of Tolle’s exercises is to simply observe the world without labels. He asks us to, for example, go outside and look at a tree without labelling it “tree”, in order to experience the totality of that magical phenomenon we call “tree” without the mental construct or label. So, inside my tiny studio apartment one afternoon, I gave it a try. I looked at my old wooden chair and removed from my mind the label “chair.” I then did this with my desk and a few other objects in my apartment until I was able to observe my whole room that way. From a still mind, what I saw was the totality of the present moment, understanding that the present moment is indeed the only moment that will and can ever exist. When the mind is quiet enough, removed of thoughts of the past and the future, removed of its endless chatter and judgements, the moment arrives, and the moment is vast, still, ineffable, perfect.
For a few weeks that summer, I began a walking meditation around my neighbourhood. I walked around my block slowly, observing the world without labels, noticing at what pace I would have to walk in order to experience the present moment most fully. I experienced a lot of peace in that slow walking meditation, marvelling at the sunshine, the trees, the gardens, and even my neighbours, who for the first time revealed themselves to me without labels.
I thought back to some of the teachings of my first spiritual teacher Baba Hari Dass. In 1997 I had read in his book Silence Speaks, “When the heart softens by getting closer to God, one begins to feel love everywhere.” At 19 years old, I wasn’t sure what this meant, or that I believed in a God, or knew what “love everywhere” could feel like.
In those fleeting experiences of meeting the present moment, I got an inkling of what he might have been talking about. Love had always been everywhere, as it is for everyone, we only have to be still enough to meet it.
After my return from Morocco, I didn’t know it yet, but life was about to get a lot more complicated for me. I could have kept up this practice of present moment awareness, but I simply wasn’t able to.
Byron Katie’s work is sometimes referred to as a method of putting into practice the philosophy of Eckhart Tolle. While Tolle teaches the “what”, Katie teaches the “how”.
Her method of inquiry involves simply questioning our negative thoughts with four questions:
1) Is it true?
2) Can I absolutely know that it’s true?
3) How do I feel and react when I think that thought?
4) Who would I be without that thought?
Finally, she teaches us to turn the thought around. “He doesn’t care about me” becomes, “I don’t care about me,” and ” I don’t care about him”. We are instructed to find three examples of how those turnarounds might be true, or even truer, than our original painful thought.
What happens is a miraculous and effortless loosening of the grip of negative thinking, as we meet reality as it is. What also happens is a kind of detachment from our thoughts, something that the Buddha and eastern philosophies have taught for centuries as a way out of suffering.
Katie teaches that violence cannnot happen in our lives if we question our thoughts; it can only happen when we believe our thoughts. That is why, if we take care of what is going on first within our own minds and hearts, within our own reactions and judgements, we will not be able to carry out violence towards others or towards ourselves.
What I now take this to mean is that when we stop the violence in our own hearts, we end war in the world. The only time we can experience war in the world is through the war that happens, day in and day out, inside our own minds. We must heal this war inside ourselves first for peace to be possible.
Byron Katie calls this a process. “We’re not just whacked free,” she says. From the way I have experienced it, this is the kind of love we come to as refugees, when most other techniques of the mind have failed us. How wonderful to have such a method of inquiry. What a gift.
“We’re stepping into a whole new paradigm here.” she says.