The key lies in exploring our thoughts
“There are no new stressful thoughts; they’re all recycled.” — Byron Katie
When I first read that quote years ago, I was offended. I took it as a direct threat to my individuality.
Are you saying that in a world of 7.8 billion people, none of us are unique? How can this be possible?
I scoffed at this claim, thinking I’d never heard anything so ridiculous in my life.
How dare someone try to tell me all thoughts are recycled! If that’s the case, then how do humans keep coming up with new ideas and inventions?
I just couldn’t wrap my brain around it.
Of course, at the time, I also didn’t have any concept of what a “stressful” thought even was. I conveniently ignored that part of the quote, skipping right over it and instead taking it as a personal attack on my originality.
Looking back on that moment in time now, I can only laugh at myself and my reaction.
Our life circumstances are just the access point
For about six years now, I’ve been attending meditation retreats a few times a year — usually one in spring, fall, and winter. Until Covid-19 arrived and changed the landscape of how we interact, they were mostly in-person events. For a few days, I’d gather with a small group of others who, at first, seemed nothing like me.
I’d often be the youngest one there, and in the beginning, I felt a sense of separation because of that. I felt that the things I was working through would seem trivial to them, as we were at very different stages in our lives. I initially felt I couldn’t relate to what they were struggling with, as I hadn’t yet experienced some of the situations they were referring to (parenthood, marriage, etc.).
But what I didn’t realize at first is that none of these “outer” things mattered one bit. They were just the reference point to access the inner world.
I came to see that what we were really working on was our thoughts about these things; not the things themselves.
“The Work is about internal cause and effect. It’s not about external things.” — Byron Katie
Once I understood this, I could relate to almost everything I heard.
We're more alike than we realize
The human condition is to experience stressful thoughts and think that we’re the only ones on the planet having them. We think we’re completely alone, and that there’s something wrong with us.
We’re embarrassed and ashamed of our thoughts, and we try to keep them hidden, treating them like a dirty little secret that no one can ever find out.
But what I’ve come to realize throughout these years of practice is that we’re much more alike than we are different. The experience of witnessing the minds of others through a process of inquiry called The Work has repeatedly shown me that.
No matter how old we are, where we come from, or what language we speak, we have something in common that connects us on the deepest possible level: our humanity.
Our situations and sources of suffering may be vastly different, but the thoughts that surround them are largely the same. I’ve seen this over and over again, without fail. It’s amazing, really. We think we’re alone, but in reality, we’re all having a shared human experience.
We are not alone
It’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one whose mind runs wild.
There’s a sense of fellowship that happens in a space where everyone is realizing for themselves that they’re not the only one who’s had a thought that completely devastated them.
An opening occurs when our vulnerability is met with understanding and openness.
What we were most afraid of, when allowed to surface, starts to loosen its grip on us. It slowly fades away, and we are able to breathe a little deeper, knowing that letting it out didn’t kill us. Those strangers we were terrified to let in to our inner worlds have witnessed the depths of our darkness, and they haven’t left us. They’re still there.
Not only have they not abandoned us, but they’re actually nodding their heads in silent solidarity.
They know what we speak of. They’ve experienced it for themselves. They’ve had a similar thought (or maybe even the exact same thought) at some point in their lives, and they, too, have experienced the pain that went along with believing it. They’ve lived the effects of that thought in their own lives, and they can truly resonate with what you’re vocalizing.
I’ve never experienced something more powerful than this.
The Work is about freedom
For me, this practice is about freedom.
Katie has said that The Work always leaves you a kinder, clearer, happier human being, and this perfectly encapsulates my experience, each and every time.
I keep coming back to it because it leaves me with a sense of space, stillness, and peace. It reminds me of how simple and beautiful life is. It allows me to access freedom, and it feels like a breath of fresh air. I end each session or retreat or event feeling like a more compassionate, kinder, and gentler human being.
In short, it leaves me with love.
“If we keep at it, we find that every stressful thought we investigate loses its power over us. Amazing! Thought after thought unravels. It’s such a joyous letting go, and it leaves you with a life of spaciousness, freedom, and more joy than you could ever imagine.” — Byron Katie
There is nothing that I want more than this.