Above: Us after the School for the Work and 22 years of marriage.
“Ugh. It’s like he doesn’t even like me.”
Guy had just walked out the door for work. This was about eight years ago, when I was in life coach training. We’d been arguing, about what exactly I don’t know, though I can guess. What I remember clearly is the hollowness in my gut as he said something mean and walked away from me. It was a familiar feeling.
Sixteen years previously, Guy and I had fallen in love almost at first sight and married soon after. What’s funny is that I had felt that I’d recognized, more than met, him. But of course once we were actually married and living together, I discovered how little I knew him.
Hardest to me were the moments when I upset him, and he seemed to believe that my intentions were malign, not simply a mistake. I thought when you love someone you believe the best of them, not assume the worst.
Because we were in love, and because the good times far outnumbered the bad, we made it work. We learned one another’s likes, dislikes, and triggers, and worked out how to make up after disagreements. Even so, I found confrontation so painful that I – unconsciously but nevertheless assiduously – developed a strategy of avoidance.
That means I: hid things from him; didn’t tell the whole truth or spun it beyond recognition; said yes when I meant no; forgot a lot.
I suspect one of those actions caused our argument that day.
But, like last week’s story, this blow happened after I had the Work. Painful situations like these, I had learned, are made for the Judge Your Neighbor worksheet. The JYN captures all your judgments on paper, so you can do the Work (Inquiry) on them and know the truth.
The JYN is comprehensive. You write out who offended you and how; what you need and want from them; what you think they should do; who you think they are (don’t hold back); and, what you never want to experience with them again. It gives you a 360-degree view of one moment in time, but it’s not overkill; you almost always find the universal in the particular – a pattern, a habit of mind that, once identified, can be reshaped.
Well, that’s the life coach story of the Work. Byron Katie simply calls the result of doing the Work the end of suffering.
With the urgency of one who knew she at last possessed the key to a maddening mystery – how two people who loved each other so much could hurt one another so often – I wrote a JYN on Guy, and did the Work on each statement. The one I remember is, “He doesn’t like me.”
Is it true? Really look. You want to know the truth.
If the answer to question one is yes, ask, Can you be absolutely certain it’s true? This question always softens me. I begin to open to new possibilities.
How do you react, what happens, when you believe it’s true? Now I can see how this thought creates my emotions, which drive my actions, which contribute to the result I don’t like. I can see my role in this painful dynamic.
Who would you be without the thought? Who would I be if I did not have the thought, “Guy doesn’t like me”? This takes a minute – I’ve been thinking it for so long! Well, I would be curious. Why is this man who loves me yelling? He seems upset. He’s in pain. I know what that’s like. I’d feel compassion. I’d listen instead of putting my energy into self-defense. I could learn something. He could feel heard. We could be connected instead of estranged. At last, I see a new way.
Turn the thought around now and find specific, genuine examples of how each turnaround could be just as true, or truer, than the original thought.
To the opposite: Guy does like me. Joy! A dozen images rush in as evidence of this thought. The mind is always looking for evidence that what it believes is true. Put that to work for you, not against you.
To the other: I don’t like Guy. Yes, it must feel that way to him when I lie to him. In fact, when I lie to protect myself and just expect him to roll with it, I’m favoring myself over him.
To the self: I don’t like myself. It’s true! I want to be brave! I want to say no when I mean it and be upfront and frank with him and everyone. When he yells at me, I take it so hard because I believe he’s right to do so, but it’s too hard to admit, so I make him the bad guy.
The Work complete, I notice I feel relaxed, open, full of love for him and for myself, too. I was mistaken. Now I know the truth.
The phone rings. It’s Guy, who had no idea that I’d just done the Work on my judgments about him. It’s the first time we’ve spoken since our argument. He’s inviting me to lunch, not something he typically does.
“Oh, that’s so sweet!” I say. “Thank you!”
He replies, “You know I like you, right?”
I can’t explain it, except to say that when you change, your life and everyone in it changes, too. This kind of magic – of psychic connection and spontaneous remission of pain – is, in my experience, not a fluke. It happens when you do the Work.
Try it for yourself. The next time you argue with your spouse, instead of fuming or repeating his crimes to sympathetic friends, write down your judgments instead. Then simply ask of each judgment, “Is it true? Can I be absolutely certain it’s true?” What do you notice? Please post a story in the comments!