At the School for The Work, Byron Katie, the originator of The Work, was sometimes asked, “How do I know when I should do The Work? How do I know when I’m done?” She answered the question with a question: “Do you love it yet?”
She didn’t say, “You’re done when you feel better, or you can tolerate it, or you’re resigned to it.” She said when you love it.
Be satisfied with nothing less than love? All the time?
It seemed unrealistic. But after a recent crisis, I finally understand what she means.
Do You Want to Be Right or Happy?
The crisis involved my mother-in-law. We enjoyed a warm relationship until about a year ago, when she had a fall, which revealed that she had dementia. Between the injury and the diagnosis, she became semi-dependent on my husband and me overnight. She’s been living with us since July.
In many ways it’s wonderful. I always wanted us to be closer and part of one another’s daily lives. I love having one more around our dinner table.
It’s also challenging. It altered the family dynamics and how I live in my own home. I lost privacy and have resented her “neediness.”
As does she. The loss of independence and ability can make her cross. She lashed out at me twice recently, and I was so angry.
I knew I ought to do The Work to process the incidents, but I kept putting it off. By the time I did sit down with pen and paper, I had little time and little energy and rushed the job. I stopped as soon as I felt better – not happy, certainly not love. Just better.
“Do you love it yet?” At the memory of Katie’s words, I rolled my eyes and thought, “No!” I wasn’t ready to release my anger. It felt powerful when she was, I believed, crowding me out. I wanted the armor.
But staying angry is self-protective – is that true? Sometimes, certainly. But in this case, it caused suffering. It kept me withdrawn and cold towards her, which made her feel bad and likelier to find fault with me.
Even so, I clung to my anger until a conversation with my best friend prompted me to loosen my grip. I heard myself, and I sounded so ugly. Even she – ever my champion – raised her eyebrows. I knew I had to do The Work again, and this time I would totally give up on being right. I would not stop until I was happy.
That my suffering was so close to the surface and so easily revived showed me that my previous Work had been inadequate. To take it deeper I had to be more thorough.
- No summarizing. When filling out a Judge Your Neighbor worksheet, I often summarize for the sake of efficiency, but this time I put everything on paper.
- Do The Work on every single statement. Once I feel the tide begin to turn in a worksheet and begin to feel relief, I often skip to the Turnarounds. This time I answered all four questions for each statement before moving to the Turnarounds.
- Slow down and tune in. At every step I felt myself wanting to rush in order to be done, to skip to the Turnaounds, to pop out of the seat at the first sign of relief. But Katie’s question, “Do you love it yet?” kept calling me back to the meditation.
It took me all of a Sunday, on and off. In the process I saw just how unfriendly I’d been, subtly excluding and ignoring her. It was like waking from a dream in which I’d believed she was my enemy. In the light of day, I could see she was my family.
And there it was: love. Once I felt it, my resentments evaporated. It became easy, natural, to talk to her, include her, joke with her, offer to her the kindnesses that are woven into my relationships with my husband and kids. I stopped resenting her presence. The feeling of having my privacy invaded was gone. She has responded in kind.
The real test came last night. She was upset and yelled at me. I felt the heat rise in me. . . and let it go. As I did, so did she. The fight left her and she confessed that she wasn’t angry at me. She was frustrated with herself and her limitations. It was the first time she was vulnerable with me without being angry, and the first time I felt compassion for her in an outburst.
Katie’s insistence on doing The Work until you hit love finally made sense: Relief is temporary; love is the fix. And even when you think love isn’t possible, it is. Why would you settle for less?