If you're struggling right now, I want to propose to you that this could be a good thing.
Hard to imagine, I know.
When I look back on my darkest days when my daughter was young and I was dealing with her life-and-death health challenges, my severe struggles sure didn't feel like they could be a good thing.
In fact, I fantasized about being dead because that's how hard my life felt.
It just didn't feel like I could handle it. The fear was too great.
I was living with PTSD symptoms as a single mom struggling to make enough money while also being there for my daughter...
I didn't really recognize what my life had become. It had all changed so quickly. (Of course, becoming a parent alone is a huge, abrupt change that can feel tremendously difficult on its own.)
What happened though was what I think of as the greatest blessing of my life: my suffering brought me to my knees so that I could find a new way of seeing life.
In my desperation to relieve my fear, I began to be open to consider that there were things about life that I didn't yet know, that I wasn't seeing.
Some essential, profound things about the way life really is that could really change things for me.
And in the midst of all my searching and reading and researching as a result of this openness, I stumbled upon The Work of Byron Katie.
I was in the middle of writing my PhD dissertation at the time, on the nature of the mind and consciousness - basically, I was just trying to find out who we are and what we're doing here (no biggie).
And The Work -- this self-inquiry process -- was the missing puzzle piece. It answered this question for me of who I am. Remarkably. And it led also led me out of my suffering.
My PhD research and personal research dovetailed.
Bit by bit, as I questioned my stressful thoughts, I began to see through the veil of my beliefs to what was really true. And this brought profound relief. It turns out that Katie was right: life is always kinder than what we believe about it.
Self-inquiry showed me how I was living almost entirely in a fictional world of stories made up by my sweet human mind as it came to its innocent conclusions as a young child, just trying to make sense of things.
Katie likes to say, "One mind." And, "there are no new stressful thoughts." This is because we ALL did what I did and we all do what I was doing. This is the function of the mind. We assume our stories and our stresses are personal to us, but they're not. They're universal.
I experienced so much suffering because it was the signal that I was trying to make concepts true that actually aren't. Life was waving a bell in my face, saying, "Wake up, wake up."
It turns out that this is what suffering is -- our emotional guidance system saying we're in the dream world created by our stories -- and what it is for -- precisely to bring us to our knees so that we begin to look, so that we mentally open.
Since we were old enough to form concepts, we began to tell the story to ourselves of who we are, who others are, and what the world is. You can see this right in this moment: just notice that you have an 'image' of who you think you are.
If we don't entirely like that image, we might work to combat it -- to challenge it with logic -- but we never really believe anything different from what our initial stories concluded.
That's why if we think we're ____ (fill in the blank with how you don't want to be or be seen: lazy, selfish, mean, stupid, etc.) and we try some affirmations and/or self-talk to counter this belief, we can't change it.
But there is something we can do: we can question this image -- question our conclusions. We concluded ... but we never really asked ourselves prior to concluding. We skipped that step.
For me, I began to identify what I was believing about my daughter's health and my ability to handle it:
I can't handle this. I'm not strong enough. It's too hard.
And I started to see how I overlay these beliefs onto all aspects of my life. The Work let me see that, actually, I was handling it, I was strong enough, and it wasn't too hard.
But boy, believing the opposite of these beliefs was incredibly painful through all the fear that was generated.
The Work also let me see how I was making my daughter's health issues about me -- about how they were creating such a fear in me, and how I questioned my ability to handle it -- which stripped me of my ability to be there for her 100%, which is what I in truth wanted.
The Work lets us take even concepts that seem ironclad -- unquestionable -- and let's us question them.
Like the concept, she could die.
This seems absolutely true. She could.
And ... this doesn't mean it can't be questioned.
Because we question things -- not to make them untrue -- but to see what is actually true. The first is what Katie calls doing The Work with a motive and the second is doing it for the love of truth.
I wanted to know the truth.
I really, really wanted to know.
For as long as I could remember.
So I questioned she could die.
It's no different from any other concept.
Death, ultimately, is a concept. That's a fact that you can see right in this moment. It simply means we've applied a word to an apparent occurrence, one that we haven't actually experienced for ourselves. (i.e. have you died in this lifetime? See what I mean?)
Self-inquiry put me in touch with my fears about death that I'd had since I was little, when I was old enough to understand that people die.
It put me in touch with the fervent praying I'd do to keep my parents alive. (My mom was brought up Catholic and although I wasn't, she kept the bedtime prayer routine, which I relied upon heavily when it came to issues of death).
I remember getting on my knees beside my bed on particularly harrowing nights which were always when my parents went away on vacation. I was panicked that they would never return and believed it was my sole job to bring them home safely through my fervent praying.
There seems to be no greater fear us human beings have than death and yet we are taught to suppress that fear. Presumably because there's nothing we can do about it, neither with death nor with the fear.
But have you noticed that doesn't make it go away?
Actually, what happens is it intensifies below the surface of your conscious awareness, shapes your life experience, and if you're lucky ... your daughter almost dies so it can surface to be questioned.
And you can undo those old, old beliefs that have kept you imprisoned in fear and self-doubt for such a long time.
Even if it's just subtle for you, like it was for me all through my teens and twenties. I didn't really know I was suffering. It took my daughter being born to intensify the suffering so that I could begin to notice what was really going on for me internally.
So maybe you're just suffering a little. Good. We can start there. Before you have to suffer more.
Or maybe you're suffering a lot. That's good too. It means you could be highly motivated to see what is true.
It means you could be ready to awaken from the dream and let the light in.
I'm here for you either way. Let's embrace your suffering instead of suppressing it and take a look together. This Work will hold you. I promise.