Deepak Chopra hosts insightful and inspiring discussions with spiritual luminaries and artists at New York city’s ABC home and carpet flagship store, and very recently I had the good fortune of being invited to spend an afternoon listening to an inspiring exchange between Deepak and Byron Katie.
Byron Katie’s sojourn into spirituality was not the fruit of endless years of close self-examination, nor was it the outcome of continuously inhaling dense spiritual texts. It was, however, a sudden enlightenment. The suddenness of it notwithstanding, she did suffer her due share of challenges and like many of us – was driven to the absolute edge of our sometimes febrile sanity.
The conversation that ensued between Deepak and Katie was riveting, and had exactly the effect it was designed to.
It made most people uncomfortable.
As all such reading, writing, thinking, journaling and discussing material goes – it makes one, above all, uncomfortable at first.
Byron Katie has developed a program, which she calls “the work,” and it’s so named for very good reason. It brings to the surface the density of emotion which is much happier settled in the obscurity of one’s shadows. Her system cajoles out of you, through a seemingly benign workbook: a series of complaints you may have with others in your life. At the start these complaints seem perfectly legitimate to one’s own mind.
Once you’ve written down your complaints, however, against those in your life that affect you – Katie offers a series of questions as exercises that begin the slow and painful process of turning your perceptions around.
Perceptions that have been ingrained in your schemata, deep in your psyche since you were a little child, innocent and unable to process or filter or categorize information for yourself. A time when you were an open receptor, a sponge, as psychologists like to say. A time when you unquestionably absorbed all of the data that the environment around you offered up for consumption. And her queries in effect begin to lift the scabs that have been hardened in place year after year as you continued to think and act in the way that you always thought was justified and correct for you.
What was interesting to note as we proceeded with the workbook, was that all the complaints that people in the audience shared were of a (not surprisingly) similar nature. Such as: “I complain about my Mom, because she doesn’t understand me.” Or “I complain about my son, because he doesn’t listen to me,” “I complain about my husband/wife, because he/she doesn’t get me,” and so on and so forth.
Katie pointed out that no matter where we come from, the type of complaints are always similar. We seem to extrapolate a complaint that is pertinent to our relationships at any given time of our lives – from this big, unseen ball of complaints that lurks above all of human community.
From here she started the process of turning the complaints around. There are four questions that she offers, an exercise which can be found on her website that would stop us in our tracks as we began to explore the various combinations regarding:
A) The ‘truth’ of the complaints
B) The absolute certainty of them
C) How we react when we believe in the complaint
D) How we feel when we don’t believe in that complaint or who we would be without the complaint?
Needless to say it was work turning the situation around so that she helped us bring the proverbial mirror in front of our own faces. We began to witness and later acknowledge what it was about our own personalities and belief systems that was triggering the kind of responses and patterns we labeled ourselves as victims of receiving.
As a student of Positive Psychology, I learned that repeated ways of thinking develop neuro-pathways in the brain, such that after some time we don’t have to make an effort to think a certain way. It just happens automatically – what we call habit.
This habit business is a double-edged sword as it were. On the one hand, there is hope that we can plant the seeds of thinking positively and with time neuro-pathways will develop in the brain that will aid us in thinking positively without having to consciously make the decision to do so. Meanwhile it is cause for concern to know that we already have a set number of neuro-pathways in our brains that were cultivated since our birth due to the ways in which we were trained to perceive, from our environment. These habits, or ways of perceiving, are not necessarily our own – yet they are how we habitually react to certain stimuli.
Ever wonder why you keep responding to a certain someone in a way that irks you, and you so wish you could stop doing so? Well, that’s the neuro-pathway that’s made it’s home in the physiology of your brain from a time when you had no control over how you wanted to perceive the world.
Deepak called these “habitual certainties.” And went on to say that our habitual certainties are what hold us prisoners in our minds. When we begin to let go of a repeated pattern of thinking, we realize that we feel freedom and space. And this he said, was the freedom and space that gave birth to creativity.
During the exercise we found our thoughts are just thoughts, but they become potent when we start believing in them. Once belief of a thought occurs, then the reactions that stem from that thought become the reason for all our actions. We found that this was the fertile ground upon which people project their own behaviors on others, and then label them as hateful in others. So in a sense we are all mirrors to each other.
In a moment that we perceive someone to be a certain way, we perceive ourselves to be that way too. So the thoughts, descriptions and opinions we hold of one another are to some extent the opinions we have of ourselves.
As Katie went through the different journaling experiences in the audience, many people were struck by the clarity, the bold-faced reality of what was really going on in their relationships. I did my set of journaling, and went through the questions as she guided us, and sure enough, a fair amount of discomfort arose in my chest upon some very deep realizations that had gotten twisted by the so-called rationalizing mind, which duly kept me from my own shadows, but generously brought to light what I perceived other’s failings to be.
This is why this work is rewarding later – but unsettling at first.
Many kernels of wisdom were languidly dropped in the conversation as Deepak and Katie continued discussing, and one thing that Katie said which struck a chord was how changing the way we perceive from a negative, violent mode to a peaceful, loving one would change the outcome of our lives. This is reminiscent of the many Buddhist teachings that many of us have followed, and yet to hear it again, further reinforced the Buddhist neuropathways in our brains, which is a rather fine thing. “Love is a big power,” she said, and if we choose to look at our thoughts with love, they can transform everything in our lives.
Deepak went on to discuss how labeling ourselves is in fact a restrictive and confining exercise. These labels that we generously endow upon our being, that of name, gender, profession, personality type, etc – do nothing but limit us. What would we be if we dropped all the labels? Fluid, vast and infinite! Remove the labels and you merge into the expanse of the universe.
Now that is a far better practice to build and adopt as a way of perceiving oneself. And so the work begins!
Knowing that we can change the way we perceive the world around us, and in so doing, change the outcome of our own lives, is liberating and empowering. But it’s a commitment of a lifetime that requires tremendous work and attention to detail. The way I see it, there is no other way, why be stuck with a schemata you had a small hand in creating, and a lot in suffering? Sometimes the choice is very simple even if the work appears Sisyphean at first.
Tania Kazi is a yoga teacher, a meditation guide, an Ayurveda Life Consultant and a mom. she is also a student of Feng shui + Vastu Shastra and believes strongly in an outer environment that supports and compliments inner peace. Tania works for a think-tank in Washington, D.C. where she holds a position on the board of directors. Her loyalty lies in the betterment and the healing of the human soul, which she does through her yoga and meditation classes while also working toward empowering the indigenous peoples of the developing world. Tania is a thinker, yogi, a writer, an activist and a breaker of moulds. She resides in Manhattan. for further musings, do visit her here.