Investigate your stories!
This is a very powerful read. Use this tool when you experience discomfort or when you worry about something or someone. This is a wonderful gift that you should share with your friends and family.
Master this system and your life will take on a totally new meaning. Please ask questions or make comments until you fully mastered this system.
The number 1 cause of suffering and unhappiness are the scary stories you tell yourself about life and the world. Have you ever almost scared yourself to death about something that never happened? Or gotten yourself into a panic about something you thought just might happen one day but never did? Or told yourself stories about the potential negative outcome of events that were far off in the future? Or fantasized about what you’d do if lost your job or got a terminal illness? Or invented worst-case scenarios that played out like Hollywood catastrophe films? Well if you have or do, welcome to the club! Because you’re not alone.
You see the worry club is probably the biggest club on the planet. Almost everyone is a member, at least everyone I know is! Although I have heard of a few wise souls who seem to have dropped out of the club. But they are few and far between indeed.
Of course the worry club has different levels of membership. Some worriers practice daily and are true experts, while others only use their worrying skills on special occasions! But all in all, it’s the most extraordinary club, because it’s a totally useless association, which does no one any good. Just think about it for a moment and look back at your life. Five years ago weren’t you worrying about pretty much the same things as you worry about today?
Weren’t you worrying about your health or your finances or your kids or your relationship? And look at you today. You’re still here and you’re still probably worrying about the same things – despite all your past worrying! And what happened? The truth is probably nothing much happened did it? OK maybe there was a bump in the road here and there, but not much else. And if something really ‘serious’ did happen, it almost certainly wasn’t what you were worrying about in the first place. It was probably something completely different, something you weren’t expecting at all. But still you managed to get here, despite all your worrying and the bumps in the road! So the question is, did all that worrying help at all? Did it make the passage from then to now any easier? The honest answer for all of us is probably not. The honest answer is that worrying doesn’t make the journey through life one bit easier.
Quite the contrary, it just wears us out unnecessarily! I know it’s true for me. When I think of all the wear and tear I could have saved myself if I hadn’t worried so much! I worried and worried and what happened? The years passed and I got older, but I’m still here and still pretty much OK. Can we just stop?
No we can’t. Not just like that. We all know it doesn’t work to tell ourselves to stop worrying. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably tried countless times to stop worrying only to discover it just doesn’t work. We tell ourselves over and over again not to worry and then we still worry! Even though we know that worrying is negative, stupid, stressful, and a total waste of time – and that nothing good ever comes from it.
So what can we do?
Is there a way to stop that works?
In my experience, there’s only one way to deal with worrying – and that’s to shine the light of truth on the things we are worrying about. Instead of suppressing or running away from the thoughts that are worrying us, I’ve discovered that the best way to deal with them is to examine them and find out if they’re true. Why? Because if we discover we’re worrying about things that are really not true, it makes it much more difficult to keep on worrying about them!
Typical worry scenarios
But let’s look at some of our worries first. I’ve discovered that we all worry about pretty much the same things and tell ourselves very similar stories. No one is special; we’re all in the same boat. Of course there are variations on our major themes, but we all basically worry about the same things. One of our main worry themes is our health. We worry about life in these physical bodies and about the maintenance and upkeep of physical life in these bodies. We worry about how we feel and how we look. We worry about our aches and pains. We worry about growing old. In other words, a lot of our worries – maybe most of our worries – are connected to these bodies. Sometimes when I’m really worried about my health, I think that if I didn’t have this body, I’d have absolutely nothing to worry about! No body = no worries! But since we do have bodies, most of us worry about them.
We also worry about survival while we’re in these bodies, so we worry about money and our jobs and our financial security. And we worry about how our body is getting along with other bodies, so we worry about our relationships or about being alone.
But whatever we’re worrying about, you will find when you examine it, that it is some kind of scary story we are telling ourselves about what might happen to life in this body. Here are some of the main ones:
– If I get sick, I won’t be able to manage.
– Life is dangerous and the world is a scary place.
– There is something wrong with me.
– There’s something wrong with what I want.
– I am not OK.
– I should be in control.
– If something happens to my child, I’ll be devastated.
– If I do what I want, he/she won’t like/love me anymore.
– I’ll end up all alone.
– Something bad will happen to me and I’ll be dependent on others.
– If my partner leaves, I’ll be lonely.
– Being sick or in pain is unfair. (It’s unfair that I should suffer so.)
– Without money, there’s no security.
– Something might go wrong.
– And so on…
You don’t see the world as it is – you see the world as you are!
Let’s look more closely at a few of these scenarios we worry about so much. Because when we take a closer look, we find they are very juicy stories indeed!
If I get sick, I won’t be able to manage. Almost everyone worries about getting sick and not being able to manage.
For some people, the slightest ache or pain can set them off on a rampage, imagining all the terrible things the future will bring. They see cancer, helplessness, and loneliness. They see being a burden on their family, ending up in a hospital and dying all alone… This story is a great way to worry yourself sick.
Life is dangerous and the world is a scary place. This is another one of those juicy stories we tell ourselves. We probably learned this one from our parents and the media does everything in its power to give us more fuel for the fire! We’re also experts at passing on this story to
I’ll be lonely without a partner.
Are you staying in an unsatisfactory relationship because you are afraid of being alone? Are you making yourself sick by telling yourself the story of how lonely you will be if you leave your partner or if he/she leaves you?
There is something wrong with what I want. Here’s another good story you might be telling yourself when you can’t explain or justify the way you are – or your choices and behavior – to the people close to you.
There is something wrong with me.
Another juicy spin on the one above – which gives us endless heartache!
I should be in control.
Here’s another superb story that most of us have despite the fact that
everything in the whole universe is spinning along perfectly without our doing anything at all! No wonder we feel crazy when we tell ourselves this story – we’re asking ourselves to do the impossible.
If you’re nodding your head and saying yes, that sounds like me – what do you do next? My answer is – investigate your stories and your worries. Hold them up to the light of truth and see if there is any truth to them. OK you say, but how do I do that?
Byron Katie and The Work
The best modern-day tool I know to investigate our stories with is The Work by Byron Katie. The Work comprises four simple questions that any of us can use to examine our fears, worries and stories and see whether or not they are true.
The interesting thing about doing “The Work” is that when you ask the four questions and find your own truth, many of your worries just disappear. It’s amazing. Somehow when you discover for yourself that one of your scary stories simply isn’t true, it no longer has such a hold over you and it dissolves all by itself. So instead of trying to stop worrying, you just do.
The other interesting thing about The Work is that it’s really a modern
version of the traditional inquiry techniques that many of the great teachers have taught throughout the ages. So many teachers have said find out what is truth because only the truth will set you free. But the trouble is, we don’t really know how to do this. We don’t know how to find out what our truth is.
Now Byron Katie offers us four questions that really cut through all the
confusion to the heart of the matter, quickly and effectively. And you don’t need any special training to use the questions. You can do it by yourself or with your partner or friends.
The four questions are:
1) Is it true?
2) Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
3) How do you react when you think that thought?
4) Who would you be without the thought?
The turnaround (the exact opposite of the original statement)”
From Byron Katie’s book “Loving What Is”
Does this sound too easy to be true? Ok, well let’s try the four questions on one of the above statements and see what happens. Let’s take the first one:
If I get sick, I won’t be able to manage.
1) Is it true? “Well yes, if I get sick. I won’t be able to manage because I won’t be able to go to work and then how will I pay my bills, etc. I’ll lose my house and end up on welfare or in an institution.”
2) Can you absolutely know that it’s true? “Well no. I can’t absolutely know it’s true. I have been sick before and managed to keep my job. I was on sick leave and then I got better and things worked out. And if I really got sick my kids or my parents would probably help me or my friends would, and there is government help too. So no I can’t absolutely know that I wouldn’t be able to manage if I get sick.”
3) How do you react when you think that thought if I get sick, I won’t be able to manage? “It makes me feel terrible. I get so worried and upset when I don’t feel well and then I feel that my whole existence depends on me having good health. It’s terrible; it makes me so tense and afraid all the time.”
4) Who would you be without the thought? Who would you be if you couldn’t think the thought that if I get sick I won’t be able to manage…? “Well I would be a lot happier and so much more relaxed. I wouldn’t worry so much about my future and I would enjoy my life right now much more.”
The turnaround. What is the exact opposite of the original statement? It could be: If I get sick, I will be able to manage. Is this statement as true or truer than your original statement? “Well yes, I can see that this could be as true or truer than my original statement because in reality when I’ve been sick before I have managed.”
What happens next? If you allow yourself to go through this exercise very slowly and mindfully and give yourself the time to sit with each question and listen to your own inner voice and your own answers, you will begin to see how your own thoughts are making you suffer. You will see how much anguish your stories are actually causing you because when you examine them, you discover that in reality, nothing has actually happened. You’re worrying about a dream, a fantasy! In the above story, for example, you discovered that the reality is that when you got sick previously, things worked themselves out just fine and it wasn’t so terrible as you are imagining it could be.
Then we find that question 4 ‘Who would you be without the thought’ and the ‘turnaround’ allow you to explore how it feels not to identify so strongly with your original worry thought. When you do this, you discover that your scary projections about the future just dissolve in the light of truth and you can relax and enjoy this now moment.
The truth is so energizing!
(See Byron Katie’s books “Loving What Is” and “I Need Your Love – Is That True?”)
Besides our worry thoughts about the future, there is another type of story we are telling ourselves which gives us a lot of anguish. These are the stories about what is preventing us from being happy in this now moment. The ‘if only’ stories, which often sound like this: ‘If only he’d listen, I’d be happy. If only the sun was shining, I’d be happy. If only my back didn’t hurt, I’d be happy. If only I had a little more money in the bank, I’d be happy. If only I’d gotten that promotion, I’d be happy, If only he loved me, I’d be happy…’ you know the drill.
When you find yourself telling stories like these, it’s another brilliant opportunity to use the four questions. You can even do it as a game or fun exercise. Start by identifying the stories you are telling yourself about what’s keeping you from being happy at this very moment. I know I asked this question before, but this time I’d like you to be very specific and write down exactly what’s preventing you from being happy right now – and then ask the four questions about these statements.
Think about this carefully and write it down. What’s keeping you from being happy right now? Is it your job? Is it your boss at work? If that’s what it is, what’s the story? Write it down. Is it your health? If it is, what’s the story? Is it your relationship with your partner or your children? If it is, what’s the story? Is it the weather? Is it your age, your looks, the amount of money in your bank account? What exactly is preventing you from being happy right now? Is it the world situation? Is it your father’s health? What is it? Pinpoint the story and write it down. Then ask the four questions about each of your statements.
In my experience, when you ask the four questions and investigate what is preventing you from being happy at this moment, the stories often dissolve in the light of truth. And when this happens, happiness appears automatically.
You don’t have to ‘do’ anything to make yourself happy. In fact you can’t. What you find instead is that you are just happy because you are happiness itself. Happiness is your nature.
Barbra Berger – International Best Selling Author and good friend.