So, here is the situation. I have coffee every morning in the same café with a group of French friends and since the beginning (about 5 years ago) I let Salomé roam at her will around the café visiting all the tables and receiving caresses and small titbits. Most people seem to love her and ask me politely if they may give her a morsel of the cookie that comes with the coffee or a small piece of croissant. I say yes, always making the sign of a tiny bit with my fingers. Salomé seemed happy, I felt happy and I didn’t see any problem.
However… there is a member of the group I have coffee with –I’ll call him Joe- who began to give her the whole cookie or a really big share of croissant. I asked him not to do it, to just give her a little bit and he reacted as if this were some sort of a game of tease or torture me. What ensued was a struggle (on my part) to try and get this man to understand that so much sugar is not good for the dog and stop giving her what I consider to be too much. I have pleaded, begged, reasoned, lied (I told him she had been diagnosed with diabetes)… used about every trick in the book to get him to lay off, but for some reason –that obviously goes beyond my comprehension- he continues to think this is a fun game (him overfeeding my dog and me trying to get him not to do it). Finally, yesterday, after asking him twice not to give her too much, upon seeing him take a wad of the cake someone had brought to share with the coffee and give it to her, I blew up. I don’t remember having gotten that mad in a long time. I stood up, leashed Salomé and stormed out.
This morning, when I arrived at the café, he wasn’t there and I sat with my usual group. I mentioned having gotten mad and said that, as far as I was concerned, Joe was dead. I was hoping he wouldn’t come (he does not come every day and sometimes goes for a week or more without showing up), but as I took the last sip of my coffee he appeared at the door. I said ‘Uh, oh’ and stood up. One lady in the group (who is very fond of Joe) asked me not to go, said he wouldn’t feed Salomé, made all kind of conciliatory gestures on his part, but I was determined not to stay. Joe himself asked if I was leaving because he had arrived and I said ‘yes’; he then asked if I was at least going to say good morning and I said ‘no’. My tone of voice left no doubt as to my feelings towards him. I’d had it: I found the man despicable!
As I walked out, I had the thought: “If you do this you are going to lose”, but I couldn’t go back, so I began my morning walk around town with Salome. It wasn’t long before I began crying. I felt like a little girl and the memory was of exactly the same kind of teasing-torture from some boy or other in primary school. In spite of my tears, I was pleased with myself for having gotten furious. I realized it was ok, I mentally hugged myself and told myself that it was about time I had gotten mad and defended my right to be respected in that way; I understood how childish (and cruel) it was on his part to give a small dog so much sugar just to get a rise out of me. I was very kind to myself and it felt good. By the time I arrived back at my small apartment, I was calm and I knew what I had to do.
I took out a Judge-your-Neighbor worksheet (available on Byron Katie’s page http://www.thework.com) and began filling it out, allowing my mind to revisit the scene of the previous morning as I answered the questions.
The first question is “In this situation, who angers, confuses, saddens or disappoints you, and why?” I closed my eyes and replayed the scene at the table where he broke off a large morsel of the cake and gave it to Salomé right after I had politely begged him not to. That specific scene was the situation and I wrote: “I am furious at Joe because he doesn’t respect my wishes; because he uses Salomé to ‘tease’ me; because he is cruel to my dog; because he is harming my dog.”
By the time I had filled in the first question there was a disturbing realization niggling at the back of my mind, but I wasn’t ready for it yet, so I continued filling out the sheet putting what I wanted Joe to do in that situation; writing out longhand my advice to him in that situation and enumerating what I needed in that situation in order to be happy. Much of what appeared in number 1 reappeared only slightly changed in numbers 2, 3 and 4: I want him to stop feeding Salomé, he should be respectful, I need him to stop playing games with me, etc.
In number 5, where I am asked to make a list of what I thought of Joe in that situation, practically all I could think of was “he’s stupid, stupid, idiot, stupid” but I managed to complete the list with “infantile and disrespectful”.
Question number 6 on the worksheet asks me what it is about that situation that I never want to experiment again and I wrote: “I never again want to have to lose my temper in order to be respected.”
The niggling in the back of my mind was still there because my mind now plays the game of The Work and races ahead of me before I even start questioning. I Ignored the niggling, took a deep breath and decided to give myself some off time before questioning anything. Putting the worksheet aside, I read my e-mails and checked out a few things on Facebook before coming back to it. Then I was ready.
I re-read number 1 and chose the thought that I wanted to start working on: I am furious at Joe because he doesn’t respect my wishes. I removed “I am furious” because The Work does not question my emotions, and asked the first question: Joe doesn’t respect my wishes… Is that true? Closing my eyes and breathing deeply, I replayed the situation (scene) in my mind’s eye: Joe is breaking off a large morsel of cake and giving it to Salomé, laughing and casting a glance my way. My answer appeared. It was Yes, it was true. Once again, I closed my eyes and watched the scene: Joe doesn’t respect my wishes… Can I absolutely know that it’s true that he doesn’t respect my wishes? Again I waited for the answer to rise within me: it was Yes once more. There was no way that I could find Joe respecting my wishes in that scene. Yes was my honest answer.
I went to the 3rd question: How do I react, what happens, when I believe the thought that Joe doesn’t respect my wishes? I closed my eyes. I didn’t have to guess. It was all there right before me and my body –as if it were once again in that café watching that man give my dog a large piece of cake- reacted exactly the way it had reacted the morning before: stress, stomach tight, throat closed, shoulders pushed forward, jaw clenched. How did I react? I jumped up, I roughly leashed my dog, I called Joe stupide not quite loud enough for him to hear but feeling the pleasure of the insult in the pit of my stomach. I stormed out of the café. Did it end there? No. All the way home, I was replaying the scene, reliving the fury, submitting my body to the stress of extreme anger over and over again. Between yesterday and today I must have replayed the scene at least fifty times, probably more, each time reliving my anger. That is how I reacted when I believed the thought that Joe doesn’t respect my wishes. There could be no doubt in my mind as to how I reacted because every time I replayed the scene I re-reacted the same way: my body didn’t lie.
So then I went to question 4. I love question 4 but in this situation, found it difficult question to ask. Who would I be without the thought in that same situation? The only reason I asked myself question 4 today was because I wanted to know the truth; I have to live with myself 24 hours of every day and only the truth allows me to do that in peace and gratitude; only the truth allows me to be happy today. So I closed my eyes, breathed deeply and watched the scene play itself out exactly as it had, while removing all thoughts from my mind. Katie says ‘this is meditation’ and meditation is removing thoughts from the mind, so I looked; I allowed my eyes to see, to observe as Joe took the large piece of cake and gave it to Salomé while using my breath to remove the thought, to remove any story that might have appeared in my mind. Without any thought what I saw was a man giving a dog a piece of cake: it wasn’t personal. There was no ‘my dog’, no movie of ‘my dog dying from too much sugar’, no interpretation of ‘disrespect’, just a man giving a dog a piece of cake and my body had no reaction whatsoever. So who I was without the thought was a-woman-watching-a-man-give-a-dog-a-piece-of- cake. You might say it was ‘a piece’a cake!’
It was in that moment that the niggling realization finally surfaced: what I understood was that Joe was giving my dog a piece of cake because she was asking for it. And she was asking for it because I had allowed her to roam freely around the café asking all and sundry for whatever it pleased them to give her. I didn’t like this truth, but I couldn’t deny it and once it had appeared I couldn’t ignore it either: I had seen my part in the ‘problem’, be it large or small, it was my part.
Does that make Joe right and me wrong? Absolutely not! Does it excuse or justify what is probably his stupid ploy to get attention? Of course not! But it does give me the solution, and a solution that had existed from the very beginning if I had not gone to war trying to control another human being’s actions, in other words: trying to control reality. I don’t like the solution, I would have preferred it to be his fault and to have succeeded in controlling him; I would have loved for him to bow to my wishes from the very beginning… but then I would not have had this opportunity to do The Work and learn about my stubbornness in wanting things to be the way I want them to be. I would not have had the opportunity to feel how absolutely rabid I can still get even after so many years of The Work. I would have missed the peace that comes with accepting reality as it is and not as I would have it.
There was still something to be done with this question before I moved on to the next: The Turnarounds. My thought, Joe doesn’t respect my wishes, turned around to:
- I don’t respect my wishes. Immediately I found examples. I am not seeing what others are giving Salomé and they could be feeding her just as much as Joe. It is my wish that Salomé not eat a lot of sugar, but she is probably getting too much already by going from table to table during the hour or more that I spend at the café. And I don’t respect my wish to continue with my coffee group by making war with one of its members. I am not respecting my wish to be a kind and respectful member of the community when I let my dog run free and beg from all the tables without asking if this might bother someone (ouch!) My wish is there be no war in the world, and I am making my own war in the café!
- I don’t respect Joe’s wishes. Right! He wants to give her the cake and I am not respecting that (this doesn’t mean I will, I just notice); he is trying to be funny and I am not respecting that by laughing (that doesn’t mean I will, I just notice); and yesterday and today I was downright rude (disrespectful) to the man… Oh boy and I notice how disrespectful I was in my mind insulting him up and down for the rest of the day! Oh, yes: it is obvious that Joe doesn’t want a woman telling him what to do in front of everyone else and I am not respecting that: I am not respecting him by making him choose between giving my dog cake and obeying my orders.
- Joe does respect my wishes. Hmmm, this was more difficult. Oh found one: Yes, perhaps he could believe he is respecting them because he can’t know what a small amount is in my eyes (this is a bit contrived, but I’ll let it serve). Ok: it is obvious that in letting Salomé roam free I want everyone to like and be kind to her and he is doing that in his way. One day I asked him if he would pay for my coffee and he did, respecting my wish. I always wish I could find more opportunities to do The Work (and free myself) and he respected that wish giving me the perfect opportunity.
The turnarounds are thoughts too so they are no more true or false than the original, but they can also be indications of how I can better lead a peaceful and happy life (which is all I want in the long run) so I will take them into consideration. This is a grand opportunity to take a good look at where I am not respecting myself and where I am not respecting others and to remedy that to the best of my ability. It is a chance to see where I am not respecting Salomé (her needs which are my responsibility) and remedy that. I do this for me, only for me; because it makes me feel good, it gives me peace, it makes me love myself and therefore others.
Thanks to doing only one thought on this worksheet, I have looked at the reasons that I let Salomé run loose in the café. They are the usual ones and don’t surprise me one bit: It gets me attention; I like being seen as the owner of such a cute little dog; love my dog, love me; I fool myself thinking that I am making her happy but if I had never let her loose she wouldn’t know the difference… In other words: I, I, me, me, I, me! Nothing whatever to do with Salomé’s happiness or wellbeing.
Someone might be asking themselves if all this apparent guilt and self-blaming is really good for me, but I have to say that I am not feeling in the least bit guilty because my actions were (and always will be) completely innocent. I just believed what I was thinking and as long as I believe what I think, I have to act in accordance with that. I am not to blame for believing what I believe in each moment. However, today I am responsible for doing The Work with thoughts that produce war or pain or suffering of any kind in me.
With The Work I see what it was that I was thinking that made me act in the way I did; so now I have the power to change what was causing the problem in the first place: my thought that another person should change to make me happy. There can be no self-blaming or guilt: quite the contrary, I am filled with love for myself for being so clear and so brave. I love my mind for participating in this game called The Work which I do only for my own freedom and happiness. And I love my body for being my faithful ally in this Work and showing me always when I go to war with reality by manifesting the feelings that wake me up.
And what do I do with the rest of the worksheet that I so carefully filled out? Well, I continue to go through each thought one by one. I can take my time. A worksheet can last me a day, a week, a month, a lifetime and reveal every single problem that I am causing in my life by believing my thoughts.
In the end, I can turn numbers 2, 3 and 4 around to myself and find the path to my own freedom and happiness. For instance, number 3 –the should’s– says: Joe should be respectful, he should understand that he is doing harm to Salomé, he should stop trying to play games with me, turns around to I should be respectful (of Joe, of Salomé, of the group I belong to, of the people in the café, etc); I should understand that I am doing harm to Salomé by letting her roam the café begging for goodies and overeating; I should stop playing games with me (believing I have no part in the problem), I should stop playing games with Joe (continuing the push-me-pull-you of tease/control) and I should stop playing games with myself (thinking I do something for Salomé’s pleasure that I am actually doing for myself, like letting her run free).
Eventually The Work is done: It’s a piece‘a cake!