Can we pivot into happiness?
How do you define good news? Generally, it’s something with which we feel resonance, and feel minimal resistance to. That usually means news that sits safely within our comfort zone, our range of experience and expectation. It doesn’t rattle us too much, or shake up the status quo.
On the flip side, what is bad news? It tends to be something we don’t want to hear, something we don’t want to be true. Can you identify with that effort of, upon hearing bad news, willing it to not be so? Looking for the get-out clause, the misreading, the lie? Something, anything, that will allow us to rewrite reality. Because we don’t want it to be so. We don’t want things to be ‘bad’. And we believe that by sheer force of will, we can make it ‘not so.’
My struggles arising from trying to twist reality into what I need it to be drew me a few years ago to Byron Katie and her simple and powerful system of enquiry, The Work. At the core of The Work is Katie’s four questions and turnaround (1):
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?
Turn it around.
I return to the process of these simple questions when I find myself locked in struggle with something in my life I don’t want.
Beliefs that are dulling my life
At present, it’s a daily internal monologue around my heart health, and various aspects of it and my life with it. Pursuing The Work’s questions of enquiry cracks open many limiting beliefs and habits of thought that are dulling my life more than any physical weakness ever could.
For example, a belief I’ve recognised in myself is ‘My heart disease is a bad thing, and I’d be better off without it.’ Now that’s quite a reasonable and understandable statement, isn’t it? I mean, who would want heart disease? But is this thought helping me? Rather, it cultivates resistance and fear, which increases my stress, putting more of a load on my heart and increasing my unwellness. But still, it’s right, isn’t it? I’d be a fool to say otherwise.
Is it true?
Clearly this belief is not helping me, so I proceed to the four questions to see if they can bring new insight. Firstly, is it true? Yes, of course my heart disease is a bad thing – anyone would agree! – and of course I’d be better off without it.
Secondly, can I absolutely know that it’s true? As I look around me, my life is already radically different to that before my initial diagnosis four months ago. I’m intensely grateful to be alive, and feel more vital than I maybe ever have, even though my physical energy flags greatly. I’m living with a refreshed and reinvigorated practice of radical self-care and rest, which is becoming my normal as I make my wellness my top priority. I’m pursuing practices such as Ayurveda to bring a new and natural balance into my life. My daily meditation practice is supporting me like never before.
I’m suddenly giving myself permission to make changes in my work that I’ve shied away from for five years because I didn’t feel I deserved to have what I really wanted. I’m feeling such a brighter clarity about who I am and what I want – what really matters to me. I’m creating new and strong boundaries for myself, while loving others even more.
I’m feeling so much fear, and allowing it, sitting with it as it moves through me; knowing that I’m stronger after, and won’t have to live through that bit of fear again. My heart is so filled with love and compassion that some days it feels it must surely burst. I’m learning through daily experience that my intuition is my true guide, and it is blossoming in the light of the trust I’m placing in it.
And those are just my first thoughts. With a list like that, can I honestly say it’s true that ‘my heart disease is a bad thing, and I’d be better off without it’? No, I can’t.
How do I react?
Thirdly, how do I react when I think that thought? This one’s a no-brainer. My stress increases immediately – I can feel it physically in my increased and unsteady heartbeat, chest pain, my breath becoming fast and shallow, the twisted knot in my gut. I can feel it in the panicked, scared and desperate quality of the thoughts it sparks. I feel fear and a sense of powerlessness. My brain fogs over and I can’t think clearly. I focus on all that I have to lose. I can’t see a broad range of choice and action; my options feel limited and decreasing. Life becomes smaller and closed-down.
Fourthly, who would I be without the thought? For starters, I’d clearly be healthier just for releasing the thought – the stress it stokes in me does my whole health no favours. And mainly, I’d feel light. Free. Strong and empowered. In sync and in resonance with myself and all around me. I’d be less afraid. I would feel more hope and love and promise. I wouldn’t be defining – and limiting – myself as someone with heart disease. Perhaps I wouldn’t even need those words, heart disease, anymore. I’d simply be someone living with heart, from the heart, in her heart. Living wholeheartedly. I would be me, in full acceptance and ease and peace.
Arguing with reality
A turnaround (which Katie refers to as ‘… your prescription for health, peace, and happiness.’) (2) for my original statement could be ‘My heart disease is a good thing, and I have a better life because of it.’ Because? Refer to my answers to the first four questions… it’s clear to me that this turnaround holds so much truth for me.
Katie says ‘Arguing with reality means arguing with the story of a past. It’s already over, and no thinking in the world can change it… If you think that it shouldn’t be there, you’re confused, because there it is. The point is, how can you be most effective in this moment, given that what is is? Accepting reality doesn’t mean that you’re going to be passive. Why would you be passive when you can be clear and have a wonderful, sane life?… Accepting reality means, in fact, that you can act in the kindest, most appropriate, and most effective way.’ (3)
The situation that felt like bad news in my original belief is, in reality, good news. I can choose to live in the resistance and suffering of my original belief, or let myself pivot into a new and spacious belief of accepting what is; ‘loving what is,’ as Katie says in the title of her book.
I know which I choose.
(1) Byron Katie: Loving What Is, 2002, Rider, p. 15
(2) Byron Katie, p. 16
(3) Byron Katie, p. 238