It was the first morning of the 2019 Scandinavian Summer Camp for The Work of Byron Katie at Mundekulla Retreat Center; a perfect Swedish summer morning with moist grass and green birches swaying. I had a peaceful, silent breakfast with my friends. We had a staff meeting planned right after breakfast to make sure everything would run smoothly when our participants arrived. But first I had to visit the lovely composting toilet.
I walked back to the seminar room where we had met the night before but no one was there. Hmm, they weren’t in the dining hall either. The Sun Hall! Nope, empty and quiet as a monastery. Oh, right, last year we had the staff meetings in that little cottage, I went out there. Empty. The Sanctuary in the horse meadow? No, no one there either.
-Oh, I know! They are over at the Kreativum hall setting up for Katie’s live video appearance this evening! I ran over there, breathing heavily. Mundekulla is a big retreat center! Not a single person in sight. The Hay Loft? Nobody there either. The entire staff of the Summer Camp had vanished into thin air. Were they all out in the forest marking the morning walk trails?
I gave up and walked back towards the seminar room and sat down by some bushes and started my own planning meeting for the session I was guiding later that afternoon together with Nayano, my dear soul sister and fellow Certified Facilitator.
-Man, I dig Helena’s style; if she doesn’t feel like coming to a meeting, she doesn’t come! one staff member said to another; they both laughed. I jumped out of my bushes and joined in their laughter. I was delighted to laugh with my friends and happy I could provide some joy.
-That’s true, but I was actually trying to get to this meeting. Where were you guys???
(Reaction in the past: Defense, self-pity, fear, shame! Oh, my God, they are joking about me! I have done something wrong! That’s awful; what is everyone else saying?! I tried my best but I could not find you guys!)
-We’re meeting in the new office between the Sun Hall and the seminar hall!
Aha, well, I had never been in that part of Mundekulla and had no idea we had an office there for this year’s camp. (Since I had missed some meetings…) I wandered up to our staff office from a back staircase I hadn’t noticed before. I was cracking up realizing I had been right on the other side of that small corridor and it had been so quiet because they were all meditating.
But some of the other staff member were not laughing. One was very frustrated and upset with me about several things. I first I tried to offer some info…”I didn’t know we had this office this year” and then I got quiet. I noticed it was more important to hear my friend. I listened. I took it in. I moved closer. I could understand the frustration with Helena. Another staff member chimed in: “Yeah, the story is building, Helena, that you don’t really want to be part of a team.” Yep, I could find that too.
(Reaction in the past: self-pity, victim hood, crying, defense: I was trying to find you guys! I looked all over! No one told me where the new office was and I just got here late last night, and I am jet lagged! I travel way farther than any of you guys! So, give me a break!)
Frustrations were vibrated and heard. I had some of my own. Solutions were found; perfect planning happened and then we moved on to have a wonderful first day of Summer Camp. As Katie says: Without a story you can’t have a problem, only solutions.
Later during the opening ceremony of the Summer Camp one participant said to me: “You are so crystal-clear Helena; did you know that?” I honestly answered no. I sat with her with her story about me; sharing some crystal clarity, it was lovely. Another participant said: “I came to the Summer Camp because of you Helena.” I was glad for her sake that she was glad and I hoped she wouldn’t disappoint herself with her high expectations.
(Reaction in the past: puffed up ego, smug, the spiritual “better than others” identity active; Wow, I am so crystal clear! Feeling elevated that some participants had such high thoughts about me.)
A few days later while I had my day of presenting The Work a participant came up to me in a break and said: “I just want you to know that you don’t need to apologize for being up here, Helena!” I had inserted what I thought was a bit of humor into one of the practices I was guiding and she had experienced that as me not being in my power and apologizing for myself. I noticed that I was surprised and curious that she would see me that way. And, good to know, that my little joke could be taken that way! I had spoken it as an attempt to not make things too serious or “spiritually correct” and maybe that was not necessary. I was grateful for her comment.
(Reaction in the past: Internally: Scoffing, attacking, upset, righteous: Why would I need to apologize for myself?! I am a Certified Facilitator and have been in the Work for 20 years!!! I know my stuff!! Outwardly: I would have tried to explain myself in a spiritual, nice way to this person; that it was a joke and that I really could not find what she was saying, so it must be her projection….)
Praise and blame. Praise and blame of Helena. I noticed that none of the feedback moved me out of peace and presence. It didn’t move me from the center. Before inquiry that simply would not have been possible. Before inquiry I had an identity to defend, an image to hold up.
Not that I don’t care or pushed the feedback away like: ”Whatever, I don’t give a shit what other people think of me!!” (Another defensive reaction from the past.) In fact, I noticed I cared more deeply than ever about the other person’s frustration or joy, and it wasn’t mine. I was available to help if I could or to enjoy their joy without taking credit for the source of that joy.
I notice, after questioning all the underlying beliefs about who I am, that the attachment to this persona, Helena, is much looser and more spacious. It’s more of a noticing: aha, today she did that, and she said this. Oh, she really made a mistake there! Wow, she really did a good job with over here! And something bigger is holding this dear woman/being as she tries her best to travel the meandering paths of this life.
As Katie says: You’ll begin to discover for yourself that The Work is equally powerful when the one you’re judging is yourself. You’ll see that the “you” you judge is no more personal than everyone else turned out to be. The Work deals with concepts, not people.
I suffered from a very harsh inner critic my whole life so I have used The Work on my self-critical beliefs a lot. And the result of doing that for years is very different than what I originally imagined. I thought I would be filled with self-esteem, have a sense of “I can accomplish anything,” never make any mistakes and feel perfect and whole in myself. I thought I would experience the opposite of self-criticism once I had undone the self-judgments; self-boosting or self-bravado.
And something much more beautiful opened up. As the old self-critical stories began to drop my true Self was uncovered. A kindness beyond measure. A relaxed beingness. An innocence. A sense of fun and adventure as I watch the “Helena-movie” play out. Nothing to defend, nothing to pretend. This (Helena) is held in love and being lived by a very beautiful energy.
In this process I noticed that all self-critical stories led back to a set of core beliefs that I had attached to during childhood. Those core beliefs were short, simple sentences spoken in a child’s language and in my native language, Swedish. Together they formed a tight web that built an identity that I called me; an identity that I kept adding proof and more stories to, to hold the original one’s in place. My favorite belief was: “There is something wrong with me” and that one had been in there, like a computer program that just keeps running in the back ground once it had been installed, from the time I was able to form thoughts.
I questioned that belief using the 4 questions of The Work of Byron Katie over twenty times. I went back in time to memory bubbles from my childhood and did inquiry with my little girl. I went back to my shame filled teenager and did The Work with her. I questioned it in the present whenever it would pop up. I questioned it in future fear scenarios; “I am going to do something wrong!” Until mind just could not hold onto that belief anymore; it just popped! And now I can remember with compassion how painful it was to believe that thought.
I am deeply grateful to have learned through my training as a Certified Facilitator to receive feedback, any feedback, as a gift. As a way to learn more, a way to join rather than defend and separate. When there is no one left to defend, life is so much easier. My previous inability to receive feedback created a lot of problems in my life; for example, it was a major part in the failure of my two marriages. My husbands could never say anything to me because I was too fragile and insecure; anything they had a problem with I had to defend against. I had to hold up the image of being perfect because it was too painful to drop into what I truly was believing about myself.
I see this play out in our society and in politics; instead of hearing someone’s feedback and looking into how it could be valid, politicians, all the way up to Trump in the White House, and people in leading positions defend and attack like toddlers in a sand box. “They are just trying to discredit me!” “It’s a conspiracy against me.” “They hate me.” ”I haven’t done anything wrong!”
What could anyone call me that I couldn’t find at some time in my life? If you say a single thing that I have the urge to defend, that thing is the very pearl waiting inside me to be discovered. ~Byron Katie
I would love to guide you through this journey of uncovering your true Self. Check out when my next Uncover Your True Self 6-month Inquiry Online Program starts. I take max 8 participants in one group to keep a sense of intimacy and so that I can a lot give personal attention to each participant. It is deep, radical work and we are having so much fun unraveling the madness of the ego.