What?

In this article I want to describe how you can use inquiry to free yourself from suffering. Inquiry is a powerful technique that helps you question your thoughts. The method requires honesty with yourself and an open mind.

Why?

Doing inquiry will help you find truth and wisdom. Once you discover that a thought is false or makes you feel bad, you will automatically shift your attention away from it. You will become aware of the correlation between what you’re thinking and your feelings. Realizing that a bad feeling is always created by a thought, is an important first step towards freedom.

It’s like a child that gets to know the truth about Santa Claus. Suddenly Santa Claus doesn’t get any attention anymore. It’s the same with your thoughts, as soon you find out they are not true, or they make you feel bad, you don’t give them so much attention anymore.

Many techniques will teach you to “think positively” or “change the content of your thinking”. However, this doesn’t work. You don’t choose your thoughts and you’re not in control of what you are thinking. The ultimate goal of inquiry is to transcend it, to make a certain thought obsolete.

The Work

I stumbled upon the book Loving What Is from Byron Katie. Her method is called The Work. The work is a form of inquiry. After trying this out for myself, I realized how effective it is. It’s so simple, yet so profoundly powerful. In this blog article I’m going to describe in short how you can do The Work. If you want to know more, please visit her website or read her free Introduction to The Work.

To do it correctly, you will need a pen and paper. It’s important to write down everything (or to work with a facilitator/coach), because your mind can outsmart you. When a thought is in your mind, the content of your story is always changing. When you put the thought on paper, it becomes real and fixed, and you can examine it.

The statement

Use a statement to describe a situation (“a thought”) that bothers you. I will guide you through a real-life example using a statement about myself and my partner Anna. My example can seem trivial, but I promise you, it was something that was really bothering me. It could upset me unproportionally and it could ruin an otherwise perfect moment. I wanted to use a real example, so you can relate. Maybe you have experienced a similar situation.

“Anna doesn’t care about things that are important to me.”

The statement describes my frustration when I asked her to do certain things differently and she didn’t change her behaviour.

Examples:

  • Anna doesn’t clean the knife after using it
  • Anna doesn’t clean the cooker after using it
  • Anna doesn’t dry the dishes directly, after washing them and leaves them to soak on the kitchen counter.

Don’t get me wrong, Anna is a very clean person and she never makes a mess. It was just me, paying too much attention to little details.

The 4 questions

To move towards freedom, we can investigate the statement. Put the statement against the 4 questions:

1. Is it true?
Is the thought true or false? You can only answer with yes or no.

“Anna doesn’t care about things that are important to me.”

Answer: Yes

2. Can I absolutely know that it’s true?
Can you really know for a 100% that your thought is true? There is no room for interpretation here, the answer is yes or no.

“Anna doesn’t care about things that are important to me.”

Answer: No. I can’t know for sure what Anna is thinking.

3. How do I react, what happens, when I believe that thought?
A thought makes you feel a certain way. Try to analyse how the thought makes you feel. What do you do (or not do) when you believe that thought?

“Anna doesn’t care about things that are important to me.”

Answer: I feel frustrated that she doesn’t listen to me. I feel powerless because I can’t change her behaviour.

4. Who would I be without the thought?
How would you feel without that thought? What would you do without that thought? Try to imagine a reality were that thought didn’t appear.

“Anna doesn’t care about things that are important to me.”

Answer: I would be a loving partner. I would be just living my life. I would have a nice dinner or a cosy evening. I wouldn’t pay attention to a dirty knife.

The turnarounds

A turnaround is the opposite of the original statement. Often a statement can be turned around to the self, to the other, and to the opposite. Only use turnarounds that make sense for you. So turn the statement around and find 3 examples for each turnaround:

1. Turn it around to the self

“I don’t care about things that are important to me.”

Examples:

  • I don’t care about a good atmosphere at home.
  • I don’t care about peace between me and Anna.
  • I don’t care about Anna getting upset.

2. Turn it around to the other

“I don’t care about things that are important to Anna”.

Examples:

  • It’s important for Anna that I treat her nicely. (Which I don’t do when I’m upset.)
  • It’s important for Anna that we have a good connection. (Which we don’t have when we are both upset.)
  • It’s important for Anna that I don’t pile up stuff on the table. (I do leave stuff on the table sometimes.)

3. Turn it around to the opposite

“Anna cares about things that are important to me.”

Examples:

  • Anna uses the correct cleaning products for the laminate flooring upstairs (after I asked her once).
  • Anna is careful not to scratch the pan when cooking (after I asked her once).
  • Anna gives me space when I ask her to give me space.

Is the turnaround as true or truer than the statement? You will find that the turnarounds are often truer than the original statement.

The turnarounds are a very powerful part of The Work. As long as you think that the cause of your problem is “out there” — as long as you think that anyone or anything else is responsible for your suffering — the situation is hopeless. It means that you are forever in the role of the victim, that you’re suffering in paradise. So bring the truth home to yourself and begin to set yourself free. It’s no longer necessary to wait for people or situations to change in order to experience peace and harmony.” – Byron Katie

Embrace the thought

The goal is to not be afraid of the thought anymore. The thought might come back, but there is no reason to fear the thought. It’s a reminder to wake yourself up. Embrace the thought by welcoming it and looking forward to it. Change the original statement to “I look forward to…” or “I am willing to…”:

“I look forward to Anna not caring about things that are important to me…”

And then it suddenly hit me: “… so she can teach me what is important”. Connection, love, joy and happiness are. What I thought is important it’s not in the larger scale of things. This is a big lesson for me, because this keeps coming back in my life. People close to us, such as our partner and our family can be our best teachers.

Since I had this realisation: the “little things” didn’t bother me so much anymore and I became more free. I can spot something that would have bothered me before, like a dirty knife, just clean it and continue with my day. Without being engaged in thoughts that create a barrier between me and my partner.

How inquiry changes your thinking

How you think is how you see the world. It tells you more about yourself than about the world. Notice how your perception changes when your mood drops. When you are in a good mood, you see good in people. When you are in a low mood, you see bad in them. The world doesn’t need to change in order for you to be happy, only your perception needs to change. That’s how you transcend fear, anger, sadness and frustration. Inquiry help us to “zoom out” from the little things in life and help us to remind what is important.

Wanna try it?

Describe a situation (“a thought”) that bothers you. Write it on a piece of paper. Then go through the 4 questions. Take your time to answer them. Write them down as well. Remember that there are no good or bad answers. Next find as many turnarounds that make sense for you. Try to turn the statement around to the self, the other and the opposite. The last step is to embrace the thought by changing the statement to “I look forward to…” or “I am willing to…”. This should be written down as well.

It can be good to have somebody that guides you through the whole process. An advantage of working with a facilitator is that you don’t need to write everything down, because the facilitator plays the role of “sparring partner”. He or she helps you through the different steps and steers you towards new insights.

I can play the role the facilitator (“sparring partner”) and assist you in The Work. Please feel free to send me a message. I promise you, it can lead powerful realizations and insights. I offer this service completely free of charge (until further notice).