It has been a while since I wrote the blog “Is it Necessary? I had meant to follow it within a week and then write the final part the week thereafter, but life intervened! When I first heard the Buddhist admonition, “Is it necessary? Is it the truth? Is it kind?” I got the first and last parts easily, but the truth part was tougher for me.
Surely, if what I needed to say was necessary, it was also the truth! Insofar is it might possibly be the truth for me, sure, but is it really The Truth? Is what I “know” to be the truth really the truth for someone else or for anyone, including me? Let’s take heavy people; I can say they are heavy, but I have found some think they are and want to loose their weight, but do nothing about it. Others think they are heavy and like it that way and then others don’t even think they are heavy. Which is true?
Of course, I can get on my researcher cap and claim that any number of studies point to a person of a certain age and height are overweight when they exceed a certain amount of poundage. However, like my cholesterol being statistically “high” at 220, I know that I eat correctly and exercise several times a week and still my cholesterol level never comes down. I also remember seeing a fellow on the television that runs marathons, he looked like a beach ball with a head, arms, and legs; no matter how any miles he ran or how healthy he ate, he never lost weight! So is it true my cholesterol is high or that he is overweight?
Just like I mentioned in the last blog, what we think of as the truth has been defined by our upbringing. I picked weight in the last paragraph because I was brought up in a family where my dad exercised constantly (very unusual for the sixties!) and my mother was Roman Catholic, which looked down on slovenly and gluttonous “sinners.” Hence, many times my truths on folks that seem overweight were simply judgments. The last time I remember reacting to this judgment was in my Master’s program when a fellow stood up to share and I harshly judged him in my mind as obese. He then went on to tell of a traumatic childhood that caused him to over eat, his efforts to reverse the trend, and having lost over 300 pounds. Now, in the span of seconds, I was impressed with him, but which of my judgments were the truth?
For Truth, I am going to default to the work of Byron Katie and say neither one was the truth, nor would anything I come up with be the truth; if I don’t even know which truth was really the truth for me in the example I just gave, how could I ever suppose I know the truth for another? Katie calls her work the four questions and the turn around, I just call it the five steps.
When confronting a thought, first ask if it is true, the answer is almost always “Yes, of course!” Younger folks would probably add a “Well, duh!” since why would we have the thought in the first place unless we thought it to be true? So then Katie asks, “Can you absolutely know that it’s true?” Sometimes I still get a yes from clients, so I say, “Can you absolutely, positively know that it’s true and how would you answer if there was a gun to your head?!? Usually they acquiesce to maybe, just maybe, they don’t actually know it to be the truth!
Katie’s third question is “How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?” Well, we saw how I reacted to my first thought of the fellow sharing and then an opposite reaction to the second! Finally she asks, “Who would you be without the thought?” This usually evokes an “I would be happier” or “I would probably like that person.” In my case, and usually for others, until I really examined my thoughts, the answer that does not come is “I would not be a judger.”
Ouch, that hurts. Almost everything we say is only a judgment based on our past; how can we know it is not an observation and is a judgment? The thought usually has an emotional content surrounding it. To state, “That person appears to weigh about 300 pounds” can simply be an observational fact. To state, “That person is over weight” is a judgment. One of Katie’s examples when I first found her work was people saying, “She should not have done that.” Not only is this a judgment, but also non-factual as she just did it!
Katie’s last step, the turn around, points to what psychologists call transference and is sometimes difficult for people to understand. When I mentioned that a judgment has an emotional component, it is because it is something we judge in ourselves. Think about it, if we have no emotional involvement in a situation, statement, or issue, it is because we have not encountered it in our own lives. If we have not encountered it before, we might be curious or baffled, but we would not be angry, upset, or defensive. This is somewhat simplistic, but if a person has never been called “ugly,” she or he will not react to being called that.
If we, as I pointed out above, state, “He should not have done that,” it is because we have not only done the very same thing but have felt the shame or guilt associated with doing it and having it done to us. This is the same reason cruel jokes (see an earlier blog) makes us laugh, we resonate with both the protagonist and antagonist. Katie’s turn around involves “finding at least three specific, genuine examples of how each turnaround is true for you in this situation.” This means turning the example into an “I” statement, such as “I should not have done …”
So now we have an inkling of the complexities of finding the Truth. We come close to the Truth when we stick to “I” statements, “I feel sad,” “I am hungry,” or “I want to extract myself from this situation.” These are Truths for us in the moment and can foster authentic communication, both with ourselves and with others, and point to solutions in the present moment.