Buddha and Byron Katie, I Respectfully Disagree With You

The altar I created during my retreat

As some of you know, I just finished a 10-day personal retreat.

I started the day after Christmas and ended on January 5. Right before the Epiphany. I didn’t realize that until now, as I’m writing this, but the timing seems fitting. As legend has it, those were the 10 days that it took the three kings to reach the baby Jesus and to offer gifts of honor and gratitude.

During my journey, I had an epiphany of my own.

I was truly surprised to discover something that apparently contradicts one of the main messages of this blog – the idea that our thoughts are the key to liberation, that our mind can free us or imprison us.

As a card-carrying Buddhist, I ascribe to the essential teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the most essential of which is that our view creates our reality. My friend Sandra Pawula, of Always Well Within, just wrote a masterful post on this subject:  “True Happiness Begins with the Right View.”   Sandra has offered a great gift to us by breaking down Buddhist teachings into a clear, easy to understand language that many will be able to relate to even if you never feel the need to pick up a book on Buddhism.

Lately, I’ve been talking with another friend about the teachings of Byron Katie. Much like the Buddha, Katie created something called “The Work,” a process of inquiry that helps us to identify and question the thoughts that cause us suffering. She offers four questions to help us in this process (which I have found to be very helpful):

  • Is your problem (or story) true?
  • Can you really know it’s true?
  • Can you find a peaceful reason to believe it?
  • Who would you be without it?

For many years, I’ve been on board with this approach – that our thoughts create our reality.

But what I began to uncover during my retreat was another, co-existing truth.

During this period of deep inner exploration, I experienced that there are times when it’s not my mind that is bringing about suffering — it is an emotional and visceral experience that’s not connected to a belief or a thought.

To say more about this, I need to tell you a little about what it means to develop a relationship with our Inner Child.

Before I do that, though, I have to ‘fess up that I have a bias against therapy and a great deal of psychology, even though one of my earlier careers involved a lot of training and practice in psychology and counseling. My later education as an anthropologist helped to widen my lens significantly and I have often felt impatient with what I see as the rather limited view of a lot of psychological modalities which don’t take into account the social, political, and cultural constructs that we live in and that condition our lives.

So, whenever I’ve seen books or article about Inner Child work, I secretly pooh-poohed it.

I should have known better.

Anytime I pooh-pooh something is usually a great clue that I need to look at it more deeply.

Part of my own path this year has been working with Luisa Kolker, a therapist who is gifted in shamanic practices which can help us reconnect with lost parts of ourselves.

This is one place where this work intersects with my Buddhist views. Both hold a fundamental assumption that we come into this world as a precious and whole being. In dharma language, we would say this is our buddhanature. In fact, one of the early teachings I received in Buddhism is that we are required to have faith in only one thing: that awakening is possible. In other words, all of us are, at our core, already enlightened. I still hold this to be truth.

In a similar way, this Inner Child work is about recognizing the beauty and innocence of the child within us. It also acknowledges that all of us experience wounding, in one way or another, along our path of growing up. There is simply no way to avoid it in this human realm.

That Inner Child doesn’t just disappear. He or she is very much with us all the time, whether we recognize that or not. Our mental health can literally depend on how well we take care of that Child and are in a loving partnership with him or her.

In my own case, I began to see how I had disowned this aspect of myself. Literally. I didn’t have any photos of myself as a child and wasn’t interested in having them. While I love the children of my dear friends, I have never had a desire to have a child of my own.

So during this retreat, I spent a lot of time getting to know my own Inner Child. I had conversations with her to see how she was feeling and what she needed. I hung out with her and played with her. One of the most fun things I did was to watch a movie one night called “The Kid,” a flick starring Bruce Willis that brilliantly conveys the significance of your Inner Child and what can happen when you ignore him or her.

One morning, about mid-way through the retreat, I felt a profound sadness overcome me. I didn’t know what it was about. My usual strategy would have been to try to overpower it by doing something else or to de-fang it by thinking about it for a while to see where it might be coming from.

That would be the Buddhist/Byron Katie thing to do… deconstruct it to get to the core mis-perception or unhelpful view that I was holding.

In this case, though, I went with my Kid. Rather than trying to figure out what was going on, the Adult aspect of me simply sat with her. I got a warm flannel sheet and wrapped myself up in it, wrapped her up in it. I got a stuffed donkey and held it as well. The Adult part of me was simply present to my precious Inner Child, gave her love and comfort, and let her know it would all be okay.

During that time, I got in touch with how lonely I felt as a kid, or at least for some portions of my childhood. The storyline on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of that loneliness really didn’t matter all that much. What mattered was being aware of and present to that very physical feeling of sadness and loneliness that was overcoming me, at least for a period of time. And rather than trying to fight it off or analyze it, I practiced having compassion for it, as I would toward a good friend.

The feeling passed. Of course it did, as does everything (another core Buddhist “belief”!). My Adult knew this would be the case, and helped to hold that space of blessed impermanence for the smaller part of me that was lost in a pretty strong emotion.

In the end, it all came down to that: presence.

It wasn’t about understanding where the thought came from, it wasn’t a mental process. It was an emotional and physical one. So my own big epiphany was this:

We can’t always think our way out of our suffering.
The key to liberation during those times is presence, simply presence.

I feel a bit funny sharing all this with you in this post, as I tend to stay away from overly personal writing here because I don’t want to get so caught up in my ‘stuff’ that I am not connecting with each of you in some way. This blog is not meant to be a space of processing through my issues as much as it is a space for all of us to find our way toward liberation, however we define that for ourselves.

But in this case, I thought it might be helpful to share this process as I’m guessing some of you may be able to relate to it.

And I have to say, those 10 days made a real difference for me. I did take a photo of myself at the end… I didn’t have the foresight to do a “before” shot, but I am simulating one for you here and you’ll get the idea : )

 

 

 

 

 

[before retreat]

 

 

 

 

 

[after retreat]

Does this resonate for you? Have you done Inner Child work, and if so how has it made a difference in your life? 

Next week: I’ll share more about how I designed my personal retreat, in case you want to do something similar for yourself.

__________________

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Comments
25 Responses to “Buddha and Byron Katie, I Respectfully Disagree With You”
  1. Emily says:

    Very well put. One of my earliest epiphanies was that the dreams I had about my children were actually about a primal version of my own ego. I learned about the depth of my self-hatred by the protective way I treated them, if that makes sense. It just goes to show you that you can’t do away with ego, and that our earliest versions of ourselves are still the baseline with which we interface with the world.

    Ultimately, though, it’s just ripples on the surface. Presence has no ego.

  2. I’m so happy for your healing, Maia! We are such a wounded society that it may very well be that we need to heal our wounded “self” before we can let go of our “self” via spiritual practice. There are wonderful Buddhist practices that can help our wounded child. In the practice of loving kindness for example, we begin by sending loving kindness to ourselves and can send loving kindness to the dark corners of our mind – those wounded or conflicted emotions that cause us suffering. I remember an article by Thich Nhat Hahn in which he speaks lovingly and in detail about healing your wounded child.

    My understanding of Buddhism is a bit different, It doesn’t necessarily require deconstructing a story or understanding where a thought comes from. It’s said there are 84,000 different methods, in fact. There is analytical meditation, but there is also loving kindness meditation, for example. My understanding is that suffering comes from afflictive emotions (emotions that disturb the mind) and karma (negative actions). Underlying that is ignorance, not realizing our true nature. Those afflictive emotions can be very visceral in nature, indeed. From my understanding, Buddhism is very much about presence.

    I fully agree that we can’t always think our way out of suffering. I don’t think thinking our way out of suffering is a fundamental tenet of Buddhism. But maybe I missed something along the way!

  3. In my experience with Buddhism, I have always been encouraged to lean into feelings of sadness (or any other feeling). I have never understood Buddhism as a way to t think my way out of a feeling, but rather to accept them and understand them. Which to my understanding is exactly what you have done. I’ve never experienced my Buddhist practice as an intellectual exercise in forcing my way or thinking my way out of feeling.

    You may be interested in the book by the Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh titled Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child. It’s been very helpful to me for using my practice as a way to cradle, love, validate etc. my inner child.

    Blessings

  4. jonathan says:

    Thank you for sharing your personal experience with the ” inner child. ”

    Although I appreciate what you said about your blog not being a place for you to process your personal ” stuff “, since we are all connected, your story reflects my story in some way. One person’s healing, helps to heal the whole world.

    As I heard it, and agree, the process is about, Presence. The Presence that is our authentic nature is like the vast ocean or sky capable of holding all that arises within it without becoming attached to it…and I realize that you and those who connect with the Liberated Life Project are already aware of the vastness of this Presence.

    In the spirit of unconditional love/ acceptance and the circle of kinship and compassion that we are all a part of, I celebrate the awareness of your inner child’s needs and the beautiful way in which you listened and honored that part of you during your retreat.

    with a grateful heart.

    • Maia Duerr says:

      Dear Jonathan, thank you for celebrating with me! And I am so glad that we have connected in this past year… I look forward to hearing more about your story as well.

  5. Catherine Maguire says:

    Hi Maia,
    I understand so well the power of Presence. I journeyed with a young woman with Dissiciative Identity Disorder
    ( Multiple Personality Disorder) . The message I kept repeating to all the parts of her that manifested ( 34 documented), that they were innocent and Divine. The power of being present to each little one within her enabled each to have a voice and be valued and cherished. Just being present and loving them in a true way was healing.The following is a poem I wrote to her and would like to share here as it relates to your story.

    TRUE SOUL

    If I could take away the pain and shame I surely would
    If I could place a golden seal on all that’s torn within
    If all the feelings that you hide could change and be a rainbow
    Then this I wish for you that you may know that you are pure.

    All those years that you were left so broken -in despair
    A voice inside you never left – believed that there was more
    And though at times it seems that all the past is still right here
    I know you know that there’s a future bright and fresh and clear

    The truth is you’ve a heart and soul made for greater things
    Your courage and your Presence make the Angels sing
    For you have known a darkness that many never see
    So equally the Light and Love will triumph brilliantly

    Your life is living proof that a loving heart will win
    Will wipe away the actions that you have labeled ‘sin’
    And with your life and love, and heart of pure gold
    Your future is a living landscape that you can now mould

    So in those times of deep despair, go deeper than before
    To the silence of a peace, that opens other doors
    Beyond the mind that looks at facts. Beyond a mind that’s wild
    To the place where you become the Infinite DIVINE CHILD.

    This child is sacred, pure and clear. This child is who you Be
    She never left, she is the voice you heard so secretly
    So bring her forward now, that she may speak right to your heart
    And know that she’s the answer to a new and powerful start.

    Thankyou.
    Catherine

  6. Beverly Salas says:

    According to the Bible, one quote ascribed to Jesus, “Unless ye be as children, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” aka enlightenment. I believe enlightened ones understand that it is important to invoke the inner child not only for self-discovery but simply to allow ourselves to be childlike in actions, to play…play with people, the planet, and our selves. Naturally play is not always the appropriate action, but bringing a childlike innocence and discovery to our lives opens us to possibilities…understanding, healing, love. Unless you understand that play = joy which is crucial to any heaven (earthly or celestial), you can not know true happiness.

  7. Donna D'Orio says:

    Good morning Maia,

    I woke this morning to two meaningful emails. One being your blog post. I believe it is the most insightful, well reasoned, awakened understandings you have shared to date. I see a fatigue with all the American Buddhism concepts on creating our reality with thoughts and the relentless its your choice” rant which is filled with shame and blame and encourages nothing more than separateness. separateness from self and others. In the end all this has become another modality for us to hold ourselves apart and not engage with lifting our fellow man up. It tiring, shameful and in many ways harmful. When you say “we cannot think our way out of suffering”, you are giving the gift of truth. Where you remove the total responsibility of where we are in our lives off of our individual shoulders you offer insight and relief. Your engaging with and making possible true compassion. Where you bring into play the reality that we are jointly a product of all the conditions surrounding us and a product of all that has happened to us (not out of choice), you are lead us towards reason and the potential to cultivate our individual capacity to carry sorrow . This post encourages me. I wanted to read it after the first paragraph. I will read it again and I will. I want to thank you Maia, for arriving at this moment and for sharing yourself in such a real and meaningful way. I want to thank you for giving me something I can share with others. through this post you have invited me back in, a rarity these days. I do know know this place of inner child and now as an aging woman I am coming to know my inner grandchild. I would invite a conversation with you, voice to voice or fqce to face. Again, thank you. Blessings, Donna

    • wow, I don’t know which American Buddhists you’ve been listening to – but how horrible that that is a message that is being given. again, in my experience I have not encountered that at all. Blessings to you and hope that you have not been hurt by such thoughtless concepts.

  8. Donna D'Orio says:

    And please excuse the typo’s…glasses and awkward iPad keys.

  9. Maia Duerr says:

    Hey everyone,

    Thank you all for your very thoughtful and heartfelt comments on this post.

    I gave this post an admittedly provocative title, but I do not mean to imply that what I ‘discovered’ during my retreat is at odds with the basic Buddhist teachings as I have come to understand them. What I wrote here is intended to shed light on my own personal process of discovering the importance of the inner child work, and any shortcomings around having a holistic approach to healing reflects more on my own limitations than on the Buddha’s teachings.

    I think the way that these teachings are often interpreted and handed to us, and the way my left-brain-leaning mind grabs on to them, do tend to emphasize the mental aspect of practice. As I was trying to say above, I really do believe that probably 95% of the time, looking more deeply at my mental formations really does bring about a lot of healing.

    But I know that for me, the missing piece has been work at the deeply emotional and physical level, and specifically understanding how essential it is for me to have a relationship with that small child in me and learning how to take full responsibility for taking care of her. Traditional Buddhist teachings, as I understand them, do not rule this out, they just don’t explicitly address this dimension. Sandra and Kimberly, thank you both for telling me about Thich Nhat Hanh’s writings on healing the inner child — I didn’t know he had written about that and I’m excited to see what he’s got!

    Presence feels like the key concept here, and the dharma is all about presence.

    Thank you all for engaging with me on this post… I really appreciate what each of you have shared here to deepen the conversation.

  10. Oh, Maia – what a gorgeous gift you’ve given us here. Really, I just want to keep reading the part about wrapping yourself (and that sweet little girl of you) in that flannel sheet and tucking in that stuffed donkey. I want to sneak upstairs and quietly pick through my three daughters’ immense piles of stuffed animals to see if I can find anything resembling a donkey (a horse, maybe?) and go meet my own inner girl on the couch. This is a practice I know I need and find very difficult to surrender to. Thank you for a perfectly clear example that I just might be able to imperfectly try out myself one day soon. The lesson here is beautiful and resonant for me and I just love it. Thank you. I’m so looking forward to your next post on the whole workings of this retreat you set up.

    • Maia Duerr says:

      Perfection is all about imperfection : ) Thank you, Michelle, for showing up here and sharing your thoughts and feelings. I hope next week’s post will be helpful to you and anyone else who wants to explore this path a little bit more.

  11. Kaylin Lydia says:

    I am so glad for you that you are able to work through and heal from difficult feelings and experiences. I also “pooh poohed” inner child work but one day I found a picture of myself (many years old) when I was suffering through an eating disorder. I remembered that picture being taken and what I was feeling at that time as well. It was quite powerful to remember how I “was” and how I “am” now. I was surprised to feel incredibly sad for that version of myself. I have found great healing in extending the kindness and love to that version of myself. I needed it so greatly then but better late than never. Best wishes to you in 2013!

    • Maia Duerr says:

      Kaylin, yes, it is amazing how those childhood photos can evoke so many powerful memories and feelings. I’m glad to hear that you had a healing experience as well. One of my favorite quotes is, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood”!

  12. Bev Todd says:

    Maia, Thank you for sharing your epiphany in this post. It did not feel too personal, at all – as someone else already commented, as we are all connected, our stories reflect each other’s stories. As a child and young adult, I lived mostly in my head. Then as a young adult I encountered the people and experiences that helped me to open up to the reality of being in a body and of having deep emotions that were previously kept contained. Inner child work was a part of that process. With thinking as my primary approach to the world, though, I was stuck in trying to figure out which world was “right” or “true” – the physical world or the emotional world or the intellectual world. I was taking philosophy classes and reading about every religion and starting to care about politics. Every body of thought had truth, yet had some hole in it. Reading books by Ken Wilber helped me sort that all out, on an intellectual level, and also introduced me to meditation and Buddhism. The bottom line – every position or perspective has truth to it, but never the whole or only truth. Understanding that, and why it was so, has been life changing for me. So I learned that loving and caring for my little girl is essential to my health, and that includes hearing and honoring her voice, along with all the other “voices” in me and in the world. Thank you again for sharing this – it is especially powerful because it is “personal.”

    • Maia Duerr says:

      Bev, thank you for sharing your experience here as well. “Every body of thought had truth, yet had some hole in it.” Yes… maybe the ‘whole’ truth can only be discovered by us as we live through it and bring together our bodies, minds, spirits, and emotions. It’s a journey, for sure!

  13. It is my understanding from the Mahamudra tradition that ultimately we must give up all concepts, contrivances and fabrications. In Buddha Dharma there are many “skillfull means” or “methods” for liberation from the illusion of a solid self….Traditional Buddhadharma is not very interested in modern psychological concepts of self. This is a modern overlay onto Buddhism…including all of our modern neuroses that go with it…..this may helps us grow…but it is not part of traditional practice.

  14. Mim says:

    Thank you – this connected something for me that I had not been able to. I have done a bit of work with “The Work” and found it helpful. There have been times that it just did not work/help at all. Presence! Thank you again. I found this looking for something on a web search and am so glad that I did!

  15. Lucy says:

    Hi. Thanks for sharing yr story. I too love BK and have found a lot of release through the method she teaches. I don’t agree with everything she says, but I don’t think we need to. It is my understanding though,that she teaches the idea of presence. In fact, I think that’s exactly what she teaches, Unless somebody or something is in front of you, they are a memory or image in your mind. When someone is hitting you, for instance, you should deal with what is happening, but when it’s over, it’s simply a memory.

    Even so, there are lots of ways of getting to the truth. And i like the idea if inner child . :)

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All my life, I’ve loved the idea of liberation and looking deeply into the question: What does it really mean to be free?

That's what the Liberated Life Project is all about.

You can find my work on two other places on the web -- click on the badges to the right to visit "The Jizo Chronicles" (my blog on socially engaged Buddhism) and Five Directions (my consulting business).

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