Before and after my diagnosis in September, I started using The Work of Byron Katie like crack. Ok, so I’ve never tried crack but you get the gist. The Work, also known as inquiry, is a way to identify and question thoughts that bring stress and suffering to our lives. I’ve been practicing The Work since 2009 and became a Certified Facilitator in January of 2015. The certification training program itself has absolutely nothing to do with “how to teach the work” and everything to do with how to work on your own stressful thoughts in every possible area of your life: relationships, parenting, health, finances, work, fear, criticism, body image, etc. Because I experienced so much relief and joy in everything I was questioning, I learned to trust this process of inquiry 100% ~ there was no longer a lost feeling of where to go when I felt upset, angry, lonely, frustrated…I always had a clear direction out of pain: do The Work.
And being diagnosed with cancer has given me the ultimate invitation to really live this practice.
I can’t even count the number of stressful thoughts that I’ve taken to inquiry during this experience, but there are definitely a few that stand out as incredibly life-changing for me.
“The cancer is spreading” has been a re-occurring thought, especially during the 2 weeks between my diagnosis and not knowing if it was stage 4. The first step of inquiry is to isolate a situation when I believed the thought. For me, this thought has come up multiple times: when I found a new lump in my breast, when the breast surgeon told me the cancer is “traveling” since it has reached my lymphatic system, when I felt intense pain in the back of my neck or other parts of my body, or when I would get a migraine…all of these situations are the same: I feel or hear something and that means…the cancer is spreading. For the purpose of this inquiry, I’ll focus on the 1st time I had this thought:
It’s a few days after my biopsy and the night before meeting with the breast surgeon for the 1st time. I’m sitting on the couch in my living room and my mom and husband are there. I’m feeling my left breast and notice a large new lump at the top of it and the thought hits me, “The cancer is spreading.”
So now that I’ve identified the stressful moment in time and the thought, I take this thought to inquiry with Byron Katie’s 4 questions and turnarounds. The Work is meditation, so I continue to meditate on the specific situation, ask the question, and await an answer.
THE FOUR QUESTIONS
Stressful thought: “The cancer is spreading.”
1. Is it true? (the answer to the 1st 2 questions is a simple “yes” or “no.”)
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
I feel the lump and a huge wave of panic comes over me. My heart races, breath shortens, I feel a constriction in my heart and my throat. My shoulders hike up to my ears and I slouch forward to protect myself. I frantically begin to press on it and around it and convince myself it’s a new tumor. Immediately, I have an image of the future ~ the tumors continue to spread throughout my whole body at a rapid rate. I see cancer taking over my body, my life, my happiness. I see an early, sad, painful death. I feel helpless, hopeless, out of control, & absolutely terrified watching these images. I treat myself like a victim and then I start to bully me for not getting the 1st lump checked out sooner. I could have prevented all of this; it’s my fault. I ask my mom to feel the lump and I study her face. If she looks panicked, then I will panic even more. She seems calm but she’s just putting on a show so I don’t freak out. I can’t listen to my mom or Travis as they try to comfort me. They don’t know what it’s like. I feel separate from them. I’m angry and confused at my body ~ how could it do this to me? Then I turn to God ~ what the FUCK lesson are you trying to teach me here, asshole? I want to crawl in a hole and just cry and cry. I don’t want to deal with this and at the same time, I feel a huge pressure/sense of urgency to DO something NOW before my body becomes one big tumor.
4. Who would you be without the thought?
I’m sitting in the living room. It’s quiet, I’m comfortable on the couch. I feel the lump and I’m curious. It’s new and interesting. My mind is open and calmer ~ I see many possibilities: maybe it’s inflammation, a cyst, swollen lymph, who knows? I add it to the list of questions I have for the doctor tomorrow. The future looks simpler. I feel more at ease taking things one step at a time. Right now, relax on the couch with my family. Tomorrow, go to doctor. Without the thought, I still may show my mom and husband as an FYI and there’s not a dependent need for validation from them. I love that they’re both here with me now and in this process. I feel supported and connected to them, to me. My body relaxes, breath deepens, throat softens. I appreciate my body showing me the lump so I can learn more. I don’t give the lump a label either ~ it’s not bad or good or cancer or not ~ it just is. There’s even a hint of excitement with launching into this brand new journey of the unknown. Don’t know. Don’t know. Don’t know. Much more relaxed and at peace.
A statement can be turned around to the self, the other, and the opposite. Sometimes more ways and sometimes less. For each turnaround, find at least 3 genuine examples of how it’s true. For me, the turnarounds really serve to open my mind to so many new realities.
ORIGINAL THOUGHT: “The cancer is spreading.”
TO THE OPPOSITE: “The cancer is not spreading.”
- It could be inflammation ~ I did just have a large biopsy needle & anesthesia needle poking into my breast multiple times a few days ago.
- It’s a swollen lymph node or a cyst ~ I’ve had many of these before and they felt similar to this.
- It could be fibrocystic tissue or a fibroadenoma which is not cancerous.
- I have absolutely NO PROOF at all that I am feeling a tumor. It’s just a story I put on a lump. I mean really, where’s my proof? I can’t see actual cancer. I can’t even feel it ~ I feel skin, something hard and bumpy.
- Outside of the situation, when the doctor tells me “the cancer is traveling” ~ she also said she didn’t think it has taken root anywhere else. So the cancer is not spreading according to the cancer expert as well.
TO THE SELF: (note – when you are judging an object, the turnaround to the self becomes “my thinking” instead of “I”). “My thinking about cancer is spreading” or what fits better for me is, “The cancer in my thinking is spreading.”
- Holy shit, this is MUCH truer ~ right now, the only place the cancer is definitely spreading is in my mind. In my imagination, my entire body is full of tumors until my painful death. Yet, the reality is that I’m on the couch, very much alive, feeling a lump.
- It’s the story I put on the lump that is creating my suffering and panic. Not cancer. These scary stories are multiplying one after the other, just like cancer cells divide and spread.
- My thinking uses images that I’ve seen in movies of painful deaths from cancer and I imagine it’s happening/going to happen to me. This is the start. I scare me by believing these images and thoughts.
- Even outside this situation, when I have a pain in my body and think the cancer is spreading ~ the cancer is only in my thinking in that moment too ~ I have no proof that the neck pain, migraine, stomach ache is cancer spreading. But I do know it’s spreading in my mind.
TO THE OTHER: “I am spreading the cancer.”
- When I believe the stressful thought “the cancer is spreading” ~ my body reacts. It panics, heart races, caves forward, I’m in fight or flight mode, the body’s natural healing may be affected. So even though I see my innocence in going along with this thought, I can also see that if I don’t intercept thoughts like this with inquiry, I am creating quite a hostile environment in my body ~ and possibly an environment where cancer can spread more easily. So I can see where “I am spreading the cancer” could be true in a way.
- I spread the cancerous thoughts to my mother and husband by showing them the lump and labeling it as “cancer spreading.”
YAHOO: “The cancer is spreading!” Yahoo! Sometimes the yahoo turnaround is available. It’s a way to look at your original thought ~ and assuming that it is actually true, how could this be good? How could this serve you?
- If it has spread in my breast, it hasn’t spread very far from it’s original source.
- I am thankful I already have an appointment with the doctor tomorrow and she is an expert with cancer cells. She will share treatment plan options which can give me a direction.
- So I can notice that even if it’s spreading, I’m still ok in this moment. In fact, without my stressful thoughts, I feel at peace. Happy. Healthy. Sitting on the couch.
- If cancer continues to spread, I feel like I would literally be forced to live in the present moment. Which could be…awesome.
- The bullshit things that use to annoy me (my husband being late, dirty dishes in the sink, my mom worrying too much) melt away. What’s important is life, together, now and I don’t want to waste another moment not appreciating everything and everyone in it.
- So I can identify what I’m believing about the cancer spreading: “I won’t live a happy life. Cancer will kill me. My life is over.” These thoughts can be taken to inquiry and I can already see they are complete BS (hahahaaa, BS is a “Belief System.”)
- I am more motivated to really clean up my lifestyle even more…it’s actually exciting. Healthier foods, daily yoga, acupuncture, rest, nature, more inquiry, travel when I can…all with the intention of healing. Living in my own retreat. This sounds nice, actually.
- Cancer has a right to live. How do I know? Because cancer cells are living in my body. That’s reality. And it’s not my business when it leaves. But I can do my part: get the best doctors, show up for treatment, take care of my body, thoughts, emotions. Whether it spreads or dies is not my responsibility ~ it’s in the hands of the doctors, medicine, and universe. I can take care of the cancer in my mind, right here and now with inquiry and actually live in peace whether the cancer spreads or not. Wow.
After this inquiry, my mind was completely blown open. I had no proof of cancer spreading ~ it was all in my mind. And look at all of the examples of how my life could be better even if the cancer spreads? What would stop me from living that way now? Getting the best treatment. Eating the healthiest foods. Living in the moment. Loving others and myself unconditionally. Questioning stressful thoughts. Cutting out the BS. This is my prescription for happiness now.
The ironic part about this situation is that the lump disappeared by the time the diagnostic testing began on October 1st. I still have no clue what it was, but it served as a beautiful foundation for the power of the mind in this process. The thought “The cancer is spreading” has come up several times over the past 6 months. In fact, just last week I had a weird pain in the top of my thigh and I watched the thought try to fly in ~ the difference was that this time, I laughed my ass off about it. It was like, “oh wow, look at that sweet mind go…yet here I am with just a sensation in my leg.”And the thought left. And so did the pain. And I still shared this with my oncology nurse at chemo yesterday.
After the series of diagnostic testing on October 1st, the oncologist walked into the exam room and said, “Good news ~ the cancer has not spread to anywhere else in the body.” I’m not going to lie, there was an audible sound of relief for everyone in the room. We all had tears in our eyes; our bodies collapsed back into our chairs. It was a very special, moment that I will always remember.
And some people do not get this news. I am very well aware that someday I may hear that I am stage 4. If it were true, the process would be the same for me. I’m stage 4 and that means? Make a list of the thoughts that come up and question them. Find your freedom now.
START YOUR OWN PRACTICE OF THE WORK
- Visit Byron Katie’s Web Site, www.thework.com. Click here for “Tools to do The Work” for everything you need to know start your own practice – including worksheets, instructional videos, I-Phone & i-Pad Apps, books, and so much more.
- Schedule a private session with me or another Certified Facilitator. Sessions may be available over phone, Skype, or in-person.
- Call the Do The Work Helpline, a free service offered by volunteers who are very experienced with The Work.
- Attend an event with Byron Katie or with Certified Facilitators. Events are offered in-person and online ~ some are free and most have a tuition. I also offer workshops and retreats ~ join my mailing list to stay up-to-date.
- Join an inquiry circle in your city. You can often find one on meetup.com or Facebook. I offer one in Dallas too!