An understanding that the thoughts that bring you suffering will also teach you your most important life lessons.
Great philosophers, religious leaders, and mystics speak of the freedom, peace, and serenity that come from a detached and joyful plane of consciousness. Some say we gain serenity by simply brushing thoughts aside. Inquiry doesn’t treat a stressful belief as an opponent we have to evade or subdue; instead, we invite the thought to fully inhabit our space for a while and invite it to teach us its lessons.
Just like every circumstance and person we encounter offers us the opportunity to learn and grow, thoughts themselves can be our greatest teachers. Inquiry trains us to become active, questioning observers of our thinking, rather than its passive victims.
Linda struggled with depression and floated in and out of therapists’ offices, never finding the relief she was seeking. Most sessions with clinicians left her feeling worse than when she walked in. She was curious to see if Inquiry might lead her in a different direction. The first thing she wanted to work on was her relationship with her mother:
Linda: I just can’t get over it.
Chana: What can’t you get over?
Linda: That Mom doesn’t love me.
Chana: You mom doesn’t love you: Is that true?
Chana: Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
Linda: It’s obvious.
Chana: And how do you react when you believe that she doesn’t love you?
Linda: I want to ball myself up in the darkest corner of my basement and disappear. I don’t want to talk to anyone.
The Anatomy of Feedback shows us that if a thought makes us shut down, we can know that it’s not true. That being said, your brain will continue to ignore facts or twist reality to fit your bias until you explore other ways of believing. That’s when your mind will shift its perception and reveal everything you didn’t see before; in other words, you’ll have an “Aha!” moment.
The lessons of a thought lie in its opposites, what Byron Katie calls turnarounds. A thought is like a many-sided crystal: in every direction, refractions of light reveal glimmers of truth flipped upside down from what we initially believed them to be.
Linda’s emotions are delicate. She’s sunk into a dark place, and it’s neither necessary or healthy for her to hang out there too long. Let’s jump right to the turnarounds:
Chana: What is the opposite of the thought that your mother doesn’t love you?
Linda: To fully learn from a turnaround, you have to give your mind the space to find proofs and let them rise to the surface. See what comes up when I ask you: how is this new thought as true or truer than the original?
Linda: Um… I guess she didn’t throw me into a dumpster.
Chana: Good. What else?
Linda: She bought me clothes, wiped my butt, fed me.
Linda: Umm… She buys me birthday presents.
Just like a stool needs at least three legs to stand, you need at least three solid reasons that support a new thought. If you’re trying to upend a particularly insidious belief, I recommend you search for even more. In looking for proofs, be creative, allow yourself to use figurative language, and most importantly, be honest.
Chana: Stop for a minute and think of a time she gave you a birthday present. Notice what you have to do to believe she doesn’t love you while she’s handing it to you.
Linda: Ooof. It’s pretty bad. I don’t even allow eye contact. I’m thinking of how she’s trying to buy my affection and manipulate me.
Chana: She couldn’t possibly be loving you with the gift, could she?
Linda: No. I probably don’t even thank her.
Chana: Cut the “probably.”
Linda: Right. I don’t thank her. Man, that feels so crappy.
Chana: What do you want to do?
Linda: I should thank her. I don’t know if I’ve ever thanked her for much of anything…
Linda recognized that for her depression to lift, she needed to become an active participant in her life, rather than a victim of circumstance. The first step Linda took was to write a letter of gratitude to her mother for everything she’d done for her. She scheduled that important step into her calendar for later that evening.
The thought my mother doesn’t love me holds many lessons that can be revealed by stating its opposite. Turning thoughts around can happen by flipping the subject, object, or verb of any given statement. In Linda’s case, she came up with:
1. My mother does love me.
2. My mother doesn’t hate me
3. My mother doesn’t love herself.
4. I don’t love me..
5. My thinking doesn’t love me.
6. I don’t love my mother.
7. My mother doesn’t love me,and that’s okay.
Negate the verb
Say the opposite of the verb
Say the opposite of the object
Say the opposite of the subject
Replace the subject with my thinking (i.e. The seat of all the thoughts that come my way)
Say the opposite of the subject and object (and possibly the verb)
Add and that’s okay to the original statement
Not all opposite statements resonate as logical or true. See how a new thought feels in your body. Be aware that an intense, discomforting, or knee-jerk reaction can often indicate a turnaround has powerful lessons to teach you that require you to take responsibility or face an ugly truth about yourself (which can be excruciating sometimes.)
Turnaround #5 above is important to clarify because the concept of separating our essence from our “thinking” is not immediately apparent. Our thinking is there to serve us, but when it feeds us such thoughts as: “My mother doesn’t love me,” “I’m a loser,” or “I’ll never make anything of my life,” then it’s working completely against us. We want to remind ourselves that our thinking should be under our control, not the other way around. When Linda alters, “I don’t love me” to, “My thinking doesn’t love me,” she can recognize just how cruelly her thinking is treating her.
Turnarounds can also be metaphorical. In the chapter Should-ing Belongs in the Outhouse, Sandy realized that she, like the terrorists in Jerusalem, was “stabbing” other people by behaving distrustfully towards her friends and imagining stabbings hundreds of times in her mind. Her believing that “People shouldn’t stab other people” only served to make her as angry and violent while she was seeking world peace.
As you become more experienced with turnarounds, you’ll learn that they don’t always have to be a perfect opposite of the original statement. Turnaround#7 above is a perfect example. Adding, “and that’s okay” doesn’t reverse an original statement; rather, it invalidates the implication that the believer is incapable of accepting its truth.
Chana: Give me three reasons it’s true that your mother doesn’t love you and that’s okay?
Linda: Well, I’ve lived for 32 years believing she didn’t love me and I’ve survived.
Chana: What else?
Linda: She likes buying stuff, so she gives me gifts. I’d prefer we spend quality time together, but she’s still loves me in her own way, and even if I don’t feel the love, receiving the gifts is better than rejecting them entirely. I feel better.
Chana: Can you give me one more reason that your mother doesn’t love you and that’s okay?
Linda: Um…. I… I’m trying hard here, but I just… I can’t really believe that. It can’t be okay.
Linda’s stuck. She doesn’t want to live in a reality in which her mother doesn’t love her. A trip to the ATM can help us uncover her reasons why:
Chana: I want you to complete this sentence: your mother doesn’t love you and that means…
Linda: It means there’s something wrong with me. That I’m unlovable.
Chana: Anything else?
Linda: That I can’t move on. The world would come crashing down around me.
Linda: I wouldn’t be worthy. Ugh, this is so screwed up!
Chana: What’s screwed up?
Linda: This whole thing. It’s like her love is what holds up my entire existence.
Chana: Do you really believe that?
Linda: Well… what did you just ask?
Chana: What do you remember?
Linda: Something about me believing that her love holds me up.
Chana: Do you believe it?
Linda: Oh. Huh. Wait… that would mean that only people whose moms loved them would stay alive. But that’s not true. My friend Janet loved her son to pieces, but he still died of cancer. And there are moms too drugged up to even recognize their kids, and plenty of those kids still survive.
Chana: So what does that mean?
Linda: I guess that something’s holding up my existence that has nothing to do with Mom.
Chana: How do you feel?
Linda: Pretty good, actually. Cause here I am, and I saw before that Mom does love me in all sorts of ways. Even when she doesn’t, I keep existing. It’s nice if she loves me, but I can be okay without it.
Chana: What does that mean?
Linda: It feels less desperate. I get it now: she could not love me, and it would be okay. I bet there are times that I drive her nuts with my theater obsession or crazy boyfriends and she doesn’t feel so loving then. And I’m okay. If I’m honest with myself, the world doesn’t come crashing down.
Chana: And what about your mom?
Linda: She’s doing her thing, and I’m doing mine.
Chana: How do you feel?
Linda: Good, actually. I don’t need her to love me, but I can choose to take in the love that she does give me. I like that. I feel warm inside.
Linda might have wanted to erase the thought that her mother doesn’t love her and live in the place of no-thought, but it wouldn’t have been realistic for her to do so. Aristotle said, “Nature abhors a vacuum,” and the human mind is quite similar. For Linda to live without her original belief, she first needed to learn from it by replacing it with others that would build her compassion, selfacceptance, and happiness.
Rooted in Linda’s discomfort was the belief that she needed her mother’s love. This neediness caused her to panic because, subconsciously, she was aware of the fact that human affection is not static and that her mother wouldn’t live forever. The greatest Lesson From Her Opponent – my mother doesn’t love me – was the realization that she was just fine with or without her mother’s love. She freed herself to enjoy whatever love came her way.
Summary of Lessons From Your Opponent
Glean Lessons From Your Opponent when you want break the painful shackles created by untrue thinking. The opposites of the beliefs causing your distress will teach you how to live in integrity with your values.
Like what you’ve read? You can learn Lessons From Your Opponentalong with 21 other tools in my book, Hold That Thought. Download a free copy of the book here.