A collection of questions that flesh out a person’s varied psychological and physiological reactions to a thought.
Ilove how Inquiry easily helps us separate truth from fiction, joy from pain, and perceived experience from objective reality. We experience this distinction most when contrasting our reactions to believing a thought and to living without it. When we ask, “How do you react when you believe that thought?” we viscerally taste the suffering a belief is creating in our lives. Other questions reveal even deeper layers of our reactions.
Like a party buffet, an Experience Buffet of sub-questions brings out unique and specific flavors of a particular thought. In the dialogue below, you’ll see many of the “dishes” in the Experience Buffet in action. I’ve compiled an exhaustive list of the questions at the end of this chapter.
Toni harbored tremendous resentment towards a roommate she had in college. Years had already passed, but Toni’s anger had barely abated. She wasn’t clear exactly why she was angry, so I asked her to Rant.
Toni: There were four of us, including Zoe. When we first signed on the apartment, we wrote up a list of house rules. We were supposed to take turns cleaning the kitchen, bathroom, and shared spaces. Also, we had to buy supplies like toilet paper and soap and stuff. Plus the landlord stipulated that we pay our rent by the 1st of the month. A month into the year, Zoe broke up with her boyfriend. She was a total emotional wreck, so we gave her a lot of room to be upset and mourn. But the next month she didn’t have her rent ready by the 1st. The rest of us had to pitch in to compensate, which meant I couldn’t go out for coffee or dinner until she finally paid us back, which wasn’t till the 15th. But it was hard to be mad since she was so upset. We gave her some more slack. The three of us picked up her laundry in the living room and did her dishes and cleaned the frickin’ toilet when it was her turn. That sucked! But we figured we’d want someone to help us out if we were having a hard time. Come second semester, not much had changed. She left a mess everywhere, and it was so disgusting! My other roommates got so sick of it. They just wanted to kick her out.
Chana: So did you?
Toni: No. How could we? She had nowhere to go and… I mean, she thought she was going to marry this guy. I didn’t want to be insensitive.
Can you guess the beliefs lingering underneath Toni’s Rant? I’d like you to stop reading, take out pen and paper, and write all the troubling thoughts you assume Toni’s believing, either because she’s said them outright or hinted at them between the lines. Once you finish, take a look at what I’ve written on my notepad:
Zoe should have cleaned the kitchen, bath, etc. Zoe should have paid her rent on time. She should have shared equal responsibility in the apartment. She should have followed the rules. We should not have had to pay her late rent. I should not have had to clean up after her mess. I couldn’t kick her out. She had nowhere to go. If I kicked her out, I would have been really insensitive to her. She should have been more respectful. I could read the list to Toni, but I want to see if she can identify her most bothersome belief outright.
Chana: What about this situation upsets you the most?
Toni: That she didn’t respect me. It was so not cool.
Chana: That sounds like the perfect place to start. Can you think of a specific time when you harbored the belief that she didn’t respect you?
Toni: Um…. yeah. There was a day that I had a date with this guy I really liked. I invited him over, and her stuff was all over the couch and her dishes from two nights before were rotting in the sink. It was so gross.
Chana: And at that moment, you’re believing the thought, “She doesn’t respect me.”
Chana: Can you absolutely know that she doesn’t respect you?
Toni: Yeah. It’s so obvious.
Chana: How do you react when you believe that?
Toni: I want to punch her. I get very pissed.
Chana: How do you feel, in your body, when you believe she doesn’t respect you?
Toni: Everything gets all tight. My chest gets red hot. My fists clench. I want to scream.
Chana: What are you afraid would happen if you didn’t believe she doesn’t respect you? (Monsters Under the Bed)
Toni: Then I’d be a total pushover. I wouldn’t stick up for myself.
Chana: So if you didn’t believe it, you’d be a pushover? Is that true?
Toni: Oh. No, actually. I was a total pushover then. I didn’t stick up for myself at all.
Chana: So believing the thought….
Toni: Made me do the stuff that I was hoping to avoid! That sucks!
Chana: Yes. And, in that moment, how do you treat yourself when you believe that she doesn’t respect you?
Toni: Oh. I don’t take care of myself. I’m too busy fuming. I’m so embarrassed and humiliated in front of this guy and embarrassed that I’m mad.
Chana: And how do you treat her?
Toni: I avoid her, can’t look her in the eye. Or I’m too nice to her because I feel bad.
Chana: And what are you not able to do when you believe that she doesn’t respect you?
Toni: I can’t think straight. I can’t be calm. I’m just fuming.
Chana: Can you see a peaceful reason to keep the thought?
Toni: No. I get mad even at the hint of the thought.
Chana: Now, take a deep breath and clear the air. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in your apartment with her dishes in the sink and her stuff on the couch. How are you without the thought that she doesn’t respect you?
Toni: I’m calmer. I can quickly pick up the stuff on the couch and throw it into Zoe’s room. And it’s not that embarrassing with the guy. Let’s get real; I’m sure his apartment is a pig sty.
Chana: So, let’s turn it around. Zoe doesn’t respect you. What’s the 180 degree opposite of that?
Toni: Zoe… is not so bad?
Chana: We’re not trying to get all sophisticated with turnarounds. Let’s use simple language. What’s the opposite of, “Zoe doesn’t respect you.”
Toni: Zoe does respect me?
Chana: That’s it. Now give me three reasons why that’s true.
Toni: She wanted to keep living with me. And as far as I know, she didn’t gossip about me.
Chana: What else?
Toni: She invited me to her wedding a couple of years ago. And she sent me a holiday card in December. I guess I just assumed she didn’t respect me. But why else wouldn’t she follow the rules?
Chana: Have you asked her?
Toni: No, I haven’t. I actually have no idea what she was thinking.
Chana: How do you feel?
Toni: I made assumptions about her and judged her for them.
Chana: Why do you feel embarrassed about that?
Toni: Because I want to be more thoughtful than that.
Chana: Do you have to feel embarrassed to be that way?
Toni: I think so…
Chana: Well, how do you behave when you feel embarrassed?
Toni: I want to hide. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I for sure don’t want to call Zoe.
Chana: Does feeling embarrassed help you be more thoughtful?
Toni: Oh, no. Totally the opposite. I think I’d rather be thoughtful. I should call Zoe and apologize. I could also ask her why she behaved the way she did and tell her how I felt about it. That would clear the air, and we could be friends without this hairy elephant in the room.
Chana: In the meantime, let’s turn this thought around again. What’s another opposite of she doesn’t respect you? Try changing the subject of the statement.
Toni: I don’t respect me?
Chana: Yes. How’s that true?
Toni: Um. I’m not always so kind to myself. Like… I enjoy a neat room, but I often don’t make my bed or will let my laundry pile up in the corner. And in my head sometimes I call myself dumb, or stupid, or forgetful.
Chana: Let’s focus on the situation in the apartment. How else did you not respect yourself?
Toni: I don’t know.
Chana: It seems the rules of the apartment were important to you.
Chana: Did you respect them?
Toni: For sure I did! I always cleaned up and paid on time.
Chana: And what about Zoe?
Toni: She didn’t keep to the rules at all.
Chana: And you enabled her to continue to do that.
Toni: Yes. Oh. That’s how I didn’t keep the rules. I let her break them. So I didn’t respect the rules. I didn’t respect something that was important to me.
Chana: What were you afraid would happen if you upheld the rules?(Monsters)
Toni: I’d have to kick her out.
Chana: And what were you afraid would happen if you kicked her out?
Chana: So if you kicked Zoe out it would have meant that you’re a bad person?
Toni: Oh. No. That doesn’t make sense.
Chana: What else could it mean?
Toni: It could just mean that breaking rules has consequences.
Toni: Could it really be that simple?
Chana: What do you think?
Toni: I guess it could. If I don’t pay my taxes or stop at a light, I get fined. The truth is, if we hadn’t covered for her, our landlord would have kicked us all out. But actually, it was her fault!
Chana: So what does that teach you about your life now?
Toni: Sometimes I don’t stand up for what’s important to me because I’m trying to be nice. But really I’m not respecting myself, and then I get resentful and blame everyone else for not taking care of my rules.
Chana: Whose job is that?
Toni: Totally mine!
Below is the Experience Buffet, a list of questions gleaned from Byron Katie’s recorded and written dialogues. Like with a brunch buffet, you get to choose which questions will be your bread and butter and which ones you might use as occasional toppings. There’s no right or wrong amount of questions. The more you ask, the deeper your understanding will be. Use whatever is comfortable and appropriate for the situation.
Note that not all questions are relevant to the Inquiry at hand, so asking more may even be less, by distracting or confusing you. Be creative and flexible, have fun, and remember to hold a safe space for your reactions to the thought. With any luck, you’ll have a full belly and a loose belt by the end of the meal!
a. What images do you see, past and future, when you believe the thought?
b. What physical sensations arise as you think the thought and witness those images?
c. What emotions arise when you believe the thought?
d. Whose business are you in when you believe the thought? (See There’s No Business Like Your Business)
e. When was the first time you remember believing the thought? (See The Time Machine)
f. Do any obsessions or addictions begin to appear when you believe the
thought? (See The Addiction Loop and Aggression Tailspin)
g. How do you treat the person(s) in this situation when you believe
h. How do you treat yourself when you believe the thought?
i. Can you see a reason to drop the thought?
j. Can you find one peaceful reason to keep the thought?
k. What are you afraid would happen if you didn’t believe the thought? (More Monsters Under the Bed to inquire about.)
l. How do you/your ego/personality gain from believing the thought?
m. What are you not able to do or see when you believe the thought?
n. Does the thought bring peace or stress into your life?
Summary of Experience Buffet
Use the Experience Buffet when you want a deep understanding of a given thought in all its varied manifestations.
Like what you’ve read? You can learn Experience Buffetalong with 21 other tools in my book, Hold That Thought. Download a free copy of the book here.
Want to dig deeper into Experience Buffet? Download an Experience Buffetworksheet from the FREE Bonus section of my website!