Further Inside "The Center" - Abilities vs. Disabilities

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Further Inside "The Center" - Abilities vs. Disabilities

Annabella Wood

The Center for the Work in Barstow, CA, conceived and run by Byron Katie, was a place where people from all over the world could come and learn how to view life differently from before. Through the process of inquiry, also known as The Work, everyday folks could turn normally unpleasant experiences into opportunities, and painful ideas into insights. The result was a small culture, full of people who moved peacefully and joyously through their lives no matter what was going on around them. Tremendous flexibility to change with changing circumstances was a natural outcropping of this new way of thinking and viewing adversity.

People well versed in The Work could quickly ascertain what their circumstances were, and move in accordance with the reality of their situation. As the situation changed, their movements would change with it. From the outside it appeared that there was little continuity in what these people were doing, for plans would change at a moment's notice.

Katie would move faster than anyone I know. This process had the appearance of "Katie is not consistent." But in truth she was staying absolutely consistent, consistent with doing what was best at the given time with the changing circumstances. She "changed her mind" as fast as circumstances changed.

She would make plans and share them with the staff. Then it was the staff's job to bring them to fruition. But as a situation changed, Katie's plan would change with it, and the staff's actions would change accordingly.

An example that comes to mind, which illustrates this point, was when we had a mailing to get out. We had a list of hundreds of names of people interested in the Work, and Katie was to make an appearance somewhere. We were to send out the announcement of her date, time and location. We worked up the postcard style announcement, printed up hundreds of copies, printed out the address labels of recipients, and got the labels on the postcards and had nearly all of them stamped. This process took a few days with many volunteers helping out. When we were nearly all done with the project, word came down that her plans had changed. She was not going there after all.

We had about five people working on the project when we got the news. We were to throw away those postcards and start on something similar reflecting her new plans. The people responded in various ways. Those who were into doing The Work greeted the news with relish, realizing that if they experienced any resistance to switching direction midstream, it was an opportunity for them to find where they were attached to an outcome and release this attachment. In the process they would release themselves from painful ideas about how work should be done, and protocol that they thought Katie should follow with regards to the situation. In other words, it was an opportunity for them to move further down their paths toward peaceful, joy-filled experience of the physical world in which they lived.

Some of the people however were more attached to their ideas of how things should be done than they were to pursuing their path toward peace. These were people who wanted recognition for their service and were goal oriented rather than process oriented.

It was easy to tell who was who within the group. The process oriented moved easily and joyously into the next announcement, the goal oriented became upset, angry, and invested in proving that Katie had dissed them.

A large part of proving that someone has done you wrong is to find others, tell them your story of how you were done wrong and get them to agree with you. This proved a daunting task at The Center. As the angry helpers went up to someone to tell their story, the listener would let them finish, then start asking them the questions in the inquiry which would lead the storyteller toward truth. And the truth of the situation was that Katie's decision had nothing to do with them one way or the other. If Katie was saying anything about them at all it was an honoring of them because she was confident that the new assignment would be carried out. She was actually complimenting the helpers.

So those who wanted to prove that they were right found themselves in a difficult spot. Without anyone available to concur with their story, it was difficult for them to continue believing it themselves. If they valued their right-eous-ness more than happiness they had to leave. Not by any rule at The Center, but because in that environment it was impossible to hold on to the story.

Have you ever told a story about an event where you were wronged, and the listener wouldn't agree that you had been wronged? Perhaps they even presented other possibilities of what actually happened or why it took place the way it did. Could you keep your indignation intact while in their presence?

My experience has been that in that situation I had a choice. I could become angry at the listener for not agreeing with me, or I could face the fact that there was another possibility about my story, and that perhaps I hadn't been wronged. In the first scenario I would become upset and have to leave that person and look for someone who would concur with me, and probably say derogatory things about the first listener as well, making the story grow. In the second scenario I could listen to my friend and use their perspective to help me come to peace with that which was upsetting me; not by covering it with pink paint, but by really looking at it objectively. But either way, I could not stay in their presence and retain my indignation.

In this way, some of the people who came to The Center did indeed become "disabled." It was impossible to remain angry and remain at The Center. Those for whom being right was more important than learning new ways to view life didn't last long there.

It seemed that some of the brightest intellectuals were very likely to fall into this trap of anger in the face of alternatives. For one thing, these people were very used to being told they were right. They had wonderful powers of persuasion among people who could be persuaded. But among people active in The Work common methods of persuasion were totally impotent. Some people's entire identity is wrapped around being "the wise one" or the one who is "right." Those who chose not to disable their belief system left us right away.

Anger itself, and it's buddy fear, were disabled at The Center. For many people, anger is all they have known. When things go wrong they find someone else to blame for it. They are constantly being victimized by others. They tell stories about how bad the world is, and often lament over "the good ol' days" and the fact that they are gone.

At The Center these views of life were quickly disabled in people interested in ending their own suffering. Anger over childhood events and atrocities from the past up to the present moment, along with fears of future wrongdoings or pain were often dissolved in an hour or less if the subject was truly interested in finding a different way to live.

During this process entire belief systems were dismantled, sometimes immediately, leaving some participants at a complete loss as to how to operate in the world until they assembled a new belief system; for all of our actions are direct consequences of our viewpoint of the situation, and the viewpoint is the product of our belief system.

At The Center we were well aware of this period of disability of our guests, and we fully supported them during this time of disorientation. It was an honor and a privilege to serve these people in this way. For some people this time of disability only lasted a few minutes, some hours, some days. But invariably new belief systems formed quickly and effectively in the environs of The Work, and these people have consistently reported vastly improved quality of life as a result of the experience. And these changes have proven to be life-long.

Once, days after I lost the highest paying job I had ever had and was facing a time of unemployment, I was at church and heard the reverend say, "Sometimes God will take what you most treasure from you, and you will feel that a hole has been blown in your soul. But now you are at choice how you will fill this hole, with God or with mammon. This hole is your opportunity to fill your soul with that which you want. The bigger the hole, the bigger the blessing!" I stopped feeling sorry for myself at that moment.

This hole can be blown in your soul by the loss of many things, not the least of which is the loss of your old belief system. The Center for The Work was adept at helping people blow that hole in their own souls in order to disable themselves momentarily and allow themselves the opportunity to build a whole new experience of their life spanning childhood into present day and future imaginings.

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