Q: How often do you suggest someone do The Work? It takes me about 12-20 minutes to question one belief out of maybe 20-30 beliefs on the Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet.
A: How much time would you put aside for a daily meditation practice, or for exercise? I see doing The Work as very similar to doing these other things; you don't want to exhaust yourself, but the more regularly you work at inquiry, the more "muscle" you'll develop.
That said, I think the amount of time you set aside isn't as important as making space for it in your day. If you're new to inquiry, you might want to do it every day at first. Twenty minutes could be long enough; an hour is great if you find it's helping you to sit with the questions longer. In session with a client, we work for an hour, sometimes an hour and a half. The important thing is to routinely question your stressful beliefs so that you begin to experience the effects of inquiry when you are not actively doing it.
When I was learning how to do The Work, I used to spend a couple of hours every day...but that's because I was in a big hurry to fix myself! I soon burnt myself out (and also I came to see that The Work is not a "fix," it's a way to develop and expand awareness). Later on, I spent maybe 20 or 30 minutes a day doing actual writing, then it became a few times a week or less, or as needed. The mechanism of inquiry was alive in me by that time so I didn't always have to write everything down. When I found myself letting myself take shortcuts, I went back to writing.
From time to time I go back to doing The Work every day, but mostly I use it when I feel confused or upset with no relief, or when I am particularly curious about why someone or something is troubling me, or when a stressful concept I thought I was done with feels sticky once again. If I have a worksheet with a lot of thoughts I want to look at, I might spread it out over several days.
Everyone is different and you may find you want to spend more or less time in inquiry than others.
Can't I Have Wants and Needs?
Q: I just started reading Katie's books and I'm wondering what happens when someone truly is dissatisfied with their situation and wants to leave. When is it appropriate to have boundaries? Or is it just about finding peace in whatever situation you're in and accepting people for who they are? Can't I have wants and needs? For example, I accept my husband for not being expressive and demonstrative; does that mean I shouldn't want to leave him? If he doesn't put any time into the relationship, should I just accept that?
A: If I know I need to leave a situation, I leave it! The key word here is "know." Accepting and finding peace in a challenging relationship does not mean you have to stay there. And I will ask myself: can I know I need to leave, or am I really wanting to stay while (hopelessly) hoping my partner will change?
I'm all for having needs and wants and for being very clear about what they are. If I want someone to fulfill those needs and wants for me, that's a recipe for disappointment and resentment. If I want a demonstrative, expressive partner, for example, and my partner is not demonstrative and expressive, whether I stay or go depends on how badly I truly want that and whether I'd rather be with him than not.
Is it true that you accept your husband? Here's where acceptance comes from: question beliefs like, "My husband should be expressive" and "He doesn't put any time into the relationship." Doing so puts you back in touch with what's true for you. Acceptance is acceptance of the truth; acceptance doesn't mean you shortchange yourself.
If you know it's time to leave, what stressful thoughts keep you from doing so? (Fears, "shoulds," etc.) If you know you want to stay, what stressful thoughts keep you from loving your relationship? (Write a worksheet on your husband and find out!)
Never A Reason to Break Up?
Q: It seems there would never be a reason to break up with a partner, because if we do The Work, we would find a turnaround for every criticism pointing back to ourselves. What am I not getting/seeing here?
A: There could be many reasons to break up with a partner, including simply knowing that it's time to go. Relationships run their course. We change our minds. Our lives and our priorities change. We don't have to vilify the other person in order to leave them...and we don't have to stay just because we've discovered our criticisms of them could easily be directed at ourselves.
Why do you walk down one street rather than another one? Does it have to mean that one street is better than the other street? Maybe you're in a hurry today and it takes a little less time to walk down the street you are choosing, or there's a lovely tree there that you like to look at, or you simply enjoy a change of scene. You're not a terrible person for having preferences! There's a street I avoid because it is hilly and when I come back from the store carrying packages, I prefer not to climb uphill. I don't say "This street is too hilly, turn it around: I am too hilly. Uh oh, I'd better keep walking on the hilly street because otherwise it means I don't love what is!"
When we do turnarounds in The Work, it's not meant to talk us into or out of anything; it's simply a way to expand awareness. I can't emphasize this point enough: turnarounds show us peaceful alternatives that we may not have seen. They point to what else could be as true or truer in this vast universe of choices. They show us where we have been mistaken, where we might want to loosen our grip, create more freedom in our lives, heal ourselves and make amends to those we might have hurt.
If, when judging your partner, you have a "negative" turnaround to yourself—for example, "He's inconsiderate." "I'm inconsiderate."—it doesn't mean you have to stay with him because you've been inconsiderate. This turnaround is pointing to, "Where have I been inconsiderate of him?" Perhaps by wanting him to change for your sake...and maybe he can't do that. It could be that this is a wonderful man who is not your wonderful man; you've been confused about that. Now you can do right by him and stop the violence (to yourself as well as to him) of wishing he were different.
If you stay, questioning your thoughts will help you stay with love, including self-love. If you go, it could be the most loving thing you can do...without resentment or blame.
At first I wanted to stop seeing a man I was dating because HE did this and HE did (or didn't do) that. My friends were saying, "Oh, you've got to end it, HE's a this, HE's a that, you deserve much better. (Friends just love to take our side when we're going through relationship stuff, as if there were an enemy against whom we need defending.) While I appreciated their support, seeing the man as a dastardly fiend didn't actually make me feel better, nor did it make it any easier for me to tell him I was done.
I got clear that what was going on between us was mostly going on between my ears; old beliefs that prevented me from letting myself know what I knew, that pulled me out of my own integrity. The "negative" turnarounds, such as "he lied to me"/"I lied to him"/"I lied to myself" rang very true and they did not feel like I was whipping myself. When I finally told him it wasn't working out for me, never implying that he (or I) did anything wrong or that he wasn't good enough for me, he said he had never been "dumped" so nicely before and hoped we would stay friends. I feel closer to him now than when I was trying to "accept" him.