An honest inquiry into the source of stress in your life will yield some surprising results. If you’re mindful, present, and inquiring, you won’t be able to fool yourself, says Katie Byron. Rather than analyze the source of your stress, simply ask yourself this series of yes/no questions. Analysis often leads to defensiveness of self-justification, but investigating your own mental state will reveal a more essential truth to you: how you feel about what’s happening around you.
By reorienting the perspective from which you analyze your stress, you will come to think differently about it. This is especially powerful when we realize that we experience stress primarily as a mental condition. It may be that focussing on your job as the source of stress in your life may contribute to those very feelings.
Katie is the author of A Thousand Names for Joy.
The Work is basic inquiry, and it takes one into a meditative state. Let's say if you're very stressed out you just become still. And you identify what you were thinking and believing in that situation. Let's say I'm at work and I have the thought, you know, “This job is stressing me out.”
So I would simply, now that that thought is identified, just write it down on a piece of paper. It's stabilized from mind to reality; it's solid, identified and anchored. “This job, my job is stressing me out. Is it true that my job is stressing me out?” And the first response might be “Yes, yes, yes it's true my job stresses me out. And he said this and she said that, and this is more than I can handle.” Okay, no that's not inquiry, that's a discussion. So now we slow it down, look at the paper. “This job is stressing me out. Is it true that this job is stressing me out?” Now the answer to the first two questions is one syllable, it's either “yes” or “no.” This is inquiry. Any defense or justification or story is not inquiry, inquiry is to get still and let the answer show you. It comes out as a “yes” or “no.” And so we just meditate on that until - that's why I say it could take a while for some of us.
And then, “My job is stressing me out. Can I absolutely know that it's my job that's stressing me out?” Okay. Get really still. “Can I absolutely know that it's my job that's stressing me out?” Yes. So to imagine that it's “no,” you're just guessing at the right answer. So it has to be authentic. You cannot fool you. You can't fool you. So some people say ultimately every answer is “no.” A “yes” to me is as valid as a “no” to someone else. This is personal work.
So let's say I'm at a “Yes. So it's my job that's stressing me out. My job stresses me out.” How do I react when I believe that thought? So I close my eyes; I see me taking it home with me; I see me frustrated at work; I'm short with my children, my husband; I want to quit. Then I worry about money and security, letting my family down. I blame even innocent people at work. I'm focused on work. Most of the time I'm paid for eight hours but I'm 24/7 waking hours I'm at work in my head. And a lot of us can go further with that. It's like “How do I react when I believe the thought. If we get really still we can see that's when we go for the chocolate cake or the cigarette we said we'd never smoke again or the alcohol.
“My job is stressing me out. Who would I be without that thought?” And I start with “Right here, right now I'm at my desk, who would I be without the thought my job is stressing me out?” Okay. So all of a sudden “I’m present and there's nothing here to stress me out. There's nothing here to stress me out. There's a desk. There's my computer. There are people working that are not even speaking to me. My job is not stressing me out.” So I look at the paper, again, “My job is stressing me out and I'm going to turn it around, my job is not stressing me out.” So I might turn it around because we have an object, “My thoughts about my job are stressing me out; my thinking is stressing me out. So is that as true or truer? It's completely true. My thoughts about this job stress me out. So for me that completely shows me an innocent world, in other words all the people I'm working with, my boss, my workload completely innocent, it's what I'm thinking and believing about it that is the cause of my stress.”
So, another turnaround as I sit in this might be “I am stressing my job out.” Well, what does that mean to me? That doesn't mean much to people, but this is my inquiry; I'm sitting in this; this is my meditation. So, “I’m stressing my job out.” And then I begin to see when I'm stressed out how I approach people. “I’m short. I can be argumentative. When I think my workload is just too much my job is stressing me out, I'm rushed; I'm not connected, when other people need help I'm not available; I'm not compassionate, not understanding; I isolate; thinking that I don't have time for this person or that project, I'm just focused on this.” So I find I'm selfish with my time. “I miss people, connecting with them, and I've lost the ability to connect with them. I'm not connected to myself, I'm just thinking that my job is stressing me out.”
So you really can't guess if you're doing authentic inquiry, not rational thinking but just listening, witnessing, watching, being aware. Everything shifts, the way you see everything shifts and that the creative mind is weightless.