Apr 10, 2008

Finding Joy in the way things are

Our kids are out of school this week so we drove up to Park City for a week of snowboarding. I used to ski, but two years ago I decided to join the rest of the family and try snowboarding. I LOVED it. After three days of snowboarding school I was doing it – not fast or with total confidence, but I could ride slowly down the mountain turning both ways and falling only occasionally.

My budding confidence collapsed when I took a bad fall snowboarding on a very crowded day at our local mountain last February. I got distracted as someone passed by me going fast and fell hard on my left shoulder. The fall left me with a stretched ligament, and for over two months I wasn't able to swing a tennis racquet using my left arm.

At Park City, I had decided I was going to stay at the condo while everybody else went snowboarding. I was looking forward to some quiet time. But as I watched my husband and the kids getting ready on the first day, a part of me wanted to be there, so I decided to go with them.

Going up the lift I noticed fearful thoughts creeping up. Thoughts like “You're crazy,” “You don’t even remember how to do this,” “You'll hurt yourself," "You should go back to skiing,” took over my mind.

I got off the lift okay, but as we were ready to begin our first run, I slid forward a couple of feet and fell. I lay down, mentally paralyzed – all knowledge of how to ride, erased from my mind. The fearful thoughts came again “You can’t do this. You’ll break a bone and ruin your tennis season. You’re too old to learn something new….” In the distance, our kids expertly rode down the mountain, but my husband waited for me. I told him to go ahead – I would manage eventually, but he wouldn’t leave me, so I had to deal with it right away.

I’ve been reading “A Thousand Names for Joy,” by Byron Katie. I love the subtitle: “Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are.” Progressively, over the past year I’ve been moving into the space of acceptance. Rather than trying to change and control my experience, which is what the ego wants to do, I’ve been practicing accepting the way things are. I've noticed that when I let go of my desire to manage the outcome of every situation, there is a certain order that surfaces and as I'm in harmony with the way things are, I feel more peaceful and happier. This doesn't mean I don't take whatever actions are needed. It's just that mentally, I don't desire things to be different.

On p. 44 Katie says "When you have what you want - when you are what you want - there's no impulse to seek anything outside yourself. Seeking is the movement away from the awareness that your life is already complete, just at it is. Even at moments of apparent pain, there's never anything wrong or lacking."

In her book, Katie teaches how we can put an end to our feelings of fear and anxiety by questioning the thoughts which produce them. By questioning our thoughts, they lose their power to cause us pain. As we live in harmony with the way things are, we tap into the underlying joy that exists beyond all the stressful thoughts. This Joy is always available to us no matter what experience our life brings. This Joy is who we are.

Sitting on the snow it was easy to see that the feelings I felt: fear, anxiety, stress, apprehension, remorse, were all caused by thoughts which I believed were true about me. I could clearly see that these thoughts were not helpful so I decided to question them. I stood up and let myself slide down a few feet. The fearful thoughts came back instantly: “I’m out of control; I don’t want to get injured.” I felt my body tighten as fear seemed to shoot up through my blood. I fell again.

I tried Katie’s four questions and "the turnaround," “Is that really true?” I asked. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?” And then, “How do you react when you believe that thought?” Followed by “Who would you be without the thought?”

Was it really true that I was out of control? What is control, but an illusion that I am separate and in control of my own life? Can I ever really be separate or in control?

I’m afraid of falling. Is that really true? I’m only afraid because I have judged falling as bad and undesirable. What if I lived in harmony with the way things are? And like a child, I enjoyed the feeling of tumbling in the snow. How would I be without the thought of fear? I’d be relaxed and unafraid. I would know that my joy does not depend on my staying upright.

I stood up and continued. I focused on the beauty of the snow and trusted that even if my mind seemed to be caught up in insecure thoughts, my body remembered how to ride. I rode down gracefully turning one way and the other.

As the sun peeked through a cloud, the thought came: “It’s too bright and I can’t see the variation in slope or texture of the snow. If I can’t see well, I will surely fall.” Again, I felt the fear tensing up every muscle. I questioned again. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? Not really, if I focus, I can see well enough. It’s the fearful thoughts that are taking my focus away. What if I chose not to believe that thought? How would I feel? I would accept the conditions as they are and not feel the stress that thinking about them is bringing me.

Again I felt free. And then it got steeper – Ah! A blue run. I can’t do blue runs, I’m a beginner. Is that really true? I asked. Not really…… Oops, I’m going too fast! Can I absolutely know that it’s true? I can’t. What is ‘too fast’? It’s a judgment based on my own perception. There are dozens of snowboarders passing me who ride twice as fast. Who would I be without the thought? I might actually be free to explore going at increased speeds without the limiting thoughts holding me back.

I continued down the mountain questioning every thought and as I discredited the stressful ones, I noticed myself becoming grateful for the experience as it came. I was no longer expecting the experience to be a certain way in order for me to enjoy it. I stopped judging how well I was doing, or how good the conditions were. Instead, I noticed the snow in all its radiance and the view in front of me appeared more majestic than it ever seemed before. I felt present in my body and my muscles did what they needed to do without my micro-managing every motion. Free from distressful thoughts, I was able to enjoy the experience more fully. A feeling of joy began to rise in me.

I reached a flat area at the bottom of the hill and unexpectedly caught an edge and fell. As I was falling I smiled and welcomed the experience. There are no accidents. We always are exactly where we need to be, ready to learn what we need to learn. I took a deep breath and enjoyed the rest for a few minutes. Even if I injured myself, could that experience to take away my Joy? Can I really forget who I AM?

As a student of A Course in Miracles my purpose is to use every situation that comes my way as a means to regain awareness of who I am. It is always my choice to allow a situation to keep me trapped in a mindless, painful state of mind. Alternatively, we can all choose to look at our situations with our right mind and while the situation may not change, our stressful thoughts about it will be replaced by a deep, abiding, sense of peace.

I went up and down with the kids many more times and had a blast. I can’t say I didn’t fall. I fell a few times, but by questioning the thoughts that suggested falling could upset me, I didn’t experience it as traumatic.

Throughout the day as I encountered many new situations: increased speed, flat surfaces, moguls, a daughter yelling “Mom;” from the lift as I’m concentrating on riding on the run under it; a group of teens zipping by too close and splashing snow all over me, etc. etc, the fearful thoughts kept popping up, but as I questioned them, their power over me diminished and as I was no longer subject to them, what was left was pure Joy.


  1. You may not post frequently, but every post is excellent! I loved this one. Byron Katie gives the most practical advice ever. It can be applied to any thought that evokes anxiety of any kind. This was a wonderful example and one that will stick with me all day.... thank you.

  2. Thank you, Marian. I get very picky about what I post - it's not so easy for me. I need a lot of inspiration and time, that's why I don't post more frequently (though I write every day.) I marvel at your ability to put out wonderfully coherent and beautiful writing so frequently. You are an inspiration!

    Being on the mountain this past week practicing the Work, I feel as if I just spent a week in a monastery. The fear and anxiety are gone! I am applying it to everything now and it really works. Thank you, for recommending the book.

  3. Aileen, I love this post - especially those 4 questions! I have been working with similar ideas lately - but I love how focused those 4 questions are, especially the one "who would you be without that thought?" I've been thinking of this as "what would you do, how would you act, what would your life look like right now - if you really knew Love was the only real power?" I really appreciate the practical way you applied those 4 questions - and the clear way you explained the whole process you went through. I especially appreciate the fact that you kept on going! that it's ok to practice, get a little scared, then practice questioning some more, and keep awakening! I know I'll be re-reading this again and again as it is very inspiring - and motivating. Thank you for posting it. - Mark

  4. Thank you for your comment, Mark. I find it incredibly powerful to try to be aware on a moment to moment basis of whether I'm acting out of Love or fear. It sounds as if we're moving into a similar space.