I’m listening to Byron Katie’s Loving What Is, the latest book in my ongoing search for self-understanding, spiritual growth, finding my path, learning how to be happy being the real me and all that stuff. I want to make the most of what’s left of my life since passing the 60 mark has raised the red flag of how much time is left, what do I really want to do, hurry up and figure it out already.
Byron Katie’s work is based on a familiar chorus — it’s not them it’s you — and her approach is unique. It’s called “The Work” and is based on asking yourself four questions to help guide you to a new mindset about any situation that is causing you (you are causing you) distress.
I’m only on Chapter 5, and I’m not instantly grasping the ah-ha of what she’s saying, but a couple of points are sticking, which became apparent on this morning’s track walk. This track, with its high quality cushioned surface and sweeping views, is offered for public use by a local private high school when they are not using it. I feel so fortunate to have it at my disposal, I suppose I’ve gotten a bit protective. So when I see people abusing what I consider a great privilege, I get upset.
A large white sign in the adjacent parking lot states simple rules for its use, including hours it’s open to the public, what kind of shoes are allowed, no wheels of any kind and no animals to name a few requirements. And there’s a swing bar hanging across the first four of six lanes with the painted message “Please use outside lanes.”
Twice this week I’ve seen this one woman walking and jogging along the inside lanes. This incenses me. I feel like the Track Police and want to confront her as she’s walking around the swing bar to move to the inside lanes. I argue with myself trying to come up with a way to say something, somehow, that might have a positive result, but I can’t. I’m thinking she shouldn’t be using the inside lanes! How dare she? Does she think she’s special? What reason could she possibly have for ignoring this simple rule? Does she not appreciate how fortunate she is to have this track for her use?
Byron Katie would say two things right off the bat. One, whose business am I in while being upset over this? It’s not my business, it’s her business and the school’s business. Right there, I’m causing myself grief and not living my own life, enjoying my own walk, because I’m putting myself in other peoples’ business. Second, Byron Katie would say I’m arguing with reality because thinking “she should stay in the outside lanes” (!!) is an untrue statement because obviously she is not doing so. Byron Katie would say “a dog barks, a cat meows and this woman walks in the inside lanes,” that’s reality. Arguing with reality only causes the arguer pain.
I get these points and feel calmed enough not to let this ruin my walk. I soothe myself by thinking up reasons why her behavior may be all right, anyhow. Maybe she hasn’t noticed the message on the swing bar. Maybe she thinks the sign only refers to the straight parts, not the curves of the track, since that’s where she’s cutting in. Maybe she is somehow connected to the school or has received permission to use the track this way. Maybe the school really doesn’t care that much either way. Good for me, I can see possibilities other than she’s a jerk and I want it to stop.
I try to dismiss the whole business, but a whole other train of thought emerges. Are we really supposed to ignore all behavior? Aren’t we supposed to care about what’s best for the greater good? What if the school sees that people are abusing the track and decides to close it down? Wouldn’t that be bad for all the good people who do follow the rules? Now I’m breaking the rules of someone else’s book about staying in the “now” and not projecting into the future. Ugh!
I pass this woman as she’s stopped, focusing on her phone, or stopwatch or something. I almost take a step toward her to say something, but change my mind. Even if I handled the conversation perfectly, which I’m not likely to do, it’s bound to cause me more angst than I’m already causing myself. I walk on and actually forget about her for awhile.
Then I see her in Lane One one more time and my untrained brain takes over. Look at her, who does she think she is? All sweaty, as if she’s working so hard cutting the corners of every lap, checking her watch as if she’s some kind of athlete. She looks out of shape and probably shouldn’t be running at all.
I’ve got a lot to learn.