At Hairprint we love to feature the women that inspire us and shape the way we experience and see the world. The Women In Wellness Blog shares the stories and practices of women encompassing all parts of our wellness journey, the inner and the outer. In our eyes Susan V is a gem disguised as a woman. Beautifully humane, still and compassionate, she offers us a practice that allows to find peace inside the world of our mind.
The method she offers is called “The Work of Byron Katie”. She describes that the lens through which we perceive and what we believe has a direct impact on our lives.
We launch this new year of the Women In Wellness series with a taste into this exquisite dive into a practice of stillness with Susan V.
May you be deeply nourished all throughout 2018!
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to do this work?
I'm an avid traveler, lover of the arts, and enthusiast of opening the mind. I believe that laughter's essential and find authenticity sexy.
I haven't always been this way.
I grew up with an ambitious drive for perfection and the effect was a high-functioning inner critic; from my body to relationships and on. Like most things, it would go through ebbs and flows and like most people, no one knew when it was washing over me.
Eventually I reached a point where I was no longer able to contain it, I felt unable to live in joy. It was then that I consciously chose to challenge my fears and began my search for a path to wellbeing from the inside-out. This search led me to meditation, books, workshops and writing some of my own cheesy poetry.
I had read and resonated with many of Byron Katie's books by the time I found myself in Spain, as an au pair, in 2009. I was at a loss of how to deal with the anger and disappointment I had toward the family I was working with and was finally motivated to try out 'The Work' on a consistent basis. It left me in awe.
Through writing down my judgments of the family and honestly examining them, I experienced insights, understanding and compassion. My perspective of who they were shifted and it, quite literally, shifted everything. It was the first time I experienced an effective way to meet and engage with my painful thoughts and emotions.
Since then, I have applied this meditative process in the challenging aspects of my life. It continues to be an ongoing personal practice to this day.
What is “The Work” of Byron Katie?
The Work itself refers to a series of 4 simple questions and what are called turnarounds, ways to explore opposite perspectives of the same situation.
The first part is to identify what we believe is causing us the pain we're experiencing. It may be a particular person or circumstance, a painful memory, something feared in the future, the state of one’s body, etc.
The second part is to sincerely explore what's true for us by examining each belief, one at a time, with the questions and notice if there are any genuine examples in the opposite perspectives.
It's a simple meditative process that's free of motive and dogma. A willingness to open the mind is all that's required.
How do you work with people?
I work with people from around the world through both individual sessions (over phone or Skype) as well as in group retreats.
In one-on-one sessions, we start by getting grounded in the issue they want to explore and welcoming the thoughts and emotions that arise. I support them to identify the core beliefs governing their experience and then we investigate them. Once in touch with what's true for them around the situation, we explore how they can live by what they've discovered.
Group retreats are an incredible opportunity to get, experientially, that you're not alone or unique in the ways of the mind. Through a mixture of group and partner-work we explore our internal worlds with meditation, The Work, music and movement.
What are some of the ways you see people have transformed using this method?
The most liberating thing I see time and time again is when I witness people discovering that challenging experiences can be met, understood and even welcomed. It is incredibly relieving and empowering to realize that there is nothing that needs to be suppressed or resisted, that anything - no matter how big or small - can be integrated into a fulfilling life.
Through doing this process I’ve witnessed people flying with ease who couldn’t before, feel more connected and loving in their relationships, coming to peace with terminal illness, experiencing forgiveness for past wrongs, move beyond anxiety, and wake up to the gifts in even the most challenging circumstances.
You support people in all situations and you seem to enjoy working on relationship issues. How might someone get support working with you with this method?
Romantic relationships are fascinating to me because in our current culture there is so much pressure on this one person to be our everything - confidant, lover, best-friend, adventure buddy, etc. In addition, it's more and more common to see that romantic love and self-worth have become somehow fused. For example, when we feel rejected (in any way) by a significant other (or potential) it's quite typical for the mind to immediately come to the conclusion: "I'm unlovable". These underlying beliefs can be so insidious, to the point that many people I work with don't readily know why they feel anxious and unhappy and even more so, at a loss with what to do about it.
In my work with people both in and out of relationships, we take time to slow down and understand what's running within them in times of hurt, anxiety, frustration and hopelessness. We look at the judgments they have about their partners (or lack thereof) and the thoughts they have about themselves and their future.
Working one-on-one can be very helpful in these cases and I also occasionally share posts on my "blog for the single ladies" which highlights ways to engage and move through some of the mental drama that dating and relationships can ignite. I've heard from men and marrieds alike that it's has been a supportive resource for them as well.
Do you work with couples?
Yes and before we have a session all together I recommend a minimum of one session with each separately. These initial sessions can help to clarify what the issues are for each and support understanding more clearly what this process is, if they’re not already familiar.
In this type of genuine self-reflection there can often be humbling insights and I find that the individuals that are willing to be honest with their partner, and with themselves, have the most success in coming to greater clarity and understanding.
How is the work different to counseling or therapy?
The Work itself is solely a meditative process of inquiry. There's no diagnosis, no advice and no agenda for a particular outcome.
The question “is it true?” for example doesn’t imply that it’s not true, it’s solely a question to consider. That’s why it’s a meditation, there’s no force in it. It’s not about "becoming peaceful" or "getting rid of thoughts," even though peace and lightness around thoughts is often a result. It's a way of finding your own answers within and discovering what's true for you when you get still.
As a facilitator, I hold the space as an equal. Clients don't come to me for answers, they come to be supported in deeply listening to themselves and this is where genuine insight takes root.
The women following our blog often have thoughts about their bodies, how they look, and beliefs on having to meet certain societal standards. What are some of the beliefs you might work on to support our women readers in unraveling from their beauty myths?
Myth #1: You should love your body
That's a lot of pressure and it can lead to beating up on ourselves for beating ourselves up, and that's a lot of beating. For me, the first step into a kinder internal world is making room for the judgment. Are you the author of your thoughts? If not, see if you can hold the judgments in a space of loving awareness, notice how understandable it is considering the images we’re comparing ourselves with. Ask yourself, can you absolutely know that these judgments - the formless, substance-less letters strung together in the mind - are who you are?
Myth #2: Your body is what makes you attractive
Have you ever met someone who you found incredibly physically attractive and then they opened their mouth? Have you ever met someone you weren’t drawn to physically until they opened their mouth? What would your life be like if you knew your body didn’t define how attractive you are? What would aging be like without that thought?
Myth #3: You know what your body looks like
Body image is defined as "the subjective picture or mental image of one's own body" and we as women are currently experiencing an epidemic of rejecting the image we have of ourselves; the thought-generated picture of our body in our head. Is it possible we don’t see ourselves clearly? Are you sure that how you see your body is an accurate depiction of it?
Can someone truly be free from needing external approval?
What do you believe you need external approval for? To know that you’re good enough, that you’re lovable, that you’re okay exactly as you are?
What about when you’re not thinking about yourself? When you’re standing in front of the sea with the waves rushing in, inhaling the salty air. Relaxing in a warm tub with the hum of music filling the room. Thinking about someone you love with a smile on your face.
My experience is that the need for external approval is liberated the moment I am not concerned with who or what I think I am.
What is your definition of beauty?
Beauty to me is the embodiment of loving, regardless of the subject matter.
Where might we find you in 2018? Do you have any workshops in the horizon?
I have workshops in both Eastern and Western Canada as well as the States coming up. The details for some are just about to be released.
You can find more info on my site here: www.theworkwithsusan.com/events
And sign up for event updates here: www.theworkwithsusan.com/sign-up
Do you have any daily rituals?
Can I write what I'd like my daily rituals to be? ;-)
The one that I rarely miss is a nap for at least 10 minutes!
Tim Ferriss asks a question to all his guests: “If you had a big billboard with your message to your world what would that message be?”. What would you write?
It would have to be one of my favorite quotes from Byron Katie:
“Believing what you fear makes it true for you, and that doesn’t make it true.”