If I told you I had found a process that could help you reduce, even eliminate, your personal suffering, would you be willing to give it a try? Today I’d like to share the insights of a woman whose life has been amazingly transformed. For decades she lived with debilitating depression and self-hatred. Until one morning, she had a realization: her own thoughts were causing her suffering.
Byron Katie, Katie as she likes to be called, is now the author of best-selling books including Loving What Is, I Need Your LoveIs That True? and A Thousand Names For Joy. The process she teaches, called The Work, has helped people worldwide to become aware of the power they have to free themselves from needless misery. As Katie explains, “I have found that when I believe my thoughts, I suffer, but when I question them, I don’t suffer. And I’ve come to see that this is true for every human being.”
Several years ago I learned about Katie through her book Loving What Is. Though she didn’t know it, she became my mentor from a distance. Her clear and gentle way of becoming honest with herself penetrated my heart. I read and re-read sections of her book until the truth they expressed became part of me.
Next I began listening to CDs to hear her do The Work with people one-on-one. I now use The Work for myself and with clients. I can tell you by experience it is highly effective in restoring inner peace.
I wanted to introduce you to Katie in my weekly column, so I approached by email and asked if she would grant me an interview. To my delight, she agreed.
As she told me, “The Work is so simple anyone with an open mind can do it. It’s four questions, turnarounds (turnarounds are a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believe) and examples for those turnarounds. The power of The Work lies in answering these questions. There is no power in the questions themselves. They are a key that can open our mind. They can lead us within. That’s where all the wisdom lives. And wisdom, for me, is another word for love, for God, for our true nature…The Work helps us tap into that, and we become freer and freer.”
What I have found wonderful about this process is its simplicity. As we move through life, each of us develops our own visionour interpretation, our “story”about what is happening. Many of our stories cause us pain. The Work consists of identifying your stressful thoughts about a given person or situation, the thoughts that cause you suffering, writing them down, and questioning them. Let me outline the process.
The Work of Byron Katie (Taken from Katie’s Yellow Card)
Think of a person who could use your advice. Fill in the blanks. Then ask yourself the questions below.
_____________ should/ n’t ______________ .
1. Is it true? (if the answer is “No,” move to #3)
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?
Turn the thought around. Can you find other turnarounds? Give at least specific, genuine examples for each turnaround. (©Byron Katie, 2008)
Don’t worry, I’m going to explain this in more detail.
Let me show you how it works….
To get started, find a stressful thought. Here are a few examples: “He should love me.” “She shouldn’t mistreat me.” “She ruined my reputation.” “I’m too fat.” “Life is unfair.” “My husband doesn’t listen to me.”
Use The Work to question one thought at a time.
Let me run you through this with a personal example.
My stressful thought: I’m angry with him because he judges me for what I believe. Simplify this to, he judges me.
Question 1: He judges you. Patricia, is that true?
Question 2: Patricia, can you absolutely know that it’s true that he judges you?
Reply: (After dropping into silence for a few moments and listening within) No. (I’m thinking to myself, I’m not absolutely sure that he judges my beliefs. How can I really know what someone is thinking? Sometimes I might be assuming what he is thinking about me when I really don’t know. )
Question 3: How do you react, what happens, when you believe the thought “He judges me”?
Reply: (I close my eyes and relax, opening to remember what I feel in moments that I believe this thought.) I feel sick to my stomach. My throat feels constricted . . . I feel angry and disapproved of. I am worried and on edge about talking to him again. I want to distance myself from him. I am on the defensive anytime we interact. . . I tend to be short with him. I feel stressed as we are talking. I am continually defending my position to myself and him.
Question 4: Patricia, Who would you be without the thought “He judges me”?
Reply: (I picture myself in a situation where I was focusing on that thought. I go into that scenario and visualize what I would be like when I’m about to interact with my friend if I wasn’t assuming he was judging me.) My body would be relaxed.. I’d just be talking with him and enjoying him for who he is. My conversation would flow more easily. I wouldn’t be anxious or angry. I would be more spontaneous. I would look forward to seeing him and be eager to know what is going on in his life. I would be present in our discussion instead of worrying about what might be said next.
When I feel I’ve gathered all my insights, I begin to turn the thought around.
Here’s Katie’s suggestion. Turn it to the Opposite. Turn it to the Other. Turn it to Yourself. For each turnaround, find three specific, genuine examples of how the turnaround is true in your life. The turnarounds show us there are many different ways to interpret a situation. We begin to see that our minds are expert at finding “proof” to support whatever thought we choose to believe.
Turn-around to the Opposite: My stressful thought turned to the opposite: “He doesn’t judge me.”
Examples of how this turnaround is true: He doesn’t judge me for my views on physical fitness and eating well. He also doesn’t judge my love of travel and my way of showing others I care about them. Also, I can be sure that there are many times during the day when he’s not judging me. He has a life, after all. And he doesn’t judge me when he’s asleep.
Turn-around to the Other: “I judge him.”
Examples of how this turnaround is true: I often feel that his viewpoints about life, religion and politics are too narrow. I see him as limiting himself by tolerating a job that doesn’t seem to fulfill him. I think he is too cautious with finances. Yes, I see that I do often judge him even if I’m not saying it out loud. Oh mycould it be that I’m just like him?
Turn-around to the self: “I judge myself.”
Examples of how this turnaround is true: I say I believe I have a right to say No to someone, but then I feel guilty if I do and beat myself up. I judge my own inner knowing, because at some level, I think I should have more “official support” or “external proof” for what I believe. Yes, I do often judge myself.
After finishing the process, I feel a sense of relief and greater understanding of myself and my friend.
Katie says, “No one is asking you to give up your stressful thought. Instead, just question it. Trust that if you do The Work, the thought will gradually let go of you.”
Okay. I’ve introduced you to a process that is reducing and eliminating much of my personal suffering. Are you willing to give it a try?
If so, to get started with The Work, I encourage you to visit Katie’s website www.thework.com . There Katie offers many free resources. You can download, free of charge, the small book version of Loving What Is. You can also download a “Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet.” This worksheet will help you to explore a stressful situation deeply. When you’ve completed it, you can pull from it some stressful thoughts to question. The “One-Belief-at-a-Time Worksheet” is designed to take you through the entire process with one stressful thought.
At www.thework.com, you can also watch Katie doing The Work with people on a variety of topics.
Do you want to reduce your suffering? If so, give The Work a try. I’m confident that as you question your thoughts, you will begin to experience greater peace inside. Your imprisoning thoughts will begin to let go of you.
As Katie says, “Don’t believe what I say. Find out by experiencing it for yourself.”