Interview: Byron Katie Wants You to Ask if Everything You Know is Wrong

Can you be both a bestselling author and a radical spiritual teacher? Apparently so in the case of Byron Katie, whose new book asks readers to question fundamental assumptions.

There are basically two types of spiritual writers. The first are the “skeptic guides”: relatable stand-ins for the reader, like Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love or Dan Harris in the #1 bestseller 10% Happier. These people start out neurotic and normal, and take readers on their journey to something slightly less neurotic (and less normal).

The second type is less common: someone who has basically jumped off the deep end and is writing from a position of something like enlightenment, liberation, whatever. A lot of these people, we suspect, are frauds. But some—Eckhart Tolle, Oprah’s guru; the ’60s icon Ram Dass—seem, upon close inspection, to be the real deal. Which, you know, only makes us more skeptical.

Byron Katie—who combines the cutting wisdom of a Zen master with the look of a less-made-up Paula Deen—is in the second category. Katie herself hit bottom in 1986: a massive depression, suicidal despair, the inability to function as a mother, wife, or anything else.

And then something happened. Katie is too wise to call it “enlightenment” (it’s a truism that the more someone uses words like that, the less they’ve experienced it) but it was some kind of… shift.

As she describes in her new book, A Mind at Home with Itself, written with her husband, the poet and translator Stephen Mitchell, Katie suddenly realized that the multitude of thoughts and assumptions she was carrying around just weren’t that reliable. And when they were held a little more lightly, all those clichés about the present moment—radiant, pure, no problem, compassionate—came true.

“My depression had nothing to do with the world around me,” Katie writes in the book’s first chapter. “It was caused by what I believed about the world. I realized that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that.”

Recently, over tea at a New York City hotel, where Katie was staying during her book tour, I asked her how she does it. How does she manage to be both uncompromising in her own perspective—more on that in a minute—and a bestselling writer?

“Because this stuff works,” Katie told me. “It doesn’t take a teacher, doesn’t take another human being to do it. It’s 100 percent free.”

The “stuff” Katie was referring to is a deceptively simple technique she calls “The Work.” In The Work, you take a particularly nettlesome thought—my spouse is unkind, my job is unfulfilling, the world is a mess, whatever—and inquire into it. Do you really know that it’s true? What would you be like if it weren’t? What would it be like if you “turned it around” on yourself?

On paper, these questions may seem banal. In practice, they lead to a kind of radical skepticism about your own opinions and preconceptions that can be extremely clarifying. Once our interview was over, I did The Work with Katie on my envy of other writers, and basically started crying in that midtown hotel. She legitimately had me realize that I was happier with my life than I would be with theirs. For a minute anyway.

Or, to take another example, Katie said, in most of our relationships, “You really are who I believe you to be—and this is always false. That’s why inquiry is so important. We’re never dealing with each other—we’re dealing with our own internal lives.”

I pointed out that to many of my skeptical journalist colleagues, not to mention my “social justice warrior” friends, there’s something selfish about all this “get happy” stuff—maybe something narcissistic, puerile, mushy-headed.

“I love skepticism,” Katie said. “I think it’s very helpful.”

“The Work is the essence of skepticism,” Mitchell chimed in. “If skeptical New Yorkers would take their skepticism further, and inward, they would see that what they think they know, they don’t really know.”

“The truth is, Katie is a radical teacher, disguised as a nice lady who calls you ‘sweetheart.’”

I countered that, living in New York, knowing stuff is the name of the game: which subway to take home, how much a Snapple costs at a bodega, how not to get taken advantage of on the street…

“And why am I so frightened?” Katie interrupted.

Well, I said, this a tough city.

“I know!” Katie replied. “I left my purse at a coffee shop or something years ago, and I walked out. Then I remembered and came back for it, but it was gone.”

But then Katie said something I didn’t expect. “My mind immediately started working on what they would do with my credit cards, and my money, but then I thought that they would see my children’s picture—and I thought of the joy, you know, that that can bring to anyone.”

“I remember you talking about the gift that the person could give to his girlfriend,” Mitchell added.

“Or the food for a child,” said Katie. “Or alcohol, whatever—we need what we need when we think we need it.”

Wait, so she had her purse stolen, but was really feeling joy and compassion? Really? This, I said, sounds radically different from the lives most people lead. Is it even compatible with a normal life?

“For me it’s a matter of do people suffer in it, or not,” Katie said. “I haven’t talked to anyone that is doing The Work that feels like he must do anything in particular with his life. We question everything.”

Even, apparently, how much it sucks when someone steals your stuff.

But wait a minute, I said. Some ideas are important—like “racism is bad,” for example. Do we really want to question that too?

“Yes,” she said, “because you’re more likely to understand the racists. You’re more likely to have sane discussions. You’re more likely to grow, listen, expand, and find common ground.”

“One effective kind of questioning,” said Mitchell, “would be to inquire into a statement like, ‘I’m angry at racists because they are ruining the country,’ or something to that effect. The fact is, that thought—even though it comes from a place of justice and compassion—is a thought that can cause tremendous stress and once you investigate it you find some very interesting creatures that live in the dark under that thought. And it’s to the benefit of everybody to be a little clearer about it.”

The truth is, Katie is a radical teacher, disguised as a nice lady who calls you “sweetheart.” For example, consider the passage in A Mind at Home with Itself where Katie says, “It’s all a dream—all of life, everything. Nothing ever is; nothing ever can be, since the very instant it seems to be, it’s gone. This is truly hilarious.”

This isn’t the cuddly spirituality that, say, Eat, Pray, Love offers for mass consumption. It’s almost shockingly uncompromising, albeit delivered in kind and reassuring tones.

But, I asked, if I’m feeling spiritually happy about getting robbed or racists ruining the country, aren’t I being irresponsible, given how privileged and fortunate I am?

“Isn’t it odd how people combine those two things [happiness and irresponsibility] when it’s just not so,” said Katie. “You know, the Dalai Lama has such a sense of humor. He’s such a good, clear man, it seems, and so bright.”

We sat there for a moment, perhaps reflecting on the horrors that the Dalai Lama has seen in his life, how much responsibility is on his shoulders, how his people are the victims of the largest ethnic cleansing operation on the planet right now.

Or maybe that’s just what I was thinking. Maybe Katie was just enjoying the moment.

Midway through A Mind at Home with Itself, Katie addresses the “enlightenment” question head on. “People used to ask me if I was enlightened,” she writes, “and I would say, ‘I don’t know anything about that. I’m just someone who knows the difference between what hurts and what doesn’t.’”

Just so.

Event: 21 February 2018 A Mind at Home with Itself

In A Mind at Home with Itself, Byron Katie illuminates one of the most profound ancient Buddhist texts, The Diamond Sutra, to reveal the nature of the mind and to liberate us from painful thoughts, using her revolutionary system of self-inquiry called “The Work.”

Wednesday, 21 February 2018
7-8:30 p.m.

Location Address: 
The Sebastopol Community Cultural Center
390 Morris St.
Sebastopol, California 95472
Contact Information: 

Copperfield’s Books

Phone: 707.823.8991

Podcast: Awakening to Joy–Interview with Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell

To listen on iTunes, click here.

In this in-depth conversation with Jonathan Fields of, Byron Katie is joined by her husband, Stephen Mitchell. Together they explore her journey and dive into their newest collaboration, A Mind at Home with Itself, which is based on one of the greatest spiritual texts, The Diamond Sutra.

KATIE: The Diamond Sutra is the story of the Buddha speaking with his student Subhuti. And truly, it’s the Buddha speaking to himself.

STEPHEN: The translations of the Diamond Sutra tend to be very difficult to penetrate, so I thought it would be a service to create a version that is accessible and allow its wisdom to shine through for contemporary readers.

KATIE: Stephen read the sutra to me, chapter by chapter, and he asked me to respond to it from my own experience. He’d write down my words and then do his beautiful thing of moving the way I talk into a more understandable English. I’d tell him often, “The sutra is so beautiful that for me to add one word would take away from it.” But he kept telling me that I had something valuable to add. I really hope it serves people.

STEPHEN: It struck me from the beginning that there were similarities between the mind that created the Diamond Sutra and Katie’s mind. There’s a great emphasis on inquiry in the Diamond Sutra. The wonderful thing that inquiry does is to keep pulling the rug out from under itself. Even the clearest truths that the sutra teaches are immediately invalidated, so you’re left with nothing to grasp. It’s wonderful how the subtle, profound mind of the author educates you in not-knowing, in not-grasping. This is exactly what The Work does: it questions assumptions and apparent truths that we create our lives around and that cause so much suffering. Katie’s stories make the insights of the Diamond Sutra vivid and moving. They give it the flesh and blood of loved experience.

JONATHAN: I completely agree with Stephen. Katie, I found your experience of the Diamond Sutra to be really powerful.

STEPHEN: The central insight of the sutra is generosity. The more deeply you understand that there is no such entity as the self, no separation between self and other, the more your life naturally becomes a life of generosity.

JONATHAN: In closing, I always ask one question. In your experience, what does it mean to live a good life?

KATIE: To be present and to recognize what is at hand to do, and to do that without hesitation.

STEPHEN: For me, it’s always recognizing the genuine wherever it appears, whether it’s in ancient texts, modern literature, music, art, or people. There is something magnetically compelling about someone who is speaking from a genuine inner truth.

For more information, visit

Podcast: Mind Body Green interview

Also available on iTunes, here.


Jason Wachob, founder of, interviews Byron Katie about her system of self-inquiry known as The Work, which helps people to tell the difference between what they believe about reality and reality itself.

JASON: Katie cuts through the bullshit pretty quickly: “The Work isn’t meant to support you to feel good. There’s no feel-good in it. It’s about waking up to reality,” That’s good stuff. “When I sat down with Katie, she shared intimate details about her awakening and what life was like beforehand. It wasn’t easy. As a mother of three, she—understandably and relatably—was always worried about money, depressed, and stuck in a cycle of compulsive eating and smoking. One day in 1986 everything changed; she suddenly saw the world through different eyes and recalls in great detail exactly what it was like. That’s how The Work was born. Katie shares several examples that illustrate The Work, dives into the essential questions to ask yourself (which she details in her new book, “A Mind at Home with Itself”), and helps us see ourselves as entirely separate from our belief systems. In her words, “Suffering is the flip side of our true nature,” and The Work is one way to guide yourself in the right direction.

Video: No One Can Hurt Me, That’s My Job

Byron Katie expands on the statement “No one can hurt me; that’s my job” for an audience member at the Spirit Rock Meditation Center. The man, the son of a Holocaust survivor, questions how this viewpoint could apply to victims of violent crime, war, and hate. “There are a lot of people being hurt by a lot of other people today,” he says, “and this statement sounds a little privileged.”

“That’s why I’m standing here,”Katie says. “You don’t have to suffer that kind of hurt. You can get clear. And if you can get clear, someone else doesn’t have to suffer that.”Katie walks through a hypothetical scenario that illustrates how the mind creates its own suffering by imagining an event in a future that doesn’t exist.

Katie points him to his immovable true nature. “You don’t have to notice it; it’s always there. It’s yours, it’s perfect, it’s immovable. And it hurts when you argue against it.”

When I’m walking to the gas chamber, other than what I’m thinking and believing,what an amazing day!—Byron Katie


For more information, visit

Video: Stanley Didn’t Have to Die

Stanley Didn’t Have to Die—The Work of Byron Katie


An audience member is angry at a loved one who died. She believes that “Stanley didn’t have to die.” Sensing him sitting at the breakfast table with her, she wrestles with feelings of blame such as “He shouldn’t be okay that he died,” “He should be trying to fix this,” and “He should come back in his current, enlightened state.”

Byron Katie takes her through a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet. Together they discover some illuminating turnarounds that help her find peace in the passing of her loved one.

“It doesn’t matter what’s in our head,” Katie says. “Is everything welcome there? Is your mind at home with itself? Because if you’re not comfortable with it, it could use a little Work.”


For more information, visit

Event: 5-10 December 2017 No-Body Intensive

The No-Body Intensive, Byron Katie’s four-day guided exploration of your belief system, lovingly questions the main aspects of identity and brings to awareness everything identity is made of. Experience for yourself how identity is created, what it feels like to hold it, and how to un-create everything that isn’t your pure essence.


For more information, visit

Podcast: I Had An Abortion When I Didn’t Want To—The Work of Byron Katie

This podcast is also available on iTunes, click here to listen.

A woman resents her husband because she feels he pressured her into having an abortion.

BK: Get still. “You didn’t want to have an abortion”–is it true?

Woman: I only have yes or no?

BK: That’s it.

Woman: I want a disclaimer (laughing). Yes.

BK: How do you treat your husband when you believe the thought “I didn’t want to have an abortion”?

Woman: I blame him. I treat him with suspicion. I question his motives at every turn.

BK (to audience): I invite you all to get out of your head as she has. Be courageous enough to ask, get still, and see what arises to meet the question. (To woman) Who would you be, living with this man for forty-one years, without the thought “I had an abortion when I didn’t want to.” Look at the difference in your marriage.

Woman: We’d both be free.

BK: What is the cause of your suffering?

Woman: The thought, for sure.

BK: Turn it around.

Woman: I did want to have an abortion.

BK: Feel it. Take responsibility for it. You’ve been trying to get him to do it for forty-one years. You’ve been putting that thought onto him for four decades.

Woman: It feels easier to blame him than to take responsibility.

BK: No one can change my mind. You can talk all you want; My mind shifts or it doesn’t. I can never say someone made me decide anything. There was a moment where I believed what I believed and made a decision. That was all mine—I’m 100% responsible.



Interview—A Mind at Home with Itself—Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell


Click here to listen on iTunes.

Lisa Natoli interviews Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell about their newly released book, A Mind at Home with Itself.

The book is structured around the Diamond Sutra, a Buddhist text whose main point is generosity. “The more you realize that there’s no such thing as a self—that in reality there is no separation between self and other—the more naturally you become a generous human being,” Stephen explains.

Lisa reads briefly from the book: “How can we be generous, not just occasionally, but all the time—every day of our lives? It sounds impossible, but what if it’s not? What if generosity can become as natural as breathing? This book shows you how.”

Katie adds, “No-self means selflessness, which is a fearless state of mind. Other than the thoughts we attach to, which cause fear, we are selfless.”

Lisa and Katie continue delving deeply into the process of breaking free from the trance that keeps us from reality—from our truly generous selves.

NOTE: Over 900 people will meet online to study A Mind at Home with Itself together:


For more information, visit

Four Liberating Questions

By Tom Moon, MFT–

Corey came to see me, consumed with hurt and rage. Two years ago, his partner Lyle, whom Corey said “was the love of my life,” abruptly moved out of their apartment and disappeared while Corey was at work. In the following days, Corey discovered that Lyle had been involved with Lyle’s “best friend” for more than a year, and that the two had left the state together. Corey subsequently spent most of his waking hours so preoccupied with angry and vengeful thoughts that his life came to a standstill. He wanted to let go, but he felt completely stuck.

Together, we tried a number of methods to get him unstuck, and what finally did it was a process of self-examination developed some years ago by a woman named Byron Katie. Beginning in her early thirties, Katie was so depressed and stuck in self-loathing that she was often unable to get out of bed for days or weeks at a time. One morning, in a sudden moment of life-changing insight, she saw that her suffering came from her thoughts about her situation—such as “my life is horrible,” and “I don’t deserve happiness”—and not from the situation itself. She realized a simple truth: when she believed her thoughts, she suffered, and when she didn’t, she was happy.

Out of this insight, she developed a process of self-inquiry which she now calls “The Work.” It involves asking four simple questions about each belief that causes us pain:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  3. How do you react when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?

After answering these questions, respondents are asked to come up with a “turnaround,” a sentence expressing the opposite of what one believes. So, for instance, “He doesn’t understand me,” could become, “I don’t understand him,” or, “I don’t understand myself.”

I see “The Work” as a form of self-directed cognitive therapy. It has helped many thousands of people to get out of their mental ruts and to improve the quality of their lives.

Corey and I applied this process to his belief that: “In order for me to be happy, I need Lyle to admit he hurt and betrayed me, and I need him to offer apologies and restitution.”

Here is an abbreviated summary of our discussion:

Tom Moon: “Is this idea true?”

Corey: “Yes!”

Tom Moon: “Can you absolutely know that it’s true?”

Corey: “Well, no, I can’t really know what would happen if he ever did actually come clean with me. Maybe I’d be happier, and maybe I wouldn’t feel any different than I do right now. I’m not much of an expert on how to be happy.”

Tom Moon: “How do you react when you believe that thought?”

Corey: “I feel heavy, bitter, weighed down. I feel vengeful. And I feel helpless because he has to do something in order for me to be happy, and he isn’t doing it.”

Tom Moon: “Who would you be without the thought?”

Corey: “I’d feel a lot lighter and happier, that’s for sure. Lyle would finally really be gone from my life. When I think about him all the time, it’s like he’s still with me every day.”

Tom Moon: “Okay, now turn the thought around into its opposite: The first thing that occurs to me is that I don’t need anything from Lyle in order to be happy. It’s believing that I do that is keeping me unhappy.”

As we talk further, another turnaround occurs to him. “I need to admit that I’m hurting myself every time I ruminate about him, and instead of waiting for him to apologize, maybe I need to apologize to myself for what I’m doing to me,” Corey said.

In the weeks that followed, Corey asked these four questions every time he found himself ruminating about Lyle, and was gratified that his destructive preoccupation gradually melted away. Corey’s experience is not unusual. In my work, I’ve found Byron Katie’s process to be a simple, but highly effective, tool for opening the mind and expanding perspective.

An important advantage of this process is that it is easy to learn. Most of the people I work with are able to use it effectively on their own after just a little guidance and coaching. One easy way to begin learning how to do it is to access Katie’s website (, where you’ll find a step-by-step description of how to do it.


Tom Moon is a psychotherapist in San Francisco. For more information, please visit his website

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