Questions and Answers

Suzannah from Egypt

I feel that when I change my suffering because I feel it to be unbearable and/or wrong, I learn to embrace it and then I feel like I am sold the lie that 1) I was suffering in the first place, 2) I needed to change my suffering because suffering is bad or not a part of life, and 3) I was the one “changing” my suffering. Three years ago my best friend died of stomach cancer, and I felt like I could not handle her death and slowly my old life was beginning to leave me. I did not enjoy life, I did not feel the need to eat or to make friends or to have sex or to improve my relationships or to get anywhere in life anymore. Everything that I thought kept me here in this world, my basic instincts, were falling away. Today I see it as kind of a liberation instead of depression. A liberation from the fear of death, from the guilt of hurting and in this way hurting others around me, and from the anger of not getting enough friends, sex, etc. Where is the freedom in being forced in your mind to change suffering because suffering is “wrong” and “to be changed”? Can we enjoy suffering?

No one wants to suffer. We all want to be happy. It’s not that suffering is “wrong.” It’s that we naturally want to be free of it. The best way I know of to be free of suffering is to question the thoughts that cause it.

Can suffering give us peace?

Yes, because it points to its own cause and reminds us to question the judgments that are the cause.

Does suffering exist or is it just another word for peace?

It’s another word for illusion, a past/future trance.

If all suffering in the world can be embraced, why would I want to embrace it?

I don’t embrace suffering. I identify the cause of it (my stressful thoughts), write them down on a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet, and question them. The answers shown to me are the embrace.

Shouldn’t I celebrate others’ suffering as their own interpretation of peace?

Suffering isn’t peace. Suffering is one path to peace.

I work at the airport in Budapest, Hungary, and I face this question every day.

I would question the thought. “Those people are suffering”—is it true? Can I absolutely know that it’s true? I would meditate on how I react when I believe the thought and notice who I am without the thought. And when I turn the thought around, I notice that though I can’t absolutely know that they are suffering, I do know that I am suffering over their imagined suffering. So I Work with myself and relieve the suffering of one human being: myself. In this way, I am free from suffering and more able to support those who ask for help.

Thank you for your kind consideration.

Ting Zhao from Georgia

Do you suggest that someone do The Work the moment they feel upset about something or someone?

Yes. And if not, to question their thoughts as soon as they are able to.

How do you do The Work in the middle of a hard discussion, when there is turmoil and you feel it in your stomach?

To feel the turmoil, I would be as quiet as I can possibly be. If I feel out of control, I excuse myself as politely as possible, leave the room, write down my stressful thoughts on a Worksheet (check out The Work app in the app store for iOS and Android), and question what I was believing in that particular situation. Or just do the best that I can not to hurt the person or people I’m with (to do as little harm as possible) until I’m in a position to question the thoughts I was believing at the time and make right any wrongs I feel that I need to make right for my part.

Rawan from Egypt

I’m ultimately grateful to you for finding The Work and getting me out from those very small places I used to be stuck in for years. I have so much joy and most of the time I’m at peace and loving what is, yet sometimes I get hit by this awful thought “There’s something rotten inside me…”

This was true for me. My unquestioned judgments about myself, others, and the world were poison to me—a rotten way to see life.

“…and my heart can never fully open.”

How can a heart be open when it is believing rotten things about yourself and life? A very difficult way to live.

I try so hard not to believe it and question it, but I end up grieving and being shattered.

That’s why I call it The Work. It’s hard work, but life is harder without it!

I feel my mind is so tricky and scary that I can’t even trust it during the process of The Work.

Work with a Certified Facilitator (thework.com). They will direct you in how to meditate on a specific moment in time, to anchor your thoughts, to be still, to question those thoughts, and to realize the freedom that was already there.

I fear hurting people, and I can’t feel safe with myself.

Do the best you can. (And know that, like all of us, you do.)

Michael from Colorado

I keep creating difficult ways of living by not completing things. Pulled out of massage therapy school and am living in my car. Have had difficult living situations with roommates and not making enough to pay bills. My family says I am mentally ill, I feel like I’m just unhappy, and I just want to feel good about what I’m doing.

You’re living in your car: can you feel good about that? Life as you see it in the moment is the beginning of where to be happy and the “how” is a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet and an opportunity to be free of suffering. Wake up in the morning, do The Work. No job? No rent or mortgage payments! Can you make a list of things to be grateful for? The Work is my job whenever I am unable to love what is, now. Not having a job, living in your car—what a perfect opportunity to make self-realization through inquiry your job! Be well, dearest.

Chandika from Oregon

I am super addicted to comparing myself to other people! I’ve done enough to see that this all stems from comparing myself to my older sister, and I think I understand the full extent of destruction it causes, yet I can’t seem to stop myself. I need help applying the work in this area.

What “other people” are you referring to? The people of past/future? When you’re comparing yourself to your sister, be aware of what you are comparing. Is that really your sister? Is that really you? Are the people of past/future real, or are they simply imagination, images in your mind’s eye? Comparing one image with another image: what does that have to do with you or your sister? Hmmmm.

Fill in a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet on your sister in any situation where you felt hurt by, envious of, or less than her. As you sit in the third question—“How do you react when you believe that thought?”—notice the images of past/future, and notice the emotions that happened (in the past) as you silently witness how you felt and reacted when you believed the thought in that moment of envy.

Tess from New York

Hi Katie, Tess here. My question is: Is there an actual physical place in Ojai, California, where Work events take place? Like a permanent building/retreat center?

Yes, the Center for The Work is a physical place. Watch the calendar for our events. For example, we held the “Who Am I?” event here recently. Also, we use it daily during our 28-day Turnaround House event and more.