During an event at the Center for The Work in Ojai, CA, a woman questions what she believes about her daughter. One of her statements is “She doesn’t tell me about her life.”
“How do you react when you believe that thought?” Katie asks. “I’m devastated,” says the woman. “Did you come at her with an attitude?” Katie asks. “I did,” the woman says. Katie: “A daughter tells her mother that she’s moving. That’s reality. And then there is her mother, the dreamer, living in the dream of past and future and missing the chance to interact with her daughter in the present moment.”
In the turnaround “She does tell me about her life,” the woman chuckles in recognition of her daughter’s efforts to communicate with her. She continues reading from her Worksheet, and when she gets to “I want Courtney to text and call me often, before I call or text her,” she laughs along with the audience. This statement, which once felt so charged, now seems ridiculous. “We’re only on the third statement,” says Katie, “and the way you saw the original situation has already flipped, because you’re more awake to yourself than you were when you wrote it.”
A man says, “I know that things are the way they are, but shouldn’t I take action to change my life?”
“Things are the way I believe them to be,” Katie says. “Without inquiry, I’m stuck with that. So I’m successful or I’m a failure–whichever I believe me to be. You say you want to take action, change your life, and take responsibility. Good. Do that. But most importantly, take responsibility for what you believe about your life, at least at the same level that you take responsibility for what you do in your life.”
A therapist at the Wisdom 2.0 event does The Work with Byron Katie on her belief “She won’t stop drinking.” “‘She won’t stop drinking’–can you absolutely know that it’s true?” Katie asks. “The answer is a simple yes or no. The ego will want to defend and justify–it can really scream. So just thank it for sharing and go back to the question. Can you absolutely know that it’s true that she won’t stop drinking?” When she believed this thought about her friend Kathy, the woman felt responsible, angry, and afraid, and she acted in a way that she calls passive-aggressive. In one of the turnarounds, she replaces “drinking” with “rescuing”–“I won’t stop rescuing”–and she sees how she too is addicted: to rescuing people who may not even want to be rescued. “If she stops drinking, then you’ll be happy–so it’s all about you,” Katie says. “You really don’t care if she drinks; you just want to be happy. And you don’t want anything to happen to her because you would be sad. So, if you’re unhappy, it’s her fault. When we’re unkind and passive-aggressive, we give them no reason to get sober. She’s drunk with her drinking, and you’re drunk with your thinking. Both of you are addicted.” “Yes,” says the woman, “my drugs are people. I’m mainlining Kathy, and if she’s not around I’ll replace her with someone else.”
I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t my teacher. —Byron Katie
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
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.”
Byron Katie and Martha Beck discussing chapter 5 of “A Mind at Home with Itself.” The quote they discuss is “If you see anything in the world as unacceptable, you can be certain that your mind is confused.”
Lilou: People are really going through hard times with depression and suicide, etc. What is your perception of this?
BK: People are projecting the past and the future in their minds. When you imagine what the future will be, fear is created. Now is the only time we can really live in.
I always say, that if you want a little fear and terror, get a future. I invite people to put their thoughts on a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet. The power of The Work is the answers that arise from the individual doing The Work. As we tap into that knowledge inside us, we find freedom. That’s why inquiry is so powerful. The Work is a beautiful way to peace, and it doesn’t require a teacher.
Lilou: I hear that you received The Work in a moment, kind of like Eckhart Tolle.
BK: The valuable thing about that moment for me was: I saw that when I believed my thoughts I suffered, and when I didn’t believe them I didn’t suffer. I’ve come to see that this is true for every human being. In that moment, it was very clear to me, but when I tried to tell people about it, there was no way it could be described. So the questions take people into that experience.
Lilou: How did you work out this radical shift in yourself with your family?
BK: Well, I had been agoraphobic. After my eyes were opened to reality, my family wondered “Who is this high-functioning and non-reactive woman? What is living in that body we call our mother?” They were constantly waiting for an angry reaction that never came. It was very confusing for them. I invited them to say whatever they wanted to say. They began to introduce me to my old self. That’s how I kept one foot in what I call the dream-world, without being the dream.
Lilou: How do we know if we’re taking the right actions in life?
BK: There’s no argument in your mind. If you choose to turn to the left, or to the right, or do nothing, the worst that can happen is what you’re thinking and believing. All the while you’re on the perfect path.
Lilou: So you’re saying that reality is this movie we’re in, that we’re living, and creating, and everything is right there, as we project it.
BK: Yes, in the moment. The images in our minds, and the thoughts we’re believing about the images, the way we define what we see–all this is happening in the moment. Believing that we’re that image can be terrifying, but if you’re witnessing the images out of a clear mind, they can be incredibly loving, dear, and enlightening.
Lilou: You have that grace and you can describe it, and we want to live there. It seems permanent with you. Some people experiencing The Work have it on and off, so it’s a continuous exercise.
BK: The Work is a practice , and I recommend that people do it every day. I invite people to identify any thought that causes them stress, to write it down, and to question it. Each time people do that, they become clearer, kinder, more loving human beings. And their whole world begins to shift. The world is internal. As the mind shifts, the world shifts. Thoughts create the world, as you perceive it. As the mind continues to question itself, it falls in love with itself and begins to project a beautiful world. This is the opposite of denial. It’s seeing out of your true self. If you see the world as a frightening place, don’t try to change it, look to your own mind.
Lilou: How do we get from the four questions to a nine-day intensive program, your School for The Work? The questions are very direct and simple.
BK: No one needs to come to the School to set themselves free. I make this opportunity available to people who want to immerse themselves in inquiry. It’s a very powerful experience, and almost everyone who comes walks out a transformed person. I hear this over and over. During these nine days, I take people through every possible source of stress, including fear and terror, the physical body, prejudice, gender, sex, communication, relationships, the things they are most ashamed of, and God. The curriculum is nothing short of radical.
Lilou: To find equilibrium in all areas: Is that what we’re supposed to do? Are we supposed to do The Work on all areas for true happiness?
BK: Yes, because ultimately every area has the potential to cause problems–in other words, to give rise to the unquestioned thoughts that cause our suffering. We have a continuation of the School through the Institute for The Work of Byron Katie. It’s an aftercare program that allows people to sit in The Work as a daily practice and as a community that is meditating on those questions.
A man investigates his childhood memories of his parents and money. With a little help from Byron Katie, he realizes that his problems with money have all been a misunderstanding. As he questions what he was believing, he is able to see his parents in an entirely different light, and instead of fear, he finds compassion and laughter.
“Frank should be more understanding,” a woman thinks. But this thought causes her enormous suffering, because Frank isn’t more understanding. “That’s what happens when we try to control the world,” Byron Katie says. “And all the time we’re the ones who are not being understanding. We’re not applying it to ourselves.”
Once the woman questions this thought and thoughts like it, she begins to understand that there is nothing she needs from Frank—that the only understanding she needs is her own. As Katie says, it takes only one person to have a perfect marriage.
A man thinks that his whole life has been scarred by his father’s emotional absence. But when, with Byron Katie’s help, he questions the thought that his father isn’t there for him, he discovers a father he has never known before.
A woman suffering from a deep-seated fear of Donald Trump questions her many thoughts about him. “He will create concentration camps,” she has written on her Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet, “cause a nuclear war, and ruin the environment. I want him to not be president, to disappear, or at least to get a better, kinder set of cabinet members. He should step aside and offer the space to Hillary Clinton or another Republican candidate. Trump shouldn’t say things that are racist, sexist, able-ist, homophobic, and xenophobic.”
Slowly, with Katie’s help, she questions these terrifying thoughts, sometimes with the help of the audience, and the heaviness of the thoughts begins to dissolve. After completing the inquiry, she has a moment of insight, as she realizes that it is the thoughts that create her fear, not Trump. She proceeds to tear up her Worksheet in a flourish of delight, to cheers from the audience. Katie turns to her with a smile and says, “You’ve just made America great again!”
Dixie is frightened by Donald Trump because she’s afraid he will dismantle Obamacare and Social Security, ruin our economy, deport her immigrant neighbors, undermine the effort to combat global warming, abolish women’s reproductive rights, put us at risk of nuclear war, risk planetary destruction, and take away her hope for our country.
As Byron Katie helps her question her fears, Dixie begins to understand how it’s the images in her mind that frighten her, not Donald Trump. “When we believe our thoughts,” Katie says, “we’re hypnotized. This very moment is the only opportunity we have to make real change. The gift of life goes on no matter what you’re thinking and believing. Reality is always kinder than the story we’re believing about it.”
Follow-up message from Dixie: “For the first time since November 8th, I am meeting the new morning on its own terms. And as a result, in this moment, all is well in “my kitchen.'”