Byron Katie is a speaker and author, and the creator of The Work, a system that promotes generosity, selflessness and harmony. This extract of her new book A Mind at Home with Itself shows The Work in action:
You’ll notice that Katie is very free in her use of terms of endearment.This annoys some people (not all of them New Yorkers); one reader of Loving What Is grumbled that if she wanted to hear a woman calling everyone “sweetheart” or “honey,” she would go to a truck stop in Oklahoma. To her, these endearments sounded conventional and insincere; for Katie, they are the literal truth. Everyone she meets is the beloved.
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. 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.
If I asked you which you would rather have- happiness or success- what would you say and why? And please, don’t give me what you think is the politically correct answer.
Here’s an interesting thought for you to consider: what if you don’t have to choose one or the other? What if you can be happy and as successful as you want/think you can be? Does that sound radical and crazy, or totally possible to you?
The truth is we often believe we have to be accomplished and get to the “top” then we can finally be happy. I know, and work with, many accomplished people who are not happy. So I’ve found that we have it backwards: We first need to be happy, then and only then, we can be successful, however you define your own success.
I was a happy, practicing lawyer until I realized that we didn’t have the best image as lawyers. I became fascinated with this issue and wanted to turn it around for lawyers. I also then realized that my natural gift was in personal brand management- that’s what makes me happy as a human- and guess what else? It also makes me successful, too.
Here’s the dilemma. I’ve discovered most of us don’t even stop and consider this distinction, let alone get to the possibility of “having it all” by being happy and successful. I believe it is because we have developed by being conditioned by society (your family, friends, etc.) to THINK this way.
Who would you be without your story? An interview with Byron Katie, founder of The Work.
Byron Katie, founder of The Work, has one job: to teach people how to end their own suffering. She has been bringing The Work to millions of people for more than twenty-five years. Her six books include the bestselling Loving What Is, I Need Your Love—Is That True? and A Thousand Names for Joy. The Work of Byron Katie is a way of identifying and questioning the thoughts that cause all the fear and suffering in the world. In this one-day workshop, Katie’s hope is that you experience the happiness of undoing those thoughts through inquiry and allow your mind to return to its awakened, peaceful, creative nature. The Work consists of four questions and the turnarounds, which are a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believe. When you question a thought, you see around it to the choices beyond suffering. I was very privileged to interview her. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!
Sunita Sehmi: Tell us about yourself.
Byron Katie: My background was pure suffering. I was deeply depressed for ten years, alcoholic, obese, agoraphobic, suicidal. I didn’t think that there was a way out. Every day I wanted to die. During the last two years of this, I could hardly leave my bedroom. I slept with a loaded pistol under my pillow. I would sometimes go for two weeks without being able to bathe or brush my teeth, so intense was my self-loathing. Then one morning in February 1986, out of nowhere, I experienced a life-changing realization. In that instant of no time, I discovered 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. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment. That joy is in everyone, always.
“I think Byron Katie is just a real thing. I love her to death. She’s pure and her intent is only to serve and she brings people back to reality so quickly. Teaches them not to believe their limiting thoughts and to question them and find the real truth.” —Tony Robbins