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David Baxter

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Byron Katie

I don't let go of stressful thoughts - I question them. Then they let go of me.

I've just learned about Byron Katie from a post by im_in_chains, one of our Psychlinks Forum members.

While not strictly speaking a therapist, Katie's philosophy seems to borrow heavily from Buddhist concepts and practices of mindfulness and acceptance, which has been growing as an influence in American psychotherapy as therapists like John Welwood move toward merging Eastern philosophies with more traditional psychotherapy. Like other Western therapists, Katie merges this with concepts and tools borrowed from cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). What follows is adapted from the official Byron Katie website, which promotes her books and workshops, and some of the content of her website reads like an infomercial. Nonetheless, it might be worth taking a look at some of the materials on the website and thinking about how the general concepts might be integrated into your own approach to self-growth and/or therapy.

The Work of Byron Katie
The Work of Byron Katie is a transformative process of inquiry that is helping people around the world approach their problems from a perspective of clarity and inner peace.

As a species, we human beings tend to put our happiness on hold until something changes. We'll be happy, we think, when we get what we believe we want or need: more money, a healthier body, a more attractive or understanding partner, a loving mother, children who behave. Many of us spend our lives trying desperately to get the world and the people in it to satisfy our desires. No wonder we don't feel any lasting sense of peace; mentally we're continually engaged in war with reality.

In 1986, Byron Katie experienced the profound realization that without any story about how life is supposed to be, we are left with peace far beyond what we hoped to find through wish fulfillment. On the other side of our myths about reality is reality itself, indescribably joyful - and unknowable as long as we keep trying to change it. Only when we give up "what should be" can we experience the perfection of "what is."

This "giving up," however, can't be achieved by the thinking mind. (Hoping to give up attachment, the mind subversively attaches to a concept of liberation.) The remedy that brought Katie her freedom is something she calls The Work, a penetrating inquiry process of four questions (see below) and a "turnaround." By exposing unconscious beliefs to the clear light of direct investigation, the mind wakes up to its innocent mistake and drops its losing battle. This happens naturally when we see that something we once believed is proven wrong - for example, when we learn years later that a bitter disagreement was based on a simple misunderstanding. With The Work, we don't have to wait months or years to resolve our lingering issues; liberating insights happen consistently and on purpose, showing us that suffering is ultimately based on a misunderstanding - our own.

People new to The Work often imagine that giving up their war with reality leads to a boring and passive existence. Katie responds, "Can you absolutely know that's true? My experience is just the opposite - being a lover of reality is exciting beyond imagination, and leaves me free to make real change." When we lose the blinders of limiting beliefs, we can see options and opportunities that were previously unavailable.

The Four Questions
The Work is based on four questions and a process called a "turnaround":

  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?
The Work can be done either by oneself or with another person.

First one identifies a belief or thought related to a topic that causes anxiety or unhappiness. Initially one is encouraged to choose something which feels important, which annoys or troubles you, that someone else does or did: for example "My mother never loved me," or "Tom shouldn't expect me to solve his problems."

One by one, the person doing the Work asks themselves or is asked each of the four questions listed above. If they are doing the Work by themselves, people are asked to write down their response, and if they are doing it with another person they speak their answers aloud.

After the four questions, the thought is literally turned around to its opposite. For example: "My mother never loved me" turns around to "My mother always loved me," Then the person doing The Work sees if they can find ways that this new thought is equally true, or more true, than the original thought.

The turnaround also takes the form of turning the statement around to oneself: "I never loved my mother," or "I never loved me."

Katie sumarizes The Work as: "Judge your neighbor, write it down. Ask four questions, turn it around."

Katie has applied this technique to exploring painful beliefs across many topics including relationships, parenting, illness, death and trauma. She has facilitated the work with audiences in widely varying situations, from ordinary people dealing with financial worries to prison inmates and survivors of armed conflict.

About Byron Katie
Byron Katie, founder of The Work, offers books and workshops to teach people how to end their own suffering. As she guides people through the powerful process of inquiry called The Work, they find that their stressful beliefs?about life, other people, or themselves? radically shift and their lives are changed forever.

Based on Byron Katie's direct experience of how suffering is created and ended, The Work is a simple process, accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds, requiring nothing more than a pen and paper and an open mind. This process aims to help you to trace unhappiness to its source and eliminate it. Katie (as everyone calls her) not only shows us that all the problems in the world originate in our thinking: she gives us the tool to open our minds and set ourselves free.

Katie is the author of three bestselling books: Loving What Is (see excerpt :acrobat:), I Need Your Love?Is That True? and the recently published A Thousand Names for Joy: Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are.

How The Work Began
Byron Katie became severely depressed in her early thirties. For almost a decade she spiraled down into depression, rage, self-loathing, and constant thoughts of suicide; for the last two years she was often unable to leave her bedroom.

Then one morning in February 1986, she experienced a life-changing realization. There are various names for an experience like this. Katie calls it "waking up to reality."

In that instant of no-time, she says,

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.​
She realized that what had been causing her depression was not the world around her, but the beliefs she'd had about the world. Instead of hopelessly trying to change the world to match her thoughts about how it should be, she could question these thoughts and, by meeting reality as it is, experience unimaginable freedom and joy. As a result, a bedridden, suicidal woman was instantly filled with love for everything life brings.

Katie's Experience: Waking Up to Reality
Less than two weeks after I entered the halfway house, my life changed completely. What follows is a very approximate account.

One morning I woke up. I had been sleeping on the floor as usual. Nothing special had happened the night before; I just opened my eyes. But I was seeing without concepts, without thoughts or an internal story. There was no me. It was as if something else had woken up. It opened its eyes. It was looking through Katie's eyes. And it was crisp, it was clear, it was new, it had never been here before. Everything was unrecognizable. And it was so delighted! Laughter welled up from the depths and just poured out. It breathed and was ecstasy. It was intoxicated with joy: totally greedy for everything. There was nothing separate, nothing unacceptable to it. Everything was its very own self. For the first time I ? it ? experienced the love of its own life. I ? it ?was amazed!

In trying to be as accurate as possible, I am using the word ?it? for this delighted, loving awareness, in which there was no me or world, and in which everything was included. There just isn't another way to say how completely new and fresh the awareness was. There was no I observing the ?it.? There was nothing but the ?it.? And even the realization of an ?it? came later.

Let me say this in a different way. A foot appeared; there was a cockroach crawling over it. It opened its eyes, and there was something on the foot; or there was something on the foot, and then it opened its eyes ? I don't know the sequence, because there was no time in any of this. So, to put it in slow motion: it opened its eyes, looked down at the foot, a cockroach was crawling across the ankle, and ? it was awake! It was born. And from then on, it's been observing. But there wasn't a subject or an object. It was ? is ? everything it saw. There's no separation in it, anywhere.

All my rage, all the thoughts that had been troubling me, my whole world, the whole world, was gone. The only thing that existed was awareness. The foot and the cockroach weren't outside me; there was no outside or inside. It was all me. And I felt delight ? absolute delight! There was nothing, and there was a whole world: walls and floor and ceiling and light and body, everything, in such fullness. But only what it could see: no more, no less.

Then it stood up, and that was amazing. There was no thinking, no plan. It just stood up and walked to the bathroom. It walked straight to a mirror, and it locked onto the eyes of its own reflection, and it understood. And that was even deeper than the delight it had known before. It fell in love with that being in the mirror. It was as if the woman and the awareness of the woman had permanently merged. There were only the eyes, and a sense of absolute vastness, with no knowledge in it. It was as if I ? she ? had been shot through with electricity. It was like God giving itself life through the body of the woman ? God so loving and bright, so vast ? and yet she knew that it was herself. It made such a deep connection with her eyes. There was no meaning to it, just a nameless recognition that consumed her.

Love is the best word I can find for it. It had been split apart, and now it was joined. There was it moving, and then it in the mirror, and then it joined as quickly as it had separated ? it was all eyes. The eyes in the mirror were the eyes of it. And it gave itself back again , as it met again. And that gave it its identity, which I call love. As it looked in the mirror, the eyes ? the depth of them? were all that was real, all that existed ? prior to that, nothing. No eyes, no anything; even standing there, there was nothing. And then the eyes come out to give it what it is. People name things a wall, a ceiling, a foot, a hand. But it had no name for these things, because it's indivisible. And it's invisible. Until the eyes. Until the eyes. I remember tears of gratitude pouring down the cheeks as it looked at its own reflection. It stood there staring for I don't know how long.

These were the first moments after I was born as it, or it as me. There was nothing left of Katie. There was literally not even a shred of memory of her ? no past, no future, not even a present. And in that openness, such joy. ?There's nothing sweeter than this,? I felt; ?there is nothing but this. If you loved yourself more than anything you could imagine, you would give yourself this. A face. A hand. Breath. But that's not enough. A wall. A ceiling. A window. A bed. Light bulbs. Ooh! And this too! And this too! And this too!?

All this took place beyond time. But when I put it into language, I have to backtrack and fill in. While I was lying on the floor, I understood that when I was asleep, prior to cockroach or foot, prior to any thoughts, prior to any world, there is nothing. In that instant, the four questions of The Work were born. I understood that no thought is true. The whole of inquiry was already present in that understanding. It was like closing a gate and hearing it click shut. It wasn't I who woke up: inquiry woke up. The two polarities, the left and right of things, the something/nothing of it all, woke up. Both sides were equal. I understood this in that first instant of no-time .

So to say it again: As I was lying there in the awareness, as the awareness, the thought arose: It's a foot. And immediately I saw that it wasn't true, and that was the delight of it. I saw that it was all backward. It's not a foot; it's not a cockroach. It wasn't true, and yet there was a foot, there was a cockroach. It opened its eyes and saw a foot, and a cockroach crawling over the foot. But there was no name for these things. There were no separate words for foot or cockroach or wall or any of it. So it was looking at its entire body, looking at itself, with no name. Nothing was separate from it, nothing was outside it, it was all pulsing with life and delight, and it was all one unbroken experience. To separate that wholeness and see anything as outside itself, wasn't true. The foot existed, yet it wasn't a separate thing, and to call it a ?foot,? or an anything, felt like a lie. It was absurd. And the laughter kept pouring out of me. I saw that cockroach and foot are names for joy, that there are no names for what appears as real now. This was the birth of awareness: thought reflecting back as itself, seeing itself as everything, surrounded by the vast ocean of its own laughter.

When I try to explain how The Work was born in that instant of realization, I can analyze the instant, slow it down, and tell it so that it takes on time. But this is giving time to an instant that wasn't even an instant. In that no-time, everything was known and seen as nothing. It saw a foot, and it knew that it wasn't a foot, and it loved that it was. The first and second of the four questions is like the slow-motion mechanics of the experience. ?It's a foot? ? is that true? Can I absolutely know that it's true? No. What was it like before the thought of ?foot? appeared, before there was the world of ?foot?? Nothing.

Then the third question: How do I react when I believe the thought? I was aware that there's always a contraction, that when I believe any thought I create a world separate from myself, an object that is apparently ?out there,? and that the contraction is a form of suffering. And the fourth: Who would I be without that thought? I would be prior to thought, I would be ? I am ? peace, absolute joy. Then the turnaround: It's a foot / it's not a foot. Actually, all four questions were present in the first ? Is it true? ? and everything was already released in the instant that the first question was asked. The second, third, and fourth questions were embedded in the inquiry that was there in the experience. There were no words for any of the questions ? they were not explicit, not thought, not experienced in time, but present as possibilities when I looked at my experience later and tried to make it available for people. With the fourth question the circle is complete. And then the turnaround is the grounding, the re-entry. There's nothing / there's something. And in that way people can be held without the terror of being nothing, without identity. The turnaround holds them until it's a comfortable place. And they realize that nowhere to go is really where they already are.

Comments and Disclaimer
I do not intend this article to be an endorsement of Byron Katie's beliefs, her work, her books, or her workshops - I simply don't know enough about her and her work to do that. However, at first glance, it looks like something that could be of interest to some of our Psychlinks members.

As always, my philosophy is take what you find, integrate it with what you know, and see if it helps. I'd recommend that approach if you decide to explore The Work yourself.
 

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rdw

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I have been incorporating the use of the four questions when I feel my thoughts becoming overwhelming or stressful. As well I use the judge thy neighbour worksheet when I revert to making someone else responsible for my happiness. These methods don't hold the complete answer but they help me to stop the slide back into the negative thoughts and depression. Who knew it would be this much work - just kidding!!! Another tool in the tool kit...
 

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