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4 Questions to Change Your Life: An Interview With Byron Katie, Creator of 'The Work'

04/02/2015 12:29 pm ET | Updated Jun 02, 2015

A powerful practice of self-inquiry created by Byron Katie, The Work consists of four questions that can help you examine and dissolve the stress associated with your thoughts. She explains how in this interview.

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Omega: The Work is a process of inquiry with the goal of ending suffering. How did you come up with it?

Katie: I was depressed for 10 years. Paranoid, agoraphobic, filled with self-loathing. Every day I wanted to die. For the last two years of that time, I could barely leave my bedroom.

Then one morning, as I lay sleeping on the floor in an attic room of a halfway house, a cockroach crawled over my foot. I opened my eyes, and in place of all that darkness was a joy I can't describe.

What I realized in that moment was that when I believed my thoughts I suffered, and when I didn't believe my thoughts, I didn't suffer. I've come to see that this is true for every human being. In that moment, The Work was born.

Omega: What are the components of The Work?

Katie: The Work is a simple, very powerful process. It's a way to identify and question the thoughts that are the cause of all the suffering in the world.

First, you write down the judgments you are thinking about other people, and then you put these judgments, one by one, up against the four questions of The Work.

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

Then you do what I call a "turnaround," which is a way to experience the opposite of what you believe. Some of those opposites can wake you up to important truths that lie hidden within you.

Omega: You stress the importance of writing down the inquiry into each thought. Why is it important to put it on paper?

Katie: If you try to do The Work in your head, without putting your thoughts on paper using something like the Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet, the mind will outsmart you. Before you're even aware of it, it will be off and running into another story to prove that it's right.

But though the mind can justify itself faster than the speed of light, it can be stopped through the act of writing. Once the mind is stopped on paper, thoughts remain stable, and inquiry can easily be applied.

Omega: At some point does the process become second nature and the conscious effort to "do The Work" drop away?

Katie: Yes. Eventually, whenever a stressful thought arises, a wordless questioning arises along with it, and the thought unravels. Inquiry becomes alive in you as the natural, wordless response of awareness to any untrue thoughts that arise, until the point where such thoughts don't even arise and the mind is completely at peace.

Omega: How are emotions and sensations--the things we feel in our body--incorporated into The Work?

Katie: The Work is meditation. I sometimes call it "mental yoga." I invite people to meditate on each of the four questions.

For example, if you are believing "He doesn't care about me," and are meditating on the third question ("How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?"), in that silence you begin to notice the emotions that occurred in that situation.

You feel them rise from within, and mental images show you how you treat others and yourself when you believe that thought. You get to experience the separation that thought creates, and the emotions might include sadness, depression, resentment, or anger. I encourage people to be thorough and accurate when they're answering this question.

Then with the fourth question ("Who would you be without that thought?"), people come to see what it would be like to experience a stressful situation without the thought that is creating the stress in the first place.

It's truly amazing to see what is revealed in that quietness. It can be life-changing. Imagine how it would feel, what kind of person you would be, how you'd be treating other people and yourself, if you could see that person more clearly, with pure love, not believing your negative judgment of him or her.

Omega: Someone described The Work as "story UNtelling." Is that an accurate description?

Katie: Yes, except that there is no conscious effort. Your stories unravel by themselves as you question them. When you stop seeking, the beauty concealed by the seeking becomes evident. What you wanted to find is what remains, beyond all stories.

Omega: What is left when we abandon our stressful thoughts?

Katie: Only gratitude and laughter.

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