Byron Katie just wants you to be happy. She doesn't know you, but she believes she can help you find your happiness, and countless of her fans and followers would agree. She also thinks that helping you find happiness goes a long way in solving the myriad problems in the world. She's been on Oprah. Tony Robbins is a fan and incorporates her work into his own teachings. Her methods are remarkably simple; she only asks that you question your own thoughts and that you accept reality for what it really is. You will wonder why you never thought of it.
An unusual woman with an unusual name, Byron Katie is leading a revolution of the mind. Although she might never identify it as such, she is espousing a form of meta-cognition, a way of thinking about thinking. Are your thoughts a true reflection of the reality around you, or do they come unbidden from your unconscious? Can you trust what your own mind tells you? Byron Katie would say no. She would ask you to question each thought as it comes, to mull it over and put it to the test. And then she would ask you to take that further, to ponder the opposite of that thought, and whether that "turnaround," in fact, might be a truer version of reality. This process she calls "The Work."
The Work: I had the opportunity to see Byron Katie speak in person at the Omega Institute NYC Conference, and I have also been reading her book I Need Your Love -- Is That True?. Both were eye-opening, I might even say life-changing, experiences for me. The Work is a series of four questions that you apply to each stressful, unhappy, or counterproductive thought that comes into your mind. Take, for example, the thought "I am such a pushover," which you might have after being taken advantage of by someone you love or trust.
Is it true? This is only a simple yes or no question, either I am a pushover or I am not -- in objective reality without adding my own filters and biases.
Can you absolutely know that it is true? This is also a yes or no question but requires more thinking. Who is to say what constitutes being "a pushover"? Perhaps being a pushover to one person is seeking or receiving just the right amount of guidance to another. If I cannot definitively say that it is true, then the answer is no.
How do you react -- what happens -- when you believe that thought? How does this thought make me feel and behave? If I worry that I am easily manipulated, I may beat myself up in my relationships and unnecessarily put walls up. I criticize myself. And I begin to resent the other person because I can't put my guard down around them.
Who would you be without the thought? If that thought never existed, how would I feel and behave? If I never had to worry about being a pushover, I could live more freely. I wouldn't put my guard up in my relationships, and I would allow myself to be vulnerable and who I really am. I would feel better about myself.
The Turnaround: Now comes the point where Byron Katie asks you to take the opposite of your thought and mull it over. One turnaround might be: "I am not at all a pushover." Is this any truer than the original statement? Can I think of any examples in which this is true? Another turnaround might be that my spouse/partner/parent/coworker is the one who is a pushover. In this way, I could come to see that everyone can be manipulated at times, and that this is normal. I can see that I am not "such" a pushover at all, and that I am letting the fear of being controlled actually control me. I can begin to let these thoughts go and no longer criticize myself or others. And so the stress associated with the thought of being such a pushover would no longer exist.
What Bryon Katie is offering is a method of self-inquiry that allows us to free ourselves from the anger and negativity we feel when we accept our thoughts, unquestioned, as true. We cause much of our own suffering by believing what our minds tell us. If we can see that certain thoughts are the cause of our own unhappiness, we can begin to let go and be free of them. Questioning these thoughts, putting them to the test of The Work, is a form of enlightenment. If the unexamined life is not worth living, perhaps the unexamined thought is not worth thinking.
It certainly can't hurt to try.
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