Published on July 28th, 2017 | by Giovanna Rossi Pressley0
A Conversation with Byron Katie
by Giovanna Rossi
Renowned author, educator and public speaker, Byron Katie, founder of The Work, has made it her life’s mission to teach people how to end their own suffering. Her insight into the mind is consistent with leading-edge research in cognitive neuroscience, and The Work has been compared to the Socratic dialogue, Buddhist teachings, and twelve step programs.
The Work is a simple yet powerful process of inquiry that teaches how to identify and question the stressful thoughts that cause stress. It was developed by Katie after a long depression. “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,” she writes. “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.”
People who do The Work as an ongoing practice commonly report alleviation of depression, decreased stress, improved relationships, reduced anger, increased mental clarity and more energy with a new sense of ongoing vigor and well-being.
Giovanna Rossi: I wanted to start with a quote from your book, Loving What Is. You write “go inside and find your own happiness. To experience what already exists within you. Unchanging, immovable, ever-present, ever waiting. No teacher is necessary. You are the teacher you have been waiting for.” What do you mean by that?
Byron Katie: I went to the world for answers like ‘What do you do about this?’ ‘How can I that?’ ‘What do you do?’ ‘What do you think?’ And it was a lot of depression in the end for me, specifically. Eventually, I found the answers inside. There was a moment it became so clear to me to just question everything I believed about my life, other people’s lives, what I thought about other people, to question what was running through my head. All of a sudden everything shifted. It shifted dramatically but every time I would question my assumptions, the things I was so sure about were true, it would turn around. It would flip and show me a world I had no access to otherwise. So that’s what I do. I invite people to, above all else, question what you think; to continue to question what you think.
GR: And that is really hard to always be doing that! And that’s why you have these four easy questions to guide people. Can you walk us through those?
BK: Yes. And the reasons for the questions. It really is a practice. It’s something we just get very still with and sit in and even meditate on. It is a practice until these questions become obvious. For example, what if I had the truth “he betrayed me?” Maybe I had that thought 30 years ago, maybe last week, maybe it was 40 years ago. It doesn’t matter in time. If the thought is still occurring to me and it’s taking my attention and has the slightest negative tone to it, I would question it. I would mindfully go back to that time and place where I really passionately believed it. And I would stay there and say “he betrayed me.” I’d close my eyes, get still, and ask “Is it true?” That’s the first question.
Then I’d ask the second question: “Can I absolutely know it’s true he betrayed me?” And then I would meditate on that and stay there and watch the images that show up. So then I am just witnessing my thoughts. “I was so absolutely positive.” “We even broke up over it.” “My life was ruined over it.” Can I absolutely know that it’s true that he betrayed me and that my life was ruined over it? And then, whether the answer is a yes or no, I move to the third question: “How do I feel when I believe those thoughts?”
I notice, in that situation, how I reacted when I believed that thought. And I see how hurt I was and how it affected my life, how it colored everything. After witnessing that, we experience a lot of things we thought we didn’t want to see that really heal us from the past in that third question.
After witnessing that, I then go to the fourth question: “Who or what would I be without the thought ‘he betrayed me’?” It’s colored completely differently. I see him defensive, upset. I see he doesn’t want to lose me. I see things in this moment that I did not see then. And then I invite people to do the “turnaround.”
“He betrayed me” turns around to “I betrayed him” which is the opposite of what I believed. I see the ways I betrayed him, from little tiny things that I thought didn’t matter at the time and I just sit in our lives together when I was believing that and how it cost me that relationship. And then another turn around: “I betrayed me.” And, with my eyes closed, I sit with that and see, in that situation, how I betrayed me.
This work is for the brave and the bold but I don’t know of another way to free myself. Every time I think of him today, I think of him with such love and connection. That is a past I feel at peace with as opposed to hurt and wounded. Anytime I think the thought “someone’s betrayed me” I giggle and laugh and say, “Well, I’ll consider that later when I have time to sit down with it because I know the mind so well. So, that’s the work. Judge your neighbor, write it down, ask four questions, and turn it around. And, it is a practice.
GR: It’s called The Work and it’s interesting you named it that because it is work. You have to focus on it and really do this to get to the other side.
BK: It takes willingness. Anyone with an open mind can do this work, but that is the requirement. For some of us we have to be tired of the pain. We need to have tried everything else, maybe. I know in my life I had. And some of us are just curious to know the truth. We don’t have to be hurt and miserable to do this work. We never know what we’re going to find in it and it’s fabulous, from one end to the other. I wouldn’t leave home without it.
GR: To have such a loving acceptance of ‘what is’ is amazing. How have you handled things like people passing away in your life?
BK: You know I’m just not at war with life. When your mind is open, your heart is open. I just meet it all with whatever is there authentically without pretending or hiding. I get to watch my life as it unfolds as it happens.
GR: What does success mean to you?
BK: Being happy in my life. I’m freed up to live a life where I can help and be available to others. Whether I’m alone or with people there is always something to contribute.
GR: When was the moment where you knew that you were really good at what you do?
BK: Rather than being good at what I do I’d say I’m simply authentic versus being fake.
GR: What does authenticity look like or mean?
BK: No fake news. In fact, we take assumptions out of our heads when we look at the four questions and turn around like in the example “he betrayed me.” It is only half the truth. I betrayed him, I betrayed myself, and I can find many ways he was completely loyal. And that was painful to sit in all those years ago. I have a very open mind and I invite people to experience their own authenticity that is just waiting to show itself. These questions are way of inviting them in.
Giovanna Rossi is the founder of Well Woman Life. To hear the full interview, visit WellWomanLife.com/075show. To learn more about Byron Katie, visit TheWork.com.