”Reality is always kinder than the story we tell ourselves about it. If I were to tell the story of reality, it would have to be a love story. ” – Byron Katie
Five years ago, a revolutionary new book was published. Loving What Is: The Four Questions that can Change Your Life, written by Byron Kathleen Reid (known far and wide as Byron Katie, and who goes by Katie) challenged us to acknowledge that perhaps what we think about things are not reality, and that our presumptions actually cause our suffering. This mother of three, who suffered such a deep depression that she was suicidal and full of rage and self-loathing, experienced in 1986 what she can only call a moment of grace when she saw the truth behind her fear and now helps others with suffering in their lives.
“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.”
The process that Katie uses to experience such joy is called “The Work.” The foundation of The Work is a self-inquiry process that involves the following four questions, which are used to investigate a stressful belief in your life:
- Is it true?
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
- How do you react when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
And then comes the turnaround, where you experience the opposite of your original belief, and see what you and the one you judge have in common.
Katie’s first book, which explains The Work in detail, was followed by her second, I Need Your Love – Is That True? It explored how The Work can promote more joy and less suffering in relationships. And just released is her third book, A Thousand Names for joy: A Guide to Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are. It was written with husband Stephen Mitchell, who is noted for his acclaimed translations of the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Job, The Gospel According to Jesus and the Tao Te Ching, the classic Chinese text that is considered one of the wisest books every written.
To create A Thousand Names for Joy, Stephen sat down with Katie and transcribed her thoughts as he read the entire 81 chapters of his translation of the Tao Te Ching. The result, Stephen writes in the book’s preface, ” is a glimpse into the depths of being, and into the life of a woman who for 20 years has been living what Lao-tzu wrote.”
Katie took time out her busy schedule of workshops, speaking and writing to speak with Edge Lift about the new book, and about her work on behalf of humanity.
How would you describe the difference between the person Katie was before 1986 and the person who Katie was after 1986?
Byron Katie: In my experience and my children’s experience, they would say, and I would say, that I was very angry. I’m no longer angry, and that’s the power of understanding. I just noticed that I was believing some thoughts that just absolutely were not true. I’ve come to see that the Universe is kind. That was the great shift.
In the world that I came from, I had a right to be angry. But then I experienced this shift, this moment of clarity where I could really see and understand. It just changed my whole world. So, where there was anger, it’s gone. I’m open for more anger. People ask me if I am ever angry. And I can say, “Well, not yet, and I’m open.” It’s like, who knows? But, in twenty years, not yet.
Do you think that the purpose for that moment of clarity ultimately was to share the ability to clear the mind with other people.
Katie: Only that. It’s about sharing from experience. There is a way out of disappointment and anger and confusion and sadness and fear.
In that time of waking up to reality in 1986, you discovered that when you believed your thoughts you suffered, but when you didn’t believe them you didn’t suffer. Why do we allow ourselves to suffer in this way?
Katie: Well, because we believe our thoughts, and believing is very powerful. For example, what if someone tells me that someone doesn’t care about me? Perhaps I had that thought about my mother. Maybe I’ve had it about many people, that they don’t like me. That’s a very common thought. And when we think that thought, I’ve discovered that the mind immediately begins to give us proof through concepts and images that the belief is true.
So it will immediately try to make it out as a true statement.
Katie: That’s exactly the process. And so we go on believing it, because the mind keeps it in place. Now, when we use those four questions and the turnaround, it’s a moment of clarity They don’t like me, or she doesn’t like me. Is that true? Can I absolutely know that that’s true? And look at how we’re so quick to believe it? Considering the way the mind works, we’re not surprised, but we believe it without even considering the other person. We haven’t said, “Do you like me?” We just believe it instead.
And then we act as if it’s so.
Katie: Yes, we act as if it’s so. We’re standing with possibly a very friendly person, but to us they’re not. So we don’t know who we’re standing with or meeting with or sitting with. Maybe they just had a funny look on their face, and we interpret that and believe it.
Or maybe they just had a bad day.
Katie: Yes, and so someone says, “What did you think about that person?”
And you say, “Well, quite frankly, I didn’t care for them much.”
But when we question our thoughts about that person, we come out with a clear mind. We can talk to that person and actually hear what she is saying rather than what we think she means or what we think she’s saying. So we remain healthy. It’s like my job is to remain healthy. To me, health is a balanced mind. A balanced mind knows how to get enough rest, how to eat properly, how to exercise. I have come out as just a balanced human being, and I don’t know anything finer than that.
The new book is called A Thousand Names for Joy, and in it you write that deep down joy is what we all are.
Katie: Yes, it’s our nature to be free, and until we’re stuck in a stressful belief system, we’re pretty happy.
What has been your experience in connecting with other people who, like you, are being in joy and in freedom moment by moment, not bound by their beliefs?
Katie: Oh, my goodness, it’s such joy! On my website [www.thework.com/network/hotline.cfm] I have a hotline and someone will walk you through any stressful thought that you’re holding.
There’s no charge, and you don’t have to give your name or where you’re from. We have some amazing volunteers who help people 24 hours a day. There’s no service like it. And for people who use it, it’s just blowing their minds, their reality, and they’re becoming kinder to themselves, their children, their partners. You can go there and test it for yourself.
How does the information in the new book relate to your first two books, Loving What Is, and I Need Your Love -Is That True?
Katie: The first book is the text for The Work, and the second book is how we relate to relationships using The Work. A Thousand Names for Joy is the experience of what it is to live out of the questioned mind.
The first chapter tells us that the Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. Why is it impossible to express reality in words?
Katie: I could express it, but then people would hear through their own meaning, their own system. So how can you tell it? Another thought that comes to me when you ask that question is, if I did express to people what it is like to be me, it’s actually pretty frightening. It’s not something that really attracts people. In fact, it’s unbelievable. So, I’ve learned to take on a way of conversing that is understandable. The questions are what I use to take people to my experience. They take themselves there through the questions that I ask. And as we go along, I share my experience. It’s a partnership –Â and it’s happening all over the planet.
Do you think that the real experience of learning what’s real and unreal comes through living our daily lives, moment by moment?
Katie: Actually, it’s about awareness. Let’s say we see an adult strike a child. Immediately, we’re horrified, and rightfully so. But we’re horrified because of every thought around our whole lives happened in that moment. It just flashed, and we’re infuriated.
Now, a person in reality who just sees that happen without a personal story sparked by the event – would be inclined to just walk up to the person who struck the child and say, “You know, you look like you’re having a pretty rough day. Can I help?” And then maybe he or she would put an arm around that person and ask, “What is the problem?”
But what do we do? We run to the child, and then we crucify the person who hit the child. In reality, the one who did the hitting is being punished by their thoughts just the way they were punishing the child.
So where is the end of this? It is important to get to the root of it. I’m in prisons all over this world, and I have a brilliant program running in San Quentin where I take The Work there to veterans and lifers and people who are steadily going in and out. And they’re getting it. I’m working with cause.
I wonder, where is rehabilitation? Some people find God through religious and 12-step programs and they find other tools, but when it’s time to leave prison, when their time is up, the prison gives them $200 and sends them outside of the gate, and then they close it. Now, these people are supposed to find a home and eat and find a job and do everything on $200? So fear and panic just strikes them. But in that fear and panic, they have just enough money to get to the nearest drug or bar.
What I like is how people I have worked with react. When the gate closes and they have $200 in their pocket, and the man or woman can just sit on the curb and wait. They know how to do that, because they’ve set in these questions. They just wait until it is clear for them to know what to do. The answer is not to go rob a bank because he or she needs another fix. If the Universe is friendly, the way forward in life will come to me.
As people do the work, there are two ways of doing this. They can go out with believing those old thoughts that have not been questioned, or they can go out with those thoughts that are questioned with a clear mind. As long as we believe what we think, we’re going to continue to rob and cheat and steal. These men in prison who I work with are just like us. They’re guilty of believing their thoughts, and if I believed what they think, I would do the same. There’s no other way out. We think we wouldn’t. We think, “How could they believe that?” Well, because they do.
Look at what you believe â€” and let us work on that. What are we believing when we raise our voices to someone or we’re impatient or we’re sad or we’re angry?
It’s just a different level of the same thing.
I often think that we need more intervention with children at a younger age to stop the cycle. What role can The Work play in childhood education?
Katie: A major role. I have teachers who come to a nine-day school for The Work, where I train facilitators, and they go back into the school systems. The Work is being taken to the universities and high schools and elementary schools and preschools. As matter of fact, I’ve already started my next book on The Work on parenting and children. I’m so excited about it.
When can we expect to see it?
Katie: Well, next year, hopefully.
When more people live and just be, as you’re describing, will it make it easier for other people to do that, like the hundredth monkey phenomenon?
Katie: Absolutely. Say I’m with my grandchildren, and one of them says, “Oh, grandma, I stubbed my toe and it hurts!” I look at the child and smile and wait for the rest of the story, and they can’t hold it because I’m so connected with them, and so present with them, and they just break into laughter. They’re not old enough to really hold onto “It hurts,” because their little minds are still free to fly and be free and learn.
Maybe one of my grandchildren has just come home from school and says, “Grandma, no one likes me.” I might look at them and say, “Honey, are you sure? Is that true?” And they might just laugh and say, “No.” That’s what a clear mind can offer.
Do you think we are moving toward a time when clear minds will be part of a shift in the future of human consciousness?
Katie: I absolutely do. When the creative mind is unleashed and understands its true nature, it’s unlimited. There’s nothing we cannot do.