Byron Katie holds the view that it is not what happens to us, but our unquestioned thoughts, which are the cause of all our suffering. Katie’s famous line goes like this - “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.”
Applying this view, feelings of stress become mere signals that we are not living in reality, but in an illusion which we have created in our heads. And, just like an alarm clock, these stressful thoughts are meant to tell us that it’s time to wake up. When questioned, these thoughts dispel, leaving behind them nothing but reality - that The Universe is friendly and everything happens exactly at the right time. We are at peace with ourselves and those around us.
Katie claims that her method (called ‘The Work’) can be applied to any situation where we have suffered. Four simple questions and a turnaround which form ‘The Work’ can eliviate depression, anxiety, reduce anger and improve relationships and productivity.
Sounds too good to be true? Perhaps it should. I am always weary of any method which proclaims to have found the one solution to all our suffering, so varied in its nature and causes.
Nonetheless, I thought I would give ‘The Work’ a go. Because what if... what if it works?
I am fortunate to say that my suffering, compared to the big tragedies you see on the news every night, has been quite trivial. I can only write of what I know. And when I spent some time pondering the question, I realised that no other thought has ever made me suffer more than this – ‘He is The One.’
This was the thought which kept me anxious during moments when I should have simply enjoyed spending time together with a particular boyfriend; and this same thought has kept me awake at nights, crying my eyes out, and dragged beside me like a skeletal shadow through weeks, months and even years following a break up.
One thought. The cause of years of suffering and heartache. And a solution to put an end to it. Can it really, really be that simple?
And if it really is that simple, then what other thoughts are keeping me from being a much healthier, happier and self-accepting individual? Who knows who I could be or where I could be without those thoughts? Who knows if I even know myself as well as other people do, who see me as I am, not the bundle of thoughts that race through my head (often self-deprecating) while I interact with those people... So, while not quite convinced that the method would work, my burning curiosity demanded that it at least be put to the test.
Byron Katie’s method is quite simple, and proclaims similar values to those so adamantly promoted by Socrates and his followers. Namely – that it is through a process of questioning, rather than learning, that wisdom can be acquired.
What makes me less weary of Katie’s method is that it does not aim to teach you anything other than the method itself. It has no agenda, no mafia or organisation behind it who want to brainwash you with a particular message or code of conduct, so you then gladly part with all of your money. Katie’s method aims to give you the tools to question your assumptions and to draw attention to the fact that there are things we have all believed since forever, that it has never even crossed our minds to question them.
But enough of the background stuff. Let’s get to the fun part. The method works like this.
With a pen and paper ready, you write the thought about someone who has caused you suffering and whom you haven’t been able to forgive, not fully. When you put it on paper, you fix the thought, you isolate it from all the others, and that’s the baby you’ll be working with. It’s worth trying Katie’s Judge Your Neighbour Worksheet which can give you guidance on how to fix your thoughts on paper.
Once the thought is fixed, you write down the answer to these four simple questions, taking your time to meditate on each, if the answer does not come instantly.
1. Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
2. Can you absolutely know that it's true? (Yes or no.)
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?
There are sub-questions too and you can learn more about them here.
The questions are followed by a turnaround – you flip the statement around, either by inverting it or placing yourself as the main subject, to question the whole concept of what you are questioning!