Have you ever been relaxing by yourself, maybe reading or watching tv while completely at peace, when suddenly a thought pops in your head.
"My life doesn't have a purpose. I need to do something productive or my life will just waste away."
Where did this thought come from?
More importantly, how does a thought like this make us feel?
For me, when a thought like this comes up, I feel anxious and start to put a lot of pressure on myself. My body becomes uncomfortable and I get agitated.
I may keep doing what I'm doing or I may push myself into action in order to feel produtive (which usually ends in more stress in the form of multi-tasking and not really getting anything major accomplished).
Where did this stress come from?
Is it because we have not attained all those things in life we believe to be important such as the ideal body, career, and social life?
Perhaps if we got all those things, the stress that we feel will go away too….right?
Or maybe it was simply the thought "My life doesn't have purpose" that was the problem to begin with.
Could it be that all our stress is caused, not by our life's circumstances but by our thoughts about our life's circumstances?
Could it be possible to find peace in our life right now without changing anything except our thinking?
According to Byron Katie, it's not only possible, it's the most practical way for many of us to find peace in any given moment.
Byron Katie is the creator of The Work, a method of self-inquiry that ends the negative thought spiral of the mind.
Simply put any stressful thought up against 4 questions and watch as truth rises up and transforms stress into peace.
In the midst of an ordinary life (2 marriages, 3 children, and a successful career), Katie began a downward spiral into rage, paranoia, and despair.
Becoming nearly bedridden and severly depressed, she checked herself into a halfway house and end up living in the attic room (since the other residents were so afraid of her).
One morning in 1986, 43 year-old Byron Katie woke up without any concept of who she was. As she describes it from her book "Loving What is":
"There was no me. All my rage, all the thoughts that had been troubling me, my whole world, the whole world, was gone. At the same time, laughter welled up from the depths and just poured out. Everything was unrecognizable.
It was as if something else had woken up. It opened its eyes. It was looking through Katie's eyes. And it was so delighted! It was intoxicated with joy. There was nothing separate, nothing unacceptable to it; everything was its very own self."
Her family and friend were amazed at the seemingly miraculous transformation and asked her what happened. Katie said that a freedom had woken up insider her and through a process of inner questioning, she realized all her old thoughts were untrue.
Byron Katie has no specific religious or spiritual affiliation, she says that she is a "lover of reality."
Through a few basic concepts, 4 questions, and a turnaround, anyone else can become a lover of reality as well. She calls this process "The Work" or just self-inquiry.
The following concepts lay the foundation for getting the most out of self-inquiry.
Noticing When Your Thoughts Argue With Reality
Most of our stress comes from attaching to thoughts that argue with reality.
Have you ever tried to train a cat to bark?
You could spend hours becoming frustrated and angry trying to train a cat to bark and it will still only be able to "meow."
It wouldn't make much sense in stressing ourselves over this situation because a cat can only be what it is; a cat.
The minute we demand the cat act like a dog, we are arguing with reality and the result is a feeling of stress.
This example seems obvious but in one form or another, our stress comes from asking others to be something that they are not; it's just like asking the cat to bark.
Staying In Your Own Business
From "Loving What is":
"I can find only three kinds of business in the universe: mine, yours, and God's. (For me, the word God means "reality." Reality is God because it rules. Anything that's out of my control, your control, and everyone else's control – I call that God's business.)
Much of our stress comes from mentally living out of our own business. When I think, "You need to get a job, I want you to be happy, you should be on time, you need to take better care of yourself." I am in your business. When I am worried about earthquakes, floods, wars, or when I will die, I am in God's business.
If I am mentally in your business or God's business, the effect is separation."
When we feel negative emotions and stress, that is a sign that we are not staying in our own business.
Becoming Aware of Your Stories
Thoughts themselves are not the problem. It's the attachment to the thoughts that create suffering. Attaching to a thought means believing it to be true without questioning it.
Combine enough of these un-investigated beliefs together and you have a story; a big theory that tells us what everything means.
Say for example, you're at a party with some friends and you are introduced to someone. As you both talk, you notice the other person seems distant and uninterested and you eventually part ways with each other.
What does this mean?
That you are boring? That they are boring?
Our story (the collection of thoughts that we are attached to) tells us what the event means.
If our story is that we've always been awkward in social situations, then this even will just reinforce that story and we will feel negative emotion.
If our story is that we are fun and interesting and if we don't get along with someone else, then it probably just wasn't meant to be and we spared by their departure.
The key idea is that it's not what happens to us in life that causes suffering, it's "What story are we attaching to?"
How can we tell if we are buying into a story that's working against us? We feel negative emotion.
Anytime we feel bad, that's a signal that it's time to question the story we are telling ourselves.
This is what the process of inquiry is all about; investigating our stories until we find our truth.
When truth is found, peace is the result.
Judge Your Neighbor
To start inquiry, it's best to begin with our beliefs about others and then move onto our beliefs about ourselves and everything else. This is done through what's called a Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet (available from thework.com).
If you'd like, print out and complete the worksheet on someone who's been stressing you out lately. As you fill out each statement, allow yourself to be as honest and judgmental as possible. This way we get the ego on paper which allows for a better chance at finding our truth (so the ego won't be able to backwards rationalize).
Inquiry: The 4 Questions
When you're finished, put each statement up against the four questions. Instead of just answering each quickly with the mind, genuinely ask the question and wait for an answer.
The goal is to allow the answers to come from our heart rather than our mind.
The mind knows only duality whereas the heart speaks from our inner knowing; our true self.
Question 1: Is It True?
Genuinely ask yourself if the statement you are working on is true. Don't pay attention to other's belief systems or what is sopposed to be true from a right or wrong viewpoint but see if you can find your answer. If the answer is "no" or "I don't know", go on to question 3, otherwise go to the next question.
Question 2: Can You Absolutely Know That It's True?
Can you really know that this is true, with the universe's infinite intelligence and immeasurable factors? Can you really know how the situation will play out in the end? Perhaps there is a purpose in that which you are resisting.
Question 3: How Do You React WHen You Think That Thought?
What happens to you when this thought comes up? What do you feel, physically, in your body (tightness, tingling, etc)? How do you treat others? How do you treat yourself? What actions do you take?
Question 4: Who Would You Be Without The Thought?
Close your eyes and wait. Imagine for a moment, that it is not possible to think that thought even in the midst of that person or situation. What do you feel? What is it like? What would life be like without this thought or story?
Turn It Around
The turnaround is a way to fully experience both sides of the coin (both polarities of the mind). In this way, we create balance in the mind and release energy that has been trapped in the ego's attachment to one viewpoint (or polarity).
Many times we will realize that the opposite of what we believed is as true or truer than our original position. This opens up a whole new world, mentally, and is often accompanied by great emotional relief.
To turn around a statement, you simply replace the person's name with your own name.
So in the example of the though "She should be honest with me", the turnaround is "I should be honest with me."
Now stop and let that turnaround soak in for a moment.
Is this statement as true or truer?
So using this same example you could ask yourself questions that would backup the turnaround such as: Were there times when you were not honest with yourself about her actions? Is it not true that she is just being who she is and perhaps you have created a story that built her up to be some ideal person and all that is required is that you be honest with yourself?
The idea is to play around in the opposite polarity for a bit and see what the mind finds. Try to find 3 examples of how each a turnaround is true in your life.
Now if you are writing about yourself or an object, you replace it with "my thinking" to turn it around.
So in the example, "My body shouldn't be fat" becomes "My thinking shouldn't be fat." Now wait a moment and let that think in. How many times a day are you thinking about your body being fat? Perhaps it is our thinking that is really weighing us down.
The story of being fat is replaying over and over in the mind until we identify ourselves with that story. With the turnaround we can realize that a majority of our energy is invested into this story and without it, our body could be using that energy to become healthier.
There is also another way to turn it around and that is to change it to the complete opposite of the original statement.
The thought "She should be honest with me" becomes "She shouldn't be honest with me." Why? Has she been honest in the past? If not, then why in the world should she be any other way than the way she is? She can only be that which she is. Just as a cat can't bark, she may not be able to be honest 100% of the time.
It's not about right or wrong, it's about reality. If it's true that she is dishonest, then she should be dishonest. Why? Because she is; everyone can only be that which they are.
These turnarounds are especially powerful because we get to see how the world is our mirror.
As Byron Katie Says: "Everyone is a mirror image of yourself – Your own thinking coming back at you."
This one concept allows us to stop trying to fight reality and instead make peace with it. From this place of peace, we tap into the creative power of the universe and allow ourselves to enjoy life as it unfolds.
To really understand the work, it's helpful to see Byron Katie in action; going through the four questions with people in her live workshops.
I've only recently begun using her work and have found it to be very powerful at bringing me back to the present moment and extremely effective at halting the negative downward spiral of the mind.
Eckhart Tolle teaches the power of now, yet for many, it's been a struggle to stay in the present. The Work is the process of coming back to the present moment and, therefore, leaving all suffering behind.
All that's left is reality and as Byron Katie says, "Reality is always kinder than the stories we tell about it."
Here are some videos that demonstrate Byron Katie and The Work in action:
"I Want Her to Come Back to Me" (Workshop)