WHO WOULD YOU BE WITHOUT YOUR STORY? Byron Katie

by: Byron Katie





The people whose dialogues Byron Katie now shares with us have in common a willingness to question, with Katie's help, the painful thoughts that are the true cause of their suffering. Some have painful illnesses, others are lovelorn or in messy divorces. Some are simply irritated with a co-worker or worried about money. In every case we see how Katie's acute mind and fierce kindness, taking them through The Work, helps each person dismantle for themselves what is felt to be unshakable reality. The stories make compelling reading ? some are both hilarious and deeply moving at once ? and act as powerful teaching tools, showing precisely the kind of dialogue you can have with your own thoughts, your story. The results, even in the seemingly direst situation, can be unimagined freedom and joy.
336pp, 152mm x 229mm, Paperback, 2008

Extract
Over the past twenty years, Byron Katie has become known around the world as one of the clearest and most inspiring teachers of our time. She teaches a way to happiness, and those who meet her respond instantly to the delight she takes in whoever and whatever is in front of her. Yet, as she is quick to explain, her own teacher was suffering.

Amid the circumstances of what should have been a satisfying life in a California desert town - successful business career, healthy children, beauty - Byron Kathleen Reid (everyone calls her Katie) was overcome by a depression that lasted more than ten years. She kept to her bed in deepening rage and despair. Eventually she committed herself to a shelter for women with eating disorders - the only place that would take her health insurance. One day she woke up in her attic room to find that all her suffering was gone, replaced by a joy that was unlike anything she had ever known:

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. 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 difference between her experience and other experiences of spiritual opening is that in the moment of waking up, she discovered a method of sustaining that extraordinary lightness. The four questions and turnaround that she later called The Work were already present in that first moment.

Katie knew that the joyous clarity she was experiencing is available to everyone. And, in her down-to-earth American way, she began to share her method of self-inquiry with the many people who were immediately drawn to her. Katie's primary realization was that every painful feeling - anger, loneliness, fear - is the result of believing a thought that isn't true. To notice what that thought is and then to examine it with the questions that Katie discovered has an unimaginable power - unimaginable until you do it for yourself.

To do The Work, alone or with others, you begin by finding the particular thoughts that are causing you stress. Perhaps one thought is: My husband doesn't love me. You write the thoughts down on what is called a Worksheet, then examine the thought using these four questions:

  • 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?

After this, you turn the thought around to its several opposites - for example, My husband does love me, I don't love my husband, and I don't love myself - and you find three genuine examples of how each turnaround is as true as or truer than the original thought.

The conversations in this book show the kinds of things that happen when people who are suffering answer these questions, slowly and accurately. They are edited dialogues between Katie and fifteen participants at various public workshops and Schools for The Work that took place around the United States and in Europe. Some of the participants had painful illnesses; others were lovelorn or in messy divorces; some were simply irritated with a co-worker or worried about a rent increase. What they all had in common was a willingness to question, with Katie's help, the painful thoughts that they came to see were the true cause of their suffering.

The important thing is to do The Work slowly. As Katie often repeats in these dialogues, The Work is meditation. Don't second-guess or think you know. Instead, wait quietly for your answers.

The wonderful thing about The Work is that if you do it for a while, eventually it starts doing you. It simply becomes harder and harder to believe the thoughts that are not true for you. The freedom and happiness that this brings pervade every part of your life.

My Mother Wouldn?t Approve
Are you trying to spare someone's feelings by denying yourself? Free yourself from that prison. How can you know that they?ll disapprove? And if they do, whose business is that?

Rebecca: I?m very new at this; a friend just invited me to come to your event today, and voil?! Here I am. My question refers to the parent-child relationship. Actually, it sort of stems from a problem that I have with my mother. And I lied when I filled in The Worksheet. The problem was not with [choking back tears] relationships that I have now. It's . . . probably something that I didn?t work out with her . . . probably am unable to.

Katie: So what is it with your mother that you haven?t worked out yet?

Rebecca: Well, I come from a conservative Jamaican family, and I?ve been living in America now for twelve years, so I don?t have my family with me. And I have to depend on myself, to pat myself on the back and say, 'You?re doing okay!' I find myself, though...

Katie: Sweetheart, what's the problem with your mother?

Rebecca: I?m not certain I can get her approval to do what I really, really want to do.

Katie: And what is that?

Rebecca: Well, it's music . . . yes. They?ve told me in the past that I shouldn?t. In a conservative family, you do something practical.

Katie: So if your life became all about music as an occupation . . .

Rebecca: Well, I can?t even imagine that. I think of it all the time, and it's . . . [She chokes back tears.]

Katie: . . . and it's overflowing.

Rebecca: I teach business English, and my business is going very well, and this is something my mother approves of, especially when I?m so far away.

Katie: So what is it she would not approve of?

Rebecca: Doing something impractical, something that's so risky.

Katie: Like what?

Rebecca: Singing . . . yes.

Katie: Singing where, how? As an occupation?

Rebecca: Possibly, yes.

Katie: So if you dropped your profession . . .

Rebecca: I dare not.

Katie: . . . and you became a singer, 'Your mother wouldn?t approve'?is that true?

Rebecca: She would kill herself with worry.

Katie: That was a very quick answer. Sweetheart, this is inquiry. This is where you look for answers that are not on the surface. This is where you open your mind and heart to what you don?t already know. 'If you dropped your occupation and became a singer, your mother wouldn?t approve'?can you absolutely know that that's true?

Rebecca: Absolutely? I can?t absolutely know, but I know her well enough to know. . . . It's not . . . not 100 percent certain, but . . .

Katie: Drop your philosophy. Drop your qualifications, and just give me a straight yes or no. This is meditation. 'If you become a singer, your mother would not approve'?can you absolutely know that that's true?
Close your eyes and really look for your answer. It's okay to say yes or no. Get a picture of your mother. Can you absolutely know she wouldn?t approve?

Rebecca: [Crying] I know the reality that she lives. It's not a yes or no answer, but I know her reality.

Katie: I understand. You think for her. She thinks for you, and you think for her. [Rebecca laughs.] Have you ever said things and not really meant it? 'She wouldn?t approve of you'?can you absolutely know that that's true?

Rebecca: Can we redefine that word approve?

Katie: No. Can you absolutely know that it's true she would not approve if you became a singer?

Rebecca: [After a long pause] No.

Katie: Feel that. Now, how do you react when you believe the thought 'My mother would not approve'?

Rebecca: Katie, she's a worrier; she's a professional worrier.
Katie: Notice that you didn?t follow the simple direction. You get to be right, and you don?t answer the question.

Rebecca: Can you repeat the question?

Katie: How do you react when you believe the thought 'My mother would not approve'? How do you live your life when you believe that thought?

Rebecca: Strained, disappointed, unfulfilled.

Katie: So you?re living out everything you don?t want her to experience!

Rebecca: That's true.

Katie: Close your eyes, and look at her look at you'singing. Now drop your story, just for a moment, and look at her face. Who would you be without that thought?

Rebecca: Freer! Not so cramped, not so unhappy. Not so uncertain, not so hopeless and helpless.

Katie: 'My mother would be disappointed'?turn it around.

Rebecca: My mother would not be disappointed.

Katie: Could that be as true?

Rebecca: It could be. She might even be excited!

Katie: Who knows?

Rebecca: But it has its flip side. She's got enough worries, and I don?t want to be the problem.

Katie: Now we?re out of inquiry.

Rebecca: Oh.

Katie: Can you see how you moved out of answering the questions and into another story?

Rebecca: Yes, I see that.

Katie: So you turned around the statement 'My mother would be disappointed' to 'My mother would be excited.' Now give me three reasons why she would be excited if you were singing and loved it.

Rebecca: Because I would be doing what I want. Because I would be doing something she possibly never had the courage to do. And because I?d be happy.

Katie: So she might be excited because you?re doing something you love, because you?re happy, and because it's possibly something that she wanted to do herself and didn?t. 'My mother would be disappointed'?can you find another turnaround?

Rebecca: Because it's another thing to worry about.

Katie: That's a reason, not a turnaround. 'My mother would be disappointed'?can you find another turnaround?

Rebecca: I?m not sure I understand how to turn it around.

Katie: 'My mother would be disappointed.' Turn it around to yourself. 'I would be . . .'

Rebecca: I would be disappointed?if I didn?t do it.

Katie: Is your mother disappointed a lot?

Rebecca: Yes.

Katie: So if you sang, would she be any less disappointed? She's already disappointed!

Rebecca: But she's not disappointed in me.

Katie: What's the worst that could happen if your mother was absolutely blown away disappointed?in you? You drop your occupation, you?re out there singing, and she is very disappointed in you. This is your nightmare. What's the worst that could happen if she was disappointed in you? [Pause]
So you take on the role of your mother, disappointed. Even exaggerate it. And I?m going to be her daughter, the one who loves her very much, the one who is singing her heart out, and loving it. I?ll be you. This is your chance to experience what you think your mother would say.

Katie: [as Rebecca] 'Hello, mom. Guess what? I quit my job. I?m singing now.'

Rebecca: [as her mother] 'Rebecca? Have you totally lost it? Have you lost your mind?'

Katie: 'Oh, mom, I?ve lost my job, my occupation, everything. I have lost it.'

Rebecca: 'What happened to you?'

Katie: 'I decided to be a singer. That's what I want to do. I love it.'

Rebecca: 'Rebecca, how are you going to make a living?'

Katie: 'I don?t know.'

Rebecca: 'Lord help us!' [The audience laughs.]

Katie: 'That's what I?m counting on.' [The audience laughs and applauds.] 'So, are you disappointed, Mom?'

Rebecca: 'You know we don?t have a lot; I can?t send you any money. I?ve got your father here to worry about; I?ve got your brothers; I?ve got your sister; I?ve got your nephew.'

Katie: 'Mom, I don?t know how you do it. Would you like to hear me sing?'

Rebecca: 'That's not funny.'

Katie: 'I was serious. It brings me so much joy, I thought maybe you?d want to hear what I was doing.'

Rebecca: 'Rebecca, this is probably not the time and place for that.'

Katie: 'You have a major burden on your hands, Mom. What I can tell you is, I?m going to help you in any way that I can. And I just don?t know how you do it. You?re an amazing woman.'
[As herself] Is that all she would say, honey?

Rebecca: No, she?d say [resuming the dialogue as her mother], 'Rebecca, we all worry about you, I worry about you . . . you?re so far away! Who's going to feed you?'

Katie: 'If I get hungry, I promise I?ll call.'

Rebecca: 'Rebecca, we love you. I love you. And it's important?it's important for me that you?re happy.'

Katie: 'Mom, you are so amazing. . . . Do you realize that not one time have you said that you were disappointed in me? I asked you the question and it was as though you didn?t even hear me. You?re incredible. You?ve been that way all my life. You?ve only wanted my happiness.'

Rebecca: 'Yes.'

Katie: [as herself] So, 'Your mother would be disappointed'?can you absolutely know that that's true?

Rebecca: [Pause] No, I really can?t. That's just incredible. I feel so much lighter. Thank you.

Katie: You?re welcome. Sweetheart, when you believe what you think, it's as though you?re living in a horrible prison. And when you question what you believe, you set yourself free. The mind becomes so open that it sees ways that you can have it all?your job, a singing career, you can have it all. But one thing you can know: When you go to work, it's because you choose it. It could be that you?ll never say, 'I didn?t live out my passion because of my mother. I couldn?t sing because I didn?t want to disappoint her.' It just doesn?t sound reasonable.

Rebecca: It makes me sound unreasonable, yes.

Katie: Thank you. So, sweetheart, would you like to sing right now? [The audience whistles and applauds.]

Rebecca: Sure! Now this is not exactly a song my mother would approve of.

Katie: And can you absolutely know that that's true?
[Rebecca laughs, then belts out a torrid love song. The audience applauds wildly.]

From Who Would You Be Without Your Story? ?2008 by Byron Katie, published by Hay House.


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