Of course, it happened in Southern California. Where else would something like this happen? A wealthy middle-aged woman. A mid-life crisis. Extreme depression. A rehab clinic. Then, an awakening, New Age-style, and a spiritual phenom was born.
The story had all the makings of a movie–a TV special, if nothing else–but this wasn’t a screenplay. This was real.
The year was 1986. On the floor of a halfway house, having lost all hope of happiness, Byron Kathleen Reid woke up–in more ways than one. The details are few and impossible to fully explain, but in that moment, the story goes, Katie lost herself. The sense of who she was when she fell asleep the night before was gone, and all she was aware of was joy.
She laughed. She laughed some more. She no longer knew anything for sure, but she didn’t care.
She was completely happy.
It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? And of course it must have been. But given the choice, how many of us would willingly sacrifice everything we know about who and what we are just to feel at One with the Divine? I think I would. But I’m not sure. Maybe I’d rather wait till I die.
After all, I’m a mom of three kids. I’m a writer. I’m my husband’s wife. Someone with a wonderful, full life. And according to Byron Katie, and a lot of other great teachers, too, in order to become enlightened, I have to let all that go.
I have to choose to know almost nothing.
I don’t know how long Byron Katie truly knew nothing. A month? Several months? Several years? But little by little, she was taught the way things work again–what it means to own something, for example. Now she straddles both worlds–the known and the unknown–though she’s never forgotten which her real home is.
But back to that floor. Because it was there that Katie suddenly understood the source of all suffering, and conversely, the key to happiness. Suffering comes when we believe our stressful thoughts, she realized–and not a moment before. By questioning all thoughts that cause us pain, we find there’s nothing real to them; they’re just thoughts. As a result of this inquiry, pain goes away.
If you’re familiar with The Work, I regret boring you, but I do feel the need to explain it briefly here.
According to TheWork.com: “The Work is a simple yet powerful process of inquiry that teaches you to identify and question the thoughts that cause all the suffering in the world. It’s a way to understand what’s hurting you, and to address the cause of your problems with clarity. In its most basic form, The Work consists of four questions and the turnarounds.”
I’ve mentioned the questions before, but in the interest of completeness, they are:
- Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
And the turnarounds are what they sound like: statements that mean the opposite of the stressful thought. The idea is to find several of these and see if there’s some truth to them that you’ve previously missed.
The technique is deceptively simple; there is an art to it, for sure. For instance, when doing the Work on the thought “I feel depressed,” I realized “I am depressed” or “My thinking is depressed” works better. Feelings are feelings, and we can’t really argue with them. It’s the belief behind the feeling (“I have depression” “I am depressed,”) that needs to change. An even better choice: Add “. . . and it means that . . .” to the end of the statement. “I am depressed,” then, becomes “I am depressed, and it means that I’m unable to hold a job.” This is how we get underneath the surface.
Many more specifics in later serial installments (including a Q and A section, a Tips and Tricks section and more), but if you want to jump in right now, watch at least a few YouTube video examples of The Work.
In these videos and in her books, Katie guides people through The Work, and as she does so she gets pretty creative. It’s a skill, for sure, which is why it’s so awesome that TheWork.com coordinates with trained practitioners who are willing to offer their services for free. Please make use of this resource, found on thework.com/en/certified_facilitators. I have, and I will again. Also, do see the full description of the process on thework.com/en/do-work.
Okay, then. Introductory explanations: check. Let’s get back to my personal experience of The Work.
Read the rest of the series at My Byron Katie Detox: One Year of Questioning My Unhelpful Thoughts.