Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday #15: “Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life" by Byron Katie

Dear kids,

Loving What Is is one of the first books I read of Byron Katie’s, and it is probably the most topic-focused. Pick it up when you need to remember that you can’t control other people. You can only love other people, and control yourself.

Favorite Quotes:

Choosing which quotes to share out of a Byron Katie book is like choosing which of your children is your favorite. They’re all my favorite–but for different reasons.

Nevertheless, here are the ones that made the cut. They are all taken from in-person sessions between Byron Katie and the people she’s helping through the process of inquiry:

  • “We can all relate to that. I hear that it really is true for you. In my experience, it can’t be your husband’s breath that’s driving you crazy; it has to be your thoughts about his breath that are driving you crazy. So let’s take a closer look and see if that’s true. What are your thoughts about his breath on the phone?”
  • “Okay. It helps if we stick to one written statement at a time. Can you see a reason to drop the thought that he should stop breathing on the phone? [This is an additional question that Katie sometimes asks.] For those of you new to The Work, if you hear that I’m asking Mary to drop her story, let me make it very clear: I’m not. This is not about getting rid of thoughts or about overcoming, improving, or surrendering them. None of that. This is about realizing for yourself internal cause and effect. The question is simply ‘Can you see a reason to drop this thought?'”
  • “Can you see a reason to drop this thought that you don’t love him? And I’m not asking you to drop the thought. Mary: Yes, I can see a reason to drop it. Katie: Can you think of one stress-free reason to keep the thought? Mary [after a long pause]: I think if I keep my story, then I can keep him from wanting to have sex all the time. Katie: Is that a stress-free reason? It seems stressful to me.”
  • “The Work is merely four questions; it’s not even a thing. It has no motive, no strings. It’s nothing without your answers. These four questions will join any program you’ve got and enhance it. Any religion you have—they’ll enhance it. If you have no religion, they will bring you joy. And they’ll burn up anything that isn’t true for you.”
  • “The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with what is. When the mind is perfectly clear, what is is what we want. If you want reality to be different than it is, you might as well try to teach a cat to bark. You can try and try, and in the end the cat will look up at you and say, ‘Meow.’ Wanting reality to be different than it is is hopeless.”
  • “After I woke up to reality in 1986, people often referred to me as the woman who made friends with the wind. Barstow is a desert town where the wind blows a lot of the time, and everyone hated it; people even moved from there because they couldn’t stand the wind. The reason I made friends with the wind—with reality—is that I discovered I didn’t have a choice. I realized that it’s insane to oppose it. When I argue with reality, I lose—but only 100 percent of the time. How do I know that the wind should blow? It’s blowing!”
  • “People new to The Work often say to me, ‘But it would be disempowering to stop my argument with reality. If I simply accept reality, I’ll become passive. I may even lose the desire to act.’ I answer them with a question: ‘Can you really know that that’s true?’ Which is more empowering?—’I wish I hadn’t lost my job’ or ‘I lost my job; what can I do now?'”
  • “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.)”
  • “A thought is harmless unless we believe it. It’s not our thoughts, but the attachment to our thoughts, that causes suffering. Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true, without inquiring. A belief is a thought that we’ve been attaching to, often for years.”
  • “Thoughts just appear. They come out of nothing and go back to nothing, like clouds moving across the empty sky. They come to pass, not to stay. There is no harm in them until we attach to them as if they were true.”
  • “No one has ever been able to control his thinking, although people may tell the story of how they have. I don’t let go of my thoughts—I meet them with understanding. Then they let go of me.”
  • “I have never experienced a stressful feeling that wasn’t caused by attaching to an untrue thought. Behind every uncomfortable feeling, there’s a thought that isn’t true for us. ‘The wind shouldn’t be blowing.’ ‘My husband should agree with me.'”
  • “It is easy to be swept away by some overwhelming feeling, so it’s helpful to remember that any stressful feeling is like a compassionate alarm clock that says, ‘You’re caught in the dream.’ Depression, pain, and fear are gifts that say, ‘Sweetheart, take a look at what you’re thinking right now. You’re living in a story that isn’t true for you.'”
  • “If you put your hand into a fire, does anyone have to tell you to move it? Do you have to decide? No: When your hand starts to burn, it moves. You don’t have to direct it; the hand moves itself. In the same way, once you understand, through inquiry, that an untrue thought causes suffering, you move away from it. Before the thought, you weren’t suffering . . .”
  • “If you are new to inquiry, I strongly suggest that you not write about yourself at first. If you start by judging yourself, your answers come with a motive and with solutions that haven’t worked. Judging someone else, then inquiring and turning it around, is the direct path to understanding. You can judge yourself later, when you have been doing inquiry long enough to trust the power of truth.”
  • “Don’t worry about whether The Work is working or not. You’re just beginning to learn how to do it. It’s like riding a bike. All you need to do is keep wobbling on. You’ll get a better feel for it as you read the dialogues that follow. And you won’t necessarily be the first to notice that it’s working. You may find, as many people have, that it doesn’t seem to have any effect now, but you have already shifted in ways you can’t feel yet. The Work can be very subtle and profound.”
  • “You’ll notice that I don’t always ask the four questions in the order you’ve learned. I sometimes vary the usual order, I leave out questions, zeroing in on just one or two, and sometimes I skip the questions entirely and go directly to the turnarounds. Even though the usual order of the questions works well, eventually it may not be necessary to ask them in order. You don’t have to begin with ‘Is it true?’ You can start with any question; ‘Who would you be without that thought?’ might be the first one, if that feels right. Just one of these questions can set you free if you inquire deeply from within.”
  • “Sometimes I also ask two subsidiary questions: ‘Can you see a reason to drop that thought?’ and ‘Can you find one stress-free reason to keep the thought?’ These are follow-ups to the third question, ‘How do you react when you think that thought?’ They can be very useful.”
  • “I remember sitting on the living room couch with my eyes closed, and Paul came into the room and saw me, and he stormed up to me, shouting, ‘Jesus Christ, Kate, what the hell is the matter with you?’ It was a simple question. So I went inside and asked myself, ‘What the hell is the matter with you, Katie?’ It wasn’t personal. Could I just find an answer to that question? Well, there had been one instant when I’d had the thought that Paul shouldn’t have been shouting, though the reality was that he was shouting. Ah. That’s what was the matter with me. So I said, ‘Sweetheart, the matter with me is that I had the thought that you shouldn’t be shouting, and it didn’t feel right. Thank you for asking. Now it feels right again.'”
  • “People often ask me if I had a religion before 1986, and I say yes—it was ‘My children should pick up their socks.’ This was my religion, and I was totally devoted to it, even though it never worked. Then one day, after The Work was alive in me, I realized that it simply wasn’t true. The reality was that day after day, they left their socks on the floor, after all my years of preaching and nagging and punishing them. I saw that I was the one who should pick up the socks if I wanted them picked up. My children were perfectly happy with their socks on the floor. Who had the problem? It was me. It was my thoughts about the socks on the floor that had made my life difficult, not the socks themselves. And who had the solution? Again, me. I realized that I could be right, or I could be free. It took just a few moments for me to pick up the socks, without any thought of my children. And an amazing thing began to happen. I realized that I loved picking up their socks. It was for me, not for them. It stopped being a chore in that moment, and it became a pleasure to pick them up and see the uncluttered floor. Eventually, they noticed my pleasure and began to pick up their socks on their own, without my having to say a thing.”
  • “I can go outside and attack them and their ideas about me in the attempt to change their minds and keep my lack of awareness, or I can go inside and search for a new truth that will set me free. This is why I say that all war belongs on paper. Inquiry takes me to the answers inside.”
  • “I came to see that there was nothing to forgive, that I was the one who caused my own problems. I found just what you’re finding.”
  • “Marisa: I see. So…we cause our own problems? Katie: Yes, but only all of them. It’s just been a misunderstanding. Your misunderstanding. Not theirs. Not ever, not even a little. Your happiness is your responsibility. This is very good news.”
  • “Can you see a reason to drop that thought? And I’m not asking you to drop it. You didn’t bring it about, so how can you drop what you didn’t cause? In my experience, we don’t make thoughts appear, they just appear. One day, I noticed that their appearance just wasn’t personal. Noticing that really makes it simpler to inquire. I only want to know if you can see a reason to drop the thought that he isn’t a friendly child.”
  • “Reality, for me, is what is true. The truth is whatever is in front of you, whatever is really happening. Whether you like it or not, it’s raining now. ‘It shouldn’t be raining’ is just a thought. In reality, there is no such thing as a ‘should’ or a ‘shouldn’t.’ These are only thoughts that we impose onto reality.”
  • “Here are some ways to coax your thoughts out into the open, to prompt new statements that can allow inquiry to go deeper. And it means that _____ Let’s say you wrote, ‘I am angry at my father because he hit me.’ Is it true? Yes: you are angry, and yes: he did hit you, many times, when you were a child. Try writing the statement with your added interpretation. ‘I am angry at my father because he hit me, and it means that _____.'”
  • “Another way of prompting yourself is to read your original statement and ask yourself what you think you would have if reality were (in your opinion) fully cooperating with you. Suppose you wrote, ‘Paul should tell me that he loves me.’ Your answer to ‘What do you think you would have?’ might be that if Paul told you that he loves you, you would feel more secure. Write down this new statement.”
  • “A fourth useful prompt is to look for a ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ version of your original statement. If your anger arises from the belief that reality should have been different, you might rewrite the statement ‘I am angry at my father because he hit me’ as ‘My father shouldn’t have hit me.’ This statement may be easier to investigate.”
  • “When Paul insults you, for example, how many times do you replay that scene in your mind? Who is more unkind—Paul (who insulted you once today) or you (who multiplied his insult over and over again in your mind)?”
  • “The point is not to find the most turnarounds, but to find the ones that set you free from the nightmare you’re innocently attached to. Turn the original statement around any way you want to until you find the turnarounds that penetrate the deepest.”
  • “Let’s play with the statement ‘Paul should appreciate me.’ First, turn it around to yourself: I should appreciate myself. (It’s my job, not his.) Next, turn it around to the other: I should appreciate Paul. (If I believe it’s so easy for Paul to appreciate me, can I appreciate Paul? Can I live it?) Then turn it around to the opposite: Paul shouldn’t appreciate me. (That’s reality, sometimes. Paul shouldn’t appreciate me, unless he does.)”
  • “Be willing to go inside with each turnaround, and ask if it’s as true as or truer than the original statement. Find at least three specific, genuine examples of how it is true in your life. Own it. If that seems difficult for you, add the word ‘sometimes’ to the turnaround. Can you own that it’s true sometimes, even if only in the moment.”
  • “The Work is not about shame and blame. It’s not about proving that you are the one in the wrong or forcing yourself to believe that someone else is in the right. The power of the turnaround lies in the discovery that everything you think you see on the outside is really a projection of your own mind.”
  • “All my job-related angst was about thinking that Frank should be competent. The truth is that he’s just not competent. The piece that I added, which made me nuts, was that he should be competent. The fact is that I’m going to do what I have to do. I’m going to backfill until he’s not my problem anymore. I’m just going to do it.”
  • “Sometimes replacing the word ‘I’ with ‘my thinking’ will bring a realization. ‘I am a failure’ becomes ‘My thinking is a failure, especially about myself.'”
  • “The thought of not having to make decisions sounds glorious. Katie: That’s my experience. I don’t make decisions. I don’t bother with them, because I know they’ll be made for me right on time. My job is to be happy and wait. Decisions are easy. It’s the story you tell about them that isn’t easy.”
  • “It was real clear to come here. I didn’t have to think, ‘Should I, shouldn’t I, should I?’ It was ‘Mmm, yes. You’re available then. Go.'”
  • “There is no thought or situation that you can’t put up against inquiry. Every thought, every person, every apparent problem is here for the sake of your freedom.”
  • “If you aren’t completely comfortable in the world, do The Work. That’s what every uncomfortable feeling is for—that’s what pain is for, what money is for, what everything in the world is for: your self-realization. It’s all a mirror image of your own thinking.”
  • “We can never know how much we have received when we’ve finished a piece of honest inquiry or what effect it will have on us. We may never even be aware of the effect. It’s none of our business.”
  • “Reality is much kinder than our stories.”
  • “So you experienced that for two weeks, and you’ve lived it in your mind for how many years? Willem: Fifty-five. Katie: So the bombs have been falling inside you for fifty-five years. And in reality, only for part of six years. Willem: Yes. Katie: So who is kinder, war or you? Willem: Hmm.”
  • “And is it true you need your father? I’m asking you for the truth. Willem: I’ve grown up without a father. Katie: So, is it really true you needed him? Is it true you needed your mother until you met her again? In reality? Willem: No. Katie: Is it true that you needed food when you were hungry? Willem: No. I didn’t starve.”
  • “After you’ve been doing inquiry for a while, if you have the thought ‘She doesn’t love me,’ you just get the immediate turnaround with a smile: ‘Oh, I’m not loving myself in this moment.’ ‘She doesn’t care about me’: ‘Oh, I’m not caring about myself in the moment I think that thought.'”
  • “I want Mom to admit that she was wrong and to apologize to me. Katie: Is that true? Is that really true? Diane: I think so. Katie: And if you think it would hurt her, if it’s a little more than she can deal with now, do you still want her to apologize? Diane: I don’t want to hurt her. Katie: No. That’s usually why people don’t apologize, it’s just too painful to face what they’ve done.”
  • “How could I ever possibly have time to investigate all my beliefs? A: Don’t worry about undoing all of them. Just investigate the belief that’s causing you stress now. There is never more than one. Undo that one.”
  • “It doesn’t matter how often you need to do it. You’re either attaching to the nightmare or investigating it. There’s no other choice. The issue may come back a dozen times, a hundred times. It’s always a wonderful opportunity to see what attachments are left and how much deeper you can go.”
  • “My answer to ‘Can I absolutely know that it’s true?’ is always ‘No.’ Is there anything we can know for certain?”
  • “Until you can see that there is nothing to forgive, you haven’t really forgiven. We’re all innocent; we hurt others because we believe our unquestioned thoughts. No one would ever harm another human being unless they were confused.”
  • “The world is the mirror image of your mind.”
  • “If you think you’re enlightened, you’ll love having your car towed away.”

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  1. Oh, I do love these quotes! Byron Katie Is awesome. Thank you for sharing these. This is one of my all time favorite books. I do love getting my car towed away! Hahahahahaha It’s all good.