A Byron Katie Q and A (My Byron Katie Detox Conclusion)

And now, I leave you to it. But first, the final special Byron Katie section of this serial: A Byron Katie Q and A. Here, I take on some of the hang-ups people experience while doing the Work and some common difficulties in understanding the process itself. Note that the questions are mine and the answers are, too.

Q. Byron Katie says that all “should” statements are inherently not true, because everything that is, should be. So why does the Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet specifically instruct us to write “should” statements? Isn’t that sort of stacking the deck?

A. Technically, yes. And if you don’t actually have a “should” thought, don’t write one down. But the reality is that most of us do. And the Work isn’t only for the thoughts that are logical. It’s for any stressful thought–even the ones we already know aren’t true. Because they’re there, hiding just beneath the surface and affecting us more than we realize. By working on them, we bring them into the light.

Q. What about when someone really should do something differently? For their own good, and all that?

A. This one is easy. Byron Katie often reminds us to stay in our business and let others stay in theirs. “Do you really want God’s job?” she asks. So sure, offer advice. Give them a friendly suggestion. Just don’t get attached to the results. Spend your energy doing the Work on your thoughts about the person instead.

Q. Byron Katie says it’s best not to have any goals regarding the Work as we’re doing it–not even the goal of feeling better, finding emotional relief. What is the reason for this? And is it even possible?

A. Every single time I do the Work, I have a goal: I want to get rid of that ugly thought. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing the Work at all, would I? I suspect if you’re at a certain so-called “level,” spiritually speaking, you know what Byron Katie means by having no goal. I suppose you’re able to comprehend the idea of total acceptance of all outcomes, all negative thoughts, all of what comes into your experience, even suffering. I’m not quite there yet. In one video I watched, Katie says that if your Work has goals, your Work will reflect those goals and, I suppose, yield results that are less honest. I see how that could happen. I’m not sure if it happens to me or not.

Q. We’re supposed to love our negative thoughts? Why?

A. Stressful thoughts are like alarm clocks, Katie teaches. They wake us up to reality, take us out of the dream. This is an important function, and if the thought isn’t lovable for it, it can still be worthy of appreciation.

Q. Byron Katie teaches us that stressful thoughts are never the truth. But how can we know that assumption is true? As long as we’re questioning things, shouldn’t we question that?

A. I don’t claim to know how Byron Katie would answer this question. It is a hard one for sure. My best guess is that she’d say that stressful thoughts always involve a story, an interpretation. No matter what happens to you, it’s the story that causes the stress, not the situation itself. If there is no story, all we’re left with is our true nature, which is to love what is. Two quotes on this that relate:

    • “Love is not a doing. There is nothing you have to do. And when you question your mind, you can see that the only thing that keeps you from being love is a stressful thought.”–I Need Your Love–Is It True?
  • “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.”–Loving What Is

Q. The Work isn’t as simple as I thought it would be. There are a lot of tricks to it. Why is that?

A. Such an interesting question. Again, my answer is just a guess, but here’s what I think right now. The Universe is such an amazing thing–so simple and at the same time, so complex. We look at the human brain, for example, under the microscope and all we see are clumps of cells operating on simple principles of biology and physics. But what those cells do is beyond our comprehension. No one understands what makes them work.

In the same way, the Work is simple yet complex and profound.

Q. Why does Byron Katie recommend that we only do the Work on other people, not on ourselves, until we’re more experienced with the process?

A. I hate this rule. It bugs me. I don’t have a ton of judgments about other people. Mostly, I have general negativity. My stressful thoughts usually have to do with slight annoyances that are no one’s fault or stuff about myself, usually bad feelings. When working on these thoughts, I sometimes write about them in the third person. It helps.

That said, there’s a decent argument in favor of this guideline. Other people serve as mirrors into ourselves surprisingly often. Also note that TheWork.com suggests that if you want to start by working on thoughts about yourself, you can call an experienced practitioner. (There is a free service available through TheWork.com.) Also not a bad idea.

Q. What if The Work doesn’t work?

A. How do you know it didn’t? The change in your thoughts and feelings can be subtle, and can take time to make themselves obvious. Try not to get too wrapped up in your preferred outcome. Trust there was an effect, and if the thought comes back, do the Work on it again and again–as many times as it takes. Another of my favorite Katie quotes: “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.”

Q. Regarding the JYN worksheet and the four questions: Do you have to ask the questions in the order given?

A. No. Use your intuition. Byron Katie recommends not skipping straight to the turnarounds, especially if you’re new to the process. Elsewhere, though, she says that you could spend a long time just in question one, and at other times the Work will be almost automatic. Generally speaking, when in doubt, go through the process step by step. But don’t feel boxed in by that rule.

Q. Byron Katie sometimes suggests we make amends to those we’ve hurt–for our own good, not for them. What if the person is gone or dead?

A. There are many ways to make amends: not repeating the action; asking for forgiveness, even if they aren’t there to hear you; offering some sort of material recompense. My favorite, though, is Katie’s suggestion that we do random acts of kindness every day–and if someone finds out it was us, it doesn’t count. I love it.

Q. What if I really, truly want to change myself, to become a better person in some way, but I can’t? I try and try and just fail?

A. What you can’t do, you don’t need to do, Byron Katie says. No matter how important that thing seems to be. In one video Katie tells a man who thinks he’s not successful at his career that he should be glad that the work is getting done without his help. It’s getting done and he didn’t have to do it. Interesting.

Q. I have so, so many negative thoughts. How can I do the Work on all of them?

A. To this, Katie might say, “Do the Work on the one that comes next.” However, I’m too much of a planner for that. I like to keep a list of thoughts to do the Work on. I also like to play with them a bit till I find the one that packs the biggest emotional punch. Neither technique is wrong, and either way it’s the doing of the Work, not the specifics, that matters. The more you do it, the more automatic the process will become, until one day you realize you’ve fully downloaded the program. When stressful thoughts come, the four questions meet them immediately and without much conscious effort. When this is where you’re at, everything gets easier–even the stuff you haven’t worked on yet. It becomes habitual, ingrained.

Here, I might also suggest a non-Byron Katie-approved technique, which I’ll call the Quick Stop. As soon as a stressful thought comes, something like “I am so sick of doing the dishes,” take just a second to tell the thought to stop. Then find one reason–any one reason–the Universe is bringing you this inconvenience. Maybe the dishes are teaching you to slow down. Maybe they’re giving you an opportunity to serve your family, show appreciation, or contribute. Maybe they’re revealing to you that it’s time to do the Work on your stressful thoughts again, or teaching you a bit of patience. Maybe doing them allows you to experience anew the pleasure of a clean kitchen. Maybe the dishes give you an excuse to avoid other work or a chance to watch the birds out the window. Or maybe they simply remind you to get some more soap next time you’re at the store. Maybe you’ll have an important insight during this time, or a short mental break. Any reason your perceived inconvenience is working for you, not against you, is fine. No need to list more than one or two.

I know, I know. Being an optimist is such a pain. But it’s worth the effort, I swear.

Q. What if I don’t want to let go of a stressful thought since if I do, I will lose the motivation to act?

A. The final question, and for good reason. It’s one of the most common, and a particularly difficult one. I mean, Katie’s answer isn’t complicated. She says that we won’t lose motivation to do anything that is good for us and others that we’re meant to do. Our nature is love, she reminds us. If your child is hungry, you’ll feed her. If you need money to live on, you’ll go to work every day, and if you need a good friend, you’ll be one. So what about the other stuff, you might wonder. The stuff you don’t need to do, but should do? Katie would say, If you’re meant to do it, you will. But if you’re like me, that answer isn’t good enough.

I should play with my kids every day. I should drink more water. I should jog. I should read instead of watch TV. All these thoughts stress me out for sure. But do I really want to give them up?

Because I haven’t found my answer to this question yet, I’m going to leave it unanswered. Something for you to think about on your own.

This concludes My Byron Katie Detox: One Year of Questioning My Unhelpful Thoughts. Please subscribe to my new serials on the home page of this site.

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4 comments

  1. Most amazing series, Molly! Great questions…answers…and twists on The Work, including the JYK worksheet. Thanks for writing this all down…the series is a bookmark for sure.

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