When I came across Byron Katie's book Loving What Is: Four Questions that can Change your Life, I thought to myself, how can only four questions have any impact on the way I think. The way I think is the way I think, and my thoughts are the accumulation of years of programming through the teachings, readings, lectures, movies, television programs, political discussions, speeches, and conversations in various forms and in various settings I've had through the course of a lifetime. My experiences have shaped the way I think and the way I view the world, and often times my thoughts are formulated as a consequence of those particular experiences. Strongly held beliefs become ingrained in us from very early on by the first people we come into contact with, our parents, who help to shape the world we live in and how we relate to the world. Besides our parents, we are influenced by our teachers; relatives; coaches; religious traditions and practices; priests, pastors, or rabbis; our ethnic heritage; the society we were born into; our class; our environment; all these give shape and form to our thoughts and beliefs. We take on these thoughts and beliefs and hold them dear, without ever question why do I believe this, or where did this belief originate. These thoughts over time can imprison us, because as time passes, we change, and what was once true for us no longer seems to be true, or only true in a certain context. Also, with the passing of time, we develop our stories created from our life experiences, and among these varied experiences, we are both the perpetrators and the victims of injury, and those that have injured us, whether it be on a physical, emotional, psychological, and/or spiritual form, leave us scarred and trapped within the story that occurred. It's amazing to me how an event will happen, and although the event is now long past and no longer is in existence, the story of what happened recurs in our minds relentlessly, as if it were happening right now. We get to re-live the pain over and over again in our minds, and our lives get stuck in a hole which we never seem to get out of, and in fact, we dig in deeper because of our thoughts about it. People can hold grudges for a lifetime, for an injury that happened decades ago, and refuse to let go of the pain because they won't allow themselves the opportunity to look at an event in a different way. When these thoughts remain unquestioned, we stay stuck in the past, hold grievances against those who have harmed us in some way, and our lives lose some of the joy and happiness it once had. We look to the past to find comfort and reminisce about times that were good and how much better they were than now, and this brings us pain. What if there was a way to free ourselves from the prison house of our minds and allow us to let go of the thoughts that keep us from being who we really are? In reading Byron Katie's book, and putting it into practice, I sincerely believe there is a way out of our destructive and debilitating thought patterns, and thus, offering us a method of inquiry to return to the joy of life just waiting for us to see it and grasp it.
Thoughts are very powerful. They shape the way we see ourselves, others, and the world. Our thoughts strung together create our story, and this story gives us our identity. Without our story, who would we be? This is what Byron Katie's work is all about. Investigating our thoughts in order to let them let go of us. We all seek for freedom, and the freedom from the thoughts that hold us down would allow us to use this released energy to create the lives we want to live. But we have to do The Work. Briefly, The Work is as follows: You want to write down your judgments about a stressful situation past, present, or future - about a person who troubles you, about a situation that causes you severe distress, someone who angers you, frightens you, saddens you. This is called judge your neighbor (or if its a situation, judge your situation) and you write down your judgments exactly as you think them. "My husband left me" "My wife didn't appreciate me." "My ex-fiance abandoned me." "My friend lied to me." "My sons don't respect me." "My co-workers hate me." These are just some examples. Be as judgmental as you possibly can, be petty, and then put each question up to inquiry which are these four questions: 1. Is it true? 2. Can you absolutely know that this is true? 3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? 4. Who would you be without that thought? and then, when you've done the four questions, Turn it around, and find three genuine examples of how the turn around is true in your life. Why would you want to do this? By doing the work you will see who you are by the way you see other people. What eventually happens is that you come to understand that everything you see is a reflection of your own thinking. We are the projector of the world we see. The world is our projection. Once we see what we are projecting by the thoughts we are thinking, we can change the story by changing our thoughts. And The Work helps us to do that. As Dr. Wayne Dyer said, "When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." Byron Katie's groundbreaking work enables us to see the world as it truly is in reality, without our stories and tortured thoughts, and as a happy consequence, we come to know our beautiful selves.
I thought it would be useful for me to run through one of my examples to show the brilliance and efficacy of this process. I've added some things in the inquiry to deepen my understanding of the thoughts infecting me, which I pulled from Byron Katie's book. Also, I am generalizing the inquiry so that it could be for anyone. I'm including all the insights I discovered through this process which helped to free me from this thought. Please go through this with someone in mind who you feel should do the same thing. There is much to be gained by personalizing it with someone who hurt you, or might have hurt you, so emotionally investing in it is highly suggested. It's the only way we can come to understand ourselves and make peace with our past.
Here's the example: I want (insert name of the person who has caused you pain) to own up to his/her mistakes and apologize to me. Now we put this statement up to inquiry, the four questions, and the turn around.
1. Is it true? Yes
What's the reality? Sometimes this person will deflect or avoid claiming his/her part in whatever might have gone wrong. Specifically, the part he/she played in the event which caused me pain.
How do I know he/she should do this? Because that's what he/she does. He/she deflects, spreads the blame, plays the pity party game (poor-me drama), and refuses to see how his/her actions affected me. He/she just won't see his/her part, and fights tooth and nail to hold on to the position he/she maintains is the truth. He/she has an answer for every point that contradicts his/her point of view and he/she does everything possible to smash and debunk that reality. He/she cannot face the truth, it's too painful. That's the reality. That's what's true.
Whose business is it? Mine or His/Hers? His/Hers. It's not my business whether he/she owns up to his/her mistakes and apologizes or not. He/she is the author of his/her life. I am the author of mine. It's my business to own up to my mistakes and apologize for them.
2. Can I absolutely know that this is true? No
He or she may not be able to do so, and who knows, he or she could be right on some of the issues. Maybe forcing him or her to do something against his/her will would hurt him/her, maybe it would be too much for him/her to deal with right now. That's usually why people don't apologize, it's just too painful to face what they've done. He/she is not ready yet. And, also, only hurt people can hurt, so he/she must have a lot of pain inside of them which has nothing to do with me.
3. How do I react when I believe the thought?
It makes me sad and depressed that he/she can't admit his/her actions caused or brought me pain. I get angry when he/she can't see it or refuses to see it. I close off and shut him/her out. I argue and fight with him/her to show the falsity and error of his/her position. I get caught up in the mire of the details of what happened and I become exasperated by the constant barriers he/she puts up against the truth. It makes me angry when people are not honest and truthful and own up to their mistakes -it's as if they do nothing wrong, and it's all my fault or someone else's fault. It drives me crazy!
Can I see a reason to drop the thought (and please don't try to drop it.)? Yes. All the reason above and the stress it causes me.
Can I find one stress-free reason to keep the thought? No.
4. Who would I be without the thought?
I wouldn't have a past that I thought needed an apology for. Without this thought, I could be free from the weight of wanting something from that person that I may never get. I wouldn't be holding this person to their past mistakes, and I would allow him or her to be who they are in my presence without the need to guilt or shame them for the past wrongs done to me. I would be able to love him/her freely, exactly as he/she is in this moment without any expectations. I'd be free of the pain of having been hurt by this person. I would be free to be me, and I would allow him/her to be who they are in my presence and see the beauty that is there.
Turn around: There are three ways to turn it around: to yourself, to the other, and to the opposite.
1. I want me to own up to my mistakes and apologize to me.
2. I want me to own up to my mistakes and apologize to (insert the name of the person).
3. I don't want (insert name) to own up to his/her mistakes and apologize to me.
At this point, you find three genuine, specific examples of how the turnaround is true in your life for all three ways. When you do this, the insights you discover are subtle, profound, and humbling. Some maybe truer and feel more appropriate than others. Find the one that is most true to you. It's not about feeling bad or blaming someone or feeling guilty. The goal is to find alternatives that can bring you inner peace, and this all starts and ends in our own minds. Finding inner peace is truly liberating, and doing The Work can help us to get there. Also, one of the rewards for doing this self-inquiry is we have a better understanding about how our own mind works.
If you found this example instructive and worthwhile, I highly suggest you buy Byron Katie's book, Loving What Is, and then start doing The Work on your own with your own thoughts. She is a master teacher in showing us how we can escape the suffering in our minds. Her book, and her work is changing the lives of thousands and thousands of people, it is a trans-formative practice, one that can unlock the prison house door holding us prisoner to all of our painful thoughts and memories, and set us free to be who we truly are.