How many times have you been told to sort your life out and thought: if only? It all seems so complicated. So many problems, so much to fix about yourself and your life. What if you could solve any problem by asking yourself four simple questions? Byron Katie says you can. Charismatic Katie’s guidance is more like cognitive therapy than psychobabble. It’s a simple and pragmatic way of getting you to take responsibility for your own problems. It brings those who ask these questions a special kind of peace of mind. Sarah Kenny discovers The Work for herself to find out if it’s true…

The Work is a self-awareness programme developed by a woman called Byron Katie, a grandmother with white hair and sparkling blue eyes. She travels the globe as host to workshops that bring her message to everyone from prison inmates to abused children. She calls it ‘spiritual inquiry’, but unlike New-Age therapies, you don’t visualise or pray, you ask four essential questions.

THE 4 QUESTIONS

1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know it’s true

3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?
The Work, says Katie, is: “A way to cut through everything. It puts responsibility back on the person looking for their own answers, not the world’s answers.”

A former real estate broker and the mother of three, Katie developed the Work in 1986, while in a state of severe depression. She was also an alcoholic with an eating disorder and she had repeated thoughts of suicide, often finding it difficult to even get out of bed. Then, while lying on the floor of a halfway-house attic, she suddenly achieved a sense of “clarity,” realising her troubles stemmed from the way she perceived the world and not the world itself. She calls it ‘waking up to reality. She discovered a very simple way of changing her way of thinking about the world around her and she found that her whole world changed along with her thinking.

Making a complete recovery from depression, Katie began telling people how she had learned to release the bad feelings and found joy and happiness. More and more people began asking her to share what she had learned and she eventually began speaking publicly.

“I just know that people want to be free,” she says. “And if I have something they believe will help them, then I give it in the same way I got it.”

Over time, Byron Katie has turned her experiences into the full-blown process and publication known as The Work of Byron Katie. She applies her process of self-inquiry to all aspects of life from relationships to rejection to self-image, grief and loss, and even money. Though not associated with any religion, Byron Katie’s work centers around shifting people’s beliefs and thoughts. Still, Katie speaks at churches as well as schools, hospitals, prisons and women’s shelters delivering inspiration to those who seek it.
Sarah’s story

How The Work worked for me.

I came in from work and the tears I’d been holding back all day at work erupted from my chest. My therapist told me if I was unable to change my beliefs she couldn’t help me. I was 35 years old; surely I was able to change unhelpful beliefs about myself and my world into positive ones?

When I was a teenager, like most girls, I wanted to be popular, loved and accepted…and that meant good looking 

and, above all, slim. And there a seed was sown that would later bring me to my knees.
Twenty years on after too many new diet Mondays, all the therapies I could afford, 12 step programs, treatment centres, hypnosis, unpleasant “cleansing” therapies, life coaching and enough books to build a small cabin should I ever need to be self sufficient.
I considered myself well and truly unfixable…and clearly my therapist thought the same.
The challenge was simple, your thinking is unhelpful so change it – but I was stumped. My argument was why change my thoughts when I believed them and more to the point there was plenty of evidence in the media telling me it was true, I really was too short, fat, thick, poor, thin-haired…..insert as applicable here.

And this was how I stumbled into “The Work” of Byron Katie (Katie). Katie didn’t test her theory on lofty ideals but on the stuff of life, “my husband should love me more”, “my kids should appreciate me” “I should be thinner”. The “should be thinner” one got me and so to humour my therapist (and so that she wouldn’t stop helping me with my overeating!) I agreed to give The Work’s four questions a go.

I printed a worksheet off the website and did it. I could see that there might be something to it, so I decided a kick-start was needed so I went on a 1-day introduction course lead by Tamara Alferoff. At the start of the course Tamara handed out a business card sized notelet with four questions printed on it and joked that this was what we had paid for…not knowing whether to laugh or cry I took it and it said:

1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know it’s true
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?

Then the instruction was to “turn the thought around, can you find other turnarounds? give genuine examples for each turnaround.

Simple? I read it and thought it was, so simple in fact that there no way this delusional flavour of positive thinking could possibly be of any help to me. But I was at the course now so what the hell.

What happened in the weeks following I can only describe as transformational. I have learned for myself that the questions when answered simply on an unhelpful belief invite inquiry and curiosity in me. Thoughts like “fat is unattractive” that had a stranglehold on me and dictated the contents of every meal in an attempt to be attractive again have now loosened their grip. I have even found myself laughing out loud at the lunacy of some of the thoughts I held onto to as fact for years! The questions I have learned are not designed to make one change one’s mind but simply to introduce other options to the mind. And therein lies the glorious release from the tyranny of a closed loop in the mind.

It’s amazing stuff. The Work has helped me to realise that I am not my thoughts. As Katie so eloquently puts it: “It’s not for us to try to let go of our thoughts but rather to question them with open curiosity and they will let go of us.” And understanding this has changed everything.

The Work is a way to identify and question the thoughts that cause all your suffering. Everything you need in order to do The Work is available free on Katie’s website here.

 

Get Byron Katie’s latest book, A Mind At Home With Itself.

“Byron Katie has rocked my world and shaken loose my mind more thoroughly than any other spiritual teacher I’ve ever encountered, living or dead.” —Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love and Big Magic

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