Are you familiar with Byron Katie? She teaches a four-question method of inquiry for exploring and releasing yourself from suffering. She calls it The Work.
She came on my radar sometime in the past two years and although I haven’t read any of her books (yet), I have casually engaged with the free materials available on her website. And I have been listening to her podcasts and watching videos.
Fundamentally, to paraphrase what I hear Katie saying over and over in different ways is: ‘Did you ever notice that it’s not the world that causes your suffering? It’s your thoughts about the world. And that distinction means the end of suffering.’
And to quote her directly: “I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment. That joy is in everyone, always.”
Katie’s approach when she sits and talks with people is to directly engage with where they are at, with their specific thoughts, feelings and beliefs. I imagine it’s much like it is said that the Buddha taught: in direct response to specific suffering. As she guides individuals through the simple steps of The Work, its beauty and wisdom are revealed in the application of that inquiry. And she invites anyone to try it. To look clearly at what is going on in your direct experience, and to consider alternative interpretations.
So, since there isn’t an overall doctrine (in fact The Work functions to question ALL beliefs), I have struggled a little with what would be most useful to re-blog here. But while listening to a podcasted interview today, my mind was blown when Katie explained how she uses her method of inquiry to explore the most essential question: ‘Who am I?’ So I thought, why not go right to the deep end, I’ll write and re-blog about what excites me!
What she explores (very briefly at 30:50 minutes) that got me excited is: ‘Am I my name?’ If you’re already familiar with teachings on the selflessness of persons and phenomena — what is called ’emptiness’ in Buddhist traditions — you might really enjoy this fresh and direct approach.
If you want to play along at home, and engage in a little inquiry into your true nature, here are the four questions of The Work for you to apply to that one fundamental belief: I am [insert your name].
1. Is it true?
2. Can I absolutely know that it is true?
3. How do I react — what happens — when I believe that thought?
4. Who would I be without the thought?
The best way of engaging here is to be still and ask your heart. Sometimes you might take time to sit in meditation with the questions, and you might also gently inquire throughout your day whenever you notice the thought comes up.
There are other steps to engage fully with the process, such as filling in the Judge-Your-Neighbour-Worksheet and Finding the Turnarounds. If your interest is piqued, I recommend exploring the podcasts and videos where Katie works directly with people. That way you get a taste for how The Work works and how to work it (couldn’t help myself there). And you might see your own suffering and gain wisdom from hearing other people question their beliefs.
Everything you need to Do The Work is available for free.