by Justina Hurley
Who is Byron Katie?
In 1986, at the bottom of a ten-year fall into depression, anger, and addiction, Byron Katie woke up one morning and realized that all suffering comes from believing our thoughts. She realized that when she believed her stressful thoughts, she suffered, but that when she questioned them, she didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Her simple but powerful method of inquiry is called The Work.
What is The Work?
The Work is a process of inquiry that teaches you to identify and question the thoughts that cause you to suffer. It’s a way to understand what’s hurting you, and to address your problems with clarity.
The Work consists of four simple questions and a turnaround, which is a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believe. When you Work with a thought, you see around it to the choices beyond suffering. The work is best done on paper, particularly when you are doing it on your own. When you do it with a facilitator they write the answers as you work them together.
The 4 questions
Is it true?
Can I absolutely know that it’s true?
How do I react when I believe this thought?
Who would I be without the thought?
Then turn it around.
For example, lets say that the thought that is causing you stress is to do with a situation where you felt you hadn’t been listened to and as a result you felt you were unfairly treated.
So first you focus on what caused you most stress, in this case (taken from a client example) They didn’t listen to me.
So it goes as follows:
They didn’t listen to me, is that true?
You answer this with a yes or no. No justifications, explanations or reasons, just a simple gut reaction yes or no.
In this instance the answer was yes.
So now you go to: They didn’t listen to me, can I absolutely know that that’s true?
Here you widen the issue. Can you absolutely know they didn’t listen? Depending on the situation, this will again be a yes or no.
Things to consider here would be can you really 100% answer for the other person? Can you be 100% sure they didn’t listen. Maybe they did but didn’t respond in a way that you felt heard. Maybe they listened and answered with an answer you didn’t like. Or maybe they really didn’t listen. The important issue here is not who or what is right or wrong, but instead what feels like the truth to you so again it’s a yes or know taking all of the above into account. If you feel absolutely 100% sure they didn’t listen then it’s a yes but if you have a doubt then it’s a no.
So next: How do I react when I believe the thought that they didn’t listen to me?
Sit with the feeling and notice first where in your body you are feeling the reaction. Does your jaw clench or your chest tighten? Does it affect your breathing? Do you feel a tightness in your stomach? Just notice where in your body that you react.
Now ask yourself, where does your mind travel when you believe the thought that they didn’t listen . Does it go back to a time in your life when you felt not listened to in the past? Do you project ahead to all the things that might happen if no one listens to you? Where else do you travel with this thought? Try looking at some underlying reactions that this thought brings by making a list beginning with “They didn’t listen to me and this means….” Write all the things that this could mean e.g.
They didn’t listen to me and this means …. I’m stupid. I’m not worth listening to. They don’t rate me. I’m being ignored etc
Consider the thought They didn’t listen to me – Does it bring peace or stress?
Now to question 4, Who would you be without the thought they didn’t listen to me?
Close your eyes and try to feel what it would be like to drop this thought. Run through the situation and see it exactly as it is but try to imagine that you are totally unable to hold the thought that they didn’t listen to me. What does it feel like to not have the thought? Notice how your body reacts when this thought is gone.
Now take the thought and turn it around, first to it’s opposite, second to yourself and thirdly reversing the thought.
So… They didn’t listen to me –
Opposite: They did listen to me – Could this be as true or truer? Find three examples of where they might have listened
To yourself: I didn’t listen to me – Could this be as true or truer? Find three examples of where you might not have listened to yourself
Reversed: I didn’t listen to them – Could this be as true or truer? Find three examples of where you might not have listened to them.
The examples don’t have to be from the situation that happened. You could choose from any time in your life where, for example, you didn’t listen to yourself or other times that you might not have listened to the people concerned in this situation.
In a situation such the one above, if the people concerned are in reality not listening to you, a good example of I didn’t listen to them would be – They are being very clear that they are not listening to me so in wanting them to listen and getting upset that they are not, I am not listening to their clear communication which is that they are not going to listen to me.
How it works
What many people misinterpret about doing this work is that they can feel that they are being pushed to take all the blame for what happened. This is not what is happening. The reason for the turnarounds and for looking at the issue from different perspectives is that very often what we believe about a particular situation, it is not necessarily giving the full picture.
Taking the above example, it may be that they really didn’t listen. However holding onto the thought to the point that it is causing stress and upset is causing you suffering. Proving that you are right and they are wrong is not necessarily going to end the upset. However coming to a clearer understanding about why it upset you and seeing that maybe there were times when you didn’t listen to your self or others can help to lessen the emotional charge around this situation.
If the feeling of not being heard has roots in childhood issues or in a pattern where you find yourself frequently feeling that you are not being heard then any situation where you feel that it’s happening again can become emotionally charged and upsetting.
Standing back from the issue and questioning it is a way to get perspective and distance and more self awareness, so that in the future, if the same situation starts to happen, then maybe you will see that these are people that aren’t worth your time and energy, or maybe you will communicate with more authority because the feeling of the need to be heard has lost the level of importance you previously placed in it.
For example, you express what you want to communicate and how they hear it is their business, and your business is only to decide if the situation is worth pursuing or not for you. Without all the emotional charge surrounding the need to be heard you might see that here are simply some people who see things differently and you can choose then to remove yourself from the situation with gratitude rather than upset. Why gratitude? By showing that they are not going to listen they have saved you time and helped you to see that, thanks to their honest response, for you to pursue the issue with them would be a waste of your precious time and you can instead put your energy into finding another solution.
This is just an example and I deliberately chose a more mundane example as in reality it’s often issues such as this that cause stress in our day to day lives. The work also works well for traumas and bigger life events but thankfully they are less common and for very traumatic events it is better to work with another person or to use The Work helpline which is offered as a free service.
Learning to question your thoughts in this way takes time and practice, but it is worth it as in time you will find that it becomes automatic and that you can learn to deal with stressful situation very quickly.
There are some clips included below to help explain the process a little more.
For worksheets and other materials necessary to do a session of The Work, please go to About the work and download what you need from there.
Video clips on Work & Career here
More on Byron Katie
Katie has been bringing The Work to millions around the world for more than twenty years. Her public events, weekend workshops, nine-day School for The Work, and 28-day residential Turnaround House have helped people all over the world.
Byron Katie’s six books include the bestselling:
Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life
I Need Your Love – Is That True?: How to find all the love, approval and appreciation you ever wanted
and A Thousand Names For Joy: How To Live In Harmony With The Way Things Are
For more information, visit www.thework.com.