A Valentine’s Story

I first met Stephen because Michael Katz said that I needed a literary agent. I said I didn’t have a book, so I didn’t need a literary agent. But Michael persisted. I liked him a lot, so eventually I said okay. It was like the Beatles song: I didn’t have a car, but I had a driver. He also gave me a dozen of Stephen’s books. I didn’t read any of them. Actually, I gave them away. Then Michael wanted to introduce us.

I’ll let Stephen tell the story:

“Sometime in November or December of 1999, Michael Katz, my old friend and literary agent, sent me two videotapes and an audiotape of Byron Katie. He had discovered Katie and The Work a few months before and had been deeply impressed. As a long-time student of both Suzuki Roshi and of Gregory Bateson, he had a finely-tuned sense of the genuine, and he recognized something extraordinary in Katie. He told me that he had begun to do The Work as a daily practice, and that it was clearing his mind in subtle ways that Zen meditation had never touched.

“I always trust Michael and almost always follow his advice. So when he told me to watch the videos, I did. I was impressed. I liked Katie a great deal. I thought that The Work was a powerful method for people who had problems with anger, desire, or confusion—though I (I thought), as a mature Zen person, was of course far beyond the need for it. But I was very impressed.

“I told Michael my reaction, and he said, ‘Now I want you to see her. It’s ten times more powerful in person.’ I told him I would. She was giving a public event in Marin County at the end of January. For some reason that I didn’t understand, I wanted to meet her privately before the event, so I made an appointment with her assistant, Melony. It was for 10 A.M. on Sunday, January 23, 2000, at a house in Mill Valley.

“I remember arriving that morning five minutes early and sitting in the car until it was 10 o’clock. I remember the feeling of excitement as I waited, and the specific thought: ‘Don’t get too excited. And don’t expect her to recognize you. Even if she doesn’t recognize you, it will be fine.’ That was the thought that passed through my mind several times.

“I rang the bell at 10 o’clock exactly. Katie’s host came to the door, opened it, and let me into the living room, where she was waiting on a couch. It must have been 10:03 when I looked into her eyes.

“The experience is as vivid to me now as it was at that instant, and as impossible to describe. I will try a few statements, from different directions. All of them are trying to say the same thing. I had seen a videotape of her, so I was prepared to meet someone very wise. But I wasn’t prepared for what I saw the first instant I looked into her eyes: the awe of it. I felt I was looking into a heart that was completely pure. I felt that I was being totally seen, totally met. What was in those eyes was something I had never experienced before: something that the phrase ‘unconditional love’ can only point to from a great distance. I felt that I was standing in front of a clear mirror and seeing myself and that I was more beautiful than I could ever have imagined. I felt that whatever it was that was missing in my own heart was suddenly, magically, standing in front of me, and whatever it was that this radiant, joyous woman had understood was now available to me as well.

“I used to think of myself as a connoisseur of eyes. I had met many spiritual masters: Zen masters, lamas, gurus, and so forth, and some of them had the brilliance and humor in their eyes that for me was the mark of the genuine. The strongest experience of this kind that I had had was with my old Zen master in June 1973, in Providence, Rhode Island. The first moment I had set eyes on him, I knew that he knew the great secret, the answer that I had been looking for during seven years of hard work on ‘Job and the problem of suffering.’ It was there, in his eyes, and at that moment I thought of the line from Yeats: ‘Their eyes, their ancient, glittering eyes are gay.’ That moment had changed my life.

“But Katie’s eyes were even more glittering, I felt, even more ancient, and so beautiful that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry with joy. The joy shining from them was something I had never seen before. I felt overwhelmed, relieved, mortified at my own arrogance, deeply grateful, and in love. The love wasn’t personal. It wasn’t I, the man Stephen, falling in love with a woman named Katie. It was like falling in love with the Buddha. It was like falling in love with the magnificence of the human heart.

“We sat together for about an hour and a half. We talked a little. I told her a little about my life, how I had come to Zen, what it had meant to me, what felt still unfinished. I don’t remember what she said. I do remember that it was perfectly clear to me that she had no attachment to being a spiritual teacher. This was extraordinary, since even my own Zen master, wonderful as he was, had more than a smidgen of attachment to being a teacher. Most of the time, we just sat in silence. She had taken my hand, and we just sat together holding hands. The silence was very full, and deeply fulfilling. I had never been so happy.”


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