Many people in many traditions have spoken about a state of continuous and unshakable inner peace, in which the mind delights in everything that happens. Byron Katie calls this “loving what is.” It is the mind’s natural state. Through the self-inquiry of The Work, people can return to it as often as they wish, and eventually it becomes constant. Suffering is optional.
THE CAUSE OF ALL SUFFERING
The initial insight, as in cognitive psychology, is that all human suffering is caused by believing our stressful thoughts. As the philosopher Epictetus said, “We are disturbed not by what happens to us, but by our thoughts about what happens.” Byron Katie puts it this way: “The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with what is. When the mind is perfectly clear, what is is what we want.”
It’s not possible to end stress or suffering by substituting positive thoughts for negative thoughts. This may work to some extent, but eventually the mind will outsmart you. There is a whole underworld of unexamined thoughts that will override the positive thoughts that you’re trying to believe. Ultimately it’s not possible to let go of our negative thoughts, because we can’t control the mind. When we look deeply into the mind, we see that we aren’t creating thoughts in the first place. We aren’t thinking; we are being thought.
Suffering can be alleviated and ultimately ended by questioning our stressful thoughts. The Work provides a simple and powerful method for doing this. Byron Katie says, “I didn’t let go of my stressful thoughts. I questioned them, and then they let go of me.”
THE JUDGE-YOUR-NEIGHBOR WORKSHEET
One of the brilliant innovations of Byron Katie is the Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet. This allows people to identify the thoughts and stories that cause their suffering. The first step in doing The Work is to fill out a Worksheet. “Though the mind can justify itself faster than the speed of light, it can be stopped through the act of writing. Once the mind is stopped on paper, thoughts remain stable, and inquiry can easily be applied.”
The stressful thoughts to be identified on a Worksheet are about someone else, not about yourself; hence the term “Judge-Your-Neighbor.” This is sometimes difficult for people, since we have been taught not to judge, though we do it all the time. When you do The Work, you see who you are in a stressful situation by seeing who you think other people are. Byron Katie explains this in the following way: “Since the beginning of time, people have been trying to change the world so that they can be happy. This hasn’t ever worked, because it approaches the problem backward. What The Work gives us is a way to change the projector—mind—rather than the projected. It’s like when there’s a piece of lint on a projector’s lens. We think there’s a flaw on the screen, and we try to change this person and that person, whomever the flaw appears to be on next. But it’s futile to try to change the projected images. Once we realize where the lint is, we can clear the lens itself. This is the end of suffering, and the beginning of a little joy in paradise.”
THE FOUR QUESTIONS
1. Is it true? People are encouraged to meditate on this question and go deeper than answers that seem obvious but that bring them stress or suffering. “My husband (or my wife) should listen to me—is it true?” Most people’s automatic response is “Yes,” indignantly or sadly. After someone truly contemplates the question, the answer may still be yes but there may be a slight weakening of the ego’s position. Or maybe the person sees clearly and shockingly that the statement isn’t true. It may be something they have believed for years and decades.
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? If their answer to the first question is yes, this second question gives people another chance to examine the stressful thought and to go deeper into the open mind, which in Zen is called the “don’t-know mind.” Yes is still a valid answer.
3. How do you react—what happens—when you believe that thought? This question allows people to see the cause-and-effect of believing their stressful thoughts—to witness what happened, what they felt, said, and did, when they believed the thought in that They are encouraged to inhabit the situation they were remembering in the first statement on their Worksheet and trace, in detail, the physical sensations and the emotions caused when they believe “My husband (or my wife) should listen to me.” Someone might say, for example, “I feel anger in my belly. My face flushes. I start to talk louder. I see my husband as neglectful. I become antagonistic. I try to convince him. I see him as the enemy,” and so on. These specific reactions are clear evidence of how unuseful, even damaging, this belief is to the person believing it. Whether they answered “yes” or “no” to the first two questions, they get to see how the thought leads them away from connection with the other person.
4. Who would you be without the thought? This is a question outside the realm of cognitive psychology. It allows people to see reality without the superimposition of their own belief. It gives them a vivid glimpse into what life is like without a problem. They become the seer, the listener, egoless, receiving the other person without blame, demands, expectations, or anything but an open mind. This question has resulted in very powerfully transformative experiences, even for people whose response to questions one and two were “Yes.”
After the mind has educated itself about a particular stressful thought through the four questions of The Work, people are invited to turn the thought around. The turnaround is a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believed was true. Sometimes there may be just one turnaround; sometimes there are two or three turnarounds to one of the statements on the Worksheet (turnarounds to the opposite, to the self, and to the other). For example, the statement in that situation, “my husband should listen to me” can be turned around to “My husband shouldn’t listen to me,” and also to “I should listen to me,” and finally to “I should listen to my husband.”
Once people find a turnaround, they are invited to contemplate specific examples of how the turnaround is true in their lives, how it is as true as or truer than their original statement. This grounds the turnaround in actual experience and further weakens the power of the stressful thought over the mind. For some people, just one deep session of inquiry is enough to completely unravel a belief, so that it doesn’t occur again, or if it does, the response is amusement rather than stress.
Often, after fully contemplating the turnarounds, people who have answered “Yes” to questions one and two, if they are asked the questions again, will answer “No,” often with a smile or a laugh. When we are suffering in any given moment, we are in a trance, hypnotized. The Work wakes us up.