Byron Katie, founder of The Work, has one job: to teach people how to end their own suffering. She has been bringing The Work to millions of people for more than twenty-five years. Her six books include the bestselling Loving What Is, I Need Your Love—Is That True? and A Thousand Names for Joy. The Work of Byron Katie is a way of identifying and questioning the thoughts that cause all the fear and suffering in the world. In this one-day workshop, Katie’s hope is that you experience the happiness of undoing those thoughts through inquiry and allow your mind to return to its awakened, peaceful, creative nature. The Work consists of four questions and the turnarounds, which are a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believe. When you question a thought, you see around it to the choices beyond suffering. I was very privileged to interview her. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!
Sunita Sehmi: Tell us about yourself.
Byron Katie: My background was pure suffering. I was deeply depressed for ten years, alcoholic, obese, agoraphobic, suicidal. I didn’t think that there was a way out. Every day I wanted to die. During the last two years of this, I could hardly leave my bedroom. I slept with a loaded pistol under my pillow. I would sometimes go for two weeks without being able to bathe or brush my teeth, so intense was my self-loathing. Then one morning in February 1986, out of nowhere, I experienced a life-changing realization. In that instant of no time, 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.
Question your stressful thoughts.
Sunita Sehmi: How did The Work begin?
Byron Katie: The Work was born in that first moment of astonished awareness. It’s a way of identifying and questioning the stressful thoughts that cause all the suffering in the world, and anyone with an open mind can do it. It consists of four questions and what I call a turnaround, which is a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believe. You put these questions up against a stressful thought, such as “I’m too fat” or “My husband should listen to me” or “Life is unfair.” The questions are:
1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
3. How do you react when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?
For thousands of years we’ve been told not to judge, but we still do it all the time.
Sunita Sehmi: You are coming to Switzerland in June. Could you tell us more about the event?
Byron Katie: I will show people, in detail, how to identify and question the thoughts that cause all the suffering in the world. Then, after people have identified a specific situation that made them unhappy, I will invite volunteers to come sit with me on the stage and do The Work. There are no new stressful thoughts; they’re all recycled. So the volunteer’s thoughts are everyone’s thoughts, and the audience gets to unravel these thoughts along with the volunteer. In this way, everybody gains a little clarity.
Sunita Sehmi: Who are your target audience?
Byron Katie: Whoever comes.
Sunita Sehmi: In your opinion, what is the path to true happiness?
Byron Katie: Questioning your stressful thoughts, one by one by one.
Sunita Sehmi: What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?
Byron Katie: “Question your stressful thoughts.” That was advice that I was given by myself when I woke up to reality in 1986. I noticed stories arising inside me that had been troubling mankind forever. I felt absolutely committed to undoing every stressful story that had ever been told. I was the mind of the world, and each time one of the stories was seen for what it really was and thus undone in me, it was undone in the whole world, because there is only one thinker.
Once the mind is met with understanding, it can always find its way back home.
Sunita Sehmi: What’s the next challenge for us?
Byron Katie: The next stressful thought that happens in your mind.
Sunita Sehmi: What’s next for you?
Byron Katie: I don’t know what’s next. I never know what will happen; it’s always a leap into the unknown. All I know about it is that it’s a good thing.
It’s not right or wrong to visualize a future, but why would you bother? When you realize that there’s no such thing as a future, you’re able to be fully present. There’s nothing you expect. Whatever appears is always fresh, brilliant, surprising, obvious, and exactly what you need.
Through The Work, rather than believe or suppress these judgments, we use them as starting points for self-realization.
For more information about this interview, click here.