What’s your story? Are you suffering because of your thoughts? Your thinking? Your opinions? Your judgments? Your story? The story that we tell ourselves has the power to change how we experience the present moment. In this context, “storytelling” is the story playing in our head over and over and over.
What is the story that you are telling yourself? Is it causing your suffering?
“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.”
A few years ago, I went to see Byron Katie at Unity on the Bay in Miami, Florida. More than 500 people had gathered to see this spiritual teacher.
As I listened to her process, I thought to myself. Do I believe that my thoughts are real? Thoughts lead to emotions? Am I stuck in judgment of myself or others? Do I create a whole story around my judgments and assumptions? Who would I be without my story?
I wondered: Where am I unconscious? And then there is the truth of the statement: I can’t see what I can’t see! The moments of sudden clarity are often called AHA! Moments (a change in consciousness). Byron Katie’s process of meditative inquiry is one way to reach some of those AHA! Moments.
Her basic message. The cure to end all suffering is Acceptance. Embracing reality. This is not always an easy process for the mind (or ego). This is not something you just do in your head. Instead, you sit with the feelings that come up as you go through the questions. Let them settle and allow an answer to arise to the questions of the self-inquiry process.
I get really still with the questions. I ask. I open. I notice. I realize. And the consciousness shifts.
Her book Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life introduces a process called “The Work”. The complete process can now be found on her website thework.com. Visit the website for worksheets, discussion, and videos. Discover more books by Byron Katie.
The Work is a simple yet powerful process of inquiry that teaches you to identify and question the thoughts that cause all the suffering in the world. It’s a way to understand what’s hurting you, and to address the cause of your problems with clarity. In its most basic form, The Work consists of four questions and the turnarounds.
— quote from website thework.com
The Four Questions
- Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
Examine the truth of the statement turned around on you.
For example, let’s turnaround: “John makes me feel stupid.”
- I make John feel stupid.
- I make me feel stupid.
- John does not make me feel stupid.
Here’s my example. (Names changed…)
From the Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet: “Fred is not listening to me.”
I knew that I was right. It’s my way or the highway! I’m going to let him have a piece of my mind. I thought about it for days. I’m going to say it right. He is going to hear me. And of course, coming in on my high horse, I said things that I would later regret. Only now, much much later, can I look back and say: OK, perhaps, I was a little over the top.
From that feeling of not being listened to in my life, I spoke from all the past times that I was not listened to (most of them had nothing to do with Fred or this situation), and I was not in the present moment with this situation. My words contained all the past energy of prior hurts, and so I was hurting someone else with the energy of past hurts. This was not a clean conversation. For me (and this may not be true for you), one hint that my thought pattern is stuck in judgment is that I start to think in cliches… “my way or highway” … “high horse” … I may not notice it at the time, but when I look back. Yikes! I’m stuck in a fixed judgment. I just KNEW that I was right!
The Work Statement
“Fred is not listening to me.”
The Four Questions
- Is it true? Yes, he went ahead and did what he wanted anyway.
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true? No, perhaps he heard me, and made his own choice.
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? I get angry!
- Who would you be without the thought? I would be kinder and more understanding.
Turnarounds (of the Statement)
- I’m not listening to him. Ok, that’s true. I had entered an attitude of “my way or the highway!” I could not see his point of view.
- I’m not listening to me. Yes, I can see that I was not listening to my own feelings. I didn’t even notice that I was shut down in my own head.
- He does listen to me. He did hear me. He was listening, but he was convinced that he was going to do it for my own good. So he did it anyway, and felt I would appreciate it after. Which is sort of true! I just ignored that because I was angry that he didn’t listen to me in the first place. I was just generally disagreeable and argumentative.
“I’m willing to not have him listen to me again.”
“I’m looking forward to him not listening to me again.”
Can I honestly say this now? Yes. I am now open to another possible truth. I am open to reality. I can see beyond my fixed judgment, and this ends my suffering. If I continue to re-experience the anger, then I can do “The Work” process again, and open myself to more growth.
Wake up. That’s the only way out. Even death is not a way out, because you don’t even know that you are out. There’s no way out but in.
— Byron Katie
When you are really stuck, sometimes you need someone to guide you through the process.
This process makes more sense if you watch Byron Katie’s videos online. She has many of them, so check them out. Here are a few recent ones.