Life - Loving What Is
Many people spend 10, 20, 30 years in sincere spiritual study and practice, only to realize they still hate their jobs, their mothers, and the noise coming from the neighbor's blasting stereo. Sounds familiar? If so, according to Byron Katie, it's because we're seeing everything upside down. What we believe to be true, isn't, and what we've been told works, doesn't. We blame, fear and react because we've not gone within to find out what's true for us…not because we didn't want to, but because we haven't known how.
Byron Kathleen Reid, a businesswoman and mother living in the high deserts of southern California, became severely depressed while in her 30s. Over a 10-year period, her depression deepened, and Katie spent almost two years seldom able to leave her bed, obsessing over suicide. Then one morning, from the depths of despair, she experienced a life-changing realization.
The remedy that brought Katie her freedom is something she calls 'The Work', a penetrating inquiry process of four questions and a "turnaround". By exposing unconscious beliefs to the clear light of direct investigation, the mind wakes up to its innocent mistakes and connects with its inherent joy and clarity. The Work is astonishingly simple, accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds, and requires nothing more than a pen, paper and an open mind.
Since 1986, Katie has introduced The Work to hundreds of thousands of people in over 30 countries around the world. In addition to public events, she has introduced The Work in corporations, universities, schools, churches, prisons, and hospitals. Time magazine has profiled Katie, calling her "a visionary for the new millennium". Katie has two books to her name: Loving What Is and I Need Your Love - Is That True?
This interview is the transcript of a 75-minute telephone conversation between Pune and Germany. Excerpts:
What does the term 'enlightenment' mean to you?
People often ask me if I'm an enlightened being. I don't know anything about that. I am just someone who knows the difference between this hurts and this doesn't. I am someone who wants only what-is.
So what would you say to all the people who are searching for this concept called enlightenment?
I would ask them to question their stressful thoughts. The Work is four questions: Is it true? Can you absolutely know that it's true? How do you react when you believe that thought? Who would you be without the thought? And then the turnaround, which is a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believe. When you question your stressful thoughts, the mind naturally finds peace.
How does The Work lead to peace?
It's like this. I'm walking in the desert and I see an enormous snake, and I'm terrified of snakes. So I jump back and my heart is beating and I'm paralyzed with fear. And then I happen to look again, and I see that the snake is actually a rope.
Now I invite you to stand over the rope for one thousand years and try to make yourself afraid of it again. You can't. It's not possible, because you have realized for yourself what is true. That is self-realization. You realize that the snake is a rope and that there's nothing to be afraid of. It was just a misunderstanding.
The mind is full of apparent snakes - the stressful thoughts that cause us sadness or anger or depression. And I can tell you that every snake in the mind is actually a rope. There are no exceptions. If you think you have a problem, you're confused. If you think that there are any problems in the world, you are confused. You're looking at a rope and seeing a snake. Life is not fearful. It's our unquestioned thoughts about life that cause our suffering, not life itself. Life is benevolent and kind and good, and we always have more than we need under all circumstances. But it takes a thoroughly questioned mind to see that.
Most seekers believe that the entire journey of spirituality is to get rid of thoughts, but your version is quite different.
Well, in my experience, if anything exists, thought does. When I first woke up to reality, I fell in love with thought; you could say that mind fell in love with mind. That's all there is. If there's no thought, there's no world.
And, you know, thoughts are like children. If they're resisted or suppressed or neglected, they're going to scream, until we meet them with understanding. It's not helpful to believe that thoughts are obstacles to happiness. And we humans have been trying to get rid of thoughts for thousands of years. It just doesn't work. You can't let go of thoughts. No one has ever been able to control his thinking, although people may tell the story of how they have. I don't let go of my thoughts - I meet them with understanding. Then they let go of me.
As we question what we believe, we come to see that we're not who we thought we were. The transformation comes out of the infinite polarity of the mind, which we've rarely experienced, because the "I know" mind has been so much in control. And as we inquire, our world changes, because we're working with the projector - mind - and not with what is projected. We lose our entire world, the world as we understood it. And each time, reality gets kinder. The bottom line is that when the mind is closed, the heart is closed; when the mind is open, the heart is open. So if you want to open your heart, question your thinking.
Yet so many teachings of the past tend to hate thought, or they make it sound like a real villain…
Hatred is hatred, whether we hate thoughts or people. It's a very painful emotion.
But so many of these wise people, including U.G. Krishnamurthy …he has written a book, Thought is your Enemy.
(Laughs) Well, it is until it's not. But it's painful to have an enemy. It's the war with the self. Thoughts are friends, they're part of reality, and until you deeply see that not even thoughts exist, you'll spend your whole life struggling against them. I like to say that arguing with reality is like trying to teach a cat to bark: hopeless! When you argue with reality, you lose - but only 100 per cent of the time.
I meet many seekers and I discuss The Work with them and the argument they give is that 'this is all mental'.
(Laughs) They're absolutely right. But there's nothing that is not mind.
They believe that there is some space, which you have to reach, which is beyond the mind and only that will set you free.
That's the story of a future. And the future is always imagined; it never comes. There is only this moment right now - and not even that. The Work's four questions and turnaround are very threatening to the closed mind. It begins to lose its identity. It has its sacred story of reaching a goal, getting rid of thoughts, attaining some transcendent state called 'enlightenment'. So-called enlightenment experiences are stories of a past. When you question what you believe, you lose all your stories about the world, you lose the whole world as you understood it to be. It takes a lot of courage to go inside yourself and genuinely answer these four questions.
I have sensed the power of these myself and I just can't believe that these four simple questions can do so much damage. They just demolish everything…and so much love appears.
Yes. We begin to see clearly because the mind is not at war with itself. In fact, we become excited about reality, even about the worst that could happen. We open our arms to reality. Just show me a problem that doesn't come from believing an untrue thought! It's like rolling around heaven all day - just show me a problem!
Katie, in your experience, without stories and concepts, how does one experience something like food or sex or whatever?
Ah, it's all fabulous! (laughs). You experience it all with such gratitude and joy and appreciation, because there is no control in it. The taste of broccoli - what could be more enlightening than that? Or sex - it's the epitome of letting go, surrendering to God, which is another name for reality. When sex is without control, you have no idea what can happen. An orgasm can be so intense and last so long that it could kill you with ecstasy, you just can't know. But because there's nothing that you can attach to, you're fearless, you're completely open to it.
You often say that all pain is a result of concepts and beliefs - right?
Well, all suffering is caused by believing our thoughts. Suffering is always optional. Sanity doesn't suffer - ever. Suffering has nothing to do with the body or with a person's circumstances. You can be in great pain without any suffering at all. You can be in pain and be in heaven, or you can be in pain and suffer. How do you know you're supposed to be in pain? Because that's what's happening. To live without a stressful story, to embrace what is, even in pain, that's heaven. To be in pain and tell the story that you shouldn't be in pain, that's hell.
So pain doesn't have to do with thinking?
Well, ultimately it does. All pain is projected, and it takes a very clear mind to understand that. But when people do The Work, pain changes. The joy overrides the physical identification of 'I'. You have probably noticed it in yourself to some degree. If nothing else, you stop fearing pain.
Now that is definitely true about the pain reduction; but if pain is a result of concepts, even pleasure would be a result of concepts.
So, what is this joy or ecstasy that one is having in sex?
What I say is, Who cares? Isn't it beautiful? (GD laughs and Katie joins in)
So you don't mind if the good stories are functioning?
Absolutely not. If you're having the most wonderful dream, would you want someone to wake you up? I love my dream: 'This is a perfect world. I love my husband. God is good.' But if you're having a nightmare, you may want to wake yourself up. And it is our responsibility to wake ourselves up. I love my world. I love myself. So don't bother to wake me. I'm having a wonderful dream.
Yes. But you know, many of the things you say, they just cut through the old spirituality which is against every dream, every pain and pleasure, absolutely…
Well, love is the power; and the beautiful dream is nothing more than the clear mirror image of itself, and all identification is felt in that. It's felt as a balance and celebration of its true nature. And true or not, it is balanced. We live in a state of grace. All the pain we have ever suffered, all the pain that any human being on this planet has ever suffered, is over. How could life be any kinder than that?
Okay, Katie, one personal question. I have sent it to you as a question at the Parlor on your website, but you haven't had a chance to answer it yet. This thing about receiving other people's thoughts and energies... there is still a part of me that believes that. I seem to suffer the symptoms of people's physical illnesses.
What I love about separate bodies is that when you hurt, I don't. It's not my turn - it's your turn. When I hurt, it's my turn. And when you are in pain, if I project what that might feel like if it happened to me, then I am feeling that projection. I am not feeling your pain; I am feeling my own projection.
But what about when I suddenly get an asthma attack and later on I find out that it happened to my mother simultaneously?
That's a beautiful connection and closeness.
Right. But it's painful. I have trouble with it. So what are the concepts one could question on this subject?
'I feel my mother's pain'- is that true? No, you were feeling your own pain. It's not possible to feel another person's pain. Who would you be without your story? Pain-free, happy, and totally available if she needs you. She is having her asthma attack; you are having yours. And if you did a poll all over the world, you'd find out there are thousands of people having these attacks at the same instant, and you could just as easily say, 'Oh! It wasn't my mother's, it was that little boy's in Bolivia!' 'I was feeling my mother's attack' - is that true? No. It was 100 per cent yours.
Then the third question: 'I was feeling my mother's attack'- how do you react when you believe that thought? Well, I just heard some of your reactions: you become mystified, you start entering a magical world, a superstitious world. Maybe you feel responsible for your mother. And maybe you start feeling like someone special.
Yes… I become 'psychic'.
Yes. It's painful to be special that way.
Is there anything to this psychic stuff at all?
For me, no. If I'm not interested in being special, or being more gifted than ordinary, non-psychic people, then I just notice, and question my thoughts, and turn them around. 'I was feeling my mother's attack.' Turn it around: 'I was feeling my own attack'. Isn't that as true or truer?
And if your mind is clear, sweetheart, if you're not attached to living or dying, an asthma attack can be a beautiful thing. I would also question the thought 'I need to breathe'.
I took a drink of water one day, and it went down the "wrong pipe" - that is, it went down the right way even though people call it the wrong way. I was breathing water, not air, and because I didn't believe the story that it was supposed to be air, there was no problem. Because I didn't have the concept 'I need to breathe', for a moment I was a fish. The water went down, then it came up. It was so gentle, as if my lungs were being rinsed out. No story, no resistance. We resist the story, not the experience.
But if I believed the thought 'I need to breathe', then I would have had a big problem. It would have been a very painful choking.
We really are amphibious, though we wouldn't live very long that way. (Both laugh)
Okay, Katie, last question. What about this whole game of crystals and stones and stuff? Just beliefs?
If you believe that putting crystals on his bed is going to help you, I say, "Good! Do it!" Until you can question what you believe, it may be the kindest way.
But there is no truth to any of this?
Not for me. And even if there is, what isn't love? You can put a crystal near me or cup of decaf or a telephone or an apple. The meaning it has is whatever I put onto it. I get what I project. And if people could understand the mind, they'd realise that the mind creates the whole world. People believe what they think, and it becomes mysticism. And that's okay, until they're ready for something more mature.
So when all is said and done, nothing has any reality in itself except what you put on it.
Totally. Nothing else is possible.
You really demolish the whole world… (Laughs)
No, only the world of suffering. (Both laugh)
Byron Katie's website is www.thework.com
Contact Gyandev on Gyandev@vsnl.net.
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