Byron Katie is a speaker and author, and the creator of The Work, a system that promotes generosity, selflessness and harmony. This extract of her new book A Mind at Home with Itself shows the Work in action:
You’ll notice that Katie is very free in her use of terms of endearment.This annoys some people (not all of them New Yorkers); one reader of Loving What Is grumbled that if she wanted to hear a woman calling everyone “sweetheart” or “honey,” she would go to a truck stop in Oklahoma. To her, these endearments sounded conventional and insincere; for Katie, they are the literal truth. Everyone she meets is the beloved.
JOANNA [reading from her Worksheet]: I’m upset with Dave because he walked away without giving me a hug or acknowledging me.
KATIE: Okay. So what’s the situation? Where are you? Give me a picture of where you and Dave are.
JOANNA: We were in the house, and he walked out the door to go to his car.
KATIE: “He walked away without giving you a hug or acknowledging you”—is it true?
JOANNA: Yes. He turned around and walked out of the house, walked to the car; I chased him to the car, and I was throwing my hands up, and he looked at me, and I said, “What’s going on?”And he said, “What?” I said, “Are you just going to leave?” I felt completely unacknowledged.
KATIE: Sweetheart, the answer to the first two questions is one syllable: yes or no. When we do The Work, we meditate on a stressful moment in time. Notice how your mind will want to justify your position and defend it and talk about it. Just notice that. Then come back to meditating on the question “Is it true?”until you’re shown a solid yes or a solid no. Okay? “He walked away without giving you a hug or acknowledging you”—can you absolutely know that it’s true? You don’t have to guess. Images will show you the answer. It takes stillness. Be a detective. If you believe it’s true, be a detective. Try to prove yourself wrong, but be authentic. You can’t fool yourself. Let the images show you. It takes courage to look. So can you absolutely know that it’s true?
JOANNA [after a few moments]: No.
KATIE: Just feel that answer. Give it time to sink in. If you find a no, good; if you find a yes, that’s good too. Then give your answer some room to be absorbed. Sometimes it’s difficult when no is the answer. We may even feel that it’s not fair for him to be right. We don’t want to give him that. [Pause] Okay, let’s move on now to the third question. Continue to meditate on that moment in time, with your eyes closed. Notice how you react, what happens to you emotionally, when you believe the thought “He didn’t hug or acknowledge me.” Does your chest tighten? Does your stomach flip over? Do you get heated? Do you experience anxiety? Do you attack him with words or a look? A demand? An insult or some form of punishment? Notice. How do you react when you believe the thought “He walked away without giving me a hug or acknowledging me”?
JOANNA: I get very anxious and needy. Very needy. I doubt myself. I doubt my worthiness. My self-worth goes down. And then I feel like I have to beg him for attention. Then I start thinking, “Oh, I’m too needy.” And I question everything. I get a desperate feeling almost. Reaching, like trying to grasp for something that’s not real.
KATIE: Just experience that, and keep your eyes closed. Who or what would you be in that situation without that thought, as you witness this man you love as he walks to the car. Who would you be without the thought “He walked away without giving me a hug or acknowledging me”?
JOANNA: I would just notice him walk to the car. [The audience laughs.]
KATIE: Continue to witness that moment without the thought.
JOANNA: I’d probably notice what a handsome guy he is, too. [More laughter] So does that mean in the future when he walks away I should recognize . . .
KATIE: It’s only about right here, right now, as you witness that moment, only the one you’re contemplating now.
JOANNA: Should I never expect him to give me a hug? Should I just accept that that’s what he does?
KATIE: Now we’re in a discussion, and discussions will never solve your problem. Let’s move back to The Work.
KATIE: This Work is about noticing what was really happening, not what you thought onto what was happening. It’s not a plan for what to do next. Right now we’re just looking at who you would be in that situation without the thought, without this condition that you put on him. It’s sometimes hard for us to answer this question.The ego wants to be right, it doesn’t want to let him off the hook for not being able to read your mind. We think that if we see who we would be without the thought, then he’s right and we’re wrong,and it’s worth holding on to our anger, because he’s wrong and we’re right.
JOANNA: I think it’s not so much anger. It’s just a feeling of rejection. How do you . . .
KATIE: Yes. It hurts.
JOANNA: I don’t want to feel that anymore.
KATIE: Do you love him?
KATIE: All right. Close your eyes. Drop your story, just for a moment. Look at him going to the car. Look how free he is. He loves you so much he doesn’t have to hug you. [Laughter] This is one secure guy. If you drop your story, you’re open to learning. But as long as you believe your story, you’re just open to pain. In fact, you become the cause of your suffering—but only totally. How do I know? It hurts. He’s free. He doesn’t have to tell you goodbye.
JOANNA: Yes, he’s free. He doesn’t understand.
KATIE: He’s completely innocent. Do you see it?
JOANNA: Yes, I do see it. Very clearly.
KATIE: Good. “He walked away without giving me a hug or acknowledging me.” How would you turn that around? What’s an opposite?
JOANNA: He . . .
KATIE: “He didn’t give me a hug or acknowledge me”—turn it around.
JOANNA: He did give me a hug and acknowledge me.
KATIE: Okay. So, tell me, as you witness that situation, where is it that he did give you a hug and acknowledge you?
JOANNA: Well, when he got to the car, he did acknowledge me when I made it clear he hadn’t, or how I felt he hadn’t. He looked at me and said, “What do you want me to do?”
KATIE: And did you say, “You are so handsome! I’d like you to give me a hug, sweetheart.”
JOANNA: I did say it.
KATIE: You did?
JOANNA: Yes. But I didn’t say it like that. [Loud laughter]
KATIE: Oh, you’re fun to hug. In that moment.
JOANNA: Yeah, I could tell it was not as . . . I said, “Well, are you going to leave without giving me a hug or acknowledging me?” Exactly like that. He was just leaving.
KATIE: So you didn’t ask for a hug.
JOANNA: You’re right. I didn’t.
KATIE: You asked a question you already had the answer to.
KATIE: And then did he hug you?
JOANNA: He did.
KATIE: And you didn’t even ask.
JOANNA: It was . . . a hug. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but it was a hug.
KATIE: It wasn’t the hug you wanted. Did you instruct him?
JOANNA: It felt like he was doing it because I asked him.
KATIE: Because you threatened him. [Laughter] You didn’t ask him.
KATIE: Is this starting to make sense to you?
JOANNA: Yes, it is.
KATIE: I love this Work. I love that through inquiry you begin to see who he lives with. [Laughter]
KATIE: So “he didn’t hug or acknowledge me.” Turn it around: “I didn’t . . .”
JOANNA: I didn’t hug or acknowledge him. That’s true. I could have run and grabbed him and hugged him.
KATIE: Yes. Other than what you were believing, you’re as free as he is. That’s a beautiful thing. Okay, let’s look at statement 2. In that situation, what did you want from him?
JOANNA: I want Dave to hold me and look at me before he leaves. Just to look at me.
KATIE: You want him to hold you and look at you before he leaves?
JOANNA: Right. Sometimes I feel like he looks past me.
KATIE: Okay. Now, witness that situation. Close your eyes. “You want him to hold you and look at you before he leaves”—is it true? You know those things you think you really want? Maybe you don’t. You don’t even stop to ask yourself. You just go on believing. So in that situation, “You want him to hold you and look at you before he leaves”—is it true?
JOANNA: In that moment, yes.
KATIE: And after what you’ve seen now? Is it true?
JOANNA: Not as . . . No. Not really.
KATIE: No. Now notice what happens to you and how you react when you believe that thought. And, again, we’re not guessing, are we?[To the audience] Do you all see the images of the two of them, for yourselves? How many of you have become an instant victim of your thoughts? A martyr? [To Joanna] And nothing’s happening except that the man’s going to the car! [Laughter] You’re suffering. You’re a victim. And it’s all his fault! So, who’s the cause of the suffering? Is it him? Or you?
JOANNA: It’s me.
KATIE: And notice how you treat him when you believe this thought. He’s free. He’s walking to the car. “I want him to hold me and look at me before he leaves.”
JOANNA: I start believing all sorts of stories: that he doesn’t really care, that he doesn’t love me.
KATIE: So who would you be without the thought, watching him go to the car, without the thought “I want him to hold me and look at me”?
JOANNA: I would just be happy with what happened. I would just be happy and grateful for what he’s doing. For exactly who he is, how he is, in that moment. I would just love him.
KATIE: Yes. Now let’s turn it around. “I want him to hold me and look at me before he leaves.”
JOANNA: I don’t want him to hold me and look at me before he leaves.
KATIE: What does that mean to you?
JOANNA: I don’t want him to because he doesn’t want to. He doesn’t want to, necessarily. It doesn’t mean anything.
KATIE: He probably doesn’t even know you’re there. I mean, only you can know as you look at the situation. What else does it mean to you? “I don’t want him to hold me and look at me before he leaves.” I have one. Would you like to hear it?
JOANNA: Please. Yes, definitely.
KATIE: Did you ask him, “Would you please hold me and look at me before you leave?”
JOANNA: No, I didn’t ask. I just assumed.
KATIE: Is he psychic? [Laughter]
JOANNA: No. I guess I just wanted him to want to.
KATIE: You wanted him . . .
JOANNA: To just be natural. That it would just be natural that he would want to.
KATIE: He is being natural. He’s going to the car. Naturally. That’s his natural. [Laughter] There are two men: there’s the man in your head, and then there’s him. [Laughter] And when he is not the man of your imagination, you punish him. You become cold, or whatever it was you did. Like saying, “Were you going to leave without hugging me?” In that tone of voice. Okay? You become the one he didn’t fall in love with.
JOANNA: Right. That’s so true.
KATIE: “I want him to hold me and look at me before he leaves”—is it true? I know it’s not true because you didn’t ask. [To the audience] If you ask and he doesn’t do it, you again get to meet the man you’re with. [To Joanna] So let’s play that out. Okay? You be the man who doesn’t want to. That’s where you’re going, right? Okay. I’ll be you, and you be Dave. “Would you hold me and look at me before you leave?”
JOANNA: “I can’t. I’m too mad at you. I can’t do it.”
KATIE: “Because you’re too mad at me? Oh, I understand that completely. And would you hold me and look at me even though you’re mad? Could you possibly do that? It’s really important to me. I really don’t care about how you feel right now.” [Laughter]
JOANNA: “Well, that’s too bad, because I don’t care about how you feel either, so have a good day.”
KATIE: “Wow! That’s really good advice: ‘Have a good day.’ Thank you, sweetheart. I’m going to work on that one.”
JOANNA: So your point is to not take things personally and that nobody . . .
KATIE: No, my point is that I can’t change him. Do you want to hug and look into someone’s eyes when you don’t want to?
JOANNA: No, of course not. But don’t we want that from the love of our life?
KATIE: Well, when I want that, I ask Stephen. “Sweetheart, would you look into my eyes and hold me?” If he’s busy, I’ve got an entire population to ask. [Laughter] I can just step out the door and ask the first person I see. [Laughter] Stephen is never too busy, in my experience. But if he were, and I really wanted to be held, why would that stop me? I’m serious. Do you understand that?
JOANNA: But I want it from one person and nobody else.
KATIE: Well, this is just all about me. I’m the one who wants to be held. I’m the one who wants someone to look into my eyes. What does it have to do with him? He’s just handy. [Laughter]
JOANNA: Okay, so . . .
KATIE: You want him to fix you. Isn’t that all that’s happening? “You give me what I need to feel secure, or we’ve got a problem here. I mean, this is all about me.” It would be more honest if you said, “I’m not really doing well, and I know that you don’t want to hug me now, and I know you’re really mad, but I need you to help me because I don’t know another way. Please help me. Help me. Help me. Help me.”
JOANNA: And this person is most likely incapable.
KATIE: He says no.
JOANNA: And probably because he’s incapable of it, no matter what.
KATIE: Well, he just says no. Okay? So, I’m the one left with me, since it’s all about me anyway. I’m left to take care of myself. Can you find another turnaround? Put yourself on all of it. “I want me . . .”
JOANNA: Oh. I want me to hold me and look at me before I leave.
KATIE: Yes, before I completely leave reality. I am a mess. I need to be held. So, as you watch him leave, you might sit there, hold yourself sweetly, and rock, because you’ve got a big problem and it’s not because of him. So put your arms around yourself, hold yourself, get still. If I have a problem, I don’t look to my husband to solve it; that’s not his job. I look to myself. That’s quite a shortcut. It’s for people in a hurry. And as a result, I’m close to my husband—closer than close.That closeness is mine. It’s intimate. I’m connected. So let’s keep traveling. You’re doing really well. “I want me to hold me . . .”
JOANNA: I want me to hold me and look at me . . .
KATIE: Yes. If that doesn’t hold your interest, why would it hold his? [Laughter]
KATIE: And you can really hold yourself. There are many ways of doing it. And you can go to the mirror and look into your eyes. If you drop your story and really look, you’ll meet the love of your life. We can’t receive that from another human being until we find it in ourselves, until finally we discover that it’s not possible to be rejected.
JOANNA: Thank you. Thank you so much, Katie.
KATIE: You’re very welcome.