“Reality is always good, whatever form it appears in,” Byron Katie declares in Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, her newly updated self-help classic. She initially published the book in 2002 with her husband and co-author Stephen Mitchell.
In Katie’s view, “There is only one problem, ever: your uninvestigated story in the moment.” Four simple questions, what Katie calls inquiry, or “The Work,” offer a method of self-interrogation will “burn through to the reality that has always been waiting.”
The four questions are:
- Is it true?
- Can I absolutely know that it’s true?
- How do I react (what happens) when I believe that thought?
- Who would I be without the thought?
They can be applied to everything from irritation with one's partner over the dirty dishes to failed relationships to serious trauma. The inquiry begins with a “Judge Your Neighbor” worksheet that invites the inquirer to articulate the point of irritation or discomfort without trying to smooth it over. The inquiry moves to applying the four questions, then further explores with a technique Katie calls the “turnaround,” trying on an opposite belief in order to extract a deeper truth.
The hoped-for result is that we come to see, accept, and even love what’s actually true about others and ourselves, and that this insight frees us from the suffering of believing that people, things, or situations should be different.
The Work is not for the faint of heart. These four simple questions came to Katie on a February morning in 1986, when she was 43 and had spent more than a decade wrestling with intractable depression and despair. She had been staying in a treatment center for women with eating disorders, separated from her family and even isolated from the other residents, until one morning she had what can only be described as an enlightenment experience: She woke up and there was an inner space between her beliefs about the world and the truth of it. “All my rage, all the thoughts that had been troubling me, my whole world, the whole world, was gone,” she writes. “At the same time, laughter welled up from the depths and just poured out ... It was as if something else had woken up. It opened its eyes. It was looking through [my] eyes. And it was so delighted! It was intoxicated with joy.”
Thus Katie began a deep inquiry into herself, examining notions that had for so long caused her pain.
“During that first year or so, in the midst of great joy, beliefs and concepts continued to arise in my mind,” she says. “I would often go out alone into the desert, which began just a few blocks away from my house in Barstow, California, to inquire into these thoughts. Whenever a belief appeared in my mind—the big one was ‘My mother doesn’t love me’—it exploded in my body like an atom bomb. But as I applied the four questions, the belief would fall away and dissolve in the light of truth. What shook my body was the remnant of the belief, which appeared as an uncomfortable feeling. From this discomfort I automatically knew that the belief wasn’t true.”
What began as an exploration of her own life blossomed into an active and wide-ranging practice as she taught the inquiry process to others, holding seminars everywhere from schools and universities to faith communities, prisons, and hospitals. Since 1998, she has directed the School for The Work, a nine-day program offered several times each year; she also holds weekend and day long events and online meetings during the week.
As Katie engages with fellow seekers, she releases any expectation of particular outcomes and offers instead deep witness.
“The people I work with—their joy is my joy,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if they have a breakthrough or not. For me, each person I work with reflects my own inner life. Each is the voice of myself, reporting my health at all times. Sickness or health—it’s all fine with me. You’re sad, you’re not sad; you don’t understand, you understand; you’re peaceful, you’re upset; you’re this, you’re that. In inquiry, I am each cell reporting itself, and beyond all change, I know that each cell is always at peace.”
Becoming aware of beliefs that cause us pain through The Work is just the beginning, according to Katie. The process bears the most fruit when we begin to synthesize it into our lives.
“Self-realization is the sweetest thing,” she writes. “It shows us how we are fully responsible for ourselves, and that’s where we find our freedom. Rather than being other-realized, you can be self-realized. Instead of looking to [others] for your fulfillment, you can find it in yourself.”
For more wisdom on self-realization, enjoy this interview with Wayne Dyer.