Seven years ago, I found myself in a maelstrom of emotions. My father had died of pancreatic cancer the year before. A long term relationship was being reshaped. A close friend committed suicide. An EF5 tornado destroyed a third of my town, affecting me, family members and friends, and more than 30 clients. I was fiercely determined to go within and face the fears that had haunted me my entire life. I was equally determined to tear down the strongholds that I had built to protect my heart.
I had never felt so alone, or vulnerable, in my life. And yet, that was exactly where I needed to be. Into that time of upheaval and change came author and speaker, Byron Katie.
Byron Katie, known as Katie, was born in 1942 and grew up in Texas. She later moved to Barstow, California, married at age 19, had three children, and entered a career in real estate. Her life seemed typical, blessed even. But Katie began a downward spiral that took her into severe depression, rage, overeating, and addictions to codeine and alcohol.
In 1986, at age 43, unhappy and desperate for help, she entered a half way house for women with eating disorders, the only place her insurance company would pay for. She was housed alone in the attic because the other residents were afraid of her. After two weeks, lying on the floor because she didn’t feel worthy to sleep on the bed, Katie awoke one morning with an epiphany.
She writes, in her first book Loving What Is, “All my rage, all the thoughts that had been troubling me, my whole world, was gone. At the same time, laughter welled up from the depths and just poured out.”
When Katie returned home, she was a different person. Her family and friends soon realized the old Katie was not returning. She shared with others about the freedom she lived in and how through asking herself four questions, she had realized that all of her old thoughts and beliefs were untrue.
Katie’s epiphany was this: “I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered and that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t, 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 moment.”
From her freeing experiences, Katie developed questions for self inquiry, a process that has become known as The Work. She shares that our suffering comes from believing our own stressful thoughts. The Work is a way of identifying and questioning those stressful thoughts.
It consists of four questions and a turn around:
1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it is true?
3. How do you react when you think that thought?
4. Who would you be without that thought?
And…turn it around, then find three genuine examples of how the turn around is true in your life.
Using the thought, My friend should listen to me. Is that true? Can I truthfully say someone has to listen to me? Therefore, can I absolutely know that my friend should listen to me? No, I can’t know that. How do I react when I think, or believe, that thought? I feel lonely, unheard, unappreciated, invisible. Who would I be without that thought? I would be happy, content, unconcerned. Turn it around. My friend doesn’t listen to me, becomes I don’t listen to my friend. My friend does listen to me. I don’t listen to myself. It is typically in the turn arounds that the truth is uncovered.
Greg introduced me to the books of Byron Katie. I saw how her wisdom freed him up in areas of his life. Her words shifted my thinking, caused me to question my beliefs about everything, began to tear down the defenses I had constructed to protect my heart from hurt.
I read all three of her books. Over and over. I watched her YouTube videos. I did her Judge Your Neighbor Worksheets, which helped me to get really petty about people and circumstances and then follow The Work through my thoughts, which always brought me back to myself. I listened repeatedly to her books on Audible as I drove my car, replaying certain sections until the words unknotted so many of my old beliefs.
The journey I took was deep, and inward, and ultimately freeing. Late one night, out walking in my storm battered neighborhood, I paused to stretch out, in the dark, on the front porch of a house that was being rebuilt. For the first time, in a very long time, the whirling emotions and thoughts were quiet. And suddenly, lying there in the dark, on that vacant house’s porch, that laughter that Byron Katie speaks about welled up inside me and burst forth. I sat up and laughed and laughed, and long pent up energy that had been trapped around my heart loosened and left my body on waves of laughter. I’m surprised someone didn’t call the police.
Peace descended on me that night. My troubling thoughts went the way of the fear I had already stared down. I was filled with joy and a freedom I had never experienced before. Open to everything, attached to nothing, was born in me at that moment. My life shifted and has not been the same since.
Thank you Byron Katie, for instigating that shift. Thank you for sharing so openly and deeply about your own journey. Thank you for inviting me to fall madly in love, with myself, and for telling me to create a knee shaking, deep as it can go relationship with myself. I have learned so much about who I am, about releasing stressful thoughts and worry, and about living in freedom and joy. You are one who has had a great impact on my life.
Because of Byron Katie, because of The Work, I am free…to be myself and to live in the present moment. I am able to allow others the same freedom. Loving what is? Yes, I am.
Visit Byron Katie’s website HERE.
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