By Jeff Walsh
Two years ago, I saw a notice for a book event by Byron Katie, whom I had never heard of prior to receiving that bookstore e-mail. I'm always game to hear new voices, and the name of her then-new book, "I Need Your Love -- Is That True?: How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation and Start Finding Them Instead" was certainly intriguing. So, I showed up early for the lunchtime event in San Francisco's financial district. I grabbed a copy of her book, figuring I'd decide during the event if I were going to buy it and get it signed after she spoke.
The chairs slowly filled up, and people from the bookstore started passing out "Judge Your Neighbor" worksheets, in case we wanted to do "The Work" with Katie during the event. People around me whip out their pens and are all excited for the opportunity. "Are you going to do The Work," the man next to me asks. I told him I don't know what he's talking about. He smiles and says I'll know soon enough.
Finally, the place is standing room only and Byron Katie appears, except there seems to be some communal understanding that she is just "Katie" to everyone. Her presence is so at ease and embracing, my first impression was that whatever she uses to get to that place, sign me up.
I don't even think she read from the book. My recollection was she hit the podium and said, "Let's do The Work!" She called on the guy next to me, and he stood up and started telling a roomful of strangers that he wasn't sure he still loves his wife. Umm, I'm a bit more accustomed to author events where the proceedings are: the author reads something, the audience asks a few questions, then books are signed. And, on the rare occasion it gets to an emotional place, that usually happens on the side of the author, not the audience.
For a good 15 minutes, she probed his feelings about his wife, using terms to address him like "darling" and "sweetheart," which were initially oft-putting to me, until he finally turned around his initial questions and he realized that any blame he had to his wife were all things that were about him and his communication issues and expectations.
That was my introduction to The Work. By the time the event ended, I had actually grabbed not only her latest book, but the previous paperback, "Loving What Is," as well. When she signed my books, the same "honey, sweetie, darling" vibe was used, but after an hour of watching her, it had lost its alien feel.
Katie's new book, written with her husband Stephen Mitchell (who does amazing translations of ancient texts between co-authoring Byron Katie books), is "A Thousand Names for Joy: Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are." This book is a companion to Mitchell's translation of the Tao Te Ching, in that it follows the same chapter numbering. So, you could read a specific chapter of the Tao, then switch to this book and hear Katie's view of how she embodies that concept into her life. The Tao excerpt she refers to also leads each chapter, so it can also be read as a standalone book.
One of the things in all of her books that I find revealing are extended excerpts of her doing The Work with people on different topics. Those segments provide insight by making it less clinical and more real. You see how it can be embodied in real life.
So, by now, you're probably wondering: What is The Work already?
All of Katie's process in The Work involves taking any troubling or stressful thought you have and putting it to four questions and a turnaround. As she says in our interview that follows, she finds that "When I believe my thoughts, I suffer; but when I question my thoughts, I don't suffer, and I've come to see that this is true for every human being."
Her entire approach of The Work is done through applying the following four questions and a turnaround to any stressful thought:
1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it's true?
3. How do you react when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?
Then you "turn around" the original stressful thought and see how, after inquiry, it doesn't have the same impact as when you wrote it. "My parents are distant to me since I came out" might turn around to be "I'm distant to my parents after coming out."
The beauty of The Work is that inquiry is the solution. Once you do the turnaround, there isn't a second set of questions, and a third, until you progress to a better understanding. By merely questioning, you detach the stress from that thought and it goes away.
It sounds unreal. Logic may tell you that wouldn't work. All I can say is, by the end of this interview, you will have the tools to put The Work to the test, and what do you have to lose except any of your suffering?
Essentially, Katie's process is a celebration of reality. Nothing can be different than the way it is, because to argue with reality is pointless. Of course, people who aren't used to The Work will think you're a bit "out there" when you answer them honestly.
I've been working on my novel for a while now. So, when people say, don't you think it should be done by now? I say, "Of course not, because it isn't." The idea being, the novel is presently not finished. The only way to say it should be finished now means I am arguing with reality. How could something that isn't finished be expected to be finished? Now, would I have liked it to be finished by now? Of course. But it isn't. And to dwell on it not being done would only be a source of frustration, which would only further delay its completion.
So, I'm a big fan of Katie and I am so excited to present this to Oasis. It is easy to dismiss, but just as easy to try out, and only one of those options will put you on a potential path to having less stressful thoughts in your life.
I recently spend two hours in a room with Katie and Stephen Mitchell, in a gathering of local people who are immersed in The Work, have taken classes with Katie before, work with people on the website, and chat on the hotline. They all took turns going around the room and telling her of their experiences, and also where they still get stuck. Through it all, Katie easily took their questions and guided them toward an answer using their own words. They may not be ready to accept the turnarounds yet, but they were all further on their way. It is always amazing to see it in action (and thanks to YouTube, you can see it in action for yourself). After that session, I sat down with the couple to bring The Work to Oasis: