By Byron Katie
The truth is that there's no such thing as enlightenment. No one is permanently enlightened; that would be the story of a future. There's only enlightenment in the moment. Do you believe a stressful thought? Then you're confused. Do you realize that the thought isn't true? Then you're enlightened to it. It's as simple as that.
All suffering is mental. It has nothing to do with the body or with a person's circumstances. You can be in great pain without any suffering at all. How do you know you're supposed to be in pain? Because that's what's happening. To live without a stressful story, to be a lover of what is, even in pain -- that's heaven. To be in pain and believe that you shouldn't be in pain -- that's hell.
When the mind is clear, life becomes very simple. I have the thought to stand up and do the dishes. I notice a sense of profound excitement as the body rises with this thought. How childlike it is as it moves to the kitchen, to the sink. I turn the handle, experience the water on my hands, pour some liquid soap onto a sponge. Amazing. It's not ever about doing the dishes, until I hold one and see it change from crusted or sticky to wet and soapy, to shiny, to dry, so that it can serve again. Everything changes. I never know what anything is going to be. Without believing any thought of a future, there's no way of knowing what is me and what is the plate, the soap, the water, the world of bubbles and shine.
I have found that there are no new stressful thoughts, they're all recycled. People try to "let go" of their thoughts. That's like telling your child you don't want her and kicking her out onto the street. I used to go out into the desert to get away from the world, and I took the whole world with me in my head -- every concept that had ever been experienced. I was undoing the thoughts that run through the mind of every human being. Thoughts are no more individual than the TV program that everyone watches. I have found that all over the world, in every language and cul- ture, people suffer because they believe the same stressful thoughts: "My mother doesn't love me." "I'm not good enough." "I'm fat." "I need more money." "My husband should understand me." "My wife shouldn't have left me." "The world needs to be saved." Of course, I would never ask people not to believe their thoughts. Not only would that be unkind: it isn't possible for peo- ple not to believe what they believe. We can't help believing our thoughts until we question them. That's the way of it.
People used to ask me if I was enlightened, and I would say, "I don't know anything about that. I'm just someone who knows the difference between what hurts and what doesn't." I am some- one who wants only what is. To meet as a friend each concept that arose turned out to be my freedom
You can't empty your mind of thoughts. You might as well try to empty the ocean of its water. Thoughts just keep coming back, it seems. That's the way of it. But thoughts aren't a problem if they're met with understanding. Why would you even want to empty your mind, unless you're at war with reality? I love my thoughts. And if I were ever to have a stressful thought, I know how to question it and give myself peace. Even the most stressful thought could come along, and I would just be amused. You can have ten thousand thoughts a minute, and if you don't believe them, your heart remains at peace.
Peace is our natural condition. Only by believing an untrue thought is it possible to move from peace into emotions like sadness and anger. Without the pull of beliefs, the mind stays serenely in itself and is available for whatever comes along. Who would you be in people's presence without, for example, the story that anyone should care about you, ever? You would be love it- self. When you believe the myth that people should care, you're too needy to care about people or about yourself. The experience of love can't come from anyone else; it can come only from inside you.
Some people think that compassion means feeling another person's pain. That's nonsense. It's not possible to feel another person's pain. You imagine what you'd feel if you were in that per- son's shoes, and you feel your own projection. Who would you be without your story? Pain-free, happy, and totally available if someone needs you -- a listener, a teacher in the house, a Buddha in the house, the one who lives it. As long as you think there's a you and a me, let's get the bod- ies straight. What I love about separate bodies is that when you hurt, I don't -- it's not my turn. And when I hurt, you don't. Can you be there for me without putting your own suffering be- tween us? Your suffering can't show me the way. Suffering can only teach suffering.
The end of suffering happens in this very moment, whether you're watching a terrorist attack or doing the dishes. And compassion begins at home. Because I don't believe my thoughts, sadness can't exist. That's how I can go to the depths of anyone's suffering, if they invite me, and take them by the hand and walk them out of it into the sunlight of reality. I've taken the walk myself.
Until you experience death as a gift, your work's not done. So if you're afraid of it, that shows you what to question next. There's nothing else to do; you're either believing these childish sto- ries, or you're questioning them -- there's no other choice. What's not okay about dying? You close your eyes every night, and you go to sleep. People look forward to it; some people actually prefer that part. And that's as bad as it gets, except for your belief that says there's something else. Before a thought, there's no one, nothing -- only peace that doesn't even recognize itself as peace.
A lover of what is looks forward to everything: life, death, disease, loss, earthquakes, bombs, anything the mind might be tempted to call "bad." Life will bring us everything we need, to show us what we haven't undone yet. Nothing outside ourselves can make us suffer. Except for our unquestioned thoughts, every place is paradise.
Criticism is an immense gift for those who are interested in self-realization. For those who aren't, welcome to hell, welcome to being at war with your partner, your neighbors, your chil- dren, your boss. When you open your arms to criticism, you are your own direct path to freedom, because you can't change us or what we think about you.
Success is the story of having arrived somewhere, on your way from an imagined past to an imagined future. I don't even have a reference for it. For me, whatever I'm doing is a success -- the ultimate success. The whole world belongs to me, because I live in the simplicity of what is: woman sitting in chair. There's nothing beyond this, not one thought beyond it. This room is the whole world. I'm a success at sitting. I'm a success at breathing. If I died now, I'd be a success at not breathing. What could I possibly fail at? When the mind is clear, there's no way to make a mistake.
As you begin to wake yourself up from your dreams of hell or purgatory, heaven dawns on you in a way that the imagination can't comprehend. And then, as you continue to question what you believe, you realize that heaven too is just a beginning. There is something better than heaven. It's the eternal, meaningless, infinitely creative mind. It can't stop for time or space or even joy. It's so brilliant that it will shake what's left of you into the depths of all-consuming wonder.
What could happen that wouldn't be good? My legs cross, they uncross, they stretch, they fold. Usually they're comfortable; sometimes they're so restless that they have to stand up and move. It's all good. Everything that happens is God's will. When you realize that, you're home free.
When you become a lover of what is, the war is over. Since I don't believe my thoughts, I have no hopes, fears, or expectations; I'm a woman without a future. I live in the open space where everything comes to me. Reality is a very fine place to be. And guess what? Any time you ques- tion your mind, you discover that that's where you are too.
We do only three things in life: we sit, we stand, and we lie horizontal. That's about it. Every- thing else is a story. Life is not difficult; it's your thinking that makes it difficult. That's where your happiness or misery comes from. There are two ways to sit or stand or lie horizontal: you can do it comfortably, or you can do it with stress. If you don't love where you are, I invite you to question your beliefs.
Whatever happens, I always look for the gift in it. I don't have eyes for anything else. I know that if I lose anything or anyone, I've been spared. If my husband left me, I'd think, "How do I know that I don't need him? He's gone." If I were to lose my legs, I'd think, "How do I know that I don't need legs? I don't have them." Of course, freedom doesn't mean that you let unkind things happen -- it doesn't mean passivity or masochism. If someone says he's going to cut off your legs, run!
Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don't have to like it -- it's just easier if you do. If you have a problem, it can only be because of your unquestioned thinking. How do you react when you believe that the past should have been different? You scare yourself stuck, because what you resist persists. You get to keep your stressful world, a world that doesn't exist except in your imagination; you get to stay in the nightmare. It hurts to oppose reality, because in opposing real- ity you are opposing your very self. When you know how to question your thoughts, there's no resistance. You look forward to your worst nightmare, because it turns out to be nothing but an illusion....
When you understand that you're one with reality, you don't seek, because you understand that what you have is what you want. Everything makes sense because you don't superimpose your thinking onto reality. And when you make a mistake, you realize immediately that it wasn't a mistake; it was what should have happened, because it happened. Before the fact, there were in- finite possibilities; after the fact, there was only one. The more clearly you realize that would have, could have, should have are just unquestioned thoughts, the more you can appreciate the value of that apparent mistake and what it produced. Seeing this is forgiveness in its totality. In the clarity of understanding, forgiveness is unnecessary.
I don't try to educate people. Why would I do such a thing? My only job is to point you back to yourself. When you discover -- inside yourself, behind everything you're thinking -- the marvel- ous don't-know mind, you're home free. The don't-know mind is the mind that is totally open to anything life brings you. When you find it, you have found your way.
The balanced mind is always at ease. It isn't for or against anything; it only wants what is. It's at ease because there's nothing it is opposed to. Nothing opposes it, nothing holds it back, it acts as creation unfolding in the moment, and its action is swift and free.
Money is not your business, truth is your business. The story "I need more money" is what keeps you from realizing your wealth. Whenever you think that your needs are not being met, you're telling the story of a future. Right now, you're supposed to have exactly as much money as you have right now. This is not a theory: this is reality. How much money do you have? That's it -- you're supposed to have exactly that amount. If you don't believe it, look at your checkbook. How do you know when you're supposed to have more? When you do. How do you know when you're supposed to have less? When you do. Realizing this is true abundance. It leaves you with- out a care in the world, as you look for a job, go to work, take a walk, or notice that the cupboard is bare.
(This is something that was written to introduce people to Byron Katie and the new book, but it is not the first chapter or included in the actual book itself. But for the taxonomy of the site, we're tagging it as a first chapter.)