I recently came across the book “Loving What Is” by Byron Katie and have been immersed in her ideas. I’ve been inquiring into many self-help concepts for over a decade now and Byron Katie’s work has particularly made a mark in my thinking. Byron Katie teaches people how to reach true personal freedom, by freeing the mind of stressful, negative thoughts. Through a process she calls ‘inquiry’ or ‘the work’, she challenges people to dissect their negative thoughts one at a time, look at reality for what it is, and turn their thoughts around to ones that are positive, loving, objective, empowered, compassionate, and in the present moment.
What I personally got from her teachings is that all forms of stressful thinking (which Byron Katie refers to as suffering) is often (or perhaps, always) the result of projecting biased, personally defensive interpretations onto external situations. These interpretations are linked to our personal insecurities. We can turn that negativity around by tuning into the reality of the present moment and projecting love instead. Let’s say, for example, a few days ago, a friend or family member didn’t do something you were hoping they would do. As a result, you’ve been feeling stressed-out, hurt, disappointed and generally negative. You feel negative about what they didn’t do. However, what they do or don’t do, is their business. What you were hoping for from them and what you are thinking is your business and your personal reality. In the very moment you were feeling upset over the past, your mind was playing a fictitious, imaginative movie, based on your projections of the situation, and reality in that present moment was passing you by. Instead, you could have been in the present moment (the only moment you really have) and loved it as it was–you could have enjoyed a clear, peaceful mind, sitting in your kitchen chair, sipping a cup of tea or doing or being whatever else was fulfilling for you in that moment. If thinking is what you still would have been doing in that moment, your mind could have played a more peaceful movie instead: a movie about self-love, needing little, and compassion towards others; perhaps being happy that your friend or family member had a chance to do whatever it is that they wanted to do. Reality is the fact that other people and/or situations will do, feel, think and be whatever they are, whether you like it or not. In most cases, other people are doing what they feel is right for them and not doing anything particularly malicious towards you (and even if they were, they are the ones dealing with the suffering and stress of those negative thoughts, and could use some compassion or time to do their own personal inquiry). Your reality is what you think, feel or do in the present moment and what exists as it does in your present moment.
The same concept can be applied to any negative thoughts you have, even ones about yourself, the world as a whole, or as mentioned above, other people or situations. Byron Katie does a great job of talking people through thoughts such as ‘I hate my body’, or ‘I am not fulfilling my potential’, or ‘there is too much poverty in the world’, or ‘that person hurt me’. When you inquire into the very moment of your stressful thought, ask yourself if you were projecting your own biases, judgements, insecurities, hypotheses, fears onto the situation, whose business you were in (yours? others’? the universe?), and who you would be without that thought. Everything you need is inside of you–your own reality is shaped by your thoughts about any given situation. You could be in a room full of beauty and still be sad, and you could be in a room full of stress but still be happy. The present moment is what it is and by learning to let go of your personal biases and the desire/need to get things from external situations, you can turn your thoughts into a personal reality that is peaceful, clear, inwardly focused and outwardly compassionate.
Byron Katie guides people through the process of inquiry by asking them first to complete a questionnaire she calls the ‘Judge Your Neighbour’ worksheet, which looks at the negative thought and what you had hoped to achieve with that thought, and then asking people to meditate on these questions: Is your thought absolutely true? How do you react when you have that thought? Who would you be without the thought? Can you think of any stress-free, peaceful reason to maintain that thought? She then challenges you to turn your thought around by taking personal responsibility.
What I really like about Byron Katie’s teachings is that it is objective and productive. I have already noticed a shift in my thinking and actions (although it’s just the beginning and I still have lots of work to do!). I recommend listening to her podcasts (videos are also available on Youtube), completing the Judge-Your-Neighbour worksheet and perusing her book (she even has a children’s book). Check out her website for all the information.
Imagine a world where people wouldn’t get so personally defensive at the things out of their control. Is it not the need to have power over that which is beyond us, that is the root of so much fighting–small and large-scale, internal and external? Instead, we could live with objectivity and compassion and take necessary action with a clear mind. Change ourselves and our thinking, and we are one step closer to bringing so much more light into this world.