Self-Care Challenge (Day 31): Doing The Work with Byron Katie

Byron Katie presenting

On day 31 of my 366-day self-care challenge, I attended one of the most mind-bending workshops of my entire life…and that’s when I began doing the work.

A Method of Inquiry

Byron Katie developed The Work, a unique method of inquiry, during her “ten-year-long downward spiral” into depression. Through that experience, she discovered that her thoughts were the cause of her suffering. She now believes suffering is optional.

In her book Loving What Is*, she explains “The Work reveals that what you think shouldn’t have happened should have happened. It should have happened because it did…” Her belief that “the truth is whatever is in front of you, whatever is really happening” is hard for most of us to accept because we’ve created our own truths and beliefs over the course of many years, and we guard them closely.

The process of inquiry consists of four simple questions:

  1. Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without that thought?

Reframing Thoughts

The next step is where we get plowed by a Mack truck. When we reframe our thoughts, turning them around to their complete opposite – sometimes making ourselves the responsible party – our ego can hardly take it. According to Katie, “You see who you are by seeing who you think other people are.” The fourth question teases out what we want and need from other people, but according to Katie, this is our own prescription for happiness.

I arrived at the workshop to find nearly 800 other people filling the sanctuary at the Center for Spiritual Living in Seattle. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who felt drawn to this topic. The stage was simply set: a plush chair along with a couch and some pillows, a coffee table, and an end table that was decorated with a beautiful bouquet of flowers.

A few men peppered the audience, most of whom appeared to be accompanied by a female companion, but the overwhelming majority of attendees were women. Brightly colored personalities chattered in anticipation as we waited. A woman behind me complained, “Places like this should make rules about how many seats you can save!” Everyone seemed to be looking for the best seat to watch Katie in action. Another woman sat quietly crocheting in her seat. Staff members began distributing tissues throughout the room, prompting the man seated next to me to comment, “Their tissue budget must be pretty extensive.”

I wasn’t surprised because I personally sobbed like a baby after reading Loving What Is, and I had used a box of tissues myself.

When we confront our thoughts and challenge our beliefs straight on, it can be scary. What we think has the power to dictate so many things in our life, including how we care for ourselves.

After taking the stage, Katie began opening up the world of inquiry, asking a few questions to prepare us for what was to come. She asked us to imagine that we had just taken a bite out of a lemon. Most of us immediately began experiencing the sourness of the lemon that didn’t exist, and we began salivating as if we had taken a bite – except we hadn’t. We’d only imagined we had. And it was our imagination that was the cause of our suffering. “The Work,” she explained, is meditation and it takes stillness. It takes daily practice.

If you’re having trouble fully grasping the concept, you’re not alone. It takes a long time to get it. Many people in the audience shared that they have been doing the work for years. In fact, one man said he’d been at it for many years and noticed that he doesn’t think much anymore, which concerned him.

Katie’s response? “Some people would call that peace, sweetheart.”

As we began The Work ourselves, Katie instructed us to close our eyes and begin remembering a specific situation where we had been angered or hurt by someone. Conjuring these difficult thoughts from the past can be painful, and in a matter of minutes I could already hear someone behind me blowing their nose.

“No one can hurt me; that’s my job,” explained Katie, who sees thoughts as children. Instead of fighting with them, she has learned to sit with them, be patient with them, and get to know them.

She believes that “If you’re not experiencing heaven, your thoughts are the cause.”

Doing the Work

Throughout the day, several members of the audience were invited to the stage to begin doing the work with Katie. From a man who was upset about his wife not cleaning the kitchen, to several people who had been victims of sexual abuse or other inequities, to a man who lost his son to suicide – all of these experiences were equally traumatic to the person experiencing them. These brave souls were willing to share their painful stories with complete strangers because they believed The Work could help relieve their suffering.

Katie’s process reminds us that it takes effort and energy to hold onto hurt and anger, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We can redirect that energy and put it to good use. When we can let go of our debilitating thoughts, we can love those around us more deeply.

Even so, her process wasn’t well-received by everyone in the audience. In fact, sometimes the turnaround statements were hard to digest, especially when they involved a victim taking personal responsibility. And even though that responsibility was merely for their own thinking about what happened – not the actual thing that happened – it was still hard for many people to hear out loud. Within the audience I heard gasps, observed hands covering mouths and saw many people shaking their heads vehemently in opposition. One woman was so ignited with anger that she stood, shouting the “f” word, and shaking at Katie in disapproval. Katie simply sat quietly, allowing the woman to express herself, and then asked the audience how many identified with what the woman had just said. About 100 hands went up. She said, “I understand what you’re saying, and frankly I’m always surprised half of the audience doesn’t walk out.”

The Work isn’t called work for nothing.

She explained that “discomfort is a place of transition. It’s where we often must come to move ourselves through the rubble.”

This kind of reaction seems normal when you consider that most of us have become deeply entrenched in our thoughts and beliefs. These are our truths, and through these truths we create our identity. We are what we think we are. That’s why it can be especially unsettling for those who haven’t had much exposure to The Work.

Distinguishing between our thoughts and reality isn’t easy.

Despite the mixed reactions to the process, I noticed that few people, if any, left early. By the time the conference ended, the faces around me were painted with both exhaustion and relief. It was just the beginning. The Work takes a lot of — well, work — but it’s worth it when you consider that peace is what lies on the other end of our suffering.

Is it time for you to start doing the work? Get started today.

Get Started

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22 thoughts on “Self-Care Challenge (Day 31): Doing The Work with Byron Katie

  1. Avatar
    Lori says:

    Hi Stacy,
    I was at that workshop on Saturday too! If I had known you were going to be there, I would have loved to meet you in person.
    Your description of the day is spot on. I was emotionally exhausted by late afternoon, but I learned so much. It was one of the more intense days that I’ve had among a huge crowd of people. The tools she uses actually walk you through HOW to deal with and resolve long-held negative beliefs and emotions. I’ve never heard of anything before now that challenged me to question my reality and my beliefs and my assumptions of the truth in such a blinding, unsympathetic way. I think that’s what is so different about her method compared with the average psychotherapy counseling where we are often sympathized with and coddled because of the awful treatment we’ve gotten from others. She said we are superstitious to say or think the turnaround part of the questions. The turnaround statements were things that people wouldn’t usually utter in polite society. They go against everything we think is fair and just. Yet, I can see the value in questioning even what seems absolute. I need to get my own copy of Loving What Is now, and I’ll probably get another one of her newer books too. It’s really powerful stuff, and I’m ready to do the Work.
    Thank you for sharing your experience of the workshop Stacy.


    • Avatar
      Stacy Fisher-Gunn RDN, CD, CDE says:

      Oh, I wish I would have known you were there too! You are so right: her approach goes against everything most of us have learned about fairness and justice (especially when it comes nurturing those who have dealt with tragic experiences). It may have been better received if it had been explained more clearly that the being “willing to” and “looking forward to” statements were only related to our thoughts. (But maybe it’s something she feels everyone should discover for themselves.) I’m with you…I’ve never questioned my beliefs and truths this way before. But I LOVE it!!!!!

  2. Avatar
    Tess says:

    Bravo Stacy….thank you for summing that up so beautifully. I have been doing the work for years and would like one day to be in a workshop with Katie. Your description was very visual for me. I admire this form
    of courage as I believe this is what it takes for our sanity and happiness and I don’t believe there is anything more important!!!! Peace and Love…Tess

    • Avatar
      Stacy Fisher-Gunn RDN, CD, CDE says:

      Thanks Tess! I admire this kind of courage too. I mean, as much pain as we heard expressed in that room, there was an equal amount of love and support. It’s moments like that where I begin to understand what living truly is: it’s messy, it’s complicated…but it’s also beautiful.

  3. Avatar
    Leslie Weldon says:

    Hi Stacy, I was at a similar seminar she did a few years ago at CSL. I followed it up with her 5 day No-Body workshop. My life hasn’t been the same since, doing 100’s of worksheets has transformed my life. Some beliefs, especially the real victimy ones took awhile to clear but in the end they all collapse in the face of what’s so. Thanks for sharing, Leslie

    • Avatar
      Stacy Fisher-Gunn RDN, CD, CDE says:

      Thank you for sharing a little bit about your personal experience, Leslie. It seems like that’s exactly what it takes to change our thoughts…work! I agree with you, I think we all have a tendency to hold on tightly to our victim status, even if and when they are trivial in the grande scheme of life. I’m looking forward to spending more time with some worksheets myself.

  4. Avatar
    Iuliana Lincan says:

    I like the way you put this into words. And I agree that what this lady is doing it is VERRRYYYY POWERFULLLL.
    (bow to her)
    I am not American, I am from Europe, but I do admire what this LADY is doing – and more important – HOW.

    With the best thoughts,
    (bow to you, too)

    • Avatar
      Stacy Fisher-Gunn RDN, CD, CDE says:

      Thanks, Luliana, for the kind note. The fact that this approach crosses so many cultures around the globe really says something about its power. I admire Katie’s bravery in sharing these ideas, especially since they are sometimes difficult to understand and apply.

  5. Avatar
    Rosa says:

    Thank you for this review- it really captured the event. I was in awe watching Katie hold such presence and love while guiding those in deep pain from holding on to traumatic experiences. Amazing to see them move through so quickly and the best part is that this is so accessible and help is out there… has free downloadable worksheets, dozen of Katie

    • Avatar
      Rosa says:

      dozen of Katie videos, a free helpline, and more…I am moving through a very painful divorce and using The Work and BK has brought me so much freedom and inner peace, may we all be free to LOVE WHAT IS!

      • Avatar
        Stacy Fisher-Gunn RDN, CD, CDE says:

        Oh, yes. I really should have mentioned the helpline in my post. I didn’t know it existed…and that it’s free. Best wishes as you move through this phase and toward experiencing more peace!

    • Avatar
      Stacy Fisher-Gunn RDN, CD, CDE says:

      Awe is a great word–I was right there with you! I hadn’t thought of it in terms of love, but I think you’re spot on. Even with all of the heaviness and negative emotions in the room, I think love was the most dominant feeling of them all.

  6. Avatar
    Di says:

    Love your Stacy! I have attended the 9 day school… and yes can appreciate the emotions and rollercoaster ride of doing The Work!! And I felt so much awe and gratitude in being witness to peoples ‘stories’ and their journey to a peaceful mind. Most of the people in the school I attended were able to ‘stay the ride’ and receive their ‘gift’ (s)… and the understanding that The Work is an ongoing journey for most of us! Lol!! Loved it, Love Katie and very much appreciated Being there. I continue to use all the tools and awareness’s I received. Amazing Lady!!! Thank You again and I hope it’s ok to share your blog on my facebook page InnerLife. Much Love, Di

    • Avatar
      Stacy Fisher-Gunn RDN, CD, CDE says:

      Wow, I can’t imagine what 9 days must have been like! I felt grateful as well. These were truly some of the most brave individuals I have ever seen. It’s an ongoing journey indeed! (And feel free to share away!!!)

  7. Avatar
    BJ says:

    Thank you for this post! I had registered for this event but was unable to attend. You’ve given a wonderful glimpse into the day. I have since downloaded the worksheets from BK’s website and begun The Work on my own. Very powerful. Thanks again!

  8. Avatar
    kd says:

    I enjoyed your article. I have been doing the Work for 2 years. It is to the point where I will often automatically do the turnaround in my head when something happens that upsets me. Sometimes, when I’m still just waking up in the morning, I’ll do the work in my head on something troubling me even though I would have thought you’d need to be fully awake. But it can be just as effective even in that twilight between sleep and full alertness because there is less mental resistance. Most helpful to me is journaling. I use it often to conduct “interviews” with Katie, borrowing her language, and imagining I’m on the stage in a dialogue with her, doing the 4 questions. Some of those imagined dialogues have triggered big breakthroughs. My life has not been the same since I discovered the work and Byron Katie…i cannot say enough about this process!

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