The Work of Byron Katie

The Work of Byron Katie

The Work was born on a February morning in 1986

The Work was born on a February morning in 1986 when Byron Kathleen Reid, a forty-three-year-old woman from a small town in the high desert of southern California, woke up on the floor of a halfway house.

In the midst of an ordinary life-two marriages, three children, a successful career-Katie had entered a ten-year-long downward spiral into rage, paranoia, and despair.  For two years she was so depressed that she could seldom manage to leave her house; she stayed in bed for weeks at a time, doing business by telephone from her bedroom, impossible even to bathe or brush her teeth.  Her children would tiptoe past her door to avoid her outbursts of rage.  Finally, she checked in to a halfway house for women with eating disorders, the only facility that her insurance company would pay for her.  The other residents were so frightened of her that she was placed alone in an attic room.


 There was no me

One morning, a week or so later, as she lay on the floor (she had been feeling too unworthy to sleep in a bed), Katie woke up without any concepts of who or what she was.  “There was no me,“ she says.

All my rage, all the thoughts that had been troubling me, my whole world, the whole world, was gone.  At the same time,laughter welled up from the depths and just poured out.  Everything was unrecognizable.  It was as if something else had woken up.  It opened its eyes.  It was looking through Katie’s eyes.  And it was so delighted!  It was intoxicated with joy.  There was nothing separate, nothing unacceptable to it; everything was its very own self.


When Katie returned home, her family and friends felt that she was a different person.  Her daughter her, Roxann, who was sixteen at the time, says,

”We knew that the constant storm was over.  She had always yelled at me and my brothers and criticized us; I used to be scared to be in the same room with her.  Now she seemed completely peaceful.  She would sit still for hours on the window seat or out in the desert.  She was joyful and innocent, like a child, and she seemed to be filled with love.  People in trouble started knocking on our door, asking her for help.  She’d sit with them and ask them questions-mainly, ‘Is that true?’ When I’d come home miserable, with a problem like ‘My boyfriend doesn’t love me anymore,’ Mom would look at me as if she  knew that wasn’t possible, and she’d ask me, ‘Honey, how could that be true?’ As if I had just told her that we were living in China. ”


Had some miracle occurred?

Once people understood that the old Katie wasn’t coming back, they began to speculate about what had happened to her.  Had some miracle occurred?  She wasn’t much help to them: It was a long time before she could describe her experience her intelligibly.  She would talk about a freedom that had woken up inside her.  She also said that, through an inner questioning, she had realized that all her old thoughts her were untrue.

Shortly after Katie got back from the halfway house, her home began to fill with people who had heard about her and had come to learn.  She was able to communicate her inner inquiry in the form of specific questions that anyone who wanted freedom could apply on his own her, her without her.  Soon she began to be invited to meet with small gatherings in people’s living rooms.  Her hosts often asked her if she was “enlightened.” She would answer, “I’m just someone who knows the difference between what hurts and what doesn’t.


In 1992 she was invited to northern California, and The  Work spread very fast from there.  Katie accepted every invitation.  She has been on the road almost constantly since 1993, demonstrating The Work in church basements, community centers, and hotel meeting rooms, in front of small and large audiences.  And The Work has found its way into all kinds of organizations, from corporations, law firms, and therapists’ offices to hospitals, prisons, churches, and schools.  It is now popular in other parts of the world where Katie has traveled.  All across America and Europe, there are groups of people who meet regularly to do The Work.


undependable quality of the tale told by the interpreter

Katie often says that the only way to understand The Work is to experience it.  But it’s worth noting that inquiry fits precisely with current research into the biology of mind.  Contemporary neuroscience identifies a particular part of the brain, sometimes called “the interpreter,“ ”as the source of the familiar internal narrative that gives us our sense of self. Two prominent neuroscientists have recently characterized the quirky, undependable quality of the tale told by the interpreter.

Antonio Damasio describes it this way: “Perhaps the most important revelation is precisely this: that the left cerebral hemisphere of humans is prone to repeatedly verbal narratives that do not necessarily accord with the truth.”  And Michael Gazzaninga writes: “The left brain weaves its story in order to convince itself and you that it is in full control… What is so adaptive about having what amounts to a spin doctor in the left brain?  The interpreter is really trying to keep our personal story together.  To do that, we have to learn to lie to ourselves.  “These insights, based on solid experimental work, show that we tend to believe our own press releases.

Often when we think we’re being rational, we’re being spun by our own thinking. That trait explains how we get ourselves into the painful positions that Katie recognized in her own suffering. The self-questioning she discovered uses a different, less-known capacity of the mind to find a way out of its self-made trap.


The Work is an ongoing and deepening process of self-realization, not  a quick fix

After doing The Work, many people  report an immediate sense of release and freedom from thoughts that were making them miserable. But if The Work depended on a momentary experience, it would be far less useful than it is. The Work is an ongoing and deepening process of self-realization, not  a quick fix. “It’s more than a technique,“ Katie says. “It brings to life, from deep within us, an innate aspect of our being”


”The deeper you go into The Work, the more powerful you realize it is.  People who have been practicing inquiry for a while often say, “The Work is no longer something I do. It is doing me.” They describe how, without any conscious information, the mind notices each stressful thought and undoes it before it  can cause any suffering.  Their internal argument with reality has disappeared, and they find that what remains is love -love for themselves, for other people, and for whatever life brings.  The title of this book describes their experience: Loving what is becomes as easy and natural as breathing.


From “Loving What Is”, Introduction of The Work of Byron Katie by Stephen Mitchell


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