Question the mind and all thoughts
September 7, 2009 by Sandra
from an INTERVIEW WITH BYRON KATIE
Interviewer: Jim Guinness
So certainly your experience in 1986 is the defining point of your life from then on.
Q: And it certainly is very remarkable by your published accounts. Can you speak about what happened?
BK: What happened was, if I had to name it, a state of grace. And that state of grace came from realizing mind. I realized that mind was everything, and that it was nothing: by the time we think it, it’s gone, and only another thought would tell us that it existed at all. So that doesn’t leave much. (Laughs) But I noticed that no thought was true and that before thought there was nothing, and those realizations are where the questions of The Work came from. And it’s not just for me. Everyone can have that same realization now by using these questions.
Q: People have compared your Work to everything from Socratic dialogue to Buddhism and 12-step programs. What do you think about that?
BK: A lot of people claim it. They’ll say, “Oh, my gosh, that’s Buddhism,” or “Oh, my goodness, that’s Christianity.? Others say, “It’s meditation,” or “It’s A Course in Miracles.”
Q: How do you think The Work is similar to or different from them, and what makes it unique?
BK: Well, The Work is just four questions, so it’s nothing, actually. It has zero motive, zero philosophy. The questions don’t even say, “Answer me.” People hear the name ‘The Work’ and they think it’s a religion or a belief system, but it’s really a way we can question the beliefs that we already have.
Q: So when you use the word ‘religion,’ you mean it in a broader sense.
BK: Yes, in the sense of stressful beliefs that we haven’t questioned. For me, my religion was, “My children should pick up their socks.” I was devoted to it. Until they’re questioned, thoughts like this make up our whole life. We’re stuck in the small, painful world of our beliefs instead of experiencing the unlimited, infinite mind. So now we have a way out of the ‘I know’ mind. And as more and more people realize the power of questioning their stressful thoughts or beliefs, then it’s easier for the next one to do it, and the next. And as I travel the world, I see this. It’s becoming so potent.
Q: So as one person and then another and another learns this process of inquiry, that makes it easier for more people to engage in it themselves.
BK: Yes, because we’re detaching from what we believed was true. And mind loves it! You know, when it can explode its own theories, mind finds peace, and that’s exciting. That’s what this is, it’s the mind questioning the mind. This is the end of war. It’s the end of internal war, and when that is lived outwardly, it changes the world.
Q: Now, let’s talk about The Work itself, since that obviously is what you?re about.
BK: That’s what I’m about.
Q: You’ve boiled it down to a remarkably concise process: Judge your neighbor, write it down, ask four questions, turn it around. Most of us are used to hearing that we shouldn’t judge our neighbor. Why do you suggest that we start there?
BK: Because that’s where we are. I mean, where else should we start? Would it be loving to say, “No, start where I want you to.” If’ that’s where we are, it just makes sense to begin there.
Q: Well, some people would claim that they don’t have judgments. You know: “I’m not involved in that sort of thing.” But you seem to be observing that all of us, whether we think about it or not, actually are judging pretty much all the time.
BK: Yes. Anyone who sees the world as absolutely perfect, flawless, is a person who doesn’t need this Work. But our judgments about having judgments can sometimes prevent us from realizing what we’re actually experiencing. With The Work, we don’t shame or blame ourselves about our judgments. We welcome them, and we use them to find our own freedom. It really is the truth that sets us free.
Q: And the next step is to write it down. Some people might wonder why that’s important. If I already pretty much know what I’m judging, what’s the purpose of the second step, writing it down?
BK: It’s the mind’s job to be right. If we don’t write the judgment down, mind begins to prove its case with all its rationalizations and justifications and it gets lost in the process. But if we write it down, we have taken a stressful part of our mind and stopped it. There it is, our judgment on paper. Now when we put the questions up against that written statement, the mind can?t move. So it’s a simple way to investigate the mind: Put it on paper, bring it into the world. And it doesn’t mean the rest of it isn’t going to fly around in our heads. But something from our minds is stable there, and we can use inquiry on that.
Q: Writing it down holds it still, so you can inquire into it.
BK: Yes. Then eventually, people don?t have to bother, because the questions become alive in them.
Q: So after time, this process becomes more or less integrated and automatic, without having to think of it in terms of steps.
BK: A stressful thought will come, and the questions will come with it, and the war ceases. People are reading Loving What Is, and I?m so pleased with that, because inquiry is starting to come alive in many of these people just from reading the book. That delights me.
Q: That must be gratifying.
BK: It is, because I know they become kinder to their children. I know they become kinder to their spouses and their neighbors. So that?s a wonderful feeling, the end of war. It’s what we’ve all wanted.
Q: So continuing with the steps of the process, after we are told to judge our neighbor and to write it down, then we question the thought we have written. Maybe you could go through these four questions, and give an example of how they work.
BK: Okay. One example I use is about a man I recently worked with in New York. His business partner had called him a troublemaker in front of their employees and peers. And this man was furious. He believed that his partner should apologize. And so we began to question that thought.
Q: So his statement was,
My partner should apologize for insulting me.”
Q: And the first question you ask is?
BK: “Is it true?” And he said, “Yes.” He was sure of it. And then I asked him the second question: “Your partner should apologize.” can you absolutely know that that’s true?” And he was an intelligent man, so he began to go inside and look at it. And he said, “Well, I can’t know where he’s coming from. I can’t know another person’s mind. For all I know, he believes he’s right. So I can’t absolutely know that it’s true that he should apologize.” Then I asked him the third question, “How do you react when you think that thought?” And he began to give me a list: “I get angry. He comes up with a good idea, and I slam it down. I talk about him behind his back. When I see him, I avoid him. When I go home, I take the resentment with me, and I complain to my wife.” Then he said, with a look of amazement, “Oh, my gosh. I am a troublemaker. He was right.”
Q: The way he acted when he held the thought that his partner should apologize for calling him a troublemaker, was to act like a troublemaker himself!
BK: Yes. And in that discovery, he connected with his partner. Instead of defense and war, there’s connection, and there’s relief from fighting the truth and believing the lie.
Q: The lie, in this case, being that the partner should apologize.
BK: Yes. How do I know he shouldn’t apologize? Well, what’s the reality of it? Has he apologized? No. That’s how I know he shouldn’t apologize. He hasn’t! And when we try to push reality, to make reality the way we think we want it, we’re not happy human beings. Anything that argues with reality is stressful. So I asked him the fourth question: “Who would you be without that thought? Who would you be, working with your partner, if you didn’t believe that he should apologize?” And he said, very softly, “His friend. His friend. I wouldn’t be talking about him behind his back. I’d be working with him again, and our company would benefit from that. And I’d set a better example for everyone, and be a lot happier at home.”
And then I asked him to turn it around, “Your partner should apologize; turn it around to the opposite.” There are variations on the turnaround–I walk people through them in detail in Loving What Is? but what he found was, “I should apologize to him.” He could now see where his partner was right to begin with. And then another turnaround is: “I should apologize to myself.” Yes, he had cost himself money, he had cost himself a friend, he had cost himself his home life, and his professional life. So he owed himself amends. And then another turnaround is, “My partner should not apologize.” And that one hit him really hard. You know, it turned out to be his own problem–the problem was caused by his thinking, not by his partner’s action. Whatever the right or wrong of his partner’s action might be, this man was prepared to clean things up on his side. It was wonderful watching him.
Q: So even if the partner had been inappropriate or out of line in saying what he did, the man himself could clean it up, he didn’t have to wait for his partner to do something with it.
BK: Exactly. He could see and the three hundred or so other people in the room could see that we’re responsible for our own happiness. If I think that someone else is my problem, I’m insane. I do The Work on my own thinking, clean up my own mess, and the other person lives with what they live with. But the only question we need to ask is “How am I doing?” because we can’t change the world. Look at what he had done to manipulate and shift the world around him. It was unkind to everyone involved, especially himself. So through these four questions–I call them “checkmate!”
Q: Why do you call them checkmate?
BK: Because if you really want to know the truth, they’ve got you. There’s no way out for people who really want to know the truth. It brings you back to reality. And what a joy that can be.
Q: Other spiritual or self-improvement practices suggest either disciplining your thoughts or cultivating positive thoughts or simply watching our thoughts. In The Work, how do we relate to our thoughts?
BK: As friends, as the beloved. What else is there? Who would want their mind to be quiet if they understood it, if they really understood it? If they could meet all their thoughts with unconditional love, which is what these questions bring, then who would want the mind to shut up? Who would want to escape or change it? We haven’t been able to quiet the mind. And we haven?t been able to meditate it down or medicate it down, not for long. It looks like we have control over it until we get the parking ticket. So instead of fighting our thoughts, through these four questions we welcome them as friends.