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"The Work" of Byron Katie

I’m often asked to recommend books that can help with personal growth and development. The one that always comes to mind is Byron Katie’s “Loving What Is.” It changed my life in a way that no other book has come close.

Byron shares nuggets of wisdom that I often quote, and “The Work” she teaches in the book is probably my most frequently used coaching tool. Once a client has experienced “The Work” it’s fascinating watching the expansion of their mind as they realize they aren’t their thoughts, and that what they thought they believed so adamantly (and painfully) wasn’t actually true.

The foundation of the work is this: “When we expect reality to be different than it is, we suffer. But only 100% of the time.” (Byron Katie)

She also shares about three kinds of business: my business, your business, and God’s business. (God referring to whatever higher power you believe in whether that be Mother Nature, Source, Universe, the Creator, or however else you refer to that higher power.)

We can only control our own business, which is how we think, feel and behave, including how we react to others. What others do or say is none of our business. (Who are we to say we know better than another person how to live their life?) Circumstances out of our control are also not our business. (Who are we, from our limited perspective, to question a divine plan?)

When we expect others to be different than they are, we suffer. When we want or need them to change, we suffer. Acceptance is freedom. That doesn’t mean we condone or allow abuse or cruelty. It simply means we accept others for who and what they are (without expecting them to change) and then determine what feels right for us in how we do or don’t engage with them.

At what distance can we love and accept them and ourselves simultaneously?

In her book, she also dives into the role our ego plays in most conflict and judgment. Our beautiful, well-intentioned ego simply wants to save us from harm. It’s what creates the illusion of separation. That I am separate from you and that others will hurt us if we’re not diligently defensive. And yet, in its loving attempt to keep us safe, it has a very limited perspective and likes to feel justified in its “I’m right, you’re wrong” vantage-point.

Byron Katie asks, “Would you rather be right, or happy?”

We realize there are many truths when we give our thoughts and beliefs permission to be wrong.

In a one-on-one Equus Session a couple years ago, the horses weren’t very engaged with my client. I facilitated my client through “The Work” on a limiting belief she’d held since she was a child. As she was processing in each step, the horses in the pasture with us started to move closer and closer. When we finished, and after a long pause and deep sigh, she said, “I’ve been working on that with my therapist for 10 years and this did in one session what I haven’t been able to with her in all that time.” Then she turned and looked behind her. The horses (Bella, Tucker and Checkers) were all standing facing her only a few feet away. She’d found her truth in acceptance of what was reality.

Sometimes truth doesn’t feel comfortable, but when we land on a truth it feels like we can breathe again. I believe that's where the saying "the truth shall set you free" comes from. Truth feels like freedom in our bodies. When we tell ourselves lies, it feels constricting.

The Work is a simple, yet profound process that helps us rewire our brains and create new neural pathways. It can also feel challenging because we’re asking our brain to do some mental gymnastics and operate in a new and different way. AND our ego likes to resist it, so we have to be willing to change our viewpoint.

Here’s the process: (1) Identify a limiting belief and a moment in time when we believed it, (2) Ask four questions and then (3) Turn the original thought around in three ways. It goes like this (as an example):

Limiting Belief Example: “My partner should clean up after themselves.”

Grounding Situation Example: Last Tuesday when I was in my kitchen staring at a dirty plate, utensils and glass at the dining table that my partner had left the day prior.

Question 1: Is that true? (Simple yes or no.)

Question 2: Can you know without a shadow of a doubt that “your partner should clean up after themselves?” (Again, a simple yes or no. There is no right answer.)

Question 3: How do you react when you believe that “your partner should clean up after themselves?”

Sub questions help us dive deeper into our reaction and are explored in a way that we can observe ourselves. This is where we can see and understand the cost of believing the thought:

· What is your emotional response when you believe that thought?

· Where do you feel those emotions physically in your body? How does your body respond?

· How do you treat your partner when you believe that thought? (behavior, spoken words, in your mind)

· How do you treat yourself when you believe that thought? (behavior, in your mind)

· What comes up from your past when you believe that thought? (What are you bringing forward into the present from your past that only exists in your mind?)

· What are you imagining will happen in the future as a result of that thought? (What is the imagined fear that you believe will happen that also only exists in your mind?)

· Does that thought bring stress or peace?

· Can you think of a peaceful reason to continue to believe it?

Question 4: Keeping reality exactly as it is, and the circumstances the same, imagine that your brain is incapable of believing that “your partner should clean up after themselves.” Who might you be if you couldn’t believe that thought? (What might your behavior, words, emotions, etc. be like in that same situation?)

Turnarounds: There are three turnaround thoughts. (1) To the exact opposite, (2) To ourselves to understand what we’re projecting onto others that’s really about us, and (3) To “other” which is swapping yourself and the subjects of the original thought.

Opposite: My partner SHOULD NOT clean up after themselves.

Self: I should clean up after myself. *or* I should clean up myself/my thoughts.

Other: I should clean up after my partner. *or* Themselves should clean up my partner.

Turnarounds to “other” can sound odd grammatically, but if we look at them symbolically or metaphorically, they can actually be quite mind-blowing.

After we identify potential turnaround thoughts, we then look for proof to support how those turnarounds might be true. “Proof” comes in the form of examples from reality, and our experience, that affirms the turnarounds.

For example, here might be reasons (proof) these turnarounds are true.

Opposite: My partner SHOULD NOT clean up after themselves.

· Because they don’t. That’s just the way they are.

· Because I enable them not to by cleaning up after them, so why should they if they know I’ll do it?

· Because they never learned how to and were never taught to growing up. (That’s how they were raised/conditioned.)

· Because they have ADHD and get distracted easily.

· Because having a clean house isn’t important to them. It’s not a priority.

Self #1: I should clean up after myself.

· Because having a clean house is important to me.

· Because I’m responsible for myself and how I exist in the world.

· Because it feels natural for me to do so.

· Because I was raised/conditioned to habitually clean up after myself.

Self #2: I should clean up myself/my thoughts.

· Because judging others only hurts myself.

· Because I have my own areas of improvement that this mental and emotional energy is better spent on.

· Because resenting my partner isn’t good for our relationship.

· Because I’m happier and healthier when I have clean thoughts.

Other #1: I should clean up after my partner.

· Because I care more about a clean house than they do.

· Because having a dirty house bothers me and I like to live in a clean space.

· Because my partner does other things for me and on behalf of our household. This would keep the relationship in balance and reciprocity.

Other #2: Themselves should clean up my partner.

· Because it’s my partners business what they do and don’t do. So only they are responsible for themselves and their cleanliness.

· They are the only ones who can “should” themselves because it’s their life, their behavior, and their habits. I can choose whether to accept them as they are, and if I’m not willing to continue to live this way, then I must decide whether the relationship is more important than dirty dishes.

After exploring these turnaround thoughts as alternative truths, we ask, “Which thought feels most true? The original, opposite, self or other?”

From that place is how we can then choose how we want to move forward in light of this mental exploration.


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