From teacher to student
I have met a multitude of spiritual teachers in my lifetime. Many are quite famous, and others are not. My friend Byron Katie is the only teacher I know who is, as the Buddhists say, fully awakened and who lives in the integrity of that awareness consistently. Her newest book, I Need Your Love—Is That True?: How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation and Start Finding Them Instead, and her upcoming Learning Exchange workshop inspired me to write this column. Katie’s process has invited me into liberation. It offers that for you, too.
But first, let me introduce her. Katie literally awakened to the process of internal inquiry that she calls The Work. In the 1980s, in the midst of a crisis in every segment of her life, she entered a treatment program for people with eating disorders. (She had other addictions, but her health insurance would only cover treatment for eating disorders.) In a sudden, astonishing moment while she was alone in the attic of the treatment center, she realized that her suffering was caused, completely, by believing her thoughts. Without her thoughts, she was loving and peaceful instead of desperate and afraid. In that instant, her inner turmoil disappeared, and loving kindness took permanent residence within her.
Katie lived in Barstow, a town in the Mojave Desert of Southern California. After the treatment program, she took long walks into the desert, which she called her “teacher.” She returned from it daily, more awakened. Katie learned to question the thoughts behind her unhappiness, and that process eventually codified into what is now known as The Work or four questions and a turnaround.
Here is an example thought from her book: He insulted me. The four questions are: Is it true that he insulted me? Can I absolutely know that it’s true? How do I react when I think this thought? Who or what would I be without this thought? And then, the turnaround: I insulted him. (I jumped to my conclusion when he didn’t wave, and I judged him harshly.) I insulted me. (I turned a possibly innocent action into an insult. I was the one who created the insult, in my own mind, and my angry thoughts made me feel small and mean.) He didn’t insult me. (Maybe he didn’t even see me. Maybe he was thinking of something else. I can’t know what his intention was.)
I met The Work before I met Katie. In 1993, my amazing spiritual director, Linda Tidgewell, introduced me to The Work. The process was new to her, she said, and it was creating radical changes in her life. At that time, The Work was a series of fill-in-the-blank sentences that seemed relatively simple but that, as it turned out, had a profound ability to enlighten. As I struggled through the sentences, I discovered that most of what I believed to be true was a lie. The truth was that I had created chaos in my life and relationships. And I had the power to restore harmony.
I met Katie in 1994. Tidgewell said Katie was unlike anyone she had ever met. That was my experience, too. She seemed ordinary but lit from within in a way that was beyond words. Throughout the years, I attended Katie’s workshops in Rescue (how appropriate!), Santa Cruz, Barstow and Marin. Later, she came to my house and did a workshop and then spent a day with me doing The Work on my issues. I had a lot of them! My childhood had been filled with emotional and physical violence. I had psychotherapy, but nothing provided the depth of healing that I experienced by doing The Work.
I want that healing for you, dear readers. Read the book. Register for the workshop. Bring true freedom to your life.