Does a ladder between heaven and earth exist? If yes, it could be called The Work. The American, Byron Katie, shows the way. By Colette Grünbaum
“Thank you, I feel excellent”, I answered my neighbour’s question. “That’s how you look”, he replied. As I went on I smiled. It was night and quite dark. What could he have seen? In fact I do feel excellent, since I have encountered “The Work”, an ingenious way of self-exploration. Well probably it isn’t only the effect of The Work. I practiced this inquiry on holidays and the sunny days in Tuscany were just wonderful.
But the thought came to me: Is it okay to feel as good as I do? Aren’t I challenging the envy of the gods? I heard myself repeatedly telling friends: “From the day I discovered The Work, all my problems seem to hide. I have nothing to investigate any more.” One day I realized, that with this attitude I imagined threatening clouds of dark problems looming in the future, but that is what the mind does. The functioning of the mind becomes transparent by doing The Work.
The Work is a gift from heaven: It is simple, practical, clear, can be carried out wherever you are and has a healing effect. Years ago I bought a thick book on how to work with one’s own shadow. I never read it, and the shadows have gone on playing their games with me. Whenever I do The Work my shadows surface and it unmistakably gets clear, how and where they manifest themselves and what they bring up. Relentlessly.
I also see “The Work of Byron Katie” as a gift, because during the last year I have been looking for the right questions to ask. Questions that don’t lead me to a further enmeshment with the world of meanings and ideas, but lead me closer to inner freedom. I have met people who, as far as I can judge, have found the truth for themselves. Nevertheless, their ability to support me to find my own answers was very limited.
Now I have a set of questions at hand that allow me to investigate who I am at any time. Will I be able to solve the riddle? The Work is also called “the great undoing”. What a great perspective!
A mild autumn sun warmed me during my first self-inquiry with The Work. So far I had only read an article about this method and had copied the instructions for self-inquiry. I had plenty of material and wrote down all the complaints I had about my partner: What disturbed me about him, what made me angry, how he should change according to my wishes, what he should cease to do, what I needed from him and what I never wanted to experience again with him. I didn’t try to be nice. What I wrote was plain and direct.
Then came the undoing, the investigation of my sentences with the help of Byron Katie’s four questions. 1. Is it true, that George should not stay up all night? 2. Can I absolutely know that it’s true? I closed my eyes in my deck-chair, let the question sink into my heart and waited for an answer. No, I cannot really know what’s best for him, I had to admit.
I continued to read. 3. What’s my reaction to this thought? What feelings are connected to the thought and how do I treat my partner, when I hold on to this thought? Again I closed my eyes, let the question sink deep inside me and waited. Slowly an answer dawned on me and I realized how I felt superior to my partner with this thought. I don’t behave as unreasonably as he does! How arrogant! And I saw how I established a distance between us with my worries and my anger.
While I observed from my deck-chair how the day slowly turned into night, I discovered shadow after shadow within me. I saw how I tried to control with my attitudes, how I was neglecting reality with my expectations, how I kept getting stuck with ideas that were not only disturbing to the other, but mainly restricting to myself. The last question: “Who would I be without that thought?”, always lead to the same result. Without this belief I would feel much more free and light. Was I ready to let go?
Byron Katie’s’ questions unmask, they lift veils. That afternoon has engraved itself in my memory as a terribly unmasking and freeing experience. A glance into my notes shows me how my mind twisted and tried to escape, how I was searching for justifications and answered questions with yes – no. Only reluctantly it let the light shine on the truth.
The Work of the 57 year old Katie is radical and means breaking out of our habitual way of thinking. Who would willingly let that happen? Don’t we sometimes enjoy anger and the intensity of certain moods? If so, we see no reason to let go of a role we are used to playing. For the Work to be helpful, the bottom line is honesty with yourself. You have to be ready to look at things that might be unpleasant; you need perseverance and the courage to be honest.
After this first practical trial, I sat down the following day, headphones on and listened to Katie working with an 18 year old woman who had been sexually abused as a child. What I heard, struck me. There was this seemingly powerless young woman with her heavy fate, and on the other side this wise and uncompromising woman unswervingly asking her questions.
We often speak about responsibility, but never before had I heard anyone deal with responsibility as consequently as Byron Katie does. The 18 year old teenager read her judgements and Katie encouraged her to inquire – even more than that, to turn her judgments around. Instead of saying: “Never again shall this swine abuse people sexually and in any other ways and force them to do terrible things”, the sentence changed into: “Never again shall I abuse myself sexually and in other ways and force myself to do terrible things such as I do by repeatedly thinking about what happened.” In this work, it became obvious how much we are ready to do in our hope for love.
I was quite exhausted and startled after listening to this first recording (cassettes are a bit dated now). What is true compassion? I heard a participant at Katie’s workshop say that he had almost left the evening before, “I had the impression you don’t care about feelings”, he said. “You are right”, Katie had answered, “I don’t care about feelings, I care about freedom.”
“As long as we haven’t found a way to meet our thinking with understanding, life is hell” says Katie. She speaks from experience. At some point in her life she was under the spell of money, she smoked, drank excessively and had psychological problems. One day, at the age of 43, she woke up without a memory of who she was. She didn’t remember her life story and everything was different. At first people thought she was crazy. It took her years to find her way in this world anew, years until she could bring her wonderful tool of freedom to humanity.
“Uneasiness is the outcome from being at war with what is. If you can’t believe that everything is okay the way it is, write it down, ask four questions and turn it around”, Katie suggests. “When the mind asks the questions and you let your heart give the answers, the mind drops into the heart and they merge. This is the highest act of love: to give the mind a home in the heart.”
“Who is this woman?”, I ask Lela Iselin who has known about The Work for quite a while and has recently visited a two week training with Katie in the States. “She is loving, clear, direct, unpretentious, creative and enormously generous”, my acquaintance answered. Lela, who has been in the field of psychology and spirituality for many years elaborated her summary with touching episodes from the seminar. “How has The Work changed your life”, I continue to ask. “I don’t strive to get love and appreciation anymore and the identification with my life story is gone”, she says, “and if identification occurs again, it is exciting to do The Work.”
Lela Iselin, who has been trained in doing The Work, leads me through an investigation. I had been angry about my mother-in-law – only a little bit – but the outcome of the investigation was astonishing! I wonder what will come up when I do The Work about the TV and computer consumption of my son. I haven’t tested The Work to it’s core yet, but you, dear reader, can find out for yourself, if The Work really is a ladder to heaven. Just follow the instructions on the worksheet. According to my experience, the first rungs of the ladder have proven to be stable and have lead me to a point with an exciting perspective.
PS This article was published in 1999 in the Swiss magazine SPUREN. Today, many years later, The Work is central to my life and I still think it is the most effective way to deal with stress. I am using it to work through my own issues and as a certified facilitator to share it with others. It is the work that is dear to my heart.
My son’s television consumption is less than average. He has studied computer science, and supported me in building my first websites 😉