Byron Katie and her husband Stephen Mitchell give and exclusive interview to Rami and Marina Bleckt on the subject of genuine spirituality.
Byron Kathleen Mitchell, better known as Byron Katie (born December 6, 1942) is an American speaker and author who teaches a method of self-inquiry known as «The Work of Byron Katie» or simply as «The Work». She is married to the writer and translator Stephen Mitchell. She is the founder of Byron Katie International (BKI), an organization that includes The School for the Work and Turnaround House in Ojai, California. TIME Magazine called her «a spiritual innovator for the 21st century.»
RAMI & MARINA BLECKT: What is spirituality for you?
BYRON KATIE: I don’t know what the word spirituality means. I do understand what a clear mind is, a mind at home with itself. The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with what is. When the mind is perfectly clear, what is is what we want. You don’t want anything except what you already have. You live a life that is free of problems, free of sadness, anger, and frustration, because you understand the cause of all suffering and you know how to question any thought that would cost you your peace.
RAMI & MARINA BLECKT: What are the reasons for suffering?
BYRON KATIE: There is just one reason: believing your own stressful thoughts. I discovered this in 1986, after ten years of suicidal depression. One morning, I opened my eyes, and to my amazement all my misery was gone. What I came to see was that my suffering wasn’t a result of not having control; it was a result of arguing with reality. I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment. That joy is in everyone, always. When you question your mind for the love of truth, your life always becomes happier and kinder.
RAMI & MARINA BLECKT: How can we avoid suffering?
BYRON KATIE: As long as you think that the cause of your problem is “out there”—as long as you think that anyone or anything else is responsible for your suffering—the situation is hopeless. It means that you are forever in the role of the victim, that you’re suffering in paradise. So bring the truth home to yourself and begin to set yourself free.
What I bring people is The Work. It’s a simple yet powerful way to identify and question the thoughts that cause all the suffering in your life—all the suffering in the world. The Work consists of four questions and the turnaround, which is a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believe. The four questions, which you use to investigate a stressful thought that you have written down on a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet, are 1. Is it true? 2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? 3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? and 4. Who would you be without the thought? Complete instructions for doing The Work are available at http://thework.com/sites/thework/russkiy/.
RAMI & MARINA BLECKT: Can anyone do it?
BYRON KATIE: Yes, anyone with an open mind.
RAMI & MARINA BLECKT: Yes, people can avoid psychological sufferings. But what should people do if they have the hardest physical sufferings such as a disease, physical pain or torture?
BYRON KATIE: Suffering is caused by attachment to a deeply embedded belief. It’s a state of blind attachment to something that you think is true. In this state, it’s very difficult to do The Work for the love of truth, because you’re invested in your story. Your story is your identity, and you’d do almost anything to prove that it’s true. Inquiry into self is the only thing that has the power to penetrate such ancient concepts.
Even physical pain isn’t real; it’s the story of a past, always leaving, never arriving. But people don’t know that. My grandson Race fell down once when he was three years old. He scraped his knee, and there was some blood, and he began to cry. And as he looked up at me, I said, “Sweetheart, are you remembering when you fell down and hurt yourself?” And immediately, the crying stopped. That was it. He must have realized, for a moment, that pain is always in the past. The moment of pain is always gone. It’s a remembering of what we think is true, and it projects what no longer exists. (I’m not saying that your pain isn’t real for you. I know pain, and it hurts! That’s why The Work is about the end of suffering.)
If a car runs over your leg and you’re lying in the street with story after story running through your mind, chances are that if you’re new to The Work, you’re not going to think, “‘I’m in pain’—is it true? Can I absolutely know that it’s true?” You’re going to scream, “Get the morphine!” Then, later, when you’re in a comfort zone, you can sit down with a pen and paper and do The Work. Give yourself the physical medicine and then the other kind of medicine. Eventually, you can lose your other leg, and you won’t see a problem. If you think there’s a problem, your Work isn’t done.
RAMI & MARINA BLECKT: What are the fundamentals of your philosophy?
BYRON KATIE: People used to ask me if I was enlightened, and I would say, “I don’t know anything about that. I’m just someone who knows the difference between what hurts and what doesn’t.” I am someone who wants only what is. To meet as a friend each concept that arose in my mind turned out to be my freedom.
What I offer people couldn’t be simpler. Judge your neighbor, write it down, ask four questions, and turn it around. But only if you are tired of your suffering.
RAMI & MARINA BLECKT: What would you wish for our readers?
BYRON KATIE: I wish them all a happy, problem-free life, and I can tell them from experience that it’s possible to live without any anger, sadness, or frustration. When you question your mind, you discover that earth is heaven. All is take to be happy is the willingness and courage to write down your stressful thoughts and question them thoroughly. This will teach you the difference between reality and imagination. Reality is always kinder than our stories about it.