If you practice yoga, you might be familiar with the positions called inversions that flip our bodies head down and feet up.
Mentally, these positions can encourage us to turn our beliefs upside down and try an entirely fresh perspective. When we get stuck in habitual thoughts, for instance, we forget that we may not be right – that, maybe, even the opposite is true!
I discovered Byron Katie’s book, Loving What Is, during a difficult family time about eight years ago, and it felt like a huge breath of fresh air turning my mind upside down.
Katie’s system, called “The Work,” originated in 1986, on a February morning in a California halfway house. There, Byron Katie woke up on the floor, intoxicated with joy, suddenly and inexplicably free of all the thoughts that had been tormenting her.
After years spent in a downward spiral of rage and despair, screaming at her children, and barely getting out of bed, she had finally – out of desperation – checked herself in to the halfway house.
That fateful morning a week later, she woke up filled with the sure knowledge that all her negative thoughts had been untrue. Everything in the world around her was unrecognizable and delightful.
As she began living her life in a new way, people started coming to her for guidance. Soon, she was being invited to speak to groups all over California and eventually, the world. To date, Katie has written four bestselling books.
“The Work” consists of four simple questions and a turnaround that allow you to see your problems in an entirely new light.
Katie echoes many of the greatest world thinkers when she says, “It’s not the problem that causes our suffering; it’s our thinking about the problem.” But she goes beyond that statement to offer a simple system of self-inquiry that can lead anyone to transform their perspective.
Here’s how it works.
First, take a pen and paper and write down a thought that is causing you pain. I invite you to join me and try this for yourself.
We’ll use the example, “As an older woman, people see me as having less value.”
Be still, and answer this as honestly as you can. Look for your own answers, not anything you have been told or taught.
Look more deeply. Look for answers that go beneath the ordinary response. Picture a wide variety of situations, and check whether the statement still seems true.
Does the thought make you feel hurt, diminished, insecure? Do you get quiet or act with less confidence? Do you hold back on expressing your personality and sharing your wisdom?
Do you miss out on enjoying situations because you do not feel valued? Do you push people away due to feeling hurt or angry?
Close your eyes and wait. Imagine yourself, just for a moment, without this thought. How does this feel? Imagine how you might live differently without this thought. Imagine being confident and secure, not worrying at all about what others are thinking. Imagine how people might respond to you.
To create an incredibly powerful turnaround, turn the thought upside down and consider any opposites. For example, “As an older woman, the world sees me as having MORE value,” which certainly may be true. Or another turnaround could be, “As an older woman, I see MYSELF as having less value.”
With each turnaround statement, take your time and deeply consider how it might be true in your life. Look for specific examples of how the turnaround might be true, maybe even more true than your original statement.
The idea is to open your mind to other possibilities; alternative ways of seeing your life that can bring you peace.
I love the turnaround and use it on a regular basis to open my mind to new possibilities.
Here is another example. My thought, “I need to help my grandchildren more,” can become, “I need to help my grandchildren less,” or “My grandchildren need to help me more!” All with some ring of truth!
This process of inquiry fits with current research on the biology of the mind. Prominent neuroscientist Antonio Damasio (The Feeling Of What Happens) identified our tendency to get stuck in familiar, repetitive narratives about our lives that may not accord with the truth.
Byron Katie provides a simple clear method of questioning these narratives. For me, investigating a painful thought using the four questions and turnaround of “The Work” brings great freedom as I shake loose the places where my mind has been stuck and open up to other possibilities.
I highly recommend her book, Loving What Is, to give you a fresh and original way of looking at your life differently.
What painful thoughts plague your mind? How can you use Byron Katie’s method of inquiry to transform them? What other methods have you used? What were the results? Please share with our community!