Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Wisdom for Living in Harmony with Yourself and Everyone Else

Last week, I finished reading Byron Katie's latest book, A Thousand Names for Joy, which she co-authored with Stephen Mitchell. Katie is best known for her process of self-inquiry which she calls "The Work", described in her popular book Loving What Is.

When I met Katie a few years ago at a book-signing and demonstration of her work, I felt a sense of joy in her presence and respect for how she worked with people. And I recall having wished that I had known the profound wisdom in her inquiry process during the many years I worked as a counselor with individuals and couples (not to mention for my own emotional healing earlier in my life!).

Her new book focuses on Byron Katie's response to the Tao Te Ching, the great Chinese classic book of wisdom translated so beautifully by Stephen Mitchell in the late 1980's. Each of the 81 brief chapters contains her insights about a statement from the Tao. Also included are three longer dialogue sections illustrating the inquiry process of The Work.

Among the "pearls" in her book are many about our thoughts:

"Every thought is already over. That's grace. No thought: no problem. It's not possible to have a problem without believing a prior thought. To notice this simple truth is the beginning of peace."

"You can't let go of a stressful thought, because you didn't create it in the first place. A thought just appears. You're not doing it. You can't let go of what you have no control over. Once you've questioned the thought, you don't let go of it, it lets go of you. It no longer means what you thought it meant. The world changes, because the mind that projected it has changed. Your whole life changes, and you don't even care, because you realize that you already have everything you need."

"Generosity is our very nature, and when we try to pretend otherwise, when we hold back or give with a motive, it hurts. A motive is just an unquestioned thought. On the other side of our thinking, generosity naturally appears. There's nothing we need to do to achieve it. It's simply what we are."

While I don't intend to make this a book review or treatise on The Work, I'd encourage everyone to use Katie's process to end emotional suffering in their lives by questioning the thoughts that create it. Her four questions and "turnaround" -- a way to experience the opposite of what you believe -- look simple, but they're the most powerful way I've found for dealing with any stressful thoughts. Whenever a thought upsets you, take time to ask:

1. Is it true?

2. Can you absolutely know that it's true?

3. How do you react when you believe that thought?

4. Who would you be without the thought?

Detailed instructions for the process are included in the Appendix of Katie's book or on her website, www.thework.com. I encourage you to try it the next time you're upset about what someone says or does ... or you have troubled thoughts about your life, your relationships, your work, or our country's wars "on terror", "on drugs", "on Iraq". The Work really works!
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