I came to know about Byron Katie through her husband Stephen Mitchell whom I encountered through his translations of Gilgamesh and the Tao Te Ching. Her work, as expressed in books, videos, website and notably workshops staged in many countries, fits easily into the “self-help” genre, especially that aspect which focuses on human relationships and the search for love; a slant which may be easily traced to her own life story and the transformation which split it into a tale of two parts: Before and After. She calls it “the Work”, and it’s made an impact upon me, as it has upon many others across the world.
I’ve never found the “self-help” genre useful, and the interest didn’t arise from any issues about relationships and the search for love. I’ve plenty experience of those, but they’ve long been resolved.
Katie’s Work is underpinned by a principle I’ve often mentioned here: achieving the freedom which comes from letting go of beliefs, which I’ve tended to call “baggage”. Her “method of enquiry” shows me how much further I can go in shedding its dead weight.
The method consists of making an honest statement of where you stand, and then giving honest answers to some standard questions. A typical statement contains the word “should”. I’ve copied the section below from her book Loving What Is. We are to imagine a person uncovering successive layers of belief which cause pain or problems, and arriving at this one, which you might think fundamental, but you could substitute any other “should” statement:
Underlying belief: my life should have a purpose.
Is this true? Yes.
Can I absolutely know that it’s true? No.
How do I react when I think the thought? I feel fear, because I don’t know what my purpose is, and I think I should know. [gives examples] I feel as if I’m wasting my life. I think that what I actually do is unimportant and that I need to do something big. This is stressful and confusing. When I believe this thought, I feel . . . pressure to complete this purpose before I die. Since I can’t know when that is, I think that I have to quickly accomplish this purpose (which I don’t have a clue about). . . .
Do I see a reason to drop this story? Yes, it’s very painful to live this way. . . .
Can I find one stress-free reason to keep this story? No.
Who would I be without the belief that my life should have a purpose? I have no way of knowing. I know I’m more peaceful without it, less crazed. . . . Without the fear and stress around this thought, maybe I’d be freed and energized enough to be happy just doing the thing in front of me.
The turnaround [try looking at it the opposite way]: my life should not have a purpose. That would mean that what I’ve lived has always been enough, and I just haven’t recognized it. Maybe my life shouldn’t have a purpose other than what it is. That feels odd, yet it somehow rings true. Could it be that my life as it’s already lived is the purpose? . . .
From Loving What Is, pp 136-137.