How to Live in the NOW ~ The Value of Questioning Your BeliefsByron Katie July 1, 2010
Twenty-four years ago I experienced what people told me was ‘enlightenment.’ I didn’t know what that was. If I have to call it anything, I call it waking up from what isn’t to what is reality. For ten years I had been depressed, enraged, addicted, paranoid, suicidal.
Then one morning, as I woke up on the floor beside my bed (I slept on the floor because I didn’t think I deserved to sleep in a bed) I saw that there was no separation in the universe, that in fact there was nothing identifiable to separate, no universe, no me, no you. All that darkness was gone, and never returned, and in place of it was a peace and joy I had never imagined. The ‘I’ that I’d thought I was could no longer existed. There was only reality, nameless, brilliant, pulsing as love itself. Pure joy. Since that moment, I haven’t ever encountered anyone or anything that I experience as a problem, or that I would want to change in any way.
How do we live in that place of total non-separation? I found a technique I called ‘The Work.’ More accurately, The Work found me, in that very same moment of death and birth. Being totally in love with reality all the time is great, but it took The Work for me not to lose that awareness, not to revert back to the insanity of believing that who I am could ever be defined, that any of the thoughts that identify you or me is true.
What I learned in that moment was that all our suffering comes from believing our stressful thoughts. I saw that when I believed any of the stressful concepts passing through my mind, I suffered, but that when I questioned them, I didn’t suffer. Since then, I have discovered that this is true for every human being. We believe a stressful thought and suffering follows. That’s a law. We believe “She wronged me,” for example, and the cycle starts. I suffer from believing she wronged me, and then I try to place blame or guilt on “her,” and it cycles back and forth. This can happen in heaven, by the way. You can be in heaven and think, “That guy is playing his harp too loud,” and the instant you believe it, you have kicked yourself out of the awareness of heaven. That’s the difference between heaven and hell: believing a thought, an untrue concept. It’s the only difference. Earth is actually heaven; our unquestioned thoughts about heaven can make it seem like hell.
The Work is a way to step in between thinking a thought and believing the thought. You do The Work on the stressful thought, the one that you are believing, and amazingly enough, you may see that it’s just not true. You’ve been tying yourself in knots, and often your partner too, over a false belief, a lie. And you get to see, in detail, the cause-and-effect of the thought.
Not only that: Through doing The Work on a thought you get to see, in depth, who you would be without it, who you are without it. The reversal can be immediate. I keep seeing people turn their lives, their relationships, health, finances, around in five, ten, fifteen minutes because of the simple realization that what they’d been believing for years turns out to be untrue. Anyone with an open mind can achieve that. It comes with an incredible feeling of freedom. If it’s not immediate, if it takes more inquiry and effort at undoing, that’s also the way it should be, and it’s wonderful.
The Work is so simple – that’s one of the things I love about it. You take any stressful thought (for example, “He is mean to me”) and you question it, using the four questions of The Work. Keep in mind that your answer to the first two questions can be either a yes or a no, whatever is true for you. Whatever answer you discover, notice, be still, and then gently move to the next question and wait for your (often very shocking) answers to appear.
1. Is it true?
2. Can I absolutely know that it’s true?
3. How do I react when I believe that thought?
4. Who would I be without that thought?
After you answer the four questions, you do what I call turnarounds, which are a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believe. For instance, if your stressful thought is “He’s mean to me,” your opposites might be, “He isn’t mean to me” (or “He’s nice to me”), “I’m mean to him,” and “I’m mean to myself.” And then you find at least three genuine examples of how each turnaround is true in your life.
The point isn’t to prove who’s meaner. (Neither of you is mean. What you may be at worst is simply confused.) The point is to show that what you have been believing, when investigated, turns out to be the cause of your suffering. You can never suffer from the person you are blaming. When you realize that, no one can ever bother you, and no thought can cause you suffering. Thoughts, concepts, and the images that appear in your world all become beautiful ways of seeing life. Welcome them, let them play, notice as they move in and out, thank them. Then whatever you choose to do – stay in a relationship, leave a relationship – you do with a fearless clarity and integrity, rather than out of a fantasy of what the relationship should be giving you. Congratulations, you’re living directly out of your true nature, in reality!
It’s not about stopping thoughts or emptying your mind. That’s not possible, and even if it were, what would be the point? I love every thought that has come to me in twenty-four years; every one of them is the beloved. 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. How can you let go of what you have no control over? Once you’ve questioned the thought, you don’t have to 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 mind, because you realize that you already have – you already are – everything you ever wanted.