Book Review: Loving What Is – Four Questions That Can Change Your LifeShannon Leahy October 1, 2008
Author: Byron Katie
Publisher: Penguin Group
Book Publication: 2002
Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life invites readers to question their life stories and transcend thinking that causes suffering and separation.
Operating from the premise that it is our thoughts, not our lives, that cause suffering, Katie shares how she woke up one day (at age 43) “to reality and discovered the Work inside of me.” As a self-professed “non-spiritual person,” Katie promises that “the Work is merely four questions; it’s not even a thing. It has no motive, no strings. It’s nothing without your answers. These four questions will join any program you’ve got and enhance it. Any religion you have – they’ll enhance it. If you have no religion, they will bring you joy. And they’ll burn up anything that isn’t true for you. They’ll burn through to the reality that has always been waiting.”
Transcripts of Katie guiding workshop participants through the Work vividly detail how painful thoughts can be released if the stories we tell ourselves are met with understanding. “A thought is harmless unless we believe it,” Katie writes. “It is not our thoughts, but the attachment to our thoughts, that cause suffering. Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true, without inquiring.” So, for example, a man who is furious at his uncle for giving bad stock tips that cost him his life savings is invited to apply the Work’s four questions against his painful interpretation of the event. The Work’s inquiry consists of the following questions: Is it true? Can you absolutely know that it’s true? How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? Who would you be without the thought?
As the man examines his thinking, he’s able to complete the final stage of inquiry and the most difficult part of the Work, known as the “turnaround” (his revised interpretation). Comically, the man’s thoughts of “I need my Uncle Ralph to bail my ass out from financial ruin,” transforms into the turnaround “I need myself to bail my ass from financial ruin.” At one point, the once seething and irate man exclaims, “This is hysterical!”
Katie’s co-author and husband, Stephen Mitchell, wisely warns the reader in the introduction that “a first experience of the Work, as a reader or onlooker, can be uncomfortable. It helps to remember that all the participants . . . are on the same side here; all of them are looking for the truth.” Referring to the Work’s buildup to the Turnaround (some participants are unable to accept the final step), Mitchell explains, “Toward the middle of the dialogue, when Katie asks, ‘Do you really want to know the truth?’ she doesn’t mean her truth, or any abstract, predetermined truth, but (the participant’s) truth, the truth that is hidden behind (the) troubling thoughts.”
It’s rare to recommend a book on the condition that readers visit the author’s website first, but in the case of Loving What Is, it’s good advice. If readers are unfamiliar with writers such as Eckhart Tolle and Abraham and the Hicks, or have never seen or heard Katie interviewed (Oprah is a big fan), then the Work might be interpreted as infuriating and offensive. The book clearly captures Katie’s gentle nature, but her mastery at unshackling people from suffering is best revealed on video. Loving What Is, although a wonderful testimony to Katie’s compassion and participants’ courage, should be accompanied by Katie’s comprehensive and interactive website (www.thework.com/index.asp). The video footage of people seeking freedom from the misery of their minds is not only inspiring but humbling; their painful stories are universal.
Whether learning about the Work on video or by transcript, Loving What Is consists of exposing painful thinking to the loving light of inquiry. By working through a brave system of inquiry, people can transcend suffering. Katie fulfills her promise that once we have the desire for peace and the courage for the Work, everything that remains untrue burns away, leaving nothing behind but freedom.