Byron Katie created The Work, a simple yet powerful process of inquiry that teaches us to identify and question the thoughts that can cause suffering, as an opportunity to sink into our vast inner world, notice what we discover there and emerge from it with insights that create personal freedom. Byron’s best-selling books, Loving What Is, I Need Your Love—Is That True? and A Thousand Names for Joy offer guideposts for powerful shifts that allow the mind to return to its awakened, peaceful and creative nature. Recently she returned to Esalen for her 15th year of teaching Loving What Is.
Esalen News: What excites you most about working with others?
Katie: Just realizing that everyone has equal ability to do The Work. If you ask somebody their name and they answer the question, they can do this work of inquiry. I become excited when I watch people fall into the magic—the response within them that matches the question. I don’t ever get tired of watching people drop into what matters.
Esalen News: Did you feel a greater sense of responsibility when the book Loving What Is soared in popularity?
Katie: No. Because anything I do, I put it out there and it either helps people or it doesn’t. I do what I’m called to do. I don’t have to guess.
Esalen News: Sounds like there’s a loving detachment there for you.
Katie: Yes. I have The Work in me and the freedom it offers was gifted. So, if it was a gift, a gift belongs to everyone. But everyone may not see it as a gift. Inquiry can be tough. We’re tapping into our identity, after all. I don’t think I have anything valuable. I just support people to discover what’s valuable and it lives in them. People show me the path to walk.
Esalen News: Your humor stands out in your workshops and lectures. Did you always have a sense of humor or it did emerge through this work?
Katie: Oh my, I came from depression—deep and dark. But when inquiry lives in me, there’s no room for depression. Anything that would cause depression would be anything I am thinking and believing. I’m looking from the inside, not the outside.
Esalen News: What value is there in exploring The Work in person with others?
Katie: Many ways. Maybe somebody is frightened to say something or is feeling guilty about thinking something. And then, all of us, as an audience, get to watch the person’s courage. I’ll ask the person, “Is it true?” And then they drop in and explore that and everyone in the workshop can see that this is what inquiry is, and notice what happens when we believe a thought. We all get to witness how the mind works and the emotions. To be able to get in touch with both of those allows us to look at the ultimate cause and effect of emotions and life itself, and the cause of pain and suffering. When I work with that one person, that person is the teacher. I’m just someone with more questions. We all get to grow in these settings.
Esalen News: You’ve noted that in doing The Work, all it takes is a pen, paper and an open mind. Is loving what is and inquiry a bit simpler than we might realize?
Katie: If we do The Work, we move our mind—what we’re thinking and believing—to paper. Everyone wants the mind to stop at one point or another. This allows everyone to stop the mind and when we get it down on paper, we can question our thoughts with these four questions:Is it true? Can you absolutely know it’s true? How do you react when you believe that thought? Who or what would you be without that thought?
It’s not so personal even though it’s entirely personal. We can then flip it around and meditate in the opposite of those responses—try them on like a new pair of shoes. We’re not exchanging a negative for a positive. It’s not one or the other. There are no have-to’s. It’s just noticing. It takes contemplation and stillness.
Esalen News: You speak of the story we tell ourselves, I’m curious if you experience your own life as a story or is there something beyond the story you experience more now by having done the work? If so, what is that?
Katie: Well, life shows me what’s true in the moment. I don’t have to add belief or disbelief onto it. Once we know the nature of everything, it’s not so difficult. If I look at something and I’m tearing it apart—it’s too short, it’s too tall, too fat, too thin—I’m looking at an impoverished world and I’m going to feel that emotionally and that can cause depression, and can move to addictions. This is a beautiful world. It’s what we’re believing about the world that could use a little work.
Esalen News: How can we implement your teachings to continue our own self-care?
Katie: One way is to understand is that it’s a process. It’s not some kind of bullet that’s going to last forever and ever. The mind is going to show you what’s left. By the time you leave Esalen, you are going to understand how to approach that mind that would think certain things, cause negative emotions and cause us to say and do things that hurt ourselves and others. You take it home and realize that if you ever need to use it, there are downloadable worksheets at www.thework.com.
Everyone would do inquiry if they understood the power and didn’t believe the mind, which might say: “I’m too tired” or “I’ll do it later.” We can practice compassion. We have so many beautiful modalities within us.
Esalen News: Why is Esalen an ideal place to learn and engage in The Work?
Katie: Esalen is a place I go because it is a forerunner. We wouldn’t have what we have today without the minds who created Esalen. At Esalen, we go for it. I love the quiet, the beauty and the intimate setting.