Personal blog

Four questions that can change your life

I finally finished reading ‘Loving What Is’ by Byron Katie, which has been on my reading list forever. I was a little conflicted about my review for this book – and I still am. I didn’t like it at first and then I grew to love it, although I still have some serious issues with it. Anyway, here is my review.

Let me start by saying that ‘Loving What Is’ is a self-help book, so it’s non-fiction and works with a number of case studies to get its point across. Basically, the book is about our ‘uninvestigated thinking’, which causes much of our unhappiness. The author states that we are disturbed not by what happens to us, but by our thoughts about what happen to us. And by changing these thoughts we will find peace and happiness. YOU are the only one who can end your own suffering. This is a good starting point for a reader like me, who’s a control freak. I was intrigued.

The four questions and turnaround

Katie writes that by asking yourself four simple questions you can let go of your uninvestigated thinking that is causing you distress. This she calls doing ‘The Work. The questions are:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?

And the turnaround…

Turn it around and find three genuine examples of how the turnaround is true in your life.

So there it is: The Work. Katie writes that The Work allows us to change our mind, the projector, rather than the projected (reality). What I like about the book is that it consists of a number of case studies, from her experience, that show how this works. The book discusses a number of issues, from children not doing their homework, to husbands cheating on their wives and even child abuse. For every issue, Katie has an answer. We suffer, because of our own thinking. A thought is harmless unless we believe it.

“With the thought, you’re depressed. Without the thought, you’re not depressed. So, can you see that it’s your uninvestigated thinking, not your child’s behaviour, that is depressing you?” – Byron Katie

I like the idea that our suffering, no matter what it is about, is under our control. I like any book telling me that my problems are my own, and that I can easily change them. I also like the idea that reality (“what is”) is always kinder than the stories we tell about it and to some extent I believe that (yes there’s a BUT coming, but not yet!). Where Katie makes a good point is when it comes to our thoughts about “what should be”. She writes that we should only concern ourselves with “what is” and not the way things should be. When you think that something shouldn’t be there you get confused (because there it is). That doesn’t help you and causes unnecessary suffering.

“When I argue with reality, I lose – but only about 100 percent of the time” – Byron Katie

All our suffering, according to Katie, originates because we argue with reality. These internal arguments we have with ourselves are ‘stories’ we create in our minds. Without these stories, we are at peace and successful wherever we are. We are hurting when we argue with reality. The problem is always our own uninvestigated thinking. Prior to the thought, you were at peace so you need to do The Work to lose the thought.

“Nothing ever goes wrong in life. Life is heaven, except for our attachment to a story that we haven’t investigated” – Byron Katie

Here’s my problem with The Work (and there’s a few). Katie believes that nothing terrible ever happens, except in our thinking. Reality is good, it’s the story we tell ourselves that is the only nightmare we will ever live. I can’t disagree more. It’s so simple to see life this way, and believing this will surely make you feel peaceful. But things happen, both bad and good, and thinking it’s all in your mind just seems like denial to me.

Suffering is caused by attachment to a deeply embedded belief

The Work is basically about finding peace and happiness. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, but life isn’t always peaceful and happy. This is the problem I have with most self-help books. We all want to feel good and be happy, but feeling like we should feel good all the time can also cause tremendous stress. The Work seems to leave no room for emotions like grief, sadness or anger, which are all a part of life. Reality isn’t as black and white as Katie suggests. We are human, we need to grieve and take the time to feel sad, angry, or upset sometimes. These emotions are healthy and help us to let go and move on. Some problems are far more complex than Katie suggests and feeling good or at peace all the time is just NOT realistic.

It’s not happening here, except in your mind

My second point of criticism is that reality may be “what is”, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it or simply learn to live with it. We’re not zombies, just smiling and accepting “what is” and thank GOD we’re not. The world would never change! We feel the way we do for a reason, whether it’s positive or negative. Letting thoughts go may make us happier or more at peace, but what kind of world would we live in if we just accepted “what is” and never reacted or fought back?

Many of us suffer every day of our lives, from their thoughts of the past

Here’s my final point of criticism: Katie’s work is based on turning certain self-destructive thoughts around, but sometimes I feel bad without really knowing why. Oftentimes there are no thoughts for me to turn around. ‘The Work is all about turning thoughts around, but these thoughts aren’t always as evident as Katie would like us to believe. It’s easy to blame ourselves for the way we feel, but pain isn’t always as simple as Katie suggests and these challenges are simply a part of life.

Having said all that, The Work can really help in many non-conplex situations you encounter in your life. We do spend a lot of time worrying about non-existent problems that we make up in our minds. To even consider that one of these painful thoughts may not be true will let a little light into our lives, Katie writes, and I agree. The world is your perception of it and I also truly believe that inside and outside always match. My kindness, or sadness, or anger, very rarely has anything to do with someone else. My emotions are mine – but the negative ones are just as important to me as the positive ones. They help me grow. Peace includes being able to deal with the bad stuff as well as the good. Katie believes that we are all responsible for our own peace and I agree, although the path to peace may not always be as simple as she suggests.

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