“The more clearly you understand yourself and your emotions, the more you become a lover of what is.”
– Baruch Spinoza
Loving What Is by Byron Katie was recommended to me by Liz, a friend and talented grantwriter.
I have to admit, when I read the introduction, I did a double take. How could four simple questions fill an entire book? And how could a concept that simplistic be transformative?
You have to have a little faith and keep reading.
It was the ‘case study’ of a mother named Elisabeth engaging in “The Work” with Katie in Chapter 4 that hooked me, illustrating the powerful impact of inquiring into these judgments we walk around creating about the world and everyone in it.
I shouldn’t have been so surprised – this is the basis of cognitive behavioral therapy; uncovering the erroneous beliefs that trigger unproductive thoughts, which of course turn into self-sabotaging behaviors.
But the beauty and value at the core of Loving What Is and “The Work” is the simplicity.
The four primary questions are simply:
- 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 that thought?
The questions are easy to remember and, after moving through them systematically just a few times and experiencing the release, you really do start to notice yourself automatically questioning distressing thoughts.
This is huge.
Imagine feeling at peace with some of the most difficult people or situations in your life.
Most of us stumble upon the idea of resiliency when we are in a lot of pain. We don’t want to stew in our depression, anxiety, and loneliness any longer.
Through this type of inquiry, it becomes clear that we are the cause of our pain (and inversely we are also our own liberation).
We ruminate on the injustice, our regrets, and our failures. We continue to react to challenges with the same painful spin cycle – it’s unfair, why me, they shouldn’t have, I should have…and on and on.
“The Work…allows you to go inside and find your own happiness, to experience what already exists within you…No teacher is necessary. You are the teacher you’ve been waiting for. You are the one who can end your own suffering.”
Shoulds Are Painful Fantasies
A great place to start unraveling our arguments with reality and loving what is: our shoulds and should nots.
“…what you think shouldn’t have happened should have happened. It should have happened because it did, and no thinking in the world can change it…All the stress we feel is caused by arguing with what is.”
Many of the examples shared in the book start off with, “My husband should…” or “My kids shouldn’t…”
It’s easy to tune in to our own should-ing and start inquiring: Is it true? How do I feel, how do I act, when I believe this thought? How would I feel, who would I be, without it?
When we should on someone else, we are in their business, and necessarily neglecting our own. When we should on ourselves, we argue with reality and create distress, guilt, and shame.
Whose business am I in?
If I could only keep one takeaway from the book, this one gem would be it:
“I can only find three kinds of business in the universe: mine, yours, and God’s (universe / nature). Much of our stress comes from mentally living out of our own business. When I think, ‘You need to get a job…,’ I am in your business. When I am worried about earthquakes…I am in God’s business.”
We are wickedly talented at living other people’s lives, applying all sorts of those aforementioned shoulds, and perfectly curating our own disappointment or frustration with them in the process.
But, as so well illustrated in many of the examples in the book, if we apply Katie’s “turnarounds”, we are almost always failing to live up to those same expectations.
While Katie sticks to a straight forward, cognitive line of logic in the book, these ideas pair so well with the meditation guidance from Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart and the mindfulness concepts of Wherever You Go, There You Are – our current book club reading.
I started Chapter 1 of Loving What Is doubting it’s potential impact, but of all of the book club selections so far, I have found this one to be the most transformative and the results the most tangible. Don’t be afraid of it’s simplicity.
Some of our favorite quotes from Loving What Is:
“If you want reality to be different than it is, you might as well teach a cat to bark.”
“When I argue with reality, I lose – but only 100% of the time.”
“Reality doesn’t wait for your opinion, vote, or permission, sweetheart. It just keeps being what it is and doing what it does.”
“Everyone is a mirror image of yourself – your own thinking coming back at you.”
“Our parents, our children, our spouses, and our friends will continue to press every button we have, until we realize what it is that we don’t want to know about ourselves, yet. They will point us to our freedom every time.”
“As long as you think that anyone or anything else is responsible for your suffering – the situation is hopeless. It means that you are forever in the role of victim, that you’re suffering in paradise.”
“Since the beginning of time, people have been trying to change the world so that they can be happy. This hasn’t ever worked because it approaches the problem backward…It’s like when there’s a piece of lint on a projector’s lens. We think there’s a flaw on the screen…But it’s futile to try to change the projected images. Once we realize where the lint is, we can clear the lens itself.”