2 • investigate your thinking


One of the most useful tools that I have come across to help individuals break out of the unhappiness cycle is The Work. Developed by the spiritual teacher Byron Katie, The Work is designed to identify and question the thoughts that trigger pain, suffering and distress. This takes defusion to the next level as it not only encourages you to disengage the negative thought, but guides you through a process in which insight and positive shifts in perspective are often brought about.


The basis of Byron Katie’s work is the understanding that our most intimate relationship is with our own thoughts and that the way we relate to those thoughts significantly influences the way we feel, react and behave. Because most of us believe and identify with our thoughts without questioning them, they feel as though they have considerable power over of us. However, if we question and investigate them using The Work’s process of inquiry, not only is it possible to reduce the negative hold they have over us, but this can also bring about a significant shift in clarity and understanding. It’s not about changing your thoughts, ala positive thinking, but changing your relationship to your thoughts. One of the many enlightening realisations that emerge in using The Work is that often the things we think about in relation to other people are things that are really about us. You will need to try it for yourself in order to believe it.


The exercise below gives you a flavour of The Work.


A taste of the work


Next time you have a distressing or limiting thought about yourself or your partner, such as ‘he doesn’t want to be with me,’ try the following. Part of the process is writing your answers down. Byron Katie encourages people to be as petty and childish as possible in their judgments, and then to question these judgments.


1.       Ask yourself, ‘Is this true?’ Usually the immediate response is yes or no.


2.       Now ask yourself, ‘Can I absolutely know that it is true?’ This time don’t rush to answer it, breath deeply and allow an honest answer to rise in your body. Whatever answer you get is fine. If you answer no, notice how this shifts the energy in your body.


3.       Ask yourself, ‘What happens, when I believe that thought?’ How do you react? What happens? Be specific and detailed. This gives you some insight into the power and limiting influence that this thought is currently having on your life.


4.       Now ask yourself, ‘Who would you be without this thought?’ Notice the impact that this has on the way you feel and how this changes the way you would react to your partner. Give yourself plenty of time to become aware of the new feelings that arise – breathe deeply and give them plenty of space to come up. Having done this, the real key is the turnaround, which is a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believe to be true.


5.       In the turnaround you are turning around the concept, idea or thought that you are working with. You turn it around in three directions – to the opposite, to the other and to your self. You then ask yourself, ‘Is this as true or truer than the original statement?’ For example, ‘Paul should love me’ is changed to:


  • Paul should not love me. (The reality in that moment, of course, is that he is not loving towards you. How do you know what another person should be feeling or doing? How do you know that that would be the best thing for you, for him, or for the universe?)
  • I should love Paul. (Are you loving towards Paul in that moment? Love is your job, not anyone else’s.)
  • I should love myself. (Do you love yourself in that moment? If you don’t, how can you expect anyone else to?)


6.       Finally, write a statement in which you are willing to embrace reality, because it is fighting or resisting the reality that is at the heart of suffering. For example, your statement might be:


  • I am willing to experience moments when Paul is not loving to me


Notice how freeing this is. By doing this final step, my client was not only embracing reality – because of course there will be times when Paul is not loving to his wife – but she discovered that the real so-called problem was that she wasn’t loving herself. She can’t control Paul, he is who he is, but she can control and influence the relationship she has to herself. As a result of doing this work my client, Glenda, started to redirect her energy and attention from fixing Paul to taking care of and cultivating more respect for herself. This exercise took her just 15 minutes, but provided one of the most invaluable insights of her life to date. By following these six steps you have shifted the power from the thought to your awareness. Thoughts are just perspectives and by becoming wrapped up in a particular thought it prevents us from accessing other insights and our own intuition. By going through the steps you are progressively separating yourself from the thought, so that you can decide yourself what is true for you.


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