Stop Trying to Change Others. Start Within Yourself.
Stop Trying to Change Others. Start Within Yourself.
Byron Katie is an esteemed author and thought leader who has spent years helping people around the globe do “The Work” needed to change their perspective on the world. “The Work” is a simple, yet powerful, process of inquiry that teaches you to identify and question the thoughts that cause all the suffering in the world. In her new book, “A Mind at Home with Itself: How Asking Four Questions Can Free Your Mind, Open Your Heart, and Turn Your World Around,” provides her insights into how we can liberate ourselves from our most painful thoughts. Read an excerpt below and learn more about the book here.
The Work deals only with reality. Everything in the world is doing its job. The ceiling sits on the walls, the walls sit on the floor, the curtains are hanging in front of the windows; they’re all doing their job. But when you tell yourself a story about how reality is supposed to look, you end up arguing with the ceiling or the wall, and it’s hopeless. It’s like trying to teach a cat to bark. The cat won’t ever cooperate. “No, no,” you may tell it, “you don’t understand. You should bark. It would be so much better for you if you barked. Besides, I really need you to bark. As a matter of fact, I’m going to devote the rest of my life to teaching you how to bark.” And many years later, after all your sacrifice and devotion, the cat looks up at you and says, “Meow.”
Trying to change people leaves you in a hopeless state of mind, because you just can’t do it. That’s what I love about reality: it is what it is. It won’t accommodate itself to you, however you try to will it or force it or trick it or positive-think it into changing. As I often say, if you argue with reality, you lose—but only 100 percent of the time. People change or they don’t. It’s not your business; your business is to understand your own mind. When you understand your mind, you feel gratitude when they change and gratitude when they don’t. You can argue with reality all you want, or you can stop arguing long enough to understand it and be free. You come to know for yourself what’s true, and that’s where your freedom is; it has nothing to do with anyone else in your life. People will just keep pressing your buttons until you understand. Isn’t that wonderful? It’s a setup for total enlightenment, as long as you’re willing to question your thoughts. I call it “checkmate.”
The Buddha says that even one glimpse of the truth is worthy of our deepest respect. The basic realization that other people can’t possibly be your problem, that it’s your thoughts about them that are the problem—this realization is huge. This one insight will shake your whole world, from top to bottom. And then, when you question your specific thoughts about mother, father, sister, brother, husband, wife, boss, colleague, child, you watch your identity unravel. Losing the “you” that you thought you were isn’t a scary thing. It’s thrilling. It’s fascinating. Who are you really, behind all the façades?
The Buddha talks about a life fully transformed by insight and lived in perfect clarity. This might sound exaggerated or idealistic, but it’s the simple truth. It really is possible to live a life of perfect clarity, without a single problem. All it takes is the willingness to question whatever stressful thoughts arise in the mind: “I want,” “I need,” “He should,” “She shouldn’t”—the unexamined thoughts that argue with reality and cause all the suffering in our lives. Once the nature of the mind is understood, suffering can’t exist. Emotions such as sadness, anger, and resentment are the effects of believing our stressful thoughts. When we learn how to question these thoughts, they lose their power over us. Eventually, if a stressful thought arises, the questioning arises at the same instant and the thought unravels before it can have any effect. This leaves us with nothing but peace. Peace, and a lot of silent laughter.
You can’t control people or dictate to them or silence them. You can only listen and put yourself in their position—not only in their position, but in the lowest position you find. And as you realize for yourself what is true, everything apparently above you flows down toward you, the way streams flow down to the sea, since you have become an example of what is true and humble and wise. The Buddha, the self that is realized, the self that sees no self or other, is master of nothing and no one, not even mind; it is simply a master of understanding. When the mind understands itself, it’s no longer seen as an enemy and is no longer at war with itself. It finds its peace in the humblest position. Everything creative is born out of that.
Byron Katie’s new book “A Mind at Home with Itself: How Asking Four Questions Can Free Your Mind, Open Your Heart, and Turn Your World Around” is in stores now and available online here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Byron Katie discovered inquiry in 1986. She has been traveling around the world since 1992, teaching The Work directly to hundreds of thousands of people at free public events, in prisons, hospitals, churches, corporations, battered women’s facilities, universities and schools, at weekend intensives, the nine-day School for The Work, and her 28-day Turnaround House. She is the author of three bestselling books: Loving What Is, I Need Your Love–Is That True?, and A Thousand Names for Joy. Her other books are Question Your Thinking-Change the World, Who Would You Be Without Your Story?, A Friendly Universe, and, for children, Tiger-Tiger, Is It True? STEPHEN MITCHELL’S many books include the bestselling Tao Te Ching, The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, Gilgamesh, The Gospel According to Jesus, The Book of Job, The Second Book of the Tao, The Iliad, and The Odyssey.