The worst thing that ever happened is an uninvestigated thought – Byron Katie
We have all experienced stressful thoughts: people shouldn’t fight each other, the world is too polluted, my partner should love me more, I am too fat. Any thought that wants things to be different from how they really are is stressful – it brings up feelings of anger or hatred or fear or disappointment, and in my experience this is not enjoyable.
Almost 20 years ago, Byron Katie awoke from years of intense suffering with the realization that every single thing that upset her was no more than a thought. She saw that when she questioned the validity of each of these thoughts that they would let go of her, and her suffering would cease. A thought is just an idea; it is our choice whether to believe it or not.
From this discovery, Katie developed a process of inquiry she called The Work. It is incredibly simple and extraordinarily effective.
To begin with, find a thought that is causing you stress. An example might be, San Miguel de Allende is too noisy.
Now ask yourself, Is this true? Wait for the answer to come, do not force it. When the answer arrives it will be Yes, No or I don’t know.
If the answer was Yes or I don’t know, then ask Can I absolutely know that San Miguel is too noisy? Where is your proof? San Miguel is as noisy as it is; how can you know this is too noisy? Once you have considered questions like these, you will again come up with Yes, No or I don’t know. It doesn’t matter which, it was just a question.
Now ask yourself how you react when you think this thought. You may get angry and take it out on yourself or your partner or those around you. You may have trouble sleeping after being woken up in the middle of the night by honking cars, drunken shouts or church bells. Maybe you get so stressed that you decide to leave and never return. Or you could find yourself complaining endlessly about it to friends – at least until they stop returning your calls.
Once you have exhausted your reactions to this thought, ask yourself who you’d be without it. Who would you be if you were incapable of thinking that San Miguel is too noisy? It’s possible that you would be at peace. It’s possible that all these obtrusive, discordant noises could become a sweet background symphony to your life. You may be awoken by church bells in the middle of the night and be grateful for such a fitting end to your dream. Or possibly you may decide that San Miguel is just as noisy as it needs to be and you, preferring quiet, are moving to the woods in northern Oregon; no hard feelings, San Miguel, I still love you, I just don’t want to live with you anymore.
And finally, turn the thought around. There are many ways in which this might be done, the trick is finding those that are at least as true to you as the original statement. One might be San Miguel is not too noisy: it is as noisy as it needs to be. Another could be My thinking is too noisy: and when you can’t sleep at night because some church bells woke you up, it must be! And yet another could be I am too noisy: which could explain why your friends are no longer returning your calls.
This may seem far too simplistic to be effective, as it did for me when I first came across it. All I can say to this is, Is it true? Personally, I have seen it work too many times – with people ending up laughing about the most serious issues you could imagine – not to have faith in this process.
Try it and make up your own mind.