Introducing “The Work”

By Mary Braud, M.D.

Can you change your life by answering four questions? Author Byron Katie believes you can. She has been demonstrating the power of the process she calls “The Work” through her books, audio programs, and workshops, including a nine-day intensive called, “The School of the Work” for several years. Answering the four questions is a powerful method for discovering the impact of our thoughts and beliefs. According to Katie, all suffering is the result of an unquestioned mind. She urges us all to question our way out of the prison of our pain into the freedom that is only possible when we are no longer held captive by our thoughts.

“The Work” is one very powerful way to change thoughts.

Her method may seem quite radical at first, and the promise of freedom from negative emotion may sound impossible. However, what she offers are real and lasting benefits. There is ample evidence from numerous studies that supports Katie’s claim that changing your thoughts can change your life. This advice is, of course, nothing new. Teachers from all across the ages and in various cultures have said the same. However, it’s one thing to appreciate the necessity for changing perceptions and another to know how.

“The Work” is one very powerful way to change thoughts. The process of doing the work begins with identifying stressful thoughts. Any thought that causes pain, fear, or suffering of any kind can be questioned. Once the painful concept has been identified, the four questions are applied.

The four questions are:

1. Is it true?

2. Can I absolutely know that it’s true?

3. How do I live when I believe that thought?

4. Who would I be if I could no longer believe that thought?

The questions should be answered from deep within, as a meditation. The first question should be given only yes or no as an answer. Either is fine. The second question is answered only if the answer to the first question is yes. The third question is an opportunity to discover the impact that our beliefs have upon our lives. In answering the third question, it is important to consider all of the feelings and behaviors that result from a belief. The fourth question may seem like an impossible leap of imagination at first. It is an invitation to consider what it would be like to be released from the habitual reactions we have grown accustomed to and to be free of the difficult emotions that so often leave us in misery.

After answering these questions, the original concept is turned around. This is done in order to give the mind additional support for making a shift in perspective. This is necessary because the mind often needs to be convinced that a different view is valid and real. Katie encourages finding at least three valid ways in which the turnaround is more true than the first concept.

There are many stressful beliefs that are universal. Few haven’t struggled, at some time, with thoughts like, “I need to know what to do,” or “There is something wrong with me.” How about, “People shouldn’t lie.” There are many, many others. The last one will be examined as an example.

“People shouldn’t lie.” “Is that true?” The answer, whether yes or no, is fine. If my answer is yes, I answer the second question. Can I absolutely know that it’s true? Things to consider when answering the second question include things like, “Can I know what is true for someone else?” and “Can I know what is best for someone else in the long run?” Again, answering either yes or no to this question is fine. It’s merely information. It can be shocking to find, right away, that you really don’t believe what you thought you did.

The third question, “How do I live when I believe that thought?” In answering this question for myself, I bring to mind times in my life where someone lied or I believed someone lied. I see that I have been angry or very hurt. I have stopped speaking to some of these people and have never forgiven them. I have also been very sad and felt worthless when thinking that someone has lied to me. I felt abandoned and alone.

“Who would I be without that thought?” In each scenario that I have brought to mind about being lied to, I imagine myself no longer experiencing my pain. I see myself and the other person, only I no longer believe they shouldn’t be lying. Their behavior is unchanged; it’s my reaction that is now different. From a place of peaceful acceptance, I can see the fear that motivated the lying. I can understand why they might have been misguided into believing that I couldn’t handle the truth. Perhaps I was angry or frustrated in the past when they were honest with me. When I stop feeling like I am a failure because of someone else’s behavior, I see how blessed I am that this person is no longer in my life. I can see that I wasn’t rejected but saved.

The final step in the process of the work is the turnaround. The original concept is turned around as many ways as possible. The original thought, “people shouldn’t lie” can be turned around to the opposite, “people should lie.” Is that as true or truer? When I am no longer in my pain, I can see that people do lie sometimes. When I argue with the truth of this, I suffer. The original concept can also be turned around to myself and becomes, “I shouldn’t lie.” I look for evidence of how I have lied to myself and others in the past. I cannot expect others to do something I have not been able to do. I am lying to myself when I believe that people shouldn’t lie.

Katie’s website (www.thework. com) includes many free resources, including worksheets and guides that explain the process. There is a free helpline, and facilitators are available to do the work over the phone with anyone during certain times. Trained facilitators all over the world provide sessions for a fee as well as workshops and other trainings.

Dr. Braud’s lecture on July 16, 2009, will be about “The Work.” Come prepared to learn more about this powerful tool and to release your own painful thoughts.