Is this writing really a criticism of Byron Katie and her popular self-help method The Work? Perhaps a critique more than a criticism.
I am an advocate for The Work and consider it to be an effective method for life improvement. The Work is based upon a belief I came to embrace some time ago: emotional suffering is a result of thought streams, not external events. This is contrary to what most people believe.
Most people believe situations cause them to feel angry, anxious, depressed, despairing, etc. This outlook is, in fact, wrong. It is not situations but our interpretation of them that causes emotional reactions. More specifically than this, believing our thinking causes suffering.
Here’s how suffering happens:
A thought arises, sometimes in response to an external event and sometimes not. This thought essentially says ‘life is bad’. This thought is accepted as truth, and an emotional reaction occurs in response: anxiety, depression, anger, despair, whatever else.
Emotional suffering is no more complicated than this. Feel free to try and dispute it, but an honest assessment of suffering will bring you back to this reality.
Within The Work Katie advocates inquiring into the validity of the thoughts that cause us suffering by applying four questions to this thinking: Is it true? Can you absolutely know that it’s true? How do you react when you believe the thought? Who would you be without the thought?
After applying these four questions we turn the original thinking around in a way that’s as true, at least potentially, if not more true than the original thought.
John causes me to suffer may turnaround to I cause me to suffer.
I consider The Work to be quite clever in how it forces us to subjectively consider our thinking as well as the cost of believing harmful thought. As I’ve already said, The Work is an effective life help technique. So where’s the criticism?
If I do have any issue it’s not with The Work so much as Byron Katie’s interpretation. Katie operates from the belief that we are best served to accept what is, which I entirely agree with. But Katie goes further than simply accepting what is and advocates embracing, and even loving, what is.
In one example of this, Katie encourages a man with cancer to embrace the idea of his cancer continuing to spread (see video of this Here). Some video responders praised Katie’s approach but I wasn’t comfortable with it. I don’t believe being at peace with what presently is means excluding future change. Couldn’t the man have accepted his present cancer condition but also considered a future scenario where he didn’t have cancer?
Why was important for him to accept an absolutely fixed outlook about his circumstances? Isn’t change possible?
I believe that people can — not always but certainly in some instances — change their life circumstances as they would like these circumstances to be. I am an advocate for and believer in intentional manifestation, sometimes referred to as Law of Attraction, where Katie seems to deny the validity of it and appears to advocate accepting whatever comes and not attempting to change life.
I don’t agree with this outlook. I do advocate accepting what is but I also advocate attempting to change what will be (what is coming) according to our preferences if we’re genuinely able to do this. If we’re not genuinely able to change circumstances then we return to acceptance.
Is this discrepancy between what Katie and I believe significant? I believe so, but it doesn’t change my support for The Work itself. It’s Katie’s particular outlook that I have some issues with, not The Work.