Self-Inquiry and The Work of Byron Katie
In the world of leadership and organizational work where we are aspiring to access new paradigms and possibilities, it is crucial to have personal practice for opening our minds and hearts in the places we get stuck. Fear, assumptions, judgements, limiting beliefs and stressful thinking can close us down – particularly in the face of change and challenging situations.
As leaders, facilitators, and change agents, we want to step fearlessly into the challenges of change, conflict, and the unknown as we look for new ways to be in work and to ‘solve’ the problems of the world. We want to connect with each other deeply, listen and collaborate and be able work with a wide diversity of people – whoever shows up – and to reach out beyond that with a genuinely open mind and heart. We want to bring the very best of ourselves to our work and life and to hold truly open space for ourselves and others to do good work.
Whether we are aware of them or not, our own limiting beliefs and thinking impact our actions, what we pay attention to, the choices we make, who we can work effectively with, and what we are able to see (or not see) as possible. Our own thinking can also have a strong effect on how much satisfaction and enjoyment we get from our work, and our ability to learn and grow.
Sometimes we hit a place where we close – where we are afraid, confused, overwhelmed, stressed, hurt, angry, or stuck, where we are firmly attached to outcome, where we are not ok with ‘whoever shows up’, or ‘when it is over…’, where we are afraid and not feeling at all ‘prepared to be surprised’, when we are caught up in needing the approval of our client, or our boss, or our colleagues, or we find a particular person or group difficult -or impossible- to work with and we are unable to listen and act wisely and compassionately.
“It’s not our differences that divide us. It’s our judgements about each other that do.” Margaret Wheatley, Author, Leadership and the New Science; Turning to One Another
The Work of Byron Katie is simple yet powerful process of self-inquiry. It is a skillful process for working with your own thinking to open space where you find your mind and heart closing or closed. The effects of working with yourself in this way can be profound – allowing you to access your own intelligence, experience possibility that was unseen from the stuck place and experience authentic connection to yourself and others.
In my work as a leadership coach, facilitator and trainer in participatory process – including Open Space Technology – I have found this Work to be profoundly powerful for myself as well as with my clients and colleagues. For me, The Work is ‘family’ to all the other participatory and connecting group and leadership processes – and doing this work alongside them supports my ability to host that work at a deeper level.
The Work of Byron Katie offers a skillful and effective way to engage directly and compassionately with your own thinking in these places of closing. Through a process of self-inquiry, based on simple and powerful questions and your own honest answers, you have the opportunity to reconnect with your own clear mind and heart. From that place there is more opportunity to experience possibility, learning and authentic connection or contact – ‘genuine contact’ – with ourselves, other people, our wisdom and life – and lead, collaborate and create from that place.
“Inquiry helps the suffering mind move out of its arguments with reality. It helps us move into alignment with constant change. After all – the change is happening anyway, whether we like it or not. But when we’re attached to our thoughts about how that change should look, being out of control feels very uncomfortable”. Byron Katie
The Four Questions and Turnarounds of “The Work”
Doing the Work consists of two parts: identifying what you are thinking or believing when you are stressed or closing; and then taking your stressful thought or belief through a process of inquiry using the 4 questions and ‘turnarounds’ of The Work as your guide. Anyone willing to answer honestly can do this work, and it can be done with a facilitator asking you the questions, or as a journaling exercise where you write down your own answers. This Work is best understood by experiencing it for yourself. I invite you to give it a try with something that has you stressed or stuck.
Working with one belief/thought at a time – you answer each of the 4 questions. This work is a meditation – and you are invited to open your mind and see what answers arise. Prepare to be surprised!
Question 1. “Is it True?”
It seems like an obvious question, but we often don’t stop long enough to really consider it, especially when we are stressed. Take your time to contemplate it – and then land on a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. There is no ‘right’ answer – the power is in inviting the question in and opening your mind to find your own honest answer – not what you have been told by others or assume, but what is true for you when you get still and access your own deeper wisdom about it.
Question 2. “Can you absolutely know that it is true?”
Similar to question one, this gives you another chance to contemplate if your answer was yes to the first question. Again a simple yes or no is invited, and either is fine. Again the gift is taking the time to drop a little deeper and consider the possibility of both yes and no – invite some balance – and see what shows up.
“The CEO needs to be at the meeting”. Is it true? Can I absolutely know that it is true that we need her to be there?
“We need more money”. Is it true? Can I absolutely know that it is true – that we can’t do this without more money?
“They don’t listen to me“…. Is it true? Can I absolutely know that it is true that they are not listening – can I know that for sure?
Question 3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
This question invites you to notice the effect of attaching to the thought/belief. How do I feel? How do I act? How do I treat myself and other people? What am I not able to do? Again it is a meditation – not a judgment – just watching and learning.
How do I react and show up when I believe that they don’t listen to me? What does that feel like? What happens?
Question 4. Who would you be without that thought?
This question invites you to see – just for a moment – who you would be in that same situation if you did not believe that thought. Again just open your mind and see what you experience.
Who would I be in that same situation without attaching to the thought “they don’t listen to me”? What would that feel and look like?
And then there is a playful part of the Work called the ‘turnarounds’ where you take the initial stressful or stuck thought/belief and ‘turn it around’ in different ways to explore where the opposites or other perspectives could be equally or more true. This is another meditation very specific to the situation, a way to open your mind, to open space for balance in perspective.
For example: If I am working with the thought: “They don’t listen to me”
Turned around to the opposite: They do listen to me (and then I really consider where this could have truth and find examples.)
Turned around to the ‘other’ – I don’t listen to them (and then I get to see where this could also be true – where am I not listening?)
Turned around to myself – I don’t listen to myself (where do I not even listen to myself in this situation? Possibly because I am so worried about what they will say or do I am not really listening to me either.)
And then I allow some silence to sit with myself in what I have answered and found.
There is no specific advice or ‘to do’ as an outcome of doing this work. I just find that I am more open on the other side of it, and from that place I am often able to connect where I couldn’t, or see options where I didn’t, and experience more peace. Sometimes the effect is immediately profound, other times it is subtle. Sometimes I don’t realize what it has shifted until later and then I notice somewhere I was stuck and I am not anymore, or someone who triggered me just doesn’t anymore. This Work invites me out of my “I know” mind and into a place of presence and connection with what is really happening and what else is possible.
The questions are simple – and I have found they can take me to very deep places of learning and transformation in work and life. I have been doing this Work for more than 10 years – myself and with others – and it still amazes and moves me on a regular basis.
If you are curious and want to know yourself more deeply in the places you are stuck give it a try.
For more information about The Work in application to leadership and organizational work, go to my website under The Work at Work. I also have free resources to download and more detailed instructions on my site.
The Work is applicable to any place of stress in both work and other areas of life. There is also a wealth of information and resources about The Work on Byron Katie’s website.
About our Guest Blogger: Caitlin Frost is a facilitator, teacher and coach working with transformation, conversation and authentic leadership. She is a Certified Facilitator and trainer of The Work. Caitlin works across North America with individuals and groups wanting to open space for more possibility in their lives and work. She has had a deep practice in The Work for more than 10 years and continues to be amazed by the transformative power of inquiry. She lives on Bowen Island with her family and is a Partner in Harvest Moon Consultants.
The Work in Business – with Byron Katie A unique international offering for a 3 day intensive with Byron Katie in Amsterdam, February 8-11th
The Work @ work – What is holding YOU back? – with Caitlin Frost A weekend intensive applying the Work to leadership and professional work – University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, May 27th and 28th
Beyond Belief – with Caitlin Frost A weekend in the Work – working with limiting beliefs to find more possibility, peace and freedom. All experience levels. Windhorse Farm, Nova Scotia, Canada May 4-6th
Being Peace – with Caitlin Frost A weekend in the Work - Salt Spring Centre of Yoga, BC, Canada, April 13 – 15th