Byron Katie, besides being married to Stephen Mitchell, translator extraordinaire of Lao-Tzu and Rilke, speaks and writes books about doing “The Work.” I participated in a satellite workshop this summer with one of her followers and I found it very effective. “The Work” is a method of self-inquiry where one delves into one’s thought patterns and eventually asks oneself four questions about a specific thought:
1.Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
3.How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?
A few nights ago I was out with friends at a literary event/party. Sitting around with them at the after party, I turned to a woman next to our table and asked her if she was a writer. She said, “Why?” and then launched into a story about a friend of hers who was accosted by a man who asked her a similar question to which she said, “Why?” thus signaling a precedent for her response and a continuing connection to the invisible friend. I spoke about this with my friends briefly, wherein, laughingly, my original question was regarded as a pick-up line and leading one to the age-old assumption that the only reason a man would speak to woman is because he wants to have sex with her.
I find this very disturbing. The woman was fairly attractive to me, but I turned and questioned out of a sense of merrymaking more than anything. We were all at a party and now we were at another party. Let’s have some good cheer, I thought.
When I put the statement, “I just wanted to have sex with that woman,” into the four questions schema, this is how it goes:
3. When I believe that thought I feel less than, unhealthy, beastly.
4. Without that thought I would be a more soulful person, not a raging, rampaging prick.
When I put the statement, “Men just want to have sex with women,” into the schema, this is how it goes:
2. Yes, I have met many men who don’t want to just have sex.
3. When I believe that thought I feel sad because I know that relations between men and women aren’t that simple.
4. Without that thought I would be much more happy and positive, believing there is much more to people than sex, sex, sex.
In “The Work,” after the four questions there a section called “Turning the thought around,” here is an example:
Original thought: Ingmar doesn’t listen to me.
a. to the opposite – Ingmar does listen to me.
b. to the self – I don’t listen to me.
c. to the other – I don’t listen to Ingmar.
Now let’s put in my statement – Men just want to have sex with women.
a. Men don’t just want to have sex with women.
b. I don’t just want to have sex with women.
c. Women just want to have sex with men.
I’m pretty sure something went haywire there, but I think you get the point. This is about breaking down assumptions, and though another one has been created, rest assured it sits up there in all its absurdity as does the original statement.
I whole-heartedly recommend Byron Katie and “The Work.” Watch her videos, shed some skin, look alive.