Byron Kathleen Mitchell, better known as Byron Katie (born December 6, 1942), is an influential American speaker and author who teaches a method of self-inquiry known as “The Work of Byron Katie” or simply as “The Work”. She is married to the writer and translator Stephen Mitchell. She is the founder of Byron Katie International (BKI), an organization that includes The School for the Work and Turnaround House in Ojai, California.
In February 1986,while in a halfway house for women with eating disorders, Byron Katie experienced a life-changing realization:
“I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment.”
Byron Katie calls her method of self-inquiry “The Work.” She has taught it to people all over the world, at free public events, in prisons, hospitals, churches, corporations, shelters for survivors of domestic violence, universities and schools, at weekend intensives, and at her nine-day School for The Work. The Work is a way of identifying and questioning the thoughts that cause all the anger, fear, depression, addiction, and violence in the world, of experiencing the happiness of undoing those thoughts, and of allowing the mind to return to its true, awakened, peaceful, creative nature.
For a comprehensive review of The Work, please go to Byron’s website here:
In the book “Sacred America” By Roger Housden (1999), Chapter 18 is focused on Byron Katie, and contains probably the most extensive information available about her life, back when her teaching was still in its early stages.
Here is a brief excerpt:
“On through the dry country I go, through Prescott, past Salome, past dozens of trailer parks with folks out to pasture, on over the border to Desert Center (a gas station and a grocery store) to the hot and dusty backwater of Barstow, California. I am here, en route to LA, to meet Byron Katie, one of those rare individuals who, struck once by the spiritual equivalent of lightning, has never been the same since.
She hardly seemed a likely candidate for the visitation of grace. She had lived for decades in the thrall of money and power, had made and lost fortunes in real estate deals, let her kids wither in drugs and alcohol, had sunk into fits of uncontrollable rage. An obsession with food brought her to a weight of more than 200 pounds, and then to a half way house for women with eating disorders in LA.
Early one morning she was lying on the floor of her room when a cockroach crawled over her foot. She stared. She saw the cockroach as part of herself. She saw her foot move in reaction, her hand move, her body rise. In that instant she was animation observing itself. She saw the bed, and, as if she were watching an ancient dream, became aware of the belief she held that she was not worthy of a bed. In that moment, through her perception of it, the belief dissolved and she knew it was alright to lie on the bed. She had no way of distinguishing between where she ended and something else began. She was the All, and the All was her. It was 1986, and Katie was 43.
When her family came, she could see straight through their names and labels to who they were. Her hands, her husband, children – suddenly everything was one body, adored and loved in this present moment without any reference to either past or future. Her entire structure for perceiving reality as she had known it had gone. For three years Katie was in a state of continual revelation. Yet she was “a woman from Barstow,” as she is fond of saying. “Women from Barstow don’t know about spirituality and religious traditions.” She had never studied religion or done any form of spiritual practice in her life. “We would only read about gurus and such things in the funny papers,” she says. Yet what she did say, spontaneous and simple as it was, could have come from any of the great mystical teachings.
“To act without thought is divine,” she would murmur, “unknowing is everything, there is no time or space, only Love, and I am Love. Attachment and the perception of loss is the only death. Life springs forth as we let go of attachment. What I am is a complete and total love that has never left this One”. The virtually cellular change she went through on that floor in her room left her radiant, and stayed. From then on, even in the half way house, people started dissolving in tears in her presence. Yet she felt she had nothing to teach or even say. Word got round, and back home in Barstow people started turning up at the door for what they called healing, though Katie would not have said she was doing anything. People would ask what she did, and she’d say she didn’t know. She didn’t know why these people came, but they came, so it must be good. From that first moment in the half way house, she has recognized that what is – whatever It is – can be nothing less than the highest order of good and truth.”
Another (online) interview with Byron Katie, in which she describes her life and work, can be found here:
Some Excerpts From Byron’s book Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life (2002):
“Is it true?
Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
How do you react when you believe that thought?
Who would you be without the thought?
The Work is merely four questions; it’s not even a thing. It has no motive, no strings. It’s nothing without your answers. These four questions will join any program you’ve got and enhance it. Any religion you have – they’ll enhance it. If you have no religion, they will bring you joy. And they’ll burn up anything that isn’t true for you. They’ll burn through to the reality that has always been waiting.
When I argue with reality, I lose—but only 100% of the time.
You move totally away from reality when you believe that there is a legitimate reason to suffer.
An unquestioned mind is the world of suffering.
No one can hurt me—that’s my job.
Sanity doesn’t suffer, ever.
If I had a prayer, it would be this: “God spare me from the desire for love, approval, and appreciation. Amen.”
You either believe what you think or you question it. There’s no other choice.
If I think you’re my problem, I’m insane.
When I am perfectly clear, what is is what I want.
Arguing with reality is like trying to teach a cat to bark—hopeless.
How do I know that I don’t need what I want? I don’t have it.
Forgiveness is realizing that what you thought happened, didn’t.
Everything happens for me, not to me.
Reality is always kinder than the story we tell about it.
I don’t let go of concepts—I question them. Then they let go of me.
Gratitude is what we are without a story.
When I walk into a room, I know that everyone in it loves me. I just don’t expect them to realize it yet.
For me, reality is God, because it rules.
Personalities don’t love—they want something.
You are what exists before all stories. You are what remains when the story is understood.
I’m a lover of what is, not because I’m a spiritual person, but because it hurts when I argue with reality.
Everyone is a mirror image of yourself—your own thinking coming back at you.
“I don’t know” is my favorite position.
What is is. You don’t get a vote. Haven’t you noticed?
Until you look forward to criticism, your Work’s not done.
Thoughts aren’t personal. They just appear, like raindrops. Would you argue with a raindrop?
There are no new stressful thoughts. They’re all recycled.
Stress is an alarm clock that lets you know you’ve attached to something not true for you.
We do only three things in life: we sit, we stand, we lie horizontal. The rest is just a story.
The teacher you need is the person you’re living with.
Everyone and everything is doing its job perfectly—no mistake.
Ultimately, I am all I can know.
Until we know that death is equal to life, we live in fear.
There are no physical problems—only mental ones.
We never make a decision. When the time is right, the decision makes itself.
The miracle of love comes to us in the presence of the uninterpreted moment.
The last story: God is everything, God is good.
When they attack you and you notice that you love them with all your heart, your Work is done.
Seeking love keeps you from the awareness that you already have it—that you are it.
Have you asked you?
We say to others only what we need to hear.
Nothing you believe is true. To know this is freedom.
If you want to see the love of your life, look in the mirror.
Reality is always the story of a past, and what I love about the past is—it’s over.
We suffer only until we realize that we can’t know anything.
You can only see what you believe—nothing else is possible.
I could find only three kinds of business in the world—mine, yours, and God’s. Whose business are you in?
No one has ever been angry at another human being—we’re only angry at our story of them.”
Additional quotes from Byron:
“The end of suffering happens in this very moment, whether you’re watching a terrorist attack or doing the dishes. And compassion begins at home. Because I don’t believe my thoughts, sadness can’t exist. That’s how I can go to the depths of anyone’s suffering, if they invite me, and take them by the hand and walk them out of it into the sunlight of reality. I’ve taken that walk myself.”
“A teacher of fear can’t bring peace on Earth. We have been trying to do it that way for thousands of years. The person who turns inner violence around, the person who finds peace inside and lives it, is the one who teaches what true peace is. We are waiting for just one teacher. You’re the one.”
“If I say, if I talk about, ‘I want to be enlightened…’ it implies a future. And there isn’t any.”
“So there’s only transcendence in the moment. Nobody can be transcended forever. That’s why I say, ‘Who cares if you’re enlightened forever?'”
“I would go out into the desert. The desert was my teacher. I didn’t know about gurus and wise people—I wasn’t a reader.”
“Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don’t have to like it… it’s just easier if you do.”
“I’ve heard people say that they cling to their painful thoughts because they’re afraid that without them they wouldn’t be activists for peace. “If I feel peaceful,” they say, “why would I bother taking action at all?”
My answer is “Because that’s what love does.” To think that we need sadness or outrage to motivate us to do what’s right is insane. As if the clearer and happier you get, the less kind you become. As if when someone finds freedom, she just sits around all day wiith drool running down her chin.
My experience is the opposite.
Love is action.”
“The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with what is. When the mind is perfectly clear, what is is what we want.”
“Would you rather be right or free?”
“Personalities don’t love. They want something.”
“The world is nothing but my perception of it. I see only through myself. I hear only through the filter of my story.”
“Thoughts are just what is. They appear. They’re innocent. They’re not personal. They’re like the breeze or the leaves on the trees or the raindrops falling. Thoughts arise like that, and we can make friends with them. Would you argue with a raindrop?”
“The voice within is what I’m married to. All marriage is a metaphor for that marriage. My lover is the place inside me where an honest yes and no come from. That’s my true partner. It’s always there. And to tell you yes when my integrity says no is to divorce that partner.”
“An uncomfortable feeling is not an enemy. It’s a gift that says, ‘Get honest; inquire.’ We reach out for alcohol, or television, or credit cards, so we can focus out there and not have to look at the feeling. And that’s as it should be, because in our innocence we haven’t known how. So now what we can do is reach out for a paper and a pencil, write thought down, and investigate.”
“So, how do you get back to heaven? To begin with, just notice the thoughts that take you away from it. You don’t have to believe everything your thoughts tell you. Just become familiar with the particular thoughts you use to deprive yourself of happiness. It may seem strange at first to get to know yourself in this way, but becoming familiar with your stressful thoughts will show you the way home to everything you need.”
“You move totally away from reality when you believe that there is a legitimate reason to suffer.”
“Placing the blame or judgment on someone else leaves you powerless to change your experience. Taking responsibility for your beliefs and judgments gives you the power to change them.”
“Anything you want to ask a teacher, ask yourself, and wait for the answer in silence.”
“A mind that doesn’t question its judgements, makes the world very small and dangerous.”
“As long as we’re at war with our own minds, we are at war with the world and with the whole human race. Because as long as we want to get rid of our thoughts, anyone that we meet is likely to become an enemy. There is only one mind, and people are going to tell us what we haven’t dealt with yet in their own thinking. You’re fat. You’re stupid. You’re not good enough.’
If you are an enemy to your own mind, other people have to become enemies too, sooner or later. Until you understand, until you can love the thoughts that appear in your mind, then you can love the rest of us. You work with the projector -the mind – not the projected world. I can’t really love you until I question the mind that thinks it sees you outside itself . . .”
“Peace doesn’t require two people; it requires only one. It has to be you. The problem begins and ends there.”
“Trauma is nothing more than being stuck in what you believe.”
“When you act like a teacher, it’s usually because you’re afraid to be the student.”
“Maybe everything we’ve ever done has been for love.”
“There is nothing that isn’t true if you believe it; and nothing is true, believe it or not.”
“The world is perfect. As you question your mind, this becomes more and more obvious. Mind changes, and as a result, the world changes. A clear mind heals everything that needs to be healed. It can never be fooled into believing that there is one speck out of order.”
“I don’t let go of concepts – I meet them with understanding. Then they let go of me.”
“Hurt feelings or discomfort of any kind cannot be cause by another person. No one outside me can hurt me. That’s not a possibility. It’s only when I believe a stressful thought that I get hurt. And I’m the one who’s hurting me by believing what I think. This is very good news, because it means that I don’t have to get someone else to stop hurting me. I’m the one who can stop hurting me. It’s within my power.
What we are doing with inquiry is meeting our thoughts with some simple understanding, finally. Pain, anger, and frustration will let us know when it’s time to inquire. We either believe what we think or we question it: there’s no other choice. Questioning our thoughts is the kinder way. Inquiry always leaves us as more loving human beings.”
“The Work always leaves you with less of a story. Who would you be without your story? You never know until you inquire. There is no story that is you or that leads to you. Every story leads away from you. Turn it around; undo it. You are what exists before all stories. You are what remains when the story is understood. ”
There are many videos of Byron Katie available at YouTube. Here are some consisting of interviews with her: