Examining Cause and Effect with The Work of Byron Katie, Part Two

In this series, we discuss the Work, a powerful system of inquiry that allows us to undo our painful thoughts and beliefs. This guide looks at the next set of questions – facing up to the cause and effect of our thoughts. It is highly recommended you read Part One first, unless you are already familiar with the Work.

Step Four: How We Live Our Life

Many newcomers stick to the first two questions of the process – but the next set of questions are just as important, if not more. It brings us face to face with the suffering our thoughts cause, and in doing so, gives our confused minds a legit reason to drop thoughts they have stubbornly held on to.

The importance of this step cannot be overstated. In the previous post, I discussed many issues I had found hard to shift. One example would be people who had cheated me of money – I firmly believed, and society would agree, that they did me wrong. This made me hold on tightly to the “rules”, to my righteousness, and therefore to my suffering.

Another example would be the core beliefs that had been with me since childhood. One of the biggest: There is something fundamentally wrong with me. I could gather all the logical evidence I could, I could debate it all I want, but such deep-rooted beliefs were very hard to shake. I knew that dropping my story would bring me freedom, but I found it hard to genuinely let go. I had believed it for so long, I had enmassed so much evidence to support it – which brings us to the value of this set of questions.

Although we superficially recognise that these thoughts and thoughts are painful, our natural avoidance mechanisms do not let us fully face the suffering they bring us. We minimise or deny the hurt, or feel that we are punishing them by holding on to the pain. Sometimes, we would rather be right than be happy, or possibly, we even secretly enjoy the negativity – all this confusion, that keeps us clinging on to these thoughts! But these questions cut right through the mess and gets to the truth.

And so the next question in the process:

How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?

Describe in detail how you live your life when you believe this thought – on all levels of being: your behaviours, your emotions, and your thoughts.

On the level of behaviours – do you shout at people? Do you smash walls, drive too fast, drink too much? Do you become sullen and angry? Do you hide and withdraw? Do you keep yourself hidden, afraid to participate in life? Do you always pick the wrong lovers?

On the level of emotions – What do you feel? Anger, sadness, misery? How does it feel? What physical sensations come with it? A tightness in your chest, heat?

On the level of thoughts – where does your mind go? Does your mind relive the insults? Does it spend hours in the past, thinking of what you should or shouldnt have said, or fantasising about revenge?

When we really sit down to answer this question, taking our time, we might begin to see connections we couldnt before. My sense of defectiveness had crept into so many parts of my life, and had been there for so long, that I had thought much of my behaviour was normal. So be open during this process, and dont judge or punish yourself – you did the best you could given what you knew.

The downloadable material on Katies website also gives several supplementary questions – my favourite is: Does this thought bring stress or peace into your life?

Step Five: Without The Story

Who would you be without the thought?

And this brings us perfectly to the last question – close your eyes and imagine yourself without the thought. Weve indulged in the pain in the previous question, now imagine living your life right now, sitting on the chair, without the thought. Describe yourself on all levels of being as well – how would you feel, what would you be thinking, how would you behave? Does that seem more peaceful?

A useful variation would be to imagine your past without the thought. Imagine being in that situation, seeing that person, or even your life in general without the thought. Would you still have been that upset, would you still have behaved the way you did, would you still indulge in addictions? How about the future? Without the thought, how would your life change, how would you react the next time it happens or you meet someone like that?

Katie often states here: With your thought, suffering. Without it, peace. So how can that person be the cause of your pain? It is your own unquestioned mind that is causing it.

The purpose of this question is to give you a taste of life without the painful thought. Sometimes, the answer is “I dont know”. And thats perfectly fine. We have been bound to our stories for so long that we dont know what it is like to be without it.

Again, Honesty

Here I have to emphasise, once again: honesty. Very often, with the thought, hell, without it, heaven. But sometimes the answer to this question was a feeling of freedom, a lightness of being, but it also brought a fair amount of fear. On a few occasions, it made me feel even worse. Remember: dishonesty blocks the process, stops it from working.

For instance, when I realised the people I hated were actually innocent, or merely doing the best they could (remember this is not always the case, it could be different for you) – I felt horrible and guilty for having said the things I said to them. I felt petty for harbouring thoughts of revenge. I felt weak for having been hurt.
But thats actually good – that just brings up more painful thoughts to inquire into. Write down the thoughts that arise, and inquire into those once you are done with the one you are currently working on.

Without Any Story

Katies worksheets often come with supplementary questions. One of my favourite is to look at that person without any story whatsoever. In the case of the angry husband, I relived the restaurant scene where he shouted at me. But this time I dropped all my stories – just letting him be completely as he is, without any shoulds, stories, or beliefs, letting him simply be who he is. I remember a tremendous release, almost an explosion in my chest, as everything just dropped. Try it – of course, dont expect or try to force drastic results all the time, but be open to the possibility.

Getting What You Want

And to finish off this part of the guide, a variation of the inquiry. If you have ever filled in the Judge Your Neighbour worksheet, youll notice that one of the prompts is – What do you want that person to do?

How do you inquire into that with the first two questions? We want them to be polite, we want them to be this, to be that. Of course that is true! We can use the traditional first two questions, but my favourite is instead the supplementary question – Can you absolutely know that you will be happier if you got what you want?

As mentioned, the answer will often be a resounding yes. But take your time, and simply see what is happening around you right now. A man, a woman, sitting in a chair, looking into your thoughts. If you had gotten what you want, what would have been different? You would still be sitting in a chair, looking into your thoughts, but perhaps with different memories. The satisfaction you get from getting revenge, from being right, from bending that person to your will is not happiness; it is a bittersweet experience, hollow and empty.

What causes our pain is our inner life. And the good news is, in my experience, genuine happiness comes from the same. As long as we dont look into that, we can do whatever we want externally, perhaps getting some respite or temporary satisfaction – but at the end of it, the same thoughts and emotions will return. Which thoughts or emotions do you want to have as your basic state?

“Can you be absolutely sure you would be happier if you got what you wanted?” Be honest – what would the difference be in your life?

Whats next?

There is one last part to this guide, and then we will start exploring some of the deeper issues I have been working on. We will be looking at the schemas used in schema therapy, which saves us all the exploration work, as the system has already compiled the universal shames and painful beliefs almost all of us feel. Well have some rest posts in between, so those who dont click with the Work can get some material to work with anyway. Stay tuned!