Turning Around Your Stories with The Work of Byron Katie, Part 3

Welcome to the final post in the guide to The Work, a powerful system of self-inquiry that allows us to undo our painful thoughts and beliefs. In this post, we look at the most powerful, and yet most misunderstood component – the turnarounds, which involves finding the various opposites to your original story. We address the controversies and misunderstandings, as well as look at tips and variations. A very tricky area to explore, so be prepared for a long post!

Introducing The Turnarounds

The final step of the Work is to find the opposites to our original story. This step is tremendously freeing, and allows you to move out of the most deadly trap Ive encountered in self-work: rigid positions, such as “I am right”, or “I am innocent”.

Before we begin, I have to emphasize these points – Katie states them in her material but severely under-emphasizes them:

  1. Not all the turnarounds work. If one feels wrong, move on. As you get more familiar with the Work, you can return to it – taking your time, sitting in the waiting state of mind. Perhaps the turnaround will work then, but if it still doesn’t, don’t force it.
  2. Let the turnarounds find you. It is not always a good idea to think it through logically (although sometimes it might work). More on this later, but for now, treat it just like the first four questions – sit with it. Or you could find a turnaround logically, and then sit with it to see if it feels right.
  3. As it is the most powerful part of the process, there is a tendency to jump straight to it without educating the mind through the four questions first. However, if you do so, the turnarounds can work against you, and actually make you feel worse. Many critics do this – in evaluating the system, they skip the four questions, and then see the turnarounds as “rubbish”.

The reason for these points are the misunderstandings I see around the Internet. This is common when dealing with bigger topics. For instance, the statement: He should stop hitting me. One of the possible turnarounds: He shouldn’t stop hitting me. Critics often point to this and say that The Work is advocating violence, or rape, and so on. They don’t realise the instructions – if a turnaround doesn’t work for you, move on!

But more on this later. First, lets look at the turnarounds themselves. What exactly are they?

Using the Turnaround

There are at least three turnarounds possible to each thought, sometimes more. Here are some possibilities –

  1. To the opposite
  2. To the extreme opposite
  3. To the other
  4. To yourself

To continue the angry husband example from Part One:

He should have accepted my apology

  1. He shouldn’t have accepted my apology.
  2. He should have kicked aside my apology.
  3. He should have accepted his apology.
  4. I should have accepted my apology.

Depending on the statement, and how much time you sit with it, it is possible to find even more. Below Ill describe some variations that doesn’t work for all thoughts.

The first is putting yourself in all of the positions. This is likely for more complex thoughts: She is wrong when she called me a jerk can become I am wrong when I called me a jerk.

The second is the “my thinking” variation. See if you can replace anything with “my thinking”. My thinking should have accepted my apology is a good example. Often, our thinking is what is really causing our suffering, and this allows us to see it clearly. The angry husband argument was over – he is no longer shouting at me – but I am keeping it alive in my thoughts. Who is really hurting me? Him? Or my own thinking?

Another way to use this variation is in dealing with objects or things. Our body is a good example. My body is too fat can become My thinking is too fat. Perhaps it is only in our thinking (influenced by society or a mad quest for approval, maybe?) that there is something wrong with our bodies. Try applying this especially to illness – youll find the inquiry hard but liberating if the turnarounds find you.

You might be thinking there is a lot of mental acrobatics involved in this, so once again, let the turnarounds find you. When you “get it” of your own accord, the “ah-ha!” moment and resulting impact is much more profound than trying to twist it around to fit something you’ve read.

Other turnarounds don’t make sense initially, or require a background in spiritual principles – Ill describe them in the next section. You might want to try turnarounds without reading ahead first. The additional thoughts I provide are merely a prompt – if they still don’t feel right, move on. You can come back after a few days or weeks if you want.

Other sources for prompting are the dialogues in Katies books, or even on YouTube (remembering that videos there are highly condensed edits, not the full dialogue).

Explaining The Basic Turnaround

Some of the turnarounds are easy and make perfect sense. My core belief There is something fundamentally wrong with who I am can be turned around to There is not something fundamentally wrong with who I am. Katie also suggests finding three examples of each turnaround. These can range from the small to the big.

For instance:

  1. I tied my shoes right today (this might seem silly, but for people in the depths of depression and self-hatred, these make a difference).
  2. I corrected the shopkeeper when he gave me too much change (a bigger example).
  3. I always consider the feelings of those I meet (a broad example, the type most people try to find initially).

Even if all of your examples are small, thats perfect. Ive found small examples especially important when dealing with loss: I need him/her to be in my life. By looking for things you did right without them, you can slowly see for yourself that you are doing just fine, regardless of what you think or feel.

Explaining The Other Turnarounds

But what about the other turnarounds? A lot of them don’t make sense initially. Lets discuss some of the most common ones.

I shouldn’t have lost my job / missed the concert.
I should have lost my job / missed the concert.

If you let the turnarounds find you, you might find your own examples of how this turnaround is true. On one level, what did you actually lose? Was the concert really that good? Did you really want to go, or was it just to keep up appearances?

On another level, what happened might have been beneficial. Perhaps losing your job allows you to finally get a job you like, or it might have given you some time to re-assess your priorities. If you missed the concert, you might have used the free time to enjoy that book you’ve wanted to read. Now, this might be a bit harder for bigger issues – I shouldn’t have got cancer. But sit with it for a while, and see what comes up.

He shouldn’t keep hitting / molesting me.
He should keep hitting / molesting me.

One of the most controversial turnarounds on the internet, and the most tricky, so forgive my wordy explanation.

The original statement represents inner resistance, and that is always painful. The bigger the difference between your thoughts and reality, the more suffering. And yet, non-resistance does not mean you give up taking action. It just means your thoughts align with reality, and reality is unchangeable right now. This is not saying it wont change in the future, though.

Lets say you have a toothache. You are going to go to the dentist anyway. You can go in a state of peace – without the resistance, loving your tooth as it is. Or you can go in a state of mental discomfort in addition to the physical pain – my tooth shouldn’t be hurting.

And so when we turn it a thought around, for example, into He should keep hitting me, it doesn’t mean that we are supporting violence. This works on two levels. Firstly, we align our thoughts with reality. He should be doing whatever he is doing at the moment, until he doesn’t, simply because that is reality. We should be sitting when we are sitting, when we stand up we should be standing, and when we begin walking we should be walking. Any other “should” is disparity and resistance.

Secondly, when we do take action, non-resistance raises efficiency. This might be easier to see with a smaller example. Perhaps someone is screaming at you; naturally you want her to stop. If you have no resistance – She should be shouting. That is maximum alignment. You can easily take appropriate actions, like calming her down, or leaving peacefully before things get out of hand.

But what if you are resisting? You think she shouldn’t be shouting, and so you get angry or scared. You begin to retaliate, or cry, or run away screaming. In which scenario is she more likely to stop?

Can you see how these principles begin to tie into the turnaround we have been discussing? This is very tricky to explain; very prone to misunderstandings.

Further Reading: The Peace of Non-Resistance

He should have accepted my apology
I should have accepted my apology

There are countless explanations of this turnaround. While you are encouraged to find your own, Ill describe my favourite here. In the angry husband example, I was still upset even after I left the restaurant. For days, I replayed the argument – I shouldn’t have said this, I should have said that. But this turnaround is clear – I should have accepted my own apology, be satisfied that I had done my best to do the right thing, regardless of his reaction, and let the matter rest.

He should have accepted my apology.
He should have accepted his apology.

This is an example of a turnaround that didnt work initially. Nothing arose for a long time, so after a few days I returned to it and eventually something did arise. It was a bit of a stretch, but this was what arose, and it made a strange sort of sense to me.

He had ruined his own night. An accidental bump to his wife, followed by repeated apologies – what else did he want? What else could one reasonably do? If he had wanted me to do something else, perhaps pay for his dinner or whatever was on his mind, he would have been better served by telling me directly instead of shouting and pointing. And by staying angry and glaring at me even after I walked off, he had ruined the rest of his own night.

The Turnarounds On Other People

The turnarounds take on a slightly different meaning when it is applied to other people. Many people write the the Judge Your Neighbour Worksheet (found on the sidebar of this page) on people they care for, not enemies. For instance I am upset at my husband because he smokes too much.

One of the turnarounds to that is I smoke too much. How is that possible, one might ask, if they don’t smoke at all? Sit with it, and see what arises. You might find that you are smoking too much in your head – everytime he lights up, you light up inside your head, and you are suffering from the ill effects as well. Perhaps you then start an argument, which makes him even more stressed out, and he lights up even more.

This is one of the most beautiful parts of the Work – it incorporates principles of Carl Jungs shadow work, without explicitly mentioning it. One of the core ideas of shadow work is that one reacts the most to the trait in others, that they have disowned in themselves. For instance, I hated the angry husband for not forgiving and forgetting. In doing the turnarounds, I realised the laughable truth – that I was not forgiving and forgetting him.

Living The Turnaround

But it extends far beyond that. Many times your shadow, your own negative traits, are hard to see, or don’t show up in the exact same way. A few months ago, I was angry at a friend of mine for not returning the money I lent him. I always paid my debts, and so I saw myself as an upright man. I couldnt imagine a time I had been dishonest with money, so convinced was I in my own false moral superiority. And soon after I did the turnarounds, I began laughing. The night before I had just spent hours playing a computer game I had copied illegally from my friend! Wasnt that stealing, wasnt that financial dishonesty?

And it is for this reason that we have to live our turnarounds. As soon as I was able to, I went out and purchased the original game. I never even opened the box, since I had finished it anyway, but it just felt like the right thing to do.

This step can be very uncomfortable for some, especially if it involves people (it can be very difficult to apologise to someone, even more so if it is someone you are convinced has hurt you) – but do the right thing, and your heart will thank you for it afterwards.

The Final Turnaround

The last statement we fill in on the worksheet is: I don’t ever want to _______. For example, I don’t ever want to be ignored again. The turnarounds to this statement are a bit different. We change it firstly to I am willing to be ignored again and sit with that for a while, before changing it to I look forward to being ignored again.

Again, this causes some controversy, so some important points.

  1. Turn this statement around only when you feel complete with the previous ones. In other words, when you no longer hate or feel upset about that person, having undone the thoughts in the previous statements of the worksheet. It might take a while, but this is important.
  2. The reason for this turnaround is to reduce resistance – which we discussed above – to similar events in the future. It would be nearly impossible to go the rest of your life without meeting people you dislike. By sitting with this turnaround until you can genuinely believe in it, it wont hurt us as much the next time it happens. One day you will suddenly realise it happened and you werent bothered at all. And that is the day you wont have any enemies.
  3. The controversy to this is caused by superstitious thinking. Perhaps it is the Law of Attraction / The Secret, but sitting with this statement brings up fear for a lot of people. Again, this is why we should only begin on this after undoing all our other painful thoughts. This is just a form of meditation to reduce resistance to life – it wont cause what youre afraid of to manifest in your life. Nor is it a form of masochism.
  4. Lastly, this turnaround is severely underused. A lot of people I know skip it completely. I used to do the same, but after trying it, it is now my favourite part of the Work.

Final Thoughts

And so we come to the end of the basic guide to the Work of Byron Katie. Ill be exploring some unconventional issues, such as entrenched ego positions, in future posts – and will be referring to The Work as a good way to undo those. So I hope this guide has given you some incentive to explore this system.

Youll notice that this guide has emphasised some safety rules, mainly because it is more of an introduction for newcomers. Once you get more familiar with the Work, you can try discarding these training wheels. Personalise your meditation, explore it deeply on your own – especially the turnarounds – and watch as the full impact begins to dawn on you.

Lastly, the Work can involve some uncertainty at the start. Sometimes you are not sure if you are doing it right, or sometimes issues return to bug you. don’t worry, it is just like any other skill – we all have to go through a period of incompetence.

Mini Book Review

Phew! What a long post! Lets finish off with a mini book review. No affiliate codes inserted.

If you want more information, I highly recommend Katies book, Loving What Is. It contains the basic description of the system, and dialogues of Katie facilitating people on various topics. Eventually it leads into wonderful topics such as life and death, self-limiting beliefs, going far beyond your neighbours. The sections on troubleshooting, going deeper, and frequently asked questions are worth the price of the entire book.

Another fantastic book is I Need Your Love – Is That True? While it superficially deals with relationships, the subject matter is in fact much more beautiful. It also contains different applications of the Work that are definite musts for fans.

Her third major book – A Thousand Names for Joy, is a bit more esoteric, and I would only recommend them for people who are deeper in non-duality and spirituality.