A part of the Radical Humans Series
Life swallows us whole into an unknown blackness, we walk through the labyrinth of her intestines sharing what nourishment we can, to eventually be excreted as dirt and fertilizer for new life. Our experience of walking through the world is a parallel for all that moves internally within us.
Douglas Hofstadter refers to this universal truth as internal external symmetry in Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. In hermetic philosophy the phrase “as within, so without” sums it up again. The external universe is merely a reflection of your internal world and vice versa.
Haruki Murakami puts it elegantly: "things outside you are projections of what's inside you, and what's inside you is a projection of what's outside you" and Hofstadter comes in again to complete the thought "round and round, in a never ending loop."
So I’ve hammered this point enough times by now, I must really care about it. Why?
Well, since your external circumstances are merely a reflection of what’s going on inside of you, it is of paramount importance to tend to the inner realms! That is, if you want change in the external realms. And my experience tells me that one of the most powerful internal realms is the realm of beliefs. So while I have my preferred methodology for working with beliefs, I also have numerous backup tools for working with special cases and in circumstances where something a little custom is required.
Enter one of the techniques that I find valuable for such a special circumstance - The Work of Byron Katie.
This was actually one of the first tools that I learned when working with beliefs. It introduced me to the power of belief work. I find it useful for working with circumstantial beliefs, but I find other tools more powerful for working with permanent beliefs about ourselves or the world.
So for example, if I were to get upset with someone and think “they should have done it differently!” I will suffer as long as I believe that. This is a circumstantial belief, and The Work is perfect for handling this type of belief.
But if a person had the belief “I’m unworthy” which was formed in their childhood as a result of repeatedly not getting the love and care they needed from their parents, I would choose a different tool to proceed. In these circumstances 90% of the time I use what I call the Belief Removal Process which is a combination of the methods I’ve found work best. I draw primarily from the work of Morty Lefkoe, with significant contributions from the work of Bruce Ecker and Steve Andreas.
But back to the focus of this article - The Work of Byron Katie. For as I mentioned above, when the belief is circumstantial, Byron Katie is my go to.
How to do The Work? Well, for the official process go here. Byron Katie’s tools are free and easy to use. For my take, keep reading.
Step 1: Identification
Identify the belief, which in this case will be a judgmental thought pattern. One of the most common themes in these circumstantial beliefs is the presence of a “should.” For example “they should be more careful.”
Step 2: Reality Testing
Ask yourself the question, “is this statement true?” If your response is “no” proceed to step 3. If your response is “yes,” follow up with the question, “can I be absolutely sure that this is true?” The answer to this is invariably “no” because any statement that includes a judgment is inherently incapable of being proven true. If it were a factual statement, that would be a different matter, but then again we wouldn’t need to work on it as a belief if it were a fact.
Step 3: Identifying Impact
Ask yourself, “who am I, how do I behave, when I believe this thought?” With this we connect the way you are feeling and living in the world with the belief, and clarify that the way you feel is a result of the belief and not external reality.
Step 4: Identifying Possibility
Ask yourself “who would I be, if I never again believed this thought?” Here we clarify what life would be like without the belief, which is typically much better than it is now. Usually we are calmer, more decisive, more compassionate, and more loving without these judgmental beliefs. In the process of identifying this we add fuel to the fire that is burning the belief away.
Step 5: The Turnaround
Now, ask yourself “is it possible that the opposite is equally true or more true?” And identify all the evidence that supports the conclusion that the opposite is more true. In this step we are making conscious and explicit that which has been hidden in your mind and hence has been creating the imbalance and the judgment. When you recognize that the opposite is more true, you get freedom from the desire for reality to be different than it is. As Naval Ravikant says, “a desire is a contract I make with myself to be unhappy until my desire is met.” With things that are out of our control, desiring change is a surefire recipe for suffering.
As Byron Katie says - “When I argue with reality, I lose. But only 100% of the time.”
I hope you find an opportunity to use this practice the next time you are suffering and wishing things were different than they are.