Meeting Your Thoughts with Understanding

The Work is a simple yet powerful process of inquiry that teaches you to identify and question the stressful thoughts that cause all the suffering in the world. It consists of four questions that you apply to a stressful thought. It’s a way to understand what’s hurting you, a way to end all your stress and suffering. It works for everyone who is open to it, and it has a profound effect on your whole life. It will affect not only your own life, but your partner’s life and the lives of your children and your children’s children.

A thought is harmless unless we believe it. It’s not our thoughts, but the attachment to our thoughts, that causes suffering. Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true, without inquiring. A belief is a thought that we’ve been attaching to, often for years.

Most people think that they are what their thoughts tell them they are. One day I noticed that I wasn’t breathing—I was being breathed. Then I also noticed, to my amazement, that I wasn’t thinking—that I was actually being thought and that thinking isn’t personal. Do you wake up in the morning and say to yourself, “I think I won’t think today”? It’s too late: You’re already thinking! Thoughts just appear. They come out of nothing and go back to nothing, like clouds moving across the empty sky. They come to pass, not to stay. There is no harm in them until we attach to them as if they were true.
No one has ever been able to control his thinking, although people may tell the story of how they have. I don’t let go of my thoughts—I meet them with understanding, then they let go of me.

Putting the Mind on Paper

The first step in The Work is to write down your stressful thoughts about any situation in your life, past, present, or future—about a person you dislike or a situation with someone who angers or frightens or saddens you. (There’s a sample Worksheet in Loving What Is, or you can go to and download and print a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet.)

For thousands of years, we have been taught not to judge—but let’s face it, we still do it all the time. The truth is that we all have judgments running in our heads. Through The Work we finally have permission to let those judgments speak out, or even scream out, on paper. We may find that even the most unpleasant thoughts can be met with unconditional love.

I encourage you to write about someone whom you haven’t yet totally forgiven. This is the most powerful place to begin. Even if you’ve forgiven that person 99 percent, you aren’t free until your forgiveness is complete. The 1 percent you haven’t forgiven them is the very place where you’re stuck in all your other relationships (including your relationship with yourself).

If you are new to The Work, I strongly suggest that you not write about yourself at first. If you start by judging yourself, your answers often come with old motives and with answers that don’t work. Judging someone else, then inquiring and turning it around, is the direct path to freedom. You can judge yourself later, when you have been doing inquiry long enough to trust the power of your own truths.

If you begin by pointing the finger of blame outward, then the focus isn’t on you. You can just let loose and be uncensored. We’re often quite sure about what other people need to do, how they should live, whom they should be with. We have 20/20 vision about others, but not about ourselves.

When you do The Work, you see who you are by seeing who you think other people are. Eventually you come to see that everything outside you is a reflection of your own thinking. You are the storyteller, the projector of all stories, and the world is the projected image of your thoughts.

Since the beginning of time, people have been trying to change the world so that they can be happy. This hasn’t ever worked, because it approaches the problem backward. What The Work gives us is a way to change the projector—mind—rather than the projected. It’s like when there’s a piece of lint on a projector’s lens. We think there’s a flaw on the screen, and we try to change this person and that person, whomever the flaw appears to be on next. But it’s futile to try to change the projected images. Once we realize where the lint is, we can clear the lens itself. This is the end of suffering, and the beginning of a little joy in paradise.

The Work: Four Questions and a Turnaround

The Work can be applied to any thought that causes you anger, fear, sadness, or frustration—any thought that keeps you from living in peace. Thoughts such as “My mother doesn’t love me,” “My boss doesn’t appreciate me,” “I’m too fat,” “I need to be healthier,” “My children should obey me,” or “My brother should stop drinking” pass through our minds many times a day. When you believe these thoughts, you suffer; but when you question them, you can discover what is really hurting you. Once you realize the difference between what is real and what is not, you naturally begin to act with clarity and efficiency and to live the life you always wanted to live.

After you have filled in the blanks on the Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet, you question each of your statements with the four questions of The Work and then you turn the statement around. (The turnaround is a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believe.)

Stressful thought: “My husband doesn’t listen to me.”

The four questions:

1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
3. How do you react when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?

Apply each of these four questions in turn to the stressful thought. Ask yourself the question, sit still, wait, and allow your answer to surface from deep within.

Once you have walked yourself through the four questions, turn the thought around by finding opposites to the statement you wrote. “My husband doesn’t listen to me.” One turnaround is “My husband does listen to me.” Find three genuine examples of how that statement is true in your life. There are other possible turnarounds, such as “I don’t listen to me” and “I don’t listen to my husband.” Find three examples for each turnaround.

When you question your stressful thoughts, you come to see that everything that has been troubling you is just a misunderstanding. You realize that what you believe isn’t necessarily so. This is the beginning of freedom. The Work always leaves you as a kinder, clearer, happier human being.

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life”, visit

Author's Bio: 

Byron Katie is an internationally renowned speaker and author. Over the past twenty years, she has introduced The Work to hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world, at free public events, in corporations, universities, schools, churches, prisons, hospitals, in weekend intensives, and at her nine-day School for The Work. “Katie’s events are riveting to watch,” the Times of London reported, “and not just because people are baring their souls. Katie's laser-like tough love burns away all illusions.” Eckhart Tolle, the best-selling author of The Power of Now said, “Byron Katie’s Work is a blessing for our planet.” And Time magazine named Katie a “spiritual innovator for the new millennium.” She has written three best-selling books: Loving What Is, I Need Your Love—Is That True?, and A Thousand Names for Joy. Her website is, where you will find her blog, her schedule, a network of facilitators of The Work, a free hotline, audio and video clips, articles, and basic information about The Work.