By Byron Katie —
I have a word for God: reality. I call reality “God” because it rules. It is what it is, and it’s so physical–it’s a table, a chair, it’s the shoe on your foot, it’s your hair. I love God. It’s so clear, so solid; it’s completely dependable. You don’t get a vote in what it does, and it doesn’t wait for your opinion or your permission. You can trust it completely.
You can know that reality is good just as it is, because when you argue with it, you experience anxiety and frustration. Any thought that causes stress is an argument with reality. All such thoughts are variations on a theme: “Things should be different than they are.” “I want…,” “I need…,” “He should…,” “She shouldn’t…” It always hurts when you argue with what is.
“What is” is a story of the past. The past is past. It happened, and you can’t do a thing about it. Argue with that! The sane alternative is to ask, “What can I do from here?”
The past is a teacher, it’s benign, it’s over. But as long as people are living with an unquestioned past, they’re living in the past. And it’s a past that never happened in the first place. They’re living in their story of the past. They’re missing what’s present right now, which is the real future. I never know what’s going to happen. All I know about it is that it’s a good thing.
People spend their whole lives dedicated to changing the past. It can’t be done. Thinking that the past should have been different is hopeless and masochistic. “My mother should have loved me.” “My child shouldn’t have died.” “The Holocaust shouldn’t have happened.” Comparing what happened to what you think should have happened is the war with God. (This is very difficult to hear when you’re attached to concepts of right and wrong.) Some people even think that sadness is an act of loyalty, that it would be a betrayal of the people they love not to suffer along with them. This is crazy.
If my child has died, that’s the way of it. Any argument with that brings on internal hell. “She died too soon.” “I didn’t get to see her grow up.” “I could have done something to save her.” “I was a bad mother.” “God is unjust.” But her death is reality. No argument in the world can make the slightest dent in what has already happened. Prayer can’t change it, begging and pleading can’t change it, punishing yourself can’t change it, your will has no power at all.
You do have the power, though, to question your thought, turn it around, and find three genuine reasons why the death of your child is equal to her not dying, or even better in the long run, both for her and for you. This takes a radically open mind, and nothing less than an open mind is creative enough to free you from the pain of arguing with what is. An open mind is the only way to peace. As long as you think that you know what should and shouldn’t happen, you’re trying to manipulate God. This is a recipe for unhappiness.
Reality–the way that it is, exactly as it is, in every moment–is always kind. It’s our story about reality that blurs our vision, obscures what’s true, and leads us to believe that there is injustice in the world.
I sometimes say that you move totally away from reality when you believe that there is a legitimate reason to suffer. When you believe that any suffering is legitimate, you become the champion of suffering, the perpetuator of it in yourself. It’s insane to believe that suffering is caused by anything outside the mind. A clear mind doesn’t suffer. That’s not possible.
Even if you’re in great physical pain, even if your beloved child dies, even if you and your family are herded off to Auschwitz, you can’t suffer unless you believe an untrue thought. I’m a lover of reality. I love what is, whatever it looks like. And however it comes to me, my arms are open.
This is not to say that people shouldn’t suffer. They should suffer, because they do. If you’re feeling sad or afraid or anxious or depressed, that’s what you should be feeling. To think otherwise is to argue with reality. But when you’re feeling sad, for example, just notice that your sadness is the effect of believing a prior thought. Locate the thought, put it on paper and question it, for the love of truth, and then turn it around.
It was you who made yourself sad-no one else–and it’s you who can free yourself. This is very good news.
Byron Katie, founder of The Work, has one job: to teach people how to end their own suffering. Katie (as everyone calls her) is the author of the following books:
Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life (with Stephen Mitchell);
I Need Your Love-Is That True?: How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation and Start Finding Them Instead (with Michael Katz); and
A Thousand Names for Joy: Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are (with Stephen Mitchell).
Question Your Thinking, Change the World: Quotations from Byron Katie was published in 2007, and Katie?s latest book, Who Would You Be Without Your Story?, released October 15th, is now available