This is my summary/interpretation of the book Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life by Byron Katie.
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?
Thoughts are forever flowing through our head. For the most part, thoughts themselves aren’t even true, they’re just a haphazard selection of ideas flying by our attention. Some of these thoughts cause us to feel bad — and we need to understand that there’s a cause-and-effect going on: negative thoughts cause us to feel bad. It’s not the external circumstance that causes the problem, it’s the negative thought about that circumstance that causes the problem — that’s it. When we imagine ourself in the same situation but without the thought, the situation always seems better.
In addition: it turns out that we are to blame for all our problems. Everything we think others should do, WE should do instead.
Whenever we believe that thoughts represent truth, we’ll suffer with stress. Like breathing, thinking happens automatically — and like the air we breathe, thoughts flow in and out. There’s no problems until we attempt to hold one in or keep one out — just let the thoughts flow unimpeded.
Everything that happens SHOULD happen. Don’t attempt to argue against something that already happened — it’s a recipe for pain.
We must mind our own business and stay out of everyone else’s business (including reality’s business). Attempting to control the world and everyone in it is a recipe for stress.
Unpleasant feelings are an indication that we are believing a negative thought. When we use unpleasantness as a means to find these thoughts, we can perceive their falseness and their ability to cause pain.
All the answers we need are within us. Essentially, when left alone, life takes care of itself. Any problems we experience are due to a belief in false thoughts. Stop believing in these pain-producing thoughts and life readily works itself out.
The external world we experience is a direct reflection of our thinking. We project our thoughts and stories onto the screen in front of us. It’s a bad idea to run over to the screen to try and change what’s on it. The better approach is to change what’s being projected in the first place. In other words, if there’s dirt on the lens, clean the dirt off the lens, not from the screen it’s projected on. Likewise, our problems originate inside, in our thoughts — not on the outside.
It turns out that every external problem we think we’re having, serves as a map to the actual problem in our thoughts. In this way, we can eradicate the source of every perceived problem we have.
Step one: if we’re feeling stress, trace it to the offending thought and write that thought down (this freezes the thought and allows it to be examined). Every stressful thought basically boils down to: “this shouldn’t be happening”.
For the first two questions, the answers should be “yes” or “no” — that’s it.
Example thought: My mom doesn’t understand me.
Is it true? Yes. Oftentimes her responses indicate a lack of understanding.
Can you absolutely know that it’s true? Hmm, I suppose I don’t know what’s actually going on in her head. No.
How do you react when you believe that thought? I feel misunderstood and separate. I then proceed to treat her like she’s a dummy. Overall it makes me feel bad.
Who would you be without the thought? I’d be more content in general and I’d be more satisfied with my interactions with her.
Turn the thought around:
Turnaround to self: I don’t understand myself.
Example: Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m trying to say. Why should I expect her to understand everything I’m saying?
Turnaround to other: I don’t understand her.
Example: It’s true, I’m not always sure what point she’s trying to make. And maybe she did understand me, but I couldn’t understand how her response was appropriate.
Turnaround to the opposite: My mom does understand me.
Example: Overall we do seem to communicate effectively, maybe I’m just nitpicking the little things.
The turnarounds are the medicine we seek. By pointing the outwardly-projecting thought back at ourself, we realize the true source of the problem. And when we know the source, we experience relief.
Whoever’s around us will expose our weaknesses, and in that way we’re taught to improve. And every “he/she/they should”, is really “I should”. We will blame others for our suffering and paint them as scapegoats — but the true source is always the confusion found in believing our own thoughts. Everything others say we are, we are — never defend, just see the truth in what they say. Whenever we feel defensive, we know we’re hearing the truth.
We are sad because we tell ourself sad stories. When we change the story we tell, we change our experience of existence. And there’s never anything to forgive, simply because we cause our own problems. Never wait for a particular condition to be true in order to be happy, “skip the middleman and be happy now.” Despite any tumult that surrounds, remain calm and unconfused, then we become an example for our surroundings to follow. “With the thought, there’s stress, and without the thought, there’s peace.”
The experience of existence is as gentle and pleasant as the stories we tell about it. If we don’t want stress, don’t argue with what’s happening. In this moment, everything is as it should be. Nothing needs to change, it’s not our business anyway.
Stressful feelings and suffering are the result of believing that a thought represents reality. Whereas if we don’t believe thoughts, the effect is a peaceful life. Life is paradise when we no longer default to trusting thoughts.
Whenever we feel wronged or insulted, how many times do we replay the scene in our heads? WE are the abuser that torments ourself with repeated showings of the incident. We are more unkind to ourself than anyone has ever been.
“I am willing to…” turnaround: I am willing to have my mom not understand me.
“I look forward to…” turnaround: I look forward to my mom not understanding me.
With these types of turnarounds, we embrace what-is. We no longer have to deny certain circumstances or assign them the label of “things to avoid”. We can be fine with whatever happens. Inner-peace is attainable right now.
What is within our power to change? Our thinking. So that is what we should change. If we want to clean up the world, we must start with our thoughts. We have everything we need right now. We have the right amount of money and financial security for the moment we’re in.
When we realize a problem is our own darn fault, we laugh — suddenly we’re no longer a victim and we have the power to fix things. We go from loser to winner. Whereas when we blame others, and think our suffering is their fault, we’re forever a victim and constantly stressed-out. We often abuse ourself through others.
Try this instead:
Step 1: Notice an unpleasant feeling.
Step 2: Write down the associated thought.
Step 3: Ask the four questions.
Step 4: Turn the thought around.
Step 5: Feel much better.
Love is the only motivation we need — not anger or fear or frustration or guilt.
Self-judgement example thought: “I’m a failure.”
Is it true? Yes.
Can you absolutely know that it’s true? Hmm, maybe I’m doing exactly what I should be doing. So, no.
How do you react when you believe that thought? I feel like a loser. I feel bad.
Who would you be without the thought? I’d be more confident and I’d feel better.
Turn the thought around:
Turnaround to the opposite: I’m not a failure. I’m a success.
Example: I do what I do — I’m successful at being me.
Using “My thinking” instead of “I”:
The statement becomes: My thinking is a failure.
And it’s true, my thinking makes me feel bad.
Decisions are already made. When the thought to do something appears, do it. That part of our story begins with the thought, and ends when the activity is completed. In this way the story of our life unfolds before us. The internal debate about doing something is the problem. Instead of doing, we worry. Don’t worry, just do.
For the best circumstances, the mind must be clear. If the mind is turbulent, the world will appear so too. It’s useless to work on the image that’s projected, we need to work on the projector itself. And when the mind is clear, our impulses will show us where to go and what to do — that’s a happy life. Whereas if the thoughts are stressful, then it’s time to ask the questions and turn the thoughts around.
Unpleasant feelings are simply an indication that we’re confused. Ask the questions and turn the thoughts around to become unconfused. The world should be a source of joy and comfort — until it is, keep asking and turning.
Substitute “my thinking” for the perceived problem:
Example thought: “I don’t like violence because it makes me feel bad.”
In the turnarounds this becomes: “I don’t like my thinking because it makes me feel bad.”
or: “I don’t like my thinking about violence because it makes me feel bad.”
Our bodies maintain balance and are self-healing, they’re more than capable of running themselves. What gets in the way is our stories about our body. “My body is sick! My body is in pain!” Confused thoughts are the problem, never the body itself. Let the body take care of itself, we’re not capable of controlling the circumstances surrounding its smooth operation. The only thing we can contribute to a healthy body is our healthy thinking — focus on that. The body is a reflection of the mind: a sick mind leads to a sick body — heal the mind, heal the body.
Ultimately we can’t know anything. Therefore, the best course of action is to accept life exactly as it is in every moment. Develop a positive perspective and proceed from there based on the inspiration we’re provided. And the way in which we develop a positive perspective, is to blame our problems on our confused thinking — NEVER blame the world or life itself or our body or our choices or other people — our problems begin and end with our confused thoughts. Fix the confusion, and the problems disappear. In other words, stop trying to wipe the screen at the other end of the room, clean the lens of the projector instead.
The world is attempting to help us perceive our confused thinking. Nothing out-there is ever as bad as the internal hell we create with our incessant maschochistic thoughts. We imagine the worst and repeatedly live those thoughts everyday. We craft a horror-story and fantasize that we’re in it with no way out. We perceive injury and insult and replay it within our minds over and over again for years. We assign roles to people, making them the villains of our life. Yet WE are the villain tormenting ourself in a prison of our own design. We are the villain tormenting others, treating them as if THEY’RE the bad guys.
Without the horror-story, life becomes a joy to experience. Investigate the horror-story by using the four-questions and the turnarounds in order to discover its untruth. The pain we experience right now is self-inflected — it’s based on a story we tell ourself. We must stop being so unkind to ourself. Explore the depths of these horror-stories and let the light in. Start with whatever is causing stress right now.
Thoughts just appear. Pain comes from blindly believing them. Undo this attachment to the untrue thoughts, then feel relief. The path to a peaceful life begins and ends within — no other input or participation of others is necessary. The world we experience WILL reflect our own internal mental state — a joy-filled mind leads to joyful circumstances. When we finally understand that this is a benevolent world, our questioning will be over.
Remember: our judgements about others become a prescription for ourself. Any advice we give out, is actually for ourself. We are our own student.