Sitting with Byron Katie’s Teacher

lake in rain

Who was Byron Katie’s teacher?

I Was Working with a Client Recently

He was doing The Work on anxiety, which has been a constant companion in his life.

He was questioning some one-liners such as: “I wish this anxiety wasn’t coming up. I wish I didn’t have this in the first place. This is getting in the way of what I really need to be doing.”

These Thoughts Cause Stress

When he is believing these thoughts, his anxiety increases. And so does his frustration, hopelessness, and depression. Without these thoughts, it would be much less stressful for him when anxiety shows up.

It was fascinating to see that the resistance to anxiety was the biggest cause of making it worse. Without the resistance, he would be listening for what the anxiety is actually trying to tell him. He would be alert, tuned-in, hanging on every nuance.

He Started to See the Anxiety as his Teacher

The anxiety has always let him know when he was resisting some truth, was attached to some goal, or was trying to prove something. Anxiety let him know when he was trying to protect some version of himself that he was pretending to be.

The only purpose of anxiety has been to let him know. And he’s been vigilant about checking it out: listening, and questioning what he was believing.

As he’s done his work over the years, his anxiety has gone down a lot. But now he sees the parts of his anxiety that remain not as his enemy to be destroyed, but as his friend, as his continuing, ever-patient teacher.

In Fact, Anxiety Is Just the Teacher’s Bell

The real teacher is simply the truth. If he listens to each truth that presents itself, anxiety is not needed, just as no bell is needed when the student is listening.

The turnarounds were so sweet from this perspective. “I’m glad anxiety is coming up. This is not getting in the way of what I really need to be doing.” It’s so helpful that the teacher has a bell and uses it.

He immediately saw that even when anxiety comes up at inconvenient times for him, by facing it and listening to the truth behind it, he is doing what he really needs to be doing. Other priorities become less important from this perspective. When he listens to the internal teacher, and questions his stressful thought, he can then go back to his other priorities with his heart engaged again.

It Reminded us of Spiritual Teachers

One way people learn from spiritual masters is to devote themselves to them. If the master calls in the middle of the night, or in the middle of something important, the disciple drops everything and runs to them, hanging on every word.

This is an external expression of what can also be done internally. When anxiety calls, the “disciple” devotes herself to attend to it, hanging on every word of wisdom that it brings.

This is how I understand Byron Katie’s path. She didn’t have an external teacher. Instead, each stressful experience was her internal teacher’s bell calling her to look closely and question what she was believing.

This idea was fun to play with: maybe my client’s anxiety was the same teacher—Byron Katie’s teacher, the original teacher of all spiritual teachers throughout time. Suddenly, the call from anxiety seemed very significant indeed.

The dates for the next Work 101 course have been announced: Jan 13 – Mar 17, 2019. I’d love to have you join us for eight weeks diving deeply into The Work.

Have a great week,
Todd

“When you follow the voice inside, you lose your sense of self. In my world, I can’t do anything wrong. There’s no plan. I am just an internal yes. That voice is clear to you, it’s clear to all of us, but it’s overlaid by the thoughts we believe. I used to call it the voice of the heart. I didn’t have a teacher to tell me, “This is spiritual and this isn’t,” so I just kept following the voice and losing everything. People would say, “You’re crazy,” and I would just say, “Oh,” and keep on following the voice. It’s a wonderful experiment, and what happens is that you expand into that awareness and lose yourself in a deeper and deeper way. And then other people, who are just you again, say things like “You’re so loving,” and there’s no one to thank, and you receive it fully. It’s the space that opened as you.” Byron Katie, A Mind at Home with Itself

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