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Lack of Specificity Makes Question 4 Harder

Last updated on April 8, 2021

When you try to define a cloud, it changes.

Sometimes It’s Hard to Drop into Question 4

Question 4 of The Work is a challenging question, “Who would you be without the thought?” You might think it’s impossible, just as impossible as not thinking of a pink elephant. 

And the mind will sometimes use this kind of reasoning to wriggle out of answering question 4. But when it does, you miss an opportunity to experience something new. 

Question 4 Is About Opening the Mind a Little

It’s a bit of a stretch to consider “Who would I be without the thought?” But that little bit of stretch is good. Especially, when you’re cramped up in a ball of stress. Just to stretch a little can make a big difference. 

But what if you try to stretch and you get nowhere? It happens sometimes that the thought I am questioning is so strong that I am totally bound by it. Stretching seems impossible. I can’t even imagine who I would be without the thought because I am so caught up in the thought. 

For Example, When I Believe “Mom Is Controlling”

If I’m questioning this thought, and I believe it strongly, it may seem impossible to answer question 4, “Who would I be without the thought that Mom is controlling?” It’s too big. It’s too well established as a “truth” in my mind. Being without the thought is beyond what I can imagine.

Does that mean that I can’t answer question 4 for this one? No. It is still totally possible for me to answer this question if I get a little closer to what I mean by “Mom is controlling.” 

The thought, “Mom is controlling,” is a general idea spanning my whole life. It is as undefined as a cloud. I have been believing it for so long that the belief has become an entity unto itself. I’m no longer thinking of specifics. My thought is just “true” because it’s “true,” and there’s no stepping out of it. 

To Answer Question 4, You May Need to Drill Down a Bit

Even though the belief that “Mom is controlling” has been running in my head my whole life, and even though I just assume it is true now without reference to specifics, there still were, and are, specifics I can look at.

This often comes from various specific incidents throughout my life. You can also look for them as images from the past. Those images or incidents are the legs that uphold my theory. And they are always really specific and clear if I allows myself to look at them.

For Example

There was the incident around 1994 when I wanted to study Ayurvedic medicine. I remember Mom got that serious, disapproving look on her face. I remember her saying that it was not so practical. Here is an example of a specific time when I thought she was controlling. 

So now, let me go back and try answering question 4 while holding the image from that moment. Who would I be without the thought that Mom is controlling? Now suddenly, I have something specific to look at. I’m not dealing with clouds. I’m dealing with something more concrete. 

Without the thought that Mom is controlling, when I see her discouraging me from studying Ayurveda, I just see her caring for me. I see her lifetime of experience. I see her natural inclination to go for a mainstream career (at that time Ayurveda was “way out there”). I see her thinking about money, etc. And I see her own past stories about my dad, who gave up a career in medicine to practice Ayurveda.

Without the Thought I Can Really Look at Her

Now I have a specific image to focus on. So when I ask myself, “Who would you be without the thought?” I can start seeing things that I didn’t see earlier. I am looking at that situation with new eyes looking for details that I didn’t see before. 

This is research, and it brings the possibility of new understanding. It’s like opening a cold case and looking at it with new eyes after years of being filed away. To do this, you have to get into the details. Otherwise, just waving your hand at it makes no significant change in perspective. Be a detective! Get into the details!

If there is one key to doing The Work of Byron Katie for me, it’s drilling down into the specifics. That’s how theories get debunked. 

Want to debunk some of your stressful theories? Join us for a 9-week course, The Work 101, and deepen your experience of this meditative practice.

Have a great week

“Be specific.” Byron Katie, Loving What Is

About the author

Todd Smith has been doing The Work of Byron Katie on an almost daily basis since 2007. He is just as excited about this simple process of self-inquiry today as he was when he first came across it. He also enjoys writing about The Work, and training others in the subtleties of this meditative process. Join Todd for The Work 101 online course, private sessions, virtual retreats, and his ongoing Inquiry Circle group.

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