“Is It True?” Is Not The Only Way To Move Past A Stressful Thought

Leaf on Water
“The leaf floated away on me” may actually be true. But it doesn’t have to be stressful.

I Notice a Sticking Point for Some People

The first question of The Work is a powerful question. Just asking, “is it true?” gets the mind to look again at what it is believing. 

Interestingly, pretty much every truth has some wiggle room and finding it can be liberating. If what I was believing is actually not true, or at least not 100% true, it is easier to move beyond that idea that the mind was attached to.

But I notice that the mind can also get stuck on the idea of “I have to find the untruth of it to get free.” This is a limitation, which can actually get in the way of inquiry. 

A Thought Doesn’t Have To Be Untrue To Let Go Of It

It’s just easier sometimes to let go of a thought when it is seen to be untrue. That’s why asking the question, “Is it true?” can be such a helpful question. 

But sometimes people get stuck on this question. They think, “If it really is true, then I can’t continue with the inquiry.” They give up too soon. Or more likely, they become obsessed with finding how it could be untrue, and can’t move on to the other questions until this one yields what they think it should be (a “no”).

This makes it especially difficult to do The Work of Byron Katie on statements of fact for some people. For example, “She died, is it true?” The fact is she did. I can find ways she is still alive in my heart, etc. but the fact remains that the person in that body no longer walks the earth. 

The Question Is, “Do You Get Stuck On That?” 

Sometimes when I’m doing The Work, my answers to questions 1 and 2 (Is it true? Can you absolutely know it’s true?) are “yes” and “yes.” That’s just my experience. She died, is it true? Yes. Can you absolutely know it’s true? Yes. 

I might be tempted to stop my inquiry here. How can I possibly go on in my questioning since it really is true that she died? But truth/non-truth is not the only way to move beyond a stressful thought. 

Sure it would be easy if it turned out that I was wrong and she was not dead and she walked in the door and gave me a hug. That would be the end of my suffering over it. What I thought was true turned out not to be true.

But, Short of That, I Need Another Way

What if it really is true that she died? I saw her dead body, and she no longer is seen in daily life. It’s a fact that she is dead. 

The Work does not stop with the question, is it true? There is another way to find some wiggle room. The next questions are basically asking “Does it hurt to think that way?” That’s what questions 3 and 4 of The Work offer: “How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?” and “Who would you be without the thought?” 

These two questions ask me to notice what happens when I think the thought, “She died,” regardless of the truth of it? And who would I be if I were not thinking the thought, “She died”?

In This, We See Cause and Effect

When I think, “She died,” it hurts. When I don’t think the thought, it doesn’t hurt. So regardless of the truth of it, it is the dwelling on the thought that causes my suffering. For example, maybe I read the news and find out that a bunch of people died somewhere in the world. It’s true that they died, but because I’m not attached to those people and I don’t continue to think about them, I don’t suffer. 

But compare that to someone that I’m close to. If they die, I think about it a lot. I obsess over the idea because I’m attached to having them alive. This is the cause of my suffering. It is my attachment that hurts me. How do I know? Because without the thought, I don’t suffer. 

This Is So Important For Freedom

Questions 1 and 2 provide one way to get some distance on my thinking (maybe what I think is not true). But questions 3 and 4 show me that regardless of the truth of what I think, my suffering only depends on how much I think and obsess about it. 

It’s like I have an allergy to a particular thought, “She died.” Every time I think about it, I feel sad. So why keep doing something that gives me an allergic reaction every time? This opens my mind to look for a bigger perspective besides just “She died, she died, she died!” 

If my mind can open to that, then the thought, “She died” no longer dominates the mind, and suffering begins to diminish.

So Don’t Get Stuck On Questions 1 and 2

If the thought is not true, great! Lucky you! But if the thought is true, questions 3 and 4 will show you your allergic reaction to it. And with that perspective, the mind naturally starts looking for other balancing factors to consider. As soon as I see my allergy, I naturally want to stop eating what I’m allergic to.

All we are doing in The Work is looking for ways to take the sting out of a stressful situation. One way is “Is it true?” Another is “Who would you be without the thought?” With these two questions at our disposal, there is enough room to find peace no matter what the thought.

Join Us for Inquiry

Every week, I offer free Open Sessions. Bring your stressful thoughts to question and your questions about The Work. 

And consider diving deeper early next year as we start the year off with a Virtual Retreat and The Work 101 in January.

Have a great week,

“We’re seeing that with the thought you’re angry and resentful, and without the thought you don’t have all that stress. So it’s the thought that is causing your pain…” Byron Katie, A Thousand Names for Joy

Further reading: Wiggle Room in Two Dimensions

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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