The Work/Byron Katie-strong concerns
Date: February 13, 2005 03:29PM
I decided to join this messege board to get help and feedback for myself related to Byron Katie's and The Work. If there is anyone who has had experience with her, or with any people she trained through "The School", I would really appreciate your sharing your experiences if you can.
I finished reading Margaret Singer's book, Cults in Our Midst, which really helped me to believe in my experience enough to share What I wrote which has turned out to be a small epic. if you don't want to read all of it. I put "part 2" section about her tapes, further on, or even the last set of questions I have, would be very appreciated.
I've been really frustrated, because I haven't found anything on the sites I've looked at on The Work with Byron Katie,relating to people's experience with it, except her own site. Sometimes, I question whether or not I have over reacted to my experience and impressions, which after 2 years, are still with me (in part because my friend is still involved and I worry about him)
I am also hoping to share my experience, in the hopes that anyone who has been negatively affected, or tends to think the work is perhaps a form of mind control, or at the least coercive, will realize they are not alone This has been my experience, though a limited one.
About myself, I had been involved in a cult experience many years back in Florida, called The Living Process for 3 months and it had a big impact on me, and it took several years after the fact, to admit that it had been a cult. I was very sensitized to this and I think this prevented me from getting fully involved in The Work.
A while back I had read Byron Katie's book, "Loving What is" and it seemed to be interesting and somewhat appropriate to where I was at the time, : questioning negative beliefs one has about oneself, one's future etc. In her book she talks about 4 questions "that can change your life" and whenever you are having a judgemental thought to ask yourself these questions:
1. Is is true?
2. Can I absolutely know that it's true?
3. How do I feel when I think that thought or Is there a peaceful reason to keep that thought? and
4. Who would I be without that thought?
At the time I read the book, I was not thinking of her as a "charismatic leader" of something that seemed cultish, but an author of a book.( it was co-authored by her husband whose name has slipped my mind. I think he may have been responsible for authoring alot of it, in terms of its structure but I dont know)These 4 questions she outlined in the book, seemed to be important questions, ones which could aid me in changing self-limiting beliefs.
I was in alot of pain at the time, over incest memories I was facing-which I had been trying to deal with for a long time, (they were not coerced by a therapist, thank God). I experienced some very painful things in childhood and had done alot of work on myself for many years, while remaining free from drugs and alcohol, but new layers of pain were coming up related to the memories,as I continued to stay clean and sober (10 years) At the time I did not have a therapist, (I coudn't afford one-thankfully now I can) and was in a very vulnerable place. The book seemed to really help my friend and He said that other people had trained in working with these questions, and maybe this person could help me with some of the pain that I was in.
I traveled to see a woman who had trained with Byron Katie and who my friend had recommended. I figured that this woman was a therapist but I never bothered to really investigate or find out details about her. (My understanding now from the web site, is that the satellite groups are formed throughout the US and now the world, of people who have trained at Byron Katie's 9 day intensive at The School with Byron Katie,which they go to twice. This is the only training or credential needed)
When I got to her office, and she asked me why I was seeing her, I eventually began to talk about the pain that I felt about the sexual assaults I was reexperiencing in childhood. I stated something like I felt that the abuse was awful and impacting my life alot to the point that I was having trouble functioning which is why I was there and that I needed help.
I'm not sure if I said that the abuse shouldn't have happend to me or if it was she who said, "You think it shouldn't have happened dont you?", but eventually she started to ask me the first question which is, "Is is true that the abuse shouldn't have happend to you?" (see above again for the questions). She then went on to say the Byron Katie herself had been sexually abused and that BK realized she had abused herself with the memories by replaying what happend over and over again, that she was now the abuser. I felt like the blood just left my body when she started to say this. In that moment I realized that the 4 questions were not only used to challenge negative beliefs about oneself beliefs which I do understand could be valuable, (such as "I'm a horrible, bad person" etc),but about many things, including violence towards oneself from another person.
I knew in that instant that something was very off but also was questioning my reaction. I knew enought about PTSD, that part of the problem, is that memories come up like flashes over and over. When I was getting flashbacks, I was not conciously reliving them to abuse myself to be "a victim". I knew this but One thing that makes me vulnerable to others opinions is that I question my gut feelings, especially if someone is challenging me or in a seeming position of authority. I immediately regressed into this early child hood state of "I am wrong. "
I cannot remember the specifics of what ensued at the end of the session, but I remember that she began to ask me these 4 questions in a manner, that felt very pressuring and I felt patronized. The feeling I had was that if I did not answer these questions or accept that "I cannot absolutely know it's true", about my perceptions than I was resistant to doing" the work" of inquiry and that at that moment and that I was trying to stay a victim. I feel much more clear in my boundaries that my goal is to not remain "a victim", but to strive in compassion for myself but at the time I felt disoriented and I also felt ashamed guilty, like if I was more enlightened I wouldn't be upset, I would just accept what she said is true. There was also the thought what if I do want to remain a victim?What if I dont' really want to look at myself?What if I'm just being resistant because I dont want to grow? What if what if what if..
There was also a part of "the work" I hadn't known about until the 'session',which entails switching the judgement- so that if you say "I'm angry at _____ for sexaully assaulting me" you say "I'm angry at myself for sexaully assaulting myself". (I understand about projection,that it is possible to accuse others of what oneself is doing-Freud talks about projection extensively-but used in certain contexts such as that one, felt so violating and disorienting). Even if it is not mind control, which I think it is, to put this method on all sexual abuse survivors is in itself intensively disrespectful, in my opinion. ( I can imagine Byron Katie would say "is that true that it's intensely disrespectful?Can you absolutely know that it's true?"
The session ended and she told me that there was a group that met once a week, where people do "inquiry", and that I could come and that it was free. Feeling already uncomfortable I told her I lived too far away to travel there and I never went. Immediately after the session, I stayed with my gut feeling, and experience years ago with abusive groups (another story) to trust some aspect of my instinct. But she gave me some tapes of Byron Katie doing the work at her school. These were not the ones that are sold on the web to my knowledge, but ones she had taped herself and I began listening to them in the car and for about a week.
PT 2 /THE TAPES
Still battling with myself about this (because I felt I "should always be open to new spiritual ideas" a belief I've since tempered with discretion), I listened to the tapes, which were of Byron Katie doing "the work" in a one-on-one therapy style session, in front of what sounded like a large audience. The audience seemed to laugh and cry with the person who was up on the stage with her.
I listened to these tapes for about a week, struggling with whether or not I was crazy that what I was hearing seemed very strange. The problem for me, was that there were those ideas that seemed to have truth, interspersed with what seemed very much like mind coercion and group pressure to conform.
While listening to the tapes, I kept thinking about the book. She looked normal on the cover of her book. It was a normal cover of a normal book, published by a normal publishing company. What's wrong with that? But Byron Katie's speaking style, different than the book, was filled with paradoxical, mind binding statements which were incredibly difficult to follow or make sense , (and I consider myself very open to "out there" stuff). Some of these statments, I wrote down because they were so bizarre to me (I wished I saved them but I didn't and gave back the tapes later) During a one-on-one session with a person,she would slip in what seemed almost like advertisements related to her spiritual enlightenment, in such a way as to make you go "huh?, I must not be getting something". she would talk in this intensely loving and soothing tone of voice and I would feel guilty to question . I could feel myself going into a trance state just listening to her, and I wasn't even in the same room. This was just a tape!
In one of the tapes I listend to ,one woman who came up on stage to do "the work", had had a husband who had died 3 weeks earlier. She had written her judgment to read to BK which was that her husband shouldn't have died. Byron Katie then began to question "is this true that your husband shouldn't have died?" and it went on from there.
This woman was naturally in grief. She was crying. This woman was just sad, the way anyone would naturally be and it was treated as something that needed to be "righted." I recognized in this woman, my own tendency to make my own natural impulses and painful feelings somehow open to scrutiny, as if, if one is not always in the quest for "self -improvement" or if one is in pain, there should always be a spiritual answer to fix it.
At one point something about her husbands casket was questioned by Byron Katie, and the audience laughed in a manner that suggested "poor dear, she isn't enlightened yet". I felt really horrified and really sad .
It seems from the Work, that all the issues and difficulties of the person, are first to be funnelled into the form of a judgement which is then disputed. You are to "judge your neighbor", and then you are to ask if it is true? And if you think it's true, can you absolutely know for sure that it is true? Listening to these tapes felt like hearing a document of a spiritual crime that had taken place. Maybe it wasn't the Moonies and it wasn't Jonestown, but it felt very spiritually coercive .
I was compelled to keep listening, trying to analyze how this manipulation is taking place, in part because i knew my friend was really into this, and I didn't know what to do. I thought somehow if I could figure out how she was manipulating people, I could convince him to leave it.
Another woman brought her judgement about violence in media and that there shouldn't be such violence. Byron Katie, questioned "is it true there shouldn't be violence on the media. Violence is there, that is Reality and then.."when we argue with Reality we lose, but only absolutely", which is one of her "katie-ism" But whose reality? Evenutally Byron Katie proclaimed, "It's all God" relating to violence on media and in the world. She was saying that it is all God because it is all Reality. Whose Reality? This to me is really dangerous. If one has deluded oneself that "Its all God", then this belief can eventually be used to justify actions and beliefs that are anything but God, in the name of God.
To my knowlege, None of this was in her book, by the way, which showed me that the book can be different than the group process.
What I think is dangerous, is not questioning one's reality, belief systems etc, but its doing so but for whom, and for what purpose? To be accepted by a group? To be "love bombed"? To be given the stamp of spiritual approval by a guru?
I am so glad I didn't get involved further, but it affected me very deeply, because I didn't know what to do to reach my friend. I told him that I was uncomfortable with the Work and pulled away from him when I found that he was doing the Work with mutual friends, because I didn't know how to express to him my concerns. Then our paths crossed again and he said that he went down for the 9 days courses
I think alot of survivors of trauma and abuse are perhaps looking for a way out of the pain and I feel upset to think that my friend and others could be abused and completely numb to a false form of resolution that is being constructed and which I think is addictive.
This issues are so important to me, and that's why I joined this messege board, and wanted to share this experience.
Believe it or not, there is more that I could write, but I'll stop for now.