My blog post last week was about an argument I had with my husband. I wrote about it to share my process for understanding and reconciliation. I also wanted to share that I’m not perfect – that, in fact, perfection is not what this work is about. This work is about practices that help you to be centered and clear.
One such practice is The Work of Byron Katie. As I did The Work on our argument (prior to writing my post), I remembered something Katie says, “Self-defense is the first act of war.” And then I realized that the argument began when I defended myself against something my husband said. (I thought he was being condescending).
A loyal reader took exception. She accepted that I could take responsibility for my argument but questioned if it’s generalizable. “If someone lobs a missile,” she said, “isn’t that the first act? Isn’t that the real aggression?” She was concerned about victim-blaming.
It’s a good question.
At the School for The Work, participants sometimes grilled Katie on the limits of The Work. Surely it breaks down somewhere, they pressed. “Refugees drowning in the Mediterranean Sea? Jews being marched into the gas-chambers? Are we supposed to ‘love’ that?” (Katie’s first book is called Loving What Is.)
No matter how aggressively she was asked, I noticed that Katie wasn’t threatened by the questions. She would say, “Don’t take my word for it. Close your eyes. Picture it. And now do The Work.” She did not answer with an argument but rather invited them into experience.
Bigger on the Inside
The Work is not an argument, it’s an experience. Argument harnesses thought to persuade. The Work transcends thought to arrive at clarity. It’s like love: you aren’t persuaded into it; it blooms inside of you and feels like a knowing.
It also isn’t necessarily explainable. For example, people who don’t have children think parenthood looks like bondage. You have a baby and boom: you can’t go out anymore, you lose sleep, the baby cries and interrupts you constantly. . . . And yet, most parents are totally besotted with their little life-wrecker. It simply doesn’t feel the same as it appears to onlookers.
Like the tents in Harry Potter or Dr. Who’s TARDIS: it’s bigger on the inside.
Can You Be Certain?
There may be a situation The Work doesn’t cover. It could be like Newtonian physics, which works most of the time but breaks down at the extremes of size (subatomic) and speed (the speed of light). Those extremes are covered by Einsteinian physics, or quantum mechanics.
Similarly, I cannot be certain there is no situation where The Work doesn’t work, but I have not found it yet. After ten years of doing The Work, I have not yet encountered any suffering that it could not alleviate, any impasse it could not see me through to a better other side.
That’s the heart of my answer: The Work is not generalizable. It’s highly personal. The Work will not tell me what you should do – whether you should defend yourself or not. It shows me what’s true for me.
So, don’t take my word for it. Experience it for yourself. Go to a memory of a conflict you were in and meditate on it through the lens of The Work. What do you see?