Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Would you buy a complete metaphysical system from this woman? ... Byron Katie, Part 1.

For quite some time now, SHAMbloggers (as well as sundry media types), have been asking me why I've never written anything about Byron Katie. Certainly it would appear that there's no shortage of things to write about her (yes, for the uninitiated, Byron in this case is a she). So I'm going to take a whack at it. We'll do this in parts, with this installment devoted to  introducing the woman and her teachings. Subsequent posts will also explore Katie's sincerity, business model, etc.

Katie's signature product, "The Work," is rooted in its "Four Questions" plus a "Turnaround," as described here on the site of one of her key sponsors—this will not shock you—Oprah. And here's a walk-through of the Four Questions from Katie's own site.

So, to summarize, the questions are:

1. Is it true? (The "it" is a thought that an individual assume to be true or at least operative, and thus to some degree governs that person's feelings or behavior.)
2. Can you absolutely know that it's true?
3. How do you feel when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without that thought?

And then the Turnaround, which asks you to embrace, for the purposes of argument and introspection, a belief opposite to the one that's been the subject of the process just outlined. This is Katie's way of getting followers to challenge their world-views and arrive at some purportedly liberating notion of how much happiness they're sacrificing via their misconceptions about life and even the most routine human interactions. (Her trademark line is, "Where would you be without your story?")

Of this approach, one reviewer says:
"Her methods are remarkably simple; she only asks that you question your own thoughts and that you accept reality for what it really is. You will wonder why you never thought of it.... Byron Katie is leading a revolution of the mind.... She is espousing a form of meta-cognition, a way of thinking about thinking. Are your thoughts a true reflection of the reality around you, or do they come unbidden from your unconscious? Can you trust what your own mind tells you? Byron Katie would say no."
But then, why analyze Katie in terms of someone else's characterization of her methods? So I offer in evidence this interview given by Katie herself in 2001—which is to say, back when she had just begun to hit her stride as a cultural phenomenon and thus was perhaps less aware of the need to "mainstream" at least some of what she says (as she has in later interviews, like, say, this one, or on Oprah). I urge you to read the first interview, beginning to end, so you get the flavor of what we're dealing with.

OK, so now you've finished the interview...and we'll give the woman the benefit of the doubt and assume that she is indeed fully sane. Really. (Stop laughing.) Humor me. Next time around we'll pull back from the woman herself, or the It itself, and look at the logical integrity of what she/It argues.


Cosmic Connie said...

I'm glad Katie is finally getting your thoughtful attention, Steve. She deserves more than the drive-by snark I did a few years ago. One of the things I found most snarkworthy was that "where would you be without your story?" challenge -- as both her mystique and some of her marketing are based on *her* story (the tale of how she suddenly became "enlightened").

Unfortunately, the ex-Katie follower whose blog I linked to in that post seems to have taken it down from public view, but the excerpts provided should give an idea of what it was like to work for and with Katie.

But I really look forward to your analysis of Katie's work. Bring it on!

Mary Anne said...

I found it very interesting that Katie kept mentioning how she kept making money in the first article. Also, she really confused the interviewer! I could really visualize the interviewer looking at Katie with a wide-eyed look.

Can hardly wait for your series.