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Would you buy a complete metaphysical system from this woman? ... Byron Katie, Part 2.

In our last episode, we met Byron Katie and were introduced to her Four Questions, which supposedly will take you to a new level of peace, happiness and fulfillment. And, in fairness, you'll have no trouble finding legions of online fans.

But...you'll also find legions of people who swear by oxycontin, at least in terms of the narcotic's propensity for making life seem rosier and less anxious (till you run out of the drug). Which raises, in my mind, a Fifth Question: Is what Katie espouses really a valid metaphysical system? Or is it just the New Agey equivalent of oxy...a convenient, seductive-sounding way of rationalizing all the bad stuff (and generating enormous revenues for Katie, or so we're led to believe)?

Once again, we'll let Katie set the tone in her own words. This is from her site:
"The Work of Byron Katie is a way of identifying and questioning the thoughts that cause all the anger, fear, depression, addiction, and violence in the world. Experience the happiness of undoing those thoughts through The Work, and allow your mind to return to its true, awakened, peaceful, creative nature.
On another page appears this quote from Katie herself:
"I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn't believe them, I didn't suffer, and that this is true for every human being."
The premise of Katie's system, then, as I understand it, is that very little in life is objectively true. It's just a matter of how we see things. And since so many of us harbor thoughts, feelings and beliefs that are unduly dark—i.e., like looking at the world through the antithesis of rose-colored glasses—we need to learn to try to see life for what it really is, stripped of our own overlay of fear, diffidence, etc.

OK then, since we're operating in the realm of questions, let me ask another: If, as Katie suggests, there's no such thing as objective truth...then why would we question only the negative human interpretations of that higher, unreachable truth? Suppose my abiding view of my life is, "I am happy and safe here. I feel confident and whole." If I subscribe to that thought, am I supposed to subject it to the scrutiny of the Four Questions? (Or do I just leave that one alone.) And if not, why not? What kind of "philosophy of life" is it that applies only to thoughts you don't want to have or facts you'd rather not know?

Similarly, take a look at Katie's emotions list, to be used as a guide in answering the "How do you feel" question. It presupposes that when you take this course, your emotions are negative, and thus the turnaround will provide positive answers. This makes no sense to me on its face. Why are we questioning the legitimacy of the thoughts that breed anger, fear and depression, and not the legitimacy of the thoughts that cause peace, happiness, elation? After all, who's to say that the natural state of your mind is to be peaceful and creative? (OK, well, Katie says it. But who the hell is she?)

Like recovery theory, which posited that "it's never your fault," blaming all dysfunction either on genetics (over which we're powerless) or upbringing (again, you don't pick your parents), Katie's Work is an escape hatch—a mechanism not for finding truth, but for avoiding it.

To get down to cases:  In this piece from Oprah.com, a woman with cancer uses The Work to question her medical status and thus feel freer, better. She finally comes to an epiphany of sorts where she concedes she doesn't literally know that she has cancer; that's just the diagnose she was given. Thinking that way makes her feel better. As she writes:
"The thought that I had cancer made me feel terrified and immobilized. Without that thought, I was free—I was just myself, sitting on my bed with the windows open, completely alive and enjoying the breeze."
So let's turn that around. In my case, I haven't been given a diagnosis that I have cancer. But how do I know that I don't have it? Doesn't The Work also contemplate my way of thinking? While I'm sitting here in my home office with the window open, enjoying the breeze, there might be cancer afoot somewhere in my body, alongside the stroke I already had (or maybe I didn't have it; the bastards could have lied). Or maybe there's a strain of airborne Ebola wafting in through the open window...

But seriously, even if the woman above is correct in posing that she doesn't know that she objectively, factually has cancer, her diagnosticians, with all their years of training and accumulated expertise, surely would be closer to ascertaining the objective truth of the matter than she is in denying it.

And don't we absolutely need to consider probabilities in everyday decision-making? "No, I don't know that the gun I'm putting in my mouth is loaded. I don't even know that it's a real gun (And what is a gun, anyway?) So I guess I'll just pull this trigger here and..."

I wonder: Is Bryon Katie the kind of person who just plows right on through red lights because she doesn't know there's cross-traffic racing through the intersection?

If a philosophical system is valid, then it is always valid, for all people in all settings. Any system of though that "works" only when you use it to make yourself feel better is not a metaphysical system.... It's a crutch. That's why I have to give Rhonda Byrne props for being philosophically consistent (if for little else): If you're going to argue that projecting happy thoughts into the Universe can bring vast riches into your life, then you have to concede the possibility that negative projections can attracts the likes hurricanes, terrorist hijackers and other gross misfortunes.

In the end it would seem that for all its New Age flair, The Work reduces to little more than an over-intellectualized entreaty to "Just feel better about life, dammit! ... Accentuate the positive!" Why does anyone need Byron Katie for that?

Next time we get down to Business...

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