For nine days I sat in the basement conference room of an LAX hotel a few feet from personal growth icon, Byron Katie. She has been running this immersion program, The School for The Work, for decades.*
We were asked to surrender all our screens, snacks, makeup, outside books and even flirting.** This first exercise was unexpected but I think it was the critical piece to my painful thought detox.
Why’d I do it anyway?
I’d already learned this technique in my training with Martha Beck. Recently though, Martha shared with her coaches that if we really wanted to learn from the master, we’d better jump on this. Martha begins her own coach training with The Work, reasoning that the ability to question your painful thoughts and beliefs is the root of living your true purpose. There is nowhere to go without it.
Also. Rumor has it that eighty year old Katie, as she is called, would run the program for the last time. I wondered if she’d be less engaged at the alleged end.
As soon as she began from a cushioned white arm chair back lit in blue light, something became clear. This spritely white haired woman with piercing blue eyes is in the prime of her life.
You might be thinking sure, if I was rich and famous I’d have a bunch of handlers who made sure I was too.
Katie has no such folks. Two of her grown kids helped out with logistics along with her loyal sound guys and a few master trainers. For as big an impact as she has around the world—there were 280 participants here from everywhere— she has no “people.”
With irreverent humor and deep curiosity, she taught us the simple instructions to a happy life.
And just so you can put this pain-relieving modality in context with the multitudes of others, one Stanford study Katie mentioned says it all. To alleviate depression and anxiety, pharmaceutical drugs are 30% effective. Medication plus Cognitive Behavioral Therapy improves to a rate of 60%. Doing The Work blows doors on them both at a whopping 91%.***
She puts it this way, “other than what you are thinking and believing, this is heaven on earth.” We tested that theory when we did an exercise in town involving total strangers. It’s true. After doing this work, peace is everywhere.
But I am getting off track here. I really want to sell you on how f-ing vibrant this octogenarian is so you’ll buy into her techniques and go try it yourself. Just to be completely transparent about the end game here.
Who doesn’t want to find the fountain of youth?? I know I do. I absolutely believe this is it.
This is what she is capable of in the eighth decade of her life. Our sessions ran from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. only breaking for meals. The Work goes deep. Sometimes it exhausted me to the point where I fell asleep and an ink pen and destroyed my favorite pants. You really need to get decent rest if you are going to be changing your life, ijs.
Katie leads every single session, delegating nothing, not even reading from the slips of paper in the suggestion box where folks asked other participants not to “hijack the elevators.”
Before she developed this work, Katie had a multitude of mental and physical health issues to the point where she had to be institutionalized. Her personal relationships were a disaster.
Now, this woman absolutely radiates love. She is able to answer questions with music lyrics and do call backs from a week’s worth of inside jokes. Katie’s grown children, both graying themselves, participated and contributed openly. Once they came up to demo an exercise. Katie shared how they both came to “The Work.” Upon observing the dramatic change in their mom, they asked her to teach them so that they could overcome their own stultifying thinking. Steven Mitchell, her renowned author husband, perched himself in a side stage chair to learn like everyone else.
The reason Katie moves through life with the ease and purpose of someone decades younger is that she does not carry the burden of eighty years on this planet.**** Katie radiates joy and unconditional positive regard. This is the net effect of nearly a lifetime of questioning beliefs in the way that she teaches.
By Friday, Katie asked us to complete a phrase about the impact of what we had learned.
The sentence began like this:
“I now feel free to _______.”
She asked us to pass the microphone and speak in our mother tongue. Voices from all over the world said things like this:
I am now free to see the beauty in everyone, including me.
I am now free to love and be loved.
I am now free to drop my stories about people and love them.
I am now free to listen.
I am now free to receive criticism as a gift.
I am now free to be quiet.
I am now free to take my time with everything and just notice.
I am now free to let go of being hyper vigilant.
I am now free to consider a question without feeling the need to please the questioner.
I am now free to have a thought and not believe it.
I am now free to receive what comes with love.
I am now free to listen to myself.
I am now free to be a kid again.
I am now free to believe that there are no strangers.
I am now free to see rejections as simple directions. (Like if someone says leave me alone, I just do it.)
I am now free to not follow the rules.
I am now free to be myself.
I am now free to be silent and not explain myself.
I am now free to liberate my heart.
I am now free to forgive myself and to see that it is possible.
I am now free to treat my ego with love.
I am now free to approach people.
I am now free to connect soul to soul.
I am now free to receive love through anyone.
I am now free to accept no without taking it personally.
I am now free to be happy on my own.
I am now free to be less violent with myself.
I am now free to connect with any human without expectation.
I am now free to say no and have that be enough.
I am now free to see everyone as my teacher.
I am now free to love without resistance.
I am now free to be unprepared.
I am now free to let you be.
I am now free to meet people where they are.
I am now free to dissolve boundaries anywhere and put them up where I choose.
I am now free to feel peace in any moment.
I am now free to experience intimacy with everyone.
I am now free to see the world as friendly.
I am now free to know that strangers love me.
I am now free to see kindness.
I am now free to meet my thoughts with love and acceptance.
I am now free to follow my instincts regardless of what others think.
I am now free to receive love in all its forms.
So. I’ve recommended plenty of self-help stuff. If you do nothing else, consider this. There is simply nowhere to go personal development-wise if you are thinking and believing your own painful thoughts. The Work is a daily practice. Begin with the Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet and go to One Belief At A Time Worksheet. Katie suggests beginning with mother, father, sister, brother, and see what comes up.
It may just be the key to your freedom.
To learn more, take a listen to her podcast, check out the book or attend her live zoom calls which you can find more information about on thework.com.
If you want to be free, it’s time to get to work.
If you are a client, we have likely done this work together. If not, this is your golden opportunity. What are you waiting for? Email me to schedule a free Discovery Call at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Curious about coaching? Learn more at luckybirdcoaching.com And if you are family or a friend, I have an amazing coaching community ready to partner with you.
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**Until now, I didn’t realize I flirted so regularly. I now recognize it as a fawning response. A full detox of all the things I believe I need to maintain baseline comfort revealed so much to me. It just isn’t true. I don’t really need anything. Just the stillness inside me.
*** https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1550830714002067 Here’s a few studies. The Harvard one was discussed at The School. I am headed out for a run soon so google it if you are curious.
**** I’ll show you what I mean with this example. One day, Katie taught about what happens when we hold negative beliefs about groups of people. The exercise was on prejudice. As we had done many times, we completed a Judge Your Neighbor worksheet on the matter. Katie invited an incredible trans woman who did hers on Cis Gender folks up to share. (Nelle is a power house and among my absolute favorite folks.) Katie asked if she’d answer some questions. With Nelle’s permission, Katie opened the floor to all 280 of us. She began with a few of her own, demonstrating that, as a Cis, heterosexual white woman, this was totally new territory for her. You could tell by her questions that Katie was totally curious and free from judgment. At the end, she turned to us and said, “you can be brand new at 80.”
Honestly it sounds so inadequate now that I am sitting on the plane home, surrounded by weary travelers who didn’t share this experience with me. You might be thinking she sounds like a lovely elderly lady. I invite you to question that thought.