Lessons Learned from Byron Katie

Jun 27, 2022

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Byron Katie’s teachings have made a huge impact in my life. Once I was ready to take in everything she teaches, and ready to investigate my own personal belief patterns, how I look at life and other people, and how I think about all of that, I really have grown. And I want to share them with you. So in this episode, I relate some powerful concepts and quotes from Byron Katie. I include my thoughts about each and a bit about how they have helped me. 

I invite you to be curious, to open yourself up to these insights. As we’ve discussed many times, how we think and respond to life are paramount to our experience. As you listen to how Byron Katie frames things, I hope you gain a nugget or two that aid you in your personal journey to joy and peace.

“I really like the idea that any emotion I’m feeling is sort of like a signal… that I just should check in with what I’m believing... What if stress is just an alarm clock that lets you know you’ve attached to something? Or you’ve attached to a thought or a belief that’s just not true for you or perhaps is not useful for you?”  – Dr. Sara Dill

What You’ll Learn

  • The past
  • Forgiveness
  • Loving What Is
  • Other people
  • Thoughts we think
  • Communication

Contact Info and Recommended Resources

I encourage you to also listen to:

About Byron Katie

In 1986, at the bottom of a ten-year spiral into depression and self-loathing, Byron Katie woke up one morning in a state of joy. She realized that when she believed her stressful thoughts, she suffered, but that when she questioned them, she didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Her simple yet powerful process of self-inquiry, which she calls The Work, consists of four questions and the turnaround, which is a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believe.

Her books include the bestselling Loving What Is, also available in the revised edition, I Need Your Love—Is That True?, A Thousand Names for Joy, and A Mind at Home with Itself.

Learn more about Byron and get her books: https://thework.com/.

Connect with Sara Dill, MD, The Doctor’s Coach


I’m Dr. Sara Dill, and this is the Stress-Less Physician Podcast, episode number 20. Welcome to the Stress-Less Physician podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Sara Dill, MD. Using my unique combination of coaching and mindfulness tools, I will teach you practical ways to reduce your stress level, feel happier at work, and create a better balance between your medical career and personal life. If you are a busy practicing physician who wants to design a life and medical career that feel good to you, you are in the right place.

Hey, everyone, welcome back to the podcast. It’s Monday morning here, and I just had a great weekend. My mom came and visited. It was the first time I’ve seen her in over a year, actually. She lives in California, but for anyone not in California, it’s quite a large state. And so she lives on the eastern side of Sacramento, sort of when you start heading up towards Lake Tahoe. And it’s about a seven, seven and a half hour drive, to where I live in Santa Barbara. And with COVID and everything, we just haven’t really gotten together in a long time.

But Southwest just started a direct flight between Santa Barbara and Sacramento, one a day. So that seven and a half hour drive has now turned into an hour flight. And it was amazing. So I know we will see each other a lot more. So I put her on the plane today. She likes to get there very, very early, even though the Santa Barbara airport is tiny. And as I predicted, she was the only person on a Monday morning, both at the Southwest gate and in the TSA screenings. So she really likes to have a lot of time at the airport, though. And I love when she is relaxed and not anxious, so I totally get it. I like what I like, too.

So hope you all had a great weekend, whatever you did. And I’m really excited to be doing episode 20. And I mentioned this when I did Episode 10, which was: Lessons Learned from My First Life Coach Martha Beck. So every 10 episodes, at least for a while, I want to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned from either my teachers, my coaches, from books, from people that have really made a big impact on me, especially with this work with coaching and self-coaching, personal development, and really, sort of unraveling the stories that used to keep me very stuck, unhappy, burned out and in situations that I didn’t really want to be in.

And so today, I am super excited to share with you the lessons I’ve learned from Byron Katie, and I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned her before, and I will make sure that we include a link to her website, which includes a ton of free resources. But Byron Katie is a teacher, sort of a spiritual teacher, but a teacher who when I first came across her, maybe about 15 years ago, I actually didn’t really like her teachings. It was a book called Loving What Is. And at the time, I really didn’t want to love what it is. I was really pretty sure that what I needed to do is change everything that was in my life. And then I would be happy.

And of course, now, I sort of revisited her, and actually, my first life coach, Martha Beck, re-introduced me to Byron Katie, and I think I was just ready to take it in or realize it. It seemed to make more sense to me, especially this idea that it often is not the actual facts or circumstances in our lives, that make us feel a lot of our negative emotion or that are the problem. But it’s really how we’re thinking about it. And this includes the fact that sometimes, we have a lot of beliefs that keep us from taking action, to make changes that we want to make. So it’s not all about loving what is. And that means never changing anything in your life. It’s about starting to investigate your own personal belief patterns, your own personal stories, your own personal way of seeing the world and other people that is creating a lot of the suffering that you are experiencing.

And now, I just love Byron Katie, so I’ve not only read all of her books, I’ve also attended something called the Nine Day School for The Work, which is an in-person residential retreat. That was incredible. And I’ve done a lot of her other in-person events, at least prior to COVID. So, again, I’ll put the shownotes in. And I will just say some people like Byron Katie, some people don’t. For some people, it’s just sort of neutral. And again, the invitation is always to see if anything sort of resonates for you. If something sort of gives you an aha moment or an insight, or feels like it gives you a little touch of freedom, I would say, perhaps that’s a thought that you could try on for yourself, perhaps that’s something to investigate.

And so I’m just going to share with you some of the quotes and some of my reflections on them, for some of the ideas that she introduced me to that have been the most meaningful. And the first, I just want to start with are a couple of quotes from Byron Katie, on the past, our past in particular. “Reality is always the story of a past. And what I love about the past is, it’s over.” So I love that second part, especially, ‘what I love about the past is it’s over.’

A lot of us walk around carrying our past with us, but what if we knew that the past was over. And the second part, something I learned from Byron Katie, is this quote, that: “In reality, the pain we feel about a past event is created in the present.” So the past is over, the past happened. But whatever emotions we have about it, whatever we’re telling ourselves about it now, even the memory we have of it now, it’s in the present moment, which means that it’s available to us to change our relationship to it, and to change the story or the meaning that we give our past.

Sometimes we talk about changing our past, not that we’re changing the facts of it, but we’re changing the interpretation of those facts. And it’s that interpretation that’s causing a lot of our pain. So what if you just explored, what if the pain we feel about any past event is created in the present? What does that allow for you? And also, what if we reminded ourselves that the best thing about the past is that it’s over. Both of those, I think can give you a little window into some peace. At least it does for me.

Byron, Katie, also wrote something that really took me a long time to think about and to play around with, it’s sort of cryptic, and it’s this idea that forgiveness is realizing that what you thought happened didn’t, that there was never anything to forgive. She goes on to say that what seems terrible changes once you’ve questioned it. And again, this isn’t necessarily about approving of the past, or events in the past, or condoning it or being happy that things happen the way they did.

But this idea that forgiveness is realizing that what you thought happened didn’t, for me, really made sense when I did some of this work of questioning my beliefs and my thoughts about other people’s actions in the past that I found particularly difficult to forgive. And working through my assumptions on that. Mmaybe realizing that they didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, or what if they really were doing the best they could and their best was just terrible, right? Or whatever it was that was causing me so much pain.

So I would just invite you to maybe consider, what does this mean to you? Forgiveness is realizing that what you thought happened didn’t. What if there was never anything to forgive? And the second part of that as well, is that often, we don’t want to forgive people because it almost feels like we might be letting them off the hook. But when I talk to my clients about this, I always like to point out, who’s the one that’s suffering here? It’s usually not the other person, it’s you. It’s our selves that are suffering, when we are trying to forgive someone and can’t, when we’re resentful, or angry or mad or hurt. Maybe we’re furious. Maybe we feel betrayed, whatever it is. We’re the ones that are suffering. So what would it look like? What if forgiveness is about letting ourselves off the hook? What if forgiveness isn’t about the other person at all?

Something else that Byron Katie taught me is that hurt feelings or discomfort of any kind, cannot be caused by another person. She writes, “No one outside me can hurt me.” That’s not a possibility. It’s only when I believe a stressful thought that I get hurt. And I’m the one who’s hurting me by believing what I think.” This is very good news because it means that I don’t have to get someone else to stop hurting me. I’m the one who can stop hurting me. It’s within my power. And so, of course, this is about the idea in coaching, and that I talk about a lot, is that it’s when we attach to something that someone else says to us, when we’re believing it, that it causes us emotional pain. And that’s what we’re talking about here, is emotional pain.

So, this is very in alignment with what I now do a lot in coaching. And I found that this has really set me free. So if I feel hurt, or I feel uncomfortable, when someone else says something to me, I know that’s my work to do. And as Byron Katie says, “We either believe what we think or we question it, there’s no other choice.” ‘Question our thoughts’ is the kinder way. This ‘question our thoughts’ always leaves us as more loving human beings.

She also writes, “Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment. Neither too soon or too late. You don’t have to like it. It’s just easier if you do.” So I can’t always get fully on board with this. I think I’ve talked about this in an earlier podcast, right? Sometimes I just really don’t believe that everything is happening for me in the moment. But I do find that it’s very useful for me, it sort of stops the arguing with reality, the arguing with what is, right? Is to wonder if I did believe that everything was happening for me, not to me, could that be true right now? What might I see that I’m not seeing? So it’s a way for me to crack open the door to stop arguing with reality, and at least catch up to what actually is happening.

But Katie really talks a lot about this, “Everything happens for me, not to me.” And if you’ve ever seen her in real life, I really thinks she believes that. So again, if that feels really negative to you, if that’s a no, then I would say it’s not for you. But again, you could just notice, if you were someone who believed that, or if you consider that a possibility, what might that make possible? How might you interpret the situation differently? Can you see any way that that could be true, or could be a possibility in whatever situation you find yourself?

And again, I think this is the quote, I use the most, “If you argue with reality, you lose, but only 100% of the time.” And again, that just means to notice, when we’re arguing with how things are, when we’re wanting them to be different than they are, it does not mean that we don’t decide to create change, or to want to create a world in which things are different than they are now. But it’s arguing with how things are now, it’s arguing with how things maybe have been in our past, it might be arguing with how we feel even in the moment. And you can notice that that often creates a lot more resistance. And it makes it a lot more difficult to take ownership of both how we’re feeling and how we’re seeing the situation.

She has a lot of things that she says about other people. And since a lot of our work is on dealing with other people, either difficult patients or colleagues, family, friends, people we care about, there’s a quote from Katie, it starts with, “Since the beginning of time, people have been trying to change the world so that they can be happy. This hasn’t ever worked, because it approaches the problem backward. What the work gives us is a way to change the projector, the mind, rather than what is projected. It’s like when there’s a piece of lint on the projectors lens, we think there’s a flaw on the screen, and we try to change this person and that person, whomever the flaw appears on next. But it’s futile to try to change the projected images. Once we realize where the lint is, we can clear the lens itself. This is the end of suffering and the beginning of a little joy in paradise.”

In another book, she says, “The basic realization that other people can’t possibly be your problem, that it’s your thoughts about them that are the problem.” This realization is huge. This one insight will shake your whole world from top to bottom. And I would say I think that’s been very true for me. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have boundaries with other people or make requests of other people or express what I want to other people. But this idea that if someone else bothers me, if I have thoughts about someone else that are causing me pain and suffering, that’s something I can work with. I don’t need the other person to change for me to have a completely different relationship with them and with the situation.

And I’ll just say this, because it was in the quote that I read, the work is how Byron Katie works with her thoughts and the thoughts of her clients. It’s a system of question your thoughts, she has four questions where you ask yourself, is the thought true? Can you absolutely know that it’s true? How do you react? What happens when you believe that thought? And then the fourth question is, who would you be without the thought? And then there’s a way to do turnarounds, where you sort of play around with different versions of the thought, maybe the opposite. In other ways, I’ve mentioned that before in an earlier podcast on how to believe new things. Definitely worthwhile investigating, sometimes people love it. And sometimes people don’t really like her process of inquiry or investigating your thoughts and questioning them. But it’s certainly an interesting thing to look at.

She has some very pithy one liners, “We don’t hear what someone said, we imagine what they meant.” I love that. t’s so true. I do it all the time. I just try to catch myself. It’s not you that people like or dislike, it’s their stories of you. That gives me so much freedom. “We say to others only what we need to hear.” I find that’s very true for me. When I’m giving other people advice, or offering my own sort of perspective to other people, it’s often just what I needed to hear. She offers that: “Everyone is a mirror image of yourself, your own thinking coming back at you.” And another good one liner, “You think you know what other people are thinking, but it’s just you thinking.” I love that. You think you know what other people are thinking, but it’s just you thinking. That, and it’s not you that people like or dislike, it’s their stories of you. Those are two that definitely stick with me.

She has a lot to say on the subject of thoughts. She writes in her book, Loving What Is, “A thought is harmless unless we believe it. It’s not our thoughts, but the attachment to our thoughts that causes suffering. Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true, without inquiring.” She means without questioning it, without even noticing it. A belief is a thought we’ve been attaching to, often for years. And a corollary of that, and this, I really like, is that: “Stress is the alarm clock that lets you know you’ve attached to something that’s not true for you.”

So for me, I really liked the idea that any emotion I’m feeling is sort of like a signal, it’s like an indicator light or something that I should just check in with what I’m believing. And stress, I would say in this sense, is really any negative emotion or any emotion that’s causing you some discomfort. So what if stress is just an alarm clock that lets you know you’ve attached to something, you’ve attached to a thought or belief, that’s just not true for you, or perhaps is not useful for you.

She was the first to teach me about the idea that: “Defense is the first act of war.” So when we feel defensive, when I feel defensive, I noticed that then I often sort of go on the offense. So she says, “Defense is the first act of war.” If you tell me that I mean or rejecting, hard, unkind or unfair, I say, “Thank you, sweetheart.” I can find all these in my life. I’ve been everything you say and more. Without you, how can I know the places in me that are unkind and invisible? So that’s a lot, right? I certainly don’t usually thank people. But it’s interesting to look at, right? It’s interesting for me to just tune into when I feel defensive, can I notice what I’m thinking? Am I making myself wrong? Am I wanting to be right? Can I drop the rope if I’m sort of being invited to a tug of war or an argument?

Defense is the first act of war. So if you feel defensive, that’s an area for you to investigate. I like the idea of finding a way that maybe the other person is right. Sometimes I’ll try that on. Is it possible that they’re right about that? Do I need to be right? Am I clinging to this idea that I’m right and they’re wrong? And sometimes I might really look and I don’t honestly think they’re right. So in that case, sometimes I like the idea that they can be wrong about me. Can that be okay? Can I be okay with that?

She says, “Our parents, our children, our spouses and our friends I would say our colleagues and our patients will continue to press every button we have, until we realize what it is that we don’t want to know about ourselves yet. They will point us to our freedom every time.” And this is the idea of freedom from really been unoffendable. Like, what if there was nothing anyone could say to you that would really cause you to feel hurt or upset, if you knew it wasn’t about you, it was about them. If you feel hurt, or you feel defensive, or you feel anything like that criticized, that’s your work to do. That’s my work to do. There’s always more work to do. So I like this idea, right? It’s sort of the idea that the people that are most difficult for us are probably the ones that have a lot to teach us.

She also says, “I’m very clear that everyone in the world loves me, I just don’t expect them to realize it yet.” Sometimes think what that would feel like to really believe that, if you walked around knowing that everyone might love you, they just don’t realize it yet. For some of my clients, that feels like freedom, and for others, it doesn’t. So again, you could take it or leave it. It’s just an invitation.

And then I will end with a little bit on communication. She talks a lot about honest communication. She says, “Honest communication begins with you communicating with yourself. It means responding with what is true for you, regardless of how someone may react to your answer. First, you have to discover what is really true for you. A dishonest yes is a no to yourself.” I really like that, a dishonest yes, where you say yes to someone when you don’t want to is a no to yourself. “Every no, I say is a yes to myself.” Katie writes, “it feels right to me. People don’t have to guess what I want and don’t want, and I don’t need to pretend.”

When you’re honest about your yeses and no’s, it’s easy to live a kind life. It doesn’t mean that you don’t ask other people for what you want and vice versa, it means you can do so without a hidden agenda, or making their yes or no mean more than it does. So what would it look like for you to respond with an honest yes or no without worrying about how someone may react to your answer. It doesn’t mean that you have to do so unkindly. She actually gives a list of how to say no, things like, “Thank you for asking,” and “no, I understand,” and, “no, you could be right” and “no, I care about you.” And “no, I can see that it works for you.” And “no, I don’t know yet. Asked me later.” So many different options. And notice where there’s no explanation or justification, no defensiveness, nothing like that. It’s just a solid, yes or no. And then the thing I want to close with is an idea about the three kinds of business in the world.

And she talks about, “If you are living in your life, and I am mentally living in your life, who is here living in mine? We’re both over there. Being mentally in your business keeps me from being present in my own. I am separate from myself, and wondering why my life doesn’t work.” And so she talks about these three kinds of business. She writes, again, in Loving What Is, “I can find only three kinds of business in the universe: mine, yours and God’s. For me the word God means reality. Reality is God because it rules. Anything that’s out of my control, or your control and everyone else’s control. I call that God’s business. Much of our stress comes from mentally living out of our own business. When I think you need to get a job, I want you to be happy. You should be on time. You need to take better care of yourself. I am in your business. When I’m worried about earthquakes, floods, war or when I will die. I am in God’s business. If I mentally in your business or in God’s business, the effect is separation. So again, if you are living your life and I’m mentally living your life, who is here living mine. Being mentally in your business, keeps me from being present in my own. So to think that I know what’s best for everyone else is to be out of my business. Do I know what’s right for me? That is my only business. Let me work with that before I try to solve your problems for you.”

So I would say that this idea that three kinds of business can be very useful. So often, if you’re feeling stressed, or resentful, or any negative emotion, one thing you can ask yourself is whose business am I in? Often, we’re in other people’s business. Again, we’re in our partner’s business, or our children’s business, or our parent’s business, our patient’s business, or colleague’s business. When she talks about God or reality, we might just be worrying about things that we have zero control over. That will often create a lot of negative emotion for us. Bringing yourself back to your own business, what your life is, your thoughts, your feelings, your choices, your actions, all of that, you will have a lot more control. So can you drop being in other people’s business? Can you notice when you’re in other people’s business or God’s business, and come back to your own business? That alone can change your life?

     All right, I could go on and on. I love Byron Katie. Again, some people love her. Some people don’t like her. First time I was introduced to her, it was a no for me. So no worries if this is not your favorite episode. Next week, I will go back to a coaching topic. And again, if you have any questions or comments, if you want to figure out how to apply this to your own life, definitely reach out, send me an email at sara@sara,dill.com. Again, no H, [email protected], and let’s talk. I answer all my own email. Okay, well, have a wonderful week. I hope some of this resonated with you. And again, I’ll put the links to Byron Katie’s webpage in the show notes. Thank you so much. Talk to you soon. Bye.

If you are a busy practicing physician ready to start feeling less stressed, enjoy work more, and learn how to create a more balanced and sustainable medical practice and life, sign up for a consult call with me at www.saradill.com. That’s S-A-R-A-D-I-L-L.com. It would be my privilege and pleasure to work with you.

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