Episode 13: Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell -A Thousand Names for Joy: Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are - Part 1
Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell -A Thousand Names for Joy: Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are – Part 1
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Stephen Mitchell: I'm Stephen Mitchell. I am the co-author of “A Thousand Names For Joy” by Byron Katie and of many other books. And I would like to express my appreciation to Duncan Campbell for his program “Living Dialogues”. He is a wonderful interviewer. Every time I am on I have great fun and he draws out fascinating things that I didn't even know I had in me to say.
I appreciate him and I appreciate what he makes available to a wide audience.
Byron Katie: So this is Byron Katie, the author of “A Thousand Names for Joy” and “I Need Your Love – Is That True?” and “Loving What Is”. I appreciate Duncan Campbell and “Living Dialogues” as it reaches so many people and is so consistent helping people reach an understanding that they already have. He is the one that connects people to that and I am so grateful.
Duncan Campbell: From time immemorial, beginning with indigenous councils and ancient wisdom traditions, through the work of Western missionaries such as Plato, Galileo and quantum physicist David Boehm, mutually participatory dialogue has been seen as the key to evolving and transforming consciousness, evoking a flow of meaning, a ‘dia’ – flow – of ‘logos’ – meaning, beyond what any one individual can bring through alone.
So join us now as together we view, the active in deep listener we invoke and engage in living dialogues.
Duncan Campbell: Welcome to “Living Dialogues”. I'm your host Duncan Campbell. With me for this particular dialogue I'm truly delighted to have with me old friend, wonderful spiritual teacher, world traveler Byron Katie together with her husband Stephen Mitchell.
She is the author most recently of a new book “A Thousand Names for Joy - Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are”.
In the midst of a normal life, Byron Katie became increasingly depressed and for 10 years sank deeper and deeper into rage and despair. Then one morning in 1986 she woke up in a state of absolute joy, transformed by the realization that when we believe our thoughts, we suffer. But when we question our thoughts we don't.
Katie has introduced her simple method of self-inquiry, which she calls ‘The Work’ to hundreds of thousands of people on all continents. The work is a way of identifying and inquiring into the thoughts that cause all the suffering in the world. It consists of four questions that when applied to this specific stressful thought, enable us to see our problems in an entirely different light.
The work does not stem from any tradition, Eastern or Western. It doesn't fit into any single category. It is no-nonsense, homegrown, totally accessible and user-friendly having originated in the mind of an ordinary woman who had no intention of originating anything.
So Katie, with that very brief introduction of your life, I would like to maybe at this point just let people know that if they're interested in the work and how to do it, not only is it in the appendix to this new book, but they can go to www.thework.com and also to your two prior books, “Loving What Is” and –
Byron Katie: “I Need Your Love - Is That True?”
Duncan Campbell: That’s right. And so, with this I think we could jump right in I think to “A Thousand Names for Joy”, because it takes your work to another level I would say, or amplifies it in a way that is unique.
In this case it arose out of your relationship with your husband Stephen Mitchell, who, two decades ago or more, had translated the “Tao Te Ching”, the classic of Lao Tzu, the Chinese sage. That book has sold over 750,000 copies and has in a sense become the standard in America, the most widely read and appreciated version of the “Tao Te Ching”.
And as you were both talking about it, Stephen would read you a passage and you would comment and he started writing them down. And out of that evolved this wonderful new book “A Thousand Names for Joy”, in which each of the chapters is a contemporary commentary we might say, your own observations on the co-relative chapter of the “Tao Te Ching” in Stephen's translation.
And as Stephen says in his introduction, it is not necessary to read the two of them together because each one of your chapters has a small excerpt of the relevant “Tao Te Ching” chapter. But nonetheless, it is a very rich and wonderful experience, in my own experience, I can say to just feel the flowing stream of human wisdom, the essence flowing over 2500 years and into our own being and emanating from our being.
So maybe I should just start by asking you how this experience was for you, to encounter this book and your own feelings about how this new book of yours fits into the evolution of your own life story, or non-story as the case may be.
Byron Katie: Well, you know my life is about being with people and assisting them as they question what they believe. And that's my job. That's what I do. Conversations with people, including my family, are not about me. I don't find me of interest. And I like to say I am in a hurry. Peoples’ suffering, I come to see that if they can question what they believe, that pain, that agony, that suffering ends. And I watch as they are no longer able to re-create the suffering because they wake themselves up actually as they experience their own answers.
So Stephen had this idea to read chapters of the “Tao” to me just to get my response and thought it would make a great book. So actually he would read a chapter and then ask me how I relate to that. So I would describe how I experience life, how I experience life and put it into words in relationship to the “Tao Te Ching”.
And it was great fun and it was just like talking to Stephen, just a normal conversation every day. He'll say, “Katie, how are you?” And I'll think. I might say something like, “Honey, you don't seriously still believe I am a me?”
And you know we have a - you know, reading “A Thousand Names for Joy” is like stepping into my internal life.
Duncan Campbell: One of the things I particularly appreciated about it of course is that it is a real dialogue. It is on multi-levels. It is the dialogue between you and Stephen. It is the dialogue between you and Lao Tzu. It is the dialogue between you and that something, which sometimes you call ‘it’, in yourself, that anima - that animated consciousness that comes through the form of Byron Katie.
And what I also really appreciated is that it is the same thing we are doing in this program. You know, the inspiration for “Living Dialogues” was that out of a genuine dialogue where we don't identify, as David Boehm might say, with our particle cells, but we let go into the waveform in which you are there and I am here and Stephen is here but actually none of us are here and something is coming through us and it is evoked by each other's presence. I thought this was a wonderful idea for a book. So maybe you could go into a little more detail of how you felt encountering Lao Tzu.
One of the things of course that is remarkable about your own life is that you arrived at these insights without any formal exposure to say, the great spiritual texts. Like Stephen, one of the world’s great translators has translated, you know, portions of the Bible, the Book of Job, Genesis, the poetry of Rilke, the Bhagavad Gita, Gilgamesh. And yet you had your awakening almost like, I am fond of saying like Ramana Maharshi, where it just happened to you in 1986. And it came out of a lot of suffering and despair, which in retrospect you realized had its core in the identification of the ‘me-ness’.
So maybe you could talk a little bit about that experience and how it evolved and then may be related to your experience dialoguing with Stephen two decades later. If you could kind of revisit that moment where you, yourself were experiencing a lot of suffering, connected, you found out, with the belief in the ‘me-ness’ or the story. And here you are, two decades later, largely freed of that belief and living a life in a flow where the experience is now in a sense manifesting through this book.
Stephen Mitchell: I would say entirely freed. That's my experience of her.
Duncan Campbell: Entirely free, yes. Well Stephen, maybe you would just like to say a little bit now about your own experience as the book started.
Stephen Mitchell: I'm sure, and I would like to point out that in “A Thousand Names For Joy” there is a very detailed and riveting description of Kitty’s experience on the floor of the halfway house in 1986, where she goes in minute detail - I was about to say moment by moment but there was no moment there so it's all compressed into a single instant of no time.
But she unpacks that single no instant and it's fascinating to read about how this person, who is so much for me the embodiment of clarity and love, was born in that moment. So it's chapter 63, if your listeners are interested. It's an amazing story.
Duncan Campbell: Well, let's go right to chapter 63 because that's a story that has been told in one form or another before but there is a richness of detail and contemporary quality to this. So let's go to chapter 63 and see you know, this wonderful correlation actually with the “Tao Te Ching”.
Byron Katie: And you know Duncan, as Stephen says, he is reading chapters from his translation of the “Tao Te Ching” and Lao Tzu, honey. I don't hear it as Lao Tzu or Stephen. What I'm hearing are concepts and to me every word is wisdom coming from anyone out of anyone's mouth or mind. That's how I hear.
Like if someone says for example, “Katie, you're wrong”, I think, “Oh my goodness, how wise are they?” And I stop and listen to them while they enlighten me as to where I am wrong. And maybe it does or doesn't but I am so open because there is only one mind and there is no mistake even in a sound.
Duncan Campbell: And in one of the chapters of your book, you embellish the very things you are talking about right now. I remember quite clearly saying that it's only normal, we might say in our conventional world, to be hurt when somebody criticizes us, or we might shrink into defensiveness. And yet we begin to see that that is actually where the suffering is coming from.
Byron Katie: Yes.
Duncan Campbell: And if we can meet the criticism without our story, without defending ourselves, it can actually be an illumination. And it reminds me of Kabir, you know, the great 15th century poet who said, “Make a tent in your courtyard for your enemies because they are the ones who teach us how to wash the clothes of our heart.”
Byron Katie: Oh, absolutely.
Duncan Campbell: Because it comes with the abrasiveness and not the smoothness of people who are always friendly to you. So there is a lesson to be learned from everyone, whether they are friend or foe.
Byron Katie: Absolutely. There is nothing wasted if we are open to it. We can see, in fact it's adding too.
Duncan Campbell: In fact, I love the way you said yes, and then you listened deeply. And then you say, “Well, tell me more.”
Byron Katie: Yes, tell me more.
Duncan Campbell: Why is it you find me so irritating?
Byron Katie: Yes, yes.
Duncan Campbell: Whatever the criticism may happen to be.
Byron Katie: Yeah, so, you know how can I be enlightened to it if I am blind to it? And if I begin to defend, and that's where the war begins, I started it. And it is the war to shut me off from myself. Their attempt is to enlighten me and my attempt in a situation like that would be to stay small. So why don't I open and say, “You know, tell me everything. How is it that I irritate you? Tell me specifically.”
Because as long as we are unenlightened to our pain, it hurts. And also, suffering isn't normal, it just appears to be because the mind, if we take the whole world and language, it is one mind, no new stressful thoughts. So if we take that whole mind, it's always my mind I am working with.
You know, if I see someone as confused, I am confused. So, you know my mind opens until it understands.
Duncan Campbell: In fact, you know as you are saying that, I am thinking that the tradition of all the great so-called masters, you know, the sages such as Lao Tzu throughout the centuries in any tradition, Eastern or Western, have one thing in common also, which is that they are in a kind of sense a spotless mirror for the world that they are seeing. And this is a great gift. It is a blessing to everyone that they encounter because when one projects onto that mirror, whether it is criticism or adulation or some sense of ignoring one's true self, then one can see in the presence of a spotless mirror.
Byron Katie: Yes.
Duncan Campbell: Where one is caught and what one's own suffering is. And so it becomes in a sense self-liberating to be simply there, present, in the moment.
Byron Katie: Yes, yes, open, understanding, awake.
Duncan Campbell: Yeah. And so, let us now go to chapter 63. And here is what Lao Tzu said, these 2500 years ago:
“Act without doing. Work without effort. Think of the small as large and the few as many. Confront the difficult while it is still easy. Accomplish the great task by a series of small acts. The master never reaches for the great. Thus she achieves greatness. When she runs into a difficulty she stops and gives herself to it. She doesn't cling to her own comfort. Thus, problems are no problem for her.”
And it was in response to that that you felt on the spot, inspired to talk about that moment of awakening in 1986.
Byron Katie: Mmmhmm. And Stephen reads it to me and then I just open to it. What actually happened was my self-esteem was so low I didn't believe I even deserved a bed to sleep in, so I night after night slept upon the floor.
One morning, actually a cockroach crawled over my foot - you have to tell it like it is - and I open my eyes and in place of all that darkness was a joy that, to this day, I can't tell. And that's why the work is so valuable. It takes people to that experience so we can all share in it and wake up to ourselves.
You know, there was no ‘I’. It was as though something was looking out of the holes in its head. And it wasn't even ‘it’. There was just absolutely no reference.
And Duncan, the joy - it was like something that had never been born before anywhere, anytime, was awake and just piercing out of that, just flowing out of it. It was so magnificent and if I call it ‘I’ - the ultimate power, the ultimate energy, alive, just alive and born, unleashed.
And then people would say, “Hi Katie”, and I began to be identified. I think they think I'm Katie. And they would say, “How are you?” And then you begin to notice that you are supposed to know who you are, what you are. They would say you know, “Your children are beautiful”. That's how you know you have children. “Why don't you sit down?” That's how you know that people sit down.
I became, it became identified and if someone asked me truly, “What is your name?” I wouldn't be honest. I couldn't honestly give them a name unless I began to name every name, every name. And that's it.
Duncan Campbell: You did mention also in this new book that at the beginning you felt you had to maintain your integrity and not lie to people by falling into this confirmation of their concept of you as Katie.
Byron Katie: Yes. Yes.
Duncan Campbell: But then you found a way over time to actually you know, do that, but not do it in a way that reinforced that sense of separateness. Perhaps you could talk a little about that.
Byron Katie: Yes, you know, to this day if someone says, “Hi Katie”, my mind - if it worked at all, if I was thinking at all, the thought would be like, “They think I'm Katie”.
“Oh, it's Katie!” And I might think, “It’s Katie they think.” And sometimes I talk out loud that way with people that are used to me. Other than that, I'm just quiet and not contradicting anyone. People believe what they believe and that's their whole world, their whole identity, their whole life. And I couldn't and wouldn't, wouldn't because I couldn't take anyone's identity. And these questions allow everyone to take their own, to wake up to who they are not, and to what they are not. And that's a wonderful thing to observe and watch.
You know, it's me, it's me, it's me.
Duncan Campbell: It’s like what you call the turnaround. People frequently say it takes a lot of courage to be yourself. And we could turn it around and say it takes a lot of courage to not be yourself as seen by the eyes of others or your own self-reflective ego or mind.
Byron Katie: If you love.
Stephen Mitchell: Or we could turn it around again and say it doesn't take a lot of courage not to be yourself.
Duncan Campbell: [laughs]
Stephen Mitchell: That’s just as true.
Duncan Campbell: Yes, exactly right. It doesn't take any effort. Courage, as Stephen I think has remarked earlier, comes from the French word coeur, or heart. So, when you are in your heart, courage actually from that point of view, another turnaround, is effortless. It's just what it is. It's just being.
I am reminded here of a very funny story as we are talking. One time I went back, I think it was for my 25th college reunion at university. And one of my classmates had become an Associate Dean in one of the residential dormitories. So as we were walking down from his apartment and going to breakfast one morning, there were these fresh faced 20-year-old undergraduates that would come by and say, “Good morning, Dean Given”.
“Oh, good morning sir. “Good morning, Dean Given.”
And he said to me, you know out of the side of his mouth, he says, “You know, it's so wonderful. We used to be these students and as they are saying this - Dean Given, Dean Given, you know - little do they know that inside I'm just hanging on by my fingernails.” [Laughs]
But he felt that he couldn't actually project that or reveal that in his position and that there was an expectation that they wanted him to be a certain rock for them or a certain figure that was occupying a position. It was very amusing because you could see that the person who he really was wanted to come out but he felt he couldn't in that kind of circumstance.
Byron Katie: Yeah, and I don't have a problem with it if people approach me directly. At first though it was very - it's like, not to lie, so that meant not to talk.
Duncan Campbell: Right.
Byron Katie: Because there is no thought and no word that is true. And I just in a moment noticed as it was talking and it was responding that that is what love does, and that was the discovery that allowed me to teach what isn't true simply with, “How are you?”
It enforces that people actually are a ‘you’. So it was an interesting journey in those first two or three years.
Duncan Campbell: And Stephen, what was your first experience upon encountering Katie? How did that come about?
Stephen Mitchell: My literary agent discovered the work in 1999. He is an old-time Zen student as I am. He had trained with Suzuki Roshi in Tassajara and is a person of very fine discernment. So when he says something I listen.
He sent me a couple of tapes of Katie's. I listened to them and was very impressed. Then he said, “You’ve got to go and see her. It's even more powerful in person.” So made a date to go see her. She was doing a workshop up in Marin. And for some reason it seemed like a good idea for me to make a date with her assistance to meet her before the event.
I walked into this living room in Mill Valley in Northern California, looked into her eyes and saw something that blew me to smithereens. Looking into her eyes I saw someone with a completely open heart and a wisdom and a depth that I had never seen before. It was like, as you said, looking into a perfectly clear mirror. And I saw what was missing in my own heart, which was a revelation and I knew that this was my teacher.
I was totally in love with her. It wasn't in the least personal, certainly not sexual. It was like coming home. So it's not a unique experience on my part. People fall in love with Katie right and left, male and female, whatever. But it was a wonderful recognition in that instant of looking into her eyes for the first time.
Duncan Campbell: Wordlessly.
Stephen Mitchell: Yes. And we sat there together for an hour and a half, mostly wordlessly, some words, holding hands. It was wonderful.
Duncan Campbell: You know, as you are saying that Stephen, it reminds me of the time when I was at Zen Center attending Trungpa Rinpoche, who was meeting Suzuki Roshi for the first time. And the two of them sat together, largely wordlessly for about 45 minutes and occasionally looking up words in the dictionary and laughing together. [Laughs]
There was that sense of communion that you describe that is not about exchanging information through language. Yeah.
Stephen Mitchell: I used to sit with my old Zen master, 10 years after I first met him after whatever drama needed to happen between us had happened and was long gone, he would come to Berkeley and I would sit with him for a half hour or 45 minutes at a time. We would hold hands and not say too much. It was wonderful. But that was maybe a tenth of the intensity or a thousandth of the intensity of this experience with Katie.
Duncan Campbell: And then how did it evolve?
Stephen Mitchell: Very well.
Duncan Campbell: I mean, did you see each other everyday thereafter or did you go off on tour?
Stephen Mitchell: No. No. No, actually here's how it happened. That evening I had dinner with my agent and he said that he really felt that a book should happen; that there was a book that somebody should help Katie write or write about her. His idea at the time was a kind of extended New Yorker profile. I said, “That’s a wonderful idea and I'm not that kind of writer. But I can help you find one.”
Then the next day he called me and said, “I have a wonderful new idea. It needs to be about Katie from the inside. It needs to be about the work.” I said, “Well, I can certainly do that. Actually I think I'm the only person that I know can do it.”
So I went down to see her a few days afterwards because I wanted, before I made that commitment, to test her. I had known a lot of spiritual teachers and Zen masters in all sorts of traditions and I wanted to see where she was about money and power because, in my experience, this is where whatever karmic weaknesses people had happened around those two issues.
Duncan Campbell: And also sex.
Stephen Mitchell: Well, sex I didn't have a question with about Katie.
Duncan Campbell: Oh, I knew that but I'm saying the big three for the 70s and 80s and 90s - yes, go ahead.
Stephen Mitchell: That's true. And then, you know, within a half hour I knew that she was absolutely innocent and very pure around those two issues. I said yes to myself about book. And that was the beginning of “Loving What Is”.
Duncan Campbell: How wonderfully wise, Stephen, to have done that. Yes. And Katie, what was your experience on your or on its side of the equation?
Byron Katie: Well, you know, I had no idea any of this was going on. All I knew was Stephen said that he wanted to meet with me. And this wonderful man, his agent, actually experienced The Work and called me and said, “May I be your agent?” You know, literary agent, and I didn't know what that was.
He said, “You know, you have a book.” And I said, “No I don't.” And, you know I didn't. And anyway it went on from there. So Stephen wanted to come meet me and be with me for a couple of days and Michael, my literary agent advised me to do it. So I said yes.
Duncan Campbell: And you remembered him from your first meeting just a few days or was it a month before?
Byron Katie: Oh yes. Yes.
Stephen Mitchell: It was a year before.
Duncan Campbell: A full year? So you hadn't seen each other for a full year after this first encounter?
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