People in Barstow noticed the transformation as soon as Katie came home. Everyone wanted to know what she'd done to become so suddenly joyful, so able to live in the moment and embrace life. Whatever it was, they wanted some, too. So Katie started talking about the four questions she asked herself when she had a problem—and in those conversations were the seeds of what would eventually become an empire. She began inviting people to spend time with her so they could observe her way of life; soon, small groups of students were gathering in her home. After she was invited to speak to a gathering of psychologists in the Berkeley area, the small groups turned into growing crowds of followers, at seminars devoted to what came to be known as The Work of Byron Katie—the deceptively simple and wildly successful method of dealing with life's emotional pain that is based on her four little questions.
In service to The Work, which by now has been embraced by millions, Katie, at 67, follows a schedule that would crush most people half her age. ("Once you get rid of all the stressful thoughts, there's so much energy," she says.) She travels the world teaching and speaking about The Work (between now and October she'll be in New York, the Netherlands, England, Germany, and Massachusetts). She writes best-selling books on The Work (six, so far; the first, Loving What Is, published in 2002, has been translated into 28 languages). Because she finds The Work so well-suited to augmenting the 12-step recovery process, she runs a 28-day residential program called Turnaround House (catering to addicts and anyone with "deep-seated self-defeating behaviors"). She does endless pro bono sessions, in particular at prisons. And she never tires of dealing with a public that seems to feel she owes it the sort of loving-kindness most of us reserve for our intimates—an assumption Katie herself happens to share completely.
Although Katie charges a fee for personal consultations, her Web site includes all the materials needed to do The Work, free of charge. It also features videos that show her guiding people through The Work. Sometimes these people's problems are so dire and their wishes so plaintive that her questions—though asked in the most gentle, coaxing way—can seem cruel. "Is that true?" she keeps prodding men and women who have admitted a tormenting fact about their lives. "Is that really true?" Yet, invariably, with Katie's help, these people appear to find their burdens suddenly, almost miraculously lifted.
And that is why, nearly two years ago, being in need of a miracle of my own, I found myself driving to Byron Katie's house in the horse country of Ojai, California, about an hour and a half northwest of my home in Los Angeles. I went with a friend, and we made good time up the coast. The day had an air of inevitability, even magic. (When you're 46 and cancer-ridden and screaming "road trip!" every ten minutes en route to seeing a guru, it's easy to get carried away.) Then we arrived at the white house situated in a vast Elysium of orchards and gardens and protected by a large wrought iron gate—a house built in a style that could be called unpretentious California ranch, but on a scale such that its four-car garage did not seem outsize—and the weirdness of what I had set in motion hit me.
As I waited for Katie in the sweeping, light-filled foyer after her husband let me in (her doting third husband, Stephen Mitchell, a best-selling writer and translator), I couldn't help thinking, "So it's come to this: The drugs didn't work, and now I'm seeing some kind of faith healer." A very well-to-do faith healer with a thing for white. Everywhere I looked, I saw white. Not like the big white light you're supposed to see at the end, but the white everyone warns you not to buy furniture and rugs in because it will get filthy. But this wasn't filthy; it was radiant. Windows, light, beauty.
"I just sat there and sat there and sat there—and then kaboom in my mind like you cannot believe: I realized that Katie had nailed it."
We Hear You!