Do you have a book that you keep near — one you can open to any random page and receive words of encouragement or wisdom? Maybe it’s a sacred text of some kind, maybe a contemporary book, or a book of poems.
For me right now, it’s “A Thousand Names For Joy” by Byron Katie. (She goes by Katie.)
I read the book from cover to cover a while ago and then set it aside for several months. I opened it again recently for some help.
A Thousand Names for Joy had an interesting beginning, by the way. Author Stephen Mitchell (Katie’s husband) tells that when he first met her, he was profoundly impressed by her openness of heart and her wisdom.
“She was a total innocent: she had read nothing, she knew nothing, about Buddhism or Taoism or any other spiritual tradition; she just had her own experience to refer to. The most wonderful insights would pop out of her mouth, sometimes straight from a sutra or an Upanishad, without any awareness on her part that anyone had ever said them before.”
Because Stephen is an expert in the Tao Te Ching (in 1986 he wrote 81 chapters about it) he began to read it to her and ask for her take on it. That’s how A Thousand Names for Joy began. He asked her questions and noted what she said.
LIVING, BREATHING, DAILY PRACTICE
It is one thing to read about being in harmony with the way things are, or even understand it to some extent, and it’s quite another to live it fully every day in every circumstance. Living it is the true test. I learned this (again) in a very deep way with Eric’s passing.
I have thought of myself as being somewhat (fumblingly, inconsistently) able to go with the flow, even in fairly difficult circumstance, or — be acutely aware when I’m not. Both states are of equal importance to me, because being aware that I’m not in the flow, or not accepting what is, helps me as much as being in the flow.
One evening as I was heading for bed, I was especially aware and awake about being in a funk. I was aware that I was not in the flow. I was hurting, and I was down. I was sad. And on top of that, I felt discouraged, weary and self-critical about being so sad.
I turned to A Thousand Names For Joy, closed my eyes, and asked for help. I asked to receive a message that would help my heart.
I don’t know your situations, your struggles, or your demons. I don’t know what sends you into a spin or what burdens you. I don’t know what worries you or sits heavy in the corners of your beautiful heart.
But I hope peace comes to you in a profound way when you read these words by Katie.
A NOTE OF EXPLANATION ABOUT “INQUIRY”
To make sense of the book quote I’m about to share with you, when Katie uses the word “inquiry” she specifically means The Work, which consists of four questions and what she calls a turnaround. A turnaround is a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believe. For more information visit The Work. She offers everything to do “The Work” for free on her website.
The four questions used to inquire within about a stressful thought are:
- Is it true?
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
- How do you react when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
When you first encounter her questions, they may seem intellectual. But from my own experience, I began to understand the depth of the process and how they work by watching videos of Katie using these questions with people who were in deep pain. When the questions were answered honestly, they revealed what couldn’t be seen when a person was up to his or her elbows in emotion.
QUOTE FROM A THOUSAND NAMES FOR JOY
What I’m sharing with you today is page 47-48 of A Thousand Names For Joy, #16 entry, which begins with this quote from the Tao Te Ching: “Immersed in the wonder of the Tao, you can deal with whatever life brings you, and when death comes, you are ready.”
The main text continues:
“You can’t empty your mind of thoughts. You might as well try to empty the ocean of its water. Thoughts just keep coming back, it seems. That’s the way of it.
But thoughts aren’t a problem if they’re met with understanding. Why would you even want to empty your mind, unless you’re at war with reality? I love my thoughts. And if I were ever to have a stressful thought, I know how to question it and give myself peace. Even the most stressful thought could come along, and I would just be amused. You can have ten thousand thoughts a minute and if you don’t believe them, your heart remains at peace.
The original stressful thought is the thought of an I. Before that thought, there was peace. A thought is born out of nothing and instantly goes back to where it came from. If you look before, between, and after your thoughts, you’ll see that there is only a vast openness. That’s the space of don’t-know. It’s who we really are. It’s the source of everything, it contains everything: life and death, beginning, middle and end.
Until we know that death is as good as life, and that it always comes at just the right time, we’re going to take on the role of God without the awareness of it, and it’s always going to hurt. Whenever you mentally expose what is, you’re going to experience sadness and apparent separation. There’s no sadness without a story. What is is. You are it.
I have a friend who, after doing inquiry sincerely for a number of years, came to understand that the world is a reflection of mind. She was married to a man who was the love of her life, and one day, while they were sitting on their couch, he had a heart attack and died in her arms. After the first shock and the tears, she began looking for grief, and there was none. For weeks she kept looking for grief, because her friends told her that grief was a necessary part of the healing process. And all she felt was a completeness: that there was nothing of him that she’d had while he was physically with her that she didn’t have now.
She told me that every time a sad thought about him appeared, she would immediately ask, “Is it true?” and see the turnaround, which washed away the sadness and replaced it with what was truer.
“He was my best friend; I have no one to talk to now” became “I am my best friend; I have me to talk to now.”
“I’ll miss his wisdom” became “I don’t miss his wisdom”; there was no way she could miss it, because she was that wisdom.
Everything she thought she’d had in him she could find in herself; there was no difference. And because he turned out to be her, he couldn’t die. Without the story of life and death, she said, there was just love. He was always with her.”
Thank you, Katie. I needed that.
I hope her words help you in some way.