March 19, 2009

Loving What Is

This book made me want to hit my head against the wall. Repeatedly. And hard. And to think I only got about 50 pages in before I gave up on it, listed it for sale on Amazon, and sent it off to the next unsuspecting person.

I don't know why I haven't learned my lesson about self-help books. Most of them suck balls. I've only read one that I've found remotely helpful. The others have just been a waste of my time.

This time, I was lured into thinking that this book would be good because a blogger that I like read it and loved it. Also, the author of the book is married to Stephen Mitchell, who is responsible for the best translation of the Tao Te Ching ever. (Seriously, his translation is so awesome that I keep a small copy of the book in my purse!) I thought, "Hey! Anyone who's married to Stephen Mitchell can't be bad!"

Well, I was wrong. I don't know if I think Byron Katie (author of Loving What Is) is a bad person, but I do think that her book really does oversimplify things in a way that could end up having extremely negative effects for a lot of people.

I do agree with Katie's basic premise: that we need to take responsibility for our part in things and that we need to learn to accept reality instead of thinking about how things "should" or "should not" be. I think accepting a situation or person as it/he/she is instead of projecting our ideals onto them is a wonderful and ambitious way of looking at the world.


I do not agree with Katie's assertion that learning to "love what is" is going to equal sunshine and puppy dogs. I think it is extremely irresponsible for someone to claim that by doing "The Work" (which is what Katie calls her self-help plan), one can live in perfect happiness.

We live in a world that is full of pain and imperfection. Perfect happiness does not exist. To deny this is ridiculous. And to say that people need to let go of their pain denies them the rights to feel that pain and to ultimately be human. Yes, I'm sure we could all learn a little about letting go of negative feelings. However, who decided that feelings like anger, sadness, shame, and humiliation were negative?

We did.

And honestly, feelings are feelings. They just are. Bottom line, I think people should be allowed to have their feelings no matter what they are - if they can have them, the easier it might be to let them go when/if they feel the need to.

Like I mentioned earlier, this book also talks about accountability, which I believe is a quality that a lot of people in this world lack. Everything is someone else's fault, etc. Lack of accountability is a quality in others that I find extremely annoying, so it was nice to read what Katie had to say about it.


Again, she went overboard with simplifying the need to take accountability for one's actions. Because the implication is that you have to take accountability for everything that happens to you. And this is not something I agree with. Yes, life is probably 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it, but it is so much more complicated than that.

I know that Katie's overall message is that peace and contentment are ideals that can be reached. But I don't think it's fair to put too much of the blame on ourselves. And I certainly don't think it's right to dangle "perfect happiness" in front of our faces as something that can be achieved if we do The Work.

Granted, I didn't finish the book. For one, it wasn't very engaging. For another, when I was engaged, I argued with it the whole time I read it. It just didn't resonate with me. But I did read the beginning part that explains The Work and a few transcripts that show Katie and The Work in action. Meh. So not impressed.

Here's a positive review of the book (from Amazon):

You know how as you get older you start talking and acting like your parents in certain ways? You don't get up one day and decide you're going to be like your mother or father. It's a process that seems to happen on its own. Reading Byron Katie's Loving What Is, is like that.You easily pick-up on it and find yourself naturally, imperceptibly, using her methods.

This book takes the stuff of life -- family, marriage, children, money, addictions, friends, lovers, judgments of self and life, fear, pain, anger, worry, and the thoughts the mind is constantly generating -- and it shows you how to free yourself from the stresses they impose. It shows you how to take things that bother you and make them not bother you. It frees you from that.

The Work, as Katie's method is called, is easy to do. Nothing beyond the book is required.

In The Work, you start with the worksheet. The purpose of the worksheet is to bring your mind to paper. You start by judging people. Later you judge thoughts, issues, self-judgments. You start with a person. You write down what angers, saddens, disappoints you about that person. How do you want them to change? What do they need to give you? What do you think of this person? What don't you want to experience with this person again? These are only a few of the questions on the worksheet.

Next you investigate each statement in the worksheet by exposing it to four questions. For each statement you ask, (1) Is it true? (2) Can you absolutely know that it's true? (3) How do you react when you think that thought? (4) Who would you be without that thought?

The four questions allow one to look at the source of pain and stress.

Finally you turn around each statement so that instead of judging another person, you are judging yourself. "Bill angers me," can be turned around to, "I anger me," or "I anger Bill," or "Bill doesn't anger me." With the turnaround comes the key to healing because it is a look into reality.

The worksheet presents the situation of stress and pain. The four questions reveal the source of stress and pain. The turnaround shows what the reality is, and with this comes healing.

The book features in-depth examples of The Work in action. The most stressful and difficult human situations are handled. Loving What Is is also available in audio edition, which is an effective way of absorbing The Work.

The most important quality of The Work is that it feels natural. Katie says over and over again that she is a "lover of reality." The Work comes out of reality and takes the user to reality.

And a negative one (also from Amazon):

You know the serenity prayer, "God grant me the grace to accept what I cannot change, to change what I cannot accept, and the wisdom to tell the difference"? This book is a thousand times longer, and only gets a through a tiny part of the prayer. It could really be boiled down to one word: "Accept!". I certainly agree that acceptance is a useful tool for finding inner peace, but the author is holding a hammer and nailing down everything in sight.

I have a basic philosophical problem with her premise. I believe that vulnerability to others and suffering are a fundamental, and sometimes valuable, part of human existence. My fiance was murdered, and I grieve tremendously for him. I don't want to suffer for the sake of it, but my guess is that Rophie would tell me that I don't need to be sad at all. In my opinion, this is not only ridiculous, it's unhealthy. It's human nature to object to loss, and to pretend otherwise ultimately impedes healing. Rophie claims that you shouldn't need anything from other people, that you can give it all to yourself. I say bollocks! We are biologically designed to need each other. Babies who aren't held and loved can't thrive, and it's not because they're telling themselves sad stories.

Like other reviewers, I found her claims of "open inquiry" disingenuous. It was clear in every transcript that she was steering her client to an answer she'd decided upon herself. The author also implies that there's no possibility of healthy disagreement with her perspective. Either you see things her way, or you're unready for "The Work."

I've edited my review because on reflection, this is the biggest problem I have with the book. When you're writing a spiritual book, particularly a book about personal reality, you really ought to make room for the possibility that there might be other approaches that work as well or better for different people. Stating that your book is the end-all, be-all and implying that anyone who isn't helped just isn't doing it right doesn't jibe with that darned "open inquiry" thing. I find it a little amusing that this attitude is reflected by a lot of her fans too. Many positive reviews here openly say that if you don't love this book, there's something wrong with you. How's that for enlightenment? The only thing that really helped me get through the death of my love was group therapy. Some people in the group left it because they didn't find it helpful. One friend of mine cured his depression by becoming a devoted student of Tai Chi. Different things work for different people. THAT'S what an open mind is, not insisting that what worked for you works for the rest of the world.

As for the person who criticized another reviewer for not reading every line in the book: my hat's off to those of you who could. The parts that weren't offensively smug were horrifically dull. She says her book ENDS suffering? I've had more fun reading tax forms.

I will say that several people I respect say this book changed their lives, so it may have value for the new reader. Just make sure you give it a good once over in the bookstore before you fork over your cash.

It's safe to say that 1) I agree with the second review I shared here, and 2) I won't be recommending this book to anyone. Because anyone who can brainwash a rape victim into taking full responsibility for her feelings regarding her rape experience (not to mention the experience itself) really sucks, in my opinion. That's exactly what the author did in this book. And if that's part of the reality that Byron Katie wants me to experience, you can count me out.


phairhead said...

and an egomanic to boot! who puts themselves on the cover of their self-help book?

Anonymous said...

yikes! this is why I stay clear of self help books.

nice book review though.

amber said...

as much as i read, i've never read any self-help books. sounds like i'm not missing out on too much, though. sorry it was such a disappointment. :(