Byron Katie on: “Becoming Aware of Your Stories”
“I often use the word story to talk about thoughts, or sequences of thoughts, that we convince ourselves are real. A story may be about the past, the present, or the future; it may be about what things should be, what they could be, or why they are. Stories appear in our minds hundreds of times a day — when someone gets up without a word and walks out of the room, when someone doesn’t smile or doesn’t return a phone call, or when a stranger does smile; before you open an important letter, or after you feel an unfamiliar sensation in your chest; when your boss invites you to come to his office, or when your partner talks to you in a certain tone of voice. Stories are the untested, uninvestigated theories that tell us what all these things mean. We don’t even realize that they’re just theories.
“Once, as I walked into the ladies’ room at a restaurant near my home, a woman came out of the single stall. We smiled at each other, and, as I closed the door, she began to sing and wash her hands. ‘What a lovely voice!’ I thought. Then, as I heard her leave, I noticed that the toilet seat was dripping wet. ‘How could anyone be so rude?’ I thought. ‘And how did she manage to pee all over the seat? Was she standing on it?’ Then it came to me that she was a man — a transvestite, singing falsetto in the women’s restroom. It crossed my mind to go after her (him) and let him know what a mess he’d made. As I cleaned the toilet seat, I thought about everything I’d say to him. Then I flushed the toilet. The water shot up out of the bowl and flooded the seat. And I just stood there laughing.
“In this case, the natural course of events was kind enough to expose my story before it went any further. Usually it doesn’t; before I found inquiry, I had no way to stop this kind of thinking. Small stories bred bigger ones; bigger stories bred major theories about life, how terrible it was, and how the world was a dangerous place. I ended up feeling too frightened and depressed to leave my bedroom.
“When you’re operating on uninvestigated theories of what’s going on and you aren’t even aware of it, you’re in what I call ‘the dream.’ Often the dream becomes troubling; sometimes it even turns into a nightmare. At times like these, you may want to test the truth of your theories by doing The Work on them. The Work always leaves you with less of your uncomfortable story. Who would you be without it? How much of your world is made up of unexamined stories? You never know until you inquire.”