This originally appeared as an article in GreenLeaf, the monthly newsletter for the GreenStar food coop in Ithaca, New York.
It was 2005 when I snarled a frustrated comment about someone I loved and a woman used my statement to guide me through an inquiry process. I had such an instant experience of seeing another in a new, kinder light (and of liking myself a whole lot better) that I hired this woman. She was a life coach. The inquiry process was The Work of Byron Katie.
Katie works from the premise that nothing that happens is inherently stressful. Pain, anger, sadness, frustration—all come from our thoughts about what’s happening. These thoughts can be questioned.
After some months of fruitful coaching, I attended the nine-day School for The Work (inner excavation!) then made inquiry a daily habit. I changed. I changed in a way that even your children notice. I changed in the way that makes your spouse sign up for the same program. Within two years, things with my husband drastically improved, then we divorced. The short version is: we’d gotten the lessons and we were done.
Soon after this split, I drove through the desert to sit with a teacher for two hours. He told me this: treat everything like good news. Whatever comes to you, whatever doors open or shut, whatever happens even if it would look like failure and rejection to most intelligent life, believe that it’s the best thing that could happen to you.
Since then, I’ve been experimenting with radical trust: seeing everything (everything) as the Universe conspiring in my favor. Whenever I stray from believing this, I turn again to The Work. I put my stressful thoughts on paper and launch another round of inquiry.
The past two-plus years have brought plenty of thoughts to question. I moved because my ex moved, so we could still co-parent together. (Can I just mention I was a lesbian before and again after this nuclear family detour? Good news that he came to Ithaca, right?) I arrived with little money, scant possessions, and no job. Suddenly, my decade-long source of freelance editorial work ran dry. I cried over this during a memorable thunderstorm, used The Work to question my scary thoughts of abandonment, and recovered my courage by next sunrise. I found and lost a low-paying job in the first year, still had no savings, and figured if it wasn’t time to panic—if everything is good news—it must be time to do what I love.
With four years’ experience facilitating The Work, I expanded into life coaching. Through a hefty editorial trade, I landed a super-pricy coach to mentor me. I ate with food stamps and cleaned houses on the side. I stopped buying most things I ran out of (who needs Scotch tape?), buzz-cut my hair so I didn’t have to pay for styling, patched our clothes, and traded the old minivan for bus passes. I held doggedly to the conviction that coaching—being the Trust Coach—was my calling. My first paying client was an old acquaintance who phoned me in crisis (divorce!) just because she found my number in a drawer. Most of my first round of clients came from a chain of referrals that started with her.
Proceeding through these challenges, I made constant use of a simple Byron Katie trick: list the benefits in whatever’s happening. (Or ask, How could this be good news?) With enough boldness and courage, you can apply this to anything: when you’ve spilled the milk or been spurned by the lover, when your loss feels unspeakable, when your last best hope for help says no.
By choice and happenstance, I’ve started over in nearly every realm of life. Uncertainty has ruled. And far more often than not, I’ve been happy, connected, confident, reliable as a parent, quick to land on my feet, solid in my dignity, and shockingly kind to myself. I won’t try to muster a sufficiently messy description of how I would’ve handled all this before The Work. Don’t get me wrong: the uglies strike me sometimes. But they never pull me under or hold me down for long, because I can question any thought that isn’t loving and serene, and come back to sanity.