Byron Katie is the inventor of The Work, a method of self-inquiry based on four simple questions. She experienced an unexpected awakening in 1986 following years of severe depression.
Sunny Massad: Now did you even know what freedom was before?
Byron Katie: Yeah. Death! That was it. I obsessed suicide. I thought I had to get dead to get free.
SM: So did you get married, have children?
BK: Yeah, I got married. I married the man I dated in high school. And then we had three children. Then I divorced him. We were together many, many years and married 14 and then, several years after we divorced, I married a man who I'm still married to and we've been married almost 20 years and just raised the children.
SM: And how old are your kids now?
BK: 36 and 31 and 29 I think
SM: So, then what happened? I mean you were just kind of moving through your life did you work? You were raising three kids
BK: I always worked. I was always self-employed. I always knew how to make money. I was good at that. I was really good at that. Then after my divorce I started becoming just very depressed and well, long before my divorce actually. And pretty soon I couldn't leave my house. It was very difficult. And then pretty soon I couldn't leave my bedroom. I did that for like 8 to 10 years: the depression.
SM: And you continued to work?
BK: Yeah. As long as it was from my bedroom. Cuz the work I did was over the phone. And I could send other people to do what I couldn't do. My story is what people have told me, really, and so good you keep asking. [Long pause.] Anyway, long story short, I ended up in a halfway house.
SM: They were going to help your depression?
BK: Yeah. I was very suicidal, very depressed. Agoraphobic. Paranoid. Really pretty hopeless. Just obsessing the suicide. Many years. So I went to this halfway house and the women were so afraid of me that I was put in an attic that was the only way I could stay. They put me in an attic up above. And I slept on the floor in there. And one morning I was asleep on the floor and I felt this thing crawl over my foot and I looked down and it was a cockroach. I opened my eyes and [pause] what was born was not me and, the way I tell it is she rose, she walked, she apparently talked. She was delighted. It is so ecstatic to be born and not born. It sees, and sees everything, without a concept. It's amazing.
SM: Now, you're in the attic, the cockroach crawls over your foot, and you have an opening of some sort?
BK: That's it. Most definitely.
SM: Would it work to call it a sustained transcendent experience?
BK: I don't really call it anything
SM: Well, would the words match considering how it's described here? [I point to Maslow's description of transcendence, and then my description of sustained transcendence.]
BK: I would say, yes. Everything. It transcended itself and itself was everything. It totally transcended that. It's like this. Every moment's like this. It's like if you [lifts hand in front of face] is to be amazed. Just to see this hand, is amazing! I mean, I eat that food [points to the food], I am eating myself. It is so good! I mean, every moment, It is Itself now. But to see this, you get still with that. Or this. And you die. You dissolve into it. Anyone would. Just to get still. And I call it, who we are without a story. But it's I call it love, because I don't have another word. But just to see my hand in front of my face, or my foot, or the table, or anything, it's to see it for the first time. Here are the words that I would use: 'It's a privilege beyond what can be told.' It's self experiencing the mere image of itself born [inaudible in love?].
BK: Yeah. They said this is your husband. I said, good. These are your children. I said, good. Your name is Katie. Okie dokey.
SM: So you truly had a disidentification. Even of memory?
BK: Everything. Everything. Everything.
SM: So how did your behaviour change?
BK: Radically. Radically. Extreme opposite. It took a 180-degree shift. Totally. Total shift.
SM: So, some practical things: You were spending vast quantities of time in bed, you were depressed, and when the shift occurred?
SM: No time in bed?
BK: None. Three hours sleep and not eating.
This article appeared originally in The Noumenon Journal. Used with permission.
Sunny Massad, Ph.D., is a motivational psychologist and certified hypnotherapist. She lives in Hawaii. Click here for her website.