An Interview with Byron Katie

Byron Katie is the inventor of The Work, a method of self-enquiry based on four simple questions. She experienced an unexpected awakening in 1986 following years of severe depression.
Byron Katie

By Sunny Massad

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?].

SM: Mmm.

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?

BK: None.

SM: No time in bed?

BK: None. Three hours sleep and not eating.

SM: Do you know if you were dreaming when you’d sleep?

BK: Mmmm. Same as awake. Nothing real here. Nothing real there.

SM: So would you have dreams but recognise that they weren’t real?

BK: Same. It’s like sitting with you.

SM: What I’m trying to get is…sitting with me…

BK: Is a dream.

SM: And when you are asleep…I’m trying to understand, is it like meditation where it's just still and quiet or your mind is actually having images?

BK: Same. Same as sitting here with you. It’s all the same.

SM: So you are having visuals, and sound there too?

BK: Extremely rare. And heaven. Heaven. Heaven. Just like being here with you.

SM: So there was a lot of energy? And how did it affect your physical behaviour?

Byron Katie

Byron Katie

BK: No one told me what was going on. The people in Barstow, they don’t have the concepts like maybe the people in this group tonight would.

What was typical for me was to hit the streets. Open my eyes, and just hit the streets. Maybe encounter someone, this would not be unusual, and just walk up and just naturally put my arms around them…or walk beside them and take their hand and walk. And maybe they would move away…frightened. And I would say something like, ‘why are you pretending not to know me, why are you pretending not to care about me, why are you pretending not to love me? Why are you pretending not to recognise me?’ And so, I could see the fear in their eyes, because It starts to shift from there, because it’s me. So for you to be uncomfortable is my discomfort. I mean literally. And so I would go by the eyes and moving back and so It learned how the look is.

They used to call me ‘the lit lady’, and ‘the woman who walks by’ and I’d go out in the desert and just never come back cuz there’s no such thing as lost. I learned that the light, the litness, would apparently decrease and get less and less until it looked like yours. No happier, no sadder. The appearance isn’t quality, and that’s where it’s comfortable. But the litness doesn’t change levels. It just apparently does. It’s like a chameleon. I call it ‘love meets itself’. It doesn’t care where, it doesn’t care what. It just does. So that’s how I met people.

SM: So you were drawn toward human beings?

BK: Totally.

SM: Which was unusual considering…

BK: The extreme opposite. I [had not been] a lover of people or anything else that is.

SM: How has your relationship with your body changed?

BK: Um. I had one, now I don’t [laughs]. Um. Just total love. Just absolutely… I used to ask my children to just look at these hands and fingers…how the light hit it and touched it and just…maybe I would just ask them to come look at my foot or something and just marvel. It didn’t matter whether it was their foot or my foot it was…new. New. New. Took about three years for it to even begin to balance.

SM: And how was your relationship with your husband’s body?

BK: Uhhhh. [Sighs.] First time we made love it was just amaaazing. It was radical! Cuz it was God with God. And it was the receiving of it and the giving ah, it was just amazing!

SM: So how long were you in the hospital after the…the cockroach? [Laughing.]

BK: In Texas they call me La Cucaracha. You know people are not ‘not kind’, they’re honest instead.

SM: How long from the cockroach morning until you walked out the door?

BK: Oh, right away. Yeah, it was pretty scary. They were! It was more them getting rid of me I think.

SM: Were you medicated?

BK: No. Not that I remember. I think not.

SM: Had you ever been on medication?

BK: Premarin for 13 years.

SM: I’m trying to get a sense of, was it black and white or did it seem like there was preparation time and then the shift occurred? Because something happened where you went from being in the halfway house, drugged, you know, etc., and despairing, to now being on drugs, I mean, seemingly, I know you can’t remember…

BK: What I know is, or what I would say is, when I went to the halfway house I just can’t remember them medicating me at all. At all.

SM: Oh. At all. OK. And so how long ago was this, the event, I mean?

BK: 13 years. I think 13 years. Yeah, 1986.

SM: Just to clarify, you describe a phase of sleeping only three hours a night and hardly ate. Did that change?

BK: Yes, it fluctuated in and out for about three years.

SM: How many hours of sleep would you say you get now?

BK: Five to seven.

SM: Has your appetite returned?

BK: Yes.

SM: Many seekers are aspiring toward having a sustained transcendent experience. Can an STE be prepared for?

BK: If I say, if I talk about, ‘I want to be enlightened…’ it implies a future. And there isn’t any. And then we attach to…one by one, by one, by one… I call it ‘they get married and have babies.’ It’s reincarnation. You start with the…the I arises, and if you don’t notice, then it has a baby and a baby and a baby and it splits, it’s a cellular… [laughs] thing… it’s like the atoms splitting… I call it instantaneous unenlightenment. But if you’ll notice, then it ends. There’s no more reincarnation. So if you don’t notice, it continues. And that’s time and space and place. It’s an illusion. Like an internal optical illusion.

So there’s only transcendence in the moment. Nobody can be transcended forever. That’s why I say, ‘who cares if you’re enlightened forever? Can you just get it in this moment, now?’ And that’s what the investigation’s about. I mean, that’s all there is. I mean we’re so attached to the concept we’re in, that we really…it’s such a vivid movie that it would imply a past and future with it all in it. It’s just a concept now. So it is just in the moment now. There’s no division point in it. There’s nowhere where you know where it differentiates. It is so good. It, this transcendence thing is just a beginning. Until it comes back for itself and claims it, transcendence is just a beginning. It’s just a concept. And that’s what you were saying. It’s a concept that people aspire to and they don’t re-enter. And I don’t know why people don’t speak of it. But transcendence, there’s nothing in it. When It comes back for Itself, the mere image of Itself… It’s intoxicated. Couldn’t have anything else. It’s a matter of total greed.

SM: What is?

Sunny Massad

Sunny Massad

BK: Itself. It would have everything. It would just preen in front of the mirror. And you are that…and that…that beauty, and old and young, tall and short, and all things, and a flower and a tree…undivided. And that’s a beginning.

SM: [Inaudible question.]

BK: Yeah, no story, no suffering. No attachment to story, no suffering. I don’t even know what a sustained transcendent experience is. I only know that I have not seen a problem in 13 years that is real. And I have not met anyone or anything that I would change. Everything brings me such joy. I am everything. If that’s what a sustained transcendent experience is, no wonder people seek it; even though it is always, always apparent.

SM: Um. Let’s go back to that you didn’t have any words or concepts, I’m guessing you had never read any books, is that correct, about…such things [that we’re discussing]?

BK: No, no, not ever.

SM: Have you ever had a phase, like Suzanne Segal describes, about fear?

Suzanne Segal wrote a best-selling book about her awakening, Collision with the Infinite.

BK: Suzanne Segal was a friend of mine and I couldn’t relate to anything she said.

SM: You had the fear for 10 years, first? And so by the time your shift happened…

BK: Like U.G.…I totally relate.* And Suzanne, nothing. She used to call me and I couldn’t relate to anything she said.

*Reference to the radical mystic U.G. Krishnamurti.

SM: Can a person having a sustained transcendent experience know if someone else is having one?

BK: No. I see everyone as awake, whatever that is. I see everyone as clear.

SM: But you know when they’re talking about their story…

BK: I see they believe they’re not. I see the mere fact that they tell the story shows me that they don’t. The mere fact that they suffer from it tells me that they know better. I used to ask people, why are you pretending not to know?

SM: Would you say then, that Suzanne was pretending that she knew?

BK: No. No, I wouldn’t say that. I just don’t relate to anything she said.

SM: She described disidentification by saying that she was located to the left of her body. Do you have that experience?

BK: No.

SM: So, do you know if U.G. is having a sustained transcendent experience?

BK: He’s as close to my experience…he’s the only one I’ve met that I relate to.

SM: His description about his shift was that it was a calamity… I mean he tends to portray the good, the bad and the ugly.

BK: And, see, that’s where U.G. and I tend to have a different experience. I didn’t experience a calamity. I experience the opposite. The thought that I existed at all was a calamity. And the opposite of that is really delightful from here.

SM: So, if I were to one day wake up and be having some kind of transcendent experience, how would I know?

BK: You don’t. You don’t even care. There’s no one to care. I can’t even put it into words… self-love? [That would] be a guess. Words are always going to fall short, which is a sweet thing.

SM: Would I feel physically grounded in my body?

BK: No.

SM: Where would I feel located?

BK: Everywhere. Everywhere your eyes see.

SM: So my consciousness would be bigger than this location?

BK: Yeah. And when you’re, when I’m driving in a car, everything’s coming into me. It ends there. I am the beginning and the end of all of it.

SM: Do you drive?

BK: It’s like, they had to teach me not to drive on sidewalks cuz it was logical that if the traffic stopped you’d just go over here. So you have to learn everything all over again.

SM: Have you been reading the last 10 years?

BK: No. It’s not that I don’t, or wouldn’t, it’s, well, there’s no time. It’s, um, I say yes to everything, and a book doesn’t talk. If it came to me to read it, I’d just pick it up and do it.

SM: Was it instant or did it evolve that you actually began to understand in this way…

Byron Katie

Byron Katie

BK: I just have to honestly say people had to tell me that something was going on at all. And I saw it was their story. It didn’t change anything from here. I could just see that in their opinion, there was something different. And that still holds true these 13 years later. That I see absolutely no difference between you and I, except you, whoever you are, humans…insist that there’s something true.

SM: Why are people so afraid?

BK: Well, where would you be without your story?

SM: Many people may say, they think that what they’d be is dead.

BK: Well, that’s my experience.

SM: Although you are alive.

BK: According to you. Limited to your story.

SM: So if the story isn’t there…

BK: Nothing.

SM: You would be nothing?

BK: That’s my experience.

SM: And do you know why the mind is afraid of becoming nothing?

BK: Well, it’s, it’s death. Actually, it is, it’s peace. And it longs for it.

SM: And yet, it’s terrified…or something’s terrified.

BK: Yes. Radical physical shifts. I went from over 200 pounds down to just, where my husband was just fearful, I was so thin, and it was just…an amazing phenomenon. And my tongue, if I ate any kind of animal product at all, my tongue would bleed. And that’s how I knew to eat vegetarian and not even dairy. And that’s shifted now and it doesn’t happen anymore. But it would just bleed and I would just have to hold a handkerchief on it. But then it would just move through.

I don’t know, if my joy were told, in a physical realm, it would blow the ceiling off of this place. So it just appears like this. But it’s always manic, yet joy filled. So, the phenomenon stopped at about three years and about seven it began to mature. It was pretty much maturing. And then that was a beginning. Just a beginning.

What it felt like was…the density was so great, that it couldn’t contain that lightness. That’s why I say, at no point can you say it’s done. And I haven’t even started. I mean I am a puppy. It’s infinite.

SM: Do you think that the changes that occurred in your behaviour would be the same changes that might inevitably occur in anyone’s behaviour?

BK: Yes, happiness. Doing whatever it is that’s good. This is its own happiness. And it knows how to live that way because that is what it is. And it spills over.

SM: What leads you to make this judgment?

BK: Projection.

SM: Is there anyone living or dead, whom you believe experiences or has experienced sustained transcendence?

This interview originally appeared in:

BK: Everyone. But they say not.

SM: Are sustained transcendent experiences related to global change, world peace, or a larger significance than personal transformation?

BK: I am devoted to total world peace. I am the world. Of course I would have all the parts of me showing in that place within me for the party. I supply a way, a path home and they follow it or not. As it should be.

SM: Thank you.

BK: You’re welcome. If I were to ask anything, I would ask that you wrote nothing and that would be truer. And if you think it would serve, you could just write whatever you want.

This interview appeared originally in The Noumenon Journal, summer 2000/2001. Used by permission. Photo by Rick Rusing.

Sunny Massad, Ph.D., is a retired psychologist and hypnotherapist. She’s the author of UnTherapy and appears as Ma Prem Sunshine in the Netflix documentary Wild Wild Country.

This page was first published on October 23, 2001 and last revised on August 24, 2023.



comments powered by Disqus