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Journeying with Byron Katie in South Africa and Namibia

by Kriben Pillay

Ever since Byron Katie's final presentation at the University
of Durban-Westville's Hindu Centre on Sunday 31 August 2003 -
after a week of non-stop presentations and media interviews
that started in Cape Town the previous Sunday and which took
us to Namibia and Johannesburg and finally to Durban -
e-mails and telephone calls have been pouring in from people
touched by this extraordinary woman and the process that she
calls "The Work".

Out of the depths of her own despair, Byron Kathleen Reid
(now simply called Byron Katie), awoke one day in 1986 to
absolute clarity and unconditional love after a ten-year
period of seclusion, food and substance addictions, and
obsessing about suicide. In this awakening, she found what
all the great spiritual teachers had found - except that she
was without any spiritual training whatsoever - that is, that
it is possible to transcend our limited, self-centred and
fearful life into a life that is an expression of
connectedness and love. In Katie's case, the awakening was
accompanied by four questions that allowed her to undo
stressful thoughts that threatened to take her away from this
new incredible awareness of life that was devoid of any sense
of separation.

Since 1986, Katie has been sharing this wonderfully simple
tool with hundreds of thousands wherever she is invited all
over the world. And, by invitation, she finally came to tour
South Africa and Namibia, giving endlessly of herself to
those who came in suffering or perplexity.

"The Work" is not another motivational technique, nor is it a
means to further delude the mind. Rather, in the tradition of
Socrates, the Buddha, and later teachers like Ramana Maharshi
and J. Krishnamurti, Katie's process is a process of inquiry,
where questioning the mind's stories allows us to see what is
real without the overlay of our acquired conditioning.

Like the title of her recently published book, Loving What
Is, "The Work" brings us to full acceptance of reality in the
moment, where we are no longer arguing with it but allowing
ourselves to be a creative participant in the unfolding of
each moment, as it is now. This is not a fatalistic approach
to pain, but a dynamic unpacking of the stories that created
the pain in the first place.

From Cape Town to Windhoek, Johannesburg to Durban, Katie -
with great skill and compassion - unpacked participants'
stories of suffering: painful relationships, parenting,
blindness, cerebral palsy, obstinate employees, the fear of
dying alone, political corruption, crime, the rape of little
children - these were some of the issues inquired into. And
each time Katie created a space for participants to see that
suffering arises from the confusion within the mind. Laughter
replaced tears, and self-righteousness was transformed into
humility and compassion. Interestingly, an issue that
preoccupies many people in this part of the world - racism -
was the only currently predominant issue that was not brought
up. This did not escape Katie's notice, but she never imposes
and always allows participants to work from a place where
they are most comfortable. After all, working in front of a
group of 500 strangers can be a daunting and fearful
situation in itself, but those courageous people who sat with
Katie and did The Work all walked away with peace restored to
their hearts and minds.

So, up close, what is Katie like? I can write about the total
absence of reactivity, even when a tiresome allergy and
non-stop presentations caused her great fatigue; of a woman
who is totally present for the person who is sitting before
her; of her great compassion for a child who was struggling
with the death of her loved ones; of her wonderful sense of
humour amidst the grilling criticisms of hard-nosed
journalists ... and of the almost palpable sense of the
sacred that emanates from her. But I suppose, for me, the
most accurate answer would be that Katie is a living
reflection of our potential to be mature, sane human beings.

She did not come to South Africa and Namibia to sell another
self-help programme; to make millions by promising a thinner
body, a life without illness, the perfect soul mate, or how
to manifest material wealth. Rather, she came with four
questions that allow us to discover our own answers. She is,
of course, a highly skilled and quietly supportive questioner
and an empathic listener. As she worked in front of several
hundred people, there was an immense quietness and never a
sign of audience restlessness.

Of course, not everyone in the audiences wanted inquiry that
strips way our illusions. One woman argued that she knew that
she would be attacked some day in crime-ridden Southern
Africa. "The Work" in that moment was perhaps not for her.
She could not see that she was attacking herself with
thoughts that had no bearing on the reality of the moment;
the moment where she was in perfect physical safety, except
for her thoughts that told her otherwise. But Katie's way is
not to convince intellectually, for this simply keeps the
sense of separation in place. She gently went on to the next
participant. If we want to hold onto our suffering, then that
is our business. "The Work" refuses to fall into the old trap
of being self-righteous, of wanting to put the world right.
As the Buddha is reputed to have said: " I show you
suffering, and I show you the end of it."

"The Work" is radical surgery without any anaesthetic (one of
Katie's sayings), but it is only for the one who has truly
grown weary of suffering. And from the responses of Southern
African audiences, many are fast reaching this place.

In Durban, Katie and her friends had lunch at my home. Our
Zulu domestic help, who lost her son in a freak accident
three years ago, was hugged and kissed and within a few
moments a glow from within lit up her face. She may not have
responded to "The Work" in its English format, but she
responded to the one whose awakening had taken her beyond the story of death.

In a supermarket you might pass Katie and see her for an
ordinary woman - as we experienced her at the breakfast
table, or on the short safari in the semi-desert of Namibia -
until you look into her startlingly blue eyes with their
infinite acceptance, tranquillity and wisdom, and see the
essence of your own pure heart.

For further information about The Work in South Africa,
contact Dr Kriben Pillay on 0824661745. Or visit his website
Noumenon:Transformative Thinking.

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Nonduality: The Varieties of Expression Home

Jerry Katz
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