I was privileged this week to be introduced to the work of Byron Katie, a woman who teaches a method of self-inquiry that helps release people from the negative stories they bear. Such stories keep individuals stuck in pain and adverse emotional reactions to events, whether those events were formative for the person’s character and self-understanding or a current event.
Katie created a method of self-examination that helps people move past their narrative framing of the events and relationships, inside their family and outside of it, that have become detrimental to them. She calls this method of self-inquiry “The Work,” because there’s a lot of internal work in moving past these beliefs and learning to reframe positively.
Byron Katie has a number of videos on her website and on YouTube demonstrating her method as she works to help individuals free themselves from their pain. Indeed, the first video I watched was a remarkable session between herself and a middle-aged progressive woman thoroughly depressed and alarmed over the victory of Trump in the 2016 election. Her volunteer started off spouting the more hysterical line of pabulum progressives were attributing to Trump at that time, including the fact that she was convinced that he would establish concentration camps and likely set off a nuclear war.
While never once betraying what her own personal feelings were on the matter, Katie took this volunteer through a four-step interlocutory process that made her question the assumptions of every aspect of her story.
By the end of the session, which took the form of deep self-inquiry for the volunteer, Byron Katie, acting almost like a platonic midwife of ideas, led the woman first to see and then to affirm not only that she could not in any way be sure that President Trump would establish concentration camps or trigger a nuclear war, but that this entire set of beliefs was no more than a narrative running through her head. And that she had allowed this story to affect her to the point where it was quite visibly weighing her down, body and soul, and keeping her both angry and depressed.
By the end of the session, the woman finally came to understand that her own attraction to this dire narrative of what would happen during a Trump presidency was part of an addiction to painful narratives in her own life. And that she did not need it anymore. Indeed, when she freed herself of this story she had been telling herself for months, the changes in both her mien and her body were extraordinary. No longer weighed down, her body and face looked weightless, free and happy. It was truly a phenomenal transformation. Not to say that this woman was ever going to like or admire Trump, for she was not. It was simply that the apocalyptic end-story she had been telling herself all those months had vanished and she could see his supporters no longer as the enemy among us but merely as voters who had wished to support a different agenda. Like every other election.
One reason I was so struck by this change is that it was essentially a living demonstration of the point that blogger and cartoonist Scott Adams made many times during the election and afterwards: That progressives and Trump supporters had completely different movie scripts running through their heads. They were essentially living in different movies. And the only way to see which script hewed closer to reality is to see how well they accounted for events in the following months.
In light of this state, it’s interesting to see that the move President Trump has recently made is to cross the aisle and begin to negotiate with Democrats.` Like President Clinton before him, his negotiations have taken the form of triangulating with the other side. And, if this holds up, it dimly recalls the more collegial atmosphere that prevailed between Republicans and Democrats a few decades back.
In fact, this move fits neither of the “movie scripts” that circulated earlier in the year, that of the progressive critics or the Trump supporters. Though whether anyone in the populace at large will be satisfied with what comes from this move, we have yet to see.
Mara Schiffren, a Campus Watch Fellow, is a Writer and Functional Medicine Health Coach who lives in North Salem. You can reach her at email@example.com