The Work in Action

“She shouldn’t have left me.” 
an excerpt from Byron Katie’s book ‘a Thousand Names for Joy’

BRUCE: I am angry at my girlfriend, Sheila, because she abandoned me, shut me out, and left our relationship. 

KATIE: “She abandoned you”—is that true? 

BRUCE: Yes, it is. I mean, physically, tangibly, yes, she left the relationship. 

KATIE: “She abandoned you”—can you absolutely know that that’s true? 

BRUCE: Yes. That’s what happened. 

KATIE: How do you react when you believe that thought? 

BRUCE: I get scared, I get angry, I get defensive. My chest gets really tight. My stomach hurts, I feel a little lightheaded, my pulse starts to race. It starts in my chest but seems to take over my whole body from there. 

KATIE: Where does your mind travel when you believe the thought “She abandoned me”? 

BRUCE: Well, I go in search of all the appropriate film clips to support that. 

KATIE: Exactly so. Isn’t it an amazing movie! The thought happens, and the mind supports it with pictures—that’s how the false world is born. Keep watching, sweetheart. 

BRUCE: Well, it’s a library. I have a whole library of film clips. 

KATIE: And then don’t the films begin to show you where you’ve failed? And you feel all the guilt and shame. 

BRUCE: Yes, that seems to be the pattern. 

KATIE: And then the mind attacks her, and then it attacks you. 

BRUCE: Right. I get resentful. I resent the hell out of her. Sometimes I think that she’s a coldhearted, castrating bitch. And sometimes I think that she was right to leave, because I’m a total loser. 

KATIE: I would question the thought “I am a total loser,” angel. But do that later. Let’s continue with “She abandoned me.” Who would you be without that thought? 

BRUCE: I’d be less angry. Maybe I wouldn’t be angry at all. Maybe I wouldn’t be so sad. I would free up all that mental space for something else. And I would probably be more present. I wouldn’t be so stuck in seeing what I did wrong, what she did wrong. I wouldn’t blame her so much. That’s really painful. 

KATIE: Yes, the mind wouldn’t have to prove what it doesn’t really believe. That would be unnecessary.

BRUCE: Yes, I can see that. I would be much happier. But I really do believe that she abandoned me. That’s what actually happened. What do I do with that? 

KATIE: I hear you, sweetheart. Your answer to questions one and two was yes. You really believe it’s true that she abandoned you. In her reality, she may not have abandoned you at all, she may simply have moved on with her life. But you are convinced that she abandoned you. That’s your story. Now we’re just looking at your answers to questions three and four. We’re seeing how you react when you believe that thought, and who you would be without it. 

BRUCE: Right. I can’t find anything good about how I react when I believe that thought. It’s a very painful thought. 

KATIE: We’re seeing that with the thought you’re angry and resentful, and without the thought you don’t have all that stress. So it’s the thought that is causing your pain, not your girlfriend

BRUCE: Wow. That never occurred to me. 

KATIE: She has nothing to do with your pain. It’s all you. It’s all your unquestioned thoughts. 

BRUCE: My God! That’s amazing. 

KATIE: “She abandoned me”—turn it around. 

BRUCE: Umm…I abandoned her? 

KATIE: Okay. Now give me three ways that you did that. Give me three genuine examples of where you abandoned her in your relationship.

BRUCE: I was afraid you were going to ask that. Well, there were times in the relationship where I didn’t follow through on issues I said I would follow through on, because I was afraid it would lead to the explosive situations, sort of emotional mania. 

KATIE: Yes. And it’s interesting to notice when you defend and justify. 

BRUCE: Oh. [Pause.] I did do that, didn’t I? 

KATIE: Yes. You moved away from inquiry and into your story. Defense and justification keep you from answering the questions. The mind is so stuck in its patterns of proving that it’s right that it spins you away from the questions. Just notice that, and gently return to inquiry. 

BRUCE: Okay. 

KATIE: So that’s one way. How else did you abandon her? Give me two more ways. 

BRUCE: Umm, I wasn’t fully present in the relationship. 

KATIE: What did that look like? 

BRUCE: I would withdraw, I would stalemate, I would close off to her. 

KATIE: That’s two. Give me one more way. 

BRUCE: Well, she actually moved across the country. So we carried on a long-distance relationship for the last two years. And I let her do that. [He rolls his eyes.] I participated in that, because in some way it felt more comfortable to me, there wasn’t so much pressure of making a commitment. 

KATIE: Good. That’s three.

BRUCE: You know, you’re so right about justifying. There’s a real strong reaction in me to defend and justify myself, even when I try not to. Wow. 

KATIE: Isn’t it delicious to notice! To begin to fall in love with the mind—it’s brilliant in its ability to prove that what isn’t actually is. Can you find another turnaround to “She abandoned me”? 

BRUCE: I abandoned me

KATIE: How did you do that? What are some examples? 

BRUCE: I wasn’t being true to myself. I wasn’t being vocal about my needs. And that’s just another form of abandonment, ironically. So by not being fully present for myself, I left her as well. 

KATIE: Can you find another turnaround? 

BRUCE: She didn’t abandon me? But that’s not true. She did! 

KATIE: Turnarounds are a way of exploring the truth. Sometimes there are turnarounds that you miss, sometimes there are turnarounds that don’t work, and I like to sit in those. The Work is meditation. If you sit in this turnaround for a while, you may find that it’s actually truer than your original statement. 

BRUCE: I always thought there were just three turnarounds: to the self, to the other, and to the opposite. And then I was talking to a friend, and he said, “I did six turnarounds on one statement! I’ve got them on a computer template, and they’re just blowing my mind!” And I don’t understand how that actually happens. 

KATIE: Within those three basic turnarounds, sometimes there are others. Some of them work and some don’t. Your friend probably took it very slow and spent a long time with his statement. He sounds like he was very open to finding his own truths, and they came to him when it was time, and he just waited, and noticed, and he got what he needed. You can’t do this Work wrong, sweetheart. That’s not possible. No thought comes ahead of its time. Let’s look at your next statement. 

BRUCE: I want Sheila to come back, apologize, and promise to never leave me again. I want her to work on her reflectivity, and see how reacting out of fear hurts me and others. I want her to work on her self-esteem and volatility. [He laughs.] 

KATIE: Then it’s not Sheila you want to come back! The woman you’re describing isn’t her. 

BRUCE: Yeah, she’s the one I want…that’s the problem. 

KATIE: It can’t be Sheila. You want someone who sees how reacting out of fear hurts you. You want someone who has worked more on her self-esteem. That’s who you want back. And that’s not her. “I want you to come back so I can just shape you up.” 

BRUCE [laughing]: Right. 

KATIE: “Come back so that you can be the woman of my dreams, because you’re not!” BRUCE: Right. 

KATIE: “In fact, you’re not even anyone I want to live with, until I work on you and you shape up. Until you make all those changes that you’ll really thank me for later.” 

BRUCE: Right. So what’s the problem? [Everyone laughs.] 

KATIE: So it’s not her you want to come back. 

BRUCE: Right. It’s not who she is. Oh my God.

KATIE: Good one, huh? 

BRUCE: This is really a pattern of mine. When I’m in relationships, or work mode, or anything else, I tend to look at things in terms of potential. In terms of what they could be, as opposed to what they are. 

KATIE: Well, then you could tell her, “I want you to come back, because I see you as potentially someone I can accept.” 

BRUCE [laughing with the audience]: Well, that’s really alluring. Yeah. But I did that. 

KATIE: Well, of course you did that. We do that until we don’t. That’s been your job. I’m just helping you change professions here. We’re seeing who we are without these stories. So, sweetheart, “You want her to come back”—is that true? 


KATIE: Just take a look at it. Because you may say, “I want you” and then when she comes back, you wonder why you don’t want her anymore. “You want her to come back”—is that true? 

BRUCE: With the list of changes or without? 

KATIE: She hasn’t changed. She’s just Sheila. She’s not the new, improved woman of your imagination. Do you want her to come back, just as she is? 

BRUCE [after a pause]: Not really. I want her back, but I want her to change. 

KATIE: Thank you for noticing. [The audience laughs.] When you love the person you live with, just as she is, you’re never surprised; you always find it delightful, because that’s the person you’ve invited back. You just work on yourself. Your partner cannot be the cause of your misery, and she doesn’t ever have to change. And then all those things you wanted to change about her become the very things you love, once you have questioned your mind. But just know whom you’re inviting back, without deluding yourself. 

BRUCE: Okay. 

KATIE: Knowing that, potentially, she could change. Who knows? People do change. 

BRUCE: Do you believe that? 

KATIE: No. [Bruce and the audience laugh.] It’s not true. Minds change, and bodies follow. 

BRUCE: I see that. 

KATIE: So “I want her to come back”—how do you react when you believe that thought and she moves away? 

BRUCE: Oh, it’s painful! I feel like I’m living life with one foot in the future and one foot in the past, and I’m straddling the present. I’m just not here

KATIE: Your life’s on hold. 

BRUCE: Exactly. 

KATIE: Who would you be without the thought “I want her back”? Who would you be if you didn’t believe that? 

BRUCE: I would be a lot more centered. I would be peaceful, I think—more peaceful. I feel like there would be a space to grow some contentment

KATIE: That tells me you would be more sane about who it is you want back. Let’s turn it around. “I want her back”—turn it around.

BRUCE: I want me back

KATIE: Yes. Because when you want her back, you’re wanting someone back who doesn’t exist, and you lose yourself in that. And it’s not fair to her, because she can’t be your dream woman. She’s her

BRUCE: Yes. But one of the things I noticed that my mind does—this isn’t an isolated incident—is when I get into relationships I have these histories that build up with people, and I give that power over to them, and when they leave, all those histories leave with them. And I feel, “Oh my God, who am I? I have to rebuild my identity again?” And it’s so tiring. 

KATIE: “You have to rebuild your identity again”—is that true? 

BRUCE: No. No, it’s really not. 

KATIE: No, because your identity is already there for you; you don’t have to rebuild it. It’s there. You wake up, and she’s not there—that’s your identity. “I am the man who wakes up alone.” 

BRUCE: Right. 

KATIE: “I’m the man who eats breakfast by himself.” 

BRUCE: That would make a great T-shirt. “I am the man who wakes up alone.” [The audience laughs.] 

KATIE: That could attract a lot of women! [More laughter.] You have a marketing mind, don’t you? But you’re attached to the dream of who she is. And she plays the role by trying very hard to be who you want her to be

BRUCE: Oh, yeah. I see that.

KATIE: And she always falls short. If she did all those things for you, and made all those changes, you would see even higher potential for her. 

BRUCE: Yes. I actually got a letter from her a year ago and part of that letter really stood out in my mind, there was a lot of anger in it, and she said, “I took all these classes and communication courses, and I did all this stuff you wanted me to do, and you’re still not satisfied.” And I thought, Wow, you did that all for me! And all these red flags went off, and I thought, Uh-oh! What’s going on here? 

KATIE: Well, now you know. 

BRUCE: Yeah, now I know. 

KATIE: It’s right there, in black and white. So read it again. 

BRUCE: I want Sheila to come back, apologize, and promise… [Laughing] Well, now these statements just sound absurd! I want Sheila to apologize and promise to never leave me again. I want her to work on her reflectivity, and see how reacting out of fear hurts me and others. I want her to work on her self-esteem and volatility, and blah, blah-blah, blah-blah. [The audience laughs.] 

KATIE: Okay, so now you can understand why she moved away. [The audience laughs even harder.] 

BRUCE: Yes. Why would you want to be with somebody who is constantly trying to improve you? 

KATIE: Well, those are your requirements. And she tried. 

BRUCE: Right. But they’ll change with somebody else, so I’ll have new requirements. 

KATIE: Who knows? You might not. It could be that you become so awake to yourself that people who don’t attract you won’t attract you. Can you hear this?

BRUCE: Yes. 

KATIE: People who don’t attract you won’t attract you, because you won’t put all of those requirements on them—your story of their potential, how great they will be if only they do this, this, and this. And then when someone attracts you, it’s the real thing. You don’t have to change her. You don’t have to overhaul her. 

BRUCE: So how does that work, because in relationship, it’s all about exploring, and… 

KATIE: If you see her for who she really is, not through her potential, you see that she’s a woman without the things that you require. You’re being attracted to a woman who’s just the way she is. And because your mind is clear, it’s the real deal. The woman you’re attracted to really is her. Not the one you imagine her to be. And that’s what The Work’s about. Now let’s turn it around. “I want me…” 

BRUCE: I want me to come back to myself, I want me to apologize to myself, I want me to promise to never leave me again. 

KATIE: Yes, when you have a partner and when you don’t have a partner. 

BRUCE: Right, right. With or without a partner. I want me to work on my reflectivity, and see how reacting out of fear hurts me. I want to work on my self-esteem and volatility. Well, that’s so true. That is what I want. 

KATIE: You have potential! [The audience applauds, and Bruce laughs.] You might write her a letter and say, “Here are the things I’m working on.” 

BRUCE: Poor girl! 

KATIE: There’s another turnaround. 

BRUCE: I want me to come back to me…

KATIE:…to her. 

BRUCE: To her? Oh my God. I want me to come back to her. Something in that really stings. 

KATIE: Uh-huh. 

BRUCE: I want me to apologize to her. Apologize to her? No way! [Everyone laughs.] 

KATIE: We like it when apologizing is their job. 

BRUCE: Wow. I can see that my whole defense thing just went off again. 

KATIE: But the statement didn’t say, “I want me to go back and marry her and love her forever and accept all this stuff.” 

BRUCE: Apologize for my part in it. 

KATIE: Just to go back to her—read it. “I want me to…” [Laughing] No wonder it stung! 

BRUCE: I’m glad you think this is funny. 

KATIE: No wonder it stung: you left yourself. 

BRUCE: I want me to apologize to her, and promise to never leave her again. 

KATIE: It doesn’t have to be physical, honey. 


KATIE: You don’t have to leave her again for these things that she’s not capable of—these things that you demand of her. This wasn’t her list, it was yours. 

BRUCE: Right. Got it. I want me to come back to her, apologize to her, and promise to never leave her again. 

KATIE: Keep reading. 

BRUCE: This is where I get stuck. I want her to work on her reflectivity. 

KATIE: “I want me to work on my…” 

BRUCE: I want me to work on my reflectivity. 

KATIE: Let her know that. She’d appreciate it. She might think you could use it. 

BRUCE: Oh, she’d hang up in my face. 

KATIE: That’s okay. This is for you, not for her. You could just tell her, “I am working on my reflectivity, and I apologize for thinking you should work on yours. And also for not accepting you when you were interested in things other than my dream, my list of changes for you.” Keep reading. 

BRUCE: I want her to work on her reflectivity, and see how reacting out of fear hurts me and others. I want her to work on her self-esteem and volatility. 

KATIE: Turn it around. 

BRUCE: I want me to work on my reflectivity, and see how reacting out of fear hurts her and others. I want to work on my self-esteem and volatility. I’m sure I can attach a lot of things to those. I could find where all of these are true about me somewhere.

KATIE: Yes. Which turnarounds are you not getting? You said you’re sure you could find them all. Is there one you couldn’t find? 

BRUCE: Um, volatility. I don’t feel like I’m very volatile. 

KATIE: You didn’t become angry at her? 

BRUCE: Yes, I would become angry. Even though it might be one on a scale of one to ten, and her anger is a twenty. 

KATIE: Well, that one is volatile—for you. Let’s move to your next statement. 

BRUCE: Okay. Sheila shouldn’t operate out of fear; she should know what she wants and be proactive, she should be patient and tolerant of other people’s feelings and processes. [Everyone laughs.] Oh, God, I’m so embarrassed. 

KATIE: Is there anything more exciting than you? 

BRUCE: No, this is great. My ego is just melting away up here. 

KATIE: Yes, I see that. We’ll skip the questions. Just turn it around. 

BRUCE: I shouldn’t operate out of fear. I should know what I want. Hmm. I should be patient and tolerant of other people’s feelings and processes. 

KATIE: Yes. Especially of Sheila’s. That can run very deep. Look at how you treated her when you believed these thoughts. It’s like having someone in a lab, where we’re always trying to re-create them. And she didn’t ask for that. We tell them we love them, and yet they’re not good enough, we have to re-create them, and it’s very confusing for our partners. 

BRUCE: So do you think that because I was in that mode, I didn’t love her?

KATIE: Only you can know that, honey. She wasn’t the one you wanted, she was the woman you wanted to change. You loved the woman of the future. 

BRUCE: Not who she really was. So I was loving a fictionalized version of her. 

KATIE: Yes, a potential one. You added qualities to her, and you wanted the potential her. It’s like you’re God, creating Eve. 

BRUCE: Um-hmm. 

KATIE: And Adam. You do this with yourself, too. 

BRUCE: How so? 

KATIE: You try to re-create yourself, too. Look how your mind reacts if you do something that doesn’t live up to your expectations. You try to re-create yourself. And if your mind is like a lot of minds, it could be brutal. “How could you do it again? You never get it right. How could you think that, how could you say that? Why did you do that?” 

BRUCE: Yes, you’re so right. I’m just as hard on myself. 

KATIE: As though that violent mode will create something different. 

BRUCE: Yes, I have a whole story about that. I’m already some seventy-five-year-old crotchety old man in a bingo parlor. [As a bingo announcer] “G-7.” [The audience laughs.] 

KATIE: Can you find another turnaround? “Sheila should…” 

BRUCE: Sheila should operate out of fear?

KATIE: Yes. 

BRUCE: Okay, so this is just kind of accepting what she really is? 

KATIE: Well, let’s see. 

BRUCE: I’m in a hurry! 

KATIE: Well, then look to yourself. See if this is true for you. 

BRUCE: Sheila should operate out of fear

KATIE: Yes, honey. 

BRUCE: She should not know what she wants. 

KATIE: Now you are meeting her. 

BRUCE [after a pause]:…and she shouldn’t be patient and tolerant of other people’s feelings or their processes. 

KATIE: That’s Sheila. Isn’t she adorable? 

BRUCE: That’s…yeah. So I should do this. I should be patient and tolerant. 

KATIE: Only if you want to live a happy life. You were like a dictator. You expected her to live it. So when you question your mind and get a clue, you get to live it first, and then you teach us our potential. 

BRUCE: I see.

KATIE: But you have to live it first—just to make sure that it’s possible. Because you may be teaching the impossible. Until you can teach it, learn it. And when you learn it, you can teach it—through example, though, not through preaching and scolding and rejecting. Let’s look at the next statement. 

BRUCE: Okay. What I wrote on my Worksheet was…The question is, “What do you want them to do?” And just out of anger I wrote, I don’t want anything from Sheila. I don’t need her. She’s not in charge of my happiness. But do you want to know what I really wanted to write? 

KATIE: Yes. 

BRUCE: I need Sheila to apologize for her betrayal. 

KATIE: Let’s move back to the first statement. Turn it around, and be very gentle, and open your heart. 

BRUCE: Okay. 

KATIE: “I…” 

BRUCE: I don’t need anything from myself. 

KATIE: And continue reading. 

BRUCE: I am in charge of my happiness. 

KATIE: “I am not…” 

BRUCE: I am not in charge of my happiness? 

KATIE: That’s why I asked you to open your mind and your heart. Try it again.

BRUCE: Okay. I don’t need anything from myself. I am not in charge of my happiness. [Pause.] This is a little confusing. Is anybody else confused, or just me? [The audience laughs.] You get it? I guess what’s confusing me here is that I’m not in charge of my own happiness. 

KATIE: Who would you be without your stressful thoughts? All that happiness is already supplied, but the unquestioned mind is so loud, you don’t realize the happiness underneath that mind

BRUCE: Oh, okay, I see…okay. 

KATIE: You’re not in charge of it. It’s already there for you. I don’t have to do anything for my happiness; I just notice the world without my story, and in that I notice that I’m happy. It’s always supplied. 


KATIE: But the unquestioned mind fights against anything that would bring you joy. My friend Lesley and I were laughing yesterday, because she felt like she was going to throw up, she had a few thoughts about it—they didn’t mean much to her—she walked upstairs, she threw up, there was nothing much to throw up, and she just noticed and walked back down. It was over. So reality looks like this: woman throwing up; woman walking back to room. 

BRUCE: Another teacher! This is great! 

KATIE: Lesley’s a wonderful teacher. It was not even an event. She went out, she came back. She has questioned her mind, and what she found under the stressful thoughts was happiness

BRUCE: Your original nature. 

KATIE: Which is always supplied. These turnarounds are meditation. If they don’t make sense to you, sit in them. Let’s hear the next thing you wrote.

BRUCE: I need Sheila to apologize for her betrayal. 

KATIE: Is that true? 

BRUCE: No. That seems ridiculous to me now. 

KATIE: How do you react when you believe the thought “I need her to apologize,” and she doesn’t? 

BRUCE: I withdraw. I feel isolated and angry. 

KATIE: And then where does your mind travel? What other feelings do you have when you believe the thought “I need her to apologize,” and the apology doesn’t come? 

BRUCE: I feel trapped, I feel like I’m waiting for something. I feel resentful, as if she owes me something. 

KATIE: Close your eyes and look at the mental pictures that come up when you believe the thought “I need her to apologize.” How does your mind attack her? 

BRUCE: I see her as very powerful, because she has something that I need, she’s in complete control. I also see her as hard-hearted, unkind. I see myself at her feet, clinging to her, cringing, waiting for her to apologize. Hmm, that’s kind of cool. Not the feelings, I mean, but it’s cool that I can see what I do. 

KATIE: Yes, it’s very cool. You’re getting a little self-realization here. Okay, let’s look at the next one. 

BRUCE: “What do you think of them?” Sheila is spontaneous, extroverted, manic, immediate, emotional, dependent, and naïve; she is sensitive, brilliant, and the kindest person I have ever met. 

KATIE: So, look at the list. Read the list again the way you wrote it.

BRUCE: Okay. Sheila is spontaneous, extroverted, manic, immediate, emotional, dependent, and naïve… 

KATIE: “…and I want her to come back.” 

BRUCE [laughing]: “…and I want her to come back.” Yes. There’s a certain charm to it. 

KATIE: You know, there is, if you could really hear yourself say that. 

BRUCE: Yes. She’s lovely. She just…I drive myself crazy

KATIE: Now turn it around. “I am…” 

BRUCE: I am spontaneous, extroverted, manic, immediate, emotional, dependent, and naïve… 

KATIE: Especially about Sheila. 

BRUCE: Yes. It’s ironic. I immediately wanted to go back and blame her. 

KATIE: Yes, but you immediately noticed that. Isn’t that wonderful? You just notice, and begin again—and smile. You noticed, you smiled—that’s a good thing. 

BRUCE: Yes…here I am, doing it again! 

KATIE: Wonderful. Let’s go to the next one. 

BRUCE: I don’t ever want to be abandoned and feel judged intimately again, feel shut out, and be incapacitated by pain. 

KATIE: Turn it around. 

BRUCE: Yes. This is always the hard one.

KATIE: “I’m willing…” 

BRUCE: I’m willing…ah… 

KATIE: Yes, I’m willing, if that’s the way of it, because it’s not as though I had a choice. Thought appears. 

BRUCE: I’m willing to be abandoned, and I’m willing to feel judged intimately, and I’m willing to feel shut out, and be incapacitated by pain

KATIE: Yes, because that could happen. It could happen in life, and if not in life, it could happen in your mind—thoughts are like that. Until we understand them, we believe them. And when we believe them, the stress brings us back into inquiry. The Work wakes us up to what’s real and what’s imagined. It shows us the difference. 

BRUCE: So it’s not about painful things not happening. And it’s not about those feelings at the time that seemed so real; it’s about noticing in the present moment what the reality is. 

KATIE: Yes. Exciting, isn’t it? Now say the sentence with “I look forward to…” 

BRUCE: That’s a tough one for me. I look forward to being abandoned. I look forward to being judged intimately. I look forward to feeling shut…I look forward to feeling shut out and incapacitated by pain

KATIE: “I look forward to her leaving me again.” Whoever it is you imagine you want to live with. 

BRUCE: Right. We’ll call her “Ms. X.” 

KATIE: Yes. So look forward to it. It could happen. And you may have heard me say that whenever someone leaves me, I’ve been spared. There’s no exception to that. Look at who left you—you’ve been spared. The woman of your imagination, who couldn’t live up to your standards. And that’s the one you longed for to the point where you condemned the real Sheila because she wasn’t that one. 

BRUCE: Amazing. I really do see that. Thank you, Katie. 

KATIE: You’re welcome.