Teaching and Effective Learning: The Work of Byron Katie

Someone emailed me today and asked why I stopped writing.  I was pleasantly surprised that anyone cared.  In fact, I have been writing at least a paper a week or more.  I’m working on a doctorate.  Below is one of my papers and you’ll see the general direction I’m heading. Thanks for reading!

Teaching and Effective Learning

 The Work of Byron Katie

            What is teaching?  We are teaching all the time whether we know it or not.  This is part of what “to teach is to demonstrate” means (Foundation for Inner Peace, 1992).  Whatever we are demonstrating to those around us, we are teaching.  It is said that we are either teaching love or fear (1992).   Kahlil Gibran pointed out that we cannot really teach anyone anything other than that which is already inside them (1923).  We forget this, or maybe we never knew it, but it is very obvious.  We cannot teach a human being to sprout gills and breathe underwater.  Anything we can teach a human being is within their capacity.  The same applies to individual talents and inclinations.  No matter how hard we try to teach a student to be a basketball star, if that just isn’t in their skill set, nor their genetic makeup, and it is definitely not something that student is likely to be inclined to pursue.  So when we begin to teach, we must teach to the student’s inclination and strengths if we wish to be successful and most importantly, if we wish for the student to be successful.  It is a corollary of the fact that no one can be all things to all people.

With this in mind, we look at the question of happiness or well-being.  Can we teach it?  Is it within every human being’s make up to be able to be happy or to enjoy well-being?  This author believes that it is.  In her class presentation, Jessica gave an excellent example – autistic children.  We may think they need to learn social skills or that they are missing something by not going out with their peers, but according to Jessica, the autistic child is perfectly content to be alone, reading or playing.  She mentioned a time when two autistic children tried to go out to socialize.  One of them reported that they had nothing to say to each other.  That wouldn’t be the case for you or me, but apparently it is true for them.  Are they happy this way?  Can they enjoy well-being?  It appears so.  The point is that happiness and well-being are not the same for everyone.  Each person enjoys different things.

Our national standard of using the Gross National Product as our measure of success makes it somewhat inevitable that we teach and learn in a context of whether or not we are producing.  This has the very unfortunate consequence of ignoring what might actually contribute to our individual and collective well-being because our happiness is not the measurement; productivity is.  Therefore, a car wreck increases the GNP because the driver has to buy a new car and because of the time spent in the hospital due to injuries, but the car wreck did nothing to improve on the happiness of the driver.  Same with a divorce, a disaster, a war (Seligman, 2011).  The United States and many other member countries of the United Nations are looking into using measures of Gross National Happiness as a new standard for measuring a country’s success (San Francisco Chronicle, 2012).

Remember, human beings are notoriously bad at guessing what will make us happy and we tend to believe everything we think (Gilbert, 2006; Gazzaniga, 1998; Katie & Mitchell, 2002).  And there is science that shows that we may not have the kind of free will that we believe we do, that we have it only in small ways, not in the bigger picture (Norretranders, 1992; Harris, 2012).  So, where does that leave us when we try to find out what will make us happy and add to our well-being?

Positive Psychology discussed in Martin Seligman’s latest book, Flourish:  A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, gives us a taste of the future in a world where happiness is measured, valued and used in productive ways to guide individuals, institutions and governments (2011).  This is a very necessary piece of the well-being and happiness puzzle, but this author maintains that often (though not always) Positive Psychology is still a swing to just one side of the pendulum.  We all know that life has a dual nature – or does it?  Could it be that through our evolution we simply came to that idea in order to survive and run from tigers?  Is it possible that a more whole view of life is now possible due to our mastery of the basics of food, clothing and shelter?  If so, what else is there?

Nearly every religious tradition I have studied, from Hinduism to Buddhism to Judaism to Christianity to Native American practices and more, alludes to a way of being that is beyond being pushed and pulled by the duality we seem to see around us.  Hindu terminology is useful here.  Hindus refer to “satori,” which is an “aha” moment, a glimpse into our oneness, beyond duality of good/bad, love/hate, right/wrong.  This concept exists in Judaism, as well.  An excellent work on this is Kabbalistic Healing by Jason Shulman (2004).   There is a place akin to the fulcrum of the pendulum that never moves, the observer within that simply watches the dance of life go back and forth.  Shulman calls it “briah” or “briatic consciousness.”  Someone who has seen and maintained this viewpoint is said to be “enlightened,” or to have experienced “Samadhi,” in Hindu terms.

To those who have not had this experience, it must seem that someone in this state must have “all good, all the time,” but this is not so.  They have simply changed their perspective about duality and are no longer victims of the illusions that things are “bad” or “good.”  Someone with this perspective is an embodiment of the illustration given by the yin/yang symbol.  The yin/yang symbol is actually three-dimensional.  It is two tear-drop shapes interpenetrating one another at the tip of the teardrop.  When it is rendered in a two-dimensional cross section, we see a spot of white in the black and a spot of black in the white to represent the “whole.”  The message is the whole, not the black or white alone.  They require each other.  My teacher, Steven, referred to this as “coinness.”  Each side of the coin requires the other to exist.  They cannot be separated.

What if we taught this to children in school?  What if there was a method or methods for showing students how to question the black/white thinking that perpetrates a sense of victimization (which is probably the cause of random acts of violence such as the various shootings our nation has experienced)?  What if we started with the solution to the sense of suffering and then learned to be productive, creative contributing members of societ?  What kind of difference might that make?

This is completely possible.  The methods exist.  (And not just Katie’s.)

Using videos and personal experience of classes in The Work of Byron Katie, as my field experience in this one possible method, some answers on how to learn to see beyond the perception of fear and suffering evolved.  Katie’s Work is very similar, as Jessica pointed out in class, to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  So, in a sense, both schools of thought on teaching given in our text are useful (Bigge and Thermis, 2004).  The Work or “inquiry” uses thoughts as the starting point, questions those thoughts and the awareness that comes from questioning our thoughts leads to natural changes in behavior.  It is just like learning a magic trick.  Once we see how it works, it can no longer fool us.  All that is required is that we notice and question the thoughts that underlie our beliefs and behaviors (Katie & Mitchell, 2002).  Katie says that she simply “knows the difference between what hurts and what doesn’t,” (2012).  So, while no learning theory is discussed in the course of doing The Work of Byron Katie, it is easy to see that there are both cognitive and behavioral components.  We question our thoughts and we notice that certain thoughts and behaviors hurt.  The questioning process benefits from an understanding of the logical fallacies from the Socratic Method tradition.  When we see our logical fallacies, when we see where the pain comes from, we tend to choose differently because we can no longer lie to ourselves and believe that our lies are working in our favor (2002, Web site for The Work, 2012).

The Work of Byron Katie has broad applications.  In her book, Loving What Is, co-authored with her husband, Stephen Mitchell, who has translated many famous philosophical and spiritual texts from various world traditions, Katie goes through chapters on relationships, work, money, self-judgments, children, underlying beliefs, the body, addictions, and includes a chapter on generalizing the process to any situation that is causing us pain (2002).  Relationships are covered in more detail in her second book, I Need Your Love:  Is That True? (2005).

Technology in teaching is useful here, as well.  There are teleconferences, webinars, You Tube videos, and many more avenues for accessing and learning this method.  It made this field research possible, when local classes were cancelled.  And while technology may bring us much that we have never had access to before, there is still a place for live, in-person learning.  It is this author’s theory that what is gained from in-person learning may not be currently measurable, the way we cannot measure the energy we get from food other than the rudimentary counting of calories.  Our proprioceptive sense receives more than just words and pictures from live instructors. There is far more to be modeled than the form of what is said in a class.

This field experience summary is a broad overview of the potential of effectively teaching and learning a way of being that demonstrates the truth, demonstrates love, demonstrates well-being and happiness.  Again, what if this was the starting point of education?  Grounded in well-being and happiness, what clarity and creativity is possible?


Argosy Student Portal for the class, (2012).

Bigge, M. L. and Shermis, S. S.  (2004).   Learning Theories for Teachers.  Boston, MA:Pearson Education, Inc.

Gagne, R.; Wager W.; Golas, K.;  and Keller, J. (2005).   Principles of Instructional Design.  Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.

Gazzaniga, M.  (1998). The mind’s past.  Berkeley & Los Angeles, CA:University of California Press.

Gilbert, D.  (2006). Stumbling on happiness. New York, NY:Random House.

Harris, S.  (2012).  Free will.  New York, NY:Simon & Schuster.

Katie, B. and Mitchell, S.  (2002). Loving what is:  Four questions that can change your life.  New York, NY: Random House.

Katie, B. and Katz, M.  (2005).  I need your love:  Is that true?  New York, NY:  Random House.

No Significant Difference web site (2012).  Retrieved from http://www.nosignificantdifference.org/.

Norretranders, Tor.  (1998).  The user illusion:  Cutting consciousness down to size. New York, NY:Penguin Putnam, Inc.

San Francisco Chronicle (April 2, 2012).  U.N. discusses creation of gross national happiness.  (Retrieved from http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2012/04/02/international/i173603D40.DTL#ixzz1r5T9a0I3).

Shulman, J.  (2004).  Kabbalistic healing:  A path to an awakened soul. Rochester, VT:Inner Traditions.

 Seligman, M. E. P.  (2011).  Flourish:  A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being.  New York, NY:Free Press, A Division of Simon and Schuster.

 University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology web pages (2012).  Retrieved from http://www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/index.html.

(Most of these books have extensive reference sections with the necessary peer-reviewed journal articles.  It proved too time consuming to trace each discussion above to the proper references in each book, though the dissertation will probably require this.)


 4 Worlds from

Jason Shulman’s Kabbalistic Healing

 4          Atzilut                              Beyond even Oneness. Even Oneness is too much

3          Briah                                 Things are not One and not Two

Same stuff, but not the same.

Who would you be w/o your story?

All roads lead to Briah

2          Emotion                           Things that have relationships to one another.

Yetzirah                             Food you like, food you don’t like.

Related, food, liking/disliking.

Me, when I’m complaining.

The Worksheet of Byron Katie.

1          Action                                 Newtonian      Stuff is separate.

Assiyah                               Cups different than tea

Wouldn’t even do inner work around the problem

Always in all of them. Can’t prefer one over the other.


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