Emily's Reviews > Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life

Loving What Is by Byron Katie
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Jan 13, 2011

did not like it
Read from September 01 to 02, 2011

Hmmmm...need to digest this one before writing a review. Some things rang true, some were rather disturbing. I'll be back in a bit...

I'm back. Here we go:

**Update**
After a long discussion with a good friend who found The Work extremely helpful in dealing with some difficult issues in her life recently, I'm willing to acknowledge that when applied appropriately with greater guidance and/or better explanation, many of my concerns as outlined below can be alleviated. My rating is staying at a 1-star level because I don't feel this book explains those points well at all and vulnerable people left to apply these concepts from this book without additional clarification (from the website, workshops, facilitators, etc.) can easily get the wrong message and be hurt rather than helped. That doesn't mean, as I mentioned below, that there isn't good to be found in this book or that it's not helpful to many. I just found some of the approach and particularly the explanation lacking.
**Back to the original review**

* "Is it true?" is a very useful question to ask when contemplating what is upsetting us or causing us pain, as long as there's willingness to acknowledge that we may not have all the facts.

* "Can you really absolutely know that that's true?" is not a useful question. If the answer is always "no," which Byron Katie seems to believe it is, then there is absolutely no moral foundation. Whether she agrees or not, I believe there are some "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" in this world. People *should* be honest. Children *shouldn't* be brutalized, mutilated, beaten, starved, murdered, etc. Just because bad awful things happen, doesn't mean they *should*. The key, in my mind, is to accept that things that "shouldn't" happen sometimes do anyway, that you have no control over other people's choices, and that sometimes that really hurts, and then move on with a determination to try not to hurt others the same way, to ease pain instead of cause it, not to accept that bad things *should* happen because they did.

* Some aspects of the Turnaround have great application in the "beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye" kind of way. Again, I'm not comfortable with rejecting every "should" or "shouldn't" statement. The idea that "he shouldn't be dishonest" can be turned around to "I shouldn't be dishonest" and become a great opportunity to ponder my own personal commitment to honesty. The idea that "he should be dishonest" is simply not helpful or enlightening.

* There were some disturbing "blame the victim" implications toward the end of the book when Byron Katie applied The Work to situations involving abuse, incest, rape, etc. For example, "There's no such thing as verbal abuse. There's only someone telling me a truth that I don't want to hear." Um, no. Verbal abuse is real. It is abuse, not necessarily grounded in truth, and no, it *shouldn't* happen. It's also completely inappropriate to ask a woman to identify what "her part" was in the sexual abuse her stepfather committed on her when she was nine years old. That's just wrong.

* Likewise, there seemed to be wholesale ignorance of clinical, chemical depression - and I'm not talking about the occasional "funk" or feeling low which I believe you can affect by changing your thinking. Statements like, "Only you can cause your depression" are irresponsible and can cause serious harm if people who need professional help choose not to seek it because "Byron Katie said I should be able to think myself out of this."

* Some level of judgment is necessary. "There's no path that's higher than another." Really? I mean, there are tons of paths that are A-OK by me, but I don't believe that all paths are of equal worth. And unless you think Mother Teresa's lifelong effort to serve others and relieve suffering is on par with Jeffrey Dahmer's lifelong path of sadism, death and destruction, then you too believe that some paths are inherently higher than others.

* I disagree with her assertion that "Nothing outside you can ever give you what you're looking for" because it completely discounts a higher power: God, Allah, the Spirit, the Universe, whatever you want to call it. My most transcendent moments in life have come from surrendering to that higher power and allowing Him/Her/Them/It to change me.

* Byron Katie also seems to discount the importance of planning for the future and having goals. While living wholly in the future or in the past is counter-productive, we need to expend some energy deciding where we want to go and what we want to be and then figuring out how to get there. Sometimes life will throw wrenches in those plans, but we can't remain static and expect to be truly happy. And we do have responsibilities to others, particularly our children.

While Byron Katie's book has some elements that would be helpful if used correctly, I'm concerned that too much of her approach would, in actuality, be damaging. I'm sure the thousands of people who have experienced life-changing events because of The Work will disagree with me and let me know just where I'm not understanding her approach, but there are other, much better and less problematic sources (go read something by the Dalai Lama, for example) for the good elements in Byron Katie's book.

For more book reviews, come visit my blog, Build Enough Bookshelves.
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Comments (showing 1-15 of 15) (15 new)

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Krista I've only gotten about half way through this book, and everything you point out here is exactly what I don't like about it. I agree some things could be helpful, particularly the idea of who I would be if I didn't think that thought, but no, just because something happened didn't mean it should have. That's dangerous logic, just like "everything happens for a reason". I think a lot of people refuse to see their part in a bad situation, and some of this could be helpful to them, but I do think there are serious flaws.


message 2: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen Thank you for such a thoughtful review. Think I'll skip this one...


message 3: by Dani (new) - rated it 1 star

Dani I wish I had read your review before I picked up this book. Would have saved me yelling at the book! :) Very well written review, BTW.


message 4: by Roisin (new)

Roisin I haven't read this book but am considering it. The concerns you have voiced are exactly those I have after reading the free excerpt from her website. If you haven't already I would suggest you read The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris which I think is a much more helpful way to approach life's problems. Essentially it appears Loving What Is involves "defusion" from our thoughts and not buying into our thoughts which is very helpful but must be provided in structured and safe way.


message 5: by Amir (new)

Amir I read the book, and have similar feelings around it. I do think certain of the aspects of the inquiry are useful, but I also think that there are such things as verbal abuse, and that people can harm one another deeply. Though I can meditate on how my negative thought are impacting me, and some of the reversals can be useful, i do not think they are useful in the certain cases, such as rape or other forms of brutality.


Sandra Davis I had the exact same thoughts and was relieved to see someone else had been concerned, at some points I felt really angry with this woman


message 7: by Alison (new)

Alison My (now EX) husband requested that I read this book. That was straight after he'd removed himself from our 20 year union.
I have tried numerous times to 'get into' this book, but as you've mentioned, without some thorough extra guidance, I find this book to actually be terribly detrimental.
When someone, is in a fragile mindset, (as my now EX was) it can cause immense fractures in their views.
I refused to warrant this book any stars.


message 8: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Barrick Thank you for the review, I will be skipping this book.


Joyce I had some of the same thoughts too. It took me awhile to realize I needed to let go of the false things I was taught in my youth about the shoulds. I also used to think that God was an outside force before I understood that the Spirit is one in all of us! But I didn't rate it higher than 3 stars because for me, there are so many more better books on this subject.


message 10: by Tom (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tom Holmes All I can say is that this is a self help book and if you can't then perhaps you would be better off not reading it?


Kathryn Your review perfectly sums up how I felt about this book too!


message 12: by Crystal-Marie (new)

Crystal-Marie Thanks! I like how you think, so you may just have saved me the stress of reading it. Not sure yet, but so grateful for this.


message 13: by Matt (new) - rated it 5 stars

Matt I guess I would disagree with your understanding of what Katie presents. For example, when she talks about "shoulds" I see you equate that with moral determination rather than the happenstance of life. Should people never experience sickness and death? We would like that to be so, but the reality is that everyone experiences sickness and death. To acknowledge that reality is to understand that people should experience sickness and death simply because they do. Should everyone be tall and thin and gorgeous? We acknowledge reality by noting they shouldn't because they simply aren't, just like people shouldn't all be short and fat and ugly because they're not. People come in all shapes, sizes, colors, creeds, political ideology, age, mental abilities, skills, deficiencies, ad nauseum because they do, not because we want them to. People also think very differently and some think very similarly because they do, not because we want them to. Some act as we want them too and some don't. Should they act like we want them too? They shouldn't because they don't. Your interpretation of "should" is about your own personal ideas of life, the story of the life you would like to experience. How do I know that's true? Because it's not the reality you're already experiencing. If you were already experiencing it, than (in a non-moral interpretation) you should be experiencing it. The difference in understanding universal, non-moral "should, would, and could" (what is true) and personal desire (what we want to be true) is a fundamental tenet of Loving What Is.I don't see that you've at least intellectually acknowledged that yet, and that would be a fundamental roadblock in getting something more from the rest of the book.

Considering what's real is also at the heart of knowing what's true. It's considering our fallible senses and interpretations may not be as acute as we hope. It's considering our limited mental abilities may simply not be enough to fully comprehend when something is or isn't true. Katie, like you by reading this book, is simply seeking the truth. It's possible the answer to "Is it true?" and "Can you absolutely know it's true?" is yes. But I think you realize the consideration for that is a much deeper conversation than it was before reading the book.


message 14: by Dawn (new)

Dawn I think you're totally on point! Got the book for a road trip and it sparked some deep discussions. Although there are some really good points/insights, it doesn't take into account many things that are part of true mental illness. Thanks for sharing your insight.


message 15: by Brian (new)

Brian I found your review very helpful.
Planning on giving this book a miss. Thank you.


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