You don’t have to think that
Updated: Nov 14
Questioner: “Is there any thought that’s true?”
Byron Katie: “For me, no, but that’s for you to find out for yourself”
A deep interest in spiritual teachings from a young age helped me see that what goes on in my mind is not all of me.
I remember the first time I saw my “monkey mind” in an early morning meditation. I was physically still, sleepiness and calm was in the body and yet this mind bounced around from random thought to random thought like a monkey trapped in a cage. Was this really who I was allowing to run my life?
I certainly wasn’t taught this in school. It was more like “Fill your mind with this information, then follow people who have more information in their head than you — and do what they say.”
This how you become educated and therefore more valuable.
So how could none of what I spent years learning actually be true?
I don’t have to think that I look a bit unkept today or that my current posture is bad for my back. That's subjective, I can kind of accept that.
But what about the thought that must love my mother and father? That I must provide for my children? How deep is that?
Or "that person hurt me and therefore is not worthy of my love or respect".
Are they not true thoughts?
Byron Katie’s process she calls The Work is an ingeniously simple way of identifying a single thought and looking at it from a different perspective.
Is it absolutely true? And evern if there’s only a 1% chance that it’s not, could I perhaps be letting something or someone upset me unnecessarily?
In some spiritual circles, the way the mind works is not the focus. It’s considered a distraction.
But when I’m not connected spiritually, which is most of the time, I live through my thoughts.
And I value my thoughts. I might even believe my thoughts are superior to other people’s thoughts.
But, in my case at least, most of this brain activity is just pretty aimless, jumping from one association to the next.
And yet, if I dig a little deeper, I see that the thoughts I believe, whether I'm aware of them or not, are running my life.
And thank goodness for most of them! I have a wonderful life.
But back when I found myself without an income but with a young family to support, there were thoughts like “I’m more of a burden than a help. I can’t see a way out. I’m basically unemployable. Every day is awful. I’m so ashamed. I might as well stay in bed. Maybe if I just take a step in front of this speeding car everyone would be better off.”
There’s a lot of “I” in there.
And while I chose not to pursue the more morbid thoughts, a lot of them felt very true for me.
So the power of “you don’t have to think that” changed my life.
And I put it on a Post It note in my office to remind myself of it whenever I found myself in a negative thought spiral.
And our son Lucas, who was around six at the time, found it pretty useful too.
“Lucas”, I’d say, “you can’t have more juice – that’s too much sugar”
To which he'd reply: “You don’t have to think that daddy!”