MIND OF SUFFERING
Journeying with Byron Katie in South Africa and Namibia
by Kriben Pillay
Ever since Byron Katie's final presentation at the
of Durban-Westville's Hindu Centre on Sunday 31 August
after a week of non-stop presentations and media
that started in Cape Town the previous Sunday and which
us to Namibia and Johannesburg and finally to Durban -
e-mails and telephone calls have been pouring in from
touched by this extraordinary woman and the process that
calls "The Work".
Out of the depths of her own despair, Byron Kathleen Reid
(now simply called Byron Katie), awoke one day in 1986 to
absolute clarity and unconditional love after a ten-year
period of seclusion, food and substance addictions, and
obsessing about suicide. In this awakening, she found
all the great spiritual teachers had found - except that
was without any spiritual training whatsoever - that is,
it is possible to transcend our limited, self-centred and
fearful life into a life that is an expression of
connectedness and love. In Katie's case, the awakening
accompanied by four questions that allowed her to undo
stressful thoughts that threatened to take her away from
new incredible awareness of life that was devoid of any
Since 1986, Katie has been sharing this wonderfully
tool with hundreds of thousands wherever she is invited
over the world. And, by invitation, she finally came to
South Africa and Namibia, giving endlessly of herself to
those who came in suffering or perplexity.
"The Work" is not another motivational
technique, nor is it a
means to further delude the mind. Rather, in the
Socrates, the Buddha, and later teachers like Ramana
and J. Krishnamurti, Katie's process is a process of
where questioning the mind's stories allows us to see
real without the overlay of our acquired conditioning.
Like the title of her recently published book, Loving
Is, "The Work" brings us to full acceptance of
reality in the
moment, where we are no longer arguing with it but
ourselves to be a creative participant in the unfolding
each moment, as it is now. This is not a fatalistic
to pain, but a dynamic unpacking of the stories that
the pain in the first place.
From Cape Town to Windhoek, Johannesburg to Durban, Katie
with great skill and compassion - unpacked participants'
stories of suffering: painful relationships, parenting,
blindness, cerebral palsy, obstinate employees, the fear
dying alone, political corruption, crime, the rape of
children - these were some of the issues inquired into.
each time Katie created a space for participants to see
suffering arises from the confusion within the mind.
replaced tears, and self-righteousness was transformed
humility and compassion. Interestingly, an issue that
preoccupies many people in this part of the world -
was the only currently predominant issue that was not
up. This did not escape Katie's notice, but she never
and always allows participants to work from a place where
they are most comfortable. After all, working in front of
group of 500 strangers can be a daunting and fearful
situation in itself, but those courageous people who sat
Katie and did The Work all walked away with peace
their hearts and minds.
So, up close, what is Katie like? I can write about the
absence of reactivity, even when a tiresome allergy and
non-stop presentations caused her great fatigue; of a
who is totally present for the person who is sitting
her; of her great compassion for a child who was
with the death of her loved ones; of her wonderful sense
humour amidst the grilling criticisms of hard-nosed
journalists ... and of the almost palpable sense of the
sacred that emanates from her. But I suppose, for me, the
most accurate answer would be that Katie is a living
reflection of our potential to be mature, sane human
She did not come to South Africa and Namibia to sell
self-help programme; to make millions by promising a
body, a life without illness, the perfect soul mate, or
to manifest material wealth. Rather, she came with four
questions that allow us to discover our own answers. She
of course, a highly skilled and quietly supportive
and an empathic listener. As she worked in front of
hundred people, there was an immense quietness and never
sign of audience restlessness.
Of course, not everyone in the audiences wanted inquiry
strips way our illusions. One woman argued that she knew
she would be attacked some day in crime-ridden Southern
Africa. "The Work" in that moment was perhaps
not for her.
She could not see that she was attacking herself with
thoughts that had no bearing on the reality of the
the moment where she was in perfect physical safety,
for her thoughts that told her otherwise. But Katie's way
not to convince intellectually, for this simply keeps the
sense of separation in place. She gently went on to the
participant. If we want to hold onto our suffering, then
is our business. "The Work" refuses to fall
into the old trap
of being self-righteous, of wanting to put the world
As the Buddha is reputed to have said: " I show you
suffering, and I show you the end of it."
"The Work" is radical surgery without any
anaesthetic (one of
Katie's sayings), but it is only for the one who has
grown weary of suffering. And from the responses of
African audiences, many are fast reaching this place.
In Durban, Katie and her friends had lunch at my home.
Zulu domestic help, who lost her son in a freak accident
three years ago, was hugged and kissed and within a few
moments a glow from within lit up her face. She may not
responded to "The Work" in its English format,
responded to the one whose awakening had taken her beyond
the story of death.
In a supermarket you might pass Katie and see her for an
ordinary woman - as we experienced her at the breakfast
table, or on the short safari in the semi-desert of
until you look into her startlingly blue eyes with their
infinite acceptance, tranquillity and wisdom, and see the
essence of your own pure heart.
For further information about The Work in South Africa,
contact Dr Kriben Pillay on 0824661745. Or visit his