Question Four of The Work of Byron Katie is, "Who would you be without this thought?
Sometimes it feels difficult to answer this question. When inquiring into a particularly old, sticky, and fear-based belief, even after some inquiry, we may still believe it. In some cases, we are virtually identified with it. As anyone who dragged around a ratty security blanket in early childhood knows, it can be frightening to move away from something we've held onto for so long.
Let's look at a universal belief: "Something terrible is going to happen." Often, we'll have that thought after something "terrible" has already happened, from an argument or an earthquake. Some of us are anticipating having a bad time over the holidays, whether we're going to be with family, or on our own, based on past experience. (Mom and Sis are going to fight; Uncle Joe's going to get drunk and make a pass at me; I'll be miserable here at home by myself, and my depression will return; the traffic out of the city will be horrendous, and it means that we're going to be late, and it means that...blah, blah, blah.) Remember, fear is always a story of the past, projected into a story of the nonexistent future...and neither past nor future exist now, so when we're afraid, we are by-passing present moment awareness, and making a lot of assumptions.
A "payoff" of holding a stressful thought might be preparedness, or protection. Without this escape clause, we think we won't be okay. So if we're believing what we think, "Who would you be without this thought?" could look like, "I would be toast...completely vulnerable and unprotected." "I would be a stupid doormat; they'd walk all over me if I didn't believe this." "I'd be in denial, and then I wouldn't know what to do if something goes wrong."
That's the good old reliable "I know" mind, doing it's job...which is to resist looking at any possibilities, for fear of annihilation. If mind questioned itself, it may come to see that it doesn't exist. That's more frightening to the mind, or ego, than any other disaster.
I like to remind my clients that they don't have to drop their beliefs, that this is not even possible; at the end of the session, they are welcome to gather up their toys and take them home, if they still want them. This reassurance helps some of us to feel safer to take a peek behind the barriers of "yeah but," "what if," and "I already know that/I tried it before and it doesn't work." The point of no-return only occurs right on time. Tattered and useless as it is rapidly becoming, no one's going to wrest the security blanket away before we're ready.
So if there were no adverse consequences to simply taking a look, who would you be without the thought, "Something terrible is going to happen?"
Some possibilities: I'd be out of another's business. (God's/reality's business, in case of earthquake; other person's business, in case of an argument). I would notice I am okay in this moment; still breathing. I would show up fully, available, present, a listener, an observer, a student. I would be creative, open, curious, positive, proactive.
In these possibilities, in the absence of the stressful belief, there is no resistance, and with no resistance, there is no fear. And now we can take an honest look at the turnarounds, which provide the rest of the story, the part we could not see before inquiring into the truth.
NOTE: In future posts I will continue to discuss how to get more mileage out of Question Four. I welcome your comments and suggestions.