Spiritual teacher Byron Katie on how insight into our attitudes toward competition and profit can make business better.
Jurriaan Kamp | December 2011 Issue
Byron Katie was in her early thirties, living in Southern California and working in the real estate business, when she started to suffer from severe depression. There were days when she could hardly get out of bed. During that deep crisis, Katie spent time in a center for women with eating disorders. She was lying on the floor one day and realized, “I suffered when I was believing my own thoughts, and I didn’t suffer when I wasn’t. Suffering is a choice for all people. Freedom is that simple.”
This experience changed her life. And since that moment, Katie has helped transform the lives of thousands of people all over the world. Based on her experiences, she developed The Work, a method that confronts people with tough questions about their lives and challenges them to accept reality. “It is what it is,” Katie says. “There is no point in questioning what is real. Accept reality. Then ask yourself what you want to do.”
Katie is extending her techniques to the business world, helping executives use these psychological insights to improve the office environment and bottom line. Ode spoke to Katie about bringing The Work to the workplace.
Why did you decide to go into business?
“We spend a lot of time looking at motives and fears that drive the markets beyond what’s sane, really: where greed comes from and the guilt that comes with that. We should be thinking out of our true nature, out of that sense of ‘How can I help?’ rather than ‘How can I get?’”
Can business become enlightened?
“When we serve another, we serve ourselves. I think people don’t understand that the more you give, the more you get. We’ve heard principles like that, but I want to take the business man and woman into that understanding, into the self of their body. I want to give them the opportunity to understand that for themselves. Their understanding will drop in as deeply as their minds are open to it. Businesses are interested in more profit. More profit is easier out of the enlightened mind, the fearless mind, out of the mind that can see clearly what works and what doesn’t work.”
What prevents that? Is it fear?
“Absolutely. It blocks profit from coming in and going back out. I experience my business as a place where none of the money belongs to my company or me. It comes in from others and goes back out that way. And if people really took a look at that, they would better understand their own businesses. If someone is hungry, immediately the [creative] mind asks, ‘How do I help that person?’ If there is a hungry person, the fearful person says, ‘Oh, that could be me. I don’t want to look at it. That’s too frightening.’”
What about competition?
“Competition is so unnecessary. It is that stranglehold that we hold like an old-fashioned value. It’s deadly and antiquated. There are no people in corporations, just hired employees, to be sure the profit is for us. There is no heart there until each person takes his or her responsibility seriously, or at least one person does. And I know I’m not dependent on other people to be content and fearless and it works.
But it does make a difference whether you buy one computer or another, doesn’t it?
“The way I look at it is: You make computers; I make computers. Our computers are out there on the floor. They choose mine, or they don’t. If they don’t, I have to look to myself. How can I be more innovative? And I look at the other computers that do sell. How can I give people the best possible computer that I can possibly give, considering my employees, all of it? What am I capable of as a company, as an individual? And I put it out there, and people buy it or they don’t. But I am giving my best, and I am not competing with anyone but my own self, my own talents and the talents of the people who work for me. If they don’t measure up, then I am free because I am clear to hire people with more open, innovative minds.”
But if Steve Jobs had accepted reality, we would never have had the iPad.
“He probably [did accept reality], and the iPad idea came to him. That’s the fearless, creative mind. It’s not competing necessarily. It just continues to feed, visualize, experience all these innovative things that have never been done. But that is what happens in the absence of fear. There’s nothing like an open, free, creative mind. I’m saying notice [reality] is what it is, and how can I help? Enhance it, work with it, do it.”
In places like southern Europe and the southern U.S., people build walls to keep other people out. What would you say to those building these walls?
“I would say, ‘What are you doing? Think through this!’ We celebrate a wall falling in Berlin and create walls in other places. It’s all about protecting what we have, and that is a fear of not getting what we want. That creates the wall between us. People are coming, wall or no wall. Without a wall, it still gets down to ‘How can I help?’ We are not going to settle for anything less than that without the experience of guilt. When we are feeling guilty and frightened, then we do these strange things. We cost other people their right to life and equality, prosperity. That’s on us as individuals.”
What’s the difference between your business workshops and other workshops?
“We focus on money, prosperity, what fears and assumptions hold us back. I pair them up. One person is silent; the other talks for 10 minutes about the culture within their family: the neighborhood, the aunts, the uncles, the parents, what they heard about money. You have people who grew up with a meager existence sitting with a billionaire. The similarities are striking, what their families believe about money. They both tell their money-childhood stories. In those assumptions, concepts are captured so they can do The Work with them. They identify the concepts they have believed from the time they were 5 years old. One person may remember a pair of tennis shoes that were so fabulous that they were embarrassed to wear them to school because the other kids couldn’t have them; another person might remember wanting those tennis shoes and not being able to afford them. Those beliefs are still running their lives today. Once they question them, they are freed. It’s our birthright to be free. When we are free, we create a better world.”
Jurriaan Kamp, Ode’s co-founder, publisher, and editor-in-chief, is competing only with himself.