This was posted in 2008, from a person who attended one of Byron Katie’s 9-day schools. This is a direct quote from the source.
First, I want to tell you that finding your message here was a real blessing. I’ve been searching the internet off and on for months hoping to find something about Byron Katie and The Work relating to recovery from cults. I think your concerns are perfectly legitimate. From the first time I read the first chapter in her book “Loving What Is”, I knew something was horribly wrong, but my curiosity and the subtle persuasion of personal testimony led me on.
It’s hard to say that she’s a cult leader, considering how she got into this business. And, having met and talked with Katie personally, I want to say upfront that I believe she is very innocent/ignorant about what she is doing to people. I believe that she sincerely believes she is what she says she is, and that’s probably what makes her so convincing. At the same time, there is no doubt that she falls into the category of a guru, regardless of how adamant she is that she is not one… and a mass manipulator. The book “In Sheep’s Clothing” offers a list of tactics that covert aggressors use to manipulate, distract, and deceive. The descriptions match Katie very well… she is the queen of diversion, evasion, and distraction. However, I believe that it is herself she is deceiving the most. I think she is still very mentally ill, and it’s scary, because so many people are following her lead.
With many reservations, I attended her 9 day school. We were sworn to secrecy about the events that go on there so as not to “spoil it for others” who would attend in the future. I’ve written about my experiences there, for my own sanity, and while I will spare you the gory details, I will offer a small list of things that happen there.
- A forced 36 hour fast.
- An day long “outing” where we were left to beg for food among homeless people in the streets of Los Angeles. We were instructed not to take any ID, or anything with us but the clothes we had on.
- A rich organic diet that sent many people’s bodies into shock. Vomiting was a regular occurrence, and was offered as “evidence” of cleansing, and of how powerful The Work really is.
- Long days with brief breaks for meals. (7 am to 11:00 pm most days.)
- Long, intense confessional sessions.
- Deep, excessive probing into one’s past traumas. (She used violent Korn music to trigger our worst memories.)
- No contact with family or the outside world. (We turned our cell phones into the staff.)
- Not allowed to wear make-up, to exercise, or to eat outside of the diet given.
- Eating meals and taking breaks in complete silence.
- Going at least 2 full days as a “silent one”, unallowed to talk with others.
- Being invited to criticize Katie and The School, and those who did were silently, subtly shunned by the group and Katie.
- Having every doubt and concern about what was going on at The School questioned and “turned around”, until no one could trust their own perceptions anymore.
Although The Work is presented as for anyone of any religion, once I became a part of Katie’s captive audience, it became very clear that was no so. Katie claims to have no beliefs, because she is “clear” and lives in “reality” or “heaven”, her belief system is actually very strong, very distinct, and very anti-Christian. And, anyone whose belief system doesn’t match hers is treated like the “unenlightened” sap who needs to keep questioning his/her thoughts until they can see things Katie’s way.
I was surprised by the number of educated professionals at The School. Teachers, doctors, psychologists, social workers, counselors of all kinds. I was even more surprised how everyone seemed reduced to this “blissed out” state by the end, where they couldn’t even hold an intelligent conversation anymore. It was scary, and sad.
And, most of them would fight to the death to defend Katie’s validity and honor.
I kept in touch with several people after The School, and when I made the decision to throw out all of my materials and abandon the process altogether, I met a lot of resistance. That was about the time her new book came out “A Thousand Names for Joy.” I bought it, again out of dire curiosity. I read through it one evening, and that was all it took for me to toss it out. Hearing her tell about watching a man having a stroke, and feeling no concern for his well being because she was “in love”… was crazy. Since when did apathy become love?
But, I think it was the passage where she said that she likes pretending to be human and called it her “disguise” that really put the whole thing over the top. Apathy I could probably handle… but inhumanness is going too far.
I can’t even express the disturbing way I’ve felt watching all of these people (there were about 300 at The School) throwing away a normal, healthy range of emotions for “bliss.” And, I find it interesting that none of them have ever actually become like Katie. I guess psychosis is pretty hard to self-induce… ?
After those 9 days being constantly bombarded with questions about everything I think, believe, and perceive… I definitely noticed a difference in me. I still struggle to hang onto my thoughts and judgments without automatically turning everything around on myself. I mean, if someone slapped me in the face, my mind would probably automatically flip it around to someone make it either my fault, or to convince me that it was somehow for my benefit.
For awhile, I really struggled with what I observed about Katie… but no matter how many times I turn it around, I can honestly that I’ve never done what Katie is doing. It’s bad.
The one thing good that came out of it, was that I learned about cults and cult mind control. I’ve read every book I can get my hands on. And, I’ve learned what it was that made me vulnerable to The Work. Also, I’ve gained a lot of knowledge that hopefully will protect me from the next snake-oil peddler that comes along.
Anyway, thank you for posting. I really needed to hear another person’s perspective to help validate my own… I can trust my thoughts about Katie and The Work, after all. Imagine that! Thank you, thank you, thank you.