“To think that we need sadness or outrage to motivate us to do what’s right is insane. As if the clearer and happier you get, the less kind you become. As if when someone finds freedom, she just sits around all day with drool running down her chin. My experience is the opposite. Love is action. It’s clear, it’s kind, it’s effortless, and it’s irresistible.” – From A Thousand Names for Joy Now, in the book A Thousand Names for Joy: Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are, Katie provides an intimate glimpse into a subject that she doesn’t normally talk about—her everyday life. From babysitting her grandchild to experiencing painful corneal blisters, sipping a cup of tea to sitting with a dying friend, Katie show us The Work in action—and how she exquisitely inhabits a fluid world without boundaries or demarcation. Teaming up with her author/translator husband Stephen Mitchell, Katie elaborates on short excerpts from the Tao Te Ching from her own unique standpoint. At core, Katie challenges us—and our most cherished beliefs—by reminding us that unquestioned thoughts are the source of all stress and suffering. No person, lack, diagnosis, death, accident, tsunami, war, or illness causes suffering—only our unquestioned thoughts about such things. Granted, this idea is a radical one because, for Katie, reality equals what is, and reality is God and reality is always good. A Thousand Names for Joy reveals a sweet, guileless woman who is nevertheless an equal opportunity offender. When she relates the story about a well-known Buddhist teacher describing how appalled and devastated he felt on 9/11, Katie observes that “his suffering had nothing to do with the terrorists or the people who died…[he in that moment] was terrorizing his own mind, causing his own grief.”
Katie also addresses Christians and the idea of “knowing Jesus”. She says, “I know what it is to enter heaven and not look back, and I know the arrogance of thinking that people need to be saved. If I can walk into the light, so can you. You can’t help us with your words: ‘There it is, over there. Follow me.’ No. you do it first, then we’ll follow. This savior thing is lethal.”
At 280 pages, A Thousand Names for Joy reads like part memoir and part devotional—but 100% contrary to almost every book lining the bulging shelves of the Self-Help section. With The Work, individuals embrace everything and resist nothing, for resistance is not only futile, but the root of suffering. Physical pain, love, success, money, abuse, death—Katie address all these topics and more by showing what happens when our thoughts about such issues are met with understanding—and inquiry.
Here are but a few of my favorite passages that I highlighted in the book:
“It’s not possible to have a problem without believing a prior thought. To notice this simple truth is the beginning of peace.”
“Forgiveness is realizing that what you thought happened didn’t. You realize that there was never anything to forgive, and that’s what The Work makes evident. It has all just been a misunderstanding within you.”
“When you try to be safe, you live your life being very, very careful, and you may wind up having no life at all.”
“People will write off even the clearest, most loving person in the world when he opposes their belief system. They will invalidate him, negate him, obliterate him, prove that he’s wrong, he’s a fraud, he’s dangerous to society, so that they can protect what they really believe is important. They’d rather be right than free.”
“If I think that I’m supposed to be doing anything but what I’m doing now, I’m insane.”
“Of course, freedom doesn’t mean that you let unkind things happen—it doesn’t mean passivity or masochism. If someone says he’s going to cut off your legs, run!”
At the end of A Thousand Names for Joy, Katie briefly describes the four questions of The Work, and provides the “Judge Your Neighbor” template from Loving What Is. She also points readers to her website, http://TheWork.org, for obtaining free worksheets for applying The Work to stressful thoughts. A Thousand Names for Joy reveals what’s on the other side of investigated thoughts—past the stress, the confusion, and the suffering. I am so grateful for The Work because it has helped me come to terms with my Autistic-spectrum son. Instead of meeting his “delays” with frustration and panic, I’ve been able to (mostly) meet him with patience, love, peacefulness, compassion and clarity. If you have an affinity for the Tao Te Ching and would enjoy eavesdropping on Katie’s wild (but entirely stress-free) world, then A Thousand Names for Joy will no doubt delight you. However, having used The Work for years—and having read all three of Katie’s books—I feel that Loving What Is would serve those new to the process of inquiry better than A Thousand Names for Joy.
Why? Well, unless you’re quite familiar with The Work, statements like “I see the common good. The common good looks like entire villages being wiped out by one tsunami” may seem disturbing, heartless, and repugnant. On the other hand, Katie would attest that such stressful thoughts would be the perfect time to apply The Work—but only if you want!
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