#WritingAdviceWednesday – How to Use Byron Katie’s Four Questions

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Yesterday I posted Byron Katie’s four questions.  These questions get at the fear and fearful thinking that causes personal suffering.  As many of you know the best definition of fear I have ever heard is:  “Fear is the anticipation of grief.”  Anticipating something often makes it true– That’s where the saying “a self-fulfilling prophecy” comes from. Here is how to use the questions in fictional character development:

1.  Is it true? Every character has a specific view of the world, of themselves and of their role in the role.  This is based on the person’s Character Type.  These beliefs and or philosophies limit the character in some profound way.  For example, a Power of Truth character believes that the world is fundamentally uncertain.  These characters believe life is filled with hidden pitfalls, secret agendas and you can’t really trust in or believe anything.

When operating out of fear these character doubt everyone and everything.  They don’t even trust themselves– second-guessing every decision, doubting themselves and others.  Mickey Sachs (Woody Allen)  in Hannah and Her Sisters at his most anxious neurotic state is a great comic example of the Power of Truth Character Type.  Mickey says:

“…I really hit bottom.  You know, I just felt that in a Godless universe, I didn’t want to go on living.  Now I happen to own this rifle which I loaded, believe it or not, and pressed to my forehead.”
“And I remember thinking… I’m gonna kill myself.  Then I thought… What if I’m wrong? What if there is a God?  I mean after all, nobody really knows. But then I thought, no.  You know,  maybe is not good enough.  I want  certainty or nothing.”

“…I really hit bottom.  You know, I just felt that in a Godless universe, I didn’t want to go on living.  Now I happen to own this rifle which I loaded, believe it or not, and pressed to my forehead.”

“And I remember thinking… I’m gonna kill myself.  Then I thought… What if I’m wrong? What if there is a God?  I mean after all, nobody really knows. But then I thought, no.  You know,  maybe is not good enough.  I want  certainty or nothing.”

Mickey nearly shoots himself but the gun slides off his forehead and he escapes in the resulting mayhem.  He  run into the street, walks for hours and then retreats into a movie theater where a Marx Brother’s movie is playing.

2: Can you absolutely know it’s true? In a climatic moment, Mickey realizes he can’t be absolutely certain there is no God.  He says:
“…I went upstairs to the balcony, and I sat down and, you know, the movie was a film that I’d seen many times in my life since I was a kid, and I always loved it.  And, you know, I’m watching these people up on the screen, and I started getting hooked on the film, you know?”
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“…And I started to think how can you even think of killing yourself? I mean, isn’t it so stupid?  Look at all the people up there on the screen.  You know, they’re real funny, and, and what if the worst is true?”
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“…What if there’s no God, and you only go around once and that’s it?  Well, you know, don’t you want to be part of the experience?  You know, what the hell, it’s not all a drag.”
3: How do you react—what happens—when you believe that thought? When Mickey believes there is no real certainty he fells anxious, depressed and self-destructive.  When he doubts everything he wants to kill himself.
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4: Who would you be without the thought? Without obsessing about certainty or the lack of it, Mickey can begin to enjoy his life, relax and be more open, fun-loving and tolerant of ambiguity.  He says:
I’m thinking to myself, geez, I should stop ruining my life… searching for answers I’m never gonna get, and just enjoy it while it lasts.  And… I mean, you know, maybe there is something. Nobody really knows.  I know, I know maybe is a very slim reed to hang your whole life on, but that’s the best we have. And… then, I started to sit back, and I actually began to enjoy myself.”
Absolutely nothing changed but Mickey’s attitude.   When he let go of his obsessive thoughts, based on his fears and narrow world view, he became more comfortable with uncertainty and more available to life and it’s enjoyments.
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Byron Katie’s process is another way of looking at the Leap of Faith described in the Character Map eBook.  Every character must, at some point, let go of their self-limiting view of the world and of themselves.  This is the only way to make the transformation that is so scary but so emotionally satisfying.

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