From the official The Work website:
“For readers who haven’t heard about Byron Katie, here is some background. In the midst of an ordinary American life—two marriages, three children, a successful career—Katie entered a ten-year-long downward spiral into depression, agoraphobia, self-loathing, and suicidal despair. She drank to excess, her husband brought her pints of ice cream and codeine pills that she ate like candy, and she ended up weighing over two hundred pounds. She slept with a .357 Magnum revolver under her bed. Every day she prayed not to wake up the next morning, and it was only because of her concern for her children that she didn’t kill herself. For the last two years of this ordeal she could seldom manage to leave her house; she stayed in her bedroom for days at a time, unable even to shower or brush her teeth. (“What’s the use?” she thought. “It all adds up to nothing anyway.”) Finally, in February 1986, at the age of forty-three, she checked herself into a halfway house for women with eating disorders—the only facility that her insurance company would pay for. The residents were so frightened of her that they put her in an attic bedroom and booby-trapped the staircase at night; they thought she might come down and do something terrible to them.
One morning, after about a week at the halfway house, Katie had a life-changing experience. As she lay on the floor (she didn’t feel worthy enough to sleep in a bed), a cockroach crawled across her ankle and down her foot. She opened her eyes, and all her depression and fear, all the thoughts that had been tormenting her, were gone. “While I was lying on the floor,” she says, “I understood that when I was asleep, prior to cockroach or foot, prior to any thoughts, prior to any world, there was—there is—nothing. In that instant, the four questions of The Work were born.” She felt intoxicated with joy. The joy persisted for hours, then days, then months and years.
When she went home, her children, who had lived in fear of her outbursts, could barely recognize her. Her eyes had changed. “The blue had become so clear, so beautiful,” her daughter, Roxann, says. “If you looked in, you could see that she was as innocent as a baby. She was happy all day long, every day, and she seemed to be brimming over with love.” She spent most of the time silent, sitting for hours on the window seat or out in the desert. Her younger son, Ross, says, “Before the change, I couldn’t look into her eyes; after it, I couldn’t stop looking into them.”
It took Katie years to learn how to speak about her state of being. She had no external context for her awareness; she had never read spiritual books or heard about spiritual practices. She just had her own experience to guide her, and all she needed was the inquiry that was alive in her.
Katie’s rebirth was so radical, in fact, that she had to relearn (or, from her perspective, learn) everything about being human: how to function in time and space, how to break reality apart into nouns and verbs so that she could communicate with people, how to pretend that past and future were real. And its effect was directly opposite from the usual conversion experience in that it didn’t result in the acceptance of a religious belief. Her clarity didn’t and couldn’t permit a single belief. It burned through religious concepts along with all other thoughts. After her awakening, she continued to feel—to be—the uninterrupted presence of the love she had awoken as. “I felt that if my joy were told,” she says, “it would blow the roof off the halfway house—off the whole planet. I still feel that way.”
During that first year, in the midst of her great joy, beliefs and concepts continued to arise in her mind. The way she dealt with them was through inquiry. She would often go out alone into the desert, which began just a few blocks away from her house in Barstow, California, to inquire into these thoughts.
Inquiry continued for a year or so, until all the beliefs and concepts were burned up. The method was tested in the laboratory of her experience, with a more stringent standard of sanity than even the most meticulous scientist of the mind could devise. Any thought or mental event that had the tendency to pull her off balance, anything that caused a reaction in her that was a diminishment of her peace and joy, was subjected to rigorous inquiry, until the thought was met with understanding. “I am someone who only wants what is,” Katie says. “To meet as a friend each concept that arose turned out to be my freedom. That’s where The Work begins and ends—in me. The Work reveals that you can love it all, exactly as it is. And it shows you exactly how.” By the end of this process, during the second year after her awakening, only the clarity remained.”