Jane Lynch has spent years trying to get right with herself. In her new memoir, Happy Accidents (Voice), the actress who stars as Sue Sylvester on Glee describes two decades of self-examination that began with her decision, at 31, to give up alcohol. Then, two years ago, Lynch discovered Byron Katie, the best-selling author and founder of a method of self-inquiry known as “The Work.” Katie, as she’s called, had her own revelation in 1986—she calls it “waking up to reality”—when she emerged from a deep depression with the determination to question her thoughts. It sounds simple, and it is—sort of. But it takes a willingness to practice and a sense of humor, both of which Lynch brought with her recently when the two met for the first time.
Jane: I think all the things that have been evolving piece by piece in my life culminated when I discovered you in 2009. I always thought I was in the wrong place and needed to be somewhere else. I always thought there was a plan, and I was waiting, literally, for someone to come over and say, “Jane, you’re fabulous! Come this way!” But what I was waiting for was me, and where I was was perfect, because it was where I was.
Katie: That’s when we’re home. The wait is over. The wanting and needing are all over when you find it’s all inside of you. And life gets very exciting at that point.
Jane: It does. Because it’s in this moment. It’s not something that’s around the bend.
Katie: It’s not later. It’s now. Everything you’re supposed to do is right here.
Jane: I’ve got to say, of the four questions you suggest people ask themselves about their stressful thoughts—“Is it true? Can you absolutely know that it’s true? How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? Who would you be without the thought?”—that last one is the silver bullet for me.
Katie: Those four questions as well as the turnarounds—in which I ask you to examine your stressful thought by imagining its opposite and finding examples of how that is true—are all a meditation. When you ask, “How do I react when I think that thought?”— and get still in that—it shows you what is. It shows you the reality of what really is going on. Then you see this tantrum thrower—you—killing yourself over a situation that is often in the past. And then comes that silver bullet: Who would you be without that thought?
Jane: When my wife and I met, the first thing I thought was “I’m going to get my needs met!”
Katie: Then you found out she had a few needs herself.
Jane: She did! Shocking! So our process has been kind of undoing that first moment. But there was something beautiful in that first moment, too—kind of a soul meeting. Still, my work has been to let go of that idea that my salvation is in her. And to just love her. I haven’t done that before. But I was ready for it. I stumble through a lot. I’ve made mistakes. But that’s my work.
Katie: That’s everyone’s work if they are awake to it. Because our partners are going to teach us that over and over and over again. So our job is unconditional love, and their job is to push our buttons.
Jane: The first book I read that made me start to think about this was The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav. He said that how you think determines your experience of the world. That was so revolutionary to me, and freeing. One of the things I’ve learned is that while I thought I should be here or there, I still was smart enough to say yes to everything in front of me. And I wound up in places I never, ever would have imagined.
Katie: Yesses are so important. It’s like, Why not?
Jane: I was asked to understudy a lot, for example. And I ended up getting onstage a lot. I said yes, yes, yes. “Do you want to understudy Joan Allen?” Yes! Now some people might have said, “I don’t want to understudy Joan Allen. I’d like to act with Joan Allen.” But I understudied her, and I got onstage. In desperation I would have done anything. “You want me? I’m happy to show up.” I had these glorious experiences because I said yes.
Katie: I used to say, “My name is yes.” What I had realized is that if I say no to this person because it’s right for me, that’s a yes. And if I say yes to that person, it’s a yes to me as well. But only if it’s honest. When your mind starts to open, everything falls into place. It’s that “don’t know” mind space. The mind is usually “I know, I know, I know.” But that “don’t know” mind space is where wisdom lives.
Jane: I’ve always said I was struck sober. It felt easy. I felt a little guilty because other people worked very hard for sobriety. It wasn’t dramatic for me. I was just on the phone one day and poured the drink out.
Katie: Yes—done. Done! A state of grace. In my experience, that’s where we become a student. That “I know” mind is dropped, and the mind is open to this world that I never have seen before.
Jane: In A Thousand Names for Joy, I love how you say that people who came to your house after you’d had your awakening would say, “Namaste,” and you thought they were saying, “No mistake.”
Katie: They were just so smart. They knew there were no mistakes. [Laughs.] For you, you were asking, “Without alcohol, who am I?” That truly is stepping into the unknown.
Jane: That was the question that freaked me out. What will I do? How will I live? How will I exist without having that thing that gives me a bounce in my step every day?
Katie: But we learn without it. You’ve just got to laugh because nothing is as it seems. We see it as so terrible, but when you really see it for what it is, you’ve just got to laugh. When you get in touch with reality, it can be hilarious.
Katie: We’re ready now for loving what is, not just accepting what is.
Jane: A friend of mine says that L.A. is like bootcamp. You stand on the fence when you first get here and you realize you can either believe what’s going on out there—the critical outer world where you’re going to be too fat and need plastic surgery—or you’re going to let all that stuff inform what’s inside you. That way, you take all that rejection and say, “Look, isn’t this interesting?” Creatively, you can’t get to that profound place if you’re not looking in the shadows of yourself. You must go into your own closet and say, “Oh, there’s something. I need to pull that out.”
Photograph by Justin Stephens