Wisdom Is Contextual

Last updated on May 26, 2021

boating on a rainy day
Don’t go out in the rain—except when you need to go out in the rain.

Life Is Full of Exceptions

If you’re looking for rules to follow, you’ll find that rules are always relative. Wisdom in one situation is not wise at all in another situation. If I adhere to one rule in all situations, I will run into trouble. 

For example, I love the adage, “See the job, do the job, stay out of the misery.” This little saying has helped me to simply jump into a task instead of resisting it. It reduces my stress load quite effectively in many situations. But in some situations, this same saying can actually increase my stress.

Here’s What Happens

When I “see the job, do the job” I feel empowered. I get things done. It feels great. But there is no end of jobs. In fact, doing jobs often creates more jobs. And in our modern world, it is especially easy to get bombarded with endless jobs to do. 

If I take the same old adage that worked well to get me off the couch to do the first job and try to apply it to a barrage of jobs coming at me, it doesn’t work. “See the job, do the job” in that situation would mean reacting to every job that comes along. Suddenly, I “must” do every job I see. Isn’t that what the saying implies?

It also implies that all jobs are of equal importance and you should just start on any of them without thinking. Since they all have to be done, does it matter where you start? This can lead to overwhelm—as well as getting lost doing unimportant things while letting important things slide.

So “See the Job, Do the Job” Breaks Down

What was wise in one situation is not wise in another. New wisdom has to be found. 

How do you find new wisdom for new situations? You may not be able to count on rules and sayings to find your way. At some point, you have to strike out on your own and find new ways that work for you. You have to find your own wisdom on the fly. Nothing else will do the job.

How Do You Find Your Own Wisdom on the Fly?

The key is to notice your stressful thinking. If you are thinking, “see the job, do the job,” and you notice it feels stressful in the face of so many jobs, then question the thought. The experience of stress is the indicator. It tells you that what once was a wise saying is not actually wise in this situation. So it’s up for questioning. 

I use The Work of Byron Katie to question my stressful thoughts. This simple method allows me to detach from any thought no matter how precious it may be to me. If it’s no longer working for me, I question it. 

In this process, I consider the opposite of what I was thinking. Suddenly, the turnaround, “see the job, don’t do the job” can be a new road to wisdom. I start to see that not all of the many jobs that land on my plate actually have to be done. In fact, some should definitely not be done if I’m going to do what is most important. 

This Opens My Eyes

The turnaround of my previous wisdom (once it became stressful) leads me to my next wisdom. And there may be more turnarounds to find. For example, “see the job, write down the job” could be a turnaround too. 

I’ve been doing this for the past few months and I love it. Now, whenever a job comes to mind (any task big or small), I write it down in one place (I use an app for this). Then, once a week I comb through every item on the list and decide what I will actually commit to doing for the next week. I also check on the list more frequently when needed. 

This turnaround feels like balance, peace, and responsibility. It is wisdom 2.0 for me. Wisdom 1.0 was getting myself engaged (when I used to need that motivation). “See the job, do the job, stay out of the misery,” was a turnaround for me at one point.

But that stage of my evolution has long since passed. Now, I don’t have an issue with engaging and getting things done. The issue now is choosing the jobs to do more carefully because I can’t do them all. For a new circumstance, I need a new turnaround—a new kind of wisdom.

This Is the Beauty of The Work

By questioning my stressful thinking (no matter how wise it may seem) I can evolve to new stages of wisdom that fit my present circumstances better. The Work allows my wisdom to be more dynamic. I no longer need to find one truth and stick with it. I can find layers and layers of truth, one leading to the next. 

Of course, you may find this ever-evolving wisdom without doing The Work. We all naturally question our thinking when it becomes stressful. The Work is just a systematic way to do it. And it points out directions I might not think of exploring without it. 

Over the years, I have come to trust this process because it always brings it back to me: “What makes more sense to me now?” This constant checking in with myself feels better than clinging to some wise ideas that are no longer working for me.

Join Us a Weekend Zoom Retreat June 26-27

Ready to question your stressful thoughts (even the so-called wise ones)? 

Stress means they may not be so wise for you anymore. You may find a lot of new wisdom when you turn around your thinking. Join us for a two-day intensive of doing just this with lots of support from me and others who are doing this same process with you.

I look forward to diving into The Work with you during this Virtual Retreat June 26-27.

Have a great week,
Todd

““The quiet mind realizes that no belief is true, it is immovable in that, so there’s no belief it can attach to. It’s comfortable with them all.” Byron Katie, A Thousand Names for Joy

Further reading: Too Much of a Good Thing Is Not Good

About the author

Todd Smith has been doing The Work of Byron Katie on an almost daily basis since 2007. He is just as excited about this simple process of self-inquiry today as he was when he first came across it. He also enjoys writing about The Work, and training others in the subtleties of this meditative process. Join Todd for The Work 101 online course, private sessions, virtual retreats, and his ongoing Inquiry Circle group.

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