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When To Not Do The Work

whipping donkeys at the plow
Whipping the mind to make it work turns out not to be so useful for creating peace.

When Not to Do The Work

Are there ever times when it makes sense not to do The Work? I can think of several. Let’s look at a few of these.

1. When The Emotion Is Really Strong

I love The Work because my perspective often changes enough that my emotions shift from stressed to peaceful. But sometimes the emotion is so strong that I don’t want to do The Work. I’m angry—I’m just really angry. And doing The Work could make me angrier. 

Should I push on through or hold back when emotions are strong? For me, pushing through feels like the opposite of the very spirit of The Work which is to listen to myself. 

It feels like I’m “using” The Work to get rid of the emotion, and it feels disrespectful to the angry part of me that is suffering. It’s like saying, “Get over it!” Not too helpful. The stuck part of me feels not listened to, disrespected, belittled, and unsafe. I don’t want to turn it around! It becomes an internal fight.

Options When The Emotion Is Strong

Here are some other options that I find helpful. 

  1. Don’t do The Work, just write the stressful thoughts down. This feels like listening. I like to even forget about doing The Work on these thoughts ever. I might later, or might not. I just want to hear what is stressing me. I find this very soothing.
  2. Sometimes, I have enough openness to do The Work, so I may do The Work but I’ll spend a lot more time in question 3, “How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?” This question allows me to rant and rave a bit and see what it feels like to believe the thought. If I give more time for this question, I may eventually become ready for question 4, “Who would you be without the thought?”
  3. I do something else completely. I notice that I’m simply not open to questioning my thoughts at this time, so I do other things that balance me: go for a walk or a swim, do some yoga, play pickleball, talk with a friend, read a book, watch a movie, sleep, etc. It can be relieving to feel free to “not fix” myself but just take care of myself instead.

Openness Is the Only Prerequisite to Doing The Work

If I’m not open, I don’t do it. This feels like I’m listening to myself, the very essence of what The Work is all about. It feels honest. I do love The Work, but forcing myself to do it can give me a bad taste for The Work. 

Not to mention, that in a very closed state, it’s almost impossible to find genuine answers to the questions. So what’s the point? I’d much rather wait until I’m open again and feel attracted to The Work instead of using force on myself.

2. When Resistance Is Really Strong 

Sometimes, people have strong doubts about The Work. Again, forcing against those doubts can be counterproductive. I recommend bringing doubts about The Work to a trained facilitator. That’s one of the reasons I offer Open Sessions.

Or, try questioning the doubts. This would be the first inquiry I would do before any further work.

3. When I’m Beating Myself Up

If I ever notice that I’m beating myself up when doing The Work (making myself wrong and shaming or blaming myself in my turnarounds), then I stop. This is not actually The Work anyway. 

The Work is a gentle process, but sometimes the mind is in attack mode and it swings from attacking someone else to attacking itself instead of looking for how the two opposites balance each other out. 

Again, working with another person, especially a trained facilitator, can help in finding the balance. 

4. Using The Work to Hide Out

The Work is a tool for self-discovery, but the mind can use any tool as a way to stay stuck, even The Work. If you notice that, check it out. Are you turning things around to take the edge off the pain that would be better dealt with by taking courageous action? 

There are no right answers. But notice. What does it feel like? There are always two dimensions for finding wiggle room: inner and outer. Are you focusing on finding inner wiggle room at the exclusion of finding the outer wiggle room? Why not explore both? And question resistance thoughts to doing either.

An Example of This

An example would be, I want to say no to them. If I am open-minded in doing The Work, I can question “I want to say no to them” and find it is also true that “I don’t want to say no to them.” This is freeing because, by questioning, I become less attached to saying no to them. In case I don’t find the courage to say no, or I see other reasons not to say no, I can still be okay. (This is inner wiggle room.)

I could also do The Work on the reasons why I don’t have the courage to say no, “They won’t like me,” etc. This is doing The Work with an open mind desiring to look at all sides of it, including taking courageous action (outer wiggle room).

But if I come to The Work with a semi-closed mind desirous of hiding out, I would “use” The Work to justify not saying no to them. I might question, “I want to say no to them” and use my examples as reasons not to stretch, as reasons to stay safe and hide out. This same mind would probably also avoid questioning any resistance thoughts to saying no. It is not open to all sides of the exploration and uses “The Work” as a shelter instead of a way of stretching.

Don’t Become a Work Fanatic

Instead, listen to yourself. That’s what The Work is all about anyway. And if “yourself” is asking for you to not do The Work right now, pay attention. That is your work. That is your turnaround. Can you live it?

When I hold The Work gently and lightly, I find it to be very attractive. But if I hold it with force, I resent it. I prefer to trust the inner wisdom that leads me towards it sometimes and away from it sometimes. There is a lot of freedom in that.

Join us for the virtual retreat Jun 24-26 and explore The Work with us.

Have a great week,

“This one that I happen to be doesn’t have to look like anything but what it is. It can afford to be a fool…” Byron Katie, A Thousand Names for Joy

Further reading: How to Avoid Gaslighting Yourself when Doing The Work

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.