Today, I have decided to do nothing. In fact, I think I am going to do nothing from here on in. Now before you think I have reclined into a life of indifference and apathy, I should explain. You see “doing nothing” is the central tenet behind the ancient Taoist principle, Wu Wei. It may sound counterproductive, but in truth, it works in quite the opposite manner. A better way to think of wu wei, however, is as a paradoxical “Action of non-action.” It is an old eastern philosophical principle that is long overdue in the modern western world.
When you think about it, there is something very wrong with all of us although it isn’t entirely our fault. We have been misguided, misled and brainwashed into believing that we must be accomplishing a variety of tasks at a frenetic pace. If we aren’t doing something we are doing nothing and that is just plain unacceptable in today’s overwrought society.
Relaxing throughout the day, which is the norm in the animal kingdom, we now equate with “wasting time.” Forget the journey, it’s all about the destination now. A frantic unabated race to nowhere. Overstressed, overworked, overbooked and overburdened. Like an ill-fated runaway train speeding ever faster down the track we know we should jump off, but we just can’t bring ourselves to.
I am finding my current venture into the online digital world to be a microcosm of this dangerous state of affairs. On the one hand, I am quite enjoying my new foray into the vast online digital marketing world finding it to be both challenging as well as mentally stimulating. On the flip side though, it can be totally overwhelming and seemingly indomitable. The learning curve is steep and the sheer volume of information so vast that it’s hard to know just where to begin sometimes.
From social networks to web design to driving traffic and initializing autoresponders, it can all be a little too much too soon. Indeed, you find out soon enough, on this digitized road to Location Independence, that you must pare things down quite a bit if you are to focus efficiently and effectively. Otherwise, you soon find yourself beholden to so many masters that you can barely accomplish anything at all.
Narrowing your focus isn’t as easy as it sounds with the wide proliferation of information coming at you from all sides. Through it all, I have gained a greater appreciation for millennials and the negative mental state that many of them currently find themselves in. While technology can be an excellent and useful tool, it also hides a very dark side.
There is something inherently unnatural about it that you quickly feel seeping into your life the moment you begin to embrace it on a full-time basis. In these past few months, I have spent many hours a day on my laptop, and I have noticed a distinct change in my mental condition. It’s quite easy to slip into states of both physical and psychological imbalance as you work diligently on building your brand and gaining influence.
As is with drugs, sex, and alcohol, dopamine can take on a very negative role. Dopamine is a feel-good chemical. Without going into a great deal of detail, and it is detailed, dopamine is what makes you feel good when you drink, do drugs and have that sugary treat. Concerning the digital world, it is also the thing that gives you that little high when you get a “like” on a post or a retweet on Twitter.
Psychologists are quite aware of the negative impact this is having on young people as they increasingly turn to social media for affirmation of self-worth, self-respect and a sense of belonging. Before the digital age, teens and young adolescents would turn to friends, family, and peers for these necessary social interchanges and engagements. True human to human connections are becoming increasingly rare amongst the youth, and as a result, we are seeing increased rates of depression, anxiety and, sadly, suicide among all affected age groups.
I have noticed a rise in these said states within my self as I have dramatically increased my time in the cyber world. It’s not just the dopamine that affects you negatively but also your overexposure to negative news stories that pop up on your browser, Facebook, Twitter etc. I don’t care how disciplined one thinks they are, you are going to click on some posts. They don’t call it clickbait for nothing. I am fortunate enough though to be a little older and somewhat wiser having developed a skill set that not only recognizes the problem within me but has some sense of how to deal with and reverse it.
Wu Wei, pronounced “woo way”, is one such method. In point of fact the Tao te Ching, upon which Wu Wei is based, translates as “the way of the world.” The concept of Wu Wei revolves around “actionless action” or “effortless action.” The whole premise is designed to alleviate stress and mental tension in our lives by increasing our connection to nature as well as each another. This tension arises out of our minds as a result of what the ancients referred to as the “wanting mind.” We are all guilty of it on a daily basis.
Be honest, have you ever thought or said to yourself the following, “I’ll be so happy when…” or “if only….then I would be so happy.” This negative thought process is indicative of the wanting mind. Think of it in terms of a rubber band. When we stretch a rubber band, we create a tension between the two outermost points. If we stretch it too much, it will snap, whereas, if we let go suddenly, it will recoil in a somewhat violent fashion.
It is this same form of tension we create internally by thinking with our wanting minds. We find ourselves at point A, in our lives, desiring instead to be at point B, much the same as the opposite ends of the rubber band. By falsely believing that we would be happier or more fulfilled at point B we unconsciously devalue and disengage from our current place in time, point A.
This form of thought creates mental perturbations in our minds as we continually attempt to get to some imaginary place where we believe happiness and contentment lay. In doing so, we are cheating ourselves out of the same happiness and joy we could be experiencing at that very moment. “When you finally realize that nothing is lacking then the whole world belongs to you.”
Living in the now may be a cliche, but there is considerable truth in this ideal. Lao Tzu, the supposed author of the Tao te Ching, illustrates this thought when he talks about our need to be still and open. The usefulness of a pot is in its emptiness. If we are too busy with desire or ambition, we will miss a thousand moments of the human experience. The glow of a new sunrise breaking over the horizon, as the birds begin to sing. The feel of a warm breeze on your face as you listen to waves crashing thunderously along the shore. The laughter of friends and family you share time with on a daily basis. All of these experiences can be lost on us when our minds are focused on some future point rather than on the present moment.
By learning to practice this type of self-awareness we, in turn, reduce the stress that we are self-creating. There is no future time when all will be well and fine. There will always be another distant shore to sail to, another high mountain to cross over. The easiest way, I have found, to bring one’s attention back to the present moment is through our five senses.
Stop what you are doing. Listen to what is happening in the world around you. Do you hear that car driving by or the sounds of children laughing and talking as they wait for their school bus? Look around. Can you see the newly formed snow softly falling and caressing the ground or the puffy white clouds endlessly floating by? Breathe in. Are you able to smell that fresh coffee brewing in your kitchen or the breakfast the waitress is bringing to the table next to you? Totally immersing yourself in your five senses allows you to live more fully in your own life.
I am of the firm belief that a lot of the depression and anxiety that young and old suffer from these days is a direct result of the increase in technology within our daily lives and the resulting decrease in our interaction with nature. We seem to have forgotten that we too are animals having removed ourselves from our very own habitat. The natural world has become something we view from posted pics on Facebook rather than being a place where we reside and flourish. A wise philosopher once said, “If you are unhappy, go for a walk. If you are still unhappy, then go for another walk.”
It is not only the fact that nature is our home but also, as Lao Tzu pointed out, it reminds us of essential virtues that we can and should adopt into our lives. The resilience of trees, the strength of mountains, the flexibility of water and the joy and happiness of flowers. The ancients recognized their place within the Tao and sought to learn from it. We have lost this innate wisdom, viewing ourselves instead as being separate and distinct from nature. As Joni Mitchell so poignantly wrote, “we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”
Less becoming and more being is key to wu wei. We spend too much time concerning ourselves with who we want to become instead of taking time to be who we already are. Bringing our minds back to the present moment, acknowledging the falsehood that lay within the wanting mind, is the first step. Accepting who and where we are instead of continually wishing to be someone or somewhere else is the second.
Once you remove the expectation that you MUST achieve this or HAVE to be that you relieve and reduce the stress that is hindering you from accomplishing your goals. By learning to detach yourself from the outcome through the use of wu wei, you are better able to achieve a state of balance and joy in your life recognizing, as you should, that the journey is as integral as the destination.
In doing so, you become like a leaf floating in the same direction as the stream that carries it. Its strength becomes your strength. No longer fighting against the jagged rocks, attempting to force things, but rather floating around and over them. In this way, we are at peace when engaging in any action. Effortless effort. This is Wu Wei.
Keep an eye out for WuWeiWifiCafe.com coming soon. A place to just BE