Which Way? Wu Wei
Oxymoron? With a title like that, it might seem so at first glance. At the very least, doing nothing does sound somewhat counter-intuitive but just bear with me for a minute.
Although doing nothing may sound counterproductive, in truth, it can operate in quite the opposite manner. You see “doing nothing” is one of the central tenets of the venerable Taoist principle, Wu Wei.
An easier way to think of Wu Wei is the paradoxical “Action of non-action” or “actionless action.” It is an ancient eastern philosophical principle that is long overdue in the overwrought psyche of our modern western world.
To us here in the chaotic west, Wu Wei may be misinterpreted as being apathetic or lazy. In actuality, Wu Wei refers to the cultivation of a state of being in which our actions are quite effortlessly in alignment with the ebb and flow of the elemental cycles of the natural world. In some ways analogous to the more colloquial “going with the flow.”
“When we learn to work with our own Inner Nature, and with the natural laws operating around us, we reach the level of Wu Wei. It is then that we work with the natural order of things and operate on the principle of minimal effort. Since the natural world follows that principle, it does not make mistakes. Mistakes are made–or imagined–by man, the creature with the overloaded Brain who separates himself from the supporting network of natural laws by interfering and trying too hard.”
As is true with any new thought process or constructive habit we introduce our minds will initially resist. Our brains just love that stasis oasis. Unfortunately, even we ourselves cannot escape from the clutches of Newton’s First Law of Motion.
“Every object in a state of rest tends to remain in that state unless an external force is applied to it.”
That “external force” must originate from our own minds if we are to begin moving in the desired direction. Herein though lies another conundrum working against our overall best interest. As was with “doing nothing” this second element of Wu Wei will assail your notion of common sense.
Nothing needs to be accomplished. Yes, you read that correctly. Nothing needs to be accomplished.
This is not to say don’t set goals or pursue your dreams. It is more so a letting go of expectations. Releasing yourself from the attachment to desired outcomes. In other words, always make it about the journey, not the destination.
“Have to” versus “Want to”
In this ramped up high-strung world of excessive endless marketing the idea that we “have to do something.” is incessantly hammered into our heads daily. You “need” to lose weight to feel sexy or you “must” own this or that in order to be happy.
Desiring to achieve ideals or acquire material things isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There is nothing innately wrong with seeking to be healthier or wishing to enjoy some of the finer things in life. It’s more a matter of doing so from a healthier gentler mindset. Allow me to illustrate by example.
“Starting tomorrow you have to reread this blog. After that, you need to immediately put the ideas and concepts it lays out into practice. Not only do you have to do this but you must do this.”
Did you notice the change in your mental state? What thoughts and feelings immediately arose in your mind? Defiance? Hostility? Suffice to say you most likely experienced mental resistance on some level or another.
It’s an “external force” alright but not one that is likely to be very well received by your brain. None of us enjoys being told what we must do. Your mind is no exception.
Thinking in terms of “have to” or “need to” unconsciously creates tension and resistance within your own mind. It is less inclined and motivated to get you to move from point A to point B. It’s the law, Newtons that is.
Now and Zen
Here again, a simple mental shift can serve to reduce stress and increase your productivity. Simply replace the thought “I need to” or “I have to” with “I want to.” There is great power to be had in your inner mind chatter.
Though you may not consciously believe it at first that’s ok. For now, just know that “I want to clean the garage” is received by the subconscious mind in a much more positive and constructive manner. Remember, it’s your subconscious mind that drives your actions, not your conscious mind.
In addition, once you have planned to undertake a certain activity or project say in the week or even next month, let it go, do nothing, until that time comes. The constant repetitive mental rehashing of I “need to” or I “have to” ends up making the activity more of a drudgery than a simple chore. As the proverb states, “Worry makes the wolf larger than he is.”
When that day does finally arrive, then and only then should you give the project the full attention it deserves. It’s almost akin to having to go to the dentist. Constantly thinking about it beforehand can be more excruciating than the actual appointment itself.
So plan your projects and work activities with the mindset of I “want to” accomplish them. Then when the time arrives, immerse yourself fully and completely in the NOW of that activity.
Should you choose to adopt these powerful mindsets into your life, be kind and patient with yourself. Given time and practice, you will become like a leaf floating in the same direction as the stream that carries you. The river’s strength will become your strength. No longer struggling against life’s obstacles, attempting to force things in your life, but instead floating over and around them.
This is Wu Wei
Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.
Therefore the Master takes action
by letting things take their course.
He remains as calm at the end
as at the beginning.
He has nothing,
thus has nothing to lose.
What he desires is non-desire;
what he learns is to unlearn.
He simply reminds people
of who they have always been.
He cares about nothing but the Tao.
Thus he can care for all things.