“Wu-Wei specialist “…
If you do not know me, you may frown your eyebrows, otherwise I suspect you are smiling.
Yet few people will understand why I give myself this somewhat presumptuous qualification.
Very much is written about the Taoist concept Wu-Wei (literally: “do not do“, or in the paradox Wei Wu-Wei “do by not doing“). As a child I was always confused by the sometimes very paradoxical statements and the mystical esoteric reflections. For sure the magic grabbed me, but what to do with it? I really learned to understand and apply Wu-Wei after I decided that many texts were written for the form, and less with an eye on daily reality. Explanation of the translation: “do not act against the nature of things”, shifts the problem, because you then first have to discover what the nature of things is. Should you do nothing if you have not yet understood that nature? I advise you to read this article before you look at other texts (again). Perhaps you can give more hands and feet to Wu-Wei as a guideline for relaxation in any area of your life.
What Wu-Wei is NOT:
- It is not the same as “doing nothing”, waiting or staying passive.
Wu-Wei says nothing at all about the level of activity, but instead about the direction.
- It is not the same as “taking your time”, allowing something to happen or develop slowly and evolutionarily.
If you are in the middle of a revolution or other rapidly changing situation, you have to adjust yourself immediately.
- Wu-Wei is not an almost religious tuning to a higher energy flow or power, whether called “Tao” or otherwise.
The world takes place in and around yourself, and even though there are overarching patterns to discover, there is no independent “flow” with which you have to come into harmony (if only because that flow then no longer is independent).
- Wu-Wei does not mean that everything stays the same. Everything is changeable (Yin-Yang), and what is useful now does not have to be so tomorrow.
Just like with Yin-Yang, Wu-Wei is completely neutral. There is no right or wrong, there is only your personal preference. The better you understand Wu-Wei, the more effective your choice will work out. There is no one who can judge that for you.
I can explain Wu-Wei in different ways, and for now take the ReRuBabs logo as a guideline.
The brain stands for the rational interpretation of things and the application of structures. The heart stands for the emotional content, say color and intensity. Our worldview then is a kind of dynamic coloring page which (hopefully) is a meaningful reflection of the reality in which we live. That image will never be completed, and we have to check regularly whether it fits the stimuli and signals from our environment. Wu-Wei just means that you have to make sure that brain, heart and world react in accordance with each other. Our coloring sheet is then satisfying (although it doesn’t mean that you have painted neatly within the lines), and you experience peace, satisfaction and trust. It feels like you are connected to a flow where others give you the recognition and appreciation that you need because you deliver added value.
The advantage of such a situation is that you have the energy to do (more) things (better). Your heart is no longer a murder pit, your brain is not a boiling turmoil and your environment offers countless new challenges. Unfortunately, such a situation is only temporary. After all, everything is changeable and both your brain and your heart have some built-in pitfalls. The most obvious is that you fuse with your comfort zone. However, you can dynamically expand your comfort zone alongside with your personal development. It is in fact a healthy characteristic of people that they are eager to look beyond the boundaries of what is familiar. This creates a constant learning process. The more you learn, the broader your view, the deeper your understanding and the more perishable the details of your former lessons. You have to re-evaluate and adjust the information of your brain over and over again in order to avoid becoming entangled in prejudices and false ideas. You have to regularly place your feelings in a broader perspective, so that you also continue to see the other creative possibilities (especially if you are stuck in a strong emotion). You have to check with your environment again and again if you are still in the same flow, and take action if that doesn’t turn out to be the case anymore (repair or say good-bye).
How can you use Wu-Wei practically?
Again: Wu-Wei says nothing about the level of activity, but merely about the direction. That means you have to pay close attention to what is happening around you and anticipate to that. Quite often you make a choice about what is important at that time. Whether you let the external forces work for a while, or whether you want to play a leading role yourself, it is important that you do not try to distort the world on your own. That is the fate of Don Quixote.
I find the image of a boat on water illustrative. If you want to go somewhere with a small boat on a fast flowing river you have to anticipate early and make small corrections in the right direction. If you sit on a quiet lake, you can turn the direction much more rigorously. However, if that boat is a colossal tanker, then you will have to use the built-in power sources to reach your goal. If your boat suddenly falls down at a waterfall (a revolutionary event), then you have to let go of your original goal and try to survive. Wu-Wei simply says that you and the whole constellation around you are decisive for the choices that will work out satisfactorily for you. Sometimes it’s driving with the tip of your finger, sometimes drastically changing the steering wheel, and sometimes indeed doing nothing for a short while.
Some loose hints and tips:
- Eckhart Tolle describes how “the Power of NOW” works for you. My main lesson from this is: always be in here and now. The past is over, the future is uncertain, and you can only work with what you have here and now at your disposal. Do lessons from the past mean nothing anymore? Of course they do, but I wrote earlier that the details of it are blurred by new insights.
Unfortunately, we too often stick to these details: “That time I did this or that, and that didn’t work, so it will not be different now!” Everything is changeable, and the real lesson is in your
broadened understanding, as if you fly a little higher and further with a helicopter, and therefore recognize new patterns and structures without the ballast of details. Paying attention to this is an excellent interpretation of Wu-Wei.
- Be empathetic with yourself and with others in an open and honest way. Use your empathy neurons which connect you to your environment at the quantum level. Ensure a balance between your own needs and those of your environment. You really do not have to completely surrender to others. It’s important to also do justice to yourself. Do not urge yourself, and do not shut yourself off.
- Do not try to force something against better judgment. Neither with yourself (for example, stubbornly adhering to a starting point), nor to others (for example, annoyingly trying to convince others without end). Leave room for doubt and adjustment.
- Watch out for signs of friction and frustration. That is an excellent indication that something is not entirely “Wu-Wei”. Analyze those signals honestly, look for the root cause and come up with creative scenarios to reduce friction and frustration (sometimes talking is enough, but downplay doesn’t help). The same goes for laziness and white lies: the pitfalls of a lazy brain to avoid presumed problems.
- Know and accept your strengths and weaknesses. You can learn certain behavior or correction, but life is not a stage play (unfortunately many companies act this way). Put your strengths in for others, and let them compensate your weaknesses. Doing so you form the ideal team.
- In our western, performance driven world, we always need to act immediately. We ask something and we expect a response. We have mobiles so we must be available 24 hours a day. We see an error, so we’re supposed to take responsibility. Top-down directives and prescribed behaviors steer every detail of our activity, what we must do and what we are not allowed to do.
This is not Wu-Wei. It’s the root cause of excessive burn-outs and stress in traditional companies. Driven by shareholder value, all other qualities of a complex company turn into
secondary priorities. People should reinvent their working environments, regardless of traditional loyalty to the company. The pitfall is that our lazy brain appreciates the monthly salary, and therefore avoids the difficult changes that are required.
- Grant others the same Wu-Wei experience as you wish yourself.
- Take an example to nature, where trees and shrubs form to the prevailing wind direction, turning into picturesque scenes.