Yesterday I stumbled across this wonderful article about “non-doing” by Chip Richards which I would like to share with you here. You find the complete article about Wu Wei here:
Aligning with the Natural Flow of Life
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” – Lao Tzu
A few mornings ago the surf was rising, so I drove down to one of my favorite spots at sunrise with the vision of catching some sweet waves before the world woke up and the water got crowded. Apparently I wasn’t the only one with this idea. As the first rays lit up the ocean, I paddled out to find about 30 other surfers already out there. Instantly I felt behind, like I’d missed something. So I hit the water with a sense of urgency, trying to make up for lost time – paddling this way and that to dodge people, ducking under big waves, navigating currents and looking for my groove. But every wave I paddled for seemed to have someone else on it, or it broke too soon or too late for me to catch. The harder I tried, the more difficult it seemed to find my flow with the ocean… Until eventually I got so tired I couldn’t keep paddling – so I stopped for a moment, sat up on my board and just let the current take me.
Before long I had drifted away from the main peak where everyone was jockeying for waves, to a quiet little area where I was sitting all alone. Catching my breath, I started noticing the way the light was dancing on the water, the way the dawn air brushed against my face. As my lungs slowed down and I let go of trying, I started feeling good just being out there. Just feeling the ocean, and me in it. Right about that time, I glanced up to see the rising face of a beautiful wave picking up right before me.”What are you doing way over here?” I smiled, turning to meet it, stroked once or twice and popped up onto a clear blue wall that carried us both all the way to shore.
As my lungs slowed down and I let go of trying, I started feeling good just being out there.
Wu Wei is a Chinese concept central to Taoism and a core theme of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. Translated literally as “non-doing”, Wu Wei is not so much about “doing nothing” as it is about aligning our movement with the greater flow of life. Often referred to as ‘natural action’, Wu Wei does not involve excessive effort or struggle, but a kind of “going with the flow” where we are able to move with the energy of the moment and respond freely to whatever situation that arises.
We each have moments in our life when we access flow. In these moments – through sheer focused intent or absolute letting go (or a combination of both) – we enter a state of connectedness to what we are doing, and our movements become simultaneously highly productive and effortlessly expressed. The world around us seems to slow down, and in that space, it is as if we become one with the very thing we are trying to do. The words pour onto the page revealing what to write, the waves of the ocean carry us and we are part of them, the rhythm of the song we are dancing to comes right through us… and becomes a pure expression of who we are.
While each of us catch glimpses of this state of flow in peak moments of movement, love and creative endeavor, we often believe that these extraordinary experiences are the realms of the elite, only accessed through miracle or mastery. But what if this sense of flow was actually meant to be our normal way of being – available to each of us in every moment? What if, beyond the many details and mixed agendas of our daily life, we each had direct access to experience a sense of oneness and flow everyday, no matter what we were doing?
When we look around at the world today, it seems there is so much to do. Amidst our striving for progress, personal achievement, and in some cases, survival, the idea of “non-doing” can feel out of reach. Fortunately, the essence of Wu Wei is simplicity and there are some simple things we can do (and not do!) each day to help us align with the natural flow of life.
Here are a few:
1.Spend time in nature – If our fundamental aim is to align with the natural flow of life, there is no better teacher and no better place to connect with this aspect of ourselves than in the natural world. When we step into nature (ideally without plastic-soled shoes) we plug into a Wu Wei world, where natural, generative, flow-filled systems abide on all levels. If there was a “practice” to discipline ourselves around in the aim of bringing more Wu Wei into our lives, being in, observing and connecting with nature would have to be one.
2. Give without condition – As we come into alignment with the natural world, we are reminded of the generosity that comes when living systems are in harmony with themselves and each other. A single seed produces fruit which feeds many and gives forth a thousand more seeds. The sun gives everything that it has without being drained. A river gives life each step and turn of the way as it follows its calling from mountain to the sea. One of our most natural expressions of flow we experience in life is to give freely to each other. When we allow ourselves to follow our spontaneous callings to give – even in small ways – we bring ourselves into alignment with the generous nature of life and (without trying or looking for it) open ourselves to receive in ways that we could not have imagined.
3. Let go of how we think it’s supposed to look – There may always be elements of our life that we consciously plan for, but every step along the way will invariably reveal passageways and possibilities that we could not have predicted. Sometimes our efforts to fulfill the plan and gain a predictable outcome shuts us off from seeing what other possibilities may be waiting to reveal. When we find ourselves struggling (as I did in the surf this week), often it’s because we have a fixed idea of how things are supposed to be, according to our desires or “the plan”. As we let go of our agenda and attachment to have it be a certain way, we open ourselves up to how it actually is… and in that space of acceptance, we become available for flow to find us!
If you’re in tune with The Way Things Work, then they work the way they need to, no matter what you may think about it at the time. Later on you can look back and say, “Oh, now I understand. That had to happen so that those could happen, and those had to happen in order for this to happen…” Then you realise that even if you’d tried to make it all turn out perfectly, you couldn’t have done better, and if you’d really tried, you would have made a mess of the whole thing. – Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh
Sometimes our efforts to fulfill the plan shuts us off from seeing other possibilities.
4. Stay open to spontaneous emergence – One of the fundamental principles of Wu Wei is that the essence of flow is not premeditated, but arises spontaneously. We can play our part to create the right conditions, we can bring ourselves into the ocean, but we can’t make the waves. My family has a beautiful, well-planned veggie garden, but amidst our consciously planted rows of lettuce and kale, one of the most productive crops this season was an entire patch of pumpkins that rose spontaneously from the compost. As we take steps in any area of life, one of the great invitations Wu Wei offers is to remain open to what is emerges spontaneously (inside and out!). What whispered calling or fresh impulse may be giving us an opportunity in this moment to experience our intended outcome (and more!) in ways that we never could have planned.
What simple things can you “not do” today to begin opening yourself to the greater flow of Wu Wei in your life?
“Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river.” – Lao Tzu