In high school, one of my favourite teachers first introduced me to the Taoist “wu wei” concept. Roughly translated, wu wei means “non doing,” something like that. It’s been a heck of a long time since high school.
I tried to use it to justify not doing my homework, or chores. “Nice try,” was the reply.
Wu wei is a Taoist concept. Taoism, “The Way,” values being (living and acting) in harmony with nature and the universe.
The “way” harmonizes with flow of the universe, and everything in it by abandoning resistance to what is. The “way” is to stop fighting with yourself, with others and with the world.
My high school teacher explained it to me like this: if you fall into a river, and you swim against the current, you will struggle very hard, and won’t get very far.
If, however, you relax and go with the current, then you’ll speed along toward your destination with much less effort and struggle.
Wu wei is not really something you can do or practice. It’s a double bind because practicing wu wei is an action against action.
In this way, I realized wu wei was not a practice as much as it was a strategy for being. The only way to really learn “the way” is, ironically, to get out of the way.
Taoism encourages being still and quiet. Listen to the rhythm of the world. Let yourself flow with it. Doing nothing, according to Taoism, can often result in more peace and happiness than always doing something.
Wu wei is not about being lazy and doing nothing. Neither is it always doing something.
Instead, it’s about developing a powerful mindfulness and awareness about the world in which you live: your spiritual path, your relationships, your health, your job, and your finances. It is an idea that serves to remind of us of the value of becoming aware and mindful of the forces already at work in our lives.
Sit and listen. Sense the flow happening around you. This flow, even if we don’t always like what or where it seems to be bringing us, can help us grow and change in ways all the constant doing, doing, doing, never will.
Resistance to Life = Pain & Suffering
Resistance-based coping mechanisms take us further and further away from living “in the flow” of the universe. Resistance keeps us endlessly at odds with what is.
This leads to all kinds of suffering – on top of the ordinary suffering we already experience in day-to-day life.
But, if you can sit with a set of thoughts or feelings about something troubling, and you can let it be okay, then you can immediately begin to feel better, and more in the flow of life.
We don’t have to fix everything immediately. It’s easy to get caught in the frantic pace of post-modern, digital, instant information culture. Wu wei reminds us we are not meant to hurtle through our lives mindlessly.
Wu Wei says, “Stop! Be mindful. Just sit and watch for a moment. Just let your senses become attuned to what’s going on around you. See, listen, feel and be.”
When the churning of your thoughts and emotions settle, it’s like a wind-tossed pond becoming clear as glass when the wind calms. Then, and only then, can you be in the best state to make the healthiest, smartest, and most resourceful choices.
Tao Wu Wei: Affirmations
Wanna help me with an experiment? Try reciting these affirmations out loud each morning for two weeks. I’m curious to see if you notice a change. Do you begin to find yourself in the flow of the powerful energies flowing around you?
Today I am noticing
Today I am watching
Today I am listening
Today I am feeling
Today I am allowing my awareness to expand
Today I am letting whatever happens be okay
Today I am finding the way and the flow of the word around me
Today I am effortlessly connecting with and adapting to the momentum of the universe
Today I am falling in sync with the beat of the universe
Today I am a student of the energies and experiences around me and I use them to the betterment of myself and others.
Wu Wei Daily Life: Self Awareness Exercises
Transform ordinary chores into mindful tasks by slowing down and engaging your senses. If you’re doing laundry, notice the smell of the clean laundry, notice the textures of the fabrics, see the play of light and shadow on the fabrics and in the room.
You can make any chore a mindfulness exercise simply by slowing down and engaging your senses. In this way you will strengthen your brain, and feel more in flow. Wu wei in your daily life is all about becoming more mindful and aware of yourself in your environment, even during mundane tasks you would rather rush through.