Image courtesy of Wili Hybrid
Our western puritan work ethic has taught us that hard work, industry, struggle and effort are necessary prerequisites for achievement. I respectfully but passionately disagree. In fact, I believe that the opposite is true, that struggle and effort are vices, unhealthy addictions and pathologies. They only tire us out with struggle and they get us nowhere, like the fly caught in the spider’s web enmeshes itself all the more by its attempts to work its way out.
The Taoist notion of ‘Wu Wei’ refers to a state of action where there is little activity on our part, and yet a great deal gets done. Wu Wei is not apathy or passivity. It is not laziness or torpor. It is like swimming with the current, sawing wood in the direction of the grain or sailing with the wind. There is action, but little effort. In other words, it is ‘going with the flow.’
The world can be ruled by letting things run their course; it cannot be ruled by interfering. (Lao Tse)
Lao Tze, the semi-mythical writer of the classic Taoist text, the Tao Te Ching, tells us that we should be quiet and open to hearing our own inner voice, and receptive to the natural way of things. Our thinking mind is to be subordinated to our intuition. When we are truly moving in the flow, it is an almost unconscious activity – it just feels right; we simply know when we are doing the best thing. This is in stark contrast to the endless worry and mental gymnastics many of us subject ourselves to day after day. Stop – calm down, close your eyes, empty your mind, and listen to that still, small voice inside.
Our obsessive tendency to seek control and influence over our environment and our future are in stark opposition to the fundamental principal of Wu Wei. The feeling that we have to dominate nature and direct it is, to the Taoist way of thinking, a pathological state – instead, we should be fitting in, finding how we can become more authentically part of the whole. Cooperation, not competition, is the key.
Observing, learning, and respecting nature is, curiously, how we can learn to command it. For example, in the martial art of kung fu, students are taught to observe their opponent carefully and use his own strength against him. There are many examples of the way in which we harness the power of nature for our own benefit. When a sailing boat sets out, its crew uses the power of the wind. Water and wind turbines harness these respective powers in the generation of electricity. Even the strange and silent power of gravity is used in some water delivery systems. Did Gandhi get the British out of India by going to war with them? No, he tapped into an enormous power and used it to his own ends.
Those who take hold of the world and act on it never, I notice, succeed. The world is a stange instrument, not meant to be handled. (Lao Tze)
Take it easy
Does a tree grow by making an effort? Does water reach the sea by working at it? Action should be spontaneous, natural, easy and without effort. Struggle and strain have no place. Although Darwin taught us to believe that nature is ‘red in tooth and claw’ and enchanted us with phrases like ‘the survival of the fittest,’ there are many examples of cooperation and collaboration in nature. The symbiotic and mutually interdependent nature of ecosystems and even individual organisms is remarkable. Let’s learn from nature – take it easy, and the job will get done. Let’s learn the lesson of Wu Wei.
I leave you with a Taoist story which makes the point rather well:
There once lived a man who was scared of his own shadow and was even afraid of his own footsteps. One day, as the sun was especially bright, he panicked and started to run, trying to get away from his shadow. But however fast he ran, his shadow kept up with him, and his footfalls became louder and louder until eventually the man fell down, exhausted, and died. If only he had sat down under the shade of a tree, all his problems would have been solved
About the writer: Michael Miles writes at http://effortlessabundance.com.