Wu Wei: Lao Tzu’s Wisdom
How to apply Wu Wei (non-action) to actually become more productive in life.
‘Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.’
Recently I have grown increasingly fond of Taoism, especially Lao Tzu’s concept of Wu Wei (non-doing). Before I had only heard about it, but did not delve too deeply into it. Now as my interests expand I want to understand further and I have also started reading Tao Te Ching, hoping to bring Lao Tzu’s wisdom into my daily life. Ancient Chinese wisdom is indeed beyond incredible!
Every sentence is gold in Tao Te Ching with immeasurable wisdom. In particular, I am most interested in how to integrate the state of Wu Wei in my life. Wu Wei literally translates into ‘non-action’ or ‘non-doing’. However, Wu Wei does not really mean that you do nothing. Rather it means natural action or action through inaction, that is, action that does not involve struggle or excessive effort. Wu Wei is the cultivation of a mental state in which our actions are quite effortlessly in alignment with the flow of life.
Just like water, water has no resistance in life, it always follows the flow with zero struggle but it can flow everywhere and penetrate even the hardest surface.
‘You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.’
In Taoism, Wu Wei contains two layers of meanings: the first layer is to advocate for ‘Heaven’ (natural law), following the ‘law of nature’, do not destroy the harmony of nature. The second layer is to advocate for humanity, that is, human activities should be natural and follow the flow, they should not be forced.
Osho, one of the greatest mystics in the 20th century, is also a big fan of Lao Tzu. Osho always places a huge emphasis on ‘Don’t do it, just be’ (i.e. you only need to be yourself, and everything will happen naturally), this is in essence the same as Lao Tzu’s concept of Wu Wei. I have also discovered that when I am in the state of Wu Wei that is when I become most creative, full of inspiration and actually become greatly productive! (as I was following the flow perfectly).
Here I want to talk about how I integrate Wu Wei into my life:
Normally during the New Year, I like to write down all the resolutions and goals et cetera. But this year, I have decided to not write about anything. Because I think when I write down goals, I might have limited myself in some ways. Also there will be expectations and if I cannot achieve my goals, there might also be disappointment, not really beneficial for living in the present. So this year my goal is actually to have no goal, Wu Wei, to follow the flow. If things are meant to happen, they will happen. If they are not meant to happen, then there is no need to force.
Also in my daily life, I have decided not to write about any goals/detailed to-do list for the day. When my inspiration comes, I will write; when I do not have inspiration, I will not write. Because even if I write, if it is not coming from my heart, then it may not be of great quality.
I believe ‘inspiration’ and ‘creativity’ come most easily in the state of Wu Wei, when you are in the perfect flow of life. When I become Wu Wei, I have lots of inspiration. For instance, last time when I got back from India, I started having so many inspirations and wrote down lots of spiritual poems. I actually did not intend to write so many poems, they just all came to me when I was in the state of Wu Wei, and I was merely an instrument to record everything down (from the Higher Self).
Apart from writing poems, in the state of Wu Wei I have also rediscovered my talents in singing and dancing. If I feel like singing, I will sing. If I feel like dancing, I will dance. If I feel like cooking, I will cook, but when I am not hungry, then I will not eat. In the state of Wu Wei is actually when I become most productive and creative.
My biggest wish this year is not to force myself to do anything that I do not want to do but only do things that truly coming from my heart.
Sometimes I may be overly warmhearted and agree with somebody to do something, but in fact it may not be what I want to do, so if situations like this happen, I will still have to kindly refuse in the end. So the lesson here is not to promise too quickly and easily.
“He who lightly promises is sure to keep but little faith;
－Tao Te Ching
Also there are a lot of things you do not necessarily need to deal with in the present moment. For instance, you do not have to reply to a text or email straightaway. Actually many of them do not necessarily have a lot of substantial meaning, so there is no need to spend too much energy (if any energy at all). A lot of the time things can be solved naturally, and sometimes when you over spend your energy on something, it might never happen.
So there is no need to be anxious about anything, just follow the flow.
I really think that it is not easy to be Wu Wei in our busy modern world, this is a very high state of being. To be completely natural and following the flow requires lots of wisdom and also courage. Because a lot of the time people may not understand, they might think you are being ‘irresponsible’, ‘lazy and do nothing’ and so on.
If you are not strong enough inside, then you may be easily influenced by other people or various temptations by the external world and you may end up doing things that are against your heart (unnatural). I really hope I can live completely natural in the world in this lifetime, just following my heart and soul and do nothing against it, allowing the creative juices to flow, and allowing everything to unfold naturally.
I have also discovered a lot of successful people, such as artists, painters, musicians, writers, they have all understood and mastered the state of Wu Wei, that is why they seem to achieve success effortlessly. On the surface they may seem hardworking, for example Picasso may be painting all the time, Talgore may be writing all the time… but they have all mastered the state Wu Wei, they all use their souls to create, that is why they can achieve ‘effortlessly abundant’.
I believe that is perhaps the highest state of success. When your state of being is completely natural, when you do everything coming from your soul, then you can also become effortlessly abundant.
The softest thing in the world dashes against and overcomes the hardest; that which has no (substantial) existence enters where there is no crevice. I know hereby what advantage belongs to doing nothing
(with a purpose).
There are few in the world who attain to the teaching without words, and the advantage arising from non-action.
- Tao Te Ching