Recently I’ve been studying the Taoist concept of Wu Wei. I’m neither a Taoist scholar nor can I even pretend to know much about Taoism outside of what I can remember from Tao of Pooh, but this concept has combined with some similar concepts that have been circling and sticking in my mind.
Wu wei literally translates to non-doing, also expressed as non-action, and it’s a way of behaving naturally and without overly-controlling situations or trying to force things to happen. The non-doing doesn’t mean “do nothing” because wu wei is tied to acting, behaving, and doing, but acting, behaving, and doing in a manner in which you don’t get in your own way.
I’m an anxious, big-dreamer, over-achiever transitioning from college into the “real” working world and into an even “realer” living situation that’s (to me) far from ideal. I’m trying to become the best, most creative writer I can be. I’m trying to become a successful author. I’m trying to make enough money to move out and still support my family in whatever way I can. I’m trying to become the best version of myself in my professional roles. I’m trying to get bigger and stronger.
I try to redirect my life path in ways that would allow me to reach these grandiose goals overnight.
I feel myself forcing things to happen. I try to will them into being and existence. I get nervous and self-loathe if I decide to listen to music for a while instead of editing my writing. I try to pre-plan my plans. I get mad at myself for preferring x instead of preferring y, or doing a instead of choosing to do b after reading how b is a way to get what I’m after.
I’m slowly trying to put wu wei into practice, as simply reading about it is not enough. I’m listening to my mind, my heart, and my body a bit more closely. I’m trying to feel out what the natural flow is. I’m trying to harmonize with the world. I’m trying my best to not get in my own way.
Reddit user nationcrafting wrote a great explanation for wu wei on r/taoism
“Wu wei is what a piano player does when he has practiced and understood a piece so well that his hands can play the piece without his mind having to think about it.
What’s more, at this point, he understands that thinking about playing puts a block on the performance, so he gets himself, his thinking ego, out of the way and just plays. You could never ‘think’ your way through playing a piece by, say, Rachmaninov: you’d be far too slow, and you’d probably make quite a few mistakes.”
I relate to this with my 15ish years playing baseball. The games in which I did my best were the games I stopped consciously trying to do well and just let myself play. I would let my muscle memory, my practice, and my talents take over and I would wind up doing supremely better than I would when I had a running internal monologue attempting to guide me.
This sentiment is reiterated by nationcrafting
“Now, some people interpret this as a kind of ‘just go with the flow’ attitude to life. This is somewhat misleading. There is indeed a flow, but it takes a lot of discipline and hard work to get into it. The piano player doesn’t ‘just do it’ from day one, he spends many years training and working to get there. Once he has done that training, he can ‘just do it’, much in the same way that you ‘just do it’ when you breathe, when you beat your heart, when you walk or drive a car, without ‘acting’.”
I’m attempting to do this more in life. Let my years of living, my years of previous work, previous readings, writing, editing, conversations, learning, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, my talents, my scars, the total sum of all my success, failures, and experiences drive me instead of whatever domineering ego mentality decides to pop out of nowhere and take the wheel.
Wherever the natural Tyler goes is wherever the natural Tyler goes. Giving up control is scary, because I don’t want the natural Tyler to buy a one-way plane ticket to Egypt with no return plan and no idea of what to do when he lands. I don’t want to unravel, and lose steam chasing my dreams. But I have faith this won’t happen. I will continue to pay attention to the inner and outer worlds, to heed the advice of more experienced people I respect, to consume the creative work of my peers and the trailblazers who made their marks before me. I will continue to prod myself to get better and better and to reach into deeper and weirder wells of expression.
Because wu wei isn’t about doing nothing, it’s about non-doing.