How not to be Wu Wei

The wondrous Rarasaur has created “Prompts for the Promptless” to expand minds, share ideas, and — equally importantly find something about which to blog.

This week, Rara has presented us with Wu Wei as the topic.

Wu wei, or non-doing, is a Taoist practice involving letting one’s action follow the simple and spontaneous course of nature rather than interfering with the harmonious working of universal law by imposing arbitrary and artificial forms.  In other words, it is the action of non-action.

They say, by which I mean someone once said to me, that when you are learning to drive you know you’ve got it when you stop thinking consciously about the gears and the clutch everything, and you just drive. Eventually through perseverance and practice learned behaviours appear natural. They are performed unconsciously. They flow.

I think the definition of Wu Wei is not quite that, though. It’s about being natural. A human being does very little that is natural. Look at a new born baby. It can breathe, excrete, feed, sleep and cry. After a relatively short space of time, once its eyes focus, it smiles unknowingly at anything with dots arranged like the eyes, nose and mouth of a human face.  This reflex assists bonding with the parent and is a reflexive survival instinct. Otherwise humans are pretty much artificial beings.

Trees, now. Trees don’t go through a learning phase where they start with absorbing water and end up catalysing chlorophyll. They don’t, as far as I know, suffer existential anxiety about whether really they should be a shrub  or a daisy or possibly moss. They don’t ask what it’s all about anyway when you get right down to it, or have tantrums or a rebellious teenage phase stomping about the forest, slamming branches or experimenting with fertiliser. They rarely gambol in the fields, although they may whisper breathy tales in  windy, storm-tossed darkness about ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night, if only to scare the saplings. They do not learn. They simply are. They are natural beings.

You will have spotted at once, my dears, that EBL is equating natural with instinctive, and artificial with learned. This is my distinction, and I am using it for the sake of the post. I am open to new ideas from whatever quarter they may come. My mind is a very field of dreams, with gusts of frantic randomness billowing through it. Different interpretaions can and do apply. Etc.

The principle of Wu Wei then, for me as a non-Taoist and complete novice to the concept, is that we learn to predict a natural response and enact it, without thinking.

This may be why I cannot claim, yet, to be a Tao-ist. EBL makes a note to read the Tao of Pooh as soon as possible. When all else fails, a teddy bear may help. It is a sound principle.

“Things just happen in the right way, at the right time. At least when you let them, when you work with circumstances instead of saying, ‘This isn’t supposed to be happening this way,’ and trying harder to make it happen some other way.”
― Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

Oh, that makes sense. Thanks, Pooh!

This has been EBL over-thinking like some kind of Anti-Tao-ist. It’s a classic example of how not to be Wu Wei.

Namaste.