The Taoist Principle Of Wu Wei
I've written before about how some of the most significant experiences of my life to date have come about all of their own accord.
At least on reflection that's how it appears.
Sure, I was involved in those experiences, I was there from the start, if there was in fact a start. But there were many apparent micro events that conspired to make those experiences come about and I had no direct hand in them.
I can see this now as a common thread in everything.
You see, when we begin to pick apart an experience to find the cause, perhaps to replicate it or avoid a similar occurrence in the future, we invariably fail.
We fail because the entire thing is far too complex, meaning we can never get to the cause because the cause has so many sources.
We can dissect the experience by an infinite number of micro events and still we can dissect it further – there's no end to it. Therefore it is fair to say that every experience be that good or bad has an infinite number of sources.
By this retrospective analysis we fail to see the full picture. It's like we have our faces too close to the picture. In order to appreciate it in full we've got to pull right back out of it.
By virtue of the analysis we assign the cause. So the past is created now in the very act of remembering, or the putting back together of the event.
These things I experienced happened by themselves. I was the observer, the experiencer. That's how I see it.
The Principle Of Non Forcing or Wu Wei
Practice is a different story.
Practice, from the perspective of psychology, serves to almost automate our behaviour towards the achievement of a particular end.
As we repeatedly carry out a task, new neural networks become established and are strengthened over time making the task easier to perform. That's how we learn to walk, to speak, to run, draw, sing, write and create art.
Think for a moment of a baby learning to walk…
Have they made a conscious choice to walk or do you think there is something else, a very different aspect of consciousness at work?
They certainly didn't decide one day, “ok, I'm gonna learn how to walk. I'm gonna make this thing happen and I'm gonna succeed god damn it!”.
But they did it anyway.
The act of walking was automatic, and although not easy to master they achieve it all the same. It came about all on its own.
That is Wu Wei in action.
Wu means non or not. Wei means action, doing or forcing.
Wu Wei is a term in Taoist teachings that explains the apparent spontaneous occurrence of things at their own discretion. It is the taking advantage of positive circumstances like in paragliding.
That is how what we call nature functions, only us clever humans think that we are somehow unaffected by this process. We think that our determination can make things happen.
And on one level I suppose that's true, but it is exhausting and ultimately it isn't.
Do You Ever Think About Death?
Do you spend any time thinking about your own mortality? Have you ever contemplated not being here?
I did today. It's not unusual for me to consider it on a daily basis.
I was putting the key in the keyhole of the door to unlock it this afternoon and I thought of it.
I can't explain it to you. If you haven't taken the time to think about dying then you can possibly know how amazing an experience it can be.
So what's that got to do with Wu Wei?
Well, when we take the time to contemplate our own demise there is the opportunity to put into perspective the whole notion of us being able to make things happen.
It notion of us having to become completely ridiculous.
All the self help books, guru seminars, religious teachings, notion of enlightenment and spiritual growth become stupid and entirely infantile.
At least to me they do in any case.
It's a standing back from the picture far enough to see it in it's entirety. Or maybe not its entirety but enough at least to form a broader perspective.
The truth of the matter is that we can never really stand back far enough from it to see it all because that would mean we would cease to exist.
It's like the event horizon. It is the point at which everything that is becomes consumed and is born again.
It's like a series of musical notes in a song. They rise and fall and come together to make the symphony.
Applying Wu Wei To Art & Work
I don't give a fuck. Yet I do.
Let me explain…
There is this idea that caring is working your bollocks off, wearing yourself out, exhausting your reserves to meet the predefined idea of worthiness.
People recognise your enormous efforts in pursuing things and then adorn you with plaudits. You take those plaudits and tell yourself you've worked hard and deserve them.
You've been recognised finally. You're somebody.
We become reliant on this feedback and so we push and push from the time we are teenagers, to reach this idea of success that we've been asked to subscribe to.
Now, I've been down that road and I know it goes nowhere. So I don't care for that experience any longer.
Ner a fuck will be given or taken by me in fulfillment of that ideal.
But I still care.
I love what I do and what I do doesn't matter. I've given up the idea that there's some future that I must get to.
Striving for this apparent future is forcing. Accepting that there is no future and acting now in accordance to what fulfills us creatively is Wu Wei.
That's what I'm into now.
The Artist's Manifesto
The Artist's Manifesto is a short book about staying true to our art. It is a call to Artists and Creatives like you to create from the heart with passion and integrity, disregarding the need for applause and recognition. It's available from 13th May 2017.
Peter Whiting says
Well said Larry. Living for the future might not be living at all…