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Examples of Wuwei

While wuwei is effortless, arriving at the state of wuwei usually requires effort

example of wuweiThe key takeaway of Tao Te Ching is the concept of wuwei, which literally means non-doing, or doing nothing.

“The Tao never does, yet through it everything is done. If princes and dukes can keep the Tao, the world will of its own accord be reformed,” says Lao Tzu in Tao Te Ching.

Many people are puzzled at how this is possible. How on earth can you do nothing and yet get everything done.

To see what wuwei means, let’s take a look at some examples.

The state of wuwei is similar to breathing and heartbeats. These actions take place perfectly without intervention. They are, of course, physiological phenomena that we have little control over, but are good reference as to how wuwei can behave.

When applying the concept of wuwei, it’s important to note that it’s not about doing strictly nothing. Rather, it’s about non-striving. You’re doing things so spontaneously and aptly that things happen as if no effort has been put in.

You can see this in peak performances in all fields of effort.  Only when you can be spontaneous and effortless that you can achieve the best!

Look at the prima ballerina that radiate splendor on stage.  She is so fluid, so effortless.  The moment she begins to introduce effort and control, the grandeur dims.

While wuwei is effortless, arriving at the state of wuwei usually requires effort.  In this case, it is  youwei, i.e. doing or action.

Let’s recall how you cycling experience.

When you first learn to cycle, everything is awkward. You don’t know how to hold the vehicle straight or find the balance. So you struggle through by ‘doing’ or ‘acting’.

Once you’ve found the balance and find the momentum, the whole thing changes.  You do nothing, and yet move ahead effortlessly! When you can do this, your have elevated your art of cycling from youwei to wuwei.

When you’re in the state of wuwei, it’s important you don’t unnecessarily intervene the process. You don’t suddenly tilt the balance or halt to break the bicycle’s momentum. When you impede the process of wuwei by ‘doing’ or ‘acting’, the state of wuwei is lost.

Know when to and when not to intervene is in the heart of wuwei! Let the nature takes its course, and move along by harnessing the power of nature, you’re a lot more powerful.  This is the power of wuwei.

Do note that this is only an aspect of wuwei. It means a lot more, and the examples above are just to get you started.

“The Tao never does,
Yet through it everything is done.
If princes and dukes can keep the Tao,
the world will of its own accord be reformed.
When reformed and rising to action,
Let it be restrained by the Nameless pristine simplicity.
The Nameless pristine simplicity
Is stripped of desire (for contention).
By stripping of desire quiescence is achieved,
And the world arrives at peace of its own accord.”

Chapter 37 Translated by Lin Yutang

Thanks to Tejvan Pettinger for the picture.

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  1. Wei wu wei is nothing more or less than to actively identify what you are doing and then to stop doing it. It is not that nothing is being done – rather that it is not ‘you’ who is doing it. So what you’re doing is ‘non-doing’ – actively dropping all activity that identifies ‘you’. When everything you’re doing is gone – you are gone as well. So everything that is being done – it is not being done by you. Because you are not there anymore. This is wu wei.

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