What is Wu-Wei? Applying Wu Wei in Your Life

What is Wu-Wei? Applying Wu Wei in Your Life | Zennow
Taoism Philosophy Mindfulness

Different degrees of anxiety overwhelm millions of people. Whether it's workplace stress, anxiety about a future that will never come, or the ongoing drama of life.

At the root of this problem is the constant need to live in the future, and it is from this that our anxiety derives.

One solution offered by the Taoists is the idea of mindfulness or being in the present moment. It is from this philosophy that the art of meditation emerges.

Wu-wei is a particular category of Taoism that implies non-interference in the natural course of things. It is also called the art of contemplative passivity, 'non-action' or 'doing nothing'. How can its principles help people in modern life?

The Principles of Wu-Wei

Chinese teaching, also called the art of effortless endeavour, can help you deal with difficult situations and see the world in a new light.

  1. Lack of action does not equal idleness
    Wu-wei translates from Chinese as 'doing nothing' or 'doing without doing'. Chinese philosophers saw it as a natural way of life, in contrast to actively pursuing goals or forcing events.
    However, wu-wei should not be confused with idleness. It is not an excuse to sit back and criticise others. According to this teaching, one should not waste energy, but act only when the time is right.

  2. The universe is not set against us
    To live according to the principles of wu-wei, we must first realise our connection with everything in nature. Although we should have clear limits, like children running and playing outside the fence of a park, we need to remain open and unafraid of vulnerability. Then we can contemplate nature and feel the flow of the world's energy, and then learn to act in accordance with it.
    The realization that we do not need to confront the universe, that it is not set against us, will bring a sense of freedom.

  3. The restless mind needs to be quieted
    Even if we take no action, our mind often continues to fidget. According to wu-wei, it is not only the body that needs to be quieted, but also the mind. Otherwise we may not know whether we are acting according to the world energy or simply indulging our ego.
    Lao-tzu said we should observe and learn to listen to our own inner voice and to the voices of our environment.

  4. Change is inevitable and we have to accept it
    Everything in nature is constantly changing. These changes are governed by laws which we cannot change and often are not even aware of. Therefore it is useless to fight against changes. It is like trying to stop the seasons from changing or the sun from setting. By accepting these changes in nature, you can more easily deal with changes in yourself.

  5. Going aimless
    Nowadays, a lack of purpose is seen as an irrelevance to life. Life today, however, can hardly be called harmonious.

The Chinese philosopher Zhuang Tzu advised a way of life he called aimless motion. To explain, he drew an analogy with the activities of a painter or craftsman. A talented woodcarver or a skilled swimmer does not ponder and weigh the sequence of his actions. His skill has become so much a part of himself that he acts instinctively, spontaneously, without thinking of reasons. This is the state that philosophers have sought to achieve through wu-wei.