The Art of Wu-Wei
The Transpersonal Psychology, the psychology I choose to work with my patients and practice in my daily life... draws from philosophy and Eastern wisdom. One of the terms it takes from these ancient knowledge is the concept known as the art of "Wu-Wei".
Wu-Wei is a term from Taoist philosophy that many may not recognize as such, but nonetheless resonate with it as part of everyday life, in the difficulty involved in its practice, or in the advantages and benefits that can be gained if one becomes skilled in its exercise.
Wu-Wei is applicable in all areas of life; it is about learning to live from the philosophy of learning to flow. This Chinese linguistic expression proposes a way of acting in life "without forcing events or trying to straighten what is crooked."
It is important to clarify that it is not about "not taking action" or assuming a passive or resigned attitude, but rather a way of acting that respects the natural unfolding of things, without forcing with contrivances that distort the harmony and natural principle of what happens.
For example, a plant grows through Wu-Wei; it makes no effort to grow, it simply grows...
I invite you to look at your daily life, your way of conducting yourself, and ask yourself...
Is this philosophy present in my life?
Do I let what happens flow and let others be, or do I find myself forcing and complaining about what is or how others "should" be different...?
Those who fail to live according to Wu-Wei
Controlling, dominating, and insistent individuals are the ones who cannot tolerate the idea of letting "things and people be." They find all kinds of justifications and explanations to argue why they do what they do, in the way they do it, and what would happen if they stopped doing what they do. They often carry the weight of everything on their shoulders in order to maintain strict control over every movement or hustle.
From this personal background, they "struggle" to change others, to generate what naturally does not occur, to undo or want to change events. They sacrifice themselves to keep up what falls apart every time it is no longer supported, to insist over and over again on wanting things to be as they want them to be. And above all, they prioritize being right over having inner peace.
They get angry with life instead of living it, they get annoyed more than necessary, and they get indignant too easily. They rebel against the reality of facts and confuse "accepting" what is and cannot cease to be with "agreeing" with it.
Needless to say, these people end up exhausted, frustrated, angry, disappointed, and they suffer a lot! Why? Because life is not as one would want it to be, nor do people behave in the way one would like them to behave: "life just is" and "people are as they choose or can be" (whether we like it or not).
Others are not here to please us; people are here to live their lives according to their choices and learnings. The only decision within our reach is to approach or distance ourselves from what we disagree with or dislike... but attempting to steer what we think has gone astray exhausts us much more than necessary, and we gain nothing in return.
Nature unfolds through Wu-Wei
Nature manifests itself through Wu-Wei. Human beings are part of it and embody this principle in our own existence, almost without realizing it. To go against this principle is to oppose our own essence. Such is the case for people who resist the passage of time and, through that "struggle," distort their faces in the desire to alter the natural order of the passage of time. On the other hand, there are other people who "learn to collaborate with the inevitable" and age naturally, beautifully, and gracefully. This example clarifies that living according to "Wu-Wei" does not in any way mean laziness, apathy, lack of enthusiasm, or resignation. It is not about abandoning action but about ceasing to "re-act" to what is and cannot cease to be. And if it ceases to be when we stop "re-acting," it is because it never was and never will be.
Living according to "Wu-Wei" does not mean laziness, apathy, lack of enthusiasm, or resignation. It is not about abandoning action but about ceasing to "re-act" to what is and cannot cease to be.
The culture in which we live distances us from the nature of this principle. It offers us ways to "stop" time, to "achieve" the impossible quickly, magical ways to "retain" our loved ones, anesthetics to "endure" the unbearable, techniques and strategies to make "others do" what I want them to do. Boarding this train will not lead us to our destination if our goal is harmony and inner peace.
To act or not to act?
It is not about abandoning action or clinging to it. It is more about giving up speculation and control. There are people who think life is like a game of billiards: they "evaluate, speculate, see the move, and with the cue stick, they hit the white ball so that it hits the yellow one, and the yellow one hits the blue, the blue hits the red, and carom! In a game, it can be fun, but in everyday life, it exhausts anyone's mind. We also tend to forget that on the other side, there is another person who may not feel like playing our game or whose rules are different, meaning values, principles, purposes, and interests. And if we exert that move on life... well, it won't take long to show us our human insignificance and remind us that we don't set the rules.
A metaphor that teaches us to live...
The pessimist complains about the wind, the optimist waits for it to change, the realist adjusts the sails. George Ward.
Imagine a rough sea and a sailor on their sailboat. What would be the most intelligent action here, requiring the least effort? Well, it would be to adjust the sails in the best direction to adapt to the wind. A good sailor would do that, right? The same thing happens in life, and sometimes we want to tame the sea instead of grasping the sails. It becomes almost comical when comparing it to situations like these. Why? Because in these situations, we can apply common sense. However, when we are immersed in the emotional world, the most common of senses, "common sense," becomes the strangest of all. And there we are, wanting to fight the impossible, and we drown in the first wave.
Accepting what is and ceasing to struggle with what is not is knowing how to leave behind...
- A couple that has tried a thousand times to stand up.
- A child who will not change because I gave birth to them.
- A relationship that will not blossom if there is no interest from the other side.
- A youth that does not extend no matter how much I stretch my face.
- A time that does not return no matter how many old photos I look at.
- A being that does not return, even if I do not let go of them in my heart and mind.
- An emotion that does not cease because I do not want to feel it.
And the list can go on indefinitely... as much as each person wants to straighten what is crooked!
Instead of that rigid attitude, if we adapt our bodies to the best posture we can assume in the face of life's events, we will be in harmony with Wu-Wei.
Acting in accordance with Wu-Wei is about letting go, accepting, letting go, allowing things to come and go, learning to flow, in order to navigate life and not drown in its depths or exhaust ourselves by tirelessly swimming against the current.
I invite you to keep this wise and respectful term of the natural course of existence in mind, and try to incorporate it into your daily life. When you find yourself struggling with life, insisting on changing people, manipulating situations... take a pause, take a deep breath, and ask yourself, "What good does it do me to fight the impossible?" Feel the air expand in your chest and let go... let go of that tendency to want things to be in a certain way that is beyond your control.
The best action is always forced non-action.