In the cosmic sphere of energy, wu-wei is the feminine (yin/passive/receptive/earth) principle of the universe. Translated into English from Lao-tzu’s perspective, wu-wei means “non-doing,” “non-action,” or “effortless action.” These translations are literally correct and lead us to the intuitive and ultimate psychological experience of wu-wei. This effortless psychological experience of wu-wei means not forcing or allowing, a state of intelligent spontaneity.
The wu-wei at the core of Lao-tzu’s philosophy is not something we can understand by intellectual discourse or attain by rigorous practice. On the contrary, the depth of wu-wei is only revealed to us when we are humble enough to let go of controlling our life and instead live by its spontaneous principle.
A Yin Deficient World
The perspective of the masculine principle of yang over the feminine principle of yin is promoted in our world from the earliest stages of education to our adult working life. This perspective becomes so entrenched in our mind that we exhibit it in our ordinary life. We begin to anxiously think that we should always be doing something.
We are made to believe that if we are not doing something then we are useless and a nuisance to society. This train of thought is supported by the social mantra “time is money,” which actually means you better get moving or you will miss your opportunity to succeed in life.
Thinking in this way gives us the illusionary belief that we can control every aspect of our life and become the master of time. Many entrepreneurs have this mindset, and though there is a skill to being independently successful, there are also a lot of pitfalls.
"Time Is Money" Attitude Leads to Anxiety and Stress
The pitfalls we all suffer from when we overcompensate for the yang, “time is money” attitude are accumulated anxiety and stress. Though we should all be creatively productive and use this life well, we have to face the fact that we can never truly control life or master time. This attitude is destroying the world because what truly nourishes the world is being ignored.
What nourishes the world is the feminine yin bosom of the universe. The fundamental function of life and our human organism is to reside mainly in the yin, while conservatively activating the yang.
The result of trying to uproot the Way of nature is we have a world that is ever so slowly destroying itself without any awareness of this happening. In only embracing the incessant activity of yang we are becoming a species out of balance and essentially sick. The clinical diagnosis in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the human race is yin deficient.
In a yin deficient world we are internally consumed by heat because we are constantly seeking action and distraction and overthinking. Yang is the internal heat that is evoked by incessant activity and yin is the coolant of deep rest, relaxation, and non-doing (wu-wei), which nourishes all aspects of our mind and body, including the preservation of yang.
We have become accustomed to the excessive heat within our organism, the heightened sense of anxiety and stress a lot of people feel today. This comes from being overactive but also from the yang-laced stimulants we ingest that cause internal heat and ultimately irritation. Coffee, for example, has no real use for us, and as it is a super yang bean, it causes extreme levels of anxiety, stress, and jitteriness and enhances our tendency toward activity, which slowly but surely depletes our psychosomatic organism and in turn the planet.
Allowing Ourselves Time to Rest, Relax, and Be Bored
In TCM the little picture and the big picture are the same picture. Any change within the internal system of the human organism will be reflected in the planetary organism. If we constantly consume coffee, refined sugar, refined flour, and frivolous entertainment, to name just a few, then we will be constantly distracted and as a result seek more distractions, which ultimately weighs heavy on the resources of the planet and destroys the mind.
In allowing ourselves no time to rest, relax, or to just be bored, we are destroying our inner and outer world. What happens to any vehicle that is overheated and does not offset this with the required amount of coolant? Engine failure and a complete breakdown is the result, which is usually irreversible. This is what is happening to humanity and the planet. It is up to each of us as individuals to address our yin deficiency. We cannot go on like this for too much longer.
Reestablishing Balance and Natural Harmony
Reestablishing balance between yin and yang requires us to come back in accord with wu-wei, the non-doing, forceless, and effortless mind. This does not mean we stop being active, though this may be healing and helpful in the beginning. This balance of life is predominantly residing in the yin and conservatively accessing the yang, as in the art of martial arts. Balance between yin and yang, then, is not about equal share but rather natural harmony.
When we transfer this understanding of balance to spiritual and physical practices such as martial arts, we discover that such practices require discipline but should not over reach their limitations. Many martial artists tend to over discipline themselves, never alter their routines, and often add more to their daily practice. This is the yang habitual thinking that the more we do the more we will gain. This is against Lao-tzu’s philosophy of less is more. As a result, a lot of practitioners develop a rigid personality that is overly disciplined to the point of being a crutch.
They fear to change their habits and routines, which puts them out of sync with the ever changing Tao. As a result they essentially become prisoners to their discipline.
And yet, such spiritual practices are designed to cultivate yin. But we are often seduced by the power and force we attain from yang. A yin deficient world can only attain balance when each individual recognizes the dire need to cultivate yin.
©2018 by Jason Gregory. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of Inner Traditions Intl.
Effortless Living: Wu-Wei and the Spontaneous State of Natural Harmony
by Jason Gregory
A guide for achieving an enlightened mind through the art of non-doing. Revealing wisdom utilized by renowned sages, artists, and athletes who have adapted “being in the zone” as a way of life, the author shows that wu-wei can yield a renewed sense of trust in many aspects of your daily life, making each day more effortless. As an avid wu-wei practitioner, he provides keen insight on how you, too, can experience the beauty of achieving an enlightened, effortless mind while reveling in the process of life’s unfolding.
About the Author
Jason Gregory is a teacher and international speaker specializing in the fields of Eastern and Western philosophy, comparative religion, metaphysics, and ancient cultures. He is the author of The Science and Practice of Humility and Enlightenment Now. Visit his website at www.jasongregory.org