The Action of Inaction

I’ve been reading about wu wei lately. It’s a Taoist principle that seems to mean:

  • knowing when to act
  • action without action
  • effortless action
  • behavior that arises from a sense of oneself as connected to others and to one’s environment
  • purposeless wandering
  • aligning one’s actions to the Tao, the natural ebb and flow of life
  • acting from a state of oneness, without volition, doing just what is needed
  • a state of relaxation, in which one is free but focused
  • effort without attachment
  • taking only effective action
  • going with the flow
  • being in the zone

Wu wei is not laziness, lack of action, inertia, mere passivity, or doing nothing — though it may at times mean doing nothing.

It implies a conscious experience of oneself as part of the unity of life:

“Lao Tzu writes that we must be quiet and watchful, learning to listen to both our own inner voices and to the voices of our environment in a non-interfering, receptive manner. In this way we also learn to rely on more than just our intellect and logical mind to gather and assess information. We develop and trust our intuition as our direct connection to the Tao. We heed the intelligence of our whole body, not only our brain. And we learn through our own experience. All of this allows us to respond readily to the needs of the environment, which of course includes ourselves.”  (Jade Dragon)

As I mentioned, I’m reading Richard Rohr’s book, Jesus’ Plan for a New World, and in it he seems to say something similar:

“Don’t try to build your own door or heroically create your own project. Don’t even go search for the door you’re supposed to go through. Just ask that when the door shows itself, you’ll have  the eyes to recognize it and the courage to walk through it. Other times I tell them [people seeking discernment], ‘Don’t push the river. Just remain in the flow. “

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