Wu Wei – The Way of Non-Striving

Last time I talked about compromise to handle duality in reality. An improved way to contemplate this is Wu Wei.

Directly translated, Wu Wei (無為) means no action. But that completely loses the meaning and it may lead people to think it is some sort of fatalism. Wu Wei is NOT no action or simply not doing anything.

A better English interpretation for Wu Wei would be “the way of non-striving.”

The following questions are why this is very very relevant for our every day life. Ask yourself, are you struggling? Are you trying very very hard to achieve or become something? Do you feel that you deserve that something because you work very hard? And when you don’t get it, you feel sad and suffer?


The following may sound mad and completely contrary to common sense that we are taught. My realization is that when we try so hard, try too hard, often we don’t get what we want. And even if we do get what we want, we soon realize how big of a mess we have on our hands that will require much more effort to clean up than the effort we spent getting what we want.

Hence, I think it is important for us to realize Wu Wei. They always tell us to innovate and think outside the box, right? Well, here we go.

Wu Wei — the Way of Non-Striving. It is action without striving, without trying. It is more like natural action. Action that fits in the flow of situation, is appropriate to the objective reality, and harmonizes/supports/balances the many dualistic relationships we have around us.

Stop trying.

When you try, you don’t do. (you are not 100%)
When you stop trying, you simply do. (now you can be 100%)

Sound simple? It is. Is it easy? Not really. It requires much practice.

Whatever it is that you want to do, we continuously pay attention, learn, understand, practice, and repeat the process. At some point, after enough practice and repetition, you can let it go. Then you simply do.

Primarily, wu wei is recommended to be applied to living life… a life of awareness.

Some examples base on personal experience…

Like a pianist who needs to perform a piece, after much practicing, he knows exactly which keys he needs to hit and how exactly wants to hit it to convey his emotion. When he perform, he simply does it. However, if he has to think about it and tries to hit the key the way he wants, he will miss or play the note different than the original intention. Not only, he probably will lose his flow to finish the whole piece.

Same thing for a vocalist. The mere act of trying to hit a high note will disable his ability to do so because of the muscle tension that is generated from trying.

The same thing for basketball player. The talk about about play being “in a zone” or shooting “in rhythm”. Do you think the player is thinking how he wants to shoot the ball when he shoots the ball? Nope. He simply does it.

We always say we must be free. But the mere thought of that we must be free binds us to a concept which takes away the freedom.

We are always told that we must be happy. But the mere thought that we must be happy makes us try so hard to find happiness that we are not happy.

Our over zealous effort to control all things in life are nothing but self-defeating proposition. This “fighting” mentality is one such common sense that can be let go, if you sincerely want good things to happen.

One cannot ALWAYS be happy.
One cannot be perfect.
There is up and down.
People come and people go.

See things as they are and then simply react. Can you do that? Do you have doubt? Then you will keep striving.

There is nothing you can do about the problem because there is no problem. All the drama in life are all self-created. Yes, it is very real when you have created it. But can you not create it? Can you live without drama? Do you need to be excited, surprised, elevated all the time? Then it will be no end in sight. It will be a moving door.

There is not an end to strive for. That doesn’t mean you do nothing. That means whatever you do, with realization of Wu Wei, you WILL do your best… you are held back by no ideals nor desires. If you must conceptualize, it is doing for the sake of doing, for that moment of greatness. That is being in the flow. That is “playing in a zone”.

Without striving, you stop trying too hard.
You act when it is the time to act.
You don’t act when it is the time to not act.

How do you practice? For most of us… Slow down. Stop. Allow silence. Be Still. Breathe. Pay attention around you. Repeat. Thousand and thousand times.

Because of this realization, I am very wary to use terms such as “fight for”, “to defeat”, “to beat”… how we claim we need to “fight for peace”, or that “love and compassion can defeat suffering”. But there is nothing to beat. When you are aware, realize how all things are connected, you act without striving — Wu Wei. We will all simply love and be compassionate, and we simply do it because not just that it is good for us, but that things can be so much worse.

Let go of striving and you will also let go of suffering. You don’t try to let go. You simply let go. And by then, we no longer need to fight violence, no longer need to defeat suffering, no longer need to fight… we would “win” without a fight.

Additionally, in the act of fighting, attempting to defeat negativity, we validate the very negativity we want to defeat. We emphasize the negativity, and we make it an important thing in life. Is negativity what you want in your life? If not, then let go. Not saying they are not real. You decide for yourself if your pain, depression, problems are so important that you MUST fight to remove them. When you do that, are you not putting more emphasis on them instead, and with emphasis, are you not keeping them in your life?

The negativity may be very real it may take some time, but slowly, let it go bit by bit. Through practice, you simply let go. You act without striving.

But if you are a courageous soul, perhaps you just let go. That is also possible. In an instant, you would have realize Wu Wei. You ARE free. You no longer need to try to be free.

Practice, is simply living life with awareness. Observing yourself mentally and physically. Observing others around you. Observing events around you. Don’t try to see. Simply pay attention. As you learn to pay attention, the more and more you will come to see. Living in awareness becomes natural. And over time, life seems to be become easy, but keep in mind, making things easy is not the goal, the essense of Wu Wei.

If you can learn and live Wu Wei, I doubt your life will then be “that bad”.

You stop making a mess by trying too hard.
You act or not act without striving.
You simply are you.
You just be.

PS. This is kind of a sequel to The Agenda Mentality – Doing is Always a Mean to an End.

Originally posted 2009-06-09 22:38:30. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

6 Responses

  1. yellowsister says:

    I agreed with the ideology of Wu Wei, Kin. However, to become that stage, you still have to follow what you said that “Whatever it is that you want to do, we continuously pay attention, learn, understand, practice, and repeat the process. At some point, after enough practice and repetition, you can let it go. Then you simply do”, we still have to continuously trying to have a “steady state”. The idea is not to make the end result ruined your life by trying “too hard” but to understand and appreciate the process during the trying.

    Wu Wei is to do nothing about your result. Just simply to be yourself. However, never giving up but thinking “outside of the box” may even highlight that essence of Wu-Wei in real life. Just my two cents here… – yellowsister

  2. Kin says:

    @Yellowsister – your words seem to make sense and resemble that the written words, but one thing I must say is be careful not to dwell and drill too much into the words. I will add on to your comment with these questions:

    – Careful if one must try to main a “steady state”, that person is almost doomed to be unsteady…
    – You mentioned to do nothing about the result, but can you simply do something without trying for a result?
    – Is not “never giving up” treading a very thin line as “never letting go”? (yet, letting go is closely tied to Wu Wei)
    – If we must use words to describe, wouldn’t thinking “without a box” be closer to the essense to Wu Wei?

    Those are my 2 cents :)

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