It seems like every article, blog post, and Pinterest “pin” I see right now are about which resolutions to make, or not to make, this year. There’s a lot of wisdom out there on how to improve ourselves. Usually, I’m quite in favor of New Year’s resolutions. I enjoy the opportunity to take stock of the year that has gone by and to think about how I would like to adjust my routine and ways in the coming days. This year, however, I didn’t have anything great in mind when New Year’s Day rolled around.
Even before the New Year’s rush, I’d been contemplating meditation (or contemplation!) and been making some attempts to fit it into my life. I even downloaded an app, Headspace, that I enjoyed using occasionally to help guide me through that practice. However, I found that I wasn’t feeling like I really gained much, or gained enough to keep doing it on a regular basis.
And then we started our unit on Daoism. My wonderful student teacher has picked up my World Religions class, which gives me the opportunity to observe the class and to think about the concepts in a more abstract way. As supervising teacher, it’s less about how we will fill 90-minutes and more focused on the bigger ideas that I want to help her convey to the students. Glancing through my materials, I was reminded of the Daoist concept of wu wei.
What is Wu Wei?
Wu wei, as neatly described here, is a reminder to stop trying to so hard. “Actionless action” is one translation. I understand it to mean that one should not stop doing, but to give up our attachments to the results or to preconcieved notions about what we should be doing or where we should be going. To approach the world with an open attittude about what might happen next.
On Wikipedia (don’t hate!) I found this relevant section of the Dao de Jing, translated by Priya Hemingway:
The Sage is occupied with the unspoken
and acts without effort.
Teaching without verbosity,
producing without possessing,
creating without regard to result,
the Sage has nothing to lose.
I like this because it explains wu wei not as a call to inaction (as some of my lazier students would like to view it), but rather as practice of doing things with an adventurous spirit, open to what might come.
In class, we use the Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff and yes, some old Pooh cartoons, to help explore these ideas. Hoff contrasts the simple Pooh, with his optimism and curiosity about the world, with Eeyore and Rabbit, who overthink with sad results. An easy 10 minutes in class can be spent watching a Pooh video after reading selections from Hoff’s book and having students try to spot the various Daoist elements. (This clip with the clouds, offers a good entry to a discussion of duality, Yin, and Yang as well).
Wu Wei and My New Year’s Resolutions (or lack thereof)
I was reflecting on the concept of wu wei and thinking about it in connection with my resistance to meditation. I’m not sure if other Daoists would really support this, as many do participate in sitting meditation, but I’m going to use wu wei to tell myself that it’s okay. I don’t have to like meditating, even as a World Religions teacher. I don’t have to do it. When I think about the flow of my life and my activities, there is room for thought and reflection, and room for the mind to rest. I take long walks each day with my dog, who is not much of a conversationalist. I practice yoga several times a week, and enjoy the way the physical poses clear all else from my head. I appreciate these rituals, and I do feel a little lost when I am without them. But if it’s not fitting in my life, do I really need to add more?
I did come up with one resolution this year, and I think it’s one that Laozi would approve. I want to create more, and have started keeping a sketchbook again. No goals, or aims, or quotas to reach, but to write and draw and sew and see what happens. While it’s hard for me to to have a “hard” goal to reach, or a box to tick off at the end of the day, I’m aiming to “create without regard to result.” After all, in doing so I “[have] nothing to lose.” Wu wei, all day.