So this morning, I pulled out a couple of paperbacks in my library on Taoism: “The Wisdom of the Taoists” by D. Howard Smith and “The Elements of Taoism” by Martin Palmer. Once again, as always happens, we, the reader, are told over and over again how Taoism cannot be put into words while reading words by people trying to explain it to us. It happens every time and it always amuses me no end.
At the same time, there are differences explained between Confucianism and Taoism which for me delineate the difference between choosing to live your life according to what you think OTHERS’S expectations or “shoulds” rule your life (Confucianism) or for your spirit inside to align with a larger Universe (the Tao) and to pursue your life in alignment with your inner truth (Taoism.) That might be a glib way to explain the differences but at least, it illustrates how vastly different these two philosophies of life can be.
There were pencil notes in the texts that I had written years ago, including a reminder of a quotation that I saw on the wall in a calligraphic script when I woke up one morning. It was not a hallucination so much as it was a vision that I remember clearly in a large calligraphic font on the bedroom wall:
“The more we are at One, the more we are All One.”
Now if that isn’t an axiom of Taoist one-ness, I don’t know what is. In my life, especially in times of hardship, I have experienced alignment with a Universe which was invisibly beneficent. I didn’t feel threatened by it and I trusted in its goodness to support the unknown in a positive way. So many seemingly insoluble circumstances in my past (bankruptcy, divorce, joblessness) smoothed themselves out masterminded by Helpers from the Universe. Truly, I could not understand otherwise and it has borne itself out in my life ever since. Which brings me to “wu-wei”
In its simplest definition, “wu-wei” describes a state of non-doing and going with the flow, trusting that the unknown is meant to be and that we are less wise than it is in dealing with anything more than the present moment. Without a trust in the Universe, whether it be in the form of an all knowing Sage, or God, or Almighty, it feels impossible to let go and subscribe to trying something like “wu-wei”. Although it’s hard to do, it’s also really hard NOT to do if one goes through life thinking you can control events and everyone around you. Here in America, we live in a culture that promotes the idea that we are invincible and will overcome if we just try hard enough. That’s not “wu-wei” though.
Everyone is different and that’s why there is no one formula about how to be happy or how to be enlightened even if we could wrap our heads around it. The only knowledge that we may have of someone is that we don’t know much about who they are inside deep down, unless of course they decide to tell us or to talk about it with us. So, given that we don’t know and really can’t know much about all of the people or circumstances that we are trying to react to, marshal or get things done with everyday, no wonder we get worn out. That’s where “wu-wei” provides an alternative reality to live with, within ourselves.
Here’s a short excerpt about “wu-wei” from Wikipedia:
To follow Wu Wei you must first let go of struggle. Stop fighting with life and trying to make things happen. You are struggling against the flow. You must first realize that you can give this up. Then it is the case that you act, you are not passive – merely waiting for things to happen, but you are no longer opposing the flow of events. Instead, you act, but let go into the uncertainty of life, and you see how life actually occurs. You become open to the mystery of which you are part. In a sense it is total acceptance of yourself and this moment. Of course, it is necessary to practice this. While the way is not of time, and we can be there in an instant, practice connects us to this place over time. Through practice the way reveals itself. Only through practice can this truth be revealed.
“Wu-wei” takes care of that enormous expenditure of energy, expectation and sturm and drang from our lives.
The Walt Disney movie, “Let it Go” is popular not just for the freeing storyline of girls being able to rescue themselves rather than relying on males to do it for us, but it also exhorts all of us to “let it go” –release ourselves from the Confucian dogma of what everybody else wants from us or expects us to be. How about that, huh? “Let It Go” being a Taoist mandate to free yourself from the inside out? I’ll bet nobody at Disney was thinking about that message when they made the movie, but hey, it’s not far from what they’re actually encouraging lots of little girls to do. And perhaps some grown-up girls too.
Maybe the rest of us can take heart that as we age, even though there’s less and less influence that we seem to have on our children as they spread their wings, asserting themselves inwardly and outwardly, we can know that the Universe is there for all of us. So, why struggle? Why not float along in a life with “wu-wei”, going with the flow knowing that there’s more in store for us that we can’t know. And that change is the only thing that is constant. So, why worry?
Now, I think I’ll go and make cheeseburger sliders on snowflake rolls with chopped onion for lunch on Super Bowl Sunday. Whatever happens at the big game, I’ll bet that it won’t be predictable, not with all the hoopla over Deflate-Gate or whether it’s actually a Deflate-Gate-Gate? Maybe It’s a good time to practice some “wu-wei” about the outcome, right? See you later!