The beautiful, paradoxical Taoist phrase: “Wu Wei” roughly translates to “the action of non action”.
I was exploring this with a client recently, when she said to me:
“There’s not enough time for life, there’s so much I want to do, but there just never seems to be enough time”.
I nodded knowingly. I hear this more and more with my clients these days.
So much to do, so little time.
Our lives have become filled to the brim. We track every precious minute, moving at break neck speed never slowing down. It’s relentless and feels exhausting just thinking about it. Never a moment to pause, to savour a sunset, to walk bare feet in the grass or just sit and do nothing.
Born from Wu Wei, the simplest yet most profound piece of advice I have received so far in life has been, “do nothing.”
I was lamenting to a wise teacher about not knowing what to do next in life, and she asked, “Why do you need to do anything?
This stopped me dead in my tracks, as was intended. “Do nothing?” I gasped in horror, “but, but, but” my mind was eagerly filling in the blanks, realizing that the game might be up.
That the constant driving it does – sometimes out of necessity and sometimes just as sport might be usurped by – well, nothing. How demeaning to the ego, to be replaced by… nothing.
My mind twisted and turned, trying as it might to find any proof that this theory could be proved or disproved – none came and so it was I was left with a choice to do something or nothing.
At the time the second option seemed radical to my untrained mind, fool hardy even. However I remain ever curious, and at times of dis-ease, uncertainty, challenge and fear I often made the choice to do nothing.
Over time it got me thinking, what if nothing wasn’t really nothing? What if it were something? Something far greater than our minds can fully comprehend, something untouchable, invisible, yet powerful – a force.
What if when we do nothing it is indeed something; a space created to allow life to work its delicate, intricate, beautiful and often-magical way. What if to do nothing was really the way that nature intended our souls and hearts to flourish rather than our minds insistence on the relentless something – stay busy, keep doing, strive, achieve – sleep repeat, don’t miss a beat…
I’m reminded of a quote from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Eat, Pray, Love where her nemesis Richard says to her:
“Sit quietly for now and cease your relentless participation. Watch what happens. The birds do not crash dead out of the sky in mid flight after all. The trees do not wither and die; the rivers do not run red with blood. Life continues to go on.”
Maybe the something I was doing wasn’t that important after all.