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Way of Action

By Wonchull Park and Mackenzie Hawkins

You might think that better is only about doing more, more, more! But that is only one part of the way of action. This is what you can discover.

Excerpt - Introduction

Long ago in ancient China, there was the wisdom of wu-wei. People thought about it. Wise sages wrote about it. They hoped that it would help everyone.

You might not have heard of wu-wei before, but have you ever thought about relaxation?

For many people, relaxation means a break from stress. Can you remember a time when all your work was done or you were away on vacation? You might have thought, “Ah, I don’t have to do anything. I can finally relax.” It can feel so nice. Colors look brighter. Food tastes better. Everything becomes vivid. You feel so alive.

In a way, that’s a description of wu-wei.

Some people can also experience relaxation when they are doing something that they are very good at. Maybe there was a time in your life when you were doing a favorite activity and suddenly everything “clicked.” You felt relaxed and “in the flow” of things. You may have been doing something difficult, such as playing a sport or making a piece of art, but it didn’t feel like work at all. It felt effortless, and you performed your very best.

That can be a description of wu-wei, too.

Even if you’ve never felt something like that, can you imagine how good it would feel? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to feel relaxed and to do your very best?

You might be excited by this possibility and think to yourself, “That sounds amazing! Why don’t we all live like this all the time?” Or you might be wondering, “What’s keeping me from experiencing this?” Those are good questions.

In a way, there is nothing easier than relaxation. When you relax, some part of you gets to do less. It’s like going on a vacation. Vacations aren’t hard—they are easy and fun!

But there is also something tricky about relaxation. Maybe you have noticed this in your own experience already. What happens when we try to relax?

Trying to relax is sort of like trying to fall asleep. When you try to fall asleep, you actually stay awake longer because trying to relax keeps you from fully relaxing. That’s why it can be tricky.

Even trying not to try is still trying. (Trying not to try to fall asleep will still keep you awake!) Now that’s super tricky.

If only there were some way around the “trying-trickiness” problem. Then we would know how to practice relaxation so that we could feel better and do better. That would be very practical wisdom on how to live.

Because you are reflecting on your own experiences of relaxation, you are already thinking deeply about wu-wei, too. Maybe you can begin to see why the ancient Chinese sages hoped that the wisdom of wu-wei would help everyone live better.

You might wonder, “If the wisdom of wu-wei is so helpful, how come there are so many people nowadays who have never heard about it?” There could be many reasons for this.

One reason is that the people who have heard about wu-wei don’t often talk about it as being helpful and practical. Instead, they like to think about wu-wei as something very profound and mysterious from a distant time and place. But maybe there is a way to understand wu-wei so that it can help everyone, at any time, and in any situation. Then everyone would want to know about wu-wei and would value its practical wisdom.