Tag Archives: Taoism

Wu Wei

6a00d83451b31c69e20177436b61ae970d-piThe Taoist term, Wu Wei, is translated literally as non-action. But I prefer Huston Smith’s creative quietude, as it more accurately conveys the sense of this pivotal teaching. At the heart of Taoism is the lesson to flow with the way of nature and its cycles, rather than fight against the inevitable movement of life. That’s what the Tao means…The Way. In this sense, it wouldn’t be incorrect to summarize Taoist teachings as…

The Wisdom of Non-Resistance.

Wu Wei is non-resistance in action, or, non-resistance in the context of practical, day to day life. The reason I prefer the respected scholar, Huston Smith’s creative quietude to non-action, is because putting wu wei in action might actually mean doing nothing, but more often, it means choosing the course of action that is the least aggressive and forceful.

A fun and relate-able example is found in the act of floating. I remember when I was a child and first learning to swim, I was impressed when I saw someone float in water…”how can he do that,” I wondered. In my effort to replicate this phenomenal feat, the more I splashed around, the faster I sunk. We’ve all learned the same principal with regard to quicksand; the more you struggle, the quicker you sink.

Lao Tzu, presumed founder of Taoism, understood that life is a lot like quicksand. The more we’re able to relax with the current and the ups and downs of the external conditions we find ourselves in, the more tranquility we will feel, in our internal world.

There’s great wisdom found in a person who can curb the ego’s natural tendency to control and conquer. And even the need to know, for sometimes, weird things happen and we don’t know why—this hidden aspect of life is implied in those little dots in the Yin-Yang (Tai Chi-Tu) symbol. Lao Tzu would ask, “who can truly trust in the mysterious flow of life?” Yes, sometimes a correction may be needed when the winds take a sudden turn for the worst, but like the wise sailor who knows better than to confront them head on, he/she wisely uses their fury to his/her advantage, positioning the sails accordingly, with hardly more than a turn of the crank. The panic, the hassle and even the need to know why this is happening are all extra and unnecessary. But more, it is a waste of precious time and energy.

And this is the heart of it…energy, or as the Chinese say, chi. The sailor used the energy of the gale, rather than go against it. In this way, he/she doesn’t deplete his/her own reserves in maneuvering through the storm.

It’s always about preserving and even cultivating chi.

A psychological example might be found in “reverse psychology.” I used to use this common technique with my son, when he was a little boy: “OK, if you insist, go ahead and keep throwing your food on the ground…I’ll have to return your new toy though, since new toys are for good boys.” The same idea is at work when we confront angry people with kindness (as long as it is genuine).

Wu Wei may also be thought of as the gentle way.

It has infiltrated the way Chinese medicine works, with its principle of gently restoring harmony through the restitution of energy flow, as seen in acupuncture. The needles, properly placed, nudge the flow of chi into balance, without the violent effects of harsh chemical drugs, whose side-effects are often worse than the original condition.

But it is perhaps most easily recognized in the martial arts. Here is my student’s description of wu wei at work, in his Kung Fu practice:

We seldom strike first. In that sense, non-action is the first step. We let the aggressor come to us. In our counter attack, instead of using brute force, we move in a way that redirects the energy of the opponent’s attack. Wu Wei is implemented in that we don’t rely on our strength alone, against a possibly larger and more imposing opponent, but rather, on patience, and by navigating through their own energy until the time is right to deliver a blow. We’re moving with the opponent rather than resisting him.

Finally, wu wei implies an understanding, not only of the flux and corresponding challenges of life, but of the relativity of reality. Again, pointing to the Yin-Yang symbol, knowing that we can’t know the light without knowing the dark. We can’t have spring without fall, right without wrong, comfort without discomfort…and if everyone was rich, no one would be rich. Not only can we not know one without the other, but one is inherent within the other. Thus, the Taoist holds back on his judgments about whether circumstances are “good” or “bad.” Often when things seem to go the wrong way, we later find that it was a blessing in disguise. For example, you got off on the wrong exit, but later learned that you bypassed a horrible pileup and catastrophe on the freeway.

The light and the dark arise together. Note the significance of this: Unlike the assumption of western philosophy, which states that one ultimate first-thing causes the next thing, and so on, the Yin and the Yang arise together. And there are no absolutes—there’s a little bit of one in the other, just as there’s a black dot in the white part. There’s a little bit of everything in all of us. So, in all humility, we can be wary of our own tendency to judge, as we probably just haven’t discovered all the hidden qualities yet. And there is no war between the supposed opposites, as they depend on each other for their very existence—just as there is no war against the cycles and challenges of life. Wu Wei is the art of effortless effort in our graceful negotiation of those challenges.

Wu Wei is to allow the movement of life.

 

 

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Choice

CHOICE chart


Commentary:

I made this chart to show the different ways of interfacing with our moment to moment decisions in life. Even the most subtle decision is vast and carries with it the potential for extensive repercussions. For example, whether we decide to breathe into a moment of frustration or channel it into verbal abuse toward a loved one makes a tremendous difference in our lives, especially, as those moments add up and habit patterns set in.

I make the assumption here, that we’re not always at our optimum. But, life is a process of evolving, if we are fully awake and have the courage to look at ourselves squarely. This means embracing our freedom to make a choice at every moment and owning those decisions. Thus, it also means accepting the consequences of those choices without making excuses for ourselves. This chart shows us that only when we can truly do that, do we evolve into the optimal version of ourselves.

The caveat against making excuses comes from Zen Master Nyogen Roshi, who reminded us very often, during Dharma talks, to (1) Not DECEIVE ourselves (2) Not make EXCUSES for ourselves, and to (3) Take RESPONSIBILITY for ourselves. In my book, I captured this teaching with the acronym, DER.

These injunctions encourage honest, conscious reflection and enable continuous growth—which is what we’re here for! To evolve in our own way and according to our own propensity, is our overarching purpose on earth.

But, sometimes we find ourselves stuck. We call it a problem when we’re unsure how to get unstuck. This chart demonstrates what Yogi Bhajan said—that there is always a pathway through every problem. Curiously, we often access this pathway by letting go. This is the feminine aspect of the dance of life.

This chart shows us that even when we feel we have not acted optimally, in a situation…say, by lashing out instead of breathing, as in the example above, we can use that moment as an opportunity for conscious reflection, rather than self-reproach. For, emotions like guilt, serve only to block our growth. But the recognition that there may be some fear, like the fear of losing control, underlying our frustration, will set us free. It disables that fear.

Very often, this moment of consciousness is enough for clearance to occur. As I’ve said in my classes: “a moment of awareness is a moment of healing.” This is the D, the E and the R, altogether! We haven’t deceived ourselves, we haven’t indulged in excuses, and we’ve taken responsibility, which in this case, entailed nothing more than ownership of our action.

The masculine aspect of doing, comes into play inevitably, as every step, however subtle, is a form of action, but through our willingness to surrender to the outcome, we manifest the feminine. Without that feminine aspect, we lock ourselves into an insecure need to control—bereft of the trust that comes from connection to what isIt’s as Lao Tzu advised: “Know the right, but keep to the left.” The left is the feminine quality of receptiveness. And in this way, we form a relationship with the way and the rhythm of the universe. The dance of life is an interplay of masculine and feminine energies.

The feminine is all about surrender, which trumps the ego’s need to control. It is a must, if we choose to grow. We must welcome what is, with a heart full of grateful acceptance, in order to go forth. We have to be good with where we are before we can get to where we want to be, since the moment we push it away with excuses, we allow the useless emotions of guilt & regret to subsume us, forming, in turn, a murky blanket of resistance to life’s lessons and the evolution of our own consciousness.

It is as such that we behold the interplay of self-acceptance and self-improvement. We often defeat ourselves by trying to have the latter without the former. But, self-improvement, on its own, quickly devolves into an obsessive game of chase, creating a gap in our consciousness, between who we are and who we want to be. It leaves us un-whole. 

Judge Not Lest You Be Judged (Here’s Why)

This teaching is part of the common thread that runs through all wisdom teachings. Here, I explore the reasons why.

1. Because we don’t have access to the Akashic records. The universal perspective is not always revealed or in accordance with our clock, our limited perspective or our expectations. Life and its workings are too vast.

Case Study. Consider the old story of the Taoist farmer whose horse runs away. His neighbor is quick to come and appraise the situation: “What bad luck!” he declares. The farmer just shrugs his shoulders. When the horse comes back with another horse, the neighbor comes again: “What good luck!” The farmer just shrugs. When the farmer’s son tries to saddle the newly acquired, wild horse and breaks his leg in the process, the neighbor comes again: “what bad luck.” The farmer shrugs. Finally, when the army comes, ready to haul the kid off to a bloody war, they take one look at his broken leg and decide to leave him behind. “What good luck! Your son sure picked a good time to break his leg!” the neighbor proclaims.

A broken leg is generally not seen as a “good” thing, but in this case, it saved the kid’s life.

The farmer was too wise to get involved with these assessments. He knows he doesn’t know what’s good or bad in the big picture. He is able to let it unfold and is willing to honor the process. This takes wisdom, humility and courage. Wisdom to know we don’t know. Humility to yield to the unknown and courage to be fine with it, regardless of the outcome.

It’s a willingness to live in trust, rather than in fear.

2. Because everyone has lessons to extract from each and every event that appears in their lives. And as my teacher often puts it, the messenger will keep coming back until the message has been delivered. Everyone has their karma (which doesn’t mean punishment).

3. Because, by judging, you now take the karma. (Doubly: for interfering and because you have demonstrated need for the lesson and compassion for that perspective.)

4. Because the judging is more a statement about you, than the object of your criticism. Our reality is shaped and limited by our thoughts and experiences, meaning, our perceptions provide us with a very limited viewpoint. This means, further, that it’s guaranteed we don’t have the whole story. Only at the end of time can we make over-all assessments. Who will be here? This is why the wise know better than to speak.

Those who say don’t know and those who know don’t say ~Tao Te Ching

But in the guise of “being concerned,” we speculate, condemn and as Zen author Karen Maezen Miller is wont to say, we run commentary. The base assumption is that the other—even when (especially when) the other is a family member—needs our concern. That energy could be better directed inwardly, toward our own needed improvements, for we are all a work in progress.

If you have reached a state of human perfection and have no need for continued work and improvements…Congratulations! Your work here on earth is complete.

Here is an example that both highlights the absurdity of making judgements about others and at the same time, illustrates the workings of truly turning the pointer to the inside, rather than toward others:

Case Study. Your aunt tells you your wife needs to dress differently because her way of dressing, she feels, will influence her daughter to dress in a way that solicits male attention and fosters promiscuity.

But, in your reflections, you note that when it comes to alcoholic beverages, your aunt tends to serve herself generously, sometimes to the point of excess. If we look from a wider lens, and follow her own logic to the end, we see that this, too, might be setting an undesirable example—it may foster alcoholism, or at the very least, irresponsible drinking in her children. Of course, the whole thing is absurd and endless, for, everybody has “stuff.”

I have a dear friend who now avoids a member of her own family for habitually starting sentences with “You need to…” As we become more conscious, we also become more aware of how often our words express this kind of judgmental attitude toward others.

Here’s what it boils down to:

❖ Everybody is a mixed bag, with aspects that we might label as “good” and others as “bad.” And everybody has a history, complete with skeletons and dregs of many varieties. Acceptance of people as evolving entities, like ourselves, fosters better relations.

❖ We are shaped by countless influences, from our Zodiac sign, to our favorite TV show growing up, to our first kiss, our first best friend, our first broken heart, to more obvious, genetic and social factors. Meaning, we are a confluence of infinite influence.

❖ We don’t know how others will perceive us (The young girl in my example will probably only see the good in her aunt. As in The Little Prince, only adults discriminate. Children see through, to the heart of a person.)

ACCEPTANCE; Life in the balance – accept it all. Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so. It is the nature of the universe to establish balance; thus, trying to prevent perceived bad will also block desired good. Instead, welcome challenge and difficulty, enjoying the indicated activity, and growing in each situation.” ~Guru Rattana

What is Spiritual Surrender?

One of my Kundalini Yoga teachers, Gurudhan, often plays a song during our deep relaxation, called “Never Surrender.” Some of the main lyrics resound in my mind:

Don’t lose faith and don’t lose heart.
Don’t lose faith and never surrender. 
Don’t lose faith and don’t lose heart.
Don’t lose faith and never surrender. 

Never surrender to your tears,
though you’ve been crying them for years.
You know the pain is just a part
of what is opening your heart.

The message is to never surrender. Yet, ironically, the importance of being able to surrender is at the heart of all the great spiritual teachings. In Taoism, it is taught that you will live with greater ease through the art of surrendering to the rhythms and natural cycles of the universe—The Tao. In Buddhism, you lessen the suffering of yourself and everyone around you by applying the wisdom to accept life’s inevitable changes, regardless of whether or not they correspond to your preferences.

And in Kundalini Yoga, surrender has its place, as well. It is the way to personal evolution and ultimately, joy. It means, surrendering to the lessons presented to us, in order to benefit from the perspective they permit and thus, to grow from them. It is the courage to use those stumbling blocks as springboards to our own higher consciousness.

To add a few layers on, surrendering, in this case, is to let go of the stories we tell ourselves—the stories we use as defense mechanisms. Defense mechanisms keep us stuck. And so, to get unstuck and to live in grace, means accepting, with all our heart, our own purpose in this life, while rising above that we think will consume us. And that is both empowering and fulfilling. But more, it is knowing that we have the capacity for this fulfillment and that state of knowing leaves no room for despair.

We only need courage and commitment. And so, “to surrender” is, in this context, to fully accept that commitment to live in grace. But, as the song reminds us, and as Buddha’s example of resisting the temptations of Mara, reminds us, we must not give in to the demons and destructive patterns that only hold us back.