Wu Wei is the Art of Going With the Flow
A cadence that is ours to follow. It is important to trust in this flow. When we surrender to it we know we are part of a wiser plan devised by an intelligent universe. In Taoism, going with the flow is called wu wei. It means “not doing.” It is one of the main principles of Taoism: this concept of effortlessness and flowing with life.
Now let’s be clear. The idea of not doing, is not the same as, well, not doing anything. It’s not the same as sitting on your sofa watching hours of Real Housewives with a box of Captain Crunch while the clothes go unwashed, the mortgage bill goes unpaid and the dinner goes uncooked.
Wu wei, as I see it, is more about acceptance and allowing. It’s about how you flow with the good and not so good times—in life, in relationships, in careers, and trusting that your hard work, your passion, your ethics, will steer you in the right direction. Even if it’s not where you expected to end up. It’s a way to spring clean your life.
It’s about having faith.
What does it look like? We’ve all seen athletes in the flow. Roger Federer, the Swiss tennis star who is considered by many to be the greatest tennis player ever, comes to mind here. If you’ve never seen him play know this: he is the epitome of “poetry in motion.” Fluid. Flowing. Graceful. And he wears this grace as effortlessly as he wears his winners Wimbledon blazer–both on and off the court. It’s just his natural state of being.
But it wasn’t always this way. In his younger days, when he was hard at work competing, pushing, he was known for his temper tantrums on the court, especially when he lost. Back then, he was putting in the effort, but he really wasn’t in the flow. He wasn’t mastering the game because he hadn’t mastered himself yet.
We’ve all had experiences of being in the flow…even if it’s just for a few minutes. It’s when things feel natural, effortless, not forced. When we lose hours engrossed in a hobby or passion. Or when the words flow off the keyboard like they’ve been downloaded from a higher realm. It’s grace. Effortless flow.
We also know the flip side of that coin, too. Those time when it feels like when we’re not in the flow…no matter how hard we try. It’s usually those times when we’re pushing too hard for an outcome or multi tasking on everything and not giving our full attention to much of anything.
Multi-tasking May Not Be a Good Thing
As women, we are often masters of multi-tasking. For many of us, years of raising Susie and Johnnie, and/or managing careers, husbands, carpool schedules, exercise routines, dinner, the remote control– and our own emotions–feels anything but effortless.
Frankly, now that I’ve passed much of that stage of life, I wonder how I did it all. But looking back, I also see where I over-managed, over-controlled, in my mistaken belief that I could affect an outcome. In the end, the only thing I was managing was my fear. And frankly, I wasn’t really doing a good job of it.
When I think back, I wasn’t really happy. Also, I was constricted, metaphorically and literally–even to the point of stomach problems–and made little room in my life for creativity or flow.
I was pushing, and pushing in the wrong direction, and away from myself.
Little did I know that life had some lessons to teach me about being in the flow. And when those lessons came, they came with a hard task master who carried a big stick and made the stern, ruler-yielding nuns in my old school look like fairy godmothers. That task master–life–took away everything I thought I needed to be happy and all of the things that brought me security: my marriage, my job, my beautiful home.
That’s when I had the first of many a’ha moments. Also, that’s when I learned that I might not really know what was best for me in the big grand scheme of things. That’s when I had to give up control and trust that the universe might have its own plans for the flow of my life. All I was called to do was surrender to it.
I won’t lie and say surrender is a natural state of being for me. But I was a good student during those years of chaos; and yes, those years of learning –the hard way –taught me the value of flow, of acceptance.
I learned there is a cadence and flow to life. And I learned a thing or two about surrender.
After all, there is only so much we can control, and my need to stop the rain has absolutely no affect on the outcome of the weather. So I ride the currents now — in all areas of my life—has become my best option to stay in the flow.
So my advice to you is the same I give to myself: Pray for peace and acceptance, work to change what can be made better, love more actively, and let it go. Surrender to the cadence that is calling you. Surrender to wu wei.
Journal Questions: Can you find the places within you where faith lives? Are you flexible and open to new possibilities? If not, what one change can you make to create flexibility, flow, in your life?
Affirmation: I release the need to control, and trust that all is happening for my greatest good.
If you’re interested in more thoughts on integrity, compassion and grace, particularly at midlife, read Lisa Garon Froman’s book, Tao Flashes.