The Art of Doing Nothing – Wu Wei

The other day a friend asked me what I had planned for the New Year.

And I struggled to say that I didn’t have any plans (yet …).

It took me a bit by surprise as I usually have some projects in the pipeline that I want to pursue and while I have a few vague ideas what I want to embark on in the new year, I hadn’t specified or committed to anything.

And I felt a bit disappointed – about myself and also about the fact that I lately seemed quite tired and was struggling with motivation – and by the wish to simply withdraw from everything. While I wasn’t exactly beating myself up about it, it certainly didn’t help my mental state of not having an explanation why I didn’t feel more motivated or inspired or driven.

And then I came across a handout that I made for last year’s Manifestation workshop and the excerpt of the second meditation exercise jumped just straight at me:

“We are driven by action. We go from one action to the next and the next and the next, with barely time for reflection. We don’t make time for one story to end and the other to begin. However, pausing, stillness and reflection is important because between the stories of your life (the past and the future) there is an empty space, a pregnant pause between the stories where we can free us from the past and the habits that entrapped us.”

And then the next passage just hit me:

“It is the Art of Doing Nothing, the Taoist principle of Wu Wei (‘non-doing’, ‘non-contrivance’, ‘non-forcing’).”

Wikipedia defines ‘Wu Wei’ as an “attitude of genuine non-action, motivated by a lack of desire to participate in human affairs; describing a state of unconflicting personal harmony and free-flowing spontaneity; it more properly denotes a state of spirit or mind. Sinologist Jean François Billeter describes it as a state of perfect knowledge of the reality of the situation.”

And I suddenly felt I understood and appreciated the state I found myself in; because the last year has seen a lot of changes, a lot of comings and goings, a lot of plans that fell through and people committing and then changing their minds and leaving me with the bag of unresolved ‘stuff’ to deal with. I just wanted everything to be ‘fine’, I was tired of dealing with yet another problem – hence the desire to withdraw from the world.

And instead of dismissing this feeling of – some would call it – depressed, I let it come and wash over me, almost like a caressing wave and allowed myself to be quiet and sad and solitary. I truly needed to let this story play out in its full version, like reading every chapter of a book that you don’t really want to read and letting it come to a finish.

And it’s fascinating that once you understand what is happening, more things flood towards you that bring more clarity, like the quote from John O’Donohue about thresholds:

“A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier that divides two different territories, rhythms and atmospheres. At a threshold there is a great complexity and emotions come alive: confusion, fear, excitement, sadness, hope. This is one reason why such vital crossings were always clothed in ritual. It is wise in your own life to be able to recognize and acknowledge the key thresholds: to take your time, to feel all the varieties of presence that accrue there, to listen inwards with complete attention until you hear the inner voice calling you forward. The time has come to cross.”

I know now that the time for new beginnings is near, the time to cross is coming soon – but I will wait for a little bit longer for everything to settle, for quietness, reflection and appreciation.

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