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  • James Evangelista

Wu Wei: The State of Flow

Photo by Christine Wehrmeier on Unsplash

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever they like - Lao Tzu

What does it feel like to be in the state of flow? How can we reach this state?

The Daoists call this wu-wei, which means “non-doing,” “nonaction,”  or “effortless action.” Wu-wei is an intuitive and psychological experience. When we tap into our wu-wei we enter the flow state and learn to stop forcing things.

People often confuse nonaction as laziness, which is a clear misunderstanding of this philosophy. Wu-wei is letting go of your conscious mind and let your subconscious take over.

As human beings, we always want to be in control. It is part of our human nature, but sometimes too much control is not good for us. We need to learn to let go and be in flow with nature and with our true selves.

Author Thomas Merton describes wu-wei in his book The Way of Chuang Tzu: “the true character of wu-wei is not mere inactivity but perfect action-because it is act without activity.”  Wu-wei is an action in perfect harmony with the whole. It is an action that is not conditioned or limited by our own needs or desires.

Think of life like a river in the mountains. It is always moving forward. There are stones or obstacles that can block its path, but the water always stays in its flow. When the flow is disturbed or stopped, the water loses its way. Think of the dead rivers, we have in the urban cities. The river is dead because of the toxicity and pollution of the city. It is no longer flowing in what nature desires it to be.

Wu-Wei in life

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water, my friend.”

Remember this quote from Bruce Lee? This is an example of wu-wei or effortless action. Adaptability and playing our part in this world allows us to be in harmony with nature and with ourselves.

In our modern lives, we can understand more of wu-wei or effortless action in the creative industry and sports. For sports, let me use basketball as an example. Hoopers often “enter the zone” or “get hot” when they don’t force things. They feel the game come to them and just do their roles. Every athlete knows this feeling. They also know that forcing the things they want in the game can cost them mistakes and even lose the match.

In the creative process, entering the state of flow is significant to accomplish a project or just a simple task. While writing this blog post, I must be in touch with wu-wei to accomplish what I want. When writing these words, I just let go and don’t force the words or ideas that disrupt my rhythm. I just write, write and write. The editing part comes later.

Tapping wu-wei requires mental strength. To enter the state of effortless action, you must have complete focus and be present on what you are doing.

Recall your Wu-Wei experience

I don’t know what you do in your life, but I’m sure you’ve entered the state of flow and been in touch with wu-wei. Recall the tasks you did wherein you just didn’t think of anything else and have complete focus on the task in front of you.

During these quarantine days, while you are learning a new skill or doing a task, enter the state of flow and be in touch with wu-wei. You’ll accomplish more and have better results if you do. You won’t regret it.

Learning from Wu-Wei in Nature

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” - Lao Tzu

Look at the trees and plants around you. They look perfect in their own way. Was their growth hurried? Growing a plant or a tree requires patience. It takes years for it to grow.

What’s the difference between modern life and nature? Modern life is always about instant. Instant food, instant meals, instant growth, instant relationships, instant success, same-day deliveries, and all other instant/ fast-tracked stuff that we have in the modern world. The instant gratification system that we have right now will not help us be in touch with wu-wei.

We always forget that patience is a virtue. To have patience, will allow us to assess our situation and do what we can to help ourselves. Do not hurry. Be in harmony with nature. Accomplish more by not hurrying.


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