Wu Wei

Alan Watts The only way to make sense out of c...
Alan Watts The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance (Photo credit: symphony of love)

Wu Wei is an early Taoist term meaning non-action or effortless action. It is often misunderstood as being still, physically. But the idea is more about the belief that we’re in sync with the Tao by intuitively grasping when and when not to act.

Metaphors for this kind of lifestyle often sound like this: Be effortless as a bamboo shoot bending with the wind. Indeed, this is how wu wei has been depicted by Western pop spiritualists like Alan Watts

By way of contrast, some believe that simplified philosophies like this are nothing more than an attractive myth that help to cover up or turn a blind eye to unsavory realities. From a Christian perspective, for instance, we’re not out to avoid discomfort but rather to try to do God’s will. That doesn’t mean we should all behave as if we have a martyr complex. But it does mean that avoidance of responsibility cannot be justified by the idea of “going with the flow.”

Having said that, some Christians have their own clever ways of rationalizing sins. One of the popular recourses in Catholicism is the idea of personal “weakness.” Often in homily we hear how God loves us in our weakness, even though we may never overcome our particular weaknesses. So chain smoking, for instance, is okay because it’s a person’s “weakness.” Rather than taking steps to stop smoking, a chain smoker can just keep on killing themselves and nobody dares say anything. It’s their weakness…

To the general idea that we all have weaknesses, I’d agree. But I don’t think we should use that as an excuse to give up on trying to do better.

¹ Alan Watts was further popularized in the Spike Jonze film, Her. Watts (as a programmed simulation of the real Alan Watts) talks at hyper-speeds with Samantha (a female operating system) about deep things, contributing to Samantha’s growth as an Artificial Intelligence. See my audio review of Her.

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