Wu Wei or Flow

Wu Wei by Cea

Wu Wei by Cea+

I ran into a Zen quote the other day and thought about how flow unfolds. But first, some background.

I’ve only studied a bit of Zen in my time, so am not an expert. But the principles are universal.

Zen is a branch of Buddhism that was strongly influenced by Taoism. The word Zen was originally derived from the Yoga term Dhyana (meditation) but the practices now differ greatly from the original Yoga. The focus of Zen is on direct experience rather than book learning.

One influence from Taoism (the Way) has been the idea of Wu Wei.

Wu Wei means non-action or effortless action. We might say it is acting without volition, without a sense of doership. Thus it is paradoxically described as acting without action. Action happens, but we are uninvolved.

The quote:

That which offers no resistance
overcomes the hardest substances.
That which offers no resistance
can enter where there is no space.

Few in the world can comprehend the teaching without words,
or understand the value of non-action.
– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 43

The flow of consciousness has no resistance. It moves through and underlies all things. When it changes, it changes the very structure of even the hardest substance.

Pure consciousness is beyond the qualities of space and time. To enter pure consciousness is to go where there is no space. We may also experience consciousness as infinite space, but this is with qualities.

I notice there are many layers to stepping deeper into Wu Wei.

– most obvious is what some call being in the flow or the zone. We step out of a normal sense of space and time and are present with what is taking place. Time flies by. Athletic performance is enhanced, creative works unfold, and research has found the brain goes into highly coherent functioning. The I-sense is essentially off-line.

This brings us much more in tune with life, and our support of nature amps up dramatically.

– a further stage of development is when this becomes the norm. Practices like an effortless meditation encourage brain coherence and thus culture the state of flow. Of course, we still have to use other modes of being for some kinds of behaviour. But even these can become integrated. This becomes fully established after Self Realization.

– As doership and dominance of the separate I-sense fall away with Self Realization, we experience more and more that life lives through us. We’re here to experience the process, not control it. Spontaneously acting without volition, we step more into Wu Wei.

– As Unity dawns, that which has been observing and that which we’ve been observing come together in one wholeness. We are life itself, moving through this form and expressing as this life.

– Somewhere along the way, the process of experience comes alive (that which is between subject and object). The laws of nature managing the flows of life awaken within us when we become awake to them. And more deeply, we awaken other laws that have been dormant for eons. We give them the freedom to express through us and become vehicles for the awakening world.

This awakening flow can manifest as mudras, flowing movements, unusual postures, and so forth.

There are caveats here.

For one, we want to develop refined perception to recognize the different types of actors on the stage of life. We don’t want to give free expression to our shadows or the darker laws of nature. Not that we resist them, we just don’t feed those bears with our attention. As our sattva grows, we culture those beings which are supportive and worthy of our attention.

Also, if we have a human body, we’re unfolding karma. Even living in paradise, we’ll have challenging events and purification arising. But the deeper into the flow we are, the more effortlessly these can arise and resolve, like passing waves on the beach.

It’s paradoxical to say Wu Wei takes practice. We can’t “work at it.” But we can be with the stillness while life acts. We can favour the flow and act without acting if that option is there for us.

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20 Responses to Wu Wei or Flow

  1. Davidya says:

    A little stat – this is the 2,000th article that is live on the blog. That’s in 12.5 years…

    • scott says:

      If older articles continue to receive comments and the number of articles keeps growing …I’m just wondering have you managed to clone yourself ? :-))

      • Davidya says:

        🙂 I could set old articles to close new comments after X period, but those ones are usually thoughtful. What takes more time is general email. I do sometimes wonder when I’ll have time to work on the other books more but those things have a way of happening when it’s time. (flow)

  2. Vandana Bakshi says:

    Thank you

  3. Susan says:

    Your blog is so much fun! Wonder/wander land.
    All that comes through! 2000!

  4. Ron Krumpos says:

    Sometimes the idea of going with the flow is understood as laziness, of not doing what is necessary. This is not what Wu Wei means. Laziness is usually not the right action, but more often than not an expression of procrastination. Wu Wei means the right action in any given situation, action that flows naturally because we are connected to the flow of life.

    • Davidya says:

      Good point, Ron. By flow here, I don’t mean going with the mood or what you feel like. It means going with the flow of life itself. It means heeding the call to act. It means getting out of the way and letting action flow, to take us where we’re needed.

  5. scott says:

    Nice! Funny I was just wondering about the number of articles the other day.

    • Davidya says:

      Theres a few dozen other articles that have been taken down over the years, mainly because the teacher discussed went off the rails. But this is the first time it’s hit 2,000 live.

      And theres another 400 some on my other blog – though its much more occasional (on science, tech, etc)

  6. scott says:

    Thank- you David.

  7. Tomek says:

    Option-less flow:) Interesting that this can be a modality of transcending prior to awakening. Cultivation of physiology:)

    • Davidya says:

      Hi Tomek
      Actually, everyone transcends every time they change states of consciousness – waking to sleep, to dreams, etc. Like our neutral gear. The trick is making it conscious and extending it.
      Meditation is one way. Being in the flow is another, although this one emphasizes refinement and natures support more than meditation. One leads to another though so mediation also leads to more flow…
      Always of course effortless. Trying to make this happen is like trying to fall asleep. We have to let go…

  8. Lewis Oakwood says:

    Hi David,

    I like this simple blog post, thank you.

    ~ ~ ~

    Reminds me of the non-action of sap as it flows through a tree or a leaf falling from a branch.

  9. Deborah says:

    2000 in 2020….I feel fortunate to be a reader who knows you David. Thank you for this.

  10. Davidya says:

    You’re welcome, Deborah. Nice to know some of my readers. 🙂

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