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Alternative Medicine

Wu Wei

Wu wei means “not doing.” But it is far from doing nothing. Here’s why it’s important and how to start gaining the benefits of practice right away.

Go with the FlowWu wei is an interesting concept in Chinese culture.

The literal translation is “not doing.” On the surface, you might think it refers to doing nothing. But this is not at all what it means.

Another translation is, “actionless action.” Closer, but still not exact.

The best understanding I’ve come across is “action without attachment.” In other words, acting in harmony with a situation but without expectation or distraction.

In more modern times, you might call it “going with the flow.” Or perhaps you prefer, “being in the zone.” In other words, it’s a kind of peak experience.

Why is this an important idea? There are a few reasons.

First, practicing wu wei means you are in the present moment. That is, you are fully aware of this moment without reference to past or future. This isn’t thinking about doing something, you are just doing it.

Second, it is a state where you lose ego attachment to events. Your experience stops being about you. This frees you to participate in the bigger flow of life itself. And you do so without encumberances. You become lighter.

Third, wu wei creates the possibility of openness. When you are open, experience and energy flow through you freely. You feel more alive and more part of life.

As you can tell, wu wei doesn’t have anything to do with doing nothing. It is a way of acting that is more powerful and effective than struggling. It isn’t a state of detachment. You are much more aware and connected. That makes it easier to do whatever is called for in this moment. You are free to act without encumbrance.

How to you reach this powerful state?

It takes time and attention. I recommend starting by being aware of your breathing. This works because you can only breathe now. You cannot breathe in the past or future.

Since you are breathing all day long (I hope!), that means you can notice your breathing during practically any experience. Driving, eating, drifting off to sleep…

And as you begin to notice your breathing more often, see how deep and relaxed you can allow it to be. Let your breath sink into your abdomen as you inhale. When you do this you are using all of the muscles that affect breathing, especially your diaphragm. This may feel a bit odd to you if you’ve never done this type of breathing before. But stick with it. After a while it will feel natural.

Want to see an expert at this kind of breathing? Watch how an infant breathes.

I’d be delighted to hear what you experience doing this.

Dr. Bruce Eichelberger

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