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  • Wu wei is an early Chinese term that means literally no doing or no trying. But I think

  • a better translation is effortless action. And it's the central spiritual ideal for these

  • early thinkers I look at. So the Confucians and the Daoists. And what it looks a little

  • bit like flow or being in the zone as an athlete. So you're very effective. You're moving through

  • the world in a very efficient way -- social world and physical world. But you don't have

  • a sense of doing anything. You don't have a sense of effort. You don't have a sense

  • of yourself as an agent. You kind of lose yourself in the activity you're involved in.

  • And you're not only efficacious in terms of skill in the world. You also have this power

  • that the early Chinese call -- unfortunately the Mandarin pronunciation is duh which sounds

  • kind of funny. But it's often translated as virtue. It means like charismatic power. Charismatic

  • virtue. It's this energy you kick off, an aura that you kick off when you're in a state

  • of wu wei. And this is why these early thinkers want wu wei because for both of them, the

  • Confucians and the Daoists it's the key to political and spiritual success. So if you're

  • a Confucian getting into a state of wu-wei gives you this power duh. And this allows

  • you to attract followers without having to force them or try to get them to follow you.

  • People just spontaneously want to follow you.

  • If you're a Daoist it's what relaxes people, puts them at ease and allows you to move through

  • the social world effectively without harm. So everybody wants this because it's a very

  • -- it's the key to success. But they're all involved in this tension then of how do you

  • try to be effortless. How do you try not to try.

  • So the first strategy is the early Confucian strategy which I refer to as carving and polishing

  • strategy which is essentially you're gonna try really hard for a long time. And if you

  • do that eventually the trying will fall away and you'll be spontaneous in the right way.

  • So you practice ritual, you engage in learning with fellow students and eventually somehow

  • at some point you make the transition from trying to having internalized these things

  • you're learning and being able to embody them in an effortless way. The second strategy,

  • the uncarved block or going back to nature strategy is the Daode jing or the primitivists

  • Daoists. And they essentially think the Confucian strategy is doomed. If you are trying to be

  • virtuous, if you're trying to be a Confucian gentleman, you're never gonna be a Confucian

  • gentleman. Anyone trying to be benevolent is never gonna actually be benevolent. They're

  • just gonna be this hypocrite.

  • So their strategy is undo all this learning that you've been taught. So get rid of culture,

  • get rid of learning, actually physically drop out of society. So they want you to go live

  • in the countryside in a small village. It looks a lot like kind of 1960s hippie movement,

  • you know. Back to nature and get rid of technology. Get rid of all of the bad things that society

  • has done to us. There's good points to this strategy, too. One of the main insights I

  • think of the Daoists, these early Daoists is a way in which social values, social learning

  • can corrupt our natural preferences. So we're, you know, body images in advertising teach

  • women that they have to be anorexic if they're attractive. We're taught that we always need

  • to have the latest iPhone. So, you know, we have a perfectly good iPhone but then we see

  • the new iPhone and suddenly our old iPhone isn't good anymore.

  • There's a lot of good literature on this in psychology on the hedonistic treadmill. We're

  • never quite happy with what we have. As soon as we get it we want the next thing. And the

  • Daode jing thinks Confucianism encourages that. And the solution to get off that hedonistic

  • treadmill was to just stop and go back to nature and be simple. So that's the uncarved

  • box strategy. And probably which strategy is the best varies by the situation. So it

  • probably varies from situation to situation what your particular barrier to spontaneity

  • is in the moment. And it also probably varies person to person. So people who have innate

  • personality differences that probably determine which strategy's the best for them. And then

  • also, you know, we've got -- people are introverted who need one sort of push. And people are

  • extroverted, you know, the other kind of maybe be getting pulled in. And also probably varies

  • by life stage.

  • So early on in life especially if you're trying to develop a new skill the carving and polishing

  • strategy makes the most sense. And then some of these Daoists approaches maybe make more

  • sense. When the training is done, the learning is done and you've got to learn to just let

  • go and let this thing you've internalized take over and do the work for you.

Wu wei is an early Chinese term that means literally no doing or no trying. But I think


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放棄(或不嘗試)的道法 (The Dao of Letting Go (or Not Trying))

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