When I first started my Coaching practice 15+ years ago, I joked with friends about naming my business Wu Wei Coaching. Wu Wei is a Taoist term that means “do by not doing.” Of course that was a too obscure and potentially misleading a name for any business, let alone one that helps people get into action to get what they want! However, after all these years of working with others (and myself!), I have come to an even deeper appreciation of the profound wisdom of Wu Wei, as I consciously practice it in my own life.
Don’t get me wrong, Coaching is about designing and taking steps to produce the results that you want, and I am a powerful proponent of being in action, both for the information and wisdom it produces, as well as for the momentum and progress. The concept of Wu Wei does not mean that we abandon goals and structure and focus. What it shines the light upon is not the action itself, but the place within us from which it originates, our frame of mind or perspective that precedes direction and movement.
Being Here Now
The concept “do by not doing” calls upon us to participate fully in creating what is not yet wholly known, what does not yet exist. It is not about making something happen, deciding what should happen, and exactly how it will happen. It is not about driving oneself toward a pre-determined end, or worse, mercilessly beating ourselves up for not being able to wrestle our goal to the ground. Rather, it is about identifying our vision and goals, and then bringing our full presence into the moment at hand, and releasing the results to “this or something better.” Only right here, right now can we focus in on what’s the next right thing, or actually take the next step. Wu Wei means being here now, moving with grace and ease from this to this, moment by moment, trusting that a power greater than ourselves will handle the outcome and quite likely deliver up far more than we ever imagined!
It is powerful and reality-based to move from a place of not knowing exactly how the work of art that is our lives will unfold or exactly how it will look. It is standing still, inside of our own skin, our own being, and listening for that inspiration and guidance that can only be heard, by our Self, in this moment. Ralph Waldo Emerson says it so beautifully,
There is a guidance for each of us and by lowly listening,
we shall hear the right word. Certainly there is a right for
you that needs no choice on your part.
Place yourself in the middle of the stream of power and
wisdom which flows into your life.
Then, without effort, you are impelled to truth and to
Part of Something Greater
Standing poised before the canvas of our own lives, having the courage to take the next step, paint the next stroke, speak the next word, open the next door into the unknown, opens us to our partnership with the Divine. Giving our trust and our whole heart to what is calling to us in this moment is the act of creation. The moment we find ourselves managing outcomes (the future), or driven by anxiety, worry and fear, we have lapsed back into re-creating the past, what is already known, including more anxiety, worry and fear! When our thoughts (memory and imagination) take us out of the present, we have lost touch with both the peace and the exhilaration of knowing (experiencing) our Self as a part of something greater. It is in the present moment alone that we experience and claim our inspiration and consciously participate in an act of creation far more vast than the intentions and plans of one woman, one man.
As described in The Empty Vessel: A Journal of Daoist Philosophy and Practice (Winter 2008), Taoism is an ancient Chinese philosophy, a way dedicated to deep reflection and learning from Nature. “It is a belief in life, a belief in the glorious procession of each unfolding moment.” Wu Wei, or “do by not doing,” means trusting the process of life. That is, identifying our heart’s desires, having our roadmap, and then turning the destination over to whatevr arises in each holy moment. “What do I want or need right now?” “What is here to do right now?” “What does my energy want to move toward right now?” It is a movement as natural as a flower unfolding itself to the sun. No hurry, no fear, for the Divine energy of creation encompasses and surpasses our wildest dreams. We encounter Emerson’s place of “truth and perfect contentment” when we are being life rather than doing life, when we are present to our Self, to creation Itself, as it is unfolding, moment by moment, right here, right now.