A key principle in realizing our oneness with the Tao is that of wu-wei, or "non-action." The idea that opposite
sides always transform into each other is the philosophical foundation
of Lao Tzu's methodology. It is also an aspect of wu wei. The highest
virtue of Taoism is to never act but to leave nothing undone.
The concept of nonaction refers to doing things so that it appears that
a person is making no effort to accomplish the goal. By adhering to
the principle of wu wei, a person is thought to be closely following
the way. A person who lives by wu wei has returned to his or her original
nature, before he or she was tampered with by knowledge. Non-doing is
not motivated by a sense of separateness. It is action that is spontaneous
and effortless. At the same time it is not to be considered inertia,
laziness, or mere passivity. But is the experience of going with the
grain or swimming with the current. Our contemporary saying, "going
with the flow," is a direct expression of this fundamental Taoist
principle, which in its most basic form refers to behavior occurring
in response to the flow of the Tao.
The principle of wu wei contains certain implications. The first being
the need to consciously experience ourselves as part of the unity of
life that is the Tao. Lao Tzu writes that we must be quiet and watchful,
learning to listen to both our own inner voices and to the voices of
our environment in a non-interfering, receptive manner. In this way
we also learn to rely on more than just our intellect and logical mind
to gather and assess information. We develop and trust our intuition
as our direct connection to the Tao. We heed the intelligence of our
whole body, not only our brain. And we learn through our own experience.
All of this allows us to respond readily to the needs of the environment,
which of course includes ourselves. And just as the Tao functions in
a manner to promote harmony and balance, our own actions, performed
in the spirit of wu-wei, produce the same result.
Wu-wei also implies action that is spontaneous, natural, and without
effort. As with the Tao, this behavior simply flows through us because
it right action, appropriate to its time and place, and serving the
purpose of greater harmony and balance. Chuang Tzu refers to this type
of being in the world as flowing, or more poetically as "purposeless
wandering!" To have no purpose is unthinkable and even invokes
fear in certain cultures and would be considered anti-social in the
context of modern day living. And yet it would be difficult to maintain
that our current values have promoted harmony and balance, either environmentally
or on an individual level.
To allow oneself to "wander without purpose" can be frightening
because it challenges some of our most basic beliefs about life, about
who we are as humans, and about how we fit into the world. From a Taoist
point of view it is our cherished beliefs - that we exist as separate
beings, that we can exercise willful control over all situations, and
that our role is to conquer our environment - that lead to a state of
disharmony and imbalance. Yet, Lao Tzu writes "the Tao nourishes
everything." If we can learn to follow the Tao, practicing non-action,
then nothing remains undone. This means trusting our selves, our thoughts,
feelings and our own bodies, and also believing that the environment
will provide support and guidance. Thus the need to develop watchfulness
and quietness of mind.
To allow wu wei to manifest in our lives may seem like a daunting task.
And yet, if we pause to reflect on our past experiences, we will recall
possibly many instances when our actions were spontaneous and natural,
when they arose out of the needs of the moment without thought of profit
or tangible result. "The work is done and then forgotten. And so
it lasts forever," writes Lao Tzu.