Wei Wu Wei

Have you purchased my last book, Half Asleep in the Buddha Hall? If not, it would make an amazing Holiday Present!

New Approaches

Just a Note! Back in 1994, My first book, Stories From the Sea of Life was published. It’s now out of print, BUT is available as a pdf file. If you’d like to read more of the stories contained therein, amble over to my book site, The Phoenix Centre Press. Once there, subscribe to the site’s mailing list, and you’ll get the pdf for FREE!

I didn’t specifically mention it last week, but the 2 stories about Walking the Ledge were originally published in my first (out of print) book, “Stories from the Sea of Life” (1994). The two stories popped into my head last week, and I fished around on my hard drives and located the Word file for the book, and grabbed the text.

And then, I thought to myself, “Self, I’m pretty sure not very many readers of the blog would have read that book, as it was published before I was online.” Which in turn led me to think that sharing some of the stories over the next while, along with some framing conversation, might be both fun and informative.

My clients, in the last few weeks especially, have been lost in the sea of “right and wrong.” Not specifically in a moralistic way, but rather in a more global way.

  1. What is the “right” (career study major, way to raise my kid, life direction, etc.) for me?
  2. What is the “right” way to deal with (parents, in-laws, “bosses,” spouses, etc.)

What’s fascinating is how this turns out to be a game of sorts.

The game comes in 2 flavours.

  1. endless looping through thoughts, trying to figure out the outcome, i.e. not being willing to act until one knows the action is the “right” one, and
  2. endless looping through “justification” stories, so as to prop up doing more of what isn’t working.
enlightened action
It’s not my fault–I’m stuck here!

If you look at all of this by stepping back a bit, what you soon discover is that all of the above are actually designed to do one thing—to maintain the status quo, while causing one to think that something is being accomplished by all of the mental gymnastics. (I like to call this mental mastrubation…)

Now, it’s traditional for people to defend themselves. They develop certain ways of doing things and viewing the world. Some of these ways get the result they are seeking, others emphatically do not. I like to remove the “working” ones from the table (other than to use them as references, as what works in one area almost always can be adapted to work in another…)

Which leaves us with things that are not working.

One friend hates it when her mother “interferes” in her life. So, for the longest time she insisted that her mother stop interfering in her life—that her mother change her behaviour. You see where this is going. She objects to her mother’s attempts to control her, so she combats this by trying to control her mother!

I actually had another client say, “I tell him again and again to stop repeating himself…”

I’ve mentioned in the past the Tao te Ching, the amazing, centuries old Taoist guidebook. One of the key concepts is Taoism is Wei Wu Wei.Wu may be translated as not have or without; Wei may be translated as do, act, serve as, govern or effort. The literal meaning of Wu Wei is “without action” and is often included in the paradox wei wu wei: “action without action” or “effortless doing”. [Wikipedia link]

The paradox of acting without acting, or effortless action, might better be thought of as “action in harmony with the Tao.” And the Tao? This is the indescribable nature of the universe. Thus, one acts in harmony with “that which is.” As in, it’s much easier to paddle with the current.

Now, when I propose this, my clients are quick to point out that they don’t want to be a doormat. They are not about to let anyone or anything get the better of them. So, for example, when someone yells ant them, they yell back. Or they run home and hide. When I ask them how often such a ploy actually resolves anything, they say, with a dismissive sigh, “Well, nothing changes (or it gets worse,) but at least I showed him (her)!”


Wei Wu Wei is not passivity. It is enlightened action. It is doing something, seeing if one is closer to the goal, and correcting accordingly. Without judgement, without trying to force the universe to change. Effortless action.

The odd thing is that, in many areas of our life we, we have learned this lesson. People who play musical instruments, for example, “get into the music.” Their little fingers fairly fly across the keys or frets or whatever. If you ask them to think about and analyze their finger movements, all hell breaks out. It’s effortless, until you put your mind to it…

Or, for all of you who are mobile, go to the top of a flight of stairs and walk down. Stop about 5 stairs from the bottom, hold on to the rail, and really think about stepping down one step. Think about your balance, your foot placement. See what happens.

Darbella and I communicate, I think, really well. We use a consistent model, and use self-responsible language darn close to 100% of the time (and we catch ourselves quickly when we mis-speak.)

It seems effortless, and it is. It just wasn’t when we started.

I especially wanted to defend myself, and to blame Dar. Dar has been amazing at staying calm and inviting me to get over myself. Initially, I’d offend myself over what I thought was her criticism. Then, I’d have a breath, and in the space, I could see that I was winding myself up, and that wasn’t resolving the issue. It was simply feeding my self-righteousness (which definitely needs to be toned down…)

Dar, on the other hand, tended to clam up, hoping the conversation would go away. She learned, with practice, to state her needs and intentions clearly and directly.

So, yes, it was hard, damn hard, until it wasn’t.

But the key, as I endlessly repeat, was starting.

Most folk are just plain lazy. If a thing requires pain and effort, well, that just must be the “wrong” thing to do. Yet, change always requires both pain and effort. The ego creates the pain, and breaking a habit requires effort.

So, we suggest just starting.

Do things differently, pick a direction (a communication model, a way of being, a course, a career) and just start. Sign up, sign on, move your lips the way the model directs. Whatever. It’s not going to get easier of you think about it more. Sometimes you just have to dig in, start climbing, and see what happens.

Which leads to this week’s closing story:

Just get on with it!

Climb, Baby, Climb

My wife Darlene and I love hiking. As a matter of fact, back when we were dating, a hike was our first vacation activity. We decided to hike South from the Northern end of the Bruce Trail, a system of trails that runs through Ontario. The Northern end is rugged and treacherous; with warning signs posted and everything. We’re both experienced back-packers and we survived with nothing more serious than a damaged toenail.

On day three of the expedition, we came across a hole in the ground. The handy, dandy Bruce Trail Guidebook told us that one could climb into the hole, climb down a wall and emerge on a path that led to a secluded beach. We dumped off our packs and looked into the hole. Blackness.

We had no flashlight along. I started worrying about a descent into the darkness. I whipped open my pack, and stated to haul out all kinds of climbing gear — ropes, anchors, stuff. I decided to lower the packs down first, then find an anchor point and lower myself down on a rope belay.

Actually, I was afraid. I’ll climb anything … so long as I can see where I’m going … so long as I can think about it for a while. My back was to the hole, my head buried in my pack, my mind racing, trying to find a good reason … excuse … to use to let Dar know that I thought that we shouldn’t climb down. Maybe later, or tomorrow … or in a couple of years.

In the midst of my reverie, I heard a voice from afar off. I got up, looked around, and noticed that Dar was missing. I looked down the hole. She was 30 feet below me, and the small amount of light down there was glistening off of her smile. She said, “What’s taking you so long?” 

That was the moment I decided I’d be with Dar for the rest of my life. I quickly climbed down. I also did an incredibly difficult climb back up, but that’s another story. 

Life is about getting on with what needs to be done. There are a million and one reasons for not starting, for turning back, for staying put, for being “safe.” At the end of the day, however, nothing will have changed. Far better to risk, to dare, to climb.

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

4 thoughts on “Wei Wu Wei”

  1. This is good straight talk. It’s really difficult to practice consistently a new way. Often times we give-up before the rewards are felt or seen. It’s important to remind ourselves that there is no time line and that change can take moments or years. Patience, faith, surrender, commitment and flexibility, etc. etc.

    • I suspect that one of the games our egos play with us is the “it’s hard” game, which becomes a reason to slow ourselves down, or not start. So yes, reminding ourselves to act, each time, is all there is! I often tell my clients, “You don’t have to make this change for the rest of your life — just this time, and then the next time. Until you die.”

  2. As a former Judoka, I’m sure you recall how awkward the initial learnings were; the countless uchi-komi which got you to the autopilot stage…you just had to start…then refine footwork, body movement etc…to me, this article is suggesting the same priniciple…R

    • wow, did that bring back a weird memory. My University judo instructor was a brown belt, going for black. He needed to do shoulder throw, and decided I was going to be his practice partner, for some weeks. I never did learn to land that one without it hurting.Other memories of a 5 foot tall girl and not being able to get to her centre of gravity… yikes, my brain is knotting…
      And yes, same principle!
      Yikes again.


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