Do you know the ancient Chinese principle of “wu wei” (do nothing) and how it can lead to increased productivity and health?
In this post, we will take a look at 8 different ways that you can practice wu wei in your life. We will talk about what wu wei means, and how it differs from laziness and surrendering to circumstance, as well as why it is considered good for your health.
To begin, wu wei is not just about inaction. This is a misunderstood concept that is often conflated with the concept of inaction, or “wearing down the resistance of things”, which can be found in other traditions such as Taoism and Buddhism.
Wu wei is the action of not acting, which is different than “wearing down”, or giving up. Wu wei is to act as a servant, not an actor.
Stating that wu wei is ‘doing nothing’ also doesn’t quite get it right either. If there’s one thing everyone can agree on it would be that everyone should do something, otherwise they’re left without anything to do.
So without further ado, let’s begin with the first way to practice wu wei.
1) Do Nothing
When wu wei is really good a doing nothing, then you can start to get things done.
This might seem like a paradox, but it’s not – because the ‘nothingness’ that you’re doing can be anything you want. You can do any activity, as long as it’s not the most important thing right now. The only requirement is that you’re not trying to – and there lies the paradox.
If you are trying not to, then you are working, and this is exactly the opposite of wu wei.
The true power in wu wei is that it can be used to create an effective form of meditation. By deliberately creating a space where nothing needs to be done, and where everything is up for consideration, the mind can truly relax and fully focus on matters at hand.
This is not to state that you should be doing nothing all day, every day. This is more of a tool for making intentional space for things to get done.
2) Do Nothing But What You Really Want To Do
There are two ways of looking at doing nothing – as ‘doing nothing’ and as ‘doing nothing but what you really want to do’.
The former is the idea that you stop doing what you’re not supposed to be doing, and are then left with nothing to do. The latter is the idea of finding what you really want to do.
In either case, it’s a matter of considering all your options and choosing what’s most important. If you keep moving forward with only one item on your agenda, then everything else will fall by the wayside. Pursue what you really want to do and then move on to the next item.
3) Do Nothing In One Spot For A Long Time
In our modern society, we are always in a rush. We keep moving from one thing to another, and there is a constant flow of new input coming into our mind from all angles – from the people around us to the television shows that we watch.
If we stop doing nothing for even a moment and don’t move around, then the energy of our old habits will start to swell up. This is why we experience ‘flow’ states when we are able to remain in one spot for a long time, doing nothing but what we want to do.
Stop moving for long enough and you’ll get into the flow too. It’s not about doing nothing all day, every day – it’s about finding what you really want to do and then making space for it.
4) Do Nothing With A Partner Or Entourage
Just like our constant flow of moving and doing, we also have an entourage in our lives, whether we like it or not. It can be family, friends, colleagues or anyone else who’s there to help us with what we’re doing.
When you do nothing with a partner or entourage, then they can become your support system as you start to stretch out into a space where nothing needs to be done. This is where the paradox comes in again, because the support system is there to force you to do something, which in this case is a useless form of resistance.
This can make things difficult, especially if they’re not on the same wavelength as you. So either clear out your support system or wait for them to leave.
5) Do Nothing For Many Days
Doing nothing for many days can be a very effective way to practice wu wei. In fact, doing nothing for many days is the best way to do nothing. If you’re not doing anything, then you won’t be doing anything else either.
6) Do Nothing For Many Days In A Place That Requires Little To No Maintenance
It’s not enough to just do nothing for many days – you must also ensure that the space that you’re doing nothing in can support this form of action.
A place that requires little to no maintenance is a good example of a space that can help you do nothing for many days. If there isn’t anything to maintain, then you’ll have little interference as you try and practice not doing anything.
7) Do Nothing For Many Days In A Remote Location
If you’re going to stay in one place for many days, then a remote location is the way to go.
You can do little or no maintenance, which means you’ll have even less interference as your consciousness is forced to pay attention and focus on the present moment.
8) Do Nothing For Many Days In A Public Context
A final way to do nothing is to be completely transparent about what you’re doing. This is because the common perception is that you are doing nothing, and it requires you to deal with all the feedback that comes with this.
This can be a powerful tool in your wu wei practice because most people will know when they’re being told something they don’t want to hear. This means you can’t win an argument, you can’t make excuses – instead you are forced to deal with the current situation and choose what comes next.
How Wu Wei Differs from Laziness
There are a few differences between wu wei and laziness.
First of all, if you’re lazy, then you don’t care about your work and tasks – but if you’re not doing anything (wu wei), then most people would say that you are either busy or not having much fun.
Secondly, if you are lazy and you’re allowed to do anything, then you tend to get things done. If you can’t be lazy (wu wei), then it becomes your nature to work through any issues that come about.
Thirdly, laziness is often used by people in order to get things done without thinking too much about what they’re doing – but wu wei encourages us to think (and think again) about what we’re doing.
Wu Wei and the Dream Stage
The last thing I’ll mention here is the relationship between wu wei and the dream stage. In this state, the Tao is present in everything and everyone you meet. This is not to say that people at this point are completely unproductive, because there’s always a certain amount of creative output required for growth to occur.
The difference here is more qualitative. The Tao flows into you, and you act and interact with others (who are also the Tao) without trying to take anything from them or give anything to them.
Here the flow is smooth and effortless and the effort that you do put in is paid back twenty times over because each move you make has an even bigger effect on everything around you. It’s like walking down a hill – if you stop at some point along your journey, then it’s quite difficult to get started again.
But if you keep moving forward and don’t stop, then you’ll find that it’s easy to continue without thinking. And it’s even easier if you’ve set yourself a pattern of taking action at certain points during the day.
The Tao is there within everything, waiting to be discovered. But if we’re always jumping from one thing to another, then we’ll never get a chance to experience what we really want. It’s up to us to stay focused and do less so that we can do more of what we want.
How is Wu Wei Good for Your Health?
The effects of wu wei can be profound. Beyond a state of just not having to do anything, there’s also a lot of focus that happens when you try and practice wu wei.
It doesn’t matter what you’re trying to do – the fact that the majority of our efforts are focused on doing something means that we tend to miss out on the experience itself.
With wu wei, this is not the case. Whether you’re doing nothing or you’re doing something, you’ll find that the experience of being able to do it (or not do it) will be quite fulfilling and positive.
This is because in both cases, there’s no resistance involved in the process of pursuing whatever it is that you want to do.
Wu Wei and Meditation
In some ways, wu wei is the opposite of zen. Wu wei is about doing nothing, whereas zen is doing something. Wu wei isn’t really about meditating at all – instead, it’s about finding a way to live your life with as little interference as possible.
But they do share some similarities. And when we combine them, then the effects can be quite powerful indeed.
Wu wei allows us to stop fighting our inner battles and to get in touch with the world around us. The more we’re able to focus on what we’re doing and how it makes us feel, then the happier we’ll be. And zen helps with this because it forces us to concentrate and pay attention on what’s going on right now.
Can You Use Breathwork to Practice Wu Wei?
Breathwork can be quite powerful if you choose the right tools to use. And one of these is shamanic breathwork. Here you’ll find you can do nothing for a very long time indeed.
You can also use other forms of breathwork such as pranayama to practice wu wei. And there are many reasons why this is recommended – not least because you’ll be able to focus on what you’re doing for longer, as well as being able to perform tasks much more smoothly than if you were using your mind to try and control everything that’s going on.
There’s a simple way that anyone can get started with this right now. This is to join the free masterclass on shamanic breathwork with the shaman Rudá Iandê. This is an online event, but you can participate in it at any given time by attending the free masterclass.
You’ll find out everything you need to know about what shamanic breathwork is all about and how it can help you do nothing for hours at a time.
Do Nothing, And You Can Do Anything
Doing nothing is not about doing nothing. It’s about finding what you really want to do, and then making space for it. This is how it becomes possible to practice wu wei – the art of doing nothing, while still doing everything.
So go now, do nothing – and then find out how little you can do with a lot of will.