20.40 Not Striving


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20/40 From the desk of Rabbi Brian




Wu Wei – Not Striving    

Surrender, serenity, and wisdom. 

In the Taoist tradition, wu wei is a lovely phrase that means “not striving.” It refers to actions that occur naturally. Wu Wei is not trying to impose your own will onto a situation.

This is a wonderful concept.

Not striving to impose our own will where it isn’t needed is a spiritual-religious concept we all deal with.

Knowing when to act and when not to act is the basis of wisdom.  The Serenity Prayer is about this wu wei.  It’s the last line of Reinhold Niebuhr prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Wu wei is the perseverance to wait for the wisdom.

Lao Tzu summed it up beautifully with this line:

Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles?  

Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?

Of course, the answer is no, I don’t have the patience to wait.

(I’m only half-kidding.)

We should all have patience to wait. To not strive. To not impose our own will. A lot of our problems would solve themselves, if we’re just patient. When we try to start fixing things immediately, we get in the way.

Here’s an image for this:

In the mornings, I make myself a smoothy of frozen bananas, almond or soy milk, and peanut butter.  If I try to blend it right away, it is very difficult and hard to do. (Frozen bananas are really frozen.)  But if I put the ingredients together and then wait about 5 minutes, it blends beautifully.  I can blend it right off the bat, but it’s just easier to wait.

(Also, please don’t think I eat healthily all the time.)

Wu wei is non-striving.

Non-striving occurs when we get out of the way and stop fighting our destiny. (I dislike using that word – it makes me think of Darth Vader telling Luke it was his destiny to join the Dark Side.) While am not fond of the notion of fate or destiny, it is nonetheless crucial that we stop fighting what we were meant to do in this life.

I have experienced some things recently that I haven’t liked, but they happened, nonetheless. I have the choice to strive against them, to fight against reality, or to accept these things. I have the choice of saying, “This is true. This happened to me. I don’t know how I’m going to fix everything, but the answer will come. The right action will arise by itself.”

Related to this line of thought is karma. (What follows is different from the common, TV-land interpretation of karma.) Karma is the baggage you accumulate from the times that you were striving and you ought to have been not-striving and vice versa. When you strive to do something you know you shouldn’t be doing, you produce the “bad” karma that will trip you up.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is related to this concept. It is from Rainer Maria Rilke’s letters to a young poet:

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.

We would be better off not striving. We would do ourselves a big favor by allowing the world to be as it is.

Spiritual-religious advice: This week allow the world to unfold as it may, without imposing your will on it. (OK, just try to let this happen a little more than usual.) 



With love,

Rabbi Brian

Rabbi Brian

The 77% Weekly

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