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wu wei

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Who what? Not a typing error, but a key principle in counselling, coaching, and intimate encounters of various kinds. It comes to us from the Taoist philosophy and means not doing. Lao-tsu, best known as author of the Tao te ching writes,”When Heaven gives and takes away, can you be content to just let things go? And even when you understand all things, can you simply allow yourself to be?”

As John Mabry, our principal teacher here tells us, this concept is difficult for Westerners to fathom. It seems like laziness and runs counter to our go-go and just-do mentality. As much as I welcome the noting of “just being” with others, I’m aware of a tendency to want to rush in with advice, clever observation, and witty repartee. But when I’m with someone who wishes to be heard — at the bedside, say, or whenever I sense that the other person is burdened in some way — I am able to shut up, to listen deeply, to put aside or side-step my self-centred thoughts and give full attention to what’s in front of me.

Today’s seminar will provide many opportunities for me to practice wu wei. I’ve noticed that I’m an active participant in that I frequently respond to an instructor’s question before others do. My intention is to watch this urgency to jump in and show off, and to hang back instead. As Lao-tsu says, “The sagely person is like water. Water benefits all things and does not compete with them” and”Loving all people … can you do that without imposing your will?”

sources: Mabry, J. (2006). Noticing the divine: an introduction to  interfaith spiritual guidance. Harrisburg, NY: Morehouse Publ., p. 24. Mitchell, S. (1984) (trans). Tao te ching. New York: Harper Perennial.


2 responses »

  1. thank-you for this wonderful reminder to just be, no needing to be heard or helpful to fill something in ourselves.

  2. One of the ways my teaching explains this is “doing without doing,” that is letting go of all the thoughts that “I” am the one that’s doing these things.


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