Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Doing and Not Doing

There has been a lot written about wu wei, or "not doing," in Taoism and other Eastern traditions.

The idea is that we don't have to consciously do things, that things in fact do themselves without conscious effort on our part. That this is in fact the ideal state.

On it's face, this seems ridiculous. And the mind will not hear of it. How could we live if we did not decide what we are doing, where we are going, what we want to be in life?

That is certainly our experience most of the time.

But I wonder if it has to be this way.

Sometimes, it seems that things really do just happen. Sometimes the things that just happen, the things that happen "while we are making other plans," as John Lennon put it, are wonderful. Sometimes they are tragic. But they do happen, enough for me to think sometimes, "why bother?"

Maybe Eisenhower had it right when he said that "planning is invaluable, but plans are useless." That once one is in the heat of battle no plan will last more than a few minutes.

An analogy might be jazz. The very best jazz musicians play the same scales over and over and over again. Their preparation is legendary. And yet, in the moment of a performance, they don't know what they're going to play. They are just as surprised as we are. Many say that they are so in the moment that they don't remember what they played, and might not even recognize it when it is played back to them.

So the paradox is to be totally prepared and totally spontaneous. To simply let go in each moment, knowing that whatever happens is the only thing that could happen, given the preparation that we have done.

Life, in other words, has perfectly prepared us for this next moment. And yet, we have no idea what that moment will bring.


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