WU WEI- EFFORTLESS ACTION
“In order to control myself, I must first accept myself by going with and not against my nature.”-Bruce Lee
When Bruce Lee dropped this little gem in Longstreet he really cut to the heart of what Taoists call wu wei, or effortless action. This whole “Be Like Water” philosophy of his has become immortalized and quoted more times than any of us could count but how many of us have really thought about what Lee is saying. I mean, we know this philosophy. There are beautiful blogs written about the Tao Te Ching and its effects on martial artists. Lee himself reflects on how he came to understand wu wei through his own failings and meditation in Artist Of Life but how do we come to our own understanding?
I think we in the West, especially in Americas southern states, have a tendency to want to restrict our natures spiritually based on our social constructs of right and wrong. For example, a lot of us here in the Bible belt have a lot of really unhealthy guilt surrounding sexuality. We were raised with this backwards brand of Christianity that says our very flesh is “of the devil” and we must repress our sexual impulses. We restrict arousal into a “child-bearing’ box and shame our kids for feeling what our species naturally feels, a desire to procreate. This can obviously lead to all sorts of unhealthy psychological issues as kids rebel into what’s taboo and develop complexes based on their internalized shame.
This is but one example of many. You could easily switch out sexuality with violence, gambling, addiction- whatever- and find a similar pattern of guilt arising from within. Enough has been said about the guilt and shame cycles of addiction to make explaining why this sort thinking is actually toxic almost unnecessary. We get it, but how can we work with our flaws? How do those little kinks, or quirks, of ours become beneficial? How do we go with our nature and not against it in a healthy and positive way?”
One of the best things we can do for ourselves is learn to accept ourselves as we are. Flaws can make us uncomfortable sure, but we’ll never overcome them by repression. It’s like grabbing handfuls of water. It’s not happening. So, once we’ve acknowledged we put out behaviors we don’t like we’re stepping into a place of power. Two reasons:
- Accepting ourselves as we are is a great way to learn self-love. We learn to forgive ourselves in the process.
- Flaws are a universal language. Everyone has things about themselves they don’t like. By embracing our own flawed nature we learn to be more compassionate towards others.
Fighting ourselves is usually a futile effort. We tend to get more and more angry with ourselves. More beaten down. More depressed. More likely to continue with the behavior we don’t like as it becomes a coping strategy for our feelings of anger and depression. The only way out of this cycle is to stop and find the root cause.
Why do we do things we despise? What emotional security- or trauma loop- do we fulfill in bad relationships? What is the root cause of our suffering?
The first step is always finding out why. What emotional, or mental relief is being provided by our habits?
PROS AND CONS
Once we are aware of our own nature we can look at ourselves more objectively. For example, if I am a smoker who has struggled with alcoholism and other forms of addiction then I would have what psychology calls an addictive personality disorder right. Now, in reality, if that particular disorder is used explicitly to get high it is its own personal hell and the person suffering through oftentimes self destructs. However, if someone has that same exact profile and satiates their dopamine spike with monetary gains we’d slap them on a cover of Forbes magazine and champion their achievements.
Addiction. Avarice, Whatever. It’s all incredibly narcissistic if taken to an extreme. The desire in and of itself can’t be anything other than what it is but why we push ourselves… that’s what actually matters. It’s the intention behind the action that dictates whether or not something is “good or bad.”
So, jot down the behaviors you don’t like. Set two columns off to the side; one for pros and the other for cons. Take a good look at the aspects of the behavior itself. What do your actions show you about yourself?
Undoubtedly, after making a list of pros and cons a few things should become abundantly clear. We can see exactly what we feel by looking at our thoughts in depth, sure. More importantly, we can see that what we traditionally label good and bad doesn’t really exist in a classical sense. What I mean is nothing is 100% good or bad. We all know that any good thing taken to an extreme can become bad.
I reiterated the obvious notion of good and bad being subjective because I feel it’s important to carry through these sorts of exercises from a place of self love and acceptance. It helps to be forgiving and gentle with ourselves when we’ve been kicking ourselves in the teeth behind “bad” habits.
“Everything is dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled.”-The Kybalion
Can you guess how to bring this all home yet? Balance. Lets call it using our superpowers for the greater good. By seeing what counteracts what we call the negative aspects of a certain behavior we are able to gravitate towards the positive aspects. We aren’t denying who we are at this point. We are embracing it. From there it’s just a simple matter of moving with the flow.
Be grateful for your humanity. Embrace the fact that you are just as flawed as the rest of us. Forgive yourself for not living up to this notion of perfection. Just as water doesn’t change what it is because there is dirt in doesn’t mean that you are any less you for your blemishes. Think of Twiggy, or Eva Mendes. How gorgeous do their beauty marks actually make them? Think about that.