Wu Wei Explained

taoist philosophy

One of the key concepts in the philosophy of Taoism is Wu Wei - pronounced ‘woo way’.

Its literal translation is ‘without doing’ or ‘non-doing’.

But the concept is more about not forcing and effortless action rather than inaction. 

It’s notorious for being paradoxical - because of how effective this effortless action is, getting reliably more efficient results than ordinary action does. 

It appears in the Tao Te Ching, when Lao Tzu counsels: “The Way never acts, yet nothing is left undone” or another translation : “Nature doesn’t hurry, yet everything is accomplished”. 

Wu Wei is about going with the flow and letting nature take its course. 

🪵 A woodcutter cuts with the grain and not against it, and in the process saves time and energy

🐟 A fish swims downstream with the currents, conserving their life-force (unless it's a spawning salmon - which is being driven by its reproductive cycle. Do not mess with that!)

🎋 Bamboo bends with the wind, and this flexibility to withstand stress is what prolongs its life

So how can you apply Wu Wei to your everyday life?

First of all adopt a Wu Wei attitude of less is more

Be minimalist in how you approach life. 

Zealous over-planning smothers the Tao. Allow space and spontaneity from which the Great Mystery rises. 

Have you ever had a weekend where you’d nothing planned and actually a lot happened? You might have stumbled across an inspiring street art festival in your neighbourhood, bumped into an old friend, who mentioned a contact to you that you looked up and 6 months later you’re working on an inspiring project together…Or something like that! 

I met someone in the vibrant city of Medellin in Colombia who was just passing through on her travels. She couch-surfed with a local guy, they fell in love, got married and she still lives in that same apartment. Woo Woo. Wu Wei. 

Living from Wu Wei is to live from a very authentic place - lacking ego & self consciousness. This is the opposite of living in a staged, superficial or putting up appearances kind of way. 

Wu Wei is about listening to the cues and signposts that Tao or The Way offers. 

Can you think of a time when you tried to book something online and there were repeated technical glitches? Have you ever thought to wait, to yield, to not swim upstream? 

Some examples of Wu Wei

Wu Wei in Relationships: Let others be. Don’t try to interfere. Avoid controlling others. Don’t force or rush it. 

Wu Wei in Business: Give up the hustle. Listen and be led by your intuition. Work smarter not harder, saving you time & energy. 

Wu Wei in Parenting: Be flexible and respond to the emerging patterns & needs of your child. Move away from fixed, rigid and anxious ways of parenting - disregard the shoulds and should nots. Parent by leading and not by lecturing. 

These are just a few examples of Wu Wei. I’d love to hear how you experience it in your life or how you can embrace it. Drop a comment below. 

I’ll be sharing more about Taoist philosophy at my in-person workshop ‘The Way’ in Dublin on the weekend of June 25th & 26th 2022!

Find out more here