Is Woo Way Your Way?

by Christopher Lovejoy on September 11, 2022

Wu Wei (pronounced woo way) is one of those notions that captures a lot of meaning in a single phrase. You might say it refers to “spontaneous virtue expressed with grace and ease through effortless action,” but this is merely the fruit of “no mind for this” and “no thought of this.”

In essence, Wu Wei cuts to the chase in a fundamental way.

In light of this cutting action, mind-lessness and thought-lessness, along with meaning-lessness, are metaphysical features of a mind in flow. As such, they have moral import only to the extent to which they attract attention, while “going and growing with the knowing and flowing.”

In terms of fulfillment, Wu Wei is a pitch perfect purity, in word and in deed ~ the ultimate in coherence and consistency, in soul and spirit, at rest and in flow. If Wu Wei had a message, it might read like this: “as far as I can see, the way to do is to be; so be true, be wise, be free.”

In seven words, “the way to do is to be” captures, not only the essence of Wu Wei, but the essence of the Tao Te Ching itself, and can be further expressed in many ways. Here are three: the way to live is to be alive; the way to love is to be in love; and the way to know is to be known.

Beyond mere flow in performance, Wu Wei extends more broadly, beyond tales of archers and butchers, to the monumental task of cultivating a sense of unity and harmony in daily life, so much so that it eventually dovetails with the profound wisdom of Epictetus (Enchiridion, 1.3):

If you deem what is by nature slavish to be free, and what is not your own to be yours, you will be shackled and miserable, blaming both gods and other people, but if you deem as your own only what is yours, and what belongs to others as truly not yours, then no one will ever be able to coerce or stop you. You will find no one to blame or accuse, you will do nothing against your will, you will have no enemy; no one will harm you, because no harm can affect you.

Stoic virtue, in being conditioned through the diligent application of reasoned choice by way of temperance, courage, justice, and wisdom, is anything but spontaneous. Spontaneous virtue expressed with grace and ease through effortless action requires contemplative immersion.

Where the first is a moral posture, the second is a metaphysical posture:


western wisdom
via affirmativa, a moral posture
favors reasoned choice to ensure continuous, virtuous action
via temperance, courage, justice, and wisdom,
making clear-cut distinctions between “what is within my control and what is not”
and drawing mostly from the left side of the brain (analytical)

eastern wisdom
via negativa, a metaphysical posture
favors choiceless action arising spontaneously from contemplative immersion
via “in no mind for this, in no thought of this,”
cultivating and calibrating “going and growing with the knowing and flowing”
and drawing mostly from the right side of the brain (intuitive)

In view of these distinctions, and in the context of Wu Wei, I find myself in wonder: what is the nature and meaning of contemplative immersion in contrast to the employment of a reasonable mind in pursuit of moral excellence? In my next post, I will begin to address this question in depth. In the meantime, I would invite you to explore and examine it for yourself.

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