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  • Writer's picturelaviadelcavallo

Non-doing: the necessity of Wu wei

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

In Taoism’s philosophy, wu wei is a central concept. Often translated as “non-doing” or non-action", a better translation would be “Action of non-action.” Wu wei implies cultivating a state of being in which our actions flow in alignment with the cycles of nature. It is a sort of “going with the flow” in ease and mindfulness, in which we are able to respond adequately

to whatever situations arises.

In the Tao Te Ching (which means "the way"), the master Lao Tzu says:

"The highest virtue is to act without a sense of self

The highest kindness is to give without a condition

The highest justice is to see without a preference"

When we find our alignment with the rhythms of the elements within and outside ourselves (in short with the Tao), our actions contribute to our own and the world's balance, as we just "fit in", connected to all that is. And the beauty of it, is that there is no "right" or "wrong" way of achieving or doing it. Just being.

Wu wei and horses

What I call "hanging out with the horses", just being together, is related to the Taoist practice of "aimless wandering" and being with horses in our case is a wonderful way to cultivate wu wei. Horses live in the now. No judgement, no to-do list, no constant doing to feel worthy or useful, but instead constant graceful adaptation and adjustment to what is. Practicing wu wei, we find again the ease and spontaneity of moving in the world typical of children and horses, nourished deeply by play, discovery and nature - plants, minerals and animals, the earth and the sky.

Here are a few tips to experience the concept: choose a place for the practice: a park nearby, the local stables, a meadow, a forest, the shores of a lake. Just find a place where you can connect with nature and with animals and that you feel inspired by. Sit or stand. Close your eyes. Take a couple of deep gentle breaths, and feel your connection to what surrounds you. Feel the breath moving into and out of your body. Let go of any thoughts of past or future: you are here now.

Now open your eyes and gently scan your surroundings, observing and appreciating the beauty of the place. Take mental note of what you're hearing (birds, waves, horses grazing, leaves rustling), smelling (the scent of earth and grass, or rain or sand or the trees) and feeling on your skin (a gentle breeze, the warmth of the sun, the rain or the pungent cold).

Start walking around without any agenda. Just follow what catches your eye, or a sound, or perhaps just your intuition saying: "hey, let's see what's over there."

Pause when you like, to sit or to examine something with your total attention. As you explore in this way, stay with your feeling and your sensation, without mental analysis.

If you get lost in thoughts of the past or the future, simply and gently bring yourself back to the present: walking around, carefree as a horse, in this beautiful place, letting your curiosity guide you.

When your time set for this moment is over, sit down or stop and stand still once again, and take a couple of deep, slow breaths. Express gratitude for having the opportunity to spend time in such a beautiful place. Notice how you feel.

Don't worry if this feels a bit awkward at first. Many of us are so used to structuring our days with agendas and schedules and check-lists, that moving in a more spontaneous way can feel a bit odd at first.

There is a difference between this practice of "aimless wandering" and simply spacing out. Spacing out happens when we are drawn into thoughts of the past or future - when we are absorbed by a "film" created by our thoughts. Aimless wandering brings us in touch with our senses, and into a direct connection with ourselves and what surrounds us. In the company of horses we learn to follow the flow with ease and grace, to move and be in sync with our inner selves and nature around us, finding inner calm and peace of mind, even if only for a short lapse of time.

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