27 Mar how to live without forceReading Time: 9 minutes
living without force is living in a natural flow of life. in the words of alan watts, ‘it is not a matter of cultivated spontaneousity, nor cultivated passivity’. alan watts has inspired me again and again and his thoughts on eastern philosophy and the taoist concept of ‘wu wei‘ were the starting point for this post. but more than anything I believe it is a practical concept. it’s something you have to feel and the magic when you begin to live like this in your day to day life.
wu wei is a taoist philosophy that directly translates as ‘without action’ or ‘without exertion’. really it is more of a philosophy, a way of being that is in line with the natural flow of life. so often we force action when action is not necessary, and then to counter this we went up in a state of inaction that doesn’t help either. practicing ‘wu wei’ is about finding a balance, rather than acting out of rash necessity one observes a situation from a state of calm and presence and quite often a natural response is likely to arise.
it is one thing to talk about philosophy, and it is another thing to live it. this is not a concept, it is a way of life. with that in mind I will try to keep the words to a minimum and direct you to the feeling. the outline below of the ways that I have found help me to live without force. they aren’t something you can learn overnight, I think it’s something I will constantly be practicing but the more I live like this I find myself struggling less. calmer, more consentrated and I find that I often have an inner sense of what to do. anxiety dispersess and I find myself again at peace with where ever I find myself in the constant commotion that is life. these tips are reminds and ways that I find to bring myself back to it.
take time to be still
I think we often underestimate the power of stillness and it’s subtle impact on our lives. although wu wei does not mean ‘doing nothing’ to find it you need space where your mind is still.
one of the simplest ways to be quiet your mind and one of the most effective. simply, it is the act of watching your thoughts instead of identifying with them. there aren’t any rules to mindful mediation, rather it is a practice of becoming comfortable with whatever is going on in your mind. for me meditation is best in the early morning. rather than rushing into the day if I can give myself 10 or 15 minutes to be still when I first wake up it sets the tone for my whole day. instead of getting out of bed feeling that things need to be done I start the day peacefully, and what I should do next arises naturally in a way that feels effortless.
stillness can be found in many aspects of your life. for me painting has always been a wonderful way to enter a state of meditation. there was always a point after I had spent a few hours painting where my thoughts seem to still. time slows down and every stroke feels equally important. I wrote a post a while back on entering a creative flow and I think that you can find this feeling in many forms of creativity. music is one of my favorite ways ways to let go unnecessary thoughts and come back to this feeling and there are countless other ways to find this feeling, it’s mostly about presence. when you stop creating for the results and become so absorbed in the action of creation that thinking about what you are producing because secondary and even irrelevant.
there are lots of other ways to find this state of stillness, for some it might actually be physical motion, running, hiking, yoga, there’s really not a method but if you’ve ever known this state of peace you become familiar with the feeling and it is more and more natural to return to it.
become aware of how you feel
when your mind is quiet, you start to notice things you didn’t see before. you notice how your thoughts and the activities of your day to day life effect your energy levels and how you feel. taking note of my energy levels and how I feel helps me understand how my thought patterns and beliefs about my actions influence my emotions. it brings to mind a saying that my dad wrote out on his bookmark,
‘why be unhappy about something if it can be remedied,
and what is the use of being unhappy about something if it cannot be remedied?’
-the dali lama
this is not to say there are times we will not be unhappy, (that’s a whole other one to puzzle out). it is more of a reminder and a simple way to distinguish situations situations you can change and ones you can’t.
your feelings are not good or bad but they can teach you a lot about yourself and they can show you why something isn’t working. sometimes the answer is to change the situation and sometimes the answer is to become comfortable with how it is; but in both cases being honest about how something makes you feel is the first step to change.
simple, and sometimes overstated I still believe this is the key to living in a natural flow of life. presence is a simple phase and a point of return, something you will feel yourself come back to, even if one cannot explain in only words.
if you are caught up in the past or trying to control the outcome of the future you’ve missed the moment entirely.
I’ve found that what tires me most is all the thinking and presence is dis-attaching from my overactive mind. going other all the things I want to do and all the time it’s going to take is exhausting, but the riddle of it all seems to be that we can only do one thing at a time. reversely, I’ve found that once I developed the faith that life would take me whereever I needed to be I stopped thinking so much. now I seem to live more presently with short entries into the past or future. go into the past enough to learn from your errors and appreciate your memories, but never dwell there. go into the future to detangle your thoughts and form a step my step plan. but always return to wherever your presently at and make peace with it.
lavender twilight, january in tel aviv
now it’s one thing to say and another thing to do. what I can say is the more I live like this the more I accept challenges without conflict, move on more quickly and I feel a greater sense of wonder for my small perspective on this chaotic beautiful world.
don’t try too hard
this is probably the part that I find most challenging. it seems that for a very long time as soon as things feel difficult my reaction is to try harder. I think it stems from the belief that the harder I try the more likely I will succeed. the irony that it is quite often the opposite. there is an important difference between trying and doing. you can try very hard without success and you can do something very well without trying. music or language take a great deal of time to learn but once you can communicate fluently the words come to mind without conscious effort. reversely, when I look back at any time in my life that I was struggling, my emotional investment was an unnecessary source of stress and the same results would probably have come about without struggling with the situation.
if you’re anything like me you may be wondering how ‘not to try’. it’s a bit of a riddle and you certainly won’t get there by trying. what I’m finding more and more is that I can turn the situation around. when I start to feel something isn’t how it should be, and I start pushing, instead of putting in more and more effort I’m learning to take a moment and pause, to step back, regain my balance and come back to the situation with a new perspective.
this is not the same as giving up, rather it is learning to move around a challenge rather than approaching it head on. to rest and become re-inspired, to make time for connection, both with yourself and others. instead of trying until you are too tired to continue you manage your energy the best you can and continue in the natural flow o life.
find a balance
living in wu wei does not need neglecting your responsibilities and doing whatever you feel momentarily called to do. rather, it is understanding the difference between your obligations and your passions and cultivating an appreciation for the both. everyone have things in their lives that they perceive as an obligations, but becoming worried and overly stressed over these necessities is as ineffective as trying to push them under the rug. wu wei is about finding a balance. sometimes maintaining a balance is more about changing your perspective. it’s funny how you can do the same things every day an some days it just just feels awful. other times you might feel really great and it can be a joy just to hang up the laundry. doing what you need to do but also making time for what you love.
so often we start to believe that we do not have time to purse our curiosity. life can be difficult and most of the time it feels extremely busy, but I’ve also found that when I give myself the space to follow my sense of wonder the world doesn’t collapse around me. on the contrary I feel more content, more appreciative and more myself. one thing leads to to the next thing in an endless scavenger-hunt.
decisions with intention
I think the times when we start to feel most stuck are when we feel like a victim of our circumstances. there is a practical side of life to be maintained, houses to be cleaned, clothes to be washed, food to be cooked, and endless to-do lists and emotions attached to all the things we believe to be necessary. this is not to say that they are irrelevant, just that sometimes we take life too seriously. you can still enjoy you jobs and your studies, and care for your physical environment but you are choosing not to view these actions as obligations, you are making your own decisions with intention.
I’m learning is to do what I want more. not just what I most want in moments of frustration but what I must want to do in moments of stillness. moments where there is space in my mind. at times these moments are hard to find but the wonderful part is that you come back to them. they arise out of nothing, and when something occurs imperfectly you accept it and move on.
‘your mind my want many things but your soul only wants to feel wonder’
children have a natural sense of wonder at the world. the older we get the more caught up we because in all the things we should be doing and would like to be doing and we often loose our wonder.
‘I’m not trying to argue you out of your opinions and views, I merely suggesting that for the sake of an experiment you temporarily suspend them’
living without unnecessary force is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. design school has been a very reflective experience, and more than anything I’m learning how to continue working, applying myself to projects and constantly creating- without force. it’s a simple principle but also a very profound one. it took a few weeks to put this post together but as I unwound this philosophy through writing it seemed to seep into my life and other the last few weeks I have become more and more aware of my state of being.
there are lots of ways to talk about being, in the end it is something that every individual has to discover for themselves. on the other hand I find that reflecting on these sort of subjects is one of the best ways to integrate them into everyday life. that’s why I’m writing this post really. because I promised myself I would not live in a state of conflict, and this practice is me making peace with myself and the present state of my world.
I hope the post inspires you in one way or another and I’d love to hear your thoughts.