Kazuaka Tanahashi
Kazuaka Tanahashi at the San Francisco Zen Center. Photo by Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle.

“Industrious people build industry.

Lazy people create civilization.”

– Kaz Tanahashi

Shocking, isn’t it? And profound as well.

The idea and practice of not doing is truly blasphemous in our do-aholic, workaholic culture.

I mean, think ‘not doing’ and notice what reactions come up within you.

“Well, how will anything get DONE?,” we might ask. “Everything would fall apart!” “You have to do something!”

The Blue Bird, 1918, by Frank Cadogan Cowper (1877-1958). PD-US.

Some would set their heart a’palpitating at the very suggestion of non-doing — or the thought that ‘being lazy‘ (a.k.a. being a slacker) might have its strong points … or even quite a few of them? (cough, sputter, gasp!)

I don’t know about you, but I definitely did not get the Wu-Wei non-doing memo when I was growing up.

There’s a part of me that found it compelling, though, like a whisper calling me into its mystery-wisdom.

After decades at the Altar of Perpetual Doing, I saw that the Puritan Workaholic Ethic that is so ingrained in our culture has got a pretty big shadow side.

After hitting that Workaholic Wall going 1000 miles an hour, I was literally forced by a perfect storm(s) of perfect circumstancesincluding wellness challenges — to consider other perspectives and find other, more healthful and wise ways of being and doing.

That adventure led me into interesting byways, and as I look back now, I’m more grateful for it than I can say. But it wasn’t easy; far from it.

The Taoists, following the wisdom of Lao Tzu and others, talk aboutwu wei — nondoing. One idea of wu wei or non-action is that you ‘do without doing and everything gets done’.

Can you feel your Western-indoctrinated brain cramping, and well-conditioned synapses smoking at the very thought? (Or perhaps you remember a time when you did feel that way …).

Stay with it…

“Moon on Water” image from GeekSailor blog.

In order for this ‘nondoing‘ magic to arise, we have to be still and receptive much more often, so that we can connect to our oneness with all things and allow Life to lead us through inspiration, intuition, and synchronicity.

This is a pretty radical thought for Western-conditioned minds.

Just look around, or tune in to yourself, and you’ll see just how terrifying and uncomfortable most of us find it now to be still — still the body, still the noise, still the mind.

It’s enough to give most of us jitters and hives, if we haven’t immediately ‘plugged in’ to relieve the discomfort with some more stimulus and action.

Yet most of us would also say that we want to experience ‘flow’,  intuitive guidance, synchronicities and, dare I say, maybe even miracles.

We’d all like things to be just a bit easier, a bit less hard, a bit more graceful than they seem to be, particularly these days.

We all want inspiration and intuitive-guidance to lead us into passionate, purposeful right action and graceful timing, to help balance the harsher things and times of life.

The Valkyries Vigil, by Edward Robert Hughes (Image courtesy WikiCommons)

These require a certain allowance for stillness, not doing, so that we can be receptive to that guidance, our deeper yearnings, and more subtle frequencies.

The challenge is to reclaim the wu wei wisdom through stillness,  listening, and closer observation of what arises within us and what arises, then, around us.

And it couldn’t be more alien — even excruciating — to us.

This particular Master Teacher (or lesson) has deeply challenged me, often, over the years.

Despite a natural contemplative vein that runs through me, I learned early on that being still, daydreaming, sitting or wandering quietly, and things of that more contemplative genre were in the same pigeon-hole as being unproductive, suspect, or lazy … none of which were good.

In comparison, I was encouraged and rewarded by approval in those ‘activa’ pursuits that were considered industrious — no one really seemed to care whether action was wise, as long as it was activity.

Perhaps you, too, heard, “Don’t just sit there, do something!”?

Pia de Tolomei (1868-1880), by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia.

And now, of course, we’re surrounded with the outcomes of a cultural addiction to perpetual left-brain-informed action; workaholism; and perpetual stimulation without the balancing, ripening, and/or healing benefits of rest, stillness, contemplation, reflection, and wisdom (aka ‘the Feminine’ or right-brain gifts).

To heal the harm and other less desirable consequences of manic, mindless doing — individually and collectively — we have to practice our way back to a healthier balance, to reclaim those right-brain Feminine gifts.

I’ve learned quite a bit thanks to exacting teachers (including Life Herself!), though it has been, and is, deep practice. But then, so is much that’s worthwhile on the Wisdom Way.

Here’s another version to savor:

The Tao does nothing,
but leaves nothing undone.
If the powerful men
could observe it,
all creations would be transformed
by themselves.

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (37)

To receive the secrets of that one, don’t just do something, sit there until insight and inspiration prompt right-doing (in the ‘ripe’ timing) moves you.

The truly essential really does get done, sometimes with awe-inspiring grace and unexpected creativity.

For more inspiration on this theme, have a look at this musing from the Sophia’s Children treasure-vault:

Standing Still, Taking Stock (a.k.a. When Life Comes to a Standstill)

Blessings on the Wu Wei.

(I originally wrote this musing in April 2012, just before moving Sophia’s Children to WordPress. It seems perfectly timely and timeless wisdom for Taurus Season.)

Noteworthy: Kaz Tanahashi is a Japanese Calligrapher, Zen Teacher, Author & Translator, and a former student of Aikido Founder Sensei Morihei Ueshiba.