Inward Bound - The T'ai Chi Corner

Inward Bound - The T'ai Chi Corner

Re: Inward Bound - The T'ai Chi Corner

Postby thelivyjr » Fri Aug 09, 2019 1:40 p

The Book of Life

Chapter 4: self: Virtues of Character


Wu Wei – Doing Nothing

Wu wei means – in Chinese – non-doing or ‘doing nothing’.

It sounds like a pleasant invitation to relax or worse, fall into laziness or apathy.

Yet this concept is key to the noblest kind of action according to the philosophy of Daoism – and is at the heart of what it means to follow Dao or The Way.

According to the central text of Daoism, the Dao De Jing: ‘The Way never acts yet nothing is left undone’.

This is the paradox of wu wei.

It doesn’t mean not acting, it means ‘effortless action’ or ‘actionless action’.

It means being at peace while engaged in the most frenetic tasks so that one can carry these out with maximum skill and efficiency.


Something of the meaning of wu wei is captured when we talk of being ‘in the zone’ – at one with what we are doing, in a state of profound concentration and flow.

TO BE CONTINUED ...
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Re: Inward Bound - The T'ai Chi Corner

Postby thelivyjr » Sat Aug 10, 2019 1:40 p

The Book of Life

Chapter 4: self: Virtues of Character


Wu Wei – Doing Nothing

Wu Wei

Wu wei is closely connected to the Daoist reverence for the natural world, for it means striving to make our behaviour as spontaneous and inevitable as certain natural processes, and to ensure that we are swimming with rather than against currents.

We are to be like the bamboo that bends in the wind or the plant that adjusts itself to the shape of a tree.

Wu wei involves letting go of ideals that we may otherwise try to force too violently onto things; it invites us instead to respond to the true demands of situations, which tend only to be noticed when we put our own ego-driven plans aside.

What can follow is a loss of self-consciousness, a new unity between the self and its environment, which releases an energy that is normally held back by an overly aggressive, wilful style of thinking.

But none of this means we won’t be able to change or affect things if we strive for wu wei.

The Dao De Jing points out that we should be like water, which is ‘submissive and weak’ and ‘yet which can’t be surpassed for attacking what is hard and strong’.

Through gentle persistence and a compliance with the specific shape of a problem, an obstacle can be worked round and gradually eroded.

TO BE CONTINUED ...
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Re: Inward Bound - The T'ai Chi Corner

Postby thelivyjr » Sun Aug 11, 2019 1:40 p

The Book of Life

Chapter 4: self: Virtues of Character


Wu Wei – Doing Nothing, concluded ...

The idea of achieving the greatest effects by a wise strategic passivity has been central to Chinese notions of politics, diplomacy and business.

In the manuals on wisdom produced by Daoists, we are repeatedly told that rather than impose a plan or model on a situation, we should let others act frantically, and then lightly adjust ourselves as we see the direction that matters have evolved in.

In China’s Tang dynasty, many poets likened wu wei to the best aspects of being drunk.

It wasn’t alcoholism they were promoting, but the decline in rigidity and anxiety that sometimes comes with being a little drunk, and which can help us to accomplish certain tasks.

One poet compared someone inspired by wu wei to a drunk man who falls uninjured from a moving cart – such is their spiritual momentum that they are unaffected by accidents and misfortunes that might break those of a more controlled and controlling mindset.

Theories of painting from the Tang period onwards made wu wei central to artistic practice.

Rather than laboriously attempting to reproduce nature faithfully, the artist should find nature within themselves and surrender to its calls.

The painter’s task is not to imitate the external surface of things, but to present the qi or ‘spirit’ of things like mountains, trees, birds and rivers by feeling some of this spirit in themselves – and then letting it flow out through the brush onto silk or paper.

It followed that Daoist thinkers revered not just the finished work of art, but the act of painting itself – and considered artist’s studios as places of applied philosophy.

The Tang dynasty poet, Fu Zai, described a big party that had been thrown to witness the painter Zhang Zao in action: Right in the middle of the room he sat down with his legs spread out, took a deep breath, and his inspiration began to issue forth.

Those present were as startled as if lightning were shooting across the heavens or a whirlwind was sweeping up into the sky.

The ink seemed to spitting from his flying brush.

He clapped his hands with a cracking sound.

Suddenly strange shapes were born.

When he had finished, there stood pine trees, scaly and riven, crags steep and precipitous, clear water and turbulent clouds.

He threw down his brush, got up, and looked around in every direction.

It seemed as if the sky had cleared after a storm, to reveal the true essence of ten thousand things.

Fu Zai added of Zhang (whose works are sadly now lost) that, ‘he had left mere skill behind’ and that his art ‘was not painting, but the very Dao itself’.

Zhang Zao would often fling his ink and spread it with his hands on a silk scroll, to create spontaneous forms that he then worked up into expressive images of nature.

Splodges were incorporated and ingeniously made to flow back into the work.

All this was wu wei.

A good life could not be attained by wu wei alone – but this Daoist concept captures a distinctive wisdom we may at times be in desperate need of, when we are in danger of damaging ourselves through an overly stern and unyielding adherence to ideas which simply cannot fit the demands of the world as it is.

http://www.thebookoflife.org/wu-wei-doing-nothing/
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Re: Inward Bound - The T'ai Chi Corner

Postby thelivyjr » Mon Aug 12, 2019 1:40 p

EDGE.org

The Paradox of Wu-Wei - A Conversation with Edward Slingerland


5.2.14

"One way to look at the trajectory of Chinese thought is that it's driven by this tension I call 'the paradox of wu-wei.'"

"Wu-wei is effortless action or spontaneity."

"They all want you to be wu-wei, but none of them think you are right now."

"You've got to try to be wu-wei, but how do you try not to try?"

"How do you try to be spontaneous?"

"I call it the paradox of wu-wei, and I argue it's at the center of all their theorizing about other things."

"There are theories about human nature, there are theories about self-cultivation, there are theories about government."

"These are all ways of grappling with this central tension that's driving a lot of the theorizing."

- EDWARD SLINGERLAND is Professor of Asian Studies and Canada Research Chair in Chinese Thought and Embodied Cognition at the University of British Columbia and the author of Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity.

THE PARADOX OF WU-WEI

My training was fairly traditional.

I got degrees in sinology, the study of Chinese language, and religious studies.

I finished my dissertation, which was a fairly traditional, intellectual history of this concept of wu-wei, or effortless action in early China, and it got accepted by Oxford University Press.

I was supposed to clean it up and turn it in, and then everything started to go sideways.

The first job I had at the University of Colorado, Boulder, I was about to turn in the manuscript and a graduate student in a class I was teaching handed me this book and said, "You might be interested in this," and it was Lakoff and Johnson's Philosophy in the Flesh, which had just come out.

This book blew my mind.

It immediately solved all of these problems I had with what I was doing.

I had this problem where I was arguing with all these different stories and different texts and saying they're all about wu-wei, they're all about effortless action, but many of the stories don't use the term wu-wei.

So how can I say they're really talking about the same concept if they're not using the word?

My only solution at that point was just to put the stories side by side and go, "Eh?"

Reading about metaphor theory changed everything.

The basic argument that Lakoff and Johnson lay out is that we're not disembodied minds floating around somewhere.

We are embodied creatures.

A lot of our cognition is arising from our embodied interactions with the world, pre-linguistic interactions with the world.

And so we build up these basic patterns: walking down a path, dealing with objects, dealing with containers that then structure our abstract thinking.

A lot of even very abstract philosophical language is relying on very basic bodily experiences.

What I saw right away was that all these stories that I had thought of as wu-wei stories shared a very small set of metaphors — things like pulling, going along with the flow, losing a sense of yourself.

There was a family of "forgetting" metaphors that were about unselfconsciousness.

There was a family of metaphors about lack of effort, where the world was doing the work and you just have to ride on that current.

There weren't many of them, there's a set of maybe 15 metaphors that are in all these stories that I thought were wu-wei stories.

Suddenly I had a really rigorous way of saying that this is how these stories fit together; they're connected by metaphor.

TO BE CONTINUED ...
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Re: Inward Bound - The T'ai Chi Corner

Postby thelivyjr » Tue Aug 13, 2019 1:40 p

And before I continue, do I think it is necessary to have at least an awareness of the concept of Wu Wei to have an appreciation of T'ai Chi Ch'uan which will assist the practitioner in mastering themselves through practice of the forms?

My answer would be in the affirmative, as far as I am concerned from my own experiences with T'ai Chi going back to the mid-1970s ...

The key is taking force and effort out of one's actions, trying to make them perfect, as opposed to allowing perfection to come naturally as a result of letting loose of striving ...

That is a philosophical concept before it is a physical actuality ...

Do you need to understand all about Wu Wei to do T'ai Chi?

Certainly not ...

There are people who do T'ai Chi at some level and enjoy it without being aware of Wu Wei ...

So why bother with it in here, then?

Well, because we have the time to, on the one hand, and because I believe in expanding people's consciousnesses on the other ...

Do I speak of Wu Wei when I am working with my own students?

Most assuredly ...

And so ...
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Re: Inward Bound - The T'ai Chi Corner

Postby thelivyjr » Wed Aug 14, 2019 1:40 p

"You must understand the whole of life, not just one little part of it."

"That is why you must read, that is why you must look at the skies."

"That is why you must sing and dance, and write poems, and suffer, and understand, for all that is life."

~ Jiddu Krishnamurti
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Re: Inward Bound - The T'ai Chi Corner

Postby thelivyjr » Wed Aug 14, 2019 1:40 p

I interpret wu wei in my own life as living in a state of studied non-existence which means keeping "myself" out of what it is I am doing, so that I can fully have the experience of the doing …

Thus, by not striving to inject "myself" into the "situation," which in life is never static, always in motion, I expand as my awareness of life expands …

By expanding, I grow …

That which grows is not yet dying …

It is that simple ...

And so ...
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Re: Inward Bound - The T'ai Chi Corner

Postby thelivyjr » Thu Aug 15, 2019 1:40 p

EDGE.org

The Paradox of Wu-Wei - A Conversation with Edward Slingerland
, continued ...

5.2.14

I was trained in a period of humanities that was very social constructivist, so post-modernism "we're products of culture and language all the way down."

That made doing comparative work kind of hard because ancient Chinese is just a completely incommensurable thought world from our own.

How do you study it?

How do you say anything about it?

How do you do cross-cultural work?

The result, I think, in religious studies and Chinese studies, has been this endless butterfly collecting.

So what we were trained to do was a very thick description of what we were studying, explore all the nuances of it, and that's the end of our job.

We lay it out there.

What can you say about it?

We can't analyze it, we can't compare it to anything else.

I think this has really led the humanities into a dead end, and it bothered me in grad school, but I didn't know what the alternatives were.

This embodied cognition movement that Lakoff and Johnson are a part of gave me an alternative.

We're embodied creatures who are engaged with the world, we're designed by evolution.

How can we know what an early Chinese text is talking about?

Well, we can look at the metaphors.

When Confucius talks about being pulled along by something, like being pulled by a horse, we know what that's like because we've been pulled along by something.

So in a way, you can use your body and your embodied experience as a decoder key to understand the experiences of people in other cultures.


Suddenly it gave us a very coherent, powerful methodology and a theoretical grounding for a cross-cultural comparative work, which has completely fallen out of fashion in the humanities.

TO BE CONTINUED ...
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Re: Inward Bound - The T'ai Chi Corner

Postby thelivyjr » Fri Aug 16, 2019 1:40 p

The Paradox of Wu-Wei - A Conversation with Edward Slingerland wrote:

How can we know what an early Chinese text is talking about?

Well, we can look at the metaphors.

So in a way, you can use your body and your embodied experience as a decoder key to understand the experiences of people in other cultures.



To understand T'ai Chi, you have to use your body ...

And you have to train your mind to understand what the body is telling it ...

And for your mind to understand what your body is telling it, your mind has to grasp concepts early Chinese texts tell us about T'ai Chi ...

So, yes, a grasp of the concept of Wu Wei is very helpful to understanding T'ai Chi, because in T'ai Chi, you have to let go of the thought that to accomplish something, the use of force is necessary ...

When one cleaves a diamond, one does not use a sledge hammer ...

One uses precision and finesse ...

And so ...
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Re: Inward Bound - The T'ai Chi Corner

Postby thelivyjr » Sat Aug 17, 2019 1:40 p

EDGE.org

The Paradox of Wu-Wei - A Conversation with Edward Slingerland
, continued ...

5.2.14

I went back to the primary texts again.

I didn't turn in the original manuscript.

I rewrote the entire thing using metaphor theory and grounding it in the embodied cognition perspective, turned it in, and completely freaked out my colleagues.

But it won a major award and that just set me down this path.

Then I got interested in reading more about embodied cognition in general.

I wanted to know how metaphors work in our brain, so that got me into cognitive neuroscience.

I wanted to know where the brain came from, why it's built the way it's built, so that got me into evolutionary psychology and I started reading the evolutionary psychology literature.

I got farther and farther away from what I was trained in, but I saw how this could eventually get brought back to what I work on.

The nice thing about tenure is once you get tenure you can do whatever you want.

So around this time I got tenure for my relatively traditional work I had done in my field, and that allowed me to essentially drop out for five, six years and retrain myself in cognitive sciences, evolutionary theory, the philosophy of science.

I spent a lot to time going to conferences that were not my usual conferences.

I was in LA at the time, at USC, so I'd go up to UCLA to the BEC [Behavior, Evolution and Cognition] Talk series and learn a lot of interesting things.

I found that to get a sense of a new field, you can't just plunge into it.

You need to actually go to a conference and talk to people and find out what the fault lines are, who disagrees with whom, what are the big factions, and the only way to find that out is to go talk to people.

So I would be the weird guy on the periphery who would invite himself along to lunch.

People would go off to talk and I'd say, "Hey, can I come?"

They were like, "All right."

"Who's this weird Chinese studies guy?"

"We'll let him come along."

A lot of these guys are now my collaborators and good colleagues.

It was a strange five years, like going back to school again.

But it led to this book, What Science Offers the Humanities, that I wrote about my journey to my tribe — what I learned on my exotic trip and why we should care about it.

It actually indirectly led to my new job at UBC, University of British Columbia, because my connection with the people in Psychology there is one of the things that made that job happen.

My research chair there is explicitly about serving as a bridge between people in the humanities and people in the sciences.

Now we have this group called HECC — Human Evolution, Cognition and Culture — that's explicitly a place to bring scientists and humanity scholars together.

In particular, I've now been arguing that the way that integration has been pitched to humanities people has been not very effective.

Calls for consilience or vertical integration have tended to come from scientists, scientists telling humanities people, "This is why you need what we have."

"It'll help you do your job better."

The problem is some of these people just don't really know what it is humanities people do.

They don't really understand what our concerns are.

What I argue is that the reason we tend to think of the sciences and humanities as two separate things is rooted in mind-body dualism.

TO BE CONTINUED ...
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