#478 Trying Not to Try

4 Different Approaches to Wu-Wei + De (Yours?)

In our last +1, we spent some time with Edward Slingerland who helped us wrap our brains around the Chinese concepts of wu-wei and de.

Our target: Effortlessly expressing the best version of ourselves, and, in the process, shining with radiant, virtuous, charismatic power.

I mentioned the fact that achieving this state is pretty much the whole point of our work together. And, of course, that was pretty much the whole point of all the ancient Chinese philosophers as well.

Slingerland tells us that the ancient Chinese philosophers obsessed about how to get their wu-wei and de on. But… They differed on how to go about doing it.

He features the four leading ancient Chinese philosophers: Confucius, Lao Tzu, Mencius and Chuang Tzu.

We have Confucius on one end of the spectrum who tells us we need to try REALLY hard to get to a point where we no longer need to try. (Slingerland calls this “Try Hard Not to Try: Carving and Polishing the Self.”)

Then, on the other end of the spectrum, we have Lao Tzu who thought Confucius got it wrong and tells us we need to let everything go (literally—move out of town, check out, etc.) if we want to find wu-wei. (Slingerland calls this “Stop Trying: Embracing the Uncarved Block.”)

Then there’s Mencius, who basically extends Confucius’s perspective and advocates trying but not trying *too* hard—telling us we need to basically tend the sprouts of our goodness but not yank at the roots. (“Try, but Not Too Hard: Cultivating Moral Sprouts.”)

And, finally, there’s Chuang Tzu who softens Lao-tzu’s approach and tells us we don’t need to drop out of society and return to our primitive roots—we just need to tune into the Heavenly spiritual force and let *that* flow through us. (“Forget About It: Going with the Flow.”)

So, two questions:

1. Which approach do YOU think is the right approach?
2. Which approach do you tend to follow?

* insert Jeopardy music *

Short answer on Question #1: Slingerland tells us they all have partial truths but no one approach is perfect for every person in every situation.

Short reflection on Question #2: As with most things in life, we want to transcend and include the apparent dichotomies and then integrate the best of everything into our own idiosyncratic style.

If you tend to lean too far one way or another, perhaps you can think of it like the River of Flexibility we’ve discussed and find the balance (for you!) between rigidity and chaos?

That’s all for today.

Let’s have some fun carving blocks while cultivating sprouts, checking out and going with the flow.

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