A recent article from ‘psychology today’ caught my eye. It’s about the Wu-Wei Paradox: Striving Less Generates more success. The article, written by a triathlon athlete, talks about the philosophy of wu-wei, or “non action”. Now, I should share with you first of all, that the idea of effortless effort has been on my radar for a few weeks. What does that even mean? How can that even be? Doesn’t anything we want to make happen take effort, even our own thoughts to think in positive ways? Keep reading to find out my take on it.
Consider this definition of wu-wei; “The practice of taking no action that is not in accord with the natural course of the universe”. This definition helped me the most and actually reminded me of last week’s intention around integrity.
When we are living in harmony with our True Self that is the Invisible-Absolute (Universe/Source/God), meaning that we are living in integrity, then we are in harmony with the flow of the Universe. Because you are the Universe, You are actually always living in life’s easeful and loving energy, or flow. It is when we think that things are a mess, difficult, and that life is a struggle, that we are making more effort. When we are making choices and decisions that are out of alignment with our True Nature and out of alignment, therefore, with the natural flow of Universal love for oneself and all beings, we create friction. We create the suffering.
The yogis tell us this time and time again, including in the yoga sutras. In the yoga sutras we come to learn and understand that yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. When we have a more quiet mind, we can hear that unchanging, universal, abiding and loving presence within. We remember that we are whole as we are. We can act in accordance with that place within our heart that is whole, that is unchanging, that is integrity.
This is why the purna mantra has meant so much to me over the years. And I recently discovered that it is the invocation peace chant for the Isa upanishad! Listen to the mantra here.
Swami Paramananda translation of the purna mantra states:
“OM! That (The Invisible-Absolute is whole; whole is this (the visible phenomenal;
From the Invisible Whole comes forth the visible whole. Though the visible whole has come out from that Invisible Whole, yet the Whole remains unaltered.
OM! Peace! Peace! Peace!”
*Invisible-Absolute meaning God, or Universe, or in Daoism and Taoism, the ‘Way’, or “wei”.
The Universal Essence is the Unchanging, that place within our heart is the unchanging place. Everything comes from this Essence. Even those things that are tangible that we can see, come from this Essence. We came forth from this Essence, and we will return to this Essence.
We are made up of the same “stuff” as the stars, moon, mountains, rivers, cosmos, wind, Essence of the Universe/Invisible-Absolute. We are That.
We are the Universe.And because we are That, we are already integrity. We already are ease, goodness, Light, love, and All the words that we use to try to describe this Universal Essence.
So why does life feel hard sometimes? Why does life feel like it’s challenging us sometimes? Why does life feel like it’s only blocking us and creating friction?
Why does life feel like a struggle sometimes?
What a lot of the spiritual texts tell us, including in yoga, is that it is our mind. It is those “fluctuations of the mind”(yoga sutras) that we are trying to cease that are the actions that are not in accordance with the natural course of the universe. Not in wu-wei. Whether we make them up or whether they’ve entered on their own, it is the thoughts that cause us to think, and sometimes even cause us to believe, that life is a struggle.
This is why the 2021 Asian Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology findings, out of the ‘psychology today’ article above, was so fascinating to me. They found that “By not overly involving cerebral cognitive systems, an athlete increases the likelihood of experiencing frictionless flow”. Or, in other words, they were in the zone. They were in the flow!
This reminded me of the ashtanga method of physical practice in yoga.
In the ashtanga method they use the same routine and structure of physical alignments in their series. This is why in my classes this week we are using at the beginning of practice Sun salutations. Sun salutations are sequences of postures that you do repeatedly. Doing these repetitive physical practices that one then becomes familiar with, lends itself to entering into the state of wu-wei, effortless effort.
Another practice that lends itself to being in a state of frictionless flow, effortless effort, and to be “resolutely abiding in a good space,” is to meditate.
To focus on your breath, and to release in your body, and to quietly focus to the flow of the breathing so that less thoughts are present in the minds eye, can help bring about connection to that place in the heart of integrity, that Unchanging Essence, the Invisible-Absolute.
A lot of yogis will also sit in a posture called sukhasana, or easeful pose. Picture someone seated cross-legged, and you have the posture. Sukham means gentle, ease, happy, good. Sukhasana is the easful posture; though some people do not feel at ease seated across leg. This is why we do the physical postures and yoga to help enable our bodies to sit with more ease, with less physical distraction, so that our mind can enter into the space of ease. To support the mind into that place of gentleness and ease, we can use the breath to focus on, or a mantra.
And all of these practices help us to connect to that place within our heart that brings about ease and peace in the moment. And therefore, As we move about our life and our days, helps us to stay in that place of love, ease, happiness, and compassion for ourselves and others.
The yoga sutra 2:46 states, “Sthira Sukham Asanam”.
I love the yoga internationals translation of this that states, “resolutely abide in a good space”. This is what we try to be in every Asana, posture. And I invite us a whole to apply this to our mental space as well.
If we say life is hard, life is hard. If we see life as hard, it will feel hard. But we can choose to make the effort to not see it as such.
Even if we see life as hard, we do not have to become hard ourselves. For it is a choice, which will take some effort, to resolutely and courageously choose to always be seeing the good in life. When we make this effort, we support ourselves in living the effortless, fluid, happy life.
Sthira means “grounded, steadiness, resolute, courageous.”
Sukham means, “gentle, ease, happy, good.”
Stay steady in your happiness.
Be courageous to be good.
Be courageous to be kind.
Get grounded in ease.
Stay steady in your gentleness.
If you want to watch a hilarious clip from the movie, ‘forgetting Sarah Marshall’, That encompasses the philosophy of wu-wei, effortless effort, and Sthira Sukham, then watch HERE (https://youtu.be/PKIpCPS-oZc )!!
In Peace and Ease,
Breathe and Believe.