Learning to be


As I sit down to write this blog today, I notice that I am feeling tired. I look back at the week I have had and realise that I have been really busy, and even though lots of those things were enjoyable, I have been on a constant treadmill of ‘doing’. It is such an easy and comfortable place for me to be – I am great at ‘doing’, but find ‘being’ a challenge. Perhaps that’s not such a surprise in a world that values being busy, achieving and working towards goals.  

Wuwei, a core concept in Taoism, is a way of being that works with the natural order of things and operates on the principle of minimum effort. In English, it is often translated as ‘not-doing’, but that I find that phrase trips me up because it somehow implies non-action. Instead, I understand wuwei as a way of being, the ‘how’ I am, in contrast to striving, which is my doing, the ‘what’ I do. The doing way has a natural appeal for me: it enables me to understand who I am, to find my role in the world and to try to influence and control my life. And yet… it is really tiring. And that tiredness prompts me to check in with myself – when was the last time I truly stopped and allowed myself to be? How can I create these moments for myself? 

Over the years, I have found that certain environments create ideal conditions for me to slow down and simply ‘be’. One of the simplest things I can do to promote this is to get into nature – a park, by the river, in the woods, it doesn’t matter. There is something about being in nature that calms and slows my body and mind. This is a process that usually takes time – initially my mind is busy, running through my ‘to do’ list, thinking about what happened yesterday or is going to happen tomorrow. But if I can give myself enough time, I start to feel myself slowing, calming, relaxing and dropping into the present, into the sights, smells, sounds and sensations of where I am. And for a while, I stop ‘doing’ and start ‘being’.  

Today I am grateful to have noticed my tiredness. It gives me the opportunity to stop, to put down my list of things to do and to prioritise simply ‘being’. I extend a gentle invitation to you to do the same. Check in with yourself. How is your body, your mind, your spirit? When was the last time you stopped ‘doing’ and allowed yourself to ‘be’? Could you make some time to ‘be’ today? 

Reference: Knightly, N. (2013) The Paradox of Wuwei? Yes (and No). Asian Philosophy. [Online] 23 (2), 115-136.

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