“Effortless Action”: The Wu-Wei of Confucius

There has been a lot of attention in recent years on flow—complete absorption in a task that it almost seems effortless. The modern pursuit of flow—how to achieve it, how to maintain it—appeals to our career-driven culture. Who wouldn’t want to achieve more with a feeling of ease? But the roots of flow go back to Confucius, who claimed to have achieved “effortless action,” or what the Chinese called wu-wei.  


Edward Slingerland, an internationally renowned expert on Chinese thought and cognitive science, and a Professor of Asian Studies and Canada Research Chair in Chinese Thought and Embodied Cognition at the University of British Columbia, explains the ancient philosophical teachings that will make you think of flow differently. In his latest book, the critically acclaimed Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity, Slingerland explores the neuroscience behind eastern philosophies. The teachings of Confucious, Laozi, Mencius, and Zhuangzi are understood from a scientific perspective.

The practical insights of Slingerland’s findings are broken down in Big Think Mentor's 5-part workshop that teaches how to reach a state of wu-wei. It also explains the many benefits: greater spontaneity makes one irresistible to others. The ancient Chinese understood it as reaching a state of influence and exponential success. The flow that we strive for in the modern era seems incomplete compared to the wisdom taught by ancient Chinese philosophies.

Slingerland explains how Confucius achieved wu-wei, quoting the philosopher: “’I could follow my heart’s desires and never transgress the bounds.’” The workshop explores the significance of his rituals, practice, and study of which Slingerland says: “He’s completely transformed his nature through these practices.”

To learn more about the journey of Confucius and other masters to attain a state of wu-wei, take advantage of our limited time offer of a free trial to Big Think Mentor. Learn from this and other innovative workshops taught by leading thinkers. To subscribe for your free trial, visit Big Think Mentor.

For more on Slingerland’s exclusive Big Think Mentor workshop, watch this preview and subscribe to Mentor today:

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