The Daoist idea of wu wei is such that when people try to control situations in ways that disrupt the harmony of the world, unnecessary problems arise. They think that if we understand the nature of things and not try to apply restraints to them then we will lessen our worries and flow easier in the natural world.
Change, for the Daoists, is in accord with nature. When we act contrary to nature with intentions of controlling it, we disrupt the accordance of nature. This is no means of problem-solving from the Daoist perspective. In The Zhuangzi it is stated, “Death, life, survival, loss, failure, success, poverty, wealth, worth, depravity, slander, praise, hunger, thirst, winter, summer – their change is the process of destiny” (233). Change is something that is necessary and to try to control it is to try to control the process of destiny; it is utterly uncontrollable and can be attempted to be controlled but strenuous results will follow. Zhuangzi also related change to that of the natural process of changing seasons. “Day and night, without a break, make a springtime with things. As you greet each new circumstance, generate the season in your mind” (234). This is saying that the nature will continue to keep moving through its process of transformation. Likewise, we should continue moving with it and when we approach new circumstances we should not try to control them, but rather stay aware of the natural process of change and flow with this change and not against it. Just as winter ends and springtime begins, nature does not try to prolong winter in hopes of avoiding spring; it flows right into spring gloriously.
Daoists are also concerned with the limited amount of knowledge we can know. I believe this relates to our understanding that we should not try to control that which is utterly uncontrollable. “One who dreams of drinking wine may weep in the morning. One who dreams of weeping may go for a a hunt the next day. In the dream, you don’t know it’s a dream. In the middle of a dream, you may interpret a dream within it. Only after waking do you know it was a dream. Still, there may be an even greater awakening after which you know that this, too, was just a greater dream” (Zhunagzi, p. 233). I believe this closely relates to Socrates saying that the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. Like Daoism, this is saying that there is only a limited amount of knowledge attainable by us. The limitations of human categories is such that we should allow the spontaneity of wu wei to become a part of our actions. When we become more self-conscious about something, according to Daoists, we do worse. In that case, meddling too far into knowledge of things when knowledge is something that is limited would go against wu wei in that it would complicate matters and leave no room for the spontaneity of change, because it causes our minds to be ‘one-tracked’ and worrisome about things that are in a state of constant flux. Daoists think that we should accept the impermanence of things and their ability to change at any time, and not get too caught up in the change-itself, nor in the situations at hand.
Zhuangzi and the Daoists continuously speak of getting back to the natural way. They think that hen we act in a wu wei manner, we are acting naturally in the world. One concern that this belief arises for the Daoists is the problem of socialization, which they say moves us away from our natural state. Essentially we are natural and good, like unhewn wood, we are uncarved. “The Way is forever nameless…When unhewn wood is carved up, then there are names. Now that there are names, know enough to stop!” (The Daodejing, p. 178). When we try to control our natural selves, our control becomes the knife that whittles the natural wood of our lives. As a result, when we, as a society, work towards controlling the flow and flexibility of natural changes, the wood shavings of worry from whittling away at what is natural and good blocks the flow of wu wei in the rivers of our lives. Instead, we should find our way back to our natural unhewn state and flow with the river. Only then, in the Daoist view, will we free ourselves from control and live musically in harmony with one another.
The Daoists’ beliefs have shown to be true for me in life. When I moved to Oregon after spending the first eighteen-years of my life in Texas, I adopted a method of readjusting that was similar to the Daoists’ easy-going approach to change. Although I moved to Oregon because I am generally spontaneous and open to change, I was in for a big surprise and, in turn, a lesson to be learned: even invited change can give birth to many unexpected change ‘babies’ born through causal relations. Basically, I went to Oregon with the naïve thought that the act of moving to a new state was the only real change I would have to endure and everything else would fall into place somehow. My high expectations resulted in despair when I learned of all the changes I would be going through: being away from my family, friends, boyfriend, home and birthplace, all of the familiarity that once was my life as I knew it, making new friends, starting college, well, the constant rain of the Pacific Northwest versus the sun of Texas. At first, upon realizing everything in front of me, I had a hard time digesting it all. I then opted to try to control my portion intake, so to speak. After growing weary from trying to manage certain things, I would then opt to work on controlling other things, which resulted in me growing tired and discontent with my life through trying to control what I fundamentally could not. Then, in a way, I stopped and let wu wei flow through me; I became compliant and flexible with things. This adoption of having no worries and releasing my firm grip on life resulted in a much more easy-going mood and situations, thus, became simpler. Even though Oregon’s considerably different weather insisted on testing my inner wu wei, I am aware that accepting what nature decides to send my way is essentially up to me.
The Daoists believe that in accepting the changes of things with utter calmness and imperturbability, we detach our minds from an enslaved state of dependent and worrisome feelings that tend always to make matters worse the more our minds restrictively obsess over them. I feel that in recognizing and allowing our minds to become aware of the necessity of perennial transformation that takes place in our lives, we will better learn to more easily flow with this continuous pattern of events harmoniously.