Monday, February 1, 2010

Wu Wei

Among Taoism's central tenets is wu wei. Sometimes translated as "doing nothing," it is more accurately rendered as "not doing," or perhaps "non-acting." It has to do with letting the natural order assert itself and not interfering with it through ineffectual human intervention. It has real implications for the philosophy of government, particularly for anyone who believes that "That government is best which governs least."

A few weeks ago the cheap clock on the wall in my larger bathroom somehow came off the small nail that it perches on and plunged to its doom. I heard the noise and when I went to find the source I discovered the clock, in many pieces, on the floor. It was as if several elven de-constructionists had attacked it with full toolkits. Parts were all over the bathroom, and when I retrieved those I could find (the second hand has never revealed itself) and put them on the sink counter in preparation for the funeral, I saw that every possible piece of the clock had been separated from every other piece. Motor, battery compartment, battery, minute and hour hands, clear bezel, printed dial— everything, and yet not a mark on any of it.

As a laugh in the face of what was clearly fate, I decided to see if it could be pieced back together. Surprisingly, it all went together like, well, clockwork. I slipped in a new battery and reinstalled it on the wall. Nothing. No movement. The hands just sat there. Not a bit shocking considering the clock's recent suicide. But at $12.99 for a brand new one I didn't see it as a big loss. Besides, that particular clock had never kept good time from the beginning and I had always seen it as a lemon.

Almost a week later I noticed that the hands were no longer where I had set them when I had pieced Humpty together and put him back on his perch. I re-set them for the correct time. That was at least a month ago, probably more. The clock is keeping great time, better than it ever did before.

That clock found its natural path through the trough of time, without much help from me. Actually, considering that I only reassembled the various surviving pieces and had resisted the temptation to "fix" them, it had found its way to its life's purpose with no help from me.

I chalk it up to wu wei in action.


Stephen said...

Love your blog, been lurking a little. As it regards the government, I always use the french, laissez-faire. Hands off, less is more. Nothing wrong with wishing I guess.

Rio Arriba said...

Thanks, Stephen, for the kind words.

Went over to your place. Some really fine stuff over there. Nice work!