We live in a world in which the average person should not be idle.*
If a person is not constantly striving to get ahead, then, if they are not a member of the privileged class, it said that such a person DESERVES to be poor and hungry. Such a person DESERVES to be miserable. Such a person DESERVES to be one of the have nots.
Yet, this constant striving for financial success, societal approval, fame and status doesn’t seem to bestow upon people (EVEN the wealthy) what they desire more than anything else – contentment and happiness. In fact, it almost always creates the very antithesis – restlessness and UNhappiness.
Though it might not seem to be a pervasive problem in our world today, I submit that one of the chief reasons that far too many people wallow in self-created despair and angst is because they tend to think too much.
Thinking certainly has its merits. Rational thought and analysis are the hallmarks of homo sapiens. It allows us to recognize factors that help us to avert danger. It can assist us in increasing pleasure. And it can help us, at times, decipher complex concepts and observations.
But, for its obvious merits, most people seem to take “thinking” to a dangerous extreme. They think and think and think. They think about thinking. They think about what they thought and then rethink it.
One would think all this thinking would have solved all the riddles of the vast universe by now. So why does humanity still act like a drunk bumping into things in the dark? Why haven’t we cured cancer or AIDS? Why don’t we understand how our own bodies really work? Why don’t we have the foggiest notion how we even think?
On a more individual level, why is it that, when we forget the name of a movie or the name of an acquaintance, the harder we think, the more elusive the answer becomes?
Look, we’ve all been there. You want to share a tidbit or some vital information with somebody else. Just as you’re about to say somebody’s name or spout out a cool statistic, that key piece of information just seems to float out of your mind. So, you start thinking. You concentrate on this thing you’re trying to think about. You think really, really hard. And it doesn’t do you a damn bit of good.
Commonsense tells you that you’re just not thinking hard enough. So, you twist yourself in knots and still the thing you crave to think of most seems to be anywhere but WHERE you are.
The Taoist sage would look at you and smile, “Nothing will get you ahead”. The sage is not saying that no amount of effort will do you any good; instead, the advice is starkly straightforward. Quit thinking about it and it will present itself to you. This is the concept of wu-wei.
Wu-wei means doing by not doing. In other words, quit thinking so damn much and allow the flow of the universe to nurture you. If we each would avail ourselves of the rhythms of life itself, we’d soon find that, all the things we make so difficult through constant thinking, would be naturally comprehensible.
While this might sound like a really strange concept, almost all of us have experienced it in our lives – often without realizing it. After we’ve thought and thought and thought about the word, number or name that simply evades us, we throw up our hands. We grumble and kick the dirt. We move on to other things.
Once we’ve removed the “thinking” stumbling block, the information we simply could not think of, magically appears. It might materialize a minute, an hour, a day or weeks later. We awaken from a sound sleep or we’re walking down the street and, all of a sudden, we look at the sky and say, “Of course, it’s Virginia (or 26 or “Forest Gump” or whatever it is).
In this instant, if we’re in tune with the Tao, we come to understand that nothing often does and will help.
*No one seems particularly upset if you happen to be a member of the idle rich. “Hey, they’ve EARNED the right to be lazy!”