Acting without Effort
(Diminishing Will, Letting Be, Wu Wei)
The Tao Te Ching alludes to “diminishing doing” or “diminishing will” as the key aspect of the sage’s success. Taoist philosophy recognizes that the Universe already works harmoniously according to its own ways; as a person exerts their will against or upon the world they disrupt the harmony that already exists. This is not to say that a person should not exert agency and will. Rather, it is how one acts in relation to the natural processes already extant. The how, the Tao of intention and motivation, that is key.
The Sage is occupied with the unspoken and acts without effort.
Teaching without verbosity,
producing without possessing,
creating without regard to result,
claiming nothing, the Sage has nothing to lose.
-Tao Te Ching
Wu Wei has also been translated as “creative quietude,” or the art of letting-be.
As one diminishes doing – here ‘doing’ means those intentional actions taken to benefit us or actions taken to change the world from its natural state and evolution – one diminishes all those actions committed against the Tao, the already present natural harmony.