Trying Not to Try: The Ancient Chinese Art and Modern Science of Spontaneity

Edward Slingerland. Crown, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7704-3761-9
Throughout human history, successful and charming individuals have been envisioned as people who do things effortlessly, yet in modern Western thought, rational thinkers and “go-getters” are idolized. Slingerland (What Science Offers the Humanities), a professor of Asian studies at the Univ. of British Columbia, runs through historical philosophy and returns to the ancient Chinese idea of wu-wei, or “effortless action,” where individuals become in tune with their bodies and exhibit de, an aura that signals trust and relaxation. Individuals in a state of wu-wei can be found in all career paths—from the businessman giving an effective speech to the tennis player with an effortless swing, as well as from the presidential candidate to the artist “in the zone.” Slingerland presents four different ways of achieving wu-wei, as given to us by Chinese philosophers such as Confucius and Laozi: “long-term training,” “embrac[ing] simplicity,” nurturing “desirable behavior,” or “go[ing] with the flow.” Through anecdotes Slingerland explains the scientific reasoning behind why achieving wu-wei can be difficult—he evens presents a small exercise that demonstrates the feeling of disharmony in a small context. This guide is better suited to Chinese philosophy enthusiasts rather than to readers of how-to books; still, there are many insightful strategies for those studying self-improvement. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 12/16/2013
Release date: 03/04/2014
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