Mindfulness and psychotherapy: Applying Wu Wei: The book title “How To Lose Control” is directly derived from the notion of Wu Wei, a Taoist concept that has been translated as “effortless action”, “action in non-action”, “not doing”, or the western phrase, “going with the flow”. Much of human suffering and even many psychiatric symptoms is caused by our tendency to go against the “flow” and thus to engage in an ongoing control war with our thoughts, emotions, mental images and so on. The causes of these control endeavors is variable and complex, but generally it can be stated that paradoxically, it is the desire to reduce emotional pain that lies at the root of much of our suffering. By avoiding the difficult emotions and the cues that threaten to elicit them, we actually create our own suffering. We live in an emotionally phobic culture that views emotions as irrational and thus to be controlled through our rationale mind and forces of will. Until fairly recently, psychology has unwittingly participated in this misguided construct of control. The principle of wu wei informs us that it is more adaptive and a critical aspect of psychological resilience to learn to “go with” nature and not attempt to be the architect of our own experiences.
My book and blog offer a variety of approaches to help you to let go in the deepest sense of the word and to directly embrace avoided emotions and mental experiences of all kinds and thus to reduce the war of control that leaves us feeling empty, alienated, fatigued and generally “dis-eased”. The technique which I term Emotional Surfing ( https://blackturtlebooks.com/integrative-mindful-exposure-emotional-surfing/ ) is probably the most important representation of Wu Wei as it applies to dealing with the so called “dark emotions”. Wu Wei principles can be brought to bear upon so many other aspects of human experience. So for example, I already attempted to demonstrate how these principles can be applied to overeating ( https://blackturtlebooks.com/mindful-eating/ ), and chronic pain (https://blackturtlebooks.com/mindfulness-and-pain/). By learning to embrace pain we can “take the hurt out of pain”. By learning “mindful eating” we spontaneously regulate food intake as opposed to dieting and other control endeavors that are doomed to failure. Similarly, we can quickly come to realize that we can not make ourselves relax since to do so would only create more tension. A male cannot will an erection since to do so would only perpetuate the cycle of performance anxiety which would act against erectile performance. Someone with obsessive thoughts would be ill advised to try to control such thoughts for that would be like “trying not to think of a pink elephant”. So in fact one would, in fact, benefit from purposefully and mindfully embracing such thoughts ( a subject for a future post). If you are experiencing difficulty sleeping (the subject of my next blog posts), you cannot make yourself sleep since to attempt this would only add to arousal and wakefulness. Finally, you can not make yourself clear your minds in meditation for to attempt this would only muddy the waters keep your mind turgid and agitated. You can sit quietly, watch your minds and let Spring come.
As is stated in and ancient zen poem, a line from which is translated as…”Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes and the grass grows by itself”. This oft quoted verse powerfully depicts the point that I am clumsily attempting to elucidate. All we can do is create opportunities, try not to interfere, and let whatever happens happen, by itself.
OK, so all are invited to chime in with your views, experiences, impressions, or anything to help bring these pages to life.