A while back, a friend told me a story of two hapless frogs that were stupid enough to end up in a bucket of milk, and thus found themselves in danger of drowning. One frog gave up the struggle and perished. The story is not clear though whether the frog didn’t believe in action, or just didn’t have enough strength to survive. The other frog kept moving its limbs and inadvertently churned butter, which provided a firm surface and helped the frog to get out of harm’s way. This is where the story ends; its moral: action is king. At the time when the story was told, both my friend’s and my circumstances could be described as moderately desperate, our “buckets of milk” being at least half full. I didn’t want to drown and took the adage to heart. Since then action and doing have firmly established themselves as an ultimate answer to life’s numerous challenges.
Western culture encourages, even worships, action. We believe we can fix every problem, overcome every obstacle, and meet every challenge with the right amount of churning. If action doesn’t work, we figure we haven’t churned sufficient amount of butter, and we double and triple our efforts, and keep churning. Even if there is no milk left in our buckets, we keep flailing and thrashing around. We simply don’t know any better. I don’t mean to say this approach doesn’t work. Sooner or later it pays off, at least to some extent, but, unfortunately, it comes with a price – stress. That I know from my own experience.
In some religions, Taoism, for example, non-doing and non-action are the cornerstones of spiritual practice. Zen Buddhism also teaches to just let things happen. Esther Hicks ( ) tells us to give up the oars and stop rowing our boats upstream, because everything we want is the other way, downstream. The concept of non-doing is well explained in this quote from an article about Taoism: “One of Taoism’s most important concepts is wu wei, which is sometimes translated as “non-doing” or “non-action.” A better way to think of it, however, is as a paradoxical “Action of non-action.” Wu wei refers to the cultivation of a state of being in which our actions are quite effortlessly in alignment with the ebb and flow of the elemental cycles of the natural world. It is a kind of “going with the flow” that is characterized by great ease and awake-ness, in which – without even trying – we’re able to respond perfectly to whatever situations arise.” I wonder, if I will ever be able to achieve this blissful state. I am such an action junkie…
Are you addicted to action?
- Wu-Wei: Action Without Action (zazenlife.com)
- Leo F. Buscaglia on Taoism (keatho.com)
- Old Sage ~ (libraryscenes.wordpress.com)