Trying Not to Try | Edward Slingerland

Summary of: Trying Not to Try: Ancient China, Modern Science, and the Power of Spontaneity
By: Edward Slingerland


Discover the ancient Chinese concept of wu-wei and its astonishing effects on personal well-being and success. The book summary of ‘Trying Not to Try: Ancient China, Modern Science, and the Power of Spontaneity’ delves into various philosophical schools of thought, such as Taoism and Confucianism, and how they view achieving this state of ‘effortless acting.’ Explore the intricate balance between rational thought and instinct, and how melding these two aspects can lead to an intelligent spontaneity that makes work more enjoyable and efficient. Moreover, learn about the concept of ‘de,’ a unique form of power and charisma that arises from being in touch with your unconscious mind.

Wu-Wei: The Art of Effortless Action

Wu-wei, a Chinese philosophy that celebrates the art of effortless action, involves a harmonious relationship between the body and mind. When the two are brought together, they work as one, leading to intelligent spontaneity and fluidity in one’s actions. Wu-wei makes you whole, guiding you purely by instinct, resulting in work that portrays beauty, sincerity, and ease of the process. The concept is not limited to the Chinese philosophy of Taoism, as one can experience it during any activity that makes them entirely absorbed and one with the process itself.

The Power of Wu-Wei and De

Wu-wei, the ancient Chinese concept of effortless action, when combined with de, or power and charisma, leads to a perfectly spontaneous mindset that allows individuals to act from their natural instincts. This concept is connected to The Way, a journey that leads to becoming a perfect human being. Wu-wei and de make leaders compelling without the need for threats and make average people attractive and likeable. People with de are in touch with their unconscious mind, which allows them to act from their natural instincts. Being in the flow, as defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is similar to being in touch with de. However, in the Chinese conception, you are encouraged to move with ease throughout life, avoiding any difficulties that might harm your spirit. The benefits of wu-wei and de are far-reaching and can transport individuals to a perfectly spontaneous mindset that aligns with The Way.

Confucianism’s Path to Wu-Wei

Confucius believed that reaching wu-wei required improving one’s conscious mind through education and effort. This was achieved by practicing strict behavior and taking part in rituals, which assigned roles to participants with specific duties. By cultivating the power of the subconscious mind through conscious repetition, one can eventually achieve wu-wei. Confucianism’s approach emphasizes the importance of improving one’s willpower, behavior, and knowledge of past cultures. Confucian rituals taught people social manners and provided a clear repertoire for achieving wu-wei.

Laozi’s Philosophy of Going Home

Laozi, the founder of Taoism, believed that the path to heaven is to forget societal teachings and return to human nature. He advocated for people to follow their basic desires by thinking less consciously and more unconsciously. In this state, people can experience a state similar to runner’s high, where the brain downregulates conscious thinking and puts individuals on a blissful autopilot. Laozi believed in wu-wei, which means doing absolutely nothing. His goal was for individuals to connect with a raw version of themselves and return “home” to their true nature.

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