Forcing vs. Relaxing: Practicing Wu Wei (when your book gets delayed)

Why hasn’t my pre-order been delivered?!?!

Oh boy. Here it is. We hit a snag in the publishing process, which is very common, or so I’m told. I am waiting on the publisher who is waiting on some other people to finish up some last minute details. To be completely honest, I’m feeling lousy. Or, rather, I was feeling lousy last week and nearly had a meltdown yesterday. It’s a good thing I was out in the middle of nowhere, Iowa, so I could walk around in the foggy winter abyss, muttering nonsense to myself while I collected my thoughts (during this time of the year, most people in Iowa are out wandering around empty cornfields muttering incoherently to themselves). Here’s the worst part: there is nothing I can do to speed up the publishing process. It is completely out of my control.

The stoic philosopher, Epictetus, wrote something I read over and over to myself the past two weeks: “Ask yourself: Does this appearance (of events) concern the things that are within my own control or those that are not? If it concerns anything outside your control, train yourself not to worry about it.”

In Modern English: Is the event I’m stressing about in my control? No ---> don’t waste your time worrying about and put your energy to better use.

This got me thinking about how some people thrive during stressful events while others turn into puddles.

An action can be delivered by one of two ways: through force or through relaxation. Both accomplish a task but leave a different impression. The first displaces energy and the latter organizes it.

That sounds a little vague. Let me clear it up.

There is a Taoist concept that is found in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese cultures called Wu Wie. Wu Wie is the art of non-doing, non-force, or simply, action through relaxation. The method is one of going with the grain instead of against it. An example is using a sail to catch wind to propel a boat. Instead of fretting about the wind, the wind is used as energy to move the vessel. An example of the other kind of action (force) is rowing a boat with an oar. This action moves the boat but it also displaces water while creating motion. Another example is hand to hand combat. The Western style of throwing punches is ineffective: punches hurts the attacker and does little damage to the opponent. In the martial art, judo, the energy of the attackers is shifted back onto them instead of absorbing the energy in one move with a block before starting a second move.

Here’s another example, and I’m having second thoughts about putting this in here because the next time you go to the bathroom you’ll think about it, and I don’t know if I want you thinking about me while you do your business. A very crude but realistic way to think about wu wei is how you release waste from your body. Do you let go or do you push? Do you take a breath and let it flow or does your face turn red from flexing your body so hard? It probably depends on the kind of day your having. Nonetheless, pushing and relaxing usually does the job, however, one is a strain on your body and the other loosens your body.

Need another example? Here’s a short video about Wu Wei by The School of Life



choose your own adventure

There’s a Goodwill by my hotel in Madison, Wisconsin (I was in a small town a few cornfields away from Waverly, Iowa, the last few days and will be back home in Minneapolis on Friday--hurray!) so I decided to stretch my legs and walk over to browse their used book selection. I’m excited to start writing some children's books, so I picked up a few classics: The Indian in the Cupboard, Bridge To Terabithia, a retro blue hardcover Hardy Boys mystery The Clue of the Broken Blade, an Anne McCaffery children’s book with an awesome 1980’s cover, The Coelura, and my favorite, a Choose Your Own Adventure book. I picked up a few modern ones I’ve never heard of but I liked their covers (covers are important): Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams and School of Fear by Gitty Daneshvari.

As far as adult books goes, I have my trusty Gideon Bible next to my pillow and that’s really all I need. Well...I might have a few other books next to me.

  • C.V. Hunt’s very funny and very dark novel Ritualistic Human Sacrifice. I bought RHS over a year ago and am now finally reading it. So far, I love it. It’s horror-ish/bizarro-ish/dark-fun-n’-raunchy. I like the other books I’ve read by C.V. Hunt but this one blows those away. I’m a little less than ½ way through and I’m looking forward to making a dent in it tonight.  

  • Europe Central by William T. Vollmann. Yeah. I haven’t started this one. I keep picking it up and not caring. I’ll read a page of dry overwritten prose and look over at Ritualistic Human Sacrifice on top of the Gideon Bible and start gazing at it longingly. When my lower lip starts to quiver, I toss the Vollmann aside and read Hunt’s weird horror and all is well again.

  • SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal. I’m nearly finished and this is one of the best, if not THE BEST, self-improvement books I’ve ever read. I know, I know, self-help books get a bad rap (notice how I called it a self-improvement book, not a self-help book). This one, though, is different. Why? It’s about how games (including video games) can help strengthen our mental health. Daniel H. Pink (author of Drive, another fantastic book) said: “We can use the same psychological strengths we display when we play games to confront real-life challenges, whether it’s illness, injury, or just changing our habits...”
    And that’s because life is all one big game, right? You all know we’re in the Matrix right now. Oh, you don’t? Things are real but not real. You get it? Brain in a vat? Oh no! I’ve said too much!
    Seriously, SuperBetter is a great book. It does get a little self-help-y at times, but that’s only because it’s trying to reach a broad audience. I wasn’t too turned off by it. Honestly, I wish I would have heard about SuperBetter years ago.

I will blog more, promise. I’ve been working on a fun little side project I am excited to tell you all about soon. Until then, Wu Wei.