One of the most interesting people I have ever met is a man called Mike, and he runs the little boat which takes you from Topsham to the other side of the river so you can walk to the Turf Locks.
Or as locals know him – Mike the Ferryman.
I’ve always noticed how happy he looks in his daily work, and one day he said to me: “If you find the work you love, you’ll never work another day in your life”.
I was reminded of what he said the other day, as I was driving to work on a Saturday morning. It was early, I wasn’t feeling my best due to having been fighting off an illness for the last four weeks, but I was happy.
It didn’t feel like work, nor effort, what I was going to do, and that brought a smile to my face, as I sang along to “Do They Know It’s Christmas Time?” with a big smile on my face.
This is Wu-Wei, I thought, I’ve got it now!
So I guess you’re thinking, what in God’s name is Wu-Wei, as it’s not that well-known a phrase here in the West.
Pronounced Ooh-Way (how cool is that?), Wu Wei is a concept which originates in Taoism, meaning “effortless action” or more literally “non-doing”.
The term non-doing can be a bit misleading. It doesn’t mean lazing around in our PJs all day watching repeats of Midsomer Murders, nor does it mean sitting back and waiting for life to come to us, instead of actively seeking fulfilment.
It means action that does not involve excessive effort or struggle.
Some refer to it as being in the “flow”, or athletes refer to it as “peak state”, in Taoism they merely call it “the way”. It’s a bit more than that though.
One of my favourite modern day gurus, The Barefoot Doctor, refers to this way of being as “enjoying dancing with the Dinner Lady”. The Universal Dinner Lady he refers to is the Universe, and whilst accepting we do have some choice over how we think and what we intend, we never really know what she going to serve up, but we should accept what she has to offer with grace.
I suppose it’s a bit like accepting what we have, and also not attaching too much to any particular outcomes, once we have set our intentions. As the Dinner Lady may have other plans, often better than those we may have dreamt up ourselves.
It’s when we expect things to turn out a certain way, and we resist change, we try and go against the natural order of things – that’s we get into difficulty. Life seems a struggle, everything an effort, we overthink things, we try to change what is, and we eventually wear ourselves out with this futile battle.
But if we let go, let it flow, do a little dance with the dinner lady, thanking her for what she has brought us, and trusting she knows best, that’s when the magic of the Wu-Wei happens, and nothing is hard work, it’s all just effortless.
We move through life enjoying what we are doing, and with that positive frame of mind, we attract more favourable and pleasant experiences into our reality.
Like the joy in the little things, even when it’s work.