Don’t try so hard

Let things go

Let things go—don’t force them to be right, advises journalist Irene Ras. You might be surprised: things often turn out better when you don’t over-think them. That’s the Toaist concept of wu wei.

A translator of Chinese literature, Silvia Marijnissen, explains wu wei this way: “Don’t try to go against the current, but accept the situation as it is.” Marijnissen is Dutch but now lives in the French countryside. “Perfect happiness is free of happiness,” she says in her explanation of the wu wei concept. “When you live according to wu wei, then you don’t need ‘have to’ any more.”
Sounds wonderful, I think.

“It seems hard,” Marijnissen continues. “In the Netherlands, I always let myself get carried away; I was always running. When I got to the French countryside, I didn’t have to any more. Now that I’m here, I find it amazing that I ever achieved anything trying so hard and chasing after everything.” But she goes on to clarify that, “It’s not that one thing is good and another is not. That’s not wu wei. The point is that you can accept how things are going, and that you can find a balance.”

Initially, Marijnissen had expectations about her life when she emigrated. “I had ideas about how idyllic it would be, living in the French countryside, but even then, I still wanted something,” she says. “That’s just not the intention of wu wei.”
Taoism may be thousands of years old, but Taoist philosophy is still relevant in contemporary Chinese literature, in the work of Mo Yan, for example, the winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for literature, and an author that Marijnissen has translated into Dutch. Outlined briefly, his latest book is about the fact that parents in China are only allowed to have one child. One of the protagonists is about to become a father but he’s dreading it. “After all my years of experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is only one way to solve a pressing problem,” a friend advises him, “quietly watching it change as it pushes your boat along with the flow.”

  • The full story ‘Don’t try so hard’ can be found in Issue 9 (not available in the Flow Shop anymore).

Text Irene Ras Photography Clay Banks/