Riva Capellari

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Located in Brookside in the heart of Kansas City

To Try Or Not To Try

In his book Trying Not to Try: the art and science of spontaneity, Edward Slingerland lays out the ancient Chinese concepts of wu wei (no trying) and de (charismatic power). While Western culture is premised on working hard and trying your best to achieve success, wu wei is a state in which “the body, emotions and mind culminate in one effortless, spontaneous action”. Finding a balance between the knowing how (cognitive processes) and the knowing that (instincts and feelings) brings us to the place that is wu wei.

This duality between mind and body, the cold rational part of ourselves vs. our more emotional, evolutionary self, is not a new struggle and is especially relevant in our current non-stop, climb that ladder society. Our logical, conscious mind is necessary to acquire skills and to adapt our actions and thoughts to new incoming information. However, sometimes over-thinking, “paralysis through analysis” can actually hinder our progress and stifle creativity. Alternately, body thinking resides in the older part of our brain and is the seat of our emotions, gut reactions and automatic, semi-conscious behaviors.

So how do we reconcile these two seemingly at war parts of our brain?

High end performers (artists, athletes, etc.) tend to dwell in “limbo land” between these two modalities more than most as they need to be “in the zone” during a performance. At this point the practiced technique must kick in automatically; they must transcend training to allow their best performance.

One of the byproducts of wu wei is de, “charismatic power”, and is often found in successful and beloved leaders. Those with de give off a sense of being intrinsically trustworthy. Their seemingly spontaneous, off-the-cuff approach to life is also highly attractive. And according to the author, who believes that morality and behavior are guided not so much by laws, but by shared values, people with de often rise to positions of power and leadership, and can greatly influence the workings of a corporation, a government, even a nation.

So in the days ahead, try to not try (too hard!) to cultivate this “effortless grace”. Experience that moment when everything seems to just fall into place and enjoy a true sense of spontaneity!


see Linkit under Wu Wei for sites.

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