The Winding Path

Counselling Services provided by Barb Zacharias

May 2013: Wu-Wei

Posted on May 15, 2013

“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”
~ Ann Landers

Over the past few years (yes, years) I have slowly been working through a book called Spiritually Oriented Psychotherapy (2005). It is a collection of essays from various therapeutic perspectives on the relationship or integration of spirituality and psychotherapy. It is not a read for the faint of heart—or mind. I read a bit here and there when my head and heart are in the space to absorb and digest the words strung into sentences, put together in paragraphs, that form the essays. Hence the time it has taken me just to get to chapter 4! It will be awhile yet before this book is completed.

Most recently through this slow reading, a new concept was introduced to me: the Chinese attitude of wu-wei—“that is, letting things happen and unfold on their own” (p. 67). Combine this with my new understanding of stress: not knowing the outcome and/or not having control; and voilá, the seeds for developing a tool for stress management. Or as the authors of the essay write, “an attitude of openness to the unknown” (p. 67).

This leads me to wonder about how I can actually use this concept to handle everyday stresses as well as the all-consuming kind. My tendency is to dwell, ruminate, or obsess ‘ad nauseam’ on whatever has gotten under my scalp to fret about. It intrigues me that this may be my coping strategy when I am (un)aware that I have no control over the outcome of my problem. Perhaps it is my brain’s effort to come up with a solution to an unsolvable situation—hence a false sense of control or action. I am not doing ‘nothing’ about my problem—I am thinking about it—expending energy in useless effort, mind you.

So what if I were to let it go to work itself out? To let things happen and unfold of their own? Am I open to the unknown? To the unknown of an “Unknown” working out the problem? To the unknown of an unknown solution? What if I don’t like how things are resolved? Ah, hence the anxiety. I want to have some say in the matter. I want my thoughts and opinions to count, to have some import. What if I were to let go of that and simply trust the process?

Yes indeed, what would happen if I were to trust ‘this’ to work itself out? I most certainly cannot leave my head in the sand. For one, I won’t be able to observe things happening and unfolding. For another, when things begin to happen and unfold, I won’t be able to interact with those changes should opportunities arise.

Now obviously some discretion is called for here. We can claim to be ‘letting go’ to let things unfold on their own when actually we are absconding responsibility to influence change because it is frightening or overwhelming. We have found some way to manage the status quo, maintain equilibrium—even if in an unhealthy dynamic. There are other times when our fretting and fussing is a reluctance to take a step back from the situation and merely observe.

What is getting in the way of your openness to the unknown? To allow things to follow their own course to resolution? What may be keeping you stuck? May you experience the freedom of letting go when needed or the courage to take action when required.

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