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  • I mentioned casually to my learned friend, 'If on occasion we can achieve the experience the Tao calls "Wu Wei," or effortless action, when the life flows out of us like water, why can we not achieve it all the time? Or how can we at least achieve it more often?'

    A part of my brain says to me that if it can happen every now and then, I should be able to make it happen always, or at least most of the time. I should be able to find a way to will this magic thing to happen. Imagine a big dam holding back a big body of water, my western mind looks at that body of water and tells me that I could engineer an intricate system of pumps that would let the water flow freely. It would take a lot of planning and hard work and technical know-how, but after I got through building my system, I could let the water flow at will. The Tao says open up the dam and let the water flow.

    'You can't will Wu Wei to happen' my friend responses. 'You can only open up and allow it. Unfortunately, we have a lot of mental and physical blocks in the way'.

    'The secret' said my friend, 'is removing the blocks. Here are a few suggestions:

    1. Breathe - breathing is a perfect illustration of the Tao. It flows in, it flows out. One of the fundamentals of T'ai Chi, the martial art/exercise based on Taoist principles, is breathing. Proper breathing is a circle, a very full circle. If you can learn to breathe, your life will breathe too'.

    2. Muscle Tension - your muscles also illustrate the Tao. They tighten and relax. They make a circle of their own. The muscles illustrate a paradox of the Tao, as well as a paradox of life. Action requires muscle, but a tense muscle restricts action. You especially have to relax your shoulders. You find that you block the flow of life by raising your right shoulder just slightly. Even a subtle movement can block what your right hand does. If you let that shoulder drop, you can feel life flow.

    3. Mental Tension - what are you so afraid of?'

    'I know I can sit on my chair in my room and play music for hours' I said, trying to put my own problems into the mix. 'But put me on a stage, or even with just one other person, and the terror begins. What am I so afraid of? Do I think I need to plan? What should I play over that change? Should I do the safe solo or try something new? I think so hard that the moment passes and I've mangled every bit of it'.

    He smiled, 'did you know' he suggested, 'the great Taoist philosopher John Lennon once said, "Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream, it is not dying." The music is in there. Let it flow. Don't worry about it. It is not dying. If I make a mistake, I laugh. The music is still in there. It can flow next time"'.

    'So when it comes time to play', he added, 'all you have to do is open up and let it flow. If you let down all the obstacles that block it, the water will flow. Wu Wei, effortless action. Breathing in and out. Circles. Relax. And then what power will come!'
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