A Superfluid New Year
I love Chinese philosophy—its naturalness, its easy wisdom.
I’m in good company: Taoism may be the most popularized religious mysticism in the world. Books about any variety of topics have the phrase “The Tao of…” in their titles. A quick search at Amazon yields The Tao of Healing, The Tao of Eating, The Tao of Photography and even The Tao of Network Security Monitoring! And in contemporary America, the Chinese words yin and yang have become cultural fallback terms for the idea of experienced, simultaneous opposites. They’re part of the pop lexicon.
A key Taoist concept that’s less widely known is wu wei. This Chinese term is perhaps best translated as “effortless doing.” The paradoxical phrase describes an orientation of self-surrender to the tao—the all-encompassing Way of the natural universe. Essentially, wu wei is pure acceptance of the process of life, and the sacred rightness of every moment. It’s about moving in the world by flowing with it.
Religious scholar Huston Smith, in his seminal book The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions, summarizes the idea this way:
Action in the mode of wu wei is action in which friction—in interpersonal relationships, in intra-psychic conflict, and in relation to nature—is reduced to a minimum.
In physics, a superfluid is a phase of matter in which viscosity is zero. Viscosity is a term that describes a liquid’s resistance to flow, or disturbance by other substances. A thin liquid like water has low viscosity: It flows quick and easy, and other substances move through it without much bother, their speed only slightly effected. A thick liquid like honey has high viscosity: It flows slow and sluggish, and other substances struggle to move through it, becoming seriously held up as they try.
Viscosity, then, is a measure of a liquid’s friction.
In a superfluid, there’s basically no friction at all. This means a superfluid flows infinitely smooth, and things move within it resistance-free. So anything in motion inside a superfluid stays in motion, theoretically, forever. With no friction to slow or stop it, a process inside a superfluid unfolds unendingly!
A superfluid strikes me as an interesting analogy for the tao. And the quality of superfluidity is such a cool metaphor for wu wei.
So… Today commences a new calendar year for all of us living in the modern world. It’s 2009! This blog post is a benediction: May we all have a superfluid new year, characterized by the utmost wu wei—with friction within and among us reduced to a minimum, our lives flowing infinitely smooth and our happinesses unending.
Love and blessings to you.
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as a once and former seeker myself, i can relate to the concepts of acceptance and its comparison to superfluidity. the challenge lies in its application to daily life and the shape that your life takes on with or without our ability to channel this notion of acceptance. i used to think that there was a clear answer to the question of the meaning of life which prompted much seeking and thinking and to a certain extent an inner turmoil that made daily life confusing at times and magnificent at others. for me, thinking about things only made it harder (created more friction) in my daily life. at some point, one has to walk away and allow what has been ingested to become digested and manifest in whatever outcome it may in our every day lives. it has been years now since i’ve even picked up one of the many books i devoured on taoism, advaita, buddhism and the like. i find myself more at peace now than before. so, the question becomes, would my life be much different had i not spent all that time searching? certainly these perspectives have shaped my perception of reality and maybe its pointless to ask. but i always go back to what i read one time about the nature of acceptance of reality as it relates to the guru: “the guru does not have all the answers, just no more questions.” that’s superfluidity to me.
Thank you for your comment, and for your wisdom! I wouldn’t be too quick to discount your years of reading and searching, or any part of your journey that’s finally landed you in a place of greater peace. For me, information and practice are equally essential, and interdependent—though I confess I tend to be a bit imbalanced: I’m well informed after my own many years of study, but my ‘practice’ could use ever more practice! Accordingly, your words are apt and encouraging. And your phrase “…allow what has been ingested to become digested…” is smart, inspiring and also beautiful. It’s the best kind of poetry—simultaneously uplifting and instructive. And that’s superfluidity to me…
It is interesting that the translation of the words ‘wu wei’ in Chinese is: without meaning, pointless (without a goal, or purpose). So ‘effortless doing’ would require, removing the’meaning’, the ‘point’, the ‘goal’…
Exactly! The goal of wu wei isn’t non-action, it’s non-attachment to the results of actions. It’s letting go of personal goals and flowing with whatever happens—the only consistent way to stay sane and happy in a world that brings, as Zen Buddhists say, “10,000 joys; 10,000 sorrows”.
I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.
Thank you for reading, Kate! Your comment became caught in my SPAM filter a few days, for some reason, but I’ve rescued it now, and I hope you visit and comment often. Happy new year to you!
What a wonderful true, Effortles doing is the key to the reality of life.
Wu wei, pure acceptance…..
Very well written and we need to live like this so we can trust our instincts ……….Trust and believe and have faith.