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.