Brighten Youth Education Centre



Wu wei and the art of revision


Wu wei (無爲), the art of non-doing, is a central principle of Daoism. It calls for effortless action, the ability to be at peace when performing the most complex and difficult tasks, allowing you to do so with the greatest skill and efficiency. It is a state of profound flow and focus, demonstrating complete engagement with the task at hand. Natural images are often employed when helping people to conceptualise wu wei, and we are encouraged to be as bamboo, or as the river, powerful and driven, yet flexible. We are to look for a way around obstacles and so, gradually, erode them. In a contemporary sense, it might be likened to “flow” or “being in the zone”, and can be practiced by people in all walks of life.

If we can learn to act in this manner, then we can disregard ideals, rather than forcing them on a situation in a stressful and unsuccessful manner. In terms of revision, this means accepting that you will make mistakes, you can’t be perfect at everything, and you will be given scores that don’t meet your expectations. Instead, you are encouraged to respond to the actual demands of the situation you find yourself in. Plans and dreams for the future should, for a while, be set aside as a distraction. Your focus is not going to Harvard, it is writing the essay you are currently writing, trying to make it better than the last. If this can be achieved, repeatedly, your work will improve, your exam grades will be good, and you will, eventually, make it to Harvard.

Wu wei encourages us to disregard the chatter of our peers. We are to let others act frantically while we wait, observing the developments of a situation before acting accordingly. This means ignoring the noise made by friends and associates, those who dissect every exam question, chatter about how much revision they are doing each day and engage in all-night, panicked cram-sessions. Using wu wei for revision would allow you to develop and maintain a schedule that suits you.

A final part of the philosophy is the serene acceptance of events. If you have done your best to prepare for your exams, stress on the day is irrelevant and unnecessary. If you don’t achieve the grades you wanted, and problems have developed (if, for example, you have lost your place at the university of your choice), then by all means feel disappointed, but, as soon as you are able, make space and think about your situation. What are your current problems and how will you overcome them (via retakes, attending another university, taking a year out for volunteering and internships perhaps)? Wu wei is not all that is necessary for a good life, but it is a useful thought tool when dealing with difficult situations.


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